At the Intersection of Above and Below Ground

Geomicrobiologists now claim life underground exceeds in size, diversity, and span life above ground. What is life? It might be easier to simply say Earth is alive, all of it, including the rocks. And does extraterrestrial life exist? Well, we exist, we think. It now appears planets are living beings. Universe is alive. And that’s not counting the ghosts.

According to scientist Karen Lloyd, quoted in The Guardian: “The strangest thing for me is that some organisms can exist for millennia. They are metabolically active but in stasis, with less energy than we thought possible of supporting life.” That describes a teacher I had in high school.

Meanwhile, in the basement studio, located at the intersection of above and below ground, I’ve continued to work on cutout paintings. The photos below detail the evolution of a recent graffito work:

Sitting Out: Painting in Progress

Portlanders love to sit out. At sidewalk cafes, outside pubs, in their yards or drives. On porches, decks, balconies. In parks. On special occasions, neighbors will close their street to cars so they can sit out in the middle of the block at improvised tables in whatever chairs seem to turn up. The atmosphere of a street closed to cars turns surreal in these times. Maybe because it rains six months out of the year, Portlanders don’t take the perfect evening for a sit out for granted, but they’ll even sit out in the rain, huddled beneath coats and blankets around a fire pit or under overhead standing outdoor electric heaters.

The current painting in progress is tentatively titled, “Sitting Out.” It’s 3 feet by 5 feet, stretched canvas. I’ve used acrylics, oils, and oil pastels, applied with brush, palette knife, or directly out of the tube. The grandgirls have been involved in this painting as well. Chloe is responsible for the bottom left, raspberries at the top of a green hill, ZZ for the sky and bottom right umbrella and blue chair seated with a red figure. Layer upon layer. Things get covered up. Sometimes it’s a mistake to cover something over, but you keep working. A canvas of this size is not inexpensive, but we got this one used at a garage sale for $5. We painted over the old painting, but ZZ wanted to keep some existing red roses in the bottom right hand corner, so we tried to preserve those.

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Our studio, such as it is, is located in the basement:

The grandgirls are back in school now, and I’m working on the sit out painting in the basement alone. Last night I added the black umbrella outline with the broken stretchers pointing upward in the middle left. Had the girls been there, they would have booed this change. I need to figure out a way to cover it up without ruining the horizon line below it, which tops Chloe’s field.

Below are two pics of Portlanders sitting out on the sidewalk and in the street corral of a corner restaurant:

And we’ll close with this pic of a sit out zone in an unused portion of a driveway, Ollie waiting patiently to be taken for a ride:

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Word Put Upon Word

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“Stone put upon stone
and chamber beside chamber”
D’Arcy Thompson
“Mud put
upon mud,
lifted
to make room,”
Robert Creeley
word    hod
   put
upon  house
word
 shell
 soma stone
put
 upon
stone
 
put log upon log cube upon cube
 pier upon pier unit upon unit
post up & unus put upon unus
 road upon road  
page   upon page  
wood in face upon face
 paint put upon paint wall put upon wall
 one part upon part upon
 slab on slab load put upon load
hod word onus upon onus
line put upon line word upon stone
bowl put mud in
 hand put upon hand a pan upon a
 tone drum stone upon
note upon note a lifted scuttle
note upon row in a
 sign sing stone mud call
name put upon cut word in
 rune put upon stone bone lifted
end upon end a tune  in

CODA: wind upon wind wave upon wave cloud upon cloud grass upon grass leaf upon leaf sail upon sail hill upon hill cove around cove cliff upon cliff square upon square camp upon camp town upon town city upon city state upon state…wind upon wind wave upon wave cloud upon cloud cove around cove

IMG_2067 Word Put Upon Word

Rothko at the Portland Art Museum

The Rothko installation yesterday at the Portland Art Museum felt claustrophobic. The fabric covered faux walls created a maze of high vertical columns separated by narrow horizontal spaces, forcing the large Rothko paintings, which I’d been curious to see close up and in person, too close to one another, like pictures taped to the wall in a grade school classroom art show, parents and friends crowding in to see.

These large Rothko pieces, the ones he painted toward the end, are best viewed from a distance in proportion to the size of the piece, but everyone wanted to see them both up close and far away, myself included. I was surprised to find the paint so thinly applied on most of the large pieces. In some, I could see the weft of the canvas. Of course, I was standing too close, bringing both my amateur eye and my reading classes to the subject. One result of everyone wanting to be at once near and far, combined with the cloistered installation, was that viewers kept crisscrossing in one another’s view. But the crowded effect also created the feel of being part of an audience, which I appreciated.

Why does the museum have the feel of a church, viewers whispering as if performing the Stations of the Cross, usher-guards at every corner like nuns ready to pinch the ear of the tinkerer? Of course, my sensing a reverent whisper could have been the result of my asymmetrical hearing condition, which creates a peculiar point of view not shared by the whole audience. This distorted point of view is important, though, for doesn’t everyone suffer some asymmetrical perspective, the result of imperfect tuning, a slant eye, a limp? The Portland Art Museum has a generous age 55 senior ticket limit, and I had snuck in at the senior rate in spite of my youthful looks, the ticket-seller discretely not asking to see my ID. Once in the show though, my senior frailties began to make up for the reduced ticket price.

From a distance, immediately my favorite Rothko was a green over blue rectangle about 10 feet high and 14 feet wide (the museum info-cards inexplicitly did not show dimensions, just date and title – though most of the later Rothko pieces are simply numbered or “untitled”).  From a distance, this blue-green was filled with luminous, almost phosphorescent, watery colors like we find in Monet’s water lilies, yet when viewed close up, I saw brown splotches in the green, dull beige drops on the blue, the color of ordinary dirt. I was also surprised at the way the rectangular boxes of color swirled and clouded at the edges, like a broken ocean wave, like surf. But as I browsed around, I soon realized that every combination of colors was represented, reds and blues, oranges and yellows, purples and greens, and I liked them all, and did not need a favorite.

The Rothko exhibit is chronologically arranged, and I had entered from the end. Still, the sense of development, of an expressive evolution, from recognizable shapes to abstract color fields over the course of the artist’s life was easily realized and a pleasure to see. I particularly enjoyed the early pieces, unknown to me, women on a beach, people in a subway, one small piece of several large women, the circle of women reminding me of Matisse, the female form beautiful in a near-realistic rendition of shapely fat. I looked in these early Rothko pieces for some sign of things to come. A middle piece contained just vestiges of shapes. I dared to guess at the shapes, but I’m not sure this is allowed. Rothko’s end period is laced with shadow, grays and blacks, purple stripped of its nobility. I thought of Beckett and his late characters, seniors all and barely still citizens of some bizarre place, blind and hobbling, but still trying to express what they see or feel, nothing, and what nothing looks and feels like, and what nothing tastes like, and smells like, and sounds like.

Practically ruining the entire installation, and inviting dilettante comment, into which I happily step, the museum posted a quote above the entry pavilion, something to the effect of the subject of modern painting being the painting itself. This is the reductio ad absurdum of modernist criticism, and is often applied to poetry, music, whatever. If nothing else, the Rothko paintings are about money, which suggests some attempt to persuade someone of something. This is one peculiar experience of the museum, where art gets institutionalized, its importance inflated to the size of zeppelins floating aimlessly above the heads of the crowd.