Monday, February 8, 2010
Channeling Henry Miller
"Voyages are accomplished inwardly," Henry Miller wrote, I believe, in one of my favorite books of his - the Colossus of Marousi. "And the most difficult are made without leaving the spot." Whatever one thinks about Henry Miller he understood something about art and travel. The journey is inward before it is outward. The traveler and the artist must first conceive and prepare in their minds whatever it is they set out to do in the world.
My mother had her own take on this in 1967 when I sailed to Europe on the SSFrance. I can still see her, growing smaller and smaller as the boat moved from the pier and into New York harbor. I have a picture of her in fact, standing on the dock in sunglasses and a scarf on her head. Her parting words to me were, "Remember you take yourself with you wherever you go."
One of the things I admired about Miller was that he wrote and painted every day. It was his discipline. In Big Sur at the end of his writing time he painted. In the coffee table book on Miller there are pictures of him in his studio as his children run and play outside. Though I have issues with some of his writing, and I wonder if he is still read as he once was, there is a freedom to his work. He is an artist who could let himself go. And I have long admired his watercolors. What I think Miller was able to achieve was that freedom. He had a passion for travel, for writing, and for art.
Two years ago I went down to Mexico to study contour drawing with Sue Siskin. When she told me that she wanted me to channel Henry Miller, I knew I had come to a place where I would learn something. The town where she lived, La Manzanilla, had a large gringo population, but it was still a dusty, funky beachtown. It had its dark stories as well. Some boys who had been murdered at a nearby resort. But I learned from Sue to be a bug. To move the eye slowly across the contours of whatever it you are seeing.
When I think of Miller, I think of an artist who could completely let himself go. That is something, isn't it. It seems somehow hard to achieve. There are always bills to pay and other work to do. Meals to prepare and so on. But when Miller sat down to work, he pushed all of that aside. Ego, passion, ambition. Whatever it was, it is something any artist should strive to do. Miller moved through the world with the eyes of a child. Everything he saw or read or did, every day of his life, it was all fresh to him. It was new. Despite whatever we might think of him as a writer (or his views of women), he encompassed the spirit of the artist and and, for me anyway, has always been a source of inspiration.