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Thursday, May 15, 2014

CREEPING UP ON ART

frank stella

How was I driven to art? I had no access to any kind of information about art. My dad had a natural talent he never developed. He fussed around some, not much, showed me how to make perspective. My mother took an art class when I was in my first couple years in San Diego where they went for a factory job when WW2 was cranking up. Two paintings she made in that time were always on a wall somewhere in the house. They were beautiful. A psychic many years later told me the artist in the family was my mother. It was suppressed in her by the rooster she lived with that went cockadoodledoo only. That was all he knew. He had to be the big man superior to an ignorant woman and run her painting down until she finally got it she's a failure. Fifteen to twenty years ago when I was visiting in Kansas City, I wanted to borrow mother's car to drive to the Nelson Art Museum. It is automatic custom in the family that nobody lets anybody else drive their car. She said she'd like to go, and she drove. I probably found the greatest insight of my life into who my mother is during that museum stroll. She was drawn to Remington. I wanted to stay with her, but I also wanted to see the art she couldn't connect with. They had a great show going on at the time, a big Frank Stella show of wall sculpture, and a good collection of other new things coming out of New York at the moment. I was at home, loving everything I saw. I couldn't spend as much time as I wanted because she was getting restless. None of it meant a thing to her. I understood. I was that way at the Art Institute in Chicago at age 19. The difference was, I wanted to connect with it and she did not. Nothing outside her experience is of any interest to her. I've always known that. Among the Impressionists she took to a Monet city scene with snow. It stood out. Incredibly beautiful. I got stuck in front of a small Kees Van Dongen painting of a woman in a white slip, black hair an upside-down U, pink skin, surrounded by RED, Coca-Cola truck red. I was in awe. Stood there stunned. Mother waited for me to get over myself. She didn't see anything. She probably thought I was thinking it was sexy. I thought nothing of her absence of interest in the modern. It was totally outside her experience. There was much I wanted to see that I let go for her sake. I get lost in the modern and she's in a foreign country. We were connecting in that time like we never had before, talking about things we'd never talked about. Not secrets. Just anything. We never talked before. The talking in the house went from parent to child, did not include from child to parent except for something like, Can I go out and play?
 
frank stella
 
We went into the oriental rooms that I wanted to see as much as the modern, but wondered how she could handle it. Big Chinese painting of a social scene in some palace garden. She fell into awe. She looked at everything she saw like it was familiar, the way she looked at the Remingtons, though this was the first time for the Chinese. I could stay in that space as long as she wanted. I started watching her, she was in such a state of awe. She saw a life-sized head of a Chinese Buddha carved of sandalwood sitting on a pedestal that put it up face-to-face level. She automatically drifted toward it, reached out her hand and jerked it back about an inch from the face. "I forgot. You're not supposed to touch anything." I thought: Whoa. That was magnetic. Throughout my lifetime she has been the same as a Fundamentalist nun. I wondered if she'd had a recent lifetime as a Buddhist monk in China. Like I said, she only connected with the familiar. Nothing like anything in that room had she seen before in this lifetime. No way it could be so familiar from any experience in this lifetime. Of course, her church doesn't allow such heretical thinking as past lives, so I don't mention it, like I learned very early, don't mention anything. This is somebody locked into a belief system as secure as a bank vault. This is why I imagined entering the Chinese space, we won't be here long. Not only foreign, but a pagan religion. I remember thinking when she reached to touch the Buddha's face, she doesn't know it, but this is the same as her Christ. They are one and the same. I felt like she saw that subconsciously. It told me her reverence is real. It's concealed under a huge system of dogma that I do not hold for real, that I spent fifteen years shedding. I thought the only way she could see the divine in the Buddha head would be if her reverence for the Christ were real. She was more interesting to me in there than anything on the walls. I felt like I understood her religious zeal. It's something she carries with her from lifetime to lifetime. In myself, I tended toward the shamanic from lifetime to lifetime until the modern world where art and poetry are the only places I find comparable to access to the spirit world. I find it natural that our souls would come together, though, like in this lifetime, they just don't intersect. Her fanatical devotion drove me away from her, and keeps me away like a stiff-arm. I sometimes think she uses it to keep people away. She's been a solitary many times in the past.
 
frank stella
 
I, with my own soul history, get taken into Fundamentalist zealotry, somebody with unremembered by the conscious mind experience in the spirit world. They didn't mix. I was taught that everything I do is a sin and the only way I can live in God's favor is to have hands cuffed behind my back, sitting down, being quiet, watching television. By the time I got out of their house, I was the human cannonball. A puff of smoke and a boom. I'm flying through the air as far as the momentum of my intent could carry the kid that didn't know up from down, left from right. Passed all the tests in school. Went to church with perfect attendance by duress. In this atmosphere, in high school I customized cars in my notebooks during class. When I got my own 49 Ford, I customized it in notebooks every day. Made them like 49 Fords I saw in custom car magazines. All through jr hi and high school I put model planes together, then cars, then customized the plastic cars. By senior year I had a few little trophies from model car custom contests in the city. I even used the extra parts to melt and shape the plastic with a hot x-acto knife at the kitchen stove. Mother didn't mind. It kept the kid busy and quiet. I dreamed in that time of designing new cars  in Detroit. I loved car design. This was the Fifties, the age of the land yachts. Every year a custom car show came to Wichita and I was there. I loved it more than anything in my life. I knew a kid who worked at Daryl Starbird's custom body shop and I wanted to work there with all my mind. But then, like with everything in that time, bottomed-out self-esteem didn't allow it. I couldn't ever learn to weld. I couldn't do that kind of advanced work. I could never learn to paint a car perfectly. A guy in a wheelchair had a hobby shop nearby and I thought we became friends. I confided a grievance around daddy. Next thing, all hell broke loose at home. I don't mean partial hell. He'd told daddy what I said. When the shit storm subsided I took a great big cardboard box, filled it with every car I'd made, my entire junk yard of spare parts, everything involved with model car making, tools, glue, the works. I took the box to the hobby shop, put it on the counter and walked out the door never to be seen there again. Never touched another model car. I guess that's how I handle betrayal. I had hillbilly blood then, just like I have it now. I'm not bad and I'm not mean, can't kick anybody's ass and don't want to kill anybody, but when somebody pushes me into a corner, I come out of the corner with Xtreme prejudice. The person pushing me into  corner never wants to see me again. They're the people that have seen my dark side.
 
frank stella
 
Not long out of the Navy in my first Charleston attic apartment where a multi-level parking lot now stands, I don't remember the circumstances, but a young woman I'd become acquainted with was in a really difficult time in her life and I listened over a course of several days. She made out like I did something miraculous when all I did was listen to her story. And she listened to mine. Maybe nobody had ever listened to her. My recollection is so dim I can only see her face. She had to leave, go someplace else. Before she left, she gave me a book of Salvador Dali paintings. I never saw or heard of her again. Don't remember her name. Half a century ago. That book was the kickoff that gave my subliminal and completely uneducated interest in art that was vague as a dense fog the opening, the door to the world of art besides advertising art, the key that had me soon reading about contemporary art going on in NY. Pop was happening. Julien Beck's Living Theater was happening, off-off-Broadway was happening. Warhol's silkscreens, films and hangers-on were happening. It was an exciting time to be following by way of the Village Voice and books and magazines. I went through MoMA the first time like a provincial Italian Catholic might walk into St Peter's in Rome the first time in the 18th Century. Whenever I have gone to a city, no matter where, I go to the art museum first and sometimes only. I don't care about anything else a city has to offer. The only place of interest in Raleigh NC is the art museum. Washington DC, only the art museums. This is how I discovered art, by books and museums. When I talk or write about art, it is not with authority. I see art from a subjective feeling. I'm remembering a Robert Mangold painting about the size of a door, horizontal, the most gorgeous yellow I ever saw, and an odd parallelogram drawn with a single pencil line that wasn't quite parallel. It stopped me and held me until it was tattooed in my mind. I've never seen it reproduced in book or google images. Don't need to. And one of Mangold's at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, a square, soft almost olive, gorgeous, a pencil line circle that misses coming together at the bottom by about an inch. I bought a book of Mangold's work. Every image takes my breath. By now I've read and seen the entire modern period in its expressions in Europe, America and Asia. It is driven by a curiosity around the only subject that has ever interested me in this lifetime. Every place I've ever lived has been a wasteland where art is concerned. I'm used to it. I keep my own library of art books. I follow my own interest. I don't care that the world around me is watching television. It's what Americans do. So I stay on Waterfall road with my art interest my own and pet donkeys. The only thing I really want anymore is to be.    
 
frank stella himself
 
 
  

2 comments:

  1. One thing I have learned from our blogs is to "google" everything...I have learned who and why and what from reading. Artist I never heard of but when I researched I knew them from past experiences but didn't know I knew them...

    Interesting the things you learned about your mother by observing her in the museum. Remington I am familiar with and Oriental art is beautiful to look at but a bit confusing to me...much like their everyday ornate living...beautiful but confusing..over done is what I mean...Your mother probably did have a past life or many past lives as an oriental...

    Also interesting is the way your father kept a hammer hold on you and she...He must have had a huge inferiority complex to have done that...with the only way he could feel superior is to belittle the ones around him..at least that has been my observation in life..

    I am learning so much about art and artist from your blog...my own private tutorial....Thanks for it and the morning coffee read...better then the morning paper any day

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    1. Darlene, I too seldom reply to what you tell me, but most often don't know what to say. I hear what you're saying, we've connected, we resonate as people who would become friends living in the same area, would eventually meet, wherever. I deeply value your comments. That I don't reply right away means I don't know what to say. You are giving me valuable insight. I find I'm writing to you a lot now. Your comments tell me it spoke to Darlene, that's good enough. It feels like I'm doing that dreaded thing, baring my soul. Where's the problem? It doesn't hurt. It opens windows and doors. It lets the air flow. In Sparta I figure it is about forty people reading the blog. I don't know who they are. Very rarely does somebody tell me they've read it. Several have looked and found it not their thing. OK by me. I'm not selling anything. One reader a day is as good to me as 300. I feel like the writing is about connecting with others. Some connect, some don't. I write about themes I know everybody I know thinks about but never talks about, except if it turns up in complaining. Politically, most think I'm nuts and some find me on target. Either way, ok. Most are not interested in art at all. Ok. It's a fun tightrope to walk too. I walk the line between ego and not-ego, trying not to lose balance with emphasis on either way. All of us are ego-driven. The only way I can see around that is just to fess up and say, Yeah, I have ego, can't avoid it. We can't live without ego, so I can't write without ego. The trick is to train the ego to service instead of wanting all for self. Service, itself is egoic, so there is no way round it. I'm writing first person observation filtered through my own egoic twists of interpretation. Not many years ago somebody at the coffee shop I didn't know told me I'm an egotist. I said, Of course I am. He was speechless. It was the end of our conversation. He thought he was insulting me, but he didn't. He only told me about himself something he'd rather I not know. And what you said about daddy and low self-esteem. He was dragging bottom in that department. Had his own issues. Just didn't know it. He thought he was a natural born testosterone hot shot. Believed his gender made him special. I would think thoughts like, when you get old and infirm, you don't want to come to me for assistance. I will tell you every day you are stupid. I will hit you every day. I will listen to nothing you say without a smart-mouth retort. You will get basic maintenance from me and the rest will be torment. Only torment. Every torment I can think of. You don't want that. It will be hell. You will leave this lifetime hating me. Go to a nursing home. They're kind. They'll let you starve to death, but I would too. His kid did not abandon him. He threw his kid away. Trash doesn't often come back from the dump. Enough of that. Like I said before, I write now largely for you and Lee, because y'all have connected with it, meaning we connect. I really appreciate our connection. I look forward daily to getting something posted before Darlene's morning coffee.

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