Saturday, June 30, 2012

Robert Frost: The Figure A Poem Makes

John Hoyland, Survivor Man 17.08.08, acrylic on cotton duck, 152 x 140 cm.

Abstraction is an old story with the philosophers, but it has been like a new toy in the hands of the artists of our day.  Why can't we have any one quality of poetry we choose by itself?  We can have in thought.  Then it will go hard if we can't in practice.  Our lives for it.

Granted no one but a humanist much cares how sound a poem is if it is only a sound.  The sound is the gold in the ore.  Then we will have the sound out alone and dispense with the inessential.  We do till we make the discovery that the object in writing poetry is to make all poems sound as different as possible from each other, and the resources for that of vowels, consonants, punctuation, syntax, words, sentences, meter are not enough.  We need the help of context-meaning-subject matter.  That is the greatest help towards variety.  All that can be done with words is soon told.  So also with meters - particularly in our language where there are virtually but two, strict iambic and loose iambic.  The ancients with many were still poor if they depended on meters for all tune.  It is painful to watch our sprung-rhythmists straining a the point of omitting one short from a foot for relief from monotony.  The possibilities for tune from the dramatic tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited meter are endless.  And we are back in poetry as merely one more art of having something to say, sound or unsound.  Probably better if sound, because deeper and from wider experience.

Then there is this wildness whereof it is spoken.  Granted again that it has an equal claim with sound to being a poem's better half.  If it is a wild tune, it is a poem.  Our problem then is, as modern abstractionists, to have the wildness pure; to be wild with nothing to be wild about.  We bring up as aberrationists, giving way to undirected associations and kicking ourselves from one chance suggestion to another in all directions as of a hot afternoon in the life of a grasshopper.  Theme alone can steady us down.  Just as the first mystery was how a poem could have a tune in such a straightness as meter, so the second mystery is how a poem can have wildness and at the same time a subject that shall be fulfilled.

John Hoyland, Before Time (Mysteries 12) 05.01.11, acrylic on cotton duck, 152 x 140 cm.

It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can.  The figure a poem makes.  It begins in delight and ends in wisdom.  The figure is the same as for love.  No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place.  It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life - not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.  It has denouement.  It has a outcome that though unforeseen was predestined from the first image of the original mood - and indeed from the very mood.  It is but a trick poem and no poem at all if the best of it was thought of first and saved for the last.  It finds its own name as it goes and discovers the best waiting for it in some final phrase at once wise and sad - the happy-sad blend of the drinking song.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.  No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.  For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn't know I knew.  I am in a place, in a situation, as if I had materialized from cloud or risen out of the ground.  There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows.  Step by step the wonder of unexpected supply keeps growing.  The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time when taken, and the conclusion is come to that like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere.  The line will have the more charm for not being mechanically straight.  We enjoy the straight crookedness of a good walking stick.  Modern instruments of precision are being used to make things crooked as if by eye and hand in the old days.

I tell how there may be a better wildness of logic than of inconsequence.  But the logic is backward, in retrospect, after the act.  It must be more felt than seen ahead like prophecy.  It must be a revelation, or a series of revelations, as much for the poet as for the reader.  For it to be that there must have been the greatest freedom of the material to move about in it and to establish relations in it regardless of time and space, previous relation, and everything but affinity.  We prate of freedom.  We call our schools free because we are not free to stay away from them till we are sixteen years of age.  I have given up my democratic prejudices and now willingly set the lower classes free to be completely taken care of by the upper classes.  Political freedom is nothing to me.  I bestow it right and left.  All I would keep for myself is the freedom of my material - the condition of body and mind now and then to summons aptly from the vast chaos of all I have lived through.

John Hoyland, Love and Grief 05.04.06, acrylic on cotton duck, dimensions unavailable.

Scholars and artists thrown together are often annoyed at the puzzle of where they differ.  Both work from knowledge; but I suspect they differ most importantly in the way their knowledge is come by. Scholars get theirs with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic; poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books.  They sick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields.  No acquirement is on assignment, or even self-assignment.  Knowledge of the second  kind is much more available in the wild free ways of wit and art.  A schoolboy may be defined as one who can tell you what he knows in the order in which he learned it.  The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic.

More than once I should have lost my soul to radicalism if it had been the originality it was mistaken for by its young converts.  Originality and initiative are what I ask for my country.  For myself the originality need be no more than the freshness of a poem run in the way I have described: from delight to wisdom.  The figure is the same as for love.   Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being.  Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it.  Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a metal keeps its fragrance.  It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.

-Robert Frost
Introductory essay to Complete Poems of Robert Frost 1949

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Freewheeling: Deborah Brown @ The Active Space

From the press release:

In Freewheeling, Deborah Brown exhibits paintings of car salvage lots, cement factories, and detritus at the end of the industrial age. The subject matter is familiar territory for Brown, who has depicted the landscape of Brooklyn’s Bushwick for several years. The new work enters the domain of fantasy, leaving literal interpretation in favor of a Bushwick of the imagination. Carcases of flattened and stacked cars resemble ziggurats from the ancient world. Cement trucks buried in heaps of sand masquarade as amphora; cement tanks become abandoned rocket ships. The palette is high key and odd; the light source, eerie. Through their lush paint handling and loopy lexicon of images, the paintings celebrate the power of a place to inspire the imagination.

Deborah Brown: Freewheeling
until July 1, 2012
566 Johnson Avenue (entrance on Stewart)
Brooklyn, NY 11237

Monday, June 25, 2012

Inaugural Show @ Ethan Pettit Contemporary Art

Gili Levy

Rafael Fuchs

Images from the Inaugural Show at Ethan Pettit Contemporary Art.

Richard Humann

Roger Egert

Alicia Papanek (on left) and The Nose, a 1991 blueprint assembled by the Williamsburg artist community. It shows an areal view of the waterfront. The Nose was a periodical poster- magazine.

Detail of The Nose 

Henry G. Sanchez

Mari Oshima

Alkemikal Soshu

Installation view

Installation view

Inaugural Show
Alicia Papanek, Alkemikal Soshu, Eva Schicker, Rafael Fuchs, Gili Levy, Mari Oshima, Jan Holthoff, Konstantin Lange, Robert Egert, Henry G. Sanchez, and Richard Humann
Until June 30, 2012
Ethan Pettit Contemporary Art
119 Ingraham Street #312
Brooklyn, NY 11237

There Are No Giants Upstairs @ Theodore:Art

Mel Bernstine

Gary Petersen and Harriet Korman

Steven Charles

Mel Bernstine

Gary Petersen

Steven Charles

Mel Bernstine

Installation view.

Harriet Korman

Installation view.

Gary Petersen

Harriet Korman

Chris Baker

Andrew Seto

Installation view.

Harriet Korman

There Are No Giants Upstairs
Chris Baker, Mel Bernstine, Steven Charles, Harriet Korman, Gary Petersen, and Andrew Seto
June 16 - July 29, 2012
56 Bogart Street
Brooklyn, NY 11237
Hours: Friday- Sunday 1 - 6 PM

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Studio Visit With Sharon Butler

Recently I stopped by the Bushwick studio of Sharon Butler just as she was preparing for her next solo exhibit at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT.
Butler's paintings seem to hold fast to the strictures of Minimalism but a closer inspection reveals a sensitiveness to form, a subtle use of color, and the importance of drawing sometimes found missing from that genre.
That is not to say that Butler's work lacks discipline. Indeed, a mental and technical exactness are displayed as an idea is explored with a deft layering of forms and line that shows the maker's mind at work. This rigor is very often contrasted with the impulsive way the work is presented- often on un-stretched linen, pinned to the wall, or with supporting stretchers partially exposed. The result is painting that often combines the frankness and intellect of the Conceptual, with the fragility, pictorial inventiveness, and longing of the Modern.

Sharon Butler's work will soon be on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT. The show will open on September 20, 2012. 
Check back here for further details as the event draws near.
To view more of Butler's work visit her website here. Sharon Butler is an art professor at Eastern Connecticut State University and is the editor of the art blog, Two Coats of Paint.