Perhaps this piece was affected by the fact that I played Leonard Cohen and “Like a Bird on a Wire” in the studio for about three months straight. I was fortunate to go to his once-in-a-lifetime concert last month, and it exceeded all memory and expectation. I’m interested here in the idea of freedom, the real and unreal and the precipitous edge between. Offset paper lithography using reproductions of wood cuts from the 1700’s, hand-printed over pastel and watercolor.
The moon keeps appearing in surprising places. I’ve seen it pre-dawn in the east trapped in branches strung with dew. Last night it seemed to rise in the West. And I haven’t seen it overhead in a long while. If it fell into my pocket would I even recognize it among the dimes and five-cent buffalos? I went to school (for awhile), I read the books and took the tests and traced the oval diagrams. How can it be that I have lost touch and cannot tell you if the moon moves in the same or different direction from the sun? The sky has held winter for so long I seem to look up only at the edges of the day, and so I forget: I don’t know who is rotating around whom. A long time ago they established that one of us is standing still, and one is spinning, and we all learned a lesson in humility. Surely if the orbits changed they would tell me, and the world would be in tears.
In this version the woman reads no books. She wades in the water, she has many minds shaped like the moon, and at the edges of the desert, tulips bloom.
Several days past Valentines’ the last vestiges of snow have only just melted. The yard is a desolation of toppled grasses, black and sorrowful Hebes, and forlorn conceits like the warm weather Acacia, now a mere stick. I post these images above to remember how beautiful it was for four hours when the sun came out during the snow siege of December 2009. I took a walk with my camera and boarded a sleigh to fairyland.
Now I must confront the ruins. The gargoyle’s smokey powers were no match for the long freeze, which destroyed the liner for the pond. The pond must be rebuilt from scratch or filled in– and I feel obligated to feed the heron his goldfish, so I’m going to take a deep breath and commit all over again to this garden, and making it the oasis it wants to be.
Last month I dug up the last carrots underneath a snowdrift and made carrot bean soup. I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder in her little house in the big woods. Carrots really came through, as did my beloved baby pak choy. So this summer I will plant more and harvest more, and take inspiration from the effervescent tendrils that twine from sugar snap peas, and the sun-baked scents of old fashioned rosa rugosa and lemonleaf geranium. Farewell tropical wonders, Acacias, flax, I’ll be looking for hardy natives that will last the fiercest ice age and burn with color in winter.
And now I’m going to oil my pruning shears, put on my boots, and test the tentative warmth of February.
I jokingly call my garden The First Draft of Eden. It is a constant source of happiness, joy and fretting: when will that magnolia stop dropping its leaves? I thought it was supposed to be evergreen, not highstrung and moody. What did I do wrong this time–too much water? too little? not enough singing arias while I weed? When the bad news everywhere gets the better of me I dive into the dirt.
This section will expand soon with more images, photos, and perhaps even recipes if I can harvest more than six legumes. This was a bad year for peas: plant three times and go buy some at the store. However, the climbing yellow zucchini, the deathless Nantes carrots, the tomatoes, baby pak choi, strawberries, cilantro and miniature cucumbers amaze me. This is the “fifteen foot diet” when you only commute that far to find lunch.
Here is the heron, who rules the pond. I haven’t decided yet if I should paint him, or if that might cause him to never come again. His visitations are of a mythic order. Each year I buy nine ten-cent goldfish, and each year he eats all but one. The last fish hides under the lilies. To see drawings and paintings inspired by the garden go here or here.
Years ago I spent a month traveling in Mexico, where I picked up a very old ex voto painting on tin. This traditional form of devotional painting shows the narrative of a spiritual or mortal crisis and its resolution. On the earth, people pray, more often than not someone lies sick in bed, and in the heavens a saint floats, all ears to the prayer scrawled in Spanish across the picture plane. The bed frame has always haunted me as an object of power in its own right. Unlike the chair so often depicted by artists as a stand-in for human attitude and contemplation, the bed usually has no arms, and often neither foot nor head. It sits unadorned, a naked platform on which to project our own memories, dramas and introspections.
This series of paintings started with the desire to experience the ex voto on my own terms and in my own culture. I do not believe in the saints. The only apparition that ever appeared in answer to my skyward yearnings was the GoodYear blimp, which revealed its private message to me in red neon in 1972: “Drink Coca Cola.” I’ve been looking beyond to the rosy sunset for years, wondering. I do not believe in the saints, but I do believe in their shape. I have always found consolation in the forms of devotional art, as though even in cultures and belief systems foreign to my own the abstract language itself has meaning.
As I worked on these images the forms evolved back and forth between story, recognizable symbol and abstraction. My working method starts with careful sketching of composition, stencils and color study, and then I throw up my hands and go with whatever the painting seems to be asking me to do. All of these images are original paintings created with printing ink applied directly to paper without a press.To see more in this series go to Sleep Studies.