Sunday, June 30, 2013

Comic Heaven

             ``I'm a little representational all the time. But when you're    
         painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to 
           emerge.''  - Jackson Pollock

Marsden Hartley

I was speaking with a collector of Marsden Hartley's work recently and something they said took me by surprise. We were looking at a landscape of Hartley's and this collector remarked that Hartley's work was sad. And in saying that it was understood that Hartley was sad.

And I had to think about it, and in doing so Marsden Hartley's life flashed before my eyes, at least what I knew of it. Growing up in Ohio, then Maine, New York, Europe, New York again, PTown, Gloucester, Maine. He lost a lover to the war. He was always broke. The collector commented about how Hartley drove Stieglitz crazy with his money problems. Yes, there is that story about him auctioning off everything to raise money. About John Reed kicking him out of their flat in Ptown for being a slob. About him falling in love with some fisherman in a fisherman's family in Maine. Never finding a home. Never belonging. Yes, he was an American painter showing with the European avant-garde, being an abstractionist way ahead of the pack. But he always seemed lost.
Marsden Hartley

At one time I would have agreed; yes, Hartley once also struck me as sad. The way van Gogh might strike one as sad. But not anymore. I don't find sadness in his paintings anymore. I find love and peace. Serenity. I find beauty and a yearning for beauty that is heartbreaking in the most sublime manner. Maybe that says more about me.
Van Gogh

Obviously it does. But like van Gogh, I think what Hartley gives us in his paintings is such powerful emotion, such deep emotion, that that scares people.

Emotion gets that rap. When someone says that they are feeling really emotional, that's a bad thing. Negative. Negated. We all know this.

Civilized society is emotionally repressed. We have no freedom of emotional expression. None. It gets smacked down. It is like a fire that needs to be put out immediately before it can spread. Who knows where it could lead?

Marsden Hartley

There are not many opportunities in this world to live an emotional life. Art, however, is one of them. Marsden Hartley lived an emotional life. That is anything but sad. Sad is living a life free of emotion. Marsden Hartley made beautiful emotional art. Triumphant emotion art. It was profoundly happy in that. Yes, emotion is messy. Hartley was indeed a slob. But it is the John Reeds of this world that deserve our pity, not Hartley.

Art, and of course music, offers each of us emotional asylum. Either as the artist or the audience. It is why we turn to music and art.

Theater, film and literature do the same, but in a more literal even tangible way. Music and art tap into a level of emotion that we don't have to understand to appreciate.

Marsden Hartley

Abstraction took this mystery to a level we had never reached before, but I'm not going to get mixed up with aesthetics here. That's another story.

I'm interested in that way in which emotion experienced unimaginable heights, or depths, thanks to abstraction; I'm interested in the freedom that it offered, the escape from the literal and tangible. I'm interested in the ineffable. The place we don't know, or understand, but we nonetheless feel.

Marsden Hartley

This was the world of Marsden Hartley, and what is so interesting about this painter is that he came back from that edge, the void, the abyss of abstraction and kept painting, even though not abstractly. No one did that. No one came out the other side and could do figuratively what they had done abstractly,  only more so. Hartley did.

Philip Guston

Ok. Maybe Guston did too. That's it. But Hartley did it better, sorry. He was completely his own person. What they both had in common however, was the somewhat comic book character that their work took on. Uncanny similarity. Late Hartley and late Guston have that cartoonishness in common, and Guston must have had Hartley to thank for his salvation. Hartley must have shown him the way.

Max Beckmann

Dubuffet also comes to mind as well, but he was never really a serious abstractionist. The comic book character saved him from the void. De Kooning was much more subtle about it. He bounced back and forth. But you can probably thank the comic caricature for his survival as well. The yang to the yin of emotion. The balance. 

Milton Resnick

I remember when Bill Jensen told me he saw a comic face peering out of a painting he was working on in about 1981, and was confused and tempted by it. But he could not betray abstraction. Milton Resnick tried to come back with characters in his work, but they never made it into big paintings, not on the scale of his old ally in Monet's abyss, Guston.

Larry Deyab

Larry Deyab worked for both of those painters, and was their peer and friend, and he is a modern day Marsden Hartley, navigating that deep emotional place where freedom lives. Making great paintings too in that same utterly original and yes, strangely cartoonish manner. And d_d_dats all folks!

Addison Parks
Spring Hill

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Addison Parks Essay in Heide Hatry's NOT A ROSE

Heide Hatry; Spicula linguarum anitum; 2011


Mimosa, Hibiscus, Bougainvillea. The language of love. The language of sex. Of unfolding petals, of pistons and stamens and pollination. The language of life. Of beauty and art, of birth and death. Plant 12 inches apart. At least six hours of direct sun. Water regularly. Good drainage. Life can be measured in flowers. First marriage, Freesia. I once lived with a woman who was like one of those rare species that produces a single bloom in a year. Felt like an eternity! I learned that I like a woman who shows up everyday, like a pot of Geraniums! And I married her!

Shaker Heights. I was three and looking from the window of my baby blue bedroom. Steven our handyman’s bloodied body lay in the Hydrangea bushes down below as figures cut towards him across the lawn. A ruby red flashed and whirled in the failing light. At seven I was walking barefoot down a stoney road on the cliff of a Greek island with an Easter Lily in my hand and three small and ancient women in black crossed themselves as we passed. My mother explained that it was the flower of death. Waxy and almost fake in its perfection, I never thought of it as a flower again. More a trumpet of doom. At ten I sat with the Azaleas on the Spanish Steps while my mother cashed an alimony check at the American Express. We lived nearby on Via Margutta. The Oleander’s had flowers like little helicopters and my sister and I would launch them from our terrace.

Cut flowers. Roses. Cut the stems at an angle under water. Immerse them in cold water over night and they will last forever. Some people put them in their refrigerator when they go to bed. Same thing. They look good at every phase. From small and closed to past their glory and dried up. We had apricot colored ones above our bed when Stacey’s water broke at three in the morning. She did not scream “911!” but called the midwife and got out a shower curtain and placed it on our bed. I washed my hands about five times. The midwife never showed. Little Ecco was born quietly while her three brothers slept in their rooms. I always have plenty of cut flowers. My one vice. I’ve tried growing roses for cutting but can’t take them from the bush. 

When I was a young painter in New York I would regularly buy a half dozen or so roses from the buckets of street vendors and deliver them individually to my favorite people and girlfriends. It is an amazing thing to see someone’s face light up on the other end of a rose. I let them think they were the only ones. A harmless lie I thought at the time but my conscience told me otherwise. The language of deception. Title of first solo show in New York: Flowerheads.

Outside my living room window a Witch Hazel bush lives a mostly uneventful year. Then, as early as February, when color is all but forgotten and I have lost every hope that winter won’t last forever, it performs its brave magic: an amazing feat of delicate yellow blossoms that announce that commencement is at hand. Then Pansies and Primrose show up at nurseries and impatiently start the spring; they stand up to the snow and cold when the change of season is stubborn. Then the wait for Crocuses, Daffodils and Tulips begins. Forsythia! I’m pretty sure I could live inside the blossom of a Silver Magnolia. Lilacs make me savor their moment every year. Dogwoods are synonymous with deer and bring me peace. 

Impatiens work their butts off in the shade all summer and build a dome of blossoms well into the fall. Petunias cascade their velvet trumpets. Begonias are as varied as cuttlefish. Geraniums can stand the heat and go for a long time without water. Electric against the green. Cut them down and take them inside for the winter. There are no pedestrian flowers. Every flower is special, every flower awaits us. Weeds flower beautifully. Wild flowers are free. Even the dreaded Garlic Mustard looks quite charming. 

When I don’t feel well I see my garden inside myself and let the sun shine on it. I breathe it all in. The bees and the rabbits and the birds and butterflies join the Day Lilies and Delphinium and other flowers, and I feel better. Works every time. Flowers are the language of color. Having a flower garden is a vital luxury that strikes many people as a waste of space and water. Why not vegetables instead? With my gardens I can make paintings with living plants. Blues, yellows, oranges, reds, and violets; infinite color abounds. The energy of each feeds whatever that is inside me, be it soul and/or spirit. After my mother died, Stacey and I spread some of her ashes at the base of a Bougainvillea high up overlooking a bay on the island of St. Lucia. Her kind of flower, her kind of place.

Daisies and Black-eyed Susans bring me down to earth; they are so conversant in the language of sunshine. Morning Glories are just that. But go indoors and Japanese Peace Lilies are as advertised. Christmas Cactus gift us winter cheer. Paper Whites do the same and bring a thick perfume. They all sing to us. Sun Flowers, Orchids, Violets, Iris, Bleeding Hearts, Peonies! I love Peonies! So many kinds of flowers, all over the world, every day of the year!

I don’t do community work anymore. What I do instead is plant flowers by the road for people who walk or bike or drive by. It is what I give. The cause-minded friends I have laugh. They say Addison thinks flowers make a difference.

Addison Parks

Spring Hill

The author, age 7, Mykonos c. 1960

Measured In Roses was written in 2011 for Heide Hatry's book, Not A Rose, published by Charta in 2012, and launched at MoMA PS1 in 2013. 

Posing as a coffee-table book of flowers, Heide Hatry's Not a Rose turns the genre inside out with her realistic "flowers" created from the offal, genitalia and other parts of animals. Text contributions by 101 prominent intellectuals, writers and artists examine "the question of the flower" from a multiplicity of perspectives. 

Contributors include Giovanni Aloi, Jonathan Ames, Stephen T. Asma, John Baxter, Claudia Benthien, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lou Boxer, Rudolph Borchardt, Virginia Braun, Kiene Brillenburg, Bazon Brook, Mary Caponegro, Mary Cappello, Dennis Choi, Steve Connor, Paul Craddock, Brenda Coultas, Karen Duve, Joanna Ebenstein, Ron Flemming, Jonathan Safran Foer, Peter Frank, Martin Gessmann, Bennett Gilbert, Thyrza Goodeve, Jonas Gretlein, Anthony Haden-Guest, Jessica Hagedorn, Donna Haraway, Glenn Harper, Laura Hatry, George Holton, Siri Hustvedt, Christine Isherwood, Meredith Jones, Paul Manfred Kaestner, Gavin Keeney, Robert Kelly, Richard Kostelanetz, Paula Lee, Lucy Lippard, Fiona Maazel, Alex Mackintosh, Richard Macksey, Charlotte Mandell, Wythe Marschall, JW McCormack, Askold Melnyczuk, Selena Millares, William Ian Miller, Lydia Millet, Kate Millett, Richard Milner, Svetlana Mintcheva, Hannah Monyer, Rick Moody, Glenn Most, Alexander Nagel, Addison Parks, Jennifer Peters, Donald Pfister, Steven Pinker, Liedeke Plate, George Quasha, Christopher Reiger, Avital Ronell, Stanley Rosen, Selah Saterstrom, Volker Schill, Thomas Schnalke, Jennifer Seaman Cook, Philip Selenko, Robert Shuster, Joel Simpson, Peter Singer, Justin E.H. Smith, Iris Smyles, Jennifer Steil, Lisa Paul Streitfeld, Joe Summer, Lisa Summer, Klaus Theweleit, Luisa Valenzuela, Dan Wechsler, Jim Woodburn, John Wronoski and Franz Wright.

RECENT PRESS for Not a Rose:


- MoMA PS1

HEIDE HATRY, NOT A ROSE: at  STUX Gallery (530 W 25th St. New York) May 23 - June 22, 2013.
SKIN TRADE curated by Martha Wilson and Larry List at  P.P.O.W. Gallery (535 W 22th St. New York).  June 27 - JULY 27, 2013.
MYKONOS BIENNALE: Mykonos (Greece)  June 21 - June 24, 2013.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Smiling Side: James Balla at PAAM

Jim Balla wonders. And wondering leads to wonderful. And wonderful leads to art. You see it when you see him. You see it when you see his work.

What is art but a delivery system? A syringe. A pill. A rifle. A Fed Ex truck. An ice cream truck. An ice cream cone! A sun! A cloud! A wonderful, wondering, wandering cloud!

Fortune smiled on Jim Balla. He left art school and New York behind and found his way to beaches and sunsets and Provincetown. He got to watch birds and waves and clouds all the time. He got live in Provincetown! He got to live! He got to be himself. To wonder about things. To wonder his way.

Art can be a tricky business. Being an artist can be a tricky business. Art is profoundly subjective. A lot of people hate that. They like to know. They walk around knowing. They want to be the boss, the boss of art. That is one of the problems of the art world; the tough survive, and you get a lot of tough art as a result.

You would have to say that Jim Balla is not one of those people, that they never got to him, that he is that guy whistling to himself when all about him everyone is in Hell. Even in Provincetown. Even in Paradise.

As a result every summer the one artist I look forward to seeing what he has been up to, what he has been wondering about all winter, is Jim Balla. His boyish curiosity brings out the boyish curiosity in me. The irony about all of this is that this state of innocence so essential to a good life and good art is not some kind of ignorance is bliss naïveté, it is really smart. Cheshire Cat smart. Jim Balla is whistling to himself and smiling.

The world bullies you to work, but you have to be smart enough to play. Life is short. Life is a gift. Live it. Jim Balla goes into his studio and finds a way to get to that place. This is what all artists do. They may act like they are curing cancer, solving crime, feeding the world, and funnily enough they are.

Behind closed doors they are in heaven. And they bring heaven to the rest of us. And Jim Balla brings it these days on a cloud. Or at least last summer he did. I can't wait to see what wonderful delivery system he has in store for us next summer.

Addison Parks
Spring Hill

The Provincetown Art Association Museum will be opening a retrospective of James Balla on June 28, 2013

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