Red Flower, April in Berlin

“Red Flower, April in Berlin,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). From this spring flower photo series from Gärten der Welt. 

“Spring Art”

Everywhere in spring, you can see the painters run amok.
The tulip leaves’ brushstrokes bend like canvas in the wind.
The cold, white sun is cutting golden angles on tree tops,
measuring and marking halo after halo, ray on top of ray.

Some people say the colors are too bright—unrealistic.
But the artists of the earth and air, water and sky, insist:
There is no limit to the vibrance.
The sweet softness will continue to shimmer and overflow.
If you get up close, every bloom is a perfect paper swan.
Every fold in blossom and bend in branch offers its art to the sky.

Share

Reviews, Trips, and Sketches

Lots of art, little blogging! It’s a good life. Here’s a brief bloggular update on the reviews, trips, and sketches I’ve been up to lately.

Cornelia Schleime, Female Kingfisher,” 2016, acrylic, asphalt, and shellac on canvas. 

My next half dozen art reviews appeared on the new art criticism website The Delicious Line:
– #
3/Cornelia Schleime at Berlinische Galerie,
– #4/John Bock at Berlinische Galerie,
– #5/Fleischeslust: George Grosz in dialogue with others at Galerie Deschler,
– #6/The Field Has Eyes: Images of the Surveillant State at the Museum of Photography,
– #7/Watching You, Watching Me: A Photographic Response to Surveillance at the Museum of Photography, and
– #8/Adrian Piper’s Probable Trust Registry at the Hamburger Banhof. 

A few people have said they saw exhibits I reviewed, didn’t get them at the time, and so really enjoyed my criticism because it shed light on the substance of the art. That makes me really happy. One of the best feelings in the world is making art or writing or doing activism, and hearing that “ping!” somewhere in the world, where you had an impact, however small, although you were sort-of minding your own business attending to truth or watching the sun set, which sometimes feels like the same thing.

Sunny, art-filled Frankfurt. 

Since I moved to Berlin in Nov. 2015, I’ve been asking gallery owners and artists how to make a living here as an artist. Everyone says you live here—”poor but sexy” Berlin—and sell elsewhere. So last winter I visited Munich and talked to some wonderful people, but didn’t find the art scene there bustling. I continued remaking my oeuvre from scratch after having to leave all my art in the U.S. when I immigrated. My ridiculously supportive and talented partner helped me make a proper portfolio book showcasing my new art, and this-here beautiful new website filled with proper, high-quality photographs in its beautiful, working webstore. Then last week and this, I finally took the proper portfolio book to pitch galleries my paintings. I’ll probably blog next week in the format of my old gratitude lists (e.g., CCCLisbon, Amsterdam/Berlin, Hack 42…)—about this recent trip to Nuremberg/Frankfurt. I also need to schedule next pitching trips to Hamburg and Cologne/Düsseldorf, if anyone knows nice artsy people there…

Finally, the past few months I’ve been accidentally accumulating sketches of ridiculously beautiful women to paint from. But I’m greedy and I want to sketch more (and better) before developing a painting series out of these… Some of the sketches reflect motion, the fast movements of subjects who are enjoying conversation or life rather than posing. In some, I was able to begin instead to capture the beauty of the woman, which always feels like a magic trick and a privilege. As always in art, I want to do more/better before sharing what I have—but that’s not what working artists do.

So maybe next week I’ll also start blogging a selection of those sketches, along with short poems inspired by my ridiculously kind, smart, sweet model-friends… Like this one.


“Although you won’t listen, I will say it again as if to myself”

Run away from your fiancé.
Run away from your boss.
Sit on the dock of the bay.
Don’t worry about the cost.

Share

Poetry Brothel Berlin Launch Success

Photo: Philipp Bögle.

Poetry Brothel Berlin launched last week, thanks to writer and Madame Nathalie Dewalhens‘ years-long masterminding, show shepherdess Jos Porath’s careful herding, and a whole lot of creativity and effort from a whole lot of other talented people. I had so much fun. Friends are still thanking me for the invite, some saying it was the best party they’d been to—combining high art (e.g., opera, naked cello, classical piano) with intimate poetry readings and a generally informal atmosphere, with fancy costumes and lots of moving around, different things going on… We imagined it might be what the theater was like in Shakespeare’s day, when what we now consider high art was actually mass entertainment and people moved around being social (eating, drinking, talking, flirting) while enjoying it. It had that vibe of “something special is happening and I am here for it—and damn, is it fun.”

Photo: @ucalelelady.

There were too many remarkable artists to name. Among others, I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing singer and harpist, and experiencing her perform. If you don’t know Gillian Grassie—you will. She plays the harp like a jazz pianist plays the keyboard. And sings her own stuff with the voice to match. She made me wish we already had in place the technology that will be common in 10 years, where LED screens form a sort of a word threshold over live performers so you can read the lyrics (coming on the left, current above, just done on the right) as they sing. So as you’re gobsmacked by the beauty of the music and the performance, you can also get every word. It also made me grateful we didn’t have time for my own singing…

Although I prepared my two current favorite poem-songs (Raggedy Thing and Stain Louis) to sing with the pianist, I didn’t sing during the Brothel performance. My wonderful singer friend and vocal coach Ines Theileis helped me be sure I was ready the day before… With her guidance, I can hear my voice get where it can get, and feel I could carry a room like that with my back open, the right bits relaxed and tensed in turns, swell where it needs swell and soft where soft goes. Or, as Zadie Smith as Lady Day says in The New Yorker this week:

something in the modulation of your throat leaps up, like a kid reaching for a rising balloon, except most kids miss while you catch it—yes, you catch it almost without expecting to—landing on an incidental note, a perfect addition, one you never put in that phrase before, and never heard anyone else do, and yet you can hear at once that it is perfection. Perfection!

But the evening as a whole was unrehearsed, and I didn’t get a chance in the flow of it to do that thing among my things. It might bear mentioning here that I attempted to do everything I could conceivably get away with doing: I came early and left late, washed windowsills before, tried to get the very drunk girl home safe after, and brought my sweet hot man for sound engineering in-between. One artist was sketching, so I brought a pad and pencil, and sketched. Poets were reciting, so I prepared a performance manuscript and recited. When I learned at the planning meeting there would be music, I tried collaborating with the pianist to join in that, too. I am a greedy, hungry artist, and I want all the things.

Photo: Nathalie Dewalhens. This is btw how amazing the Tangoloft normally looks. 

So I came home and (after sleeping something like 12 hours?!) started learning Noteflight, a program that does many music things I’ve dreamed of for years. It closes the loop between hearing something that sounds right, and writing it in proper music notation to play with rewriting and then learning it. It closes the loop between hearing something and transcribing it for a different instrument or key (like I’ve been dying to do Tori Amos-style with a few Rage Against the Machine songs). And it closes the loop between my chicken scratch music notation that I like to draft stuff in, and the proper staff notation that I like to learn/read music in. I’m hoping my song binder that I left in Boston when I left the U.S. will get here someday, and then I can properly notate and revise/relearn some old favorites I wanted to work on some more (e.g., “Warm Tidings,” a Christmas song about climate change, and my song version of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope“).

It will be better to perform these poem-songs when I have my own, proper piano accompaniment written, rewritten, and learned, with the help of Noteflight, to play myself while I sing. And at that, probably at an open mic, where I can play with my performance anxiety among other people who are afraid they’ll manage to light themselves on fire while choking at the same time. (After hearing me laugh out loud at myself imagining this outcome in vivid detail while attempting to take a much-needed nap, my ridiculously sweet boyfriend developed a two-tier plan for what he would do if that happened… ) There are performers who are consummate musicians first. And then there are performers who are poets, and some of their songs happen to have melody and need to go through the whole process of coming out that way; and I am the latter. But I still need to do it and do it right.

I did a lot of preparation like that, that was probably more for me as an artist than for this one night. Like printing out and reading through a performance manuscript of the best of my old and new poetry, so I could perform it not off-book but with a felt sense of it, fresh. This all resulted in me having a short introductory poem (“Raggedy Thing”) memorized to perform at the beginning of the Brothel, as the Madames introduced their Poetry Whores. Some “customers” wanted my website to find what I had read them and see more of my work. One group made my night returning at the end to tell me that my performance was the highlight of their evening. Maybe it was just for this one night, but maybe the Brothel will have other performances… Plus, now I have a performance poetry book to take to open mics, that looks nicer than sheets of paper.

Also, I managed to not light myself on fire while choking in front of 100+ people.

Photo: Philipp Bögle.

Share

Behind the Moon

“Behind the Moon,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Behind the moon and under the sea”

Behind the moon and under the sea,
the seasons change quite differently.
The currents run quick with no light to bend.
The leaves don’t fall and the blooms don’t end.
How does the rose know when it’s been a year?
Or the hunter when it’s time to seek the deer?

Under the sea and behind the moon,
the dish runs away with the fork and spoon.
Some things are different, but some are the same.
Dishes and spoons still play their old game.
Singers take songs from the water, and sing.
Artists take in and pour out everything.

Builders make houses and homes and walls.
Farmers make food, and crow-scaring dolls.
People make friends and babies and foes.
Friends share friends and stories and woes.
Behind the moon and under the sea,
when we choose we can live quite happily.

Share

Poetry Brothel Berlin Launches Next Week

Next Thursday, May 4 at 19:00, Poetry Brothel Berlin launches (Facebook group, Facebook event, EventBrite for tickets). Poetry Brothel brings together internationally renowned and locally infamous bards for a night of poetry, performance—and payment. After great success in New York, Chicago, and London, the Brothel is opening in Berlin. The steampunk-themed launch will feature characters, costumes, intimate readings, vintage photography (complete with tint), musicians, performers, and merriment.

My friend Felicia will also be there. Felicia Faust. This is her story:

Found on the library doorstep swaddled in lingerie, Felicia was raised by a pack of wild scholars. She grew up writing poetry and painting commissions at the behest of the Devil, who was dean of the college of arts and sciences at the time. At 12, she discovered red lipstick and black fishnets, and began composing piano accompaniment for her favorite literary influences — Plato, Goethe, and Rage Against the Machine. When she was 16, she ran away to college, where – sadly – she had no other option but to obtain a Ph.D., as she was young and needed the money.

Burned out on grant proposals and her affairs with Marxists in silk turtlenecks, at 20 she left all her books and papers in an abandoned art silo in Saxony, stole a horse heading to France, and hopped a boat to England under a blue moon. In London she learned the arts of jazz dance from Josephine Baker and drinking from Zelda Fitzgerald. Eventually the flappers’ strict morals proved too much for her, and she returned to her natural habitat: the whorehouse in Berlin.

Felicia enjoys absinthe while drawing liquid poems from a well that reaches directly to Hell, thanks to a joint appointment at Our Lady of the Screaming Banshee. Sometimes she also digs small poetry shards out of her skin, after bathing in brimstone. It takes years off the eyes.

When she’s not writing poetry, songs and essays, or painting her various lovers’ genitalia, Felicia sneaks psychedelics into church water supplies. She prefers clients who have engaged in risky behavior such as whistleblowing, truth-telling, and making peace with their parents; those who prefer life without protection should be warned that her courage is contagious. Her favorite flower is the black Dutch tulip, long prized by anarchists for its aphrodisiac qualities. Her prrrr is unrelated to her relationship with the Devil, but has everything to do with the state of her soul.

Share

It Actually Snowed

in Berlin today, and I wrote this poem. Usually I hold and pair them with paintings. But snow only comes once in late April. (Except yesterday we had hail. Twice.)

***

“April Snow”

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3, KJV

Tell me why
I was not good enough to be loved
I was not worth hearing, much less helping.
You have human beings and then there is the mass,
and I was not one of your people.
Or else you were an ass.

Come up with a reason
it was my fault, it was something
I did, something I said, or didn’t.
Go on, take me to task.
It had to do with the limits
of your capacity and I needed too much.
Or else I did not properly ask.

At the end of the storm
at the end of the life
at the end of the season
everything is different:
there is no I
there is no you
there is no reason.

Sometimes still in spring
the snow comes back and stays.
Even while the sun is shining,
it hails for days.
People think it’s strange,
except some of us understand:
Winter is a refugee,
rapping gently at spring’s fences,
hoping and asking, but knowing
although there is space enough
although she is strong and beautiful
although she holds a lot
Summer won’t hold her
hold her freezings hands
hold her shivering knees
hold her chilly breath.
For everything, a season.
For every season, death.

Share

Spring Flowers, Great Art, and New Publications

Spring is here. Today I took photos of beautiful flowers to paint (or draw other inspiration) from later, at Gärten der Welt—a lovely collection of botanical gardens in Berlin.

Recently, I also saw two great art exhibits at the newly restored Barbarini Museum in Potsdam. Im-Ex (Impressionism and Expressionism) are too often combined in relatively small collections that don’t do either justice. Luckily, neither of those things is true here. The Impressionism exhibit goes back to Boudin and presents his heirs (Monet, Sisley, Signac) in their full glory. The Modern Art Classics show starts with Kandinsky and Nolde on the verge of abstract expressionism, and follows through showcasing fresh experiments from brut to silkscreening.

Speaking of which, Franklin Einspruch, a colleague in art and thought who I’m proud to call a friend, has just launched a fresh experiment in art criticism. My first reviews (1,2) appeared this week at Delicious Line: Art Criticism for the Contemporary Era. Yours can, too.

Share

Home Fire

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

 

“Safe Space”

There is no safe space.
There will be no saving grace.
Wipe the slogan off your face.

The world has viruses in nests.
While one attacks, another rests.
We are evolving plated breasts.

But you have been a sanctuary friend.
Let me tell the story to the end.
Sung over the bones watching them mend.

Share

The Broken Shell

“The Broken Shell,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

 

Have you ever cut up a sheet of paper
to see how far its curls, uncurled, could reach?
The whole sheet’s a canvas,
but the bits can be a ream of ribbon.

Or cracked an egg instead of poking holes
in the ends to make an ornament?
The unbroken shell isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Cracked into little bits, the eggshell reaches farther
than the whole shell ever could.

Share

Safe Harbor

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Dear Sir”

I have been in your head
and found it to be lacking
in furnishings and provisions.
The insulation, however,
is outstanding, protecting
the inhabitant without fail
from the inconveniences
of outside weather.

Share

The Colossus of Hiroshima

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

 

Bring me your despair—but only a bit.
Resistance is a marathon, not a sprint.
Pour out what you must and I’ll sweeten it.

Every day I pour myself out—sometimes by pouring in.
Every day the great works of the ages wear a little thin.
Time ravages everything. No one knows what will happen.

Except in the big picture we’re all doomed, and that’s alright.
Everyone dies. Empires fall. Experts imagine they know what’s right.
Our brains tell us stories, day and night.

If you had seen Rome crumbling, what would you have done?
Written a friend, retired to think, sent away your only son?
Towards the end, it must have been clear to everyone.

At least Caesar’s corruption didn’t kill off all of life.
Our failing family has yet to face off its nuclear strife.

Share

Set a Course with Light

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

 

For Ely J. Sack

Tell me how my granddad took his coffee.
Not how he was blacklisted—that much, the archive said.
He fought Franco and fascism alongside blacks—
and so to America, he was dead.

Tell me where he went after the war,
why he came back with a bum leg and no wife.
Tell me how the communist freedom-fighter
cum accountant, had children—four? five?
How he lived out his quiet life.

Tell me how he talked to my grandma, his only wife.
Did he treat her like a chair to be used, as is fair
when you pay her room and board?
Or did he love her like a songbird
who brightens up the morning with her free and happy voice?

Tell me how they moved in the kitchen
when they thought no one could see.
Tell me why the FBI had destroyed his files
when they got a records request from me.

The university that housed his papers is all that remains.
Someone’s government destroyed another record of his life—
where he went, when, with whom; how he talked and moved,
how he loved; how he took his coffee.

In his archived postcards home, he confesses he was afraid to go—
          but went.
He had trained as an accountant first, with night classes—
          just to pay the rent.
In Spain, they put him in officer school, but he got bored with classes;
returned to machine gun fire, friends, and freezing rain’s lashes.

He was their resident optimist as Teruel fell—
saying without their gear, the fascists couldn’t fight a leaky well.
He missed haircuts. Pictures show his magnificent mane grown out,
my widow’s peak arching over his smile throughout.

He missed ham, so I guess he wasn’t practicing?
He loved learning Spanish, filling his notes with scribbling—
no hay muchachas—no hay nada—el frente popular—no tengo cambio—
mucho malo mucho bueno mucho calor mucho hero.

Tonight I go to night class, learning German in Berlin.
Everything is uncertain, without and within.
Will fascism continue to rise and rise again?
Will I settle down and drink morning coffee again?

How I take my coffee changes with the weather of my soul.
Sometimes it’s black, sometimes white, sometimes I can’t have it—
too much fight or flight. I’m not a soldier and I’ve never been.
I’m not a mother and might not be. Perhaps no one will want to know
how I took my coffee. Still, I like to imagine him sipping with me.

Set a course with light to bring him back to sip and talk.
Like he set a course with courage, going far away to fight.
                              It was a crime. But it was right.
When they came back, they had to ask to be let back in.
No passport stamps or permission for their useful sin.
They set a course that might have failed, and did not balk.

Set a course with light to make me brave like him.
In Germany, before the war, my passport stamped
“USA” no more. If I went back, the lawyers say,
they’d have to let me in.           I take my “Have to” 
          like I take my coffee:                     Black and white—
                              and not at all, depending on the day.

Share

Set A Place

“Set A Place,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). Sort-of a new take on an old song I wrote for my brother back in Boston. 

 

“Set A Place”

I set a place for the child with no place to go.
Set a place for the unloved lover to know.
And a place for the wanderer who’s safer anywhere but home.
I set a place for the explorer who names stars alone.
Set another for my brother who will deny me til he’s dead.
And a place for the answer birds circling over my own head.

They’re going to answer any question, whatever I ask.
Why no home for some, whether the world is ours, or whose, for what task.
Set a place and time, we’ll answer anything.
We’ll answer anything you ask. But which question?
Yes, yes, I said.
Which question. Which?

Share

Wholeness

“Wholeness,” oils on 40 x 50 stretched canvas (web store). Depicting the Chakana

During the past few weeks I’ve had colorful, poetic, and non-bloggular adventures. Now I’m back with a new supply of properly photographed paintings and poems to match.

One of the experiences I was privileged to have recently was meeting my dad again after about 25 years, and writing this song.

Share

How do you survive

How do you survive this year,
being so long ago and far away?
Do you steep by night in the same old fear?
Do you read by stale sunlight in the dragging day?
Do your sweaters snag with dogears
like calendars discarded?
Does your head ignite and plunge
like a dogfighter bombarded?
Have your dregs settled into rock formations
battered by the sea?
Half of half the time I’ve thought of you,
have you thought of me?

Share

Sun, Leaves and Hills

Sun, Leaves and Hills

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

Sweet, soft, clean, and hot—
        too tired to remember what I’ve washed,
        too happy to care. This is how we get there.
    Home, into each other, every night.
    Home, still inside you, you still inside me,
        every sweet morning in the early light.

I want to live where this peace flows
        over you from inside me
        and over me from within,
        over and around us like rushing water,
    the impossible stream gushing from the stone.

Share

Six Sigma

Six Sigma

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

 

We’re all running up the hill
that most of us come tumbling down.
One in a million gets caught on the sill,
between over and around.

What do they do there, the rare and unfallen?
Is it any fun to be alone by the gallon?
Then again, we’re all so strange, one way or another.
There are so many human planes to wack out on, brother.

Share

Black Swan

Black Swan

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

“The Swan”

By Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down

into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

***

“Der Schwan”

RMR

Diese Mühsal, durch noch Ungetanes
schwer und wie gebunden hinzugehen,
gleicht dem ungeschaffnen Gang des Schwanes.

Und das Sterben, dieses Nichtmehrfassen
jenes Grunds, auf dem wir täglich stehen,
seinem ängstlichen Sich-Niederlassen—

in die Wasser, die ihn sanft empfangen
und die sich, wie glücklich und vergangen,
unter ihm zurückziehn, Flut um Flut;
während er unendlich still und sicher
immer mündiger und königlicher
und gelassener zu ziehn geruht.

Share

Sympathy for God

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). Image inspired by Northern Ignorance’s “Deliverance”—which, while it is about whaling, made me think also of  the Biblical stories of Jonah/the whale and Noah/the flood… Parables about God facing the limits of His own wild and free creations. 

 

“Sympathy for God, Who Is Not Angry—Just Disappointed”

I warned you idiots.
I let Hitler do it.
How much clearer could I get?
Six millions Jews, the whole schtick.
An order of magnitude or worse might happen next, and quick—
     between melting ice-caps and this new Fascism shit.

I’m not angry—just disappointed.
I’ll always be your Father—that’s anointed.
When I asked Cain where Abel was, he pointed
          at the murderer asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”—broken,                   disjointed,
                    feeling himself both seen and unseen: marked.
                    That’s why I had him live: to feel known again, remarked.

War started then.
You’ve been at it since.
You’re only human.
You’re only as human as I made you, and My love for you is
          lose and win
          wash and rinse
          Mengele and von Neumann.
You’re only as human as I gave you, and My gift to you was
          the living world
          the kitten curled
          the universal die gently tossed, not hurled.

I could have sent more angels,
     but you hunt everything with wings.
I could have leaked more cables,
     but you didn’t read most of those things.
I so loved the world, I sent My only begotten Son.
You killed Him, as expected—but now, everyone?

And yes, I expect you to keep faith and fight on.
          Even as the last dying pairs stumble blindly for an ark that won’t                float.
          Even as the last billionaires restock their cellar, range, and moat.
          Even as the unfaithful point at history and gloat.
As civilizations fell, they also served who only stood and wrote.
As yours takes much of the world with it, so must you write on,
     as is the task of the small and humble ones.
     Be glad (but not too glad) I only give you so many suns.
     Be glad (but be not proud) I made you love flowers and hate guns.
     Be glad (be very glad) I was never very fond of nuns.

Share

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”
After Oliver Sacks’s book by the same name.

was perfectly fine. It was she
who wore her brain on her brim,
multicolor thought waves swirling out
like bonnet ribbons around a May pole
like unfurling flags in strong winds
and like sweaters unraveling before kittens,
the cloth becoming yarn before their flickering eyes,
the cats mistaken for mittens by surprise.

Share

Refugees Welcome

Oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”–Deuteronomy 10:19, NIV Bible.

Refugees are welcome here.
What’s contentious about this?
That people who need shelter
should come where we can offer it?
That boats at sea must aid
other vessels in distress?
That human beings with enough
help others feel safe, be free,
rebuild their lives and happiness?

Share