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