Reversible World and Other Paintings

It’s spring, and I’m so happy for the light… Moving again in my studio… Making like a happy animal with the season.

Gouache and ink on paper.

One of my first book-rewards (beginning the obligatory post-publication binge) was Derek Walcott’s Omeros. Still rereading favorite passages…

  1. Reversible World

“I re-entered my reversible world. Its opposite
lay in the autumnal lake whose trees kept still
perfectly, but where my disembodied trunk split

along the same line of reflection that halved Achille,
since men’s shadows are not pieces moved by a frown,
by the same hand that opens the willow’s fan to the light,

indifferent to who lifts us up once we are put down,
fixed in hierarchical postures, pawn, bishop, knight,
nor are we simply chameleons, self-dyeing our skins

to each background.”

—DW O, Chapter XLI, II

Same painting, more layers and materials—pastels, acrylics.

2. Days When

“There are days when, however simple the future, we do not go
towards it but leave part of life in a lobby whose elevators
divide and enclose us, brightening digits that show

exactly where we headed, while a young Polish waitress
is emptying an ashtray, and we are drawn to a window
whose strings, if we pull them, widen an emptiness.

Acrylics on paper.

“We yank the iron-grey drapes, and the screeching pulleys
reveal in the silence not fall in Toronto
but a city whose language was seized by its police,

that other servitude Nina Something was born into,
where under gun-barrel chimneys the smoke holds its voice
till it rises with hers. Zagajewski. Herbert. Milosz.”

—DW O, Chapter XLII, I

Oils on 50 x 50 stretched canvas.

3. Rain Lost Its Reason

“He had never seen such strange weather; the surprise
of a tempestuous January that churned
the foreshore brown with remarkable, bursting seas

convinced him that ‘somewhere people interfering
with the course of nature’; the feathery mare’s tails
were more threateningly frequent, and its sunsets

the roaring ovens of the hurricane season,
while the frigates hung closer inland and the nets
starved on their bamboo poles. The rain lost its reason…”

Acrylics on paper.

“… and behaved with no sense at all. What had angered
the rain and made the sea foam? Seven Seas would talk
bewilderingly that man was an endangered

species now, a spectre, just like the Aruac
or the egret, or parrots screaming in terror
when men approached, and that once men were satisfied

with destroying men they would move on to Nature.”

—DW O, Chapter LX, I

Acrylics on paper.

Omeros, published in 1990, was obviously speaking to climate change in this passage. The rest of the chapter speaks to the biodiversity crisis and overfishing. It is disconcerting to remember not just that scientists have been warning us about all this for a long time. But that artists were making beauty of the warnings. So that did not work and we cannot really address reality by making art celebrating beautiful nature, warning of its destruction, or both… But then what do artists do? (Ok, tautology: Artists make art. But we still have to think what engagement looks like in this context.)

Acrylics on 40 x 50 stretched canvas.

4. That Other Sight

“O Sun, the one eye of heaven, O Force, O Light,
my heart kneels to you, my shadow has never changed
since the salt-fresh mornings of encircling delight

across whose cities the wings of the frigate ranged
freer than any republic, gliding with ancient
ease! I praise you not for my eyes. That other sight.”

—DW O, Chapter LIX, II

Oils on 40 x 50 stretched canvas.

Idea-seeds take the time they take (and maybe they, too, need the spring light to poke through). I read Walcott in October and just painted one thing I sort-of like (this last one, of all the above) from/with/to/for those favorite passages.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking about Chagall’s “Atelier de Nuit“—made when he was 93!—since visiting Cologne last winter attempting to pitch galleries… And managing only to review Rosenquist et al and pick up some free art books instead (thanks, Galerie Boiserée).

Then in October, after a conversation with a friend who wants to “change the system from within,” I had an idea… and sketched a chicken eating a worm flying out of Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged house’s chimney while a Chagall-inspired nocturnal woman-spirit flying out of the house’s top level watches. I couldn’t have painted it a day sooner, although the sketch has been lying around all this time. The spring light is so good…

Oils on big canvas in crappy light.

Except for its terrible habit of fading at the end of the day.