Monday, August 8, 2011
On Art and Memory - Rilke and Joan Mitchell
I am reading the new biography of Joan Mitchell, a painter I worship for many reasons. I love her work. It just speaks to me over and over again. Then there is the Chicago connection and the fact that she was the first wife of my cousin, the legendary Barney Rosset. But mainly I love the work. I love the way she strips everything down. The way she recalls the yellow satin curtains of her childhood and the lake (Lake Michigan, of course) and the steel blue sky and trees and a piano and it all becomes in its own way part of everything Joan does. With color. As she said to someone once, "It all comes out of the tube."
Today I've decided I'm going to paint. I'm going to take this image of the bowl of fruit from Gloria's house in Umbria and try and break it down. Not do what is expected. Which is to make a beautiful watercolor of this beautiful bowl. A bowl I can't quite get out of my head because it represents summer and Italy and a kind of balance with the world.
But I am also going to try and take what Joan took from poets such as Rilke who was one of her favorites, I am learning, and one of mine. We both love the same quote and I will quote it here on memories:
"You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memoires themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them."
This is how a great lake become a splotch of blue. How a childhood loss becomes a ringing bell. We must experience, grieve, forget, and then remember, but in this way memory like fossil fuels is experience transformed.
Somehow this thought brings me to perhaps one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. At the Savage Beauty show at the MET which alas closed yesterday. The tiny hologram of Kate Moss in white - a ghost image that rises and falls and disappears, so tiny you can hold it on your hand. What was Alexander McQueen, that mad genius, thinking of when he created this tiny whiteness of a woman. His own mother whose death seems to have precipitated his own?
This image could only have emerged from some very deep place which is perhaps that place where all art begins.
So I am going to try and paint this bowl of fruit. But I am not going to try and paint it as a bowl of fruit.