member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eve Reborn as the Phoenix

The feeling of original sin (the devil), of an innate "wrongness" or badness, or just of inadequacy--covered with masks of poise or crazy-making, depending on personality, or even mood. But even the furniture is bored with that story. "The truth will out," as they say.

So, I posted this rather sparse description on Flickr, and zapatil2000 left this fascinating comment:

Some details here make my mind wander towards Gnostic cosmology. The scene reminds me of a prison tower, so maybe it depicts how the Demiurge has captured the self-created earth (the fallen Sophia or cosmic Eve) in the inorganic realm of celestial mechanics where we, according to the Gnostics, are continually fooled by appearances?

Sophia was however able to generate a daughter in her own image, the flame-born timeless life-force, who escaped to unite with the sun to nourish humanity with imagination and vitality from a distance.

As the Phoenix bird! So instead of using perceptual errors in evil or deceptive ways, we can use them for magic, creativity and surrealism, she seems to say.

True or not, that´s the story I saw here.

(And I hope my telling it didn´t bore the furniture! ; ))

Far from boring the furniture, it felt like the precise meaning I've been circling with all my drawings-- and these are details of the story of Sophia and Eve that I had never come across.
Don't miss the link to his Flickr page, as he has fantastic work there...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happy Birthday

Photo by Edward Steichen; ca. 1926
Marion Morehouse (Cummings' common-law wife);dress designed by Louiseboulanger
Image by © Condé Nast Archive/CORBIS

Today is the birthday of E.E.Cummings. He wrote his first poem when he was three:

"Oh,the pretty birdie,O;/with his little toe,toe,toe!"

He served in the ambulance corps in World War I, and for his dislike of war and his lack of dislike for the German population, he was detained in a concentration camp for 3 1/2 months before his father managed his release by writing the president. For the first part of his imprisonment, his family was led to believe he had drowned in a submarine mishap. About that experience, Cummings wrote a novel called The Enormous Room. In the novel, he describes imprisonment:
It is like a vast grey box in which are laid helter-skelter a great many toys, each of which is itself completely significant apart from the always unchanging temporal dimension which merely contains it along with the rest. I make this point clear for the benefit of any of my readers who have not had the distinguished privilege of being in jail. To those who have been in jail my meaning is at once apparent; particularly if they have had the highly enlightening experience of being in jail with a perfectly indefinite sentence. How, in such a case, could events occur and be remembered otherwise than as individualities distinct from Time Itself? Or, since one day and the next are the same to such a prisoner, where does Time come in at all? Obviously, once the prisoner is habituated to his environment, once he accepts the fact that speculation as to when he will regain his liberty cannot possibly shorten the hours of his incarceration and may very well drive him into a state of unhappiness (not to say morbidity), events can no longer succeed each other: whatever happens, while it may happen in connection with some other perfectly distinct happenings, does not happen in a scale of temporal priorities--each happening is self-sufficient, irrespective of minutes, months and the other treasures of freedom.

This sort of claustrophobia, this imprisonment inside a sameness of possibly endless time-space, instead of driving him mad, seemed to provide him with an incredible sense of this moment, right here, right now. This moment as the only moment that will exist. And then any memories were thus moments in themselves, taken out of time, like the toys in the enormous room he describes. In the following poem, we see that child-like understanding of time most of us lose along the way:

in time of daffodils (who know

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remembering how
in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)
in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with praise)
forgetting if, remember yes
in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)
and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me

His syntax adds to the sensation of "now," "now," and "now:" every word and every line are to be savored separately and then together, in various permutations--think of pausing, with the line break after " in time of all sweet things beyond...." and then, come back, and emphasize beyond with "whatever mind may comprehend," but also that line leads to the next, saying whatever your mind may think it has found (comprehended), "remember seek (forgetting find)."

In one section of the autobiography, he begins a description of a fellow prisoner thus:
He is, of all the indescribables I have known, definitely the most completely or entirely indescribable. Then (quoth my reader) you will not attempt to describe him, I trust.--Alas, in the medium which I am now using a certain amount or at least quality of description is disgustingly necessary. Were I free with a canvas and some colours ... but I am not free. And so I will buck the impossible to the best of my ability. Which, after all, is one way of wasting your time.
But I think he means, one way of making the most of your time. As that is what he and most artists do:"buck the impossible." Create the impossible, making not a poem or a painting or a dance, but an event, a moment outside of time, one of those amazing, astonishing "toys" which holds a child's (our) attention outside the stream of his/her/our life, a moment of glimmering truth, of total possibility, when nothing yet is, because everything could be.
After all, prison is a waste of time (read that both ways). What he does here is turn prison, that enormous room, into a collection of "toys" which can be enjoyed by us, we who are outside that prison and even outside that time. He thus bends time and space. He bucks the impossible. He turns a waste of time into art.

Despite his imprisonment at the hands of the French military, he remained a lifelong lover of Paris, and stayed there many times throughout his life. There, he befriended Picasso, for whom he wrote a poem which ends with the line "you hew form truly," and in which he describes his art:
"presents always
shut in the sumptuous screech of

a line which could easily be used to describe his own poetry.
He himself painted, for example this Self-Portrait with Sketchpad:

as well as this portrait of fashion model Marion Morehouse, with whom he lived from 1934 until his death in 1962:


my love is building a building
around you, a frail slippery
house, a strong fragile house
(beginning at the singular beginning

of your smile)a skilful uncouth
prison, a precise clumsy
prison(building thatandthis into Thus,
Around the reckless magic of your mouth)

my love is building a magic, a discrete
tower of magic and(as i guess)

when Farmer Death(whom fairies hate)shall

crumble the mouth-flower fleet
He'll not my tower,
laborious, casual

where the surrounded smile



Monday, October 11, 2010


Theater of Memory, by Steve Cieslawski

(This is one of a series of stories I am working on that center around a certain, as-yet-unnamed luxury hotel and its inhabitants, both living and haunting. The first segment is here.)
All artwork in this post by painter Steve Cieslawski.)


Like Derrick’s small family unit, others also lived in various suites in his mother’s grand hotel. Ruzi, the surgeon, lived just below them and took dinner every evening at the same time in the restaurant at ground level.

No bones about it, little Derrick liked to stare. When he was curious, he found a way to climb onto or get around or dig into whatever it was he was curious about, and in this case, he stood not politely close to the table of the surgeon and stared unabashedly until the man decided to pull out a chair for him.

It was the carp-shaped, gloriously orange silk tie that grasped the boy and refused to let go. And it was Ruzi who took the boy with him into the world of tie-and-hat boutiques to start his own collection. Ruzi did not, however, wear such ties when he met with patients. And these are patients and meetings we might look to for more information about the man, as he was the only surgeon I have heard of that could take dinner at the same time every night.

Ruzi’s story began, as most stories do, with a monster.

Ruzi was an exceptionally talented surgeon, able to keep a primary presence in general surgeries and also dabble in a specialization of neurological procedures. The monster was not so talented. But it was large, and hairy, and sort of specially ugly, if that counts. It lived under Ruzi’s bed, and, as a result, Ruzi liked to avoid the bed as much as possible. So he stayed in his office, meeting with patients, reading the latest literature on the latest procedures, and communicating with other doctors.
When he had to sleep, the monster would be there to interfere all night, whispering in his ear the nasty stories of his childhood, roaring fire against his tightly closed eyelids, jumping over him and onto him and twisting up all the sheets. And Ruzi would give up early and go into the office.

And so he was, in terms of his livelihood, very successful.

And then came the suicide.

It was a woman that had come to him, because of his reputation, to have her stomach stapled. She had tried many things, in her quest to lose weight, many diets and many pills, including a short and quite illegal dance with amphetamines, tendered by a neighborhood teenager whom she had caught trying to steal pieces from her Tiffany Glass collection. When she came upon Ruzi, he had been unable to focus on her, and she had not succeeded in deciding whether it was his own personal demons or hers that kept his eyes averted.

The surgery was not a strange one, he had performed it many times, and being overweight was almost a cliché in this country which he had adopted as his own. He only half-attentively reassured her as he organized his schedule to fit her in and pulled together recommendations for post-surgery exercise coaches and nutrition counselors. He showed her lots of charts and many before and after pictures, and in general droned.

Patients still considered themselves lucky, because he spent all that time in the room with them. But not this one. Not Lola. Because Lola was used to the people who were forced into communications with her talking at her like this, all trying to avoid something (her grotesque fatness) by running their mouths on and on about something else, sort of distractedly. This type of communication was, in her mind, intimately tied to her shame. It was, in this case, an unrelated issue-- Ruzi was distracted by his own monsters-- but no matter.

So she decided that she could not put her unconscious, humiliated, humiliating body into his care. And she quit. Her violently bleeding body was admitted at the correct hour of the correct day to an unexpected and unexpectant floor of the hospital. And it died.

Myths and Examples, by Steve Cieslawski

Ruzi had sat in the scheduled recovery room with the door shut and locked, staring at the walls. The clean, tightly tucked white sheets, the stainless steel rack for clipboards, the stainless steel counter, the bright white shades over the afternoon glare of the window, the white polished concrete floor. Sometimes he clutched his head between his hands and squeezed. And he wept, some. But mostly, he just sat, staring at the glaring lie of this clean, bright, well-organized room.
He thought about the blood, the ugly scene he had witnessed downstairs, the ugly thing that had happened inside of her, the ugly thing he had been about to do to her. The ugly thing that digging into a person’s flesh and organs, sawing and squeezing and scraping, actually was.

Ruzi stayed in the room long enough to be charged for it. He refused counsel, he refused company, he refused food. He stayed there, with the lights on, through the night, until his mind was completely empty. Into that empty mind, a single sentence fell. It was a sentence remembered from a neurobiology class from his student days. A professor there had told him: “One thought can change the way every cell in your body behaves.” He sat with that thought into the early hours of the morning, an idea formulating in the cells of his body.
And then he returned to his office.

Unknowingly, he had begun training in an ancient Japanese art called Shinyo. This was the art of empty listening. Of mirroring. Of action through non-action. He learned, in his meetings with patients, to listen as a nonentity, to forget everything he knew and know only what he was being told. More than that, he learned to become the person facing him, to master his or her vocal and gestural inflections, and mirror them. In this way his patients became supremely comfortable with him. It was like talking to themselves, it was as if there were now some chance of being understood by a person outside of their own mind.

And once they were totally at ease, once they were perfectly matched, he reversed affairs. The mirror became the guide. He changed their mannerisms, slowly but surely, changed their thinking, their unconscious patterns, their chemistry’s habits, until the problem they had come to him as a result of disappeared.

He greatly reduced his number of patients, but his reputation soared. Strangely, it struck no one as important that he no longer performed surgeries at all. He never even went to the hospital.

Portrait of the Day Before, by Steve Cieslawski

By the time that Ruzi met Derrick, he preferred to think of himself as a beautician. Every day, he met with ugly, unhealthy people and their monsters, and he sat quietly and stared attentively; he mirrored everything that he saw until he recognized the thing that would, if shifted slightly, make the whole beautiful again. And when he came home to the hotel that he had begun to come to on that ugly, bloody day when he had simply not been able to face his own home, he would change his socks and his tie from silent work colors to outrageous, suggestive, vivid show colors, and he would ride the elevator down to dinner.


Friday, October 1, 2010

The Dreams of Saints and Children

If you're lucky enough to be in Wales, there is a fantastic show at Y Tabernacl: MoMA Wales called Art for Children.

(Monoprint by Charles Shearer, Asleep in your Wake.

Mari Lwyd,pottery by Meri Wells, whose work is also in the show.

also by Meri Wells

An artist I've written about here before, Clive Hicks-Jenkins, has a huge, gorgeous piece in the show called "My Dream Farm," a stretch of magical land in vivid reds and blues, complete with a windmill for those who wish to tilt. On his artlog, Clive showed glimpses of the image as he worked and talked about the process:
"I'm having a lot of fun with this. Flocks of sheep, horses, cattle, chickens and geese will add life once the environment has been completed. It's a landscape with plenty of routes that can be travelled in imagination, with roads winding through forests and over distant hills, bridges arching over water and a jetty with a little boat tethered ready for a rowing trip. It's just the kind of landscape I'd have enjoyed as a child, and it's been a delight to plan it."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, My Dream Farm
(This is a "panorama" painting. I will show it in three segments below, because of the woeful 400px restriction here).

Clive often flattens his landscapes, bringing everything to the fore, giving what some leave as mere background scenery just as much immediacy and importance in his paintings as the figures, and his paintings always hold stories within. On his dream farm, he has also done this with the landscape, tilting it forward, pushing it towards you, reminding you that the point is for you to enter and begin your own travels within.

(left detail)

(middle detail)

(right detail)

It is not just a story you enter when you view one of his paintings; it's a life, a motion of high emotion, an experience which leaves you a different person. There are many examples to choose from, which you can see on his website, but one in particular struck me powerfully today, so I'll share it here.
Clive has painted several versions of St. Kevin and the Blackbird, a series to accompany the poem of the same name by Seamus Heaney:

Saint Kevin and the Blackbird

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.
--Seamus Heaney

Clive Hicks-Jenkins Tender Blackbird

In all of the images, he emphasizes the cramped conditions, the physical discomfort of the saint as he remains, still as a tree, for the bird to complete the nest for its eggs, and then for the eggs to hatch. Either by rendering the wall of his hermitage invisible, so that we can see the contrast between the small quarters and the landscape outside, or by "cropping" the image so that, again, the saint overfills his space, all elbows, and twisting his head to fit, Clive makes the difficulties of the saint's predicament clear. But when I looked back through his preparatory drawings today, something else stood out.

In all of the studies, you can see the strong build of his saint. He is tall and muscular, and yet, despite that, he has ended up in this completely cramped, tiny space, unable to move. Yet he is patient and shows no anger. More than that, if we think of birds as symbolic of the soul and of transcendence, we see that despite the saint's cramped condition, his patience and love for his own soul means that this is not a time of compression, but rather a time of gestation. His stillness, his inward focus and peace gives the bird the stability and security it needs to give birth, to transcend. And in the end, the eggs hatch, and the baby birds give flight as well. And so his soul is even greater, even more. The quarters and lifestyle are not about denial or self-denial. They are about love, and focus, and flight...

Clive Hicks-Jenkins St. Kevin and the Blackbird

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Touch of Humor with your Study, Please

A Brief Romp through the Zoos and Gardens of the Renaissance.

"Winter" 15 feet tall, fiberglass
by Philip Haas
photo "Beauty and the Beast" by Dennis Roth

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is currently presenting the works of Guiseppe Arcimboldo, a painter who served as the court painter and portraitist to both Maximilian II and, later, his son and successor, Rudolf II, in the Vienna of the Holy Roman Empire. He was born in Milan, the capital of Lombardy, in 1526, and did not leave the city until he was 36 years old-- a fact which clearly influenced his painting style, as "Lombardy is considered the cradle of naturalism, a mode of artistic expression based on the direct observation of nature and shaped by Leonardo da Vinci" (source: exhibition brochure of this show, by by Sylvia Ferino-Pagden). The 1500s were filled with exotic flora and fauna brought home from the travels of traders and explorers to Asia, Africa, and the New World, and the simultaneous rise of the new sciences of the Renaissance focused the interest of artists throughout Europe on careful study and depiction of the natural world.

Dürer's Rhinoceros, 1515
By Albrecht Dürer

The above print was created based on the sketch and notes of someone who had briefly seen the first such a creature to make it to Europe, in 1515. Unfortunately, the rhino died in a shipwreck before Dürer himself could see it, and it was 1577 before another rhinoceros made it that far. For that reason, the people of Europe thought--well into the 18th century-- that a rhino actually had scaly legs, rivets, and a horn on its back, though it does not. Later, the print would also serve to influence the surrealist Salvador Dali, who produced a sculptural version, shown below:

Rinoceronte vestido con puntillas (Rhinoceros dressed in lace)
1956, Salvador Dalí

As for da Vinci's influence on the era, and especially on Arcimboldo, his "grotesque" head of an old woman:

and old man:

have a clear structural similarity to the heads Arcimboldo would later create using fruits and vegetables, as well as various creatures. The exaggerated hooked nose, obscenely bulging forehead or extremely recessed chin all found their way into his odd portraits:

by Arcimboldo
(Part of his series on the Four Elements, this painting is made up of mainly Mediterranean fish. According to the gallery notes, there are more than 60 different aquatic creatures here, the scale of which is inaccurate. Notice that the mouth is formed from a shark's jaw, and the eye is that of an ocean sunfish.)

by Arcimboldo
(The above is the painting from which Haas based his sculpture, shown at the top of this post.)

As a painter for Emperor Ferdinand I in Prague, he discovered the paintings of Peter Bruegel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch, with their mixture of the bizarre and grotesque and their flawless attention to detail.

It is thought that his early studies of the natural world in the style of da Vinci were what attracted the attention of Maximilian II, who was an avid collector of animals and botanical studies, having created sensational zoological and botanical gardens at his court in Vienna. Arcimboldo would travel to Germany to buy both exotic creatures and man-made objects for his Kunstkammer, a precursor to modern museums, which under Maximilian's son, Rudolf, would come to be called the "Art and Wonder Chambers" (Source). The year after Arcimboldo arrived at the Viennese court, he created his allegorical paintings of the Four Seasons, including "Winter," shown above, which "appear to be an encyclopedia of the plants and animals that Maximilian acquired for his botanical garden and menagerie, all of which were studied by court scientists" (Source: exhibition notes). Replicas of the paintings and the accompanying poem by Giovanni Battist Fonteo which described them as allegories of the eternal rule of the Habsburg empire, were made and sent out as "propaganda" to other rulers.

Strangely, Arcimboldo's works were pretty much forgotten after his early death of kidney failure in 1593, but were rediscovered by Alfred H. Barr, a director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who included his paintings in an exhibition he put together in the 1930s called Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. There, the mixture of serious study (for example, of botany) and humor, along with the obvious talent for invention and perceptual tricks, could be fully appreciated; he was soon dubbed "the arch-father of surrealism" by Dalí (Source), who would also go on to make heads out of pieces of the landscape, other body parts, and even magnified atoms.

The Librarian
by Arcimboldo

Still Life...

Flip the above still-life of a bowl of vegetables over, and you get this:

The Vegetable Gardener

But Arcimboldo's influence extends even further than that, right up to the modern day, as can be seen in the sculpture at the top of this post of his painting "Winter," created by Philip Haas for the National Gallery's current Arcimboldo show.

Philip Haas has an incredible talent for studying what's in front of him until he can re-create it, completely anew. In a 2009 show at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth Texas, he created 5 short films based on 5 paintings on display at that museum which took the viewer inside the world of the painting, or in the case below, inside the world of the painter's skull.

Skull Cinema for the moving Ensor painting by Philip Haas

"Skeletons Warming Themselves"
by James Ensor (1860-1949)

The film he made around the James Ensor painting "Skeletons Warming Themselves," (above) was shown via four screens inside a giant skull, and is described in the exhibition notes of the museum:

"In this piece Haas takes us inside the experiences, memories, and obsessive imagination of the Belgian painter James Ensor, author of the Kimbell’s macabre painting of the same title. The scene shifts from the artist lying dead in his studio to episodes in which he appears as an old man, as a young man, as a boy, and as a baby in the care of his heavy-drinking father. In a memory that stayed with him throughout his life, Ensor recalled an ominous bird flying into his room when he was still in the cradle. The family lived in the bleak seaside town of Ostend, where they ran a shop selling curios, bric-a-brac, and carnival masks. Haas shows Ensor at the carnival as a boy––with his grandmother—then later as a young man, each time encountering his father in a drunken state. In tableau vivant fashion, the carnival revelers enact scenes familiar from his paintings, with their grim repertoire of masks, skulls, and skeletons––all captured vividly thanks to the theatrical designer Julian Crouch, with whom Haas worked on the masks and sets. We also see the young Ensor setting up and painting Skeletons Warming Themselves in his studio. The film features some distinguished veterans of the British acting world, Bernard Horsfall as the old Ensor, Clive Russell as the father, and Paola Dionisotti as the grandmother."

Self-Portrait with Masks, Ensor

Recreation of Ensor's Self-Portrait with Masks for the film by Philip Haas

You can see a brief clip from the film here.

"Young James Ensor at Mardi Gras Court"
by Philip Haas

The D.C. Arcimboldo show will run through January 9, 2011. Thanks to Dennis Roth for the heads-up.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jenna's Tattoo

(This is one of a series of stories I am working on that center around a certain, as-yet-unnamed luxury hotel and its inhabitants, both living and haunting.)

NOTE: All artwork in this post by painter Steve Cieslawski.

Derrick’s pythons developed early in his life, in the elevator shaft of his parents' hotel.

The elevator shafts--there were two--stretched up the sides of the skyscraper like two glass thermometers measuring the wealth of their passengers in degrees. Perfect in every other way, the hotel often had a problem with the elevator on the right, which those outside of the hotel could provide the cause of--if only asked--as they were often offered a clear view of the pale blonde boy scrambling up in the steely morning light. His parents, however, turned a blind eye to this bizarre activity, as almost anything that occupied him at a distance pleased them to no end.

What they didn’t know about were his resultant regular visits to the thirteenth floor.

Unreachable by elevator, the thirteenth floor had been built at only three-quarters height, but in a hotel like this, that still left space to hang from a trapeze. And that was where Derrick had met Jenna’s soul, hanging from a trapeze.

Theater of Memory
(Notice the characters in their performance in her belly...)

Jenna’s soul had occupied the hotel’s 13th floor, along with the souls of several other people, since the explosive street riots of the previous century which had developed soon after a Very Important Politician, in the heady arrogance of new love and imagined moral superiority, had publicly discarded his old Mistress--who had, unfortunately for him and many others, by this time already become a cultural icon. Jenna had the entire story of the city’s rise and fall tattooed on her body. It began on her pinky toe. This is how Derrick would first recognize Jenna’s body later, as an adult and in the outside world: he had spent so long staring at her toes as a boy, toes which would later be enticingly exposed in the expensive pumps she favored. Also, there was her slavish fascination with fashion, which was really just her worldly body’s confused attempt to grasp the color, meaning, and artistic fullness of the tattoos hidden just underneath her skin, on her soul. Her fashion, of course, was always falling short, being the story-less version.

Jenna’s soul’s pinkie-toe was a snow-petal, from the Jissen flower native to the First Mistress’ region. Jissen was also the stage-name of that Mistress, so named for the pale white veils she removed, slowly, over the course of several hours, in an ancient art of dance designed to remove men’s inhibitions in flesh and in pocket. The flower grew only on the highest, snowcapped mountaintop of her family’s region, a mountain whose jealous spirit more often than not burned trespassers with flames of ice and blinding light. Only the poorest of the poor, and only those poor who had been trained since birth to face the difficulties of the search, dared to cross the first skirts of the mountain in search of her flower. And only those chosen by some higher being survived the journey.

Thus the blossoms brought prices higher than any jewel on the market. One blossom, kept planted in its original clay and dampened daily, would live forever. The tears it shed after that daily misting ceremony were collected in small glass jars painted with the likeness of the bloom and sold as perfume to the most elite ladies across the world. If a single petal were to be extracted from the bloom, the rest immediately died, but that one petal, stroked across the skin before it, too, wilted, would remove all wrinkles or other scars of living from the flesh.

Every decade had its claims of Jissen-hunting success.

Jissen the dancer’s flawless, pearly flesh, costly beyond the dreams even of those who were permitted to see her dance, promised life everlasting, but did not belong to her. It belonged to the man who had discovered her. That man, unfortunately for her and many others, was The Politician.

But back to Jenna's soul, and her tattoo.

Flight of the Architect

The petal was hooked by one claw from one long, twiggy leg attached to a long, thin, white bird. The leg was long, but the neck was longer, and the bird twisted and stretched far up the inside of Jenna’s soul’s leg, curling its head down coquettishly at almost the very last minute. It didn’t take up much space, horizontally speaking, but it held its own, attention-wise. Jenna called it Laa Fuba, the Guardian of Long Futures.

“Long, long ago,” she began the tale gravely, turning Derrick’s chin with one light finger to guide his gaze to her eyes, “during previous Dark Times, the End of the World was signaled by the Plague of the Angry Bees.” The bees, looking quite angry indeed, swarmed thickly around her ankle.

“The bees came slowly,” she continued. “The debilitating effects following stings here and there were first thought to be a virus, to which the children especially were susceptible. The children began staying in, which brought hard times for the people, as every hand was needed in most farming tasks.”

She lifted his chin again.

“And then the adults began to fall. They fell in the fields, they fell in the streets, they fell from their chairs at the dinner table. And soon everywhere there was the sound of angry bees, and the streets became filled with the whipping swarms.” She held his eyes with hers. “They heard that sound for many generations in their sleep. For them, the bogey man was a swarm, drawing up from the dust in the darkness.”

“And then the rumors began of the Land of Lakes, the Flatlands, where nothingness stretched forever and ever, interrupted only by nothingness that was reflective and wet. Strange breeds and outlaws lived there, and they were not areas visited much by the people of the farming and town communities. Who even knew how those strange breeds survived, or what threats they might pose?” Jenna paused, looking away, stretching one arm thinly into the air and wrapping it behind her shoulder. She pulled gently on it with her other hand and exhaled, then lifted her body into a backbend and continued with her story, Laa Fuba now flirting with the other side of the hallway:

“The rumors said that in the Land of Lakes, the bees had come and gone and no one had been harmed. Contingencies of men, wrapped in monstrosities concocted of branches and leaves and reeking, bee-repellant saps and animal skins, began journeying into the Flatlands to find the secret that would save their families and their lives. And after many, many weeks and many, many months, long after the ones they’d left behind were certain of their demise along the way, they returned. Carrying eggs.”

Jenna began to crawl, in her backbend, around the hallway. Backwards and forwards, and all around Derrick. Derrick felt his face growing pink. Derrick felt everything growing and pink. After his last visit, he thought he’d never be able to think of anything but toes ever again, yet here he was, developing a fetish for feathers.

“It was the Laa Fuba that saved them. Those long, white, graceful birds of the Flatlands ate the infected bees. They seemed uninterested in regular, every day bees. They ate the sick bees, and the sick bees turned them pink.”

Derrick, thinking she was teasing him, blushed a deeper red.

“And that was all. They turned pink and that was all.” She kicked her legs over, flipping back onto her feet, then sliding her arms between her legs on the ground and squatting to tuck her neck under and curve her back the other way. He stared at the gaping orange lips of a carp gasping at him from the base of her neck.

Jenna reached up for the trapeze and began to twist slowly from a hang. “From then on, in all of the villages, they had breeding farms for the long white bird. And the times of health were called the “Fluttering of Great White Wings,” and they had festivals to honor the bird every year, and the villages and towns were filled with the fluttering of white wings, and one, central float was dedicated to the miraculous pink of their savior.”

Her feet curled and slowly slid up the rope on the right side of the bar. She twisted to a handstand, then let go with her hands, her ankles gripping the rope.

“The float was a giant fuschia boa, its feathers made of silks and cashmeres, panties and socks, everything soft that could be dyed and tied to long and tangled ropes, and they would push the float up the great hill in the center of the village, everyone struggling behind it, and then with one great heave, they pushed it over the top, and the little man-made feathers would flutter wildly in the wind as it sailed back down the other side.” She twisted some more, grasping the opposite rope with her hands then stretching her hands and feet away from each other, curving back, her belly out.

“But even after all that, they still forgot. They still ended up in the Next Dark Times.”

And then she had to quit talking, from exertion.

"Fateful Meeting"

On an older post in this blog, author Marly Youmans recommended the art of Steve Cieslawski, and I instantly fell in love. I chose his work for this post because of the plethora of liminal spaces like the thirteenth floor in the tale, where one world's arches and floors form the strange sky of another, where a full-color, living head tells stories from a distant, black and white past, and where, incredibly, you can see the flames of the past resolve and settle into the red hair of certain lovely souls gliding through a Sea of Tranquility...the story of the past marking us in very particular, very individual ways, beneath the skin, in the marrow, even changing our DNA...

Philsopher's Twin


Sea of Tranquility

"Civilized Discourse"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Your Purpose in Life

Patience Worth was meant to be an author, and not even death would stand in her way. Though killed in an Indian raid in the late 1600s, she would become an astonishingly talented author between 1913 and 1938, through the mediumship of a "restless homemaker plagued by nervous ailments" with a "limited" education named Pearl Lenore Curran. Poet Edgar Lee Masters went to hear Mrs. Curran take Worth's dictation and called her work "remarkable." In 1917, five of her poems were printed in the Braithwaite anthology of the nation's best, and her first novel was praised by the New York Times as "a feat of literary composition."

In a September 2010 article in Smithsonian Magazine, Gioia Diliberto writes:

"Patience appeared on the scene just when spiritualism, enjoying its last great American revival, collided with the age of science, and a brigade of investigators, including magician Harry Houdini, prowled the nation to expose bogus mediums. Since most mediums were women—the spiritualist movement accorded women social status they rarely attained elsewhere—this crusade turned into an epic battle of the sexes: supposed hard-nosed men of science against swooning female seers."

Though a seemingly endless stream of skeptics and scientists arrived at Pearl's door to prove her a fraud, no one ever succeeded, and even if they had, the fluidity with which Pearl/ Patience could switch from poem to play to novel in a single night and the recognizable talent that flowed forth from the medium, who also studded her dictations with "sparkling conversation" with her audience were feats on their own.

And there was the incredible shift in her language:

“Well I remember a certain church,” she once dictated, “with its wee windows and its prim walls, with its sanctity and meekness, with its aloofness and chilling godliness. Well I remember the Sabbath and its quietude of uneasiness, wherein the creaking of the wood was an infernalism, the droning and scuffing of the menfolk’s shoes and the rustle of the clothes of the dames and maids, the squeaking of the benches, and the drowsy humming of some busy bee who broke the Sabbath’s law. Aye, well I remember the heat that foretold the wrath of God, making the Good Man [the parson] sweat. Aye, and Heaven seemed far, far.”

I recommend the article, which you can read here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lucy's Eyes

“I do not think that 70 years is the time of a man or woman, nor that 70 millions of years is the time of man or woman, nor that years will ever stop the existence of me, or anyone else.”
—Walt Whitman

Saint Lucy decided at an early age that she did not want to be with a man; she preferred to give her self completely to God, though she lived in a time when it was not permitted to follow Christian beliefs. To deflect the attentions of a suitor who was captivated by the beauty of her eyes, she carved them out and sent them to him. Miraculously, she was still able to see—whether with new eyes that God gave her, as in some stories, or by some higher sight, as in others. I have chosen something along the middle path here, giving her the many eyes of a peacock’s tail, which serves also as a sort of halo. Lucy also faithfully braved the dangers of guilt by association, regularly taking bread to the Christians that were already in hiding from the authorities. Eventually, she was denounced as a Christian by another spurned suitor, and after various failed attempts, the Roman soldiers succeeded at killing her.

The idea of sight coming from somewhere other than the eyes is one that can be found in many fables, tales, myths, and religions. There are those even in the current scientific community who spend their lives seeking out and testing those who claim to have some other sort of sight—into the silent thoughts of others, into the future, across great distances, or into other realms where ghosts, angels, and demons reside. It is suggested that the earliest mention of such abilities is found in the Odyssey, but second sight is very common to the lore of the Scottish Highlands and the Icelandic sagas, and precognition is widely accepted among the Native Americans as well as tribes across South Africa and New Zealand.

In The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot tells the following story about an event concerning a hypnotist his father had hired to entertain at a party and a family friend, named Tom, who agreed to play guinea pig for the evening:

“Tom proved to be a very good subject, and within seconds the hypnotist had him in a deep trance. He then proceeded with the usual tricks performed by stage hypnotists. He convinced Tom there was a giraffe in the room and had Tom gaping in wonder. He told Tom that a potato was really an apple and had Tom eat it with gusto. But the highlight of the evening was when he told Tom that when he came out of trance, his teenage daughter, Laura, would be completely invisible to him. Then, after having Laura stand directly in front of the chair in which Tom was sitting, the hypnotist awakened him and asked him if he could see her.

Tom looked around the room and his gaze appeared to pass right through his giggling daughter. ‘No,’ he replied…Then the hypnotist went behind Laura so he was hidden from Tom’s view and pulled an object out of his pocket. He kept the object carefully concealed so that no one in the room could see it, and pressed it against the small of Laura’s back. He asked Tom to identify the object. Tom leaned forward as if staring directly through Laura’s stomach and said that it was a watch. The hypnotist nodded and asked if Tom could read the watch’s inscription. Tom squinted as if struggling to make out the writing and recited both the name of the watch’s owner (which happened to be a person unknown to any of us in the room) and the message. The hypnotist then revealed that the object was indeed a watch and passed it around the room so that everyone could see that Tom had read its inscription correctly.” (141)

So, what was Tom seeing the watch with, then? Was he really seeing through his daughter? Or was he seeing the watch by seeing the thoughts in the hypnotist’s head? What is that?

While working on this painting, I came across yet another story, this one about an autistic girl, who has of course been subjected to many recorded medical studies since her abilities were noticed. Blind from birth, this girl wanders around by herself without running into things by making little chirping noises which somehow act as a sonar, as in the case of bats. She also always knows what time it is, though she has never seen a clock…

In this icon of St. Lucy, I have chosen time as that which is being re-envisioned, or seen new. The various clock pieces come apart, reconfigure, and tumble about through space; some of them are organic, forming the labyrinths where the Christians Lucy must feed hide from the monsters, requiring her to find her way by following an inner radiance and sureness of step, that is, by faith and by transcending (thus the birds) her physical handicap.

(Two heavy influences on my thinking about this work: Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges, and How to Create a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later by Philip K. Dick).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Just Fly, Baby


come on
your wing

the gravity
with your
lovely personality

don’t feed
the fear
not even
with a bite
just fly baby
enjoy the flight

poem by Vesna

Here are the ladies, brewing the birds….cooking them up via magic :)
And here is the black ink version.

This poem by Vesna also had a heavy influence on the painting:

In this dream
we both dream the same dream at the same time.

In this dream
we are the trees and our roots touch.

In this dream
when we are the trees and our roots touch
the leaves on our branches start making the music.

In this dream
when we are the trees and our roots touch
and when the leaves on our branches start making the music
the silence is broken.

In this dream
when we are the trees and our roots touch
and when the leaves on our branches start making the music
and when the silence is broken
a new world is born.


Here, the tree hollows out and extends impossibly in the distance, and a single root lightens and takes the color of the blond girl's hair, and she mixes together with the essence (root) of the watery figure, and the dream begins. There are no leaves in the painting, but the idea is that the birds take their place--and become the music-makers which break the silence.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Slow Down

These are the gifts of patience, love, and an attentive eye that Dalton Ghetti gives away to his friends (he does not sell them). By day, he is a carpenter.

The above image is carved from one pencil, and took him about two years.

“The pencil tip is great; it’s like a pure, very homogenous material...It cuts in the same direction, not like wood, which has a grain. But when I tell people how long it takes, that’s when they don’t believe it. That’s what amazes people more, the patience. Because everything nowadays has to be fast, fast, fast." (source)
(Yes, that's Elvis)
“I have an interest in small things in life—insects, moths, spiders. I spend a lot of time observing them. There’s a whole microscopic world out there that people don’t even notice....People look at my sculptures and then they look again, more closely, and they say, ‘Oh, there’s something in there.’ We’re a fast-paced society, and people don’t have time to stop and reflect–it’s all go, go, go. Hopefully these pieces make them stop and realize there is beauty in small things.” (source)