Saturday, November 30, 2013

"And be contented to charm/ the birds off the trees..."

Playing. Cole Porter's song "Get Out of Town" (Ella Fitzgerald singing, of course) is playing in my head, against my photograph with iPad sketch-markings:


Watching the birds whirling around the sky... some migrating, others flying up, dark against the pinks and greys of the now-receding fog. Our hummingbird is still for about 5 seconds, taking a very small rest on a branch, then visiting the flowers on the tree outside our window. His body is again on a branch, but his head is constantly moving; he is perched for longer now, 10 seconds, perhaps... tiny movements of the natural world silhouetted on the greys of more distant pipes, air conditioners, stuccoed walls of the apartments across the way.

 And now lines from an old Seals and Crofts song from my college years come back:

Hummingbird, don't fly away, fly away
Hummingbird, don't fly away, fly away

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mary Mountcastle Eubank: "The Deep Heart's Core"

.... I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
                       ---From W.B. Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

Mary Mountcastle Eubank is presenting a show called "Edges and Flows" at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station, where I am an artist member. Eubank is a founding member of the gallery, now in its thirtieth year. Here are two installation views of her show:

"Out of Nothing," a small (18" x 24") painting near the entrance, feels to me the way the pistil and stamens of a flower might look to a visiting honeybee.    The ceramic shards come cleanly out of the blurred surface of the canvas, but we feel so close, as if zoomed into that surface, and it's as if some small, silent explosion has just happened, and we have landed in its center:

Eubank wrote in her artist's statement that "I want to imagine a replica of a landscape that is not an imitation, but a reflection of my inner response to landscape and place." Pure imitation would be photographic; a reflection of a response is a purely intangible thing, something to take a lifetime reaching. Like Yeats, Eubank seems to be able to reach across pavements and time back into this reserve of blue water and red sands that she so ably portrays in this show. Eubank has written that hers is "a sensuous relationship to the natural world." To be truly sensuous, I think! one must hold nothing back, and that is just what we see here. Wide-open art.

Here is a piece without title or price, representing, perhaps, some of the ingredients in the work on display:

Reminds me of something... My husband, our two children and I lived for a year and a half on the island of Malta, located in the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Sicily. In winter, the mistral blew the red sands up from Northern Africa, and the particles fell on cars, roads, tree limbs... And it was just this color; desert sand could blow right by us, so the world was very small, wasn't it?

Eubank would seem to agree. Yes, the natural world is vast, but each piece of it, each fragment that makes up our world, is part of us, can be small enough to be seen and understood, if only a little, by each of us. The artist has explained that her works "develop with alternating layers of thin washes and heavy impasto, often laced with organic materials, such as sand, decomposed granite and wood ash."  It is an unusual set of tools for painting, but one that echoes the colors of earth and water in Eubank's home, West Marin.

"Passage," a monumental mixed-media painting  (49" x 72"), could be a landscape. I could say it looks like a cold morning pathway seen from The deck of a ship, with icebergs threatening on either side:

But, for this artist, the painting is far more likely to refer to an interior journey. Possibilities are there, rich in color and warmth and light, if you can just steer clear of those icebergs. Those two brown built-up paper objects -- or obstacles -- are deeply etched. We know these rocks and shoals. We have been on them ourselves, marooned for a time until that bit of light at the bottom breaks through and sets us free.

There is another Irish poet whose work has been running through my mind these last few days. Seamus Heaney wrote a poem called "Postscript," published in his book "The Spirit Level." He talks about driving in a car past the kinds of landscape we see in Northern California (or, in his case, the West of Ireland):

....So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans....

Useless to think you'll park and capture or
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

We viewers are "A hurry through which known and strange things pass." If we are lucky, we stop in front of one of Eubank's paintings of the landscapes of the "deep heart's core," and we feel our hearts blown open.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"And it is. I make sure it is." Hockney and the thrill

“The care with which the rain is wrong and the green is wrong and the white is wrong.... The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain.”  Gertrude Stein, the final Tender Button

Consider the work of Gertrude Stein and David Hockney, and you will realize that neither artist is afraid to fail nor afraid of happiness.  For both, I get the impression, happiness is contagious.

The De Young Museum in San Francisco is showing "David Hockney: A Bigger
Exhibition," (his recent portraits and landscapes), through January 20, 2014. Hockney's landscapes are the thing, though. At the De Young, the show moves almost entirely chronologically, tracing Hockney’s movement through one medium after another in his portrayal of his Yorkshire woods and fields - water colors, oil, video, iPad drawings and charcoal, and, full circle, beginning and ending with classical tools. The classical approaches present Hockney’s art-school credentials.

But, much like his hero Picasso, Hockney appears to find that Raphael or Rembrandt pretty much had the classical thing covered, and he pours his passion into making us see – “how we see.” The works on video and iPad stop viewers in their tracks.

To the video presentations, first. 18 video screens, 3 high and six across,  are combined in a single space, although the boundaries of each camera’s view prevents the screens from fitting exactly, a slight tradeoff for having each angle and distance within the 18 screens in perfect focus.  Hedgrows wave lazily (here is a still from the catalogue... May 12th, 2011, Rudston to Kilham Road):

We look first at one screen, then another, then the time passes and we see we have stood there watching time, watching wind, watching air. We are surrounded, even though we are responding to just one wall of flat screens. We then move to the room of  “trees down the tunnel” that Hockney painted over and over again, here in nine screens (Woldgate Woods, June 2nd, 2010). Here is a still from the catalogue:

 Cars pass, unevenly from screen to screen. Snow falls delicately and slowly from tree branches, leaving one screen’s border, and then entering another ‘s,  just a little askew. Here is Woldgate Woods, November 26th 2010, a still photograph, from the catalogue:

The artist told Lawrence Weschler that mounting these cameras onto his car and driving through the fields meant "at least eighteen different vanishing points, and all of them moving" (catalogue essay, p. 39).  Or, in the case of the room that surrounds us with the four seasons of Woldgate Woods in the De Young, nine screens, nine moving vanishing points.

So what? you say.  Hockney has spent his life as an artist worrying about how to make art that makes us feel the way we feel when we are walking through the world. The now-famous photocollages (here, a detail of Grand Canyon from North Rim Lodge, Arizona, 1982):

offered up multiple (but rather fragmented, like broken glass) perspectives.  The  later paintings moved along further-- here is a detail of  "Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio," 1980:

Finally the “Bigger” series arrived; this work is part of that series, and Hockney truly began to find a straight line to our senses. (See :

He has come all his life to this point... where he shows us how we can see the world we know. It’s a little neglected corner. It isn’t Claude Monet’s towering sharp-edged cliffs at Etrétat, or Caspar David Friedrich’s Alps and fog in “Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer“ (The Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist) or any other landscape that would add drama all on its own.  Hockney’s landscapes are where you walk the dogs, where you go to play hide and seek, where you go for a quiet ... anything.  We all know this place. We begin to find that we love it, in all its powerful humility.

Hockney said, in 2004 (I cannot find the reference!) that  “I can get excited watching rain on a puddle. And then I paint it. Now, I admit, there are not too many people who would find that exciting. But I would. And I want life thrilling and rich. And it is. I make sure it is.”

And the puddles?  Well, they come into play in the iPad drawings. Here is 18 December, from the catalogue:

I remember when, at 13, I first noticed raindrops on a puddle, walking to the bus-stop.  But somehow I remember thinking about the dropping water and the “plop” sound it made, hitting the puddle on the asphalt.  These are very simple things Hockney offers us;  simple, yes, but so hard to recreate.

2 January:

Go and see.