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Thursday, March 5, 2015

THE BLACK BOX

richard tuttle

Something is happening in the heavens this week. I am lit in creative inspiration manifesting in all kinds of ways. The part that has me most lit is painting a box black today. I drove to town to buy some black paint at Chris Davis's shop, loving the black it makes and the way it smooths brush strokes. It is paint for furniture. I needed a paint that would finish smooth without spraying it. The box, itself, is the work of art and I want the paint smooth. A flat black not too flat, an imperceptible bluish haze in the black. Just enough to take the dead out of the black. Black is a very sensitive color to work with. I prefer to make my blacks mixing alizarin crimson and thalo green. They make a vibrant black that comes to life. Black out of a tube is dead by comparison. The box I've had probably twenty years, one of those things picked up along the way --- I can do something with this --- that clutter the house and I can't get rid of it, it has such potential. I brought it out of its corner and propped it up on the leg of the table that holds the home entertainment units, to see it all the time. It is the place I put things I want to do something with. Look at it, get acquainted with its shape and imagine possibilities. The cedar board I glued the cardboard pyramids on leaned against a bookshelf for a year. This box has been out a few weeks. I swept cobwebs out of it and kept it in my mind's eye. It is a couple feet long and ten inches wide, two inches deep. 

richard tuttle

The box had a door, a wood frame and plexiglas. It was made to display something to do with pipes in the carpentry department at the old Dr Grabow pipe factory in Sparta. A friend was working there when they closed down and threw everything out. He brought several boxes and boards home. He gave me several of the boxes. I've used three of them before, that I can think of, in art projects. This box has been a puzzle. I was looking for something to put inside it, make a kind of 3-D abstract environment. It never seemed right. Nothing that came satisfied what I was looking for. Didn't know what it was, but knew I'd know it when I see it. Reminded myself, simple, repeatedly while looking for possibilities. A few days ago I saw I could take the door off. It would make a frame with the plexiglas I could use for something else. The box by itself was beautiful. Nicely made, simply made. The wood is soft, easy to sand. My friend Crystal has been buying old frames, cutting a piece of quarter inch plywood to fit inside the frame. She makes the frames beautiful with an antiquing process she uses and paints the board black with paint to draw on with chalk. She sells them to hang in the kitchen to chalk notes on. They're beautiful. I saw in her shop several of them leaning against the wall. I said, "You painting abstractions in black?" She explained their purpose. I was stunned by the beauty of a rectangle of black in a beautiful frame. I felt like I was seeing a show of black paintings.

richard tuttle

It stayed with me. A few weeks ago, possibly around the same day, I was writing about wanting my art to be simple as a line of string. From that moment on, I saw doing something with a piece of string in the front of my mind almost continually. I saw the box painted black, all of it. The sides of the box make a frame. The plywood bottom, now the back, it will hang vertically on a wall, is a black abstraction in a black frame. I put an eye-screw on the top, the underside of the frame about midway. Painted it black with the whole box today as soon as I arrived home from town. The eyescrew will suspend a line of string three feet long. It will hang straight down the middle of the black and the extra foot of string will rest on the inside of the bottom part of the frame, a two-inch shelf. Whatever shape the string takes in its squiggles is ok. It's ok even if it hangs over the edge. The string will hang down the middle, an inch from the back, and curve at the bottom making the squiggle. Thought about leaving the eye-screw silver, liking utilities to show, but it would distract. I wanted the white line to be it. To almost everyone who sees it, the string will be the subject, a piece of string. For my eye, the whole thing is the subject, the frame, the back and the string. The string is, nonetheless, the subject. It is the visualization of my will to find art expression simple as a line of string. There it is. The black amounts to a presentation of the white line. It is taking the most common, like cardboard, displaying its beauty against a surface that enhances its beauty. It's saying a string is a beautiful object seen separate from its utilitarian role that makes it too common to notice. 

richard tuttle

It is a way of saying an individual is a beautiful thing looked at with compassion as art. I have found living among American hillbillies, people looked down upon from everywhere in the country as too common for notice, people who live their lives true human beings. Working class people. Stay away from them. The gum chewers. They've not been to college, so they can't know anything. Mountain people are at about the bottom rung of status among white people. And mountain people don't care. They like being dismissed. The exurbanites look past them and don't see them, and that's just how the mountain people like it. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty of a collapsed economy, the mountain people know who the exurbanites will be turning to calling for help, because they don't know how to do anything. Can't work a chainsaw. Thirty-eight years of living among the most common people, from the point of view of flatlanders, I've seen deeply enough inside the culture and the people to know that of all the varieties of people I've known throughout my life, it is the mountain people I am glad I live among. It's something you have to be on the inside to see. It's a matter of living by the heart. Outsiders see it as emotion, but from the inside it is heart. I'm saying with the string that common has art in it too. If I were to be a novelist or playwright, I'd write about mountain people and put them in relation to the invasion of the flatlanders as a contrast to bring out their beauty, like the black pushes the white line of the string forward and says, behold beauty. I'll wait til morning to attach the string. The paint dries fast, though I want it to dry overnight before I handle it. I've spent the whole evening practicing waiting. 

richard tuttle


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