Monday, October 31, 2011

"Streaming with beauties and splendors like a shipwreck of phosphorescence..."

Who talks like that? Samuel Beckett, in his letters. Denis Donohue, writing in The New York Times reviewed Volume II: 1941-1956 of the letters, edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck yesterday ("Midgame," October 30, 2011, pp.8-9 of "The Book Review") and quoted from a rather chattier, sweeter, Beckett than the one we think we know from Waiting for Godot and Murphy

Beckett discusses language, in a letter Donohue quotes: "Since we cannot dismiss it all at once, at least we do not want to leave anything undone that may contribute to its disrepute. To drill one hole after another into it until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping through -- I cannot imagine a higher goal for today's writer" (July 9, 1937).  So, initially, here, he says that he doesn't want to -- or can't -- watch language simply disappear, but he is interested in paring it down a bit. This is the Beckett we know. But the second part of this is the work of writing, the intent, perhaps, of the whole enterprise. I love the image of the hole-drilling, for writers as well as painters, because if you don't drill the hole, you never will know about the art, will you?

Samuel Beckett -- at least in these years of his life -- had found a favorite painter, and it is an observation about Bram Van Velde's work that I have excerpted here for my post's title... here are the phrases in their full glory: "I think continually of his last paintings, miracles of frenzied impotence, streaming with beauties and splendors like a shipwreck of phosphoresence ... with great wide ways along which everything rushes away and comes back again, and the crushed calm of the true deep" (September 10, 1951). And here is an "Untitled" Van Velde work that seems to fit the description quite thoroughly:

And here is a photograph of Guerrero Street in San Francisco, early in the morning, with a similar rushing tendency and "the crushed calm of the true deep":

How to drill the holes and paint what is behind them, that is the task. Beckett was right.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"The bones of the old ..."

I  rip up -- or paint over -- a huge percentage of what I paint. I destroy anything in a series that doesn't shape up to the strongest piece. As I have worked on this Odalisque Series, I keep looking in my storage room to see if there are any "incomplete" older works that I can play with now and use for the foundational canvases. There was a painting from this summer, a very pretty thing, a triptych, that was very fine in its way but ... it was a Joan Mitchell. So I have taken it and re-worked it into this new world of mine.

I was reading Louis Menand in The New Yorker a few weeks ago; he had reviewed an edition of Eliot's letters (the article: "Practical Cat: How Eliot Became Eliot," September 19, 2011).  He said that "to modernize is not to make a brand-new thing; it's to bring an old thing up to date .... ["The Wasteland," for example, was] something primitive .... recast in a contemporary idiom .... the bones of the old are legible (or visible or audible) under the contemporary skin. That's what produces modernist dissonance" (p. 80).  So maybe I am immersing myself in modernist dissonance (or, as one of the characters said, in the end of Breaker Morant, "then I'm a Pagan, too"). Here are the "old bones," my unintentional Mitchell:

 And here is the "contemporary skin," at least so far:

Eliot wrote (in a preface to a book of Harry Crosby's poems in 1931): "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." Well, here we go.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nakedly Nude, II: The Through-Line from Cézanne and Matisse to Roy Lichtenstein

Dorothy Lichtenstein told the art critic Michael Kimmelman that, in his last year, her husband Roy was working on paintings of women "derived from Cézanne's bathers ... which he was thinking of developing into a whole series of works when he fell ill" (The New York Times, January 4, 1998).  I was surprised when I ran across this remark; I hadn't seen any works by Lichtenstein that seemed influenced by anyone but Picasso. So I looked around and found two sets of drawings and paintings that I find just gorgeous.

Here is Matisse's "Blue Nude," from 1907:

This continues that conversation (the entry of October 27) about the angular, un-idealized nude, women who are really -- purely -- naked.  Now look at Lichtenstein's "Collage for Still Life with Reclining Nude" from 1997:

Lichtenstein re-creates Matisse's figure here; but he also opens up the view behind her. This open window is also Matissean, French plane trees and views out a shuttered window to the Mediterranean.  Rpy Lichtenstein is coming back full circle, to people whose work he barely mentions in interviews. Now look at Cézanne's "Large Bathers," a painting from 1899-1906:

Cézanne painted several of these studies of monumental figures posed against trees, with a tunnel out to a larger plain or river. Now here is Lichtenstein's "Landscape with Figures," this one from 1980:

And here is his "Collage for Interior with Painting of Bather" from 1997, as he was returning to the same theme:

This bather is more nude than naked, more stylized, like Lichtenstein's early women from comic books. The artist is still experimenting ...  but see how the model's surroundings have changed since those early enclosed squares with speech bubbles. She is reclining -- in a painting? out of an open window? -- somewhere near Aix-en-Provence, and she doesn't need to say anything.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Inside and Outside of Art Forms

We watched a very strong production of Macbeth this summer, done by teenagers in an Advanced Shakespeare workshop of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival.  It was clever and creative and made good use of its players, stretching them to live in Shakespeare's language and the world he creates.

I had not seen Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, from 1957, a film based on Macbeth, and began to watch it, in Japanese with subtitles. There are some changes (the three witches become one singing, wispy spirit, for example) but the storyline remains. I found that as I watched, I grew increasingly worried and restless and upset, and later I had nightmares. I could not figure out why. This is a play I know well.  So I started to try to figure out what was different. The early mists, where the characters are lost, and see the spirit, are poetic, as in the versions I know. But the discussions of the Macbeth character, Washizu, with his wife, Asaji, are more disturbing in this version, I think. She is relentless in her inventing of reasons to kill "His Lordship." She sits there, faintly smiling, whispering encouragements. And he believes her and begins to think as she does.

And what I realized was that the fact that this is all couched in another language, and I cannot hear its poetry, means that the human heart is frighteningly un-wrapped, and somehow, even though the play is set in feudal Japan, it feels more real to me than the story as written in iambic pentameter.

So I thought to myself that this is the reverse of what I ought to feel. Isn't it? So I began to consult my usual suspects about the consolations of art. Here is Wallace Stevens, the full text of the poem "Solitaire Under the Oaks":

In the oblivion of cards
One exists among pure principles

Neither as the cards nor the trees nor the air
Persist as facts. This is an escape.

To principium, to meditation.
One knows at last what to think about

And thinks about it without consciousness,
Under the oak trees, completely released.

So to me, this means that some ways of thinking about art (here the metaphor for art is "cards") push away any "facts," that art can be an "escape."  And we can lose ourselves in the reading of a book, for example, or the watching of a play, or gazing at a painting, where everything is concentrated purely into that moment, that work of art, and "One knows at last what to think about," because the work of art brings the mind into a (momentary) focus. And, feeling that unity of "purpose" (not really purpose, because that's not what we have sought out here, but it feels like that at the time), we are "released."

Then I went to Iris Murdoch's essay, "The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts."  She says that "Good art reveals what we are usually too selfish and too timid to recognize, the minute and absolutely random detail of the world, and reveals it together with a sense of unity and form" (p. 84, The Sovereignty of Good,  London: Routledge Classics, 2001).  So we have, together, the "random" -- which, in Macbeth, would be the accumulation of thoughts in the characters' minds, the way they coalesce, almost randomly, but terribly, to form the plan for murder -- and the "unity and form" which Shakespeare gives us by way of the poetry and the familiar arc of the tragic play. This combination is comforting to us. Tragedy, in this guise, is comforting.

Jane Hamilton, writing in Ancient Art and Ritual, back in 1913,  says that "when we say art is unpractical, we say it is cut loose from immediate action." In our daily lives, or in our rituals, we eat cherries. In art, we paint our vision of or our emotions about the cherries; the artist and the viewer become spectators, apart from the action.  "The artist renounces doing in order to practise seeing."

So ... I am capable of sitting back and listening to the anguished, but eloquent, poetry of Macbeth because it is "impractical." But when I watch Throne of Blood, I am not immersed in an art form that I recognize. I cannot cope with the terrible human pictures in the film. Everything I do, everything and everyone I care about, will lead me to a need for an art that offers at least a momentary consolation. Kurosawa feels immediate and real, because the unity for me in this work of art is still elusive. It is unfamiliar; it wakes me up, the way Richard Foreman and Gertrude Stein would want audiences waked up. But is is difficult, very difficult, to come into an art that demands that we see it as "immediate action." But is is good to come into this art. It must be like moving from a perfect Ingres nude to the naked bodies of Degas and Van Gogh and Matisse (see yesterday's post).

So I leave you with my version of Kurosawa, "Van Gogh's Reclining Nude Sleeps in an Alpine Meadow," finished yesterday:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nudely Naked: The Through-Line from Degas to Van Gogh to Matisse

"Look out my window, look at the way things are
Just wonder how, how did things ever get this far ...
Vince Taylor used to live here, nobody's heard of him,
(Ain't that a shame), just who he was, just where he fits in."
                                     lyrics from "Goin' Down Geneva" by Van Morrison

Last Friday, October 21, The New York Times published an article by Karen Rosenberg called "An Unblushing Career of Undressing Women," about an exhibition called "Degas and The Nude" (which she says, only half joking, should have been called "Degas and the Naked") at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (p. C25).  It got me to thinking, with Van Morrison echoing in my mind, "just where he fits in."

There's a distinction familiar to art students and their teachers, a distinction between "nude" and "naked." The nude in art history is often Venus, Diana, Susannah (and the elders), an odalisque in an inaccessible harem, mythological, fantastical, glorious, nearly air-brushed, and not anything you'd see in your own world. Here is a lovely, smooth-skinned example from Ingres, the master of the nude, called "The Bather of Valpincon" from 1808:

She is perfect. (I should add that David Hockney has traced this perfection to its -- very likely -- source. There was an article in The New Yorker, "The Looking Glass," by Lawrence Weschler on January 31, 2000, which traced the beginnings of Hockney's theory that painters including Ingres, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Hals, Chardin, and Vélazquez all must have employed lenses or some form of camera obscura to achieve their photographic images. This article was then followed in 2001 by the book Secret Knowledge. In both, Hockney tells us that he suspects that Ingres must have used lenses ... how else would he be able to have such an assured line with no preparatory drawings, why else would the drawings be so small, and, I would add, how else could he reproduce that back over and over again, here and in the "Turkish Bath"?). Ingres draws fantabulous nudes. But Degas's women are naked. (And after enough time has passed, Hockney argues, with Cezanne, the lenses are discarded for a new kind of art and, as Weschler reports, then "[deliberate] awkwardness returns to European painting, for the first time, really, since Giotto," and continues on through Cubism). And awkwardness = nakedness, no?. In her article on the Boston MFA's Degas show, Rosenberg writes that the museum unflinchingly presents "the raunchiest of his 'brothel monotypes' alongside the the more genteel voyeurism of his women at their toilette ... His working girls are plump and slovenly, with tufts of dark hair between their thighs. (Even Manet never went that far) ... [but] In Degas naturalism cancels out voyeurism."  So, to finish the explanation between "nude" and "naked," Degas's women are naked. And we can see that, exactly, here, in The Tub," from 1886:

This does look like someone, anyone, that we might know .... And I began to see something. I have been looking at Van Gogh's nudes (there are not very many, and the ones I love come from his time in Paris, in 1886 and 1887).  And I began to wonder if Van Gogh might have seen Degas's women in Paris then. And then the new biography, Van Gogh: The Life arrived (by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, New York: Random House, 2011). And yes, Van Gogh saw the Impressionists in 1886, but was not impressed with them as a group: "one is bitterly, bitterly disappointed, and thinks them slovenly, ugly, badly painted, badly drawn, bad in color, everything that's miserable" and he says, as opposed to most of the painters in the group, "I have faith in color" (519).  And yet, and yet, the biography notes that Van Gogh "commented favorably only on a suite of nude women, in pastel, by Degas (520).  Yes! he did. Here is Van Gogh's "Study for Reclining Female Nude" from 1887 in Paris; it's difficult not to see Degas in this:

There is no idealized goddess to be found here. This woman is naked, formed from rough pencil strokes. Her skin is wrinkled, her breasts are not perfectly-formed oranges, she is a bit uncomfortable and awkward. This is a body, not a dream.

So then, I wondered, because I have been doing this series of nudes with some references back to Henri Matisse, whether he refers to Degas and Van Gogh.  Degas, one feels, would have been inescapable, given Matisse's contacts and Degas's reputation. But Van Gogh was relatively unknown.  In 1899, Matisse bought a Van Gogh drawing from Vollard. Years later, in 1945, Matisse would say that "Van Gogh and Gauguin were ignored. A wall had to be knocked down in order to get through" (p. 158, Matisse on Art, edited by Jack Flam (revised edition, Berkeley: University of California, 1995).  See for yourself; is this "Seated Nude" from 1906 (she's looking pretty naked!) knocking down that wall?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the conversation piece

The New York Times ran a photograph of a painting by Johan Zoffany (1733-1810), because the Yale Center for British Art will be exhibiting his work.  Zoffany was born in Frankfurt, studied in Rome, and moved to England, where he would stay for most of his life. He was a specialist in painting small group scenes, a tradition that began in the Netherlands and found a niche in the England of George III (Zoffany would paint Queen Charlotte and her family twice, in fact).  These paintings, showing people in their homes, with their possessions, playing instruments, at meals, or outdoors on their estates all came to be known as "conversation pieces." Queen Elizabeth II has a large collection of Zoffany works and exhibited them in 2008-10, along with similar works by other artists, such as Sir Edwin Landseer's portrait of the young Queen Victoria and Albert, "Windsor Castle in Modern Times." Zoffany left England, lived in India for six years and returned home in 1779 to a world that no longer valued the conversation piece. But I am getting ahead of myself ....

I was originally drawn to the "conversation piece" painting because I thought it might be another instance of my Queen's Skirt idea (see two days ago and July 13). There is, in Zoffany's work,  a clear fascination with the silks at the window and the laces round the necks and the sheen on the cello, all to the exclusion of any kind of attention to the actual faces. Look at "The Gore Family" (1775-6), set one woman's face against another and try to find any difference between them.  I will concede that the two men's faces are distinct from one another, but still. So, a bit of Queen's Skirt, and yet, there's something else going on here. Look again:

This isn't merely a show of possessions. Yes, the wood of the instruments and the chairs is polished and carefully turned and yes, the skirts have all the requisite ruffles.  But look at the two things Zoffany has really painted with care: look first at the "window." Is it a window? Suddenly, we are outdoors! And we have a draped fabric, not a curtain, not a furnishing at all, but a transparent orange cloud, leading to a dramatic Tuscan hill (this was painted near Volterra) ... how beautiful that is! (Christo, are you there?). Then, second, look at the light in the painting behind the group. The art is (just ever so lightly) trumping the group sitting before it. (Ars longa, vita brevis?).  It could be a comment that this family values the work and wanted it as a focus, more than they wanted a recitation in paint of all their worldly goods. Or it could be the artist's trademark. See the next painting, the one that really caught my eye in miniature in the Times. It is "The Blair Family," from 1786-87:

The Queen's Skirt is alive here, too: look at the fabulous blue of Madame's robe. And yet, again, we have two anomalies. Here, again, we have the majesty of the paintings. The largest work is cut off at the top, and yet, the colors there and in the small side pieces dominate, picking up the color in the dress and then the center painting adds a shimmering pink -- just in case there was any doubt about where we should look. When I looked up Zoffany, I found that he was also known for painting people who did not live in stately houses; in the tradition of Velazquez, and Caravaggio, Zoffany painted ... faces. People. Look at the little girl holding the cat.

She is in there, gazing out at us, waiting for Courbet, Manet and other painters who would be able to gaze even more fully back at her.  So, look at these groupings, again, and try not to talk about these paintings with someone ... better yet, go to the Yale Center and see them for me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Brushed Circle and The Nude

We visited friends in Guerneville over the weekend; we had a wonderful time and, on the way home, we visited artists in Graton, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa as part of Sonoma County Arts Council's ARTrails open studios.  Our favorite artist, whose work is really stunning, was Mario Uribe, whose studio is in Santa Rosa.  Uribe works with Japanese characters (kanji) and papers and base layers of painting, and then overlays a circle, the Zen symbol enso, painted with brushes of all sizes, like these:

His circles? Amazing. Here is a photograph of a postcard of "Red Enso with Kanji," from 2010:

The red in the original is deeper ... but you see why we thought the work so striking!

I am thinking that the "Odalisque Series" that I am working on will be, for me, like the Uribe circles, a drawing or painting over a painting. I have just finished "MIMOSA: Matisse's Seated Nude Visits (one of) Schiele's Two Women in the Hills Above St. Tropez" (world's longest title!) and here it is:

We have been thinking about our winter trip a few years ago to St. Tropez. We drove into the hills above the village and walked around, taking in the smells and the breezes (the mistral had not yet arrived!) and then found lunch at a small family-owned restaurant, where we had a wonderful dish of Provencal spaghetti and meatballs. We asked for the recipe, and my husband made it again for us last night. The meatballs (small!) were ground beef, eggs, breadcrumbs, oregano, chopped chives or scallions, Herbes de Provence and salt and pepper. The sauce was tomatoes, red peppers and/or zucchini, olive oil, white wine, onions, garlic, and sugar. Try it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Queen's Skirt Explodes... again!

I have written here (July 13 entry and earlier) about my theory, that many portrait painters seem far more interested in tapestry, furs, gloves, emeralds, silks than they do the wealthy, even the royal, sitter's ... face.  And almost no-one gives us better satins than John Singer Sargent.  Sargent does have his fabulous moments, when he attains a Velazquez-ian dizziness, as here in the 1882 "El Jaleo":

Yes, we see her skirt lit by lamps ... but it is not the only focus. We see the gesture, the arms, the guitars that seems to be waiting for Picasso to make them Cubist ... we see life.  The painting asks us to move about inside of the frame. Our eyes do not become fixed on fabric. But then we look at a society portrait, here "Mrs. George Swinton" (nee Elizabeth "Elsie" Ebsworth) from 1897 and we see ... the Queen's skirt dilemma ... a beautiful problem, but still a problem:

She was a real person ... a rather significant personage, actually, a professional singer when that was not allowed ... but what we see, actually, is the lovely little chair and that magnificent sleeve and train. But I won't try and say it all myself. In an interview in the Guardian newspaper (7 September 2006), Jonathan Jones recalls that David Hockney had something to say about this work: "I remember seeing a Sargent in the Chicago Art Institute and thinking, fucking good you know, great, and even the bravura slickness, I admire it. And then I went round the corner and there's a Van Gogh portrait, and you just think, well, this is another level. A higher level, actually. I love the Sargent, but it's not the level of Van Gogh."  And then we look at the Van Gogh that Hockney saw:

Yes, we see the Seurat-style brushwork. But we don't care about that. What we see is the painter's gaze. Van Gogh's eyes.  We see the person. And the killer thing is that this portrait was painted ten years earlier than the portrait of Mrs. George Swinton.  And yet, it could have been painted a hundred years later, it is of such a different world. Hockney has also said that "Van Gogh could draw anything and make it enthralling... a rundown bathroom or a frayed carpet" (quoted in an article by Margaret Drabble, also in the Guardian, 17 October 2011).

Well might the Queen's skirt explode, in exasperation. (I mean that the fabrics, lovely as they are, are no substitute for a human face, and the Queen leaves in a huff).  Who can compete?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Contemporary Female Gazes on Orientalist Painting: writing the Harem

We visited the Jenkins Johnson Gallery yesterday (on Sutter Street in San Francisco) to see the exhibition of large-scale photographs by Lalla Essaydi. A few photographs echo French or English Orientalist painting of the late 19th and early 20th centuries but most involve the models and artist conspiring in a new kind of "gaze." The women are all clothed, sometimes in fabrics written over with large, abstracted Arabic characters, sometimes with fabrics that match the tiles of the room where they are posed; models are sometimes busy writing or reading or looking at one another or, rarely, looking at the camera. Their faces are inscribed with henna in the same abstract script. (Essaydi wrote all the script herself). Go if you can-- the show is at Jenkins Johnson until December 3. Here is a link to the works there: 

Above, a photograph of Les Femmes du Maroc "Harem # 10" (it is 48 x 60"). The discussions I have read -- about Essaydi's work -- seem to me either to discuss the politics of the work (does the addition of the clothing, the writing, the complicity of the models all liberate these images from the past or does re-visiting this artistic genre merely reinforce stereotypes) or the critic comments on the beauty and the power of the work as art.  I don't think it is possible to un-tangle these two sets of responses ... I find myself awed by the ways Esssaydi gives these women both political and artistic life. What do you see?

Monday, October 17, 2011

the BEACH, echoes from a picnic to a painting

We were picnicking about a month ago on Muir Beach ... the day was sunny (you can just see a bit of blue in the upper right-hand corner).   And the rock in this picture, layered in fog,  looks to me now a bit like a body. So it is no great surprise that one of my odalisques came to be layered in fog, as well:

She is, as I intended in this series, in a very different place.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Repetition is Redemptive... in praise of a series, because we must TRY

 I was reading about Gertrude Stein ... the article was "Desperate Seriousness and Avant-Garde (Mis)Recognition in Some of Stein's Sentences," published originally in Modern Philology, Vol. 97, No. 2, Nov. 1999, pp. 220-233.  As you might conclude from his title, the author, David Kaufmann, concludes that "the public that Stein invites to dance is by definition limited. Stein courts obscurity and derision precisely because her authority as an artist rests on both philistine rejection and delectation of the cognoscenti" (231).  Don't you just love those last pairings... "philistine rejection" and "delectation of the cognoscenti."

Wow! One is tempted by this well-articulated coolness and sophistication. But one would do well to re-think.

The article quotes an argument from a book by Hal Foster, The Return of the Real. Kaufmann says that Foster claims that repetitions, a favorite technique in avant-garde work (see, for example, virtually any Stein work, except the Autobiography), are redemptive. But not for the reasons we or the authors might have thought. Foster writes that "the future the avant-garde looks to is not the one it has saved, but the one that saves it by putting it on the course it charted but could not see" (p. 29 in Foster, quoted in Kaufmann).  This is a very interesting use of time; but it is the sort of imaginative turn one must take to read any really "new" work. I really like this Foster, but Kaufmann moves on...

Kaufmann says that there is a pressure, in the university, to "legitimate difficult practices of writing and reading" (233) and he's not a fan.  Yet when I taught Stein in both basic composition and interdisciplinary classes, the students, at first reluctant, warmed to her prose. This happened when she was read ... aloud.  Thinking about the sounds and import of what we read --as we read it -- is not really a "difficult" practice. The students had fun with her, wanted to see what it would be like to write like her, but they liked Hemingway and Emily Dickinson, too.  They were travelling a middle road, the one Kaufmann claims is not there.

Aren't we all on "a course" we "charted, but could not see"?  W.B. Yeats said that "all life ... seems to me a preparation for something that never happens" ("Reveries Over Childhood and Youth," the Autobiography); his may not be the most optimistic view, but ... aren't we always in process? Isn't that what Stein teaches us? That we are thinking and looking and writing and listening, all at once?

Of course we have to screen out some stimuli and concentrate in order to create anything. Stein's way of concentrating was to write after everyone else had gone to bed. She tried to finish, she once said, before the birds began singing, because if she didn't, she would never get to sleep. Stein comes at us in waves, but I believe that her work is in ordered waves ... it is an attempt to get past that idea of "preparation for something that never happens."

A series of waves. A series of paintings. A kind of order (as Wallace Stevens said, in "The Idea of Order at Key West": "Then we,/ as we beheld her striding there alone,/ Knew there never was a world for her/ Except the one she sang, and singing, made") that we need. I have been thinking about my series of nudes in just this way. Here is a painting, completed in the last two weeks, part of my "Odalisque" series:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sage Pasta and a Subdued Nude

My husband hasn't made this in a long time, so he looked at several different recipes, and this is what he came up with, last night, and it was wonderful.

(for two)
1. Cook 20 sage leaves in about 3 tablespoons butter (you can add one tablespoon of olive oil if you like -- it might help you not to burn the butter!) until the leaves crisp up a little.
2. Cook 6 oz. pasta (something small, not spaghetti: bow ties, ziti, small rigatoni). Save 1/2 cup of the pasta water aside. 
3. Put the drained pasta into the pan with the cooked butter, oil and sage. Then add the 1/2 cup water that you saved; get the mixture bubbling. Then add one cup of grated parmesan to the mix and stir a lot until the mixture becomes a sauce.
4. Turn onto plates and serve with fresh black pepper over the top.

We had this with salad and toasted baguette. Really delicious... but then, with all that butter and cheese, how could it not be? 

 And what was I doing while he was cooking? I was working on a painting ... here is a detail:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

LOOK: On Reflection ... Lucian Freud's Leigh Bowery Takes Target Practice (with Jasper Johns)

This is my final version of this painting, I think now.  I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about it, and I remembered that when we saw a full set of Freud's nudes, in New York, years ago, all the paintings were covered with full-glare glass... they were very difficult to see. I kept seeing other things... lights, other people, me, and so I have brought the model here into contact with a viewer who is both looking into and reflected by the glass:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Working on a set of paintings for a competition, (re) reading ...

Gertrude Stein's Mrs. Reynolds.  The book, written in France, completed in the summer of 1942 and sent to Bennett Cerf via a friend in Sweden, contains an "Epilogue" by Stein, who says: "This book is an effort to show the way anybody could feel these years. It is a perfectly ordinary couple [Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds] living an ordinary life and having ordinary conversations .... There is nothing historical about this book except the state of mind."

Reading the novel, we might feel a temptation to watch it unfurl in the mind like a black-and-white documentary, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas walking in gardens, cutting roses, listening for news over the radio. But Stein's remarks mean that she wants us to see her -- creating.  Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds walk in the garden only in a fictional world.  This creative act -- she wants us to see -- kept her going. And the act -- of creative reading of Mrs. Reynolds -- can keep us going, as well.

The talk of the novel, the "ordinary conversations," seem over and over to come in just as the narrator has delivered news that a soldier-neighbor has died, or the clouds gather, or some new or unwelcome or uncertain thing has intruded. And they are lovely, sweet, and funny things, these conversations: "they often talked about dates in cakes and they often talked about bread in soup, they also often talked about eggs and butter but most often of all they talked about guinea hens and geese" (p. 10 of the Sun & Moon Classics edition).  These foods, even for the (real) women (who were) living in a small agricultural community (the author and her wife lived in the Ain in France),  must mostly have been out of reach. Bread was available, certainly. But dates? Butter? Perhaps, now and then, a guinea hen or a goose might be tucked under the arm of a good friend, but much of what Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds discuss is ... imaginary.  In another, later, conversation, we hear this more firmly: "I would like said Mrs. Reynolds to have a roast chicken roasted with lots of butter and I would like to see a city said Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Reynolds said let us go to bed and he meant what he said and they went to bed" (244). The characters are waiting, waiting for news, waiting for arrivals, departures, friends, soldiers, food, and ... they have no power.  A distant but frequently-mentioned character, Angel Harper, an apparent stand-in for Adolph Hitler, is given a life ... with details (and a childhood and wishes and a strange kind of innocence) by the narrator and the Reynoldses.  And against threats from the outside world comes Saint Odile and superstition.  There is a good deal of mention of readiness ... and age ... and days of the week ... Chaos in this novel means not having details add up ... order and pleasure comes when they do: "Who has beautiful hands said Mrs. Reynolds and he said the mason had beautiful hands, and indeed the mason did have beautiful hands which was what made him a good working mason" (137).  But while there are many times when the details will not co-operate, there are small victories where the life seems so ... normal (once again).

I think the book centers on the power of the imagination.  There was no end in sight to the war in 1942, and yet the novel's characters calm themselves: "she said she liked walnuts and she said she liked quinces only there was no sugar and she said she liked eggs only there were no eggs and she said she was going home to dinner and she went home to dinner and that night they had a very good dinner a very good dinner indeed, yes indeed said Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Reynolds said yes and then they were very quiet and it began to rain very pleasantly and they were neither too warm nor too cold and then they went to bed" (323).

And, because most posts should have a visual element, here is a rug they might have tiptoed onto:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

One more pair ... this, a set of drawings from the Odalisque series

after yesterday's Austen quotes. I have changed the Matisse "Blue Nude" -- clearly she was lonely! -- here is (a detail of) her company for Tea: