My museum bird pauses in the wise hypervigilance of birds, on the sculpt of a flayed arm. The arm poses, hyperrealistic, in Second Position, stretched horizontal from the missing body, hand curving down from the wrist, à la Michelangelo’s Adam, the thumbnail a postmortem lilac. Bright muscle strands shade from brick red to terra cotta to clean egg-shell tendon. Oil paint on clay, the placard says. The arm’s slick shine is that of a rubber anatomical model on a stainless steel countertop in a windowless examination room.
He builds an impossible scaffolding of reasons to forgive her. He was always feeble in self-defense. Her knives were painted with butterflies. Now the world is a wall of thorns.
The bird’s feet: anisodactylie—3 toes fore, 1 aft—lizard feet evolved into dainty twigs. Note: a bird is incapable of sin. No hands, no sin.
He talks to birds, sucks cherry cough drops by the bag. He retreats into the softness of animals, nestles into the fur of their bellies.
The arm and its bird make three shadows on the blank museum wall. The smooth-feathered flank almost breathes, the neck nearly twitches and turns, the eyes of oily black glass glisten with benevolence.
He watches lightning from the rooftops, and has taken to eating sawdust in the evenings. He is the town snake-cuddler.
In the long emptiness of the day he dreams he will be carried away, over fallen-down neighbourhoods, into far green fields strewn with skeletons.
Editor's note: The famous Goldfinch painting shown here is being used as a placeholder illustration and did not inspire the writing. The original artwork is “Premonition,” 2008, by Dirk Staschke, on view at Portland Art Museum. www.artdirk.com/archive/. We regret being unable to contact the artist.
Ryan O’Connell is a retired U.S. Army warrant officer, undergraduate student and apprentice writer at Portland State University. He is writing a nonfiction account of his experiences as a medevac helicopter pilot in Afghanistan.
The red lane to the lyrical boat tied at an angle to the wharf, a geometrical boat full of rooms tucked between grooves. When he looks into the V’s, vistas open at eye level: pastures accustomed to grass’s green trim and ruminant animal sound. It’s only a façade but he understands it’s to help him pause his conqueror’s stride and become instead a visitor from another country.
And the rooms themselves – he fumbles with the key, it lets him into a rose-walled room that leans slightly to the left toward the replica of a gold sun, even though the white mountains through the window make him shiver and notice the cool blue floor that mounds up under his feet.
Suddenly he wishes that nobody had sent him here, he wishes this were simply a spontaneous villa his peripatetic wanderings led him to, like a lucky nickel, found in childhood, on someone else’s driveway.
Grace Marie Grafton
Grace Marie Grafton’s most recent book, Jester, was published by Hip Pocket Press. She is the author of six collections of poetry. Her poems won first prize in the Soul Making contest (PEN women, San Francisco), in the annual Bellingham Review contest, Honorable Mention from Anderbo and Sycamore Review, and have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Poems recently appear in Basalt, Sin Fronteras, The Cortland Review, Canary, CA Quarterly, Askew, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Ambush Review.
From the beginning you can glimpse the next. Do you remember, from the viewing platform, that climate called “all over,” a diaphanous layering and movement with no centre, no privileged area? In the darkness there, one person’s nightmare and the ocean’s tides are meshed, as is the bursting of a bubble and the clamor for a victim from the crowd, as it is in life. ‘Its colour parallels the picture plane, but does not of itself say which is forwards, what is backwards here.’But then I thought we saw an opening in whorls, which formed as when between the ceiling cracks a gap appears so when it rains a portion of your room gets wet as water in a river drifting on, the way that thoughts drift on -- only the idea of an idea, the clear symbolic rational gleaned from irrational thought, the seeming appearance of a vision--however, light is falling like fall leaves into a well and hence we can not see too well.
One can’t always tell, at first, but if you take, reformat this onto a smaller page, then would the line-breaks change, and if so is this therefore what’s called prose-poem—or would it then be only prose, a draft of criticism, section of a unit not yet optimized for oily apparatus?
The night condensed the dew upon the windows; the wind-blown twig-grown branches made a fading grid of scrapes, through which we only view the fog outside, where void and solid, human action and inertia are metamorphosed and refined to energy sustaining them, which is their commonest denominator. I remember what I wanted from you, I’ve given up, but still I wait, and at times the solitary spleen of grace escapes the right hand of fantasy, and the tissue of reality. Today it arced across the room, almost to the door, and mixed with the trace of paint spilled on the floor. Here forms and textures germinate and climax, coalesce, decline, dissolve across the surface with no space we recognize or sequence of known time except that seeming never ending present. Although we are not left spinning; a visualization of remorseless consolation is presented—in the end is the beginning.
Eric Fretz studied art history in Hampshire College and CUNY, was a National Health Service union rep in London, and now divides his time between Brooklyn and Beacon New York. He has written sporadically about both radical politics and contemporary art, and is the author of Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography (2010, Greenwood Press).
In this city it is the measure of a lady's face that matters. Not the lift of her shoulders or the length of her legs. Only the distance between cheek and jaw and the spacing of the eyes determines a lady's success. There are no river taxis in this city and we must assort ourselves on the damp benches, pull fragile looking-glasses from handbags, and take measure of our gaze while casting envious glances at the circling river birds always overhead. At night many of the women use a husband's ties to bind their faces painfully tight. So much pain . . . . I must keep my thoughts quiet for it is impossible to live on the wrong side here. Surely more attention should be paid to a woman's breasts, or a well turned ankle, or sleek thigh. Many are aware of this truth I feel sure, but today all the society columns and even whispered gossip must never mention any feature but the face. I keep my plans of escape well-hidden and only take them out at night to write detailed instructions to my future self. Meanwhile I carry a camera in the large pocket of my sweater and take surreptitious photos of the pain in the eyes of the ladies. When I am free and living in another city I will show these photos to my own daughter and she will hurry to the window and cast her love out over the beautiful city with no rivers only wide streets with pristine sidewalks full of contented faces smiling like wildflowers on a hillside, a city in which countenances are free to take their own shape and people who should hang shall be hung.
John Riley lives in North Carolina, where he works in educational publishing. His fiction and poetry have appeared in several print and electronic journals, including SmokeLong Quarterly, Connotation Press, Willows Wept Review, Loch Raven Review, Dead Mule, and Blue Five Notebook. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Shadow of Choice
A pause. A sigh. A choice.
Always a choice.
A body blur stands in the foreground, an inchoate shadow. Shapeless, sexless, ageless. And yet, knowing nothing about this formless being, I feel an instant kindredness. The tendrils of universal hesitation wrap around my heart as I sympathize.
"Consider this," the artist seems to say. "Consider the broad and easy way, all pink and glowing in the late afternoon sun." For ahead is an open hallway in a rosy wall, no door impediment to ponder. Just a way that waits, a harmless mouth of opportunity.
And at the end of this short shadowed hall? The bright blue of Future.
The way of Meant to Be.
The painting is deceptively simple. All straight lines—vertical, horizontal, diagonal—except for the sacklike lump of shadow. Is it the deception of simplicity that makes our formless friend pause?
On the left, in the deeper shadow of choice, lie three more openings; access to the black halls of unknowing. Two white sentries stand guard. Are they doors open in welcome? Will they swing shut and preclude exit once entered? Are they shields? Blockades? Do they beckon or bar the way? Does that depend upon some unrevealed aspect of the shadow body?
Shadow casts itself across all choices. There is no way outside the power of its hand, unless no choice is made. To remain in sunlight is to remain frozen in place.
The dilemma creeps through my chest, crawls into crannies of what-ifs and who's to say, questions the nature of my nature, the nature of way, the nature of choice.
I become the shadow body, caught in eternal indecision.
It's not so simple, after all.
Renee Soasey is working toward completion of a BFA in Creative Nonfiction and toward completion of an off-the-grid home in the high desert of Central Oregon.
The painting hangs on a light grey, dappled wall in a room where it is the only picture. It rests in a thick, walnut brown, particle board, mid-century walnut frame. The wooden frame has staggered steppes going into its centre, towards the picture, like a Mayan terrace garden. You can see the black lines of the imitation wood grain running the length of each portion of the frame; intermittently interrupted by a scuff or scratch that discreetly reveals the pressboard beneath. It is not ornate. It is most definitely wrong for the print inside of it, but Heather and I found it in this frame at a Goodwill in California and think that it must be in ensconced there for a reason. Plus we feel it would be pretentious to buy a frame for the one print of a painting that hangs off-centre on a side wall in our small, sparsely furnished bedroom.
Next to the wall is a bed with no frame. Mattress and box springs rest on a bare hardwood floor. Clothes, books, and paper litter my side of the room on the floor next to the bed. Heather’s side is clean, neat, spotless, immaculate. My side looks like I think no one will ever see my mess. Heather’s side looks like she is ready to entertain company. When I rise in the mornings and see the picture, I ache. I sometimes catch Heather looking pained too.
The print itself is beautiful. Oranges, yellows, and reds, and seemingly every hue of blue. The print is of Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night. In the centre of the painting is the outside of a French café. People sit at the tables on the bright orange and yellow deck. Others stroll the darkened street under bright swirling stars nestled in dark blue sky. All of this is performed in the harsh brush strokes and dabs of the world’s most famous and prolific Impressionist. It is a painting of the place Heather wants to live. The place Heather hopes to live. A place we’ll probably never live.
The stark contrast of the painting to the disparity of the frame encapsulating it speaks to me. It is both a call to live better and a reminder of my failures. I promised her the world. Instead, I gave her a window into the life she’s always wanted. A masterpiece contained in a beat up frame. Paris contained in a small American bedroom.
William Nichols is 42 years old. He has been married to his wonderful wife Heather for 17 yearsand they have four beautiful children. He is a medically retired Army Veteran with one deployment to Iraq as a Medic in the 82nd Airborne Division with ten years of service in the United States Army. He is currently a student at Portland State University, working towards a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
They're Still Stealing Van Goghs
While researching Nazi art thefts for a novel, L.A. Hardscape, I was brought up short by the audacity and sheer scope of the crime. I had seen Monuments Men, but that had seemed like an entertainment, an embellished tale based on fact, and it didn't really dilate my cortex like the tons of print that you can dig up on the thefts and I just scratched the surface. Hermann Goering's "collection" alone, amounted to almost 2,000 works of art when you count sculpture and tapestries along with the 1,400 paintings. And, like a true obsessive bureaucrat, he and his minions catalogued every single one. Including who they stole it from. These guys were nothing if not methodical. And it should be mentioned here that the entire amount of stolen art and artifacts is much greater than what adorned the walls of Carinhall, Goering's chalet. The Third Reich 's amassment of looted objects was in the hundreds of thousands and storage in salt mines, caves, warehouses and tunnels from 1933 to the end of the war are legend. A lifetime could be spent researching the thefts. Goering's collection alone has taken researchers years to trace. Efforts are ongoing.
I found myself looking up painting after painting and, being an artist myself, sighing over each and every one. This guy surrounded himself with beauty and splendor, the best of the best--I don't know what the metaphor is here; this truly evil ratbastard of sewer/vomit heart and mind making his grand chateau outside Berlin, Carinhall, the depository of the world's art genius. There is no metaphor so I won't struggle for one. Hitler's number two man was one hell of a collector, emphasis on hell.
I was wasting a lot of time looking at great paintings (Can that be time wasted? If you're trying to get a novel done, I suppose it could be.) many of which I'd glimpsed in art history courses in art school. My eyes were glazing over. Just one of these paintings could set me up in fast cars and tall cotton for the rest of my life.
At this point I was eyeing Van Gogh’s Bridge at Langlois in Arles. And that's when I made the decision to follow the Nazi trail of theft through one artist, thus paring down the time spent and making the task less gargantuan. I looked up this painting and found that the bridge at Arles was the subject of four Van Gogh oil paintings, some watercolours and a series of drawings. All of these are just superb, as you would think. He was about thirty-five when he produced them in 1888 in Arles, France, where he lived at the time and where he enjoyed the height of his career and productivity. In less than fifteen months he produced more than 200 paintings.
The bridge reminded him of his homeland, the Netherlands, and he sent a framed version of it to an art dealer there. One of the 1888 versions was taken by Goering and it was one of his favorites. He stole Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Gachet as well, but ended up selling it in 1937. But not the bridge. That stayed at Carinhall. But where is it now? I lost the trail at Carinhall, though a book might provide some clues.
A 518 page book, "Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection," published in 2009, could possibly shed some light on which bridge painting was in that collection, and also provide a trail of provenance, which in many cases is labyrinthine. The only information I could find on Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Gachet was that it had reportedly been sold. To whom, was not divulged. But another, third, Portrait of Doctor Gachet, of which only two were known, showed up in Greece in the inheritance of a struggling author, Doreta Peppas. It had been "liberated" by her late father in a Resistance attack on a Nazi train. They'd been after ammunition, but Peppas' father also made off with a crate of paintings. One of the paintings was the Van Gogh and other items included a notebook of his drawings. Nazi stamps on the backs of the items were validated as official, and the items themselves appear to be indisputably authentic. Why isn't Doreta rich? No one will touch the art, possibly because it may cast doubt on the authenticity of other Van Gogh paintings now hanging in galleries and private collections. It's a byzantine story but suffice to say she may be the richest poor struggling author in the history of literature, and by way of the Nazis, the art world. She remains penniless, and the art is in a temperature controlled vault which further drains her meagre income.
The art trove is hers, having been traced as far back as possible, and no one has come forward to claim the pieces. Not the family from which they were stolen, or anyone else. It's quite possible the previous owners were the last of a family line and met their end at the hands of the Nazis. The crateful never reached its intended destination, where it would no doubt have been catalogued.
The notebook alone is probably worth $3.5 million and a respected authority said he believes it to be Van Gogh's student workbook from the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels. The age and the paper have been confirmed in separate tests. Other tests and samplings have further corroborated the pieces as genuine. The Van Gogh Museum offered to authenticate the Gachet painting but a contract they sent stated they would keep it forever. For free. Meanwhile Ms. Peppas has lost her home due to search, storage and authentication costs. The Nazis, it appears, have left their mark, and curse, on Van Gogh and the world's fine art market once again.
The total estimated worth of her crate of stolen Nazi art, which includes a Cezanne nude, is over $100 million. Conspiracy theorists are blaming a bullying art cartel for refusing to legitimize the find until they can get their hands on it some other way. I don't know who is to blame in such a bizarre situation, but it does irk me that the art isn't shared with the world. Isn't that the point of great art? It's almost a sure thing that the art is real--none of the tests would seem to indicate otherwise. Begs the question WTF?
Anyway, the trail ran cold on Nazi looted Van Goghs. But mysteries abound and who doesn't love those? Especially mystery writers. (literature seems to be intertwined in this stolen art business) Bestseller Lynne Kennedy (The Triangle Murders, Time Exposure, Pure Lies) came upon just such a mystery while researching Deadly Provenance, a novel of deception involving a Nazi looted Van Gogh oil titled Still Life: Vase with Oleanders. Who better to pursue it? The Brooklyn-born author worked with the San Diego Sheriff's Department and SDPD Crime Lab in forming forensic studies for teachers and students. In adding authenticity to her books she worked with museum and historical experts as well as crime-solving officials at a time when the CSI tv shows were becoming popular. Great credentials for investigating a lost Van Gogh. While she solved the case in her novel, the painting remains missing in real life, and Kennedy herself is still on the case. If anyone has any leads they are encouraged to contact her; a good start is her website, lynnekennedymysteries.com There, you'll find fascinating links to interviews and progress notes.
The painting, also known as Vase on Yellow Background, was one of thirty or so that had been at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in Paris. Suspecting an imminent Nazi raid in 1940 the owners packed them off to Chateau de Rastignac near Bordeaux. In 1941 the Nazis tracked them there, looted as much as they could, and burned the chateau to the ground. The paintings, including the Van Gogh, have not been seen since. And Lynne Kennedy has unearthed some very interesting information in her search, having contacted people and museums who are close to the source.
Nazis weren't the only thieves interested in Van Gogh paintings. Two of his paintings were stolen in 2002 from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a seascape and a painting of a church in Neunen where his father had been pastor. The burglars climbed to the roof using a ladder, broke through a window and exited out the side of the building using a rope. The theft seems like the stuff of movies. During an investigation of the Camorra Mafia family in Italy, the oils were recovered in 2016.
At the time of the crime, the paintings were worth about $4.5 million. Works by Van Gogh have sold for up to $82.5 million at auction, but the stolen works were from his Hague period, and of a style that sell for a good deal less.
Another vase-and-flowers Van Gogh oil Poppy Flowers, was stolen in 2010 from Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo. Its value is around $50 million and one can imagine a white-suited, red-fezzed Sydney Greenstreet bargaining with Humphrey Bogart for its return. Egyptian officials believed they had caught the perps of the painting pilferage, arresting two Italian suspects attempting to board a plane at Cairo International Airport. No deal. It's still among the missing Van Goghs. It had been stolen previously in 1977 from the same museum and recovered ten years later in Kuwait. If you see a small painting of a bunch of yellow flowers and a couple of red ones in a vase, give the museum a call.
If you have a Van Gogh or two, you might want to beef up your ADT alarm system with some of those impenetrable lazer-ined security mazes that only George Clooney could negotiate. Or was that Cary Grant? In one of my books, Ruined Days, a New Orleans art gallery uses holograpic images for its most expensive sculptures. A Degas ballerina revolves under a light, for all intents and purposes a solid bronze figurine, until someone reaches for it and touches only air. As the gallery owner explains to the main character in the story, "Some collectors prefer to have the original in a vault somewhere. We make these up for them so they can appreciate the piece with no reservations about it being damaged or stolen."
Perhaps in the future, Van Goghs, Titians, Klimts and Caravaggios will be exquisitely projected images. Once the lights go out in the museum or gallery, so do the paintings. You're still in the presence of genius, once removed. And you're not supposed to touch the works anyway. Sort of like zoos of the future; holographic images, and if your kid jumps into the gorilla cage they won't have to shoot anything. That, to me, is preferable to jailed animals. But hey, that's me.
Back to Van Gogh, Nazi loot, and paintings of questionable authenticity that continue to surface. This one, signed Vincent, was purchased for a few hundred guilders in the Dutch city of Breda around the time WWII began. A still life featuring an open bible, clay pipe, and some other items such as a bottle, and a drape of some kind behind, is primarily monochromatic yellow ochres and greens. The owners, Catherine and Malcolm Head from Guildford, believe it to have been painted at the parsonage in Neunen, where Van Gogh lived between 1883 and 1885. They've spent a great deal of money on age testing and other samplings which do corroborate the time, if not the artist. But the Van Gogh Museum dismisses the painting as a fake, citing stylistic differences. They stated that it is more likely the oil was by the lesser-known female Dutch artist, Willemina Vincent. Hence the signing "Vincent" in the lower corner. Although, to me, it looks like Van Gogh's signature style, but it is slanted uphill. As art restorer Robert Mitchell says, "It could well be a genuine painting by Vincent Van Gogh but everyone in the art world will say no before they say yes." That one's been around since 1997 and shows no sign of conclusion.
In the "You just never know" department, Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Rey, which now hangs in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Russia, has an interesting backstory. It was once used to plug a hole in a chicken coop. Dr. Rey worked on Van Gogh after the legendary ear incident, and to show his gratitude, Van Gogh painted his portrait. Rey never liked it much, as evidenced by its disposition as chicken house insulation. I wonder if whoever found that painting had any problem making people believe it was genuine. "I was tearing down an old chicken coop and there was a Van Gogh on the wall inside. Yeah, I think it's real, don't you?"
By the way, that ear thing? Nobody cuts off their own ear, even if severely depressed. Or, as some have said, suffering from the tormenting tintinnabulation of tinnitus. There are much easier forms of self mutilation. A new German book, Pakt des Schweigens (Pact of Silence) contends that he made up the story to protect his friend Gaugin, who, perhaps unintentionally, whacked off the ear with his sword during a contentious argument in the dark. Gaugin was a fencer, and he could have been protecting himself. The authors, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, believe that the two artists had a hellacious fight because Van Gogh was upset that Paul was leaving, going back to Paris. It was common knowledge that Van Gogh was infatuated with him. At any rate once the shit hit the fan and the ear hit the floor, the two made a hasty pact to keep mum, Gaugin, to avoid jail time, and Van Gogh, to keep the friendship from disintegrating further. The incident took place near a brothel, and Van Gogh wrapped the ear in cloth, presenting it to a prostitute, who passed out when she realized what it was. Van Gogh went home and passed out as well. He would probably have bled to death had not the prostitute alerted police, who found him in his blood-soaked bed. They took him to a nearby hospital where he asked to see his pal, Gaugin. But Gaugin refused to visit him, left that day, and they never set eyes or ears on one another again.
Van Gogh wrote to Gaugin saying, "I will keep quiet about this and so will you." Some years later Gaugin wrote to another friend that Van Gogh was "A man with sealed lips. I cannot complain about him." Van Gogh's brother Theo also had some knowledge of the night that hints at circumstances other than self harm.
It all took place in Arles in 1888, no doubt interrupting Van Gogh's supremely prolific period during which the bridge paintings and drawings and hundreds of other works had been produced. The Nazi highjacking of Bridge at Langlois in Arles took place years later, and its whereabouts are still somewhat clouded. No one has heard anything about the ear, though it was supposed to have been kept in a jar of preservative. One hopes Dr. Rey didn't dispose of it in the chickenyard. What was it with that guy, anyway?
It wasn't long after the hearing loss that Van Gogh died in the arms of his brother, July 29, 1890. He was only 37. And even his death has an ear, I mean air, of mystery about it. Anyone with his roller coaster ups and downs would have been diagnosed as manic-depressive or possibly bipolar these days, and medicine might have smoothed it out some, extending his years of incredible creative genius.
His death: no suicide note, but days before, an ebullient letter to Theo. And he had just ordered supplies and paints. Moodwise, he was on an upswing, if anything. And the fact he'd been shot in the stomach is another question mark. Grossly evident powder burns from the sooty gunpowder of the day were missing indicating the weapon was fired from a distance. The position of the wound would have been extremely difficult for Van Gogh to accomplish, especially with his right hand--and he was right handed. Plus he had been receiving accolades and painting busily, even after the loss of his ear.
It should come as no great surprise that a bioengineered replica of Van Gogh's ear enjoyed a New York debut in 2015. Titled Sugarbabe, the auditory oddity actually contains natural DNA from Van Gogh and a direct male descendant. It was displayed at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. The genetic donor was Liewe Van Gogh, Theo's great-great grandson. Created ("It's alive. And it hears...") by Diemut Striebe, it employs a computer processor which stimulates nerve pulses allegedly allowing it to hear. One wonders if it was embarrassed at the opening. Some gallerista having imbibed too much free wine can be imagined to say "Ears to you, Vincent." or "Anybody got a Q-Tip?" or maybe whispering sexual innuendos into it.
Some words of advice: if it needs cleaning, don't stick anything sharp in it. Or around it. And guard it carefully. If they're out there plotting to steal Van Gogh paintings, they'd sure as hell want his ear. Or a close relative.
While the Van Gogh Museum may not be interested in Sugarbabe, and often declines to accept surfacing paintings as authentic, they do, through diligent research, welcome the ones they deem worthy. Sunset at Montmajour is such a painting and it's not even signed. Inventoried in the collection of Theo Van Gogh, it was sold in 1901.
No record of it existed until a Norwegian industrialist bought it and displayed it in his home. Advised that it was not a Van Gogh, he stored it in the attic. In the 1990s the Van Gogh Museum dismissed it because it was unsigned. "Hey, not so fast," someone said. In 2011 they started a two-year investigation. Exhaustive tests and a letter of provenance from Vincent to Theo resulted in a 2013 unveiling and hanging of the oil in the museum.
Meanwhile they're still plotting thefts out there. And fakery abounds. But I just saw one on eBay. "Vincent Van Gogh Painting. Bearing "VINCENT" Signature at bottom left. This piece appears to be in decent good condition and will be sold 'as is.'". Hmm, where's the phone number of the Van Gogh Museum? This might be the break I've been looking for.
This piece originally appeared in Resurrection of a Sunflower, a Van Gogh anthology by Pski's Porch.
Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculpture on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. Three more books since. His fiction and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Santa Fe Writers Project, Shotgun Honey and The American Journal of Poetry. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. Some work is at http://www.wisesculpture.com
David Huddle teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English and in the Rainier Writing Workshop. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in The American Scholar, Esquire, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Poetry, Shenandoah, Agni, Plume, The Hollins Critic, and The Georgia Review. His most recent books are Dream Sender, a poetry collection, and My Immaculate Assassin, a novel. With Meighan Sharp, Huddle has co-authored a book of poems, Effusive Greetings to Friends, forthcoming from Groundhog Poetry Press in the fall of 2017, and his new novel, Hazel, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2018.
At the entrance to the Dayton Art Museum, a tall piece of kinetic art guards the doors. On second thought perhaps it is knighting the stream of comers and goers: a shining, polished stainless steel structure, a perpendicular mast (a square-sided pole) 20 feet or so tall, which includes its divergence into a large wye's reaching arms, and at each of their tops, a shining sword-like, tapering, five-foot triangular piece of metal that juts out from the point of attachment near its thicker square end and cuts empty space, slicing around independently at the prodding of invisible currents.
I can't see the mechanism that holds these rotating blades in place yet allows their movement. Trying to do so, I stand near the sculpture's base craning my neck and farther off gaining some details in the distance but at the same time of course losing others. This crafts-person's trick in achieving balance is obviously beyond my ken. I can imagine the mind and the limbs creating it, though. They're in a well-lit large warehouse-like room playing with materials that became what I see.
Balance seems to be at the centre of this art—maybe it's at the centre of all art. If so, how odd. Some of the most unstable people I know are artists of one sort or another. If this observation is true, then maybe practicing an art based on balance appeals to kinetic artists because they find it hard to achieve balance in their own lives. At any rate, I'm thinking now of their act of creating as performance art, like someone on stage entertaining an audience.
To get my drift, go to youtube and view the video of Miyoko Shida Rigolo's performance. You'll have a hard time thinking it's not a trick of video razzmatazz. What she does is totally based on balance.
She begins by taking what looks like a large goose feather from the bun in her hair and balancing it upon a slightly longer and what looks like a heavier piece of wood or bamboo, though perhaps it's some lighter material. She holds this second piece at its balancing point, then repeats this procedure with increasingly larger pieces of the same material, slowly balancing one after another beneath the one before it, one hand holding the latest balancing point, the other introducing the newer piece of wood. At the end a large mobile of fourteen pieces slowly circle on her balancing hand and finally upon one last erect piece of wood. All the time during composition, at each stage of construction, you can see the wavering nature of the loose balance as well as the entire piece turning. Then she....well, you need to see the quiet climax, the breathtaking beauty in this finished art, which is mobile even throughout its creation.
It's another extension of the mobile idea, which I think must have derived from observing natural phenomena. The leaf or flower on a stem waving as a breeze affects it. The piece of tissue that hangs down tempting prey into deadly range of the angler fish's mouth. The glinting water drops spreading out, sprinkling down onto the ground, creating patterns, dripping from ice as it melts from an eave in bright sunlight several hours during the day. A week of the samaras helicoptering, swirling down from maple trees until gone for another year. The shower of pink crabapple blossoms that I've enjoyed, standing under limbs, immersed in a powerfully rich aroma some springs in my backyard.
The more constant example is the night show of stars, which hold such permanent positions that humans have recognized and named the relationship of stars to one another for millennia. A close study of the night sky stimulates wonder of course, and part of that concerns a perception of our own infinitesimal existence in the grandeur of the cosmos. But also, the wonder about what holds the continuing relationship of the things we observe up there in place. Science suggests gravitational pulls, magnetic attractions and repulsions, orbital forces beyond my knowledge but clear enough to me to prompt comparisons. They remind me of the wires and hidden human devices that hold the pieces of popular mobiles in a stable relationship while allowing their movements to occur.
In this way I end up also thinking about myself. Human beings are held on our own wires and strings, our invisible emotions and thoughts, the DNA patterns that formulate who we are, the inheritances that go back into humanity's prehistoric origins. Are we not to a large extent mobiles ourselves?
And all those supposedly stationary things that we assume are landmarks? The human eye can catch only a limited range of motion. We don't see the tree's slow movement, the erosion of a sandstone crag, or witness very well the hummingbird's flapping wings. If a movement is too slow or too fast, we miss it. Perception also depends on the nature of the moving object's substance and colour. Our eyes have help. Scientists have extended our ability to perceive the otherwise invisible, but we don't have to spend thousands for very complicated machine help. More simply, an album of photographs that show how we looked down through the years back to childhood can shock us and prompt nostalgia. Doesn't it also suggest those hidden wires that connect us all?
Making any kind of art employs magic. So does the viewers' appreciation of a piece of art. This kind of rapture lasts for the period during which a creation engages us, when we respond emotionally and intellectually to it. So here I am just outside the Art Museum's front doors, a George Rickey mobile, Two Lines Oblique, prodding me to circle around it in my mind, following the artist's impulses, judgments, and skill, levitating in my imagination at the artist's stimulation.
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folk dances. Five Star Mysteries published his novel Old Town, and his poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies.
How to Do Art
In other words, don’t let it do you.
By which we mean we are as much a part of ourselves as art is to itself.
Notwithstanding the psychological realm — the realm with much to say about nothing at all.
Take the artist on a painfully inartful day—the morning is cloudy but the afternoon is sunny, naturellement, the mailman arriving at 1:15pm before the recycling (sundry cans and bottles, crumpled cardboard pieces) endeavours to be disposed of, evacuated into a urine-coloured, unprepossessing vat next to the more prominent but filthier receptacle whose plastic lids have been disabused of their function (spring, summer, fall and winter), the weather given its full and
natural right to subsume the banal and odourific contents therein.
Still, there is much toiling to be done. There is the afternoon that wanes—painful reminder of the blinding transience of life.
But at the end of it all, do we dare believe? Has that narrative that had defined our lives been finally subsumed? Do we assume that we are to be bestowed entry into THE GRAND SOCIETY OF INFINITE ACCOLADES?
No (the very word that we have been tasked to elude).
Dinnertime. The producing of dinner can be thought of as art, of course, as food is nearly always relied upon as being the substrate to consciousness. Moreover, the term “culinary arts” has repeatedly been seared into the dogma of our digestive existence.
Chicken cutlets, one evening.
Linguine with sautéed vegetables, the next.
As we muster the undead.
Paolo Cornacchia lives along the shores of the Chesapeake. He has previously been published in Literary Orphans. More information about him can be found here:http://paolocornacchia.space
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