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On the Road:
Notes on Artists & Poets, 1950–1965

Coming of age in the forties, in the chaos of the Second World War, one felt the kinds of coherence that might have been fact of other time and place were no longer possible. There seemed no logic, so to speak, that could bring together all the violent disparities of that experience. The arts especially were shaken and the picture of the world that might previously have served them had to be reformed. Of course, the underlying information of this circumstance had begun long before the time with which I am involved. Once the containment of a Newtonian imagination of the universe had been forced to yield to one proposing life as continuous, atomistic, and without relief, then discretions possible in the first situation were not only inappropriate but increasingly grotesque. There was no place , finally, from which to propose an objectively ordered reality, a world that could be spoken of as there in the convenience of expectation or habit.

The cities, insofar as they are intensively conglomerate densities of people, no doubt were forced to recognize the change previous to other kinds of place. The neighborhood had been changing endlessly, ever since the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution, and change , like it or not, had become so familiar a condition that there was even a dependence on the energy thus occurring. Nothing seemingly held firm and so one was either brought to a depressed and ironically stated pessimism concerning human possibilities, or

Poets of the Cities New York and San Francisco [catalog of the exhibition] (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1974).


one worked to gain location in the insistent flux, recognizing the nature of its shifting energies as intimate with one's own.

Put another way, this situation increasingly demanded that the arts, all of them—since no matter how disparate their preoccupations may sometimes appear, their roots are always fact of a commonly shared intuition or impulse—that these articulations and perceptions of the nature of human event yield the assumption of discrete reality, of objects to be hung on walls merely to be looked at, or words rehearsing agreed to patterns of valuation and order, or sounds maintaining rationally derived systems of coherence; that the human event itself be permitted to enter, again, the most significant of its own self-realizations.

Hindsight makes all such statement far more tidy than it ever in fact was or could be. As a young man trying to get a purchase on what most concerned me—the issue of my own life and its statement in writing—I knew little if anything of what might be happening . I had gone through a usual education in the East, had witnessed in shock the terrifying conclusion of humans killing one another, had wobbled back to college, married (mistakenly) in the hope of securing myself emotionally, had wandered into the woods just that I had no competence to keep things together in the city, even left the country itself, with my tolerant wife, hoping that some other culture might have news for me I could at last make use of and peace with. But the world, happily or unhappily, offers only one means of leaving, and I was returned without relief again and again to the initial need: a means of making articulate the world in which I and all like me did truly live.

Most stable in these preoccupations was the sense that any form , any ordering of reality so implied, had somehow to come from the very condition of the experience demanding it. That is to say, I could not easily use a previous mode of writing that wasn't consequence of my own literal experience. I couldn't write like Eliot, for example, I couldn't even depend upon Stevens, whose work then much attracted me. So it was that I became increasingly drawn to the proposals of Ezra Pound ("We must understand what is happening . . .") and to the work of William Carlos Williams:

From disorder (a chaos)
order grows
—grows fruitful.
The chaos feeds it. Chaos
feeds the tree.
(Descent )


Then, in 1950, a chance contact with Charles Olson gained through a mutual friend, Vincent Ferrini, changed my mind entirely and gave me access at last to a way of thinking of the process of writing that made both the thing said and the way of saying it an integral event. More, Olson's relation to Black Mountain College (which led to my own) found me that company I had almost despaired of ever having. So put, my emphasis here seems almost selfishly preoccupied with me —but I was, after all, one of many, all of whom had many of these same feelings and dilemmas. I expect that one of the first tests of the artist is his or her ability to maintain attention and activity in an environment having apparently very little concern or interest in what seems so crucial to oneself. Company , then, is a particularly dear and productive possibility for anyone so committed. Mine was answer to every wish I had ever had.

Living in Europe, in France and then in Mallorca, I had come to know some painters, like they say. Ezra Pound had generously put me in touch with René Laubiès, the first to translate selections from the Cantos into French, and I found him a warm and intelligent friend. However, I felt rather gauche and heavy around his work, which was in some respects an extension of usual School of Paris preoccupations—that is, he did work to realize a thing in mind, a sign or symbol that had value for him apart from its occasion in the work itself. His dealer was Paul Fachetti, happily, and it was at this gallery I first saw Jackson Pollock's work, a show of small canvasses giving some sense of the mode but without the scale that finally seems crucial for him. In any case, these paintings stuck in my head very firmly so that even now I can recall them without difficulty. Lawrence Calcagno and Sam Francis were also showing at Fachetti's, but neither made much impression on me at the time, despite I was delighted they were Americans.

Possibly I hadn't as yet realized that a number of American painters had made the shift I was myself so anxious to accomplish, that they had, in fact, already begun to move away from the insistently pictorial , whether figurative or non-figurative, to a manifest directly of the energy inherent in the materials, literally, and their physical manipulation in the act of painting itself. Process , in the sense that Olson had found it in Whitehead, was clearly much on their minds.

Coming to Black Mountain the spring of 1954 was equally gain of that viability in writing without which it, of necessity, atrophies and becomes a literature merely. Robert Duncan, in recent conversation, recalled his own intention then, "to transform American literature into a viable language —that's what we were trying to


do . . ." Speaking of Frank O'Hara, he noted that extraordinary poet's attempt "to keep the demand on the language as operative , so that something was at issue all the time, and, at the same time, to make it almost like chatter on the telephone that nobody was going to pay attention to before . . . that the language gain what was assumed before to be its trivial uses. I'm sort of fascinated that trivial means the same thing as three (Hecate). Trivial's the crisis , where it always blows. So I think that one can build a picture, that in all the arts, especially in America, they are operative . We think of art as doing something, taking hold of it as a process  . . ."

At Black Mountain these preoccupations were insistent. For the painters, the information centered in the work of the Abstract Expressionists, many of whom had been either visitors or teachers there—although their large public approval was yet to come. What fascinated me was that they were entirely centered upon the requalification of the occasion of painting or sculpture, the sense of what it was given to do . Again, a literature , in this case art history and criticism, had grown over the viable condition of the possibility. So, as John Chamberlain put it, "a sculpture is something that if it falls on your foot it will break it," both foot and sculpture. It weighs a lot. It sits on a so-called pediment. In contrast, he wanted a new vocabulary to speak of what a sculpture might be, terms like "fluff" or "glare." When asked why he had used discarded automobile parts for much of his early work, his answer was that Michelangelo had had, apparently, a lot of marble sitting in his backyard, but junked automobiles were what Chamberlain found in his own. Material was crucial again, regaining the tensions, the instant-to-instant recognition of the nature of what was in hand as mind took hold of it. In contrast, John Altoon saw the School of Paris as so much "polishing of stones," what R. B. Kitaj calls a "patinazation," a concern with decorative texture which prevented perception of the possibilities of the act of painting itself.

In like sense, all assumptions of what a painting was were being intensively requalified. Hence the lovely definition of that time: a painting is a two-dimensional surface more or less covered with paint . Williams' definition of a poem is parallel: a large or small machine made of words . In each case there is the marked attempt to be rid of the overlay of a speciously 'historical' 'appreciation,' a 'tradition' which is finally nothing more than congealed 'taste' or 'style'—which, Duncan notes, is distinctly different from art. "No man needs an art unless he himself has to put things together—to find an equilibration . . ." Style is predicated on the habit of discrimina-


tion previous to experience of the objects thus defined, whether these be so-called "art objects" or simply the clutter of a dump or city street. Duncan's point is that "the objects are not arriving [in perception or consciousness] that way, nor are the objects of thought arriving that way . . ." The collage or assemblage art of Wallace Berman, George Herms, and Larry Jordan—all working in San Francisco in the fifties—makes use of a conglomerate , coming out of what people discard, out of any time.

Possibly the attraction the artist had for people like myself—think of O'Hara, Ashbery, Koch, Duncan, McClure, Ginsberg; or Kerouac's wistful claim that he could probably paint better than Kline—was that lovely, uncluttered directness of perception and act we found in so many of them. I sat for hours on end listening to Franz Kline in the Cedar Bar, fascinated by, literally, all that he had to say. I can remember the endless variations he and Earl Kerkham spun on the "It only hurts when I smile" saga, and if that wasn't instance of initial story telling (an art ), I don't think I'll ever know what is or can be. Kline could locate the most articulate senses of human reality in seemingly casual conversation—as I remember he once did, painfully, moving, by means of the flowers in a flower shop a friend had just opened, to the roses Kline had once brought to the pier to welcome his bride from England—to find that she had had a breakdown in passage. Those "flowers" gave us both something to hold on to.

It may also have been the energy these people generated, which so attracted us, and we may have been there simply to rip it off in a manner Wyndham Lewis warned against long ago. Writers have the true complication of using words as initial material and then depending on them as well for a more reflective agency. It would be absurd to qualify artists as non-verbal if, by that term, one meant they lacked a generative vocabulary wherewith to articulate their so-called feelings and perceptions. The subtlety with which they qualified the possibility of gesture was dazzling. So Michael McClure speaks of having "totally bought Abstract Expressionism as spiritual autobiography" and of Pollock as "so integral [to his own life and thought] that his work began immersing my way of thinking in such a subtle way so early I can't tell you when . . ."

The insistent preoccupation among writers of the company I shared was, as Olson puts it in his key essay, "Projective Verse" (1950): "what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and


which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is a third term, will take away?" Duncan recalls that painters of his interest were already "trying to have something happen in painting" and that painting was "moving away from the inertness of its being on walls and being looked at . . ." Action painting was the term that fascinated him, and questions such as "to what degree was Still an Action painter?" He recognized "that you see the energy back of the brush as much as you see color, it's as evident and that's what you experience when you're looking." He notes the parallel with his work of this time, "The Venice Poem," which is "shaped by its own energies" rather than by a dependence on the pictorial or descriptive. Most emphatically, it is "not shaped to carry something outside of itself."

In his Autobiography , published in 1951, Williams reprints the opening section of "Projective Verse," feeling it "an advance of estimable proportions" insofar as Olson was "looking at the poems as a field rather than an assembly of more or less ankylosed lines." Earlier, seeing the text in manuscript, he had responded enthusiastically, noting that "Everything leans on the verb." Energy and field are insistently in mind in his attempt to desentimentalize accumulated senses of poetry by asserting its thingness . He uses his friend, the painter Charles Sheeler, as context: "The poem (in Charles' case the painting) is the construction in understandable limits of his life. That is Sheeler; that, lucky for him, partial or possible, is also music. It is called also a marriage. All these terms have to be redefined, a marriage has to be seen as a thing. The poem is made of things—on a field."

This necessity—to regain a focus not overlaid with habits of taste and the conveniences of the past—is found in all the arts at this time. At a retrospective show of his early work (in company with Claes Oldenburg and George Segal) Jim Dine said it constituted his own battle with 'art history,' his specific attempt to test and find alternatives for its assumptions. In like sense I once heard John Cage, speaking to a group of hostile and 'classically' oriented music majors at a New York university, point out that the music with which they were engaged had to do with concept and its understanding, whereas the music to which he was committed had to do with perception and its arousal. He also made the point that their music occupied only one fourth of the spectrum from a theoretic silence to white noise. Being an American, as he said, he felt that wasteful, and was also particularly interested in the possibilities of what's called noise itself. Just as Williams had to fight all his life the curi-


ous stigma which labelled him "antipoetic" (a term unintentionally provided by Wallace Stevens in an introduction to his work, which Stevens wanted to separate from saccharine notions of poetry), so we had to fight to gain a specific diction common to lives then being lived. No doubt the implicit energy of such language was itself attractive, but the arguments against it, coming primarily from the then powerful New Critics, made its use an exhausting battle. Allen Ginsberg remembers coming offstage after his early readings of Howl often so nervously worn out and shocked by the public antagonism, that he'd go to the nearest toilet to vomit. In contrast—and in grotesque parallel indeed to what was the literal condition of the 'world'—we both remembered the authoritative critical works of the time we were in college, books with titles like The Rage for Order and The Well Wrought Urn . Whatever was meant by The Armed Vision , the guns were seemingly pointed at us.

There was also the idea, call it, that poets as Ginsberg or myself were incapable of the formal clarities that poetry, in one way or another, has obviously to do with. Even now, at public readings in which I've read a sequence of poems whose structure has persistently to do with the parallel sounds of words having marked recurrence, someone inevitably (and too often one of my colleagues in teaching) will ask me if I've ever considered using rhyme? It blows my mind! I can't for the life of me figure out where they are in so-called time and space. As Pound pointed out, we don't all of us occupy the same experience of those situations, no matter we may be alive together in the same moment and place.

When my first wife and I decided at last to separate in 1955, we met in New York to discuss the sad responsibilities of that fact. At one point, locked in our argument, I remember we were walking along Eighth Street not far from the Cedar Bar, and suddenly there was Philip Guston, across the street, waving to us. My wife had not met him, and I had but recently, thanks to Kline—and had found him a deeply generous and articulate man. Most flattering was the fact he knew my work, although at that time it would have been hard to find it in any easily public condition. (It's worth noting that de Kooning, Kline, and Guston—the three I knew best—were all of them 'well read,' to put it mildly, and seemingly kept up with the new work of that time as actively as the writers themselves. Guston especially had a great range of 'literary interest.' A poem in For Love called "After Mallarmé" is actually a translation of a poem of Jouvet's which Guston quoted to me, having brought me up to his loft, with characteristic kindness, to show me the few


paintings still there just previous to his first show with Sidney Janis. My 'translation' is what I could make of the French he quoted, in my scattered recollection of it.) In any case, my wife had become increasingly suspicious of what she felt were the true incompetences of my various heroes, i.e., Kline painted the way he did because he couldn't draw, and Williams wrote in his fashion, because he couldn't rhyme. So here was one she could physically confront, and she didn't waste any time about it. Guston had brought us to a restaurant which had just opened, and so there were free hors d'oeuvres —to his and my delight. Once we were seated, she let him have it: how do you know when a painting is finished (painting the way you do). He answered very openly and clearly. Given the field of the painting, so to speak, given what might energize it as mass, line, color, etc.—when he came to that point where any further act would be experienced as a diminishment of that tension (when there was nothing more to do , in short), that was when he felt the painting was finished. She let the matter rest, but I knew she felt almost complacently dissatisfied. "He doesn't know what he is doing—he's just fooling around." She, like so many others then and now, did feel that there must be an intention factually outside the work itself, something to be symbolized there, some content elsewise in mind there expressed, as they say. But that a process —again to emphasize it—might be felt and acted upon as crucial in itself she had not considered. So a statement such as Olson's "We do what we know before we know what we do" would be only a meaningless conundrum at best. I guess she thought we were all dumb.

Far from it, for whatever use it proved. There was, first of all, a dearly held to sense of one's professionalism , as Duncan reminded me, and all of us practiced the art which involved us as best we could. He spoke of the "upsurge in the comprehension of the language" in each art, and "not only writing, or painting, was going on, but reading ," a veritable checking out of all the possibilities inherent in the physical situation and associative values pertaining. So painters are working "from a very solid comprehension of the visual language they come from, including anyone who may be looking." They know, as do the poets related, the state of the language—in a sense parallel to the scientist's saying something is in a volatile or inert state —so that "we do convey what we mean" and there is attention to what is happening in every part of the work, to keep "a tension throughout."

The diversity of possibilities gained by such an intensive inquiry is still the dominant condition. At times it may seem almost too


large an invitation to accept, and in any situation where it is used either for convenience or habit, an expectable bag of tricks, then whatever it may have generated is at an end. This is to say, more vaguely, what Ezra Pound emphasized: "You cannot have literature without curiosity  . . ." Or what Olson's qualification of attention makes clear: "the exaction must be so complete, that the assurance of the ear is purchased at the highest—forty-hour-a-day—price . . ." There is also the dilemma demonstrated by the story Chamberlain tells of his first wife: "She said she wanted to be a singer, but what she really wanted to be was famous." Good luck.

Possibly the complex of circumstances which made the years 1950 to 1965 so decisive in the arts will not easily recur. No one can make it up, so to speak. But there were clearly years before, equally decisive, and there will no doubt be those now after. This clothes-line is at best an invention of pseudo-history, and the arts do not intend to be history in this way, however much they use the traditions intimate to their practice. When Duncan saw Olson for the last time, in hospital a few days before his death, he said to him, "important as history was to you, there are no followers—and as a matter of fact that isn't what happened in poetry." Olson grinned, and Duncan added, "It was an adventure . . ."

It's always an adventure , thank god. When Rauschenberg arrived at the Art Students League in New York, one of his teachers, Morris Kantor, felt that his wife, who'd come with him, really had the more practical competence as a painter. But what Rauschenberg had as curiosity was fascinating, e.g., he'd put a large piece of butcher paper just in front of the door by which students came and went, would leave it there for a day or so, and then would examine it intently, to see the nature of pattern and imprint which had accumulated. Characteristically it is Rauschenberg who questions that an 'art object' should live forever necessarily, or that it should be less valued than a car which manages to stay in pristine state for a very few years indeed.

What seems most to have been in mind was not the making of models , nor some hope of saving a world. As Duncan said of Olson's sense of a city, "You have to confront it and get with it," not "straighten it out. Optimism and pessimism have nothing to do with being alive." The question more aptly is, "How much aliveness is found in living in a city," as much to the point now as when Whitman made his own extraordinary catalog. Moral as the arts are in their literal practice, I do think they abjure such program in other respects. At least they do not serve easily such confined atten-


tion, however humanly good. I am sure Allen Ginsberg, despite the persistent concern he has shown for the moral state of this country, would nonetheless yield all for that moment of consciousness which might transform him.

But none of this, finally, has anything to do with any such argument at all. As Wittgenstein charmingly says, "A point in space is a place for an argument." You'll have to tell mother we're still on the road.

Placitas, N.M.
August 28, 1974


Divers Sentiments

Looking through old manuscripts, I find the following, from a little known Journal de M. Laubiès written upon the occasion of his arrival in Paris.

Ils me chargeoient incessament de mille brocards & de mille injures; je me suis veu en tel estat, que pour ne les aigrir, je passois les jours entiers sans ouvrir la bouche . . .

Hence, perhaps, the kindness of Laubiès to critics, even to myself. Painting these days is the discharge of a rare duty, and the public has of course its usual right of comment—to wit: La Nature n'a pas les bras assez longs, etc.

This was the death of romanticism, or better, of those poor painters at the turn of the century, with their eaux d'essences , and their hope of competition with appearance—which any woman might have undeceived them concerning. What followed led finally to that peculiar situation:

1. C'est le naturel des artisans de se plaindre et de gronder .

2. La diversité des gages les fait murmurer, etc.

And/or the jungle of Paris. Against that any man stands a little, at least, helpless. And Laubiès' work has been judged accordingly. I heard recently that his paintings had been much influenced by a visit to Mallorca. The colors, of course, became those of that delightful retreat—although the truth of the matter was, very simply,

Galerie Fachetti, 1953 or 1954.


that he found himself running low on everything but red, brown, and death's head (purple?), and so he made out the best he could. There was also an old lady ("Ils me répétaient sans cesse: Nous te brûlerons; nous te mangerons; je te mangerai un pied; et moi, une main, etc. ") who wished to hang her tomatoes in the studio in which he was working, and one morning arrived at a little before seven to throw both paintings and Laubiès out.

May I suggest, then, that painting is one thing to a public—and quite another to a man so engaged? I don't think there is any reason to take it much beyond that. It is neither the business of the one nor of the other, to think very much about what each, in turn, thinks. I am tired, as I suppose many others are, of reading of deep, deep symbolism and mutterings of a soul, and so on. These are all, at last, much too far from that very thing we might otherwise notice—the work itself.

At least some such attention might be reasonable. As it is, and no matter "true or false," some sufferings merit acknowledgment:

 . . . ny le froid, ny le chaud, ny l'incommodité des chiens, ny coucher à l'air, ny dormir sur un lit de terre, ny la posture qu'il faut toujours tenir dans leurs cabanes, se rammassan en peloton, ou se couchans, ou s'asseans sans siège & sans mattelas, ny la faim, ny la soif, ny la pauvreté & saleté de leur boucan, ny la maladie  . . .

Much that we see, we forget.


René Laubiès:
An Introduction

One doesn't have to develop theories to look at anything, all he has to do is open his eyes and look. Or call that the rational minimum for an attitude toward some character of painting which may not have a formal category, or some settled opinion concerning it, which can be appropriated for a guide.

Such guides are in fact deceptive. What the eye sees is also deceptive, but in a more useful sense. Say, for example, that you come into a room, drop your coat on a chair, switch on a light—and there, on the wall, is the shadow of a monster—perhaps. Obviously it is a shadow, and what else could it be. Just as the man who looks like Harry is not Harry, unless he is Harry. But this can wait.

A picture is first a picture, the application of paint or ink or whatever to a given surface—which act shall effect a thing in itself significant, an autonomy. And it may of course be that there has been something seen, a visual impression, which the man painting wishes to record, literally, without distortion, that is, without more change of that impression than his media, and the limits of himself, enforce. So representational painting, as we know it, has partially at least the necessity to overcome, by virtue of technique and media, a disturbance of the object, of the thing, so that its use is in the fact of its transference, from there to here or wherever it is, to the picture—so at last the picture is the thing, without need of further reference.

It is here that nonfigurative art becomes relevant, insofar as it

Black Mountain Review , Spring 1954.


can be, in inception, without reference of this usual kind. But that is a vagary, and one which has caused much confusion. Forms are—there are no 'dead' forms; form is the declaration of life. And not at all generally, because what we call life is utterly specific, and must be—to be itself. But the nonfigurative painter does not begin with the bowl of apples, however much he may see it. Or if he does begin there, his process is different from that of the man who would paint it as 'real.' He eats the apple, and then paints the picture. That is the sense of it. So it is a different engagement, a different sense of intent.

But often, wandering through a gallery of contemporary work, one looks up at the walls, and is bored. It is nothing, the painting is not 'real.' A clutter of unspecific forms, without trees or sunsets, proves little.

And this is how it can fail, insofar as such 'forms' may have nothing to declare of themselves—except that they are 'A Painting,' which is very hopeful. Otherwise it could and does happen—no argument can withstand it—that at times we are all of us shaken by forms perhaps unidentified but intimately involved with us, and unmistakably. Can we anticipate that? Or is it ridiculous for me to see the shadow as a thing, a very real thing, which frightens me? Laubiès knows this very deeply, and anticipates it.

It is his art, if you will, to begin here, at this point of things as yet unrecognized, without more reference than themselves. It is his purpose to effect these things as form, as a painting, simply there. So that we are involved unmistakably—like a sound perhaps, which no 'language' has yet found 'words' for, may affect us nonetheless.


A Note on Franz Kline

There are women who will undress only in the dark, and men who will only surprise them there. One imagines such a context uneasily, having no wish either to be rude or presumptuous. Darkness, in effect, is the ground for light, which seems an old and also sturdy principle. There is nothing quite so abrupt and even pleasant as such "light"—ask any woman. Think of the masses of misunderstanding that come from a betrayal of this. Make a list. Picasso? Much a way of being about something, minus night, etc. There are some men for whom it seems never to get dark. As, for example, for Klee it never quite seems to be sun, etc.

But, more interesting, think of it, a woman undressing in broad sunlight, black. What if light were black—is there black light? If there is black light, what is black? In other words, argue to the next man you meet that we are living in a place where everything has the quality of a photographic negative. Take hold of his coat, point to anything. See what happens.

With Kline's work, if the blacks were white, and vice versa, it would make a difference, certainly. It has to be black on white, because there he is, New York, etc. He has no wish to fight senses and all. But he is a savagely exact laugher, call it. I don't know literally if he depends on argument for a means to cohabitation, but I would myself argue that he is a lonely man. Men rarely laugh this precisely, without such a thing for a control. What is 'funnier' than forms which will not go away? If you say this to someone, they will

Black Mountain Review , Winter 1954.


laugh at you, but all the time, right behind them, there is a skyscraper! It's incredible how they can notice it, if they do, and still talk to anyone.

So what is form, if it comes to that. That question I once tried to answer in relation (as they say) to the theater. I was convinced that a man, formally, is no more and certainly no less than a chair. Fool that I was, I took two chairs, placed them either side of me, and sat down on the floor. The answer was, from these friends: Who would go to the theater to see a man be a chair? What would Kline have said, if anything. Is this thing on the page opposite looking at you too? Why do you think that's an eye. Does any round enclosed shape seem to you an eye.

There is no 'answer' to anything. A painter (possibly a musician) can assert this more effectually, more relevantly, than any other 'artist.' He can be present all at one time, which no writer can quite be—because he has to 'go on.' If no one sees a painter, or, rather, what he is doing—finally, not 'doing'—doesn't he still have things? At least no man can point at a painting and say it's nothing, he'll be lucky if it doesn't come down off the wall and club him to death for such an impertinence.

God knows we finally enjoy, deeply enjoy , wit, the grace, the care, of any thing—how it is. Kline's audience (no doubt in Paradise) will be a group of finely laughing women, plus what men won't be jealous.


Philip Guston:
A Note

For a sense of it, say—I tried to be careful, but the form would not have it. My care was the form I had given to it. How to care, that one does care? Care , it seems, comes from several words, among them the Anglo-Saxon caru, cearu (anxiety) and the Old Saxon kara (sorrow). Is it moving with care through care, that it comes to? I care, certainly.

I think—in that denseness of anxieties, and sorrows, like a nightmare world, of forms which are all exact and there, yet not the forms? What are the forms, one says. It is not possible that one should not arrive at them. Somehow not to be accidental, not even enough or too much 'accidental.' No one understands, but some know. It is a very articulate determination which can, at last, " . . . take care/by the throat & throttle it . . ." with such care.

Black Mountain Review , Spring 1956.


Harry Callahan:
A Note

What the eye is given to see, as image, in any sense, is a curious occasion. What is it, that they point to, for us to see? The new house with the dirt for lawn, the new tooth, the hat that does not fit, etc. And in the eye at last convolutions of precisely the despair, of no new house (not enough), of the tooth of no one at all, hat I never wore. I hate it all—pictures! What can I do with them, except ache to be there—? Or to get away as fast as possible, turning the page.

So that the subtlety (immense) of Callahan's photographs must, of necessity, be already another thing: not 'pointer,' or reminiscence, or even 'experiment,' but fact. In them there is no movement to any image beyond the one, given. We will never see the face of the boy, or of the woman, or will (to remark it), the white pigeon light. It will always be (flat) winter with trees, trampled grass, window curtains and reflections, and paint. These are (as seen) images also of an isolation; that must in fact be almost another 'given,' to not drive the forms home to pasture, to 'where else,' in short. There is no quicker eye to see, nor mind, equally, to seize upon the instant, of chance. All of which (words) here go flaccid against the dry, clear 'eye' of it all.

Black Mountain Review , Autumn 1957.


A Note

"The Question Answer'd"

What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of gratified desire.
What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of gratified desire.

And all the world lies in between, so to speak. Here is a paradox, and pathetic joke, that that which is most given to men and women, as a common occasion, should be also that least shared by them. We make a cult of the beautiful woman because we will never know her, if men, or be her, if women. We would rather look at the coldly suggestive than feel, in any part of our bodies, the substantial fact of our own warmth.

But these are drawings of another order than that which we are accustomed to in that they let us look. It was perhaps the primary heroism of Peeping Tom that let him look at Lady Godiva, no matter the occasion. The man who shuts his eyes at the sight of a lovely woman is a fool, and the woman who is blind to what sight she might be is also a fool. Finally, I like the comfortableness of these drawings, I like love so seen in its place. It is always there.

Alice Garver, Togetherness (Albuquerque, 1962).


"Contemporary Voices in the Arts"

The whole thing began characteristically enough.[*] I'd got to the Mohawk terminal at La Guardia, and met the others—Billy Kluver, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Stan Vanderbeek, Jack Tworkov, and Len Lye. Some were hungry, so went off to find something to eat quickly, leaving Len, myself, and a young friend of Stan's to find some place to be comfortable till the plane was ready to go. Len led us into a rather formal restaurant where a waitress immediately gave us large menus and waited for our orders. We simply wanted to talk and so Len with a lovely avoidance kept the whole scene in confusion. We sat there with all this function around us somehow unable to catch up with the fact we were not really there to have dinner or to do anything but that which we were obviously doing.

There is a lag in the situation of the eye's response to projected film image, for example, which Stan reported as about one-tenth of a second, that lets the eye see a continuous image rather than the literal fact of the static frame-by-frame that is the case. Just so in the proposal of the restaurant, the assumption of a necessary order let the three of us use it in quite another manner, and we were thus able to enjoy the lag of their adjustment to the fact that we were there to do nothing more than sit comfortably and talk.

At one point—at Albany State—Billy and John were continuing a conversation with students that had started in an almost impos-

Arts Magazine , Summer 1967.


sibly dead ballroom, just that no one could hear anything said even a few feet from them, and now we were all sitting in an anonymous classroom. John had been speaking of what he felt to be the necessity of testing all assumptions of cause and effect. As answer to a student who asked him how that might be done, he said, simply try to make use of any situation in a way that the assumptions proposing it have not dealt with. If you get a grant, say, proposing you study cloud formations, see if you can use it for a trip to Europe, or whatever might interest you in that sense specifically.

We were an odd company without question. Often I felt an awkward distance in my own occasion from that which was clearly the possibility of the others, and I envied the articulation and particularity of Stan's nonverbal 'language.' Reading poems, as I'd known it, with the discreet placement of the audience, the fixed focus, the single term of the reader's voice and image, all seemed to make an impossibly static circumstance. Consequently I never made use of it during any of the eight evenings we had together. Instead I tried to project voice into the simultaneity of the multiple occurrences much as Stan was in fact doing with his battery of projectors and view-o-graphs. I was very curious to discover what kinds of hearing were actual in such a multiplicity of event. When some people at Union said they hadn't been able to hear anything back of the first few rows, I couldn't really care, just that I'd heard, as I knew those first few rows had, a fantastic blast of sound into which entered images of voices as actual as William Carlos Williams saying, in a suddenly vacant quiet, "Be patient that I address you in a poem . . ." to be bumped abruptly by whatever it was did then occur. The world of my own head, selfishly enough, was changing significantly.

Since there were seven of us, and, in the two weeks of the tour, seven places to be visited, we decided that each one of us in turn would take an evening. He could, if he chose, make use of the others as he saw fit. Since Harpur had an active dance program, Merce was given direction of that evening, and the rest of us were placed at various points on the stage, which was segmented in at least five sections, all of which could be raised or lowered independently. David Vaughan, the tour manager, was back of the stage operating the control panel without being able to see us, so that we went up and down with a lovely randomness. Back of us Merce drew the form of the space into a sequence of extraordinary articulations. There were various microphones placed about which we could use as we wished, either to note senses of dance or to say whatever we wished. Billy read a quietly didactic sequence of pro-


posals with an icy blue-white spot on him. Len, always impatient with any located place, was walking around somewhat like a carnival barker, trying to get hold of the audience directly and admonishing them to admit the fact of their own feelings. I felt like Gagarin, saying something like, I'm a bird, I'm a bird! John was making great gnomic sense, but Jack was somehow most articulate of all. He sat there, saying literally nothing, as the section of stage under him raised and lowered the chair he was sitting in, as Stan's images floated all around him and off the walls and ceilings surrounding. The intensity of his attention to the newness of this experience was so evident it became more than any of us could say.

Immediately when we had first met, we decided any formal panel procedure would be specious. As John said, if we began by talking about where we thought the arts were going, then we'd be stuck with where we thought they had come from—and that was patently an endless dialogue. In the discussions that did often follow the specific activities of the evenings, there were inevitably both faculty and students who felt themselves defrauded by our conduct. I remember one professor in particular at R.P.I. who said he felt us pathetic, coming as we did with what were acceptably defined abilities in the various arts he assumed us to represent, to engage an audience in what he could only recognize as a primitive randomness. John answered him sharply, pointing out that he was imposing a decision of taste and habit upon a situation that was literally a process of exploration. There were no assumptions there to be insisted upon other than the one which might feel possibility to be more interesting than the limits of habit.

Much that was said continues to be very active for me. For example, in an afternoon conversation with students, John said: "Distinguish between that 'old' music you speak of which has to do with conceptions and their communication , and this new music, which has to do with perception and the arousing of it in us. You don't have to fear from this new music that something is bad about your liking your own music."

He made use of a simple diagram on the board: conceptions/fixed—perceptions/fluid. He suggested: Likes and dislikes are associated with the ego not on its dream side but on its daytime side in connection with what it receives through the senses. Now if you divide your sense perceptions into what you like and dislike, you might just be cheating yourself. As far as we know for sure, you're only alive once. Your sense perceptions are in good working


order. They will not necessarily remain in good working order. Beethoven, for instance, growing deaf . . . While your ears are in good working order, and while your eyes are in good working order, it seems to me that you would want, rather than shutting your eyes and ears to available experience, rather to open them . . .

Stan put frequent emphasis on the very evident fact of process as condition of contemporary environment, noting that colleges and universities, as airports, were always being built, rarely completed. Again, it was in the exploration of this situation that we found a common vocabulary. Billy Kluver made a unique contribution to the company in that, being an engineer, process is an unequivocal attention for him, happily apart from a conceptual 'aesthetics.' At R.P.I. he and Robbie Robinson, another engineer from Bell who had participated in the "Nine Evenings," created a sound system that permitted the audience to tune FM radios to particular 'broadcasts' of live activity, so that one had 'campfire' situations of various groups in the audience so tuned in as all the other activity went on around them. He had wanted a kind of trade fair environment, with each of us in 'booth' locations that the audience might move freely around, again tuning in what interested them. But once there, the limits of the equipment and the auditorium, with its fixed seats, which he had to work with, caused a modification—proving again that what happens is more relevant than what doesn't.

Toward the end a kind of feedback gained in the continuity began to be a problem, I felt. Inevitably we gained a sophistication in dealing with the kinds of questions we were asked. Yet the habits, in that sense, of the audience were the most continual limit. It is interesting to remember how the idea of the last evening, the "TV Dinner" eaten literally at the Y in New York, came about. We were in Albany, having dinner, guests of Mr. Hightower, and Jack said, why don't we do this—and immediately John was thinking of contact mikes, Stan of the possibility of closed circuit TV, Billy of the obvious engineering problems, and Len of his lovely fish. When the actual evening came, I found I'd learned one very useful thing—to trust the fact of any literal condition I am in. But the fairly discreet rage of the audience—neither students nor faculty this time, and very sophisticated indeed as to its judgments—was something else, and the screaming feedback, and the projected pleasure of that meal and ourselves eating it, seems to have met with active qualifications.

I don't think I've ever eaten a better piece of meat, and the com-


pany was especially pleasant. There was a very happy air of being together again. At one point apparently the Y's stage manager came up to Robinson and said, "You've got to do something, the crowd is getting very restless." Robinson continued with his own preoccupations. They were literally more interesting.


John Chamberlain

There is a handle to the world that is looked for, a way of taking it in hand. But not as something familiar, nor as some reference to something else. Senses of Chamberlain's sculptures that want to return them to "crushed automobiles" seem to me as absurd as trying to put mother back together again. Surely what has happened is something too.

Things, then, are large or small objects, having the fact of space in whatever dimension becomes them. Space—such as we are given to conceive—is already the dimension of our own. We measure by what we are, as things, in what relations are possible to us. The small man sees the door as large, the large man as small, etc. But what things move more complexly in how they are, come forward insistently, disobliging all such scale, and will be other than big or small—as if we stood finally on our hands, and the so-called bottom disappeared at our feet.

"A new world is only a new mind," says Williams, and equally a new world is not only but wholly a new thing. Our sense of history looks for conformities of acts and effects, and in that respect does us poor service in the arts. Skills are accumulated but the effects of those skills have at each moment to be recognized. There are such things now present that the sciences have no vocabulary wherewith to describe them. They are confronted as facts of literal presence.

You will not live long if you look always for what was there, assuming the world to be no more than the time track of your

Recent American Sculpture (New York: The Jewish Museum, 1964).


particularities. A sudden crash, a disfigurement, the loss of anything not simply a pencil or some wish, and all becomes a present so huge it falls on you, crushing you more than that automobile you thought so neatly to remember. It was there, but now you are contained in a thing already changing, bringing you into its terms—and your house shrinks, far off, and things are bright and twisted.

But what things are is, again, more complex, and more distinct than some incidental violence done you. In that sense they used to say, stand back—but these things neither invite nor reject. It is the virtue of a mountain not to care—or not, at least, in such words as we use. Here as well to be liked is not an issue.

One wants a world wherein all that is possible occurs, neither as good nor bad —however terrifying. It must happen. These things have come from such time that no one remembers it, and from such space they assert their own. It is all here.


Frank Stella:
A Way to Go

One of the most insistent gains of abstract expressionism is that it gets rid of the frame as limiting factor. It regains the canvas as surface—or literally imposes as significant surface anything on which the painting occurs. Instead of making the canvas, as it were, a view box or screen where something is then to happen, painters of this group forced the sense of limiting edge to give place to what was happening in the painting itself. Equally, accumulated senses of composition—for example, the Renaissance use of perspective as a vanishing point—were largely displaced. The senses of balance, of 'tops' and 'bottoms' in relation to 'weight,' were also revised. It would now seem inevitable that, in contrast to a nonfigurative painting that wants only to disguise the nature of its figuration, painting of this kind was most absorbed in that activity momently confronted as it, quite literally, occurred. What could be seen then and there was dominant, and if all the forms so discovered had counterparts in other visual contexts, they were nonetheless decisively found in the primary act of painting.

One aspect of this insistence is that painting loses its historical sense of picture , insofar as our sense of a picture seems to imply something which is referential. It is very hard to think of a picture without wondering, of what. So, again, abstract expressionism rids painting of having to be pictures of things, symbols, mirrors of some otherwhere present reality.

But what follows directly from these painters, both as mystique

Lugano Review , no. 1, 1965.


and example, is more confused. As Robert Duncan has usefully made clear, abstract expressionism has to do with energy embodied in the painting (felt ) rather than energy referred to (seen ). This fact makes the energy implicit in the character of the brush stroke, of the forms which it asserts by its activity, a dominant qualification of the painting itself. It explains Pollock's situation when he says, "When I am in my painting I'm not aware of what I'm doing . . . I try to let it come through . . ."

It is impossible to qualify what, then, will be significant about such 'being in the painting' except by looking at what comes of it. However, a sense of painting that wants to make itself significant by a random occasion of such energies—or looks for accidental discoveries of 'balance'—leads finally to an implicit chaos, which, in turn, yields only to taste and fashion. In other words, what follows from abstract expressionism, in direct imitation, too often depends upon an arbitrary process of discrimination, one that wants the thing to look like it looks like nothing.

It is interesting that it should be in what seems the antithetically disciplined formalism of Frank Stella, and those akin to him as Neil Williams and Larry Poons, that the gains of abstract expressionism are most used. For example, the interest in the materials possible to painting is continued, whereas the contemporary Action painters depend on those defined by the older men. Equally, the sense of the canvas, or whatever surface is used, is for Stella and the others noted a major preoccupation. Most relevant, the painting is not a reference to another reality—not even another painter's reality—but remains unequivocally its own occasion.

There are several senses of Frank Stella's work that seem to me useful. John Chamberlain speaks of him as having painted one line without stopping for the past ten years. What he finds interesting is that Stella has found in that apparent repetition the possibility of maintaining that line's activity. He is after it, like they say, and will not let go.

Neil Williams, on the other hand, told me of Stella's first use of Motherwell-like forms. As he said, there is this early parallel, but that then something began to happen. The forms became more formal, and in turn led to a linear context, so that—in Klee's vocabulary—the planar effect yielded to linear. But there must be a simpler way to put it. Suppose, for instance, one first sees a set of things as mass, e.g., bulky hills, large clouds, things occupying substantial senses of space. But then, as one goes on looking, that way we have of relating any such group of things, as occupying places


together, leads us to senses of their position, in such relationship. The hill's top is roughly the apex of a triangle which points to the cloud, itself an awkward rectangle—and so on, because all that I am trying to note here, is that lines are an adamant assumption in any reference to space. Therefore, it is simple enough to recognize how the movement from preoccupation with shapes, or mass, to line occurs. It is not really the out-line, or the 'edge' of the mass, that is the point here—but rather, that what one calls a shape is primarily an activity of line.

So then, as Williams spoke of it, there begins to be an increasing interest in the linear relation of forms—of how they develop into (for the example he gave) a sequence of rectangles moving from right to left, parallel, but each in turn of less length than that to its right, but with a common balance in their point of possible intersection supposing a line drawn through the middle of the canvas on the horizontal axis—and, again, so on, because this is to say, much more simply, that these rectangles begin to assert the lines of a triangle, and that those lines, in turn, begin to determine the possibility of what 'forms' they can take.

Suppose a square, or rather, make one, as Stella now does, and taking the canvas as its possibility, a square canvas in turn, what is implicit in the linear fact of that square that can continue to happen throughout the area which the canvas offers? What is a square, in fact, that it can be drawn with line, or that a line can draw one? And, having drawn one, is a second square enclosing it another line or—despite the apparent fact that it happens in another place, and of another size—the same one?

These are curious questions, and worth the emphasis simply that a first impression of Stella's work may lead one to think that color, and more specifically, the bands of color which he uses to locate line (itself to my knowledge never painted, but left as the surface of the canvas itself), are the significant activity. This same factor leads, at times, to senses of depth or volume which lend the painting the possible effect of an optical illusion. It may be that this aspect is relevant—akin to Op painting more generally—but I have, finally, the impression that it is rather how the line follows through such a variable, that is the point. In "Sharpeville" (1962) there can be a sense of 'looking in,' although it seems soon embarrassed by my own feeling that the line of the squares is always on the same plane.

Squares, as a formal possibility for the line, lead to a number of variations. However, these terms seem left as constant: first, the bands, or intervening colored areas between the lines, are left equal


in width—so that whatever occurs as qualification of that space is managed by color; and, secondly, the diagonals are insistent, very often implicitly as those lines which would pass through the angle of each square to meet at center, and also explicitly, as in "Meknes" (1964). The effect of this last is to emphasize the four triangles which the diagonals define.

Two forms are therefore present, which now move to a complex of relationships. These in turn seem to me to follow two distinct patterns, which are difficult to describe—but briefly, they seem as follows. Either the squares occur as they do in "Line Up" (1962), so that one of the diagonals will originate from a point the width of one band in from the edge of the canvas; or else they begin as a development from a central point, itself the intersection of the diagonals from the edges of the squared canvas, as in "Sharpeville." The situation of the triangles is modified in each case in a distinct manner. Either they seem to set up alternative positions and/or to displace the presence of the squares (as in "Line Up")—or else lead to an intensification of them (as in "Sharpeville" and others of like kind). Then there are further possibilities in the 'double image' of "Jasper's Dilemma" (1962), with its negativized, tonal parallels in the right-hand square balanced against the 'positive' of the left.

At this point the fact of the square canvas is itself a concern I think, in the sense that although it is a limit, the structure of the painting works to include that fact in the activity of the painting. I mean, simply, that the sense of backwall, or edge, is played against, and used at times to return one to the intensity of the center. But what is happening in the painting forces further qualifications; and the forms which are there become increasingly active, clearly, and are demonstrating other possibilities in turn.

The triangle, and the angles involved by it, lead the line to qualify not only the context of shape within the painting, but as well its actual circumstance in the actual shape of the canvas. There are a number of variations which lead to this—increasing play on the activity of the diagonals for one thing—in "Fez (2)" (1964)—, so that they are shifted to pass through the center at a point midway on each side of the painting, making in that way four squares within it, and the sequence of expanding squares, familiar from the earlier work, is here shifted on its axis to make an increased emphasis on the triangular, chevron-like pattern the squares effect as they move to the outer edge. The bands of color, limited to an orange and green, alternate from one to the other as they meet at each diagonal, and the whole effect of the painting is an expanding pressure


against that limit of edge, but one which also, paradoxically, returns to a balance as these bands grow shorter, approaching each of the outside angles of the canvas.

The frustration is really that it is a little specious to write of something which is so active when seen. Speaking now of what happens when the line begins to define the shape of the canvas itself, is even more so. But it is nonetheless what one has to do, simply that so much is so loosely assumed. The sense that 'function defines form' is familiar enough to people who have used hammers, or any so-called tool that has a specific thing to do. But that information does stay, oddly, an abstraction in that people reasonably don't want to be bothered when doing something, with how it happens they have something to do it with, etc. If one speaks of lines having similar possibilities, even necessities, it seems all the more vague. But there are so many simple instances. One, for example, that has always fascinated me, is that of moving the center white line, on a road, so that it goes off the road, and all the cars smash up in the ditch. Or take the friend who got a job once painting the stripe down the center of a village street, past a bar he was drawn to as he painted toward it, and finally the line hit the sidewalk—and the street likewise. Because where the line goes is where it is, and what locates itself with reference to that line goes too.

Line begins to have this unequivocal presence in "Haines City" (1964) in that the shape of the canvas is directly the form given it by the activity of the line, and the form it defines. The diagonals are, again, a center for this activity, but now the parts of the canvas which cannot be used are removed. In other words, not only has the activity broken free of the physical situation of a canvas within a frame—as abstract expressionism managed to do, insisting that the coherence of what was happening in the painting was quite enough—it has managed to affect all that context of surface qua 'picture' to such an extent that only such surface as is actively engaged by the painting will be admitted as a physical object. It has done this with line.

Last fall I was able to see Stella's show at Kasmin in London, and it was an extraordinary experience—for these reasons. First, line in these paintings not only determines the context of the canvas' shape; it further allows no other possible sense of such shape to begin with. It is moving on a ground that can only be felt as its activity. It does another thing as well. I was there with a friend, and as I was sitting on that bench seen in the illustration, she walked in front of the painting on the far wall. It was as if she reoccurred,


momently, i.e., her own size shifted and changed with reference to the lines she moved in front of—the painting was as much a defining object as she was.

But the lines, in any case, were going elsewhere, and it is not only the point, that they had this effect. Nor that they created 'architectural' effects (as she said) and seemed to make a volume. I think the fact that they had gained their own articulation, that they found shape as they moved—rather than as 'it' might—is the primary one.

What Stella himself secured seems to me a large possibility indeed. In his show at the Ferus Gallery in February relationships of triangular forms reoccur, and the shape of the canvas follows them, with a quiet, intense wit and care. After the more variable 'open' shapes of the Kasmin show, he comes to these with a line so sure he has only to follow it.


"Mehr Licht . . ."

Not so very long ago it was characteristic to associate film with dramatic or with narrative art. We saw the images, so to speak, but we tended to place them as a story, a continuity necessarily involved with a message that either a novel or a play might otherwise convey. Something flashing, or stuttering in a myriad of colors, might alter our attention, but it was at best, we thought, an effect used in support of the actual purpose: to get on with the story itself.

In contrast to this presumption, a film by Stan Brakhage wants to push us out, to force us, in fact, to see as the activity of light itself permits us to. One mutual friend may object that he is "ruining our eyes" but I would emphasize that it is in the defense of those eyes, and their possibility, that his work takes on its most real and singular character. Therefore I interrupt myself and these notes to look again at a beautifully simple and precise instance, Mothlight . What do I see?

tones brown, green
    details of [moth] wing, other parts—
occurring between light source—and
    the light now on the wall—
    scale—as detail of "size"
the presence (present-s as he would say)
of what occurs in  the light.

Arts Canada , December 1968.


And I find myself seeing the "blank" film
at the end as particularized now—dust bits,
scratches, something in  the light.

My understanding is that this film was made by placing fragments of mothwings and parts between strips of scotchtape—and of making from that a print capable of projection. To see, in short, what is in the light—as dust motes in the air might be so seen.

His early films are, effectually, "psychodramas" but his work moves intensively, and quickly, into the literality of light as the eye is given to experience it. A significant film of this experience is Anticipation of the Night , which he has spoken of as follows:

The daylight shadow of a man in its movement evokes lights in the night. A rose bowl held in hand reflects both sun and moon like illumination. The opening of a doorway onto trees anticipates the twilight into the night. A child is born on the lawn, born of water with its promissory rainbow, and the wild rose. It becomes the source of all light. Lights of the night become young children playing a circular game. The moon moves over a pillared temple to which all lights return. There is seen the sleep of innocents in their animal dreams, becoming the amusement, their circular game, becoming the morning. The trees change color and lose their leaves for the morn, they become the complexity of branches in which the shadow man hangs himself . . .

What I find interesting here is the apparent melding of a vocabulary involved with symbolic action ("a circular game") and with the phenomenal character of light itself ("anticipates the twilight into the night").

His notes for beginning film-makers are relevant in that he proposes one take film into a light-free room and there expose it to specific activity of light—for example, the flare of a match or the beam of a penlight. Equally, he suggests scratching on black filmstrip, so that this qualification of light may be experienced. He wants to emphasize that what the film will evoke or more accurately make manifest is the activity of light as the eye is given to experience it by means of its action on the "light sensitive" film.

Consider how explicit the activity of light is to film in all senses. We see the movie by virtue of the fact that light is being projected from a source, through a material variously prepared (e.g., by camera, painting, scratching, direct exposure, alternate chemical action, etc.)—and here of course the point is that light may be used


not only to "create" the initial condition of the film, but is itself "created" and/or brought to reveal the multiple condition of its nature by its passage through the film.

In fact, it is light and the eye which experiences it that seem to me the two insistent terms of Brakhage's activity as a film-maker. I know that he has also deep concern with "what things mean" and with basic human relationships—but light, in all its modality, as "seeing sees it," is much more to my own mind his insistent preoccupation. So it is that perhaps the most ambitious of his master-works is called The Art of Vision . No doubt he thinks as well of that kind of vision which is called "visionary" and he without question possesses it. Yet I love that teasing, nonsense wisdom of, "Where was Moses when the lights went out . . ." It must be part of all that says, "Let there be light . . ."—or that calls one into the light, asks that light be shed on this, lightens the load well as the heart.

Not long ago I sat with friends watching a number of the 8mm films which comprise the lovely Songs sequence, and because we were in the living room of an adobe house, and senses of earth in that way all around us, and because there were the occasional lights of passing cars, like firelight flickering on the walls—I felt an oldtime invocation of possibility . Pound says, "Damn your taste! I'd like if possible to sharpen your perceptions after which your taste can take care of itself . . ." John Cage has spoken of that previous music, as he might put it, which had to do with concept and its demonstration, and of that music he himself has had so much to do with, which concerns perceptions and their arousal. The center of what we were seeing was the very possibility of sight itself. We saw the light.

To return then . . . I have been looking at a recent issue of Scientific American (September 1968) devoted to "Light," and much of it I can't follow. Still much of it and/or what its subject concerns is familiar to me because of conversations with Brakhage. For example—that what we see as color is due to the failure of the material from which light is being reflected to absorb that color. But more to the point here: the experience offered by his films is initial, and has to do with the primary fact of sight, as light creates it.

October 29, 1968


Ecce Homo

One evening last year in San Francisco, a number of people came together to hear discussion of a nonhuman concept of beauty , e.g., what a butterfly or blue whale or a three-toed sloth might 'define' as beautiful in another member of its group. The zoologist Peter Warshall emphasized that it was, seemingly, those functions or physical attributes which permitted the most appropriate (secure and productive) rapport with environment that were chosen. I was interested that the other participant that evening was Diane di Prima, whose Revolutionary Letters constitute a basic 'how-to' manual for social-political survival. The series itself, of which this evening was one instance, had been arranged by the physicist Frank Oppenheimer, who, with his brother, Robert, had faced a severely imposed 'question' as to legal conditions of human interest and commitment during the fifties.

Whether the art be painting, music or writing, one may note its overwhelming preoccupation with process during the periods of the Modern and, now, the Post Modern. Also echoing in mind is William Burroughs' somewhat sardonic remark in Naked Lunch , "Where do they go when they leave the body. . . ." One may presume that the substantially collective human body was left toward the end of the nineteenth century, and that, in the Western world, the faintness of an intellectual humanism, having no physical authority for its ruminations, went down also, as increasingly sophisticated fragmentations of the human event took over. The point

Introduction to the exhibition catalog R. B. Kitaj: Pictures/Bilder (London: Marlborough Fine Art, 1977, with German translation by Ursule von Wiese).


here can be made simply by noting some of the primary names of that time, Freud, Einstein, Marx, et al.—each of whom, be it said, thought to speak for a collective situation of the human, but, nonetheless, presents primarily a singular plane of its event. Schizophrenia , as Surrealism or Cubism, is a term invented about the time of World War I, and Ezra Pound's great cry de profundis , "I cannot make it cohere . . . ," has obvious parallel with Yeats—"The centre cannot hold. . . ."

What had been lost, to put it so, was an image of man , some order of and in experience, both collective and singular, that could propose itself as constituting something , in whatever dimension or context of practical fact was elsewise the case. The insistent, whining question of our time is, "Who am I?"—and that I is not the one which is of necessity the many, plural and communal as given. Quite the contrary, it is Descartes' proof of existence, swollen with paranoia and frustration to a me of irreconcilable abstraction. Marlowe's Faustus—possibly the first significant instance of this crisis in our literature—now becomes Everyman. "O, I'll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?" Be it said that there are a remarkable number of cultures and persons surviving who do not share in our specifically Western dilemma, but our equally specific use of the world since 1900 has resulted in a horrifying reduction of such cultural units and the language groups relating.

In his notes concerning "The Human Clay," an exhibition he selected for the Arts Council of Great Britain (1976), Kitaj says, with disarming simplicity, "The single human figure is a swell thing to draw . . . I'm talking about skill and imagination that can be seen to be done . It is, to my way of thinking and in my own experience, the most difficult thing to do really well in the whole art. . . . It is there that the artist truly 'shows his hand' for me. It is then that I can share in the virtue of failed ambition and the downright revelation of skill. . . ." This preoccupation has nothing to do with a 'documentary' art or with 'photorealism'—each seems too simply an exploitation of a one-sided 'reality.' Rather, it's what that single footprint meant to Robinson Crusoe, in Defoe's mind. It's there , physically, without question. What Defoe then realizes, by means of Crusoe, is the informational crisis it provokes in another human. So James Joll and John Golding, extraordinary humans indeed, look out 'From London' to see Europe, their own information surrounding—as Kitaj, in turn, sees them, and remembers both the Europe of their insight and his own determining sense of it, all present in such resonant, echoing detail, from such a range of hu-


man preoccupation and vocabulary, one cannot simply list its occasions. For one instance, however, see that Mr. Joll's head has been 'repaired' in the manner of certain frescoes of Giotto—which recalls, in turn, that charming Modernist tenet, "a painting is a two-dimensional surface," etc. As Kitaj might say, of course .

More complex possibly, as its title, If Not, Not , can be felt to signal,[*] are the multiple dimensions of this painting, 'measures' of an insistent variety of human information and feeling about 'things,' a curious soft welter of 'dreams.' Here the physical order of sight shifts and turns in 'perspective,' informed by diversities of human artifact, presence, and memory. Color leads and coordinates, a deliberating act, insisting on the primacy of the painting as a human decision.

The Jew Etc. —as the earlier Bill —begins a 'character' (like those one might find in a novel, Kitaj said in conversation, who come and go in various possible books) found also in If Not, Not . Here he is singular, in progress—as a 'history' in a shifting 'place.' The other figures thus—as Catalan Christ (Pretending to Be Dead) —are historic increment and prototype, but in situations which have their own decisive echoes and accumulations. The physical dimensions of the 'single figure' paintings themselves are frequently the literal measure of a human space.

If anything stands presently in need of definition, like they say, more demandingly than the word person , I don't myself know what it is or can be. Whether the preoccupations be social, political, psychological, legal, economic, or biological, there seems no commonly satisfying resolution of meaning, either in or among the concepts variously attached. When the zoologist pointed out that particular markings of the Monarch butterfly are apparently considered to be 'beautiful' to others of that species, he presumed that the 'reason' was the camouflage they afforded—and that the Monarch's bitter 'taste' was also 'beautiful' insofar as it protected it thus from the interest of possible predators. Another species of butterfly, in fact,


mimics the Monarch's color pattern for this very reason. It may be late in the day to invoke such utilitarian concerns, but I wonder, finally, if we've ever truly had done with them. Certainly I hope not. Put simply, I want to know something—I want to know how and why and what it is, to be human —and I believe, as did Konrad Lorenz, that the arts give any of us the most specific, intensive information of those questions possible in the given world. If Kitaj were only a 'genius' insofar as painting was concerned—if he could not otherwise count beyond five or read a newspaper with a literate comprehension—delight me he well might, but it would be as the wind in the evening or the water's deep present blue. I am human, and I am restless, unsure, insistently questioning as to how you are feeling, what it is you know, and what do they mean. In Kitaj's art there is such a driven amplitude of attention, so many articulate layers of information and care. The axes of possible directions at times seem infinite—as if one might 'go anywhere'—and yet the preoccupation seems to me always rooted in the fact of the human: the singular, the communal, the one, the many, in the places of its history, in the presence of our lives. As he says, "No one can promise that a love of mankind will promote a great art but the need feels saintly and new and somehow poetic to me and we shall see. . . ." Here I believe that we do.


Three Films

for Gary Doberman

My layman's sense of this art finds a diversity of connections. Most generally, the nostalgic fact of first permission to be 'entertained' or, more truly, to see things which otherwise could not be felt as 'real.' Hence—as with Jack Kerouac's lovely evocations of Saturday childhood afternoons in wonder of local movie house—it was that miraculous 'outside' coming into one's sight, scrunched down in seat, stuffed with popcorn, kids again in that insistent impulse of, "what's going to happen now? " I think of how peculiarly rare is that occasion, in a common life, when "the house lights dim" and there is no question of the legitimacy of specific anticipation, no judgment other than one's pleasure .

An art, any art, would seem to me to have to be interesting , so to speak. And what, among other things, would seem so is that fact of a revelation, that an information occur—again, that something happen .

I've never felt that the arts had to be taken care of, in some charitable way, and I've loathed the often pretentious context of interest, primarily social, which used the activity for a badge of its own taste and/or its authority. Ezra Pound years ago made a very simple statement in contradiction: "Damn your taste! I want if possible to sharpen your perceptions, after which your taste can take care of itself . . ." We surely will not all have the same "taste" but the arts

Robert Creeley, Was That a Real Poem & Other Essays , ed. Donald Allen (Bolinas, Calif.: Four Seasons Foundation, 1979).


are not 'about' 'reality,' nor are they merely instances of possible social agreement. No doubt they all make manifest factors of specific social habit and history—and that is interesting. But for me , selfishly enough, they begin at the beginning, which is to say, they constitute physically real acts, things, and occur in the world as objects of that order, to find use, effect, as all else in possible human experience will or will not.

As a writer I have been endlessly fascinated by the apparent fact that words, language, constitute a particularly human creation. I don't at all mean that we each one 'made it up,' that is, thought of an apple and then searched around for the appropriate 'word.' As Wittgenstein suggests, it is very difficult to think of thinking apart from the functions of language. However obvious it is to remark it, a dog does not 'talk' in the same way that we humanly do. Its barks, yelps, whines, etc., are not demonstrably an abstraction of something 'out there' into something 'in here,' my head, call it, where indefatigable, shoe string , and water may all find a place with no immediate necessity to be here otherwise at all. Sigfried Gideon in his book The Eternal Present proposes early on that the arts have a significant initial relation to the human ability to abstract and therefore to symbolize —and that, humanly, this power has both its obvious wonders and, equally, its distortions and evils. He would point to a crisis thus gathering in the Renaissance and coming to culmination with Descartes' famous statement: "I think, therefore I am . . ." Many ways now active in thinking, feeling, proposing, using 'the world' can contest his assurance, and the ego, the castle of this proposition, has long since been made to yield.

But, you see, there was never a "castle," certainly not here, in this room—and though I might track it as "castellum" or as some memory of King Arthur and his knights—did he even have, to speak precisely, an actual castle —or how shall we now realize this thing which will in turn help us, apparently, to make actual "ego" . . . A metaphor? Symbol? A figure of speech —which instantly I translate to the shadowy formation of some charming body, tentatively, shyly, approaching—"a fine figure of a woman"—which in turn provokes instant memory of a crony's accounting of Hardy's somewhat peculiar fascination with hangings, in this case of a woman: "She was a fine figure of a woman, against the morning sky . . ." Death invites, day invites—which D shall we follow?

Because—which word itself is only, dearly, language "because" there is no 'because' other than in mind—it seemed to me (and seem is the passive form of see ) that we , which is to say, no longer


only I , had been wandering in a seeming field of flowering possibilities which words precisely make actual to human attention and delight.

So my pleasure, as an artist, has had an abiding interest in that fact. Louis Zukofsky—extraordinary poet of our mutual lives in the habits of the English-speaking world—picked up Wittgenstein's: "A point in space is a place for an argument . . ." But do I quote either correctly? Is it possible to make an 'incorrect' statement, or is virtue, forever and ever, its own irreducible reward? That is, in language, what is said is always the case—at least, for what is said, if not for what is not .

But sitting again in the Maynard, Mass., movie house—the Colonial, as I recall, as opposed to the People's Theater—we are waiting for the movie to begin, presumably a western, and are we to think of it as a 'future' which will or won't be 'correct'? I emphasize this aspect of 'correctness' for many reasons—some personal, e.g., I dislike intensely right people who tell me I am wrong; some rather shabbily philosophic—"is this for real?"—and some quasi-scientific—I would like to know if there might be ultimately a correct way of living in the world, etc., etc. In poetry there has been, I think, a marked respect for Coleridge's having called for "a willing suspension of disbelief." Shakespeare well before that—and I am sure many, many others in parallel situation—had asked that of his audiences, simply to admit the power of human gesture and language to transform an otherwise crunky approximation of the coast of Bohemia to affective, actualizing 'reality.'

I don't see—my thinking has so occluded my sight—how I'm now to enjoy anything at all in this situation. The movie seems hours in beginning, preoccupations proliferate and I'm again literally in this room, which is not 'this one' but another where I sit writing these words. Behind me, flat on a small cabinet-table, there is the severed muzzle of a literal bear's head, with intensely affecting eyes, although they are not 'real,' whose patience in that situation provokes and touches me. Where is the rest of his sad body? What was his life? He is a mute 'speaking' head no longer in time but as object—a whole world somehow attendant but never to be entered except by speculation: when was he otherwise? Where?

In some grotesque way, then, this part can manifestly stand for that whole—whether one means the 'all of it' or the gap, the space, the proposed 'rest of him' would imply. The interest for me here is in the fact that what's here can so clearly include all that apparently isn't. In fact, there is finally nothing else to be here at all, but


what is here. One is amazed that, humanly, so much value can be given to what is absent as against what's present. Too, the root of that word, absent , would seem to be literally, to be away —which is presumably impossible, if one is anywhere at all.

Enough of this, so to speak. Clearly I like talking—I love the places words are, the things, the goings on, the mistakes and the accuracies. Writing is not, finally, some limited situation of dogmatic intentions. You must remember that film-making also wants to play, pun, echo, mistake, start over—and always is, at each point, only where it is, and all else that might be is there too. Bear with me , like they say.

Walking down streets daily, have you noticed that what's there is somehow true enough, i.e., it really seems to be there before anything else? I'd suppose that people who came upon the escaped hippo in that pond south of Los Angeles, assuming they knew nothing of its escape, would feel consternation, but its being there primarily would be their first impression one would think. Now if they didn't find it particularly interesting, to see such a thing, they are surely acting legitimately if they simply walk on by. But it doesn't seem so acceptable if they say, "Why isn't it a giraffe, or the jolly Green Giant, or President Roosevelt?"

Film, as poetry, as the language arts more generally, is a serial art. One thing 'comes after' another: words, images. Often it's thought that artists in these mediums are extraordinarily conscious of specific intentions. No doubt some, even many, are. They have something to say. They think of the various possibilities open to them of saying it. They make resolution, and then they make the so-called art. Franz Kline said, "If I paint what I know, I bore myself. If I paint what you know, I bore you. Therefore I paint what I don't know." He isn't saying that he paints what he doesn't know how to paint—but that he paints what he cannot conceptually enclose as intention. And he is doing it with consummate intelligence of the possibilities inherent in such an 'open' situation—where what happens takes precedence over what 'should' happen—and with most alert perceptions. That's the point, for me at least, that the world be let in, that all the range of the art's powers of revelation, of doing something, be admitted. William Carlos Williams had a lovely qualification of the alternative: "Minds like beds, always made up . . ."

So—one thing after another , and what that factor has as powers . . . Have you ever played that game with others, where a piece of paper is folded, then one of the company begins a drawing, leaving


a little bit of its line visible on another face of the fold adjacent, so that the next person continues the drawing with only those edges of line as a locus—and so on, till the paper is exhausted? Then the paper is opened up to show the whole 'image'—and it is provocative because no one could anticipate what the image so constructed would be. The congruence, rather the contiguity there used seems to me a very sturdy element in either film or poetry, and in human life as it is consciously experienced: "One day after another./ Perfect./ They all fit."

One would like to say, with respect to a poem, read the words —don't limit yourself to a preoccupation with what isn't being said. Again Pound is most useful: "You can't blame a man for not doing what he isn't trying to do." I tend always to take things literally, for whatever reason—that is, it took me some years to recognize that the name of a cafe in Santa Fe, LY 'N BRAGG , was not, specifically, the two names of its owners. So, in seeing anything, whether metaphorically or physically, I tend always to begin at that beginning of what it is that is there. Thus I'd want to say, look first, think later—and of course I want it to the ends of the world.

Williams—possibly in a somewhat defensive sense—said of a poem, that it was "a small or large machine made of words." The Abstract Expressionists insisted, with delight, that a painting was "a two-dimensional surface covered (or not) with paint"—and presumably the factual, physical situation of a film is equally to be insisted upon. I know that Brakhage likes to remind us that a 'moving picture' is a sequence of rapidly changing single, static images. If presently we are flooded with preoccupations of this kind, seemingly—I am thinking of the didactic, actually self-dramatic, insistence on process and its physical occasions—do recall that Brakhage is revealing the means of the film (much as Méliès asked Pathé to do), not the ends possible, which he has also so brilliantly shown us. I do believe, to say it, that life is its own reward—but I get absolutely irritable if it has always to be a situation of, "look, Ma, I'm dancing!" I never did like dentists who explained what they were 'going to do' to me.

System  . . . One time in college a friend, an Englishman, John Hunter, discovered a 'system' wherewith to win at the races. We all put in what we had, so that he could go to the racetrack in Providence, R.I., and win us a bundle. We put him on the train, and waited. Late that night comes a call from John, that he has indeed won—but in the celebration of that fact, has now spent all the money, etc. All these years later—I think my share would have


been something like $78.27, not very much but surely something —that system really impresses me, and I finally had or have no argument with John's spending the money—but that's not the 'system' you understand. I mean, it's John, that pleasant, flush-faced sober-seeming bright English friend then, and that he won , you dig it? We beat the System! Terrific! Which is the only comment on structuralism I'd like to make at this time.

Personal  . . . "and art is art because of you . . ." We are a personal so-called society, brothers and sisters. Don't get personal with me, was what she said. I think persons are some of the nicest people I know. "To tell what subsequently I saw and what heard . . ." Speak for yourself, John.

And so—to work!

Western History , Stan Brakhage

As Archie Moore once put it, via Melville, "The eyes are the gateway to the soul . . ." And another useful point, that Charles Olson was wont to emphasize, is that for primates the eyes constitute the most crucial sensory agency. What's called 'image,' then, means for us a most significant information, whether we consider it as an interior condition, that is, the image in the word imagination , or else the outside, those images we will momently see. If an imposition of necessary exterior 'meaning' anticipates our experience, clearly we'll see what we'll have of whatever necessity to see; for example, a driver's test will require us to see the forms of triangle, square, rectangle, and circle as significant bits of information concerned with "stop," "caution," speed limit, etc. It would be impossible, I think, to discover anyone who did not have a habit of "seeing things" in particular patterns of received and/or habituated idea, as in "seeing red," for one instance. If the usual situation of literary narrative is then imposed on the activity of film, expectably the visual activity becomes a support of the story otherwise the case—as in a play or usual movie.

Brakhage tells a story without exception, but my point is that it is a story of visual information, not of literary details. In his earlier work, Desistfilm , for example, there was the grid of this other order, a narrative that might have been told in words. One might say that also of Anticipation of Night —but by this time the narrative is moving primarily as a visually defined activity, although the 'story' is still very clear in other possible terms.


As you see this film, you might think too of its title—although far better to put such preoccupations out of your mind. They are appropriately left to the occasion of afterthoughts in this case. But the film is, nonetheless, a particular experience of "history" and of "Western history" in particular. Since this is not a test, you will not be expected to tell me or anyone else why.

You will certainly see many things that you'll recognize very simply. Colors, surely—forms, movements, even places and things. You'll be interested, I hope, by the pace of their interaction and by their divers contents more singularly. In short, you'll be seeing a specific rhythm of visual activity which is itself an obviously definite information. Much as in the case of poetry, these rhythms and the pace thus defined will have a very significant role. The parallel with constructs in music is useful also.

I remember asking Robert Duncan one time to identify for me all the ways in which rhyme might occur in poetry. So he rehearsed the familiar situation of sounds, e.g., full rhyme, go blow; assonantal rhyme, get gain; rhymes of rhythm, until outside; rhymes of parallel constructs, in the box, up the hill —and so on. Again you might consider how visual instances of rhyming are used here.

Finally, this is, simply, a beautiful film—which constitutes the possibility of that literal pleasure I'd earlier spoken of. It delights the eyes with an intensive proposition of their very literal function: to see .

Domicile , Gary Doberman

Think of a couple of things, like they say: "Limits are what any of us are inside of . . ."; "Verse consists of a constant and a variant . . ." Already the world is here, truly, and anyone who has ever had experience of actual confinement—jail, hospital, body, army—common to human state can't really be patient with any assumption that we need to do it to ourselves. "The way out is via the door . . ."

Equally measure is a human preoccupation, even a responsibility, recalling Robert Duncan's "Responsibility is the ability to respond . . ." William Carlos Williams said in his humanly dear epic Paterson , "To measure is all we know . . ."

The artist has specific responsibility in that he or she is often in a territory of hitherto unacknowledged significance. As Pound put it, "Artists are the antennae of the race," and grand though that statement may seem to some of you, recall that artists in our present


society have significantly made us aware of crises in our human world otherwise unattended. I am thinking, for example, of Allen Ginsberg's Howl .

In this film there is a simply accessible constant which you will have no difficulty in recognizing. There is an equally apparent variable . So your question—to phrase it poorly—might be, what is it that is being measured here? I know, intuitively and quite otherwise, that something, some factor, some common event, of human life is here manifest in a most literal way. Well, if you saw a person walking toward you, would you presume it to be a table? There is the circumstance, of course, when the inoffensive hat stand, in the dark, becomes the inexplicably malign monster. And the monster is as "real" as the hat rack. But first things first, so to speak—so consider, literally, again, what you are seeing.

The materials of this film are personal, comfortably so. Nothing in that way distorted or untoward. But the choices of the artist are both crucial and defining, and there is evident attention to what he has called boundaries . One is also impressed that there is such confident articulation of resources particular to film, marked technical skill—"without which nothing."

To contradict, in a way, what I've been thinking about here, I recall a friend of years ago, Tim Lafarge, who used to dance with Merce Cunningham. He told me at one point he used to work out by putting a dime on the floor of a closet, then getting in, locating himself on it, the dime, and seeing what bodily rhythms and articulations were then possible. So at various times and in various needs, there is great interest and use in devising the limits which increase perception of the resources also present nonetheless. "How to dance sitting down . . . ," for example, which is my own preoccupation as I try to write these words—not at all metaphorically, because it is an absolutely physical event for me.

This too is a beautiful film, factually, with a lovely shifting counterpoint in the pacing. Like an old slow blues, after some up-tempo number—so, read it and think.

Short Films 1975 , Stan Brakhage

Being myself a very personal writer—which is to say, one who speaks always for himself despite the hopeful community I'd also insist upon in that fact—I'm dismayed, and often irritated, that the personal as a situation in experience of otherwise content comes now


under attack. I grew up in a time which used to propose a kind of contest between the objective and subjective. That should really date me for all of you. Anyhow, people used to say things like, "let's take an objective look at the facts" or, "you're getting too subjective." For the true scholars present, there's a piece I then wrote called "A Note on the Objective," Goad , Summer 1951, collected in A Quick Graph —and I really haven't changed a bit apparently in the twenty-seven years since. It isn't that I love myself in some overbearing way, or that I think I have some privileged and authoritative information of the world. But for me it is true that this complex piece of meat, me , is factually the author of that 'world' the also present 'I' has as experience. Did you know, for example, that the word world comes from a root in wiros (Germanic), which means "life or age of man . . ." I presume they left the article out, because there never was "man" without one or the other. Ok. So much for 'objectivity,' though a heavy humanism would bore me equally.

But as Allen Ginsberg has it in "Wales Visitation": "Particulars!" Or, Williams, "To tell what subsequently I saw and what heard . . ." I am amazed that people can think there is either information or record without the agency of the human—that is, for humans, no matter what the birds may be saying to one another otherwise.

So this last film is certainly personal , and I love it. I take a lot of trips, I get stuck in drear motels, I dream of home. There are two lovely instances of language in this film which are really right on , like they say. Be it also said that Brakhage is very aware of the powers of language, and thank god he is not here tonight to hear me lay it on his valuable creations. So—enough of that.

But —which is truly a great word, isn't it?—you know, like, it never is the last word no matter what happens, death included. But—don't we care what others feel in this life, how they literally have a life? This film is so wisely, gracefully, real to that demand. I could never so actualize my feelings in those places where these images were collected, never substantiate those moments of true consternation, yearning, witness, love as he does here.

"With your eyes alone / with your eyes / with your eyes . . . ," Ginsberg wrote in his never to be forgotten masterpiece "Kaddish." Hear it. We are all related, we are all here. See this world we live in.

Placitas, N.M.
June 19–20, 1978


Bill the King

It's important that we have some place we come from, and another we get to. For if it is true that no one is going anywhere, like they say, ultimately, nonetheless we do literally come into this world and finally we leave it—and, in the meantime, live a life. So what's to be done. Who's going to tell you what you've got to know about anything, how you move at all, for example, or why you move, or even when. This country needs heroes possibly more than any other, just that there's still no time we can count on, and no backwall of history we can take as intimately our own. We're still the immigrants we started with, and we've killed almost everything else that was here.

But our heroes have to be men and women, as the poet Ed Dorn put it—the classical measure, the dry, the particular. In short, they can't be the accumulated gods or the spirits of mountains and rivers. They've got to be the staggering, bemused, grotesquely but inevitably appropriate persons of that instant of act or insight makes the whole damn world a possible splendor. Or have wooden false teeth like George Washington—or say not much at all like Daniel Boone. Above all, they have to stick, both with what they do and what they do for us as their people.

It isn't easy to be an American, and one of the great pleasures of de Kooning is that he really chose to be one of this great country's bedraggled company despite he might have had all of Europe at his feet, I like to think. He really believed in that old American folksong, that our streets were paved with gold. But, even more, he dug the cowboys and Indians, and the heraldic look of our flag. It took

Previously unpublished.


him six tries to get here, and he made it—and three days later had a job in Hoboken as a house painter. New York was it from the first.

Not long ago, looking at a large book of reproductions of de Kooning's work with the painter Jorge Fick (whose book it was), he kept insisting I should really look at the recent photos of de Kooning in his studio, at the literal things he had there—like the bowls for the paint, the safflower oil, the large pail for the slops—like, nothing wasted, nothing other than common, but for the brushes which, again, had absolute functional utility, they could hold a lot of paint, etc. Because this fact is also paradoxically heroic, American—you don't depend on solutions that are privileged, isolating, expensive. You find your means in the common. Like going to work, like living in New York with millions of other people.

It used to be said of William Carlos Williams that the literal fact of his being there gave us one clean man we could utterly depend upon, that nothing could buy his integrity. We had the same feeling and respect for de Kooning, who, in those days, we'd see most every night in the Cedar Bar, usually in company with Franz Kline, another of our absolute heroes. De Kooning, characteristically, was good to us, but he didn't let us off the hook—as, for example, the night Kline got stomped and lost a tooth on his way back downtown from a party at Motherwell's in our company. De Kooning's question, very simply: "And where were you guys?" Likewise he could demolish the whole Black Mountain mystique with an equally quiet comment: "The only trouble with Black Mountain is that if you go there, they want to give it to you." So the sense that the Beat poets, as Gregory Corso, were just trying to hitch on to a star is too simple in that it forgets the fact and use of heroes , which we were desperately in need of to offset the awesome weight of social authority in our art, poetry. Here was this man, then, living in a common walkup apartment on 10th Street, who was also, by all our conceptions of the possibility, a great artist, who had, often, a wad of bills in his pocket would choke a horse but did not seem to be overly concerned about it, who would sneak us into an opening at Janis' our very state of dereliction would offend, and who, at the same time, would not let us off the hook of our pretensions, bullshit, faking, laziness, you name it.

In hindsight, and with this country's apparent dominance in the arts, it's all too simple to forget how harsh the battle then was to force a recognition that here was a place of equal possibility and authority. The European habit of symbolization and patina, the intensive intellectualization of idea , the incremental power of tradition, all seemed a weight beyond anyone's ability to change, much


less to move. So Soulages and Hans Hartung were thought to be doing what Kline was doing—but better. And Fautrier wondered how any painter could presume to be seriously "prepared" if he'd not had the resources of a $40,000 a year income, presumably, from birth. It was snobbisme , clearly enough, but it found a significant favor here as well as in Europe.

If one might rephrase Williams' famous battle cry to accommodate de Kooning's, it would become, "No ideas but in paint "—no symbols, no concepts but those actualized, no styles or groups or schools of any generalizing order. At the same time one can hardly be dumb about it, or think that just because one is born into this world for the first time, that's the first time it ever was. Much has been made, usefully, of de Kooning's extraordinary information of the traditions of painting and of his intimate relation with the master works of the past. But never forget how he says it: "Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented . . ." That's the Renaissance—think of it. "The drawing started to tremble because it wanted to go places . . ."

All dressed up and no place to go is a familiar dilemma in this country. Sometimes it all seems elsewhere, over there , as it were. Or else you can get cosily familiar, make those baked beans a veritable caviar. But images, things , call them, if you determine to look at them, not just cover them up with some glaucous gravy of great thoughts, have an active demand to make—that you change, in that seeing, and that they also change, in that sight. So it is that two persistent themes in de Kooning's work, landscapes and women, are not the simple fact of a 'subject matter' but, rather, the insistently provocative demand of place and person , as most humanly obvious facts. In whatever he has said of his art, the emphasis is always upon the directness of the engagement, literally—and "abstraction," for example, would be most usefully understood as the endlessly complex task of making 'there' here , not the possibility of a part of something's being taken away from it, either to 'symbolize' it or to become, merely, something else. "Form ought to have the emotion of a concrete experience."

Because, otherwise, what have you got—some snaps of Betty the day of the wedding? Mother smiling from the porch? Neither of which, humanly, can be so simply rejected—but Betty? Mother? And you can't just make them pretty, or comforting, or just another 'abstraction.' It's got to be as good as the German de Kooning tells of, with all the international breads, in Hoboken yet, who let them get "good and hard and then he crumpled [mark you, not crumb led] it and spread it on the floor in his flat and walked on it as on a soft


carpet . . ." As on some summer day, as 'twere in dream, as if it were once and for all. "I could never figure him out, but now when I think of him, all that I can remember is that he had a very abstract look on his face."

I guess, finally, what I so respect in this dear man's work is that he does stay in there, that he comes on with everything that's in him, all the mind, all the heart, and that it all moves with such intensity. I'm fascinated by where his line goes, and with what consummate human grace. How all the colors, particularly those one was told years ago weren't nice, get a chance. How like it all is to a physically lived world—but more, how much in that world it is. And the humor —thank god! Subtle, droll, persistently relieving—just that it is the last resource for any one of us. I remember years ago now, having been given the honorable task of keeping him company in his place on 10th Street—he'd been drinking, as the saying goes, and usual friends had told me, a kid!, to mind the store—anyhow he'd lain down on his bed, in this meticulously shipshape apartment entirely occupied by his stuff for painting except for the cot and small place to cook, and I backed off and gawked at the actual work there, one painting on the easel, several others hung on the walls. It felt like being where we were all first made, so to speak. And then I must have figured he'd gone to sleep because he was now fully out on the bed, but one extraordinarily valuable leg had not made it, and was off the near side, looking very uncomfortable. So with intensively deliberate care, I got a hold on it, and tried to lift it so as to place it alongside the other, on the bed. Then, for whatever reason, I looked up at his face—to find that he'd been watching me all the time, with a lovely, wry smile. So—what's left to say that he hasn't? Surely you'll see that point. Therefore—"it's a personal thing . . ."—these few last words:

The World

                      for Bill

Never to be wrong, mama—
and never to be right either.
Just to eat as I was able
everything they put on the table.

Placitas, N.M.
February 24, 1979


"Some Place Enormously Moveable":
The Collaboration of Arakawa and Madeline H. Gins

We wanted some place enormously moveable, started from that. I cannot make a map for you but . . .

ARAKAWA , in conversation

There seem endlessly those situations of particular experience wherein one knows and doesn't know, all at the same instant—which is to say, the information is inherent, actual, in the given system, but (itself a word of this qualification) we cannot step out of its context to see "what it is" we thus "know." As it happened then, Arakawa had been asked by the city of Hannover to design some ennobling "monument," an artifact which would dignify that city, enhance its self-respect, etc. His first question, of course, concerned the seriousness of the city's commitment to their choice of artist and whether or not they would permit him to exercise a determining choice of artifact. Therefore, at an early meeting with the city officials, he took a large sheet of drawing paper, signed it, and said, that's it—pay me. And as one of the officials began, in fact, to make out the check in payment, Arakawa stopped him, asking for two months' time to complete the design, etc., etc.

So far, so good—one wants to say. That is, "who they are" and "who he is" would seem to have come to some sort of resolution and/or reassurance. But a person, no less (or more) a city, is not so simply to be known or, more accurately, to be presumed as a "this" or "that." So in two months the same people regathered, to consider the now completed design. First there was the question

Artforum , Summer 1980.


of materials, which in this case was a sizeable amount of Carrara marble—in short, the most precious marble we, as a history of peoples, have actualized. Somewhat abashed but amenable, the city officials agreed to its purchase; it would be used to make a block of impressive steps within the city's park, an approach to the crucial "point" of information. But what then would "it" say? Very simply, on the face of the top step, incised with appropriate care, this: the words, in German, Welcome to Berlin . . . . But this is not Berlin, said the officials. This is Hannover . In fact, Berlin was their rival and in all respects a most odious object of comparison. All of which one might presume Arakawa to have known. Or not to have known—since he is Japanese, an artist living primarily in New York, whose factually indispensable collaborator comes from the Bronx, is a poet, etc., etc., etc. So that was the end of that.

If it were only a question of some misappropriation of names, we could no doubt move to resolve any number of human conflicts by the mere shifting of names themselves, e.g., calling New York Moscow , and vice versa. And men women , women men . That would certainly be a step in the "right" direction (or left, up, down, backwards, forwards). Consider the heart-breaking wistfulness of Hart Crane's "A Name for All":

Moonmoth and grasshopper that flee our page
And still wing on, untarnished of the name
We pinion to your bodies to assuage
Our envy of your freedom—we must maim

Because we are usurpers, and chagrined—
And take the wing and scar it in the hand.
Names we have, even, to clap on the wind;
But we must die, as you, to understand . . .[1]

Such dependence on nominalism, sadly enough, leads only to the least attractive possibilities regarding Hannover/Berlin , whichever is which. And more, it cannot be that living has as its primary definition only the physical resolution of death. I know that Arakawa and Madeline Gins met at a time when both felt a harshly flat despair, hardly uncommon in this world as we presently think it. Yet (to paraphrase Arakawa's recent conversation) Life has to have choice . . . Yes, an extreme beginning . . . There were hard times in the war . . . dreary  . . .


having to check the physical body all the time . . . like a potato . . . cut, slice, disappear . . . so, above all, first we must study how not to die  . . .[2]

In the preface to their collaboration, The Mechanism of Meaning: Work in Progress (1963–1971, 1978 ), Arakawa and Madeline Gins write:

If we had not been so desperate at that time, we might not have chosen such an ambitious title for this work. Yet what else would we have called it? After all, the phenomena we were studying were not simply images, percepts, or thoughts alone. Our subject is more nearly all given conditions brought together in one place.

Death is old-fashioned. We had come to think this way, strangely enough. Essentially, the human condition remains prehistoric as long as such a change from the Given, a distinction as fundamental as this, has not yet been firmly established.

If thought were meant to accomplish anything, surely it was meant to do this. Yet why had history been so slow? Was there something wrong with the way the problem was being pictured? What if thinking had been vitiated by having become lost in thought, for example? What is emitted point-blank at a moment of thought anyway? Let's take a second look at these comic figures, we decided. There did not yet exist even the most rudimentary compendium of what takes place or of the elements involved when anything is "thought through." Why not picture some of these moments ourselves, we thought, just a few?[3]

In like sense Arakawa said, we don't know what it is that is mind, what it could look like. From Plato to the present so many different maps have been tried, but we still don't have a model. This is because probably all our language is one-sided. Nothing is left to hold the "form." We have not yet formed even a profile. So far, using only one or two senses at a time mind has been felt out a bit, but that's all, so, so far only it has been a question of singing a song .

One dilemma apparent is that "mind" has been used primarily as


a means of significant association, humanly, and that the usual scientific understanding of the term meaning would be the context described by "association" itself. One can recognize the resourceful power of this mode of "tracking"—and also the inherent confounding of phenomena that cannot be "associated," for which a "ratio" or reason cannot be found. Therefore, these are "meaningless," however determinant they prove in the actual fact of living. Moreover, a present commonplace would be the fact that "facts accumulate at a far higher rate than does the understanding of them," which "understanding" or "rational thought" " . . . depends literally on ratio, on the proportions and relations between things. As facts are collected, the number of possible relations between them increases at an enormous rate."[4] A small instance of this would be the present monitoring of "signals" from "outer space" (or "inner," for that matter), which constitute such an immense bulk of possibly significant data that the mind boggles at the idea of "containment" or "subject" implied.

Thinking elsewhere, here is a sequence of "things said" by Arakawa and Madeline Gins (roughly, directly), noted during conversation:

A : First, Leibniz's proposal for an amusement park to be based on scientific principles may be considered a coherent precursor to what we are preparing to do. Yes, as you suggest, also, Hegel's absolute world is of course related. . . . But language, any language, always runs parallel to the world, so is consequently a representation of only one side. With such a tool you cannot pinpoint, always only point out generally. What you arrive at is always only some sort of agreement. All art depends on agreement, of course. If you don't play the game of this agreement it all becomes abstraction.

G : About fifteen years to do the book—how to do art without being seduced by doing it. Through desperation, we chose: 19 subdivisions [cf. The Mechanism of Meaning , p. 3].

A : Forget about meaning after all. . . .

G : Old book requires you use everything you have as you have before—(interesting, but no new moves . . .).

[reads preface, The Mechanism of Meaning ]


A : In 1971, our book was published in Munich. At that time we were lucky enough to meet some physicists, some of whom were using our book in their work—in a very strange way, I guess. At an international, but informal, meeting of 29 quantum physicists, we were the only non-physicists. We are working on something so small, beyond description, they told us. But, we said, we know something smaller than that. These particles are so split, there is nothing whatsoever to see, they are that small, we can't even imagine how small they are, we were told. After we heard that we said: But your thought about that (or this) is a quantum which is even smaller. To which they replied: What is your field? The answer was: Nonsense.

By the way, later on in his life, Heisenberg, interestingly enough, began to write what on the surface appear to be rather high-school-like poems, yet I find these to be often ingenious descriptions of what cannot be seen or said in ordinary physics. To paraphrase one of these:

When I wake up at 7
I drink coffee
I look at the window
I see blue, brown, grey
Then after lunch
The next time I look
There is light blue, light brown, light grey
At night
At the window
Dark grey is modulated.

One window changes that much "in time." He's trying to say to us, don't focus, if you want to see anything. As for intention, you have to spread intention—a single 'I' does not exist . . .

G : Thought itself is a blind spot . . . Have to look at that again.

A : 'I' is always forming something, disembodied. . . . Rimbaud's "I is an other"—but how so? is the question—this peculiar distance from and within time. . . .

Alchemists, very much looking for/had intentions very close to ours (present). . . . When research is divided into subjects such as art, philosophy and science, at that moment we tend to lose the Subject. The Subject such as: we are here . . . .

G : Lenin: Best title I know for a book is, Lenin's What Is to Be Done . . . .


A : We have to go as far as possible. Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" is no longer the question—in our time we must only consider to be! Nothing is too much in this world.

Remember always to consider more than 360 degrees. One more thing is that for all our talk of "there" and "here" it is always in the same place.

G : Localization and Transference [cf. The Mechanism of Meaning , pp. 11–14]—how would you make any interchangeable point or location into something?—this is demonstrated here. And then, once we know we do that, we can relax and just know we do it—and not rely on it and believe into it, mindlessly for 100 years.

So many conveniences we don't have, that we should have—such as a helium belt. . . . We wanted to make a helium belt that everyone could wear, so that whenever you'd walk, you'd be just a few inches off the ground all the time.

A : Wearing this would alter your sense of balance, you might find a new kind of center. . . .

We are not talking about "artificial intelligence"—far from it—I should say—a new nature (nature, I hate this word!)—a new given . . . .

G : And to develop a new nature. . . .

A : How will you recognize a new nature anyway? That's another problem. That problem is not a problem.

Albeit a layman in all respects, I am impressed by these preoccupations as increasingly, often brilliantly, explored in a diversity of informational "fields." For example, Paul Kugler, himself a Jungian analyst particularly involved with consciousness and language structure, had previously given me information of Ilya Prigogine, the Belgian physical chemist who was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1977 for his theory of dissipative structures. Simply put, Prigogine's theory demonstrates that order "emerges because of entropy, not despite it. . . . The new state occurs as a sudden shift, much as a kaleidoscope shifts into a new pattern. It is a nonlinear event; that is, multiple factors act on each other at once. . . . With each new state, there is greater potential for change. With new levels of complexity, there are new rules." As Prigogine puts it, "there is a change in the nature of the 'laws' of nature. . . ."[5]


The same friend referred me as well to René Thom's catastrophe theory as presented in Stabilité Structurelle et Morphogénèse: Essai d'une théorie générale des modèles (1972),[6] and here again the parallels are most interesting for an apprehension of the range and significance of The Mechanism of Meaning as a continuing collaboration. As Dr. Kugler has suggested, this work too has much to do with semantic "catastrophe," and lest that aspect of it be too simply "understood" as either a convenient surrealism or a speciously engaging humor, one might well consider Dr. Thom's proposal of "les signifiants abusifs": "Le comique apparaît donc comme la manifestation d'une obstruction á la signification globale d'un message localement signifiant ."[7]

Further, one must recognize the absolute necessity of collaboration insofar as the information will not resolve itself as a linear and/or "singular" pattern. Prigogine, for example, refers to "a book, a crystal, a cup of cold coffee" as equilibrium structure, "closed and finished, not taking in and dissipating energy. . . ."[8] In like sense, William Carlos Williams attacks a presumed "containment" in Paterson: Book Three, II:[9]

We read: not the flames
but the ruin left
by the conflagration . . .

Dig in—and you have
a nothing, surrounded by
a surface, an inverted
bell resounding, a


white-hot man become
a book, the emptiness of
a cavern resounding

If presently our world is experienced as a vast and insistently conflicting spectrum of "special languages," of locked and crippling conceptual patterns, clearly the human need becomes unavoidably explicit: change . Williams' "The Orchestra":[10]

Say to them:
"Man has survived hitherto because he was too ignorant to
know how to realize his wishes. Now that he can realize them,
he must either change them or perish."

        Now is the time
                           in spite of the "wrong note"
                                                I love you. My heart is
                          And this the first
                                               (and last) day of the world.

The intense self-preoccupation of the arts in our time has usually been thought of as a defensive and socially hostile conduct, insofar as the presumed audience has been, for the most part, significantly ignored. In short, there are no publicly evident institutions—either religious, as in the past, or widely political—that serve as sponsors or patrons for a collective information. There is, therefore, no "center" in that respect. Even more to the point, however, is the intellectual self-consciousness of this period in which "humanness" would seem not only the most dominant but the altogether determinant factor in its powers to appropriate "reality."

Therefore Arakawa's and Madeline Gins' emphasis upon "escape routes,"[11] however wryly the term may echo civic plans to evacuate various urban populations out of cities under nuclear attack, is entirely appropriate for the "place" our conceptual patterns and modes of conduct have made. "Meaning" is again the crisis:

The vagueness of the term was suitable. Meaning might be thought of as the desire to think something—anything—through; the will to make sense out of the ever-present fog of not-quite-knowing; the recognition of nonsense. As such it may be associated with any human


faculty. Since each occurrence of meaning takes place along one or another of these paths, we roughly derived our list of subdivisions from them. The list as a whole is not intended to be any less inconsistent, clumsy, or redundant than the original on which it was based, that is, the composite mechanism of meaning in daily living viewed point-blank from moment to moment.[12]

The list itself follows:

1. Neutralization of Subjectivity

2. Localization and Transference

3. Presentation of Ambiguous Zones

4. The Energy of Meaning (Biochemical, Physical, and Psychophysical Aspects)

5. Degrees of Meaning

6. Expansion and Reduction—Meaning of Scale

7. Splitting of Meaning

8. Reassembling

9. Reversibility

10. Texture of Meaning

11. Mapping of Meaning

12. Feeling of Meaning

13. Logic of Meaning

14. Construction of the Memory of Meaning

15. Meaning of Intelligence

16. Review and Self-Criticism[13]

One will note the topological nature of their procedure here, that is, its primary concern with the function of meaning as a process of mind. Presuming meaning to be the crisis of consciousness, whether collective or one's own (if that is possible as a thought), the visual/verbal materials of the text itself effect an intensive place , in Wittgenstein's sense that "a point in space is a place for an argument." Because—the experience of the mind's response to verbal imperatives in relation to visual context is a sharp and displacing body of information. Thus one begins to know , as a differentiating response, how it is that one has both presumed to know , and is knowing . Here is the response of one astute "reader," Arthur Danto:

Here is a panel that commands us to count the lines in a ragged grid. We are not to point. But counting is successive pointing, associating the set of numbers with the set of things. There is no counting without


pointing. But then there, in the next area, is a single line. If it made sense to count a single thing, we could count this easily, there being nothing else to count. But is this counting? If there is one person in the audience, does the discouraged manager inform his actors of the fact and expect them to ask him to count "them" again? Do we see there is one or do we have to count if we are to use the word "one" in its cardinal sense? If there is only one item, is it a list? How many items are then needed before it is a list? Two, three, four, five? So the game continues—or it is a new game, silly and serious, dumb and sharp, inane and profound, at once playful and lethal, a samurai slash at the throat of Reason.[14]

Apropos the situation here evident, Madeline Gins said to another "reader": "We are making a 'text' between you and this text. You're making that text. You are the ostensive 'definition.' It's going to keep going back and forth, echoing . . ."[15]

To which Arakawa added:

Because functions can be repeated, we can say that they are somewhat stable. This is better than to really think of a stable "you" or a stable "I." But the reader is the one who functions according to the subdivisions we propose, so, even if you never get a "right" answer, that's the answer—you're getting it constantly.[16]

At present Arakawa and Madeline Gins are at work upon the invention of a "situation," a construct which will embody (texturalize ) the modes of mind with which they have been engaged.[17] Obviously


their work thus far has been a remarkable service to anyone whose mind has been somewhat less to him or her than that once proposed "kingdom" of stable assumption. In short, it is not that any one of us is going anywhere. Very simply, we are here. Think of that.


Introduction to Larry Bell:
New Work

Thankfully, there is no simple qualification to make of Larry Bell's genius as an artist, nor of his work. There is no static information in the latter, for example, a single thing simply to be seen and, by that act, understood. This art particularly provokes a daily, persistent accommodation of interest, much as a changing sky or river will. There is no one thing it factually is.

The artist is also a variable, both in and of himself. There is a very deliberate intelligence present in the fabrication of the standing glass pieces, a remarkable technical mastery, because a thumb print's smudge, at this stage of the work, can fracture the authority of surface. There is also a brilliant intuition of possibility, which can see the work long before its actual existence. There is, finally, the complex of feelings and relationships, of which the work is product.

Or best put as he does, speaking of the vapour drawings: " . . . these images represent very strong personal feelings. Not anguish, pain or joy but daily mundane drama. The stuff that reality is made of: ambition, personal prejudice, short sightedness, far sightedness, the desire to do something different, most of all they contain my efforts to overcome strict technical discipline, to become spontaneous, intuitive, improvisational and casual in my approach to the visual things that keep me going . . ."

His initial commitment to glass as a material had particularly to do with its surface and the fact that, as he says, "by simply laying thin films of different kinds of metallic and non-metallic com-

Larry Bell: New Work (Yonkers, N.Y.: Hudson River Museum, 1980).


pounds onto the surface of the glass, I could change the way the light was reflected and transmitted through the thing . . ." He thought of himself as a sculptor, working with "mass and weight and things that sat on the floor . . ." Preparation might require six months of setting up before anything could actually begin.

The point is that his means of working and the material he has chosen demand of him a singular range of information and skill. Otherwise one would be talking of simple impediments, however interesting. For example, finding that commercial treatment of his pieces is increasingly impractical, he spends a year finding a firm to build the equipment he needs, which in turn takes a year to construct it, and then he takes another year in order to learn how to use it. One thinks of Pound's quoting Brancusi: "All my sculptures take fifteen years . . ." It is a rare and practical definition of responsibility in either case.

Paradoxically, he will say, "At first I wasn't interested in light as a medium, it only came to me after working for a long time on things that I realized—I thought I was working on glass, I thought I was working with structure and stuff like that—it wasn't until I had worked for a long time that I realized that I was actually working with light . . ." In his uniquely subtle registrations of its ambience, and with the power of his own determination to respect both it and himself, he brings light to all.

Buffalo, New York
October 27, 1980


Memories of John

When John Altoon died in the early spring of 1969, it was brutally sudden. Kitaj called from Los Angeles to give me the news, and spoke of having been at a party the night previous at which he'd met John finally, and then shortly after saw him leaving in a rush with Billy Al Bengston, apparently in some difficulty. As it happened, they were on their way to see Dr. Asher, John's friend and collector, to whom he'd previously complained of heartburn, showing up occasionally in the evening with the hope the doctor could fix him up. Suggestions that he come around to the office for a complete checkup never got him there. The "massive coronary" described as cause of death before he had been got to the hospital was the last thing he'd have thought of—still in his early forties, with a life at last solid and productive, and a great deal of the past's psychosis now mitigated, thanks to the help of another friend, Dr. Wechsler.

He was so particularly L.A. American, so much the determination of this country's conflicting 'images' of itself, that one is forced willynilly to think of art and artist as one. It was a decisive way of life as well as all else. More, he was a classic storyteller with a humor and a wit that kept working in all manner of demands. So I tell you in large part what he told me without the least interest in whether or not it is precisely true or accurate, as they say, to the facts. We don't live facts, we live our imagination of them.

Long before I ever met John he was already instance of that so-called power of the imagination, and when we did meet, I confess

New Mexico Studies in the Fine Arts 6 (1981).


that this one sense of him I had immediately to recognize. When I was a kid in the Depression, given our unstarving but nonetheless modest circumstances, the elders would prod us to finish up our food by saying, "Remember the starving Armenians . . ." At that time I knew no Armenians, but hardly wanted them to starve, so that they became exotic, haunting persons in my head. I wished I could give them the food, rather than eat it only on their behalf. As he later told me the story, John was sure my Armenian. I got the sense of a poverty stricken family, three children (he had, as I remember, a sister and brother), a father working in a bakery, lifting the sacks of flour. John said that when he was eighteen his father got him a summer job at the bakery, and he undertook the same labor but couldn't keep it up—whereas his father, now in his sixties, doggedly continued until he at last retired, then lost his sight a very short time after. This same man had for years the dream of returning to the site of where his village had been, previous to the Turks and the slaughter of his family. He was possibly the only survivor and when John himself attempted to locate the place, after his father's death, he found that it was now in Russian territory and effectually nonexistent. Then there was the uncle who lived up in the valley, outside of L.A., whose modest plot of ground blossomed with the proverbial fruit trees like the promised land.

Meanwhile John's mother was dying of cancer all the time he was growing up. He said nights when he was supposed to be sleeping, he'd listen to the adults talking of the situation, rehearsing meager hopes, provisions, the mother painfully and quietly enduring. John said he'd go to the movies, forget for that time his mother was ill and dying, then hit the street and sunlight only to remember it all. He proposed himself as a classic delinquent, always in some trouble or other, cutting school, hanging out, testing the edges. He said often he'd get in the back window of their place just as the police were at the front door, to ask his mother where her son was—and she'd answer, he's up in his room, and then go to get him. And there he blessedly was.

I'm not now sure just when the family began to think of him as the artist. Families with a very tender and legitimate hope have often a person, one of them, who is given such an office and responsibility. What may well have been John's quite usual interest in copying pictures—surely a lot of kids do it—became in any case a family dream, and he got a very useful encouragement. He'd copy the covers of magazines and all would delight in how much these copies looked like the actual picture. He was clearly talented. Their


imagination, and his also, was that he would become a successful commercial artist, which is my recollection of what he does in fact get trained to be. Art, in its reflective and aesthetic presence as value, had little to do with either their understanding or needs. You are what you can do.

One of John's stories was how he used to sell newspapers in downtown L.A. and the guy just across the street from him, also selling newspapers, was the subsequently terrific science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. He told of the gang he hung out with at the beach, of great destructive challenges like riding motorcycles no hands at speeds exceeding 100 m.p.h., or driving souped-up cars at like speeds, blindfolded. I was dazzled and a very attentive listener. And I believed him and still do, incidentally. For example, my own favorite was the account of the stunted tree, growing in a more or less vacant lot adjacent to Wilshire Boulevard, some well traffic'd section thereof, which John and his cronies managed to turn into a giant slingshot by hacking off its two spare branches to make a crotch, getting a length of inner tube for the sling itself, putting a substantial boulder therein, and laboriously hauling it back as far as they could, then letting go to have the boulder go sailing up over the battered board fence into the traffic (jesus!), hitting thankfully the hood of a car only, and stopping it dead. The kids are long gone before the dazed onlookers can figure out what's happened. Hardly a nice story—but it satisfied some lurking anger with the part of life that feels like trying to cross an endless street against hordes of indifferent drivers. Or—more honestly—I just like that it worked.

I met John quite unintentionally in 1954, having come back to this country from Mallorca in order to teach at Black Mountain. I'd get to New York as often as I could, crashing variously with friends. One, from college days, a pianist, Race Newton, was living on Spring Street and across the inner court lived an extraordinary lady, Julie Eastman. The novelist Fielding Dawson has given her a succinct immortality in An Emotional Memoir of Franz Kline (1967): "Creeley had kept me spellbound about her—the witch from El Paso. Creeley had written a beautiful story about her and the jazz pianist who lived across the courtyard from her, and the jazz trumpeter who lived on the floor below her . . ." So that was Race, and the other man, also from Boston days, was Ty Frolund. My story was called "The Musicians" and it was by fact of these various associations that I came to know John.

Like Fee, I no sooner met Julie than I was remarkably interested, not in her body, as they say or so I told myself, but in the weirdly


pervasive authority she seemed to gather out of the air. Literally I followed her around and so it was she took me along on some of her errands, as she said. One was involved with going up to see Peter Stander, Lionel's bright nephew, then both painter and actor, and also intrigued by Julie—and very jealous on the instant that I was the new attraction although, dumbly, I never figured out his instant hostility until later. And then, that same afternoon, on a corner round about 27th and 4th, we ran into John, who looked me over quickly after Julie's introduction, then asked her about getting his portfolio back. It seems she'd been taking it around for him—he was getting what straight commercial work he could then—and had also been living with him it turned out, but that was now over, but the portfolio hadn't been returned. Dear Julie!

I think I saw John very briefly after that, possibly once or twice. I know I must have given him my address in Mallorca, to where it proved I returned very shortly, to try another year with my wife then (patient woman, but so was I). Anyhow, back in Mallorca, we one day got a letter that John was coming and would have with him two other couples, also painters and their wives, Arthur Okamura (from Los Angeles as was John) and Leon Berkowitz and poet-wife Ida. Terrific! I loved Americans at that point—I'd had the colonial battle all by myself far too long, and no matter Robert Graves and family were most decent to us, and friend then Martin and Jan Seymour-Smith had both got us out of France and kept us company thereafter, it was just a persistently different world, and I was sick unto death of trying to make actual my own. In retrospect, the closest any friend also a painter from that world ever got for me was René Laubiès, a singular man in all respects whom Pound had directed me to—and he showed me Fautrier, Hartung, took me to meet Julien Alvard, etc., but again I was far more interested by a small show that Pollock had at his gallery, Paul Fachetti's, at that same time—a veritable letter from home.

We were living in Bonanova, up from El Terreno, the suburb of Palma where the heavy money tended to settle. There was a trolley line out from the city and it continued up to the edge of the hills, where John, Arthur and Liz, and Leon and Ida, all managed to find houses. I was very homesick for simple conversation, so almost immediately I began to spend as much time as possible with all the new arrivals, but particularly, as I recall, with John, just that he was by himself and was usually free. He'd set himself up in the garage attached to the house he'd rented, itself packed in against the steep slope of the hill. It was windy up there, and I remember that John's easel, which he'd often put outside, would now and then crash with


a sudden gust of wind, dumping the painting on the gravel. I make it sound almost intentionally awkward, on his part, but now recalling, I wonder if he wasn't, in fact, making it as hard on himself as he could. He was working with oils, for example—never a happy means or medium for him, just that the paint physically slowed him in a way ink or air brush didn't—and to further complicate the process, he'd begun to use raw pigments, mixing them on the spot. It was an incredible sight, these piles of dry pigment, then the sizable can of linseed oil, then John, his eyes on the canvas, reaching out with his free hand to get hold of the oil which he'd pour, still without really looking, on one or more of the piles. Then, with his brush he'd sop some of it up, and off he'd go—remarkably, altogether articulate.

His friends back in New York had been people like Gandy Brodie, mavericks, or certainly inconvenient. John spent time at the Arts Club but never felt easy about it. There was an edge of masters and disciples he didn't easily accept, or not in that manner. He felt it no respect of those one did thus revere, to lean on their agency and provision. He'd told me he'd come to New York specifically as a commercial artist, an up and coming one, in the proverbial light-weight suit, straight from L.A., only to find the weather harshly cold and beyond all expectation. He'd been invited to an annual dinner of successful elders, people like Gilbert Bundy (whom it was felt he might one day take the place of). He was shocked by their cynicism, particularly by Alfred Dorn's taking him over to a window of his penthouse, where the celebration was being held, and pointing out an old tenement where he said he'd grown up and his mother still lived. He could spit on it from that very window, and did. John got drunker and more angry, and after being asked to say something, as the newly arrived youngster, gave them veritable hell, or what he hoped was that. They applauded, and said it was just what they needed, someone to keep them awake. I don't finally know how crucial to him, or successful otherwise, John's commercial work was finally. He drew extraordinarily, always, no matter the occasion—I felt him an absolute genius in this respect—and that gift was equal across the board. For one thing, he never used the usual device that projects an image for tracing, but worked always 'free hand'—and did endless studies, in this way, for very mundane drug ads indeed. I don't think it was any question of his perfectionism, call it. He simply felt most active and comfortable working that way.

But because of this training, and the facility he brought to it, he was wary of the pretty, or call it the literally beautiful, in common


sense. I remember one time he did a hauntingly lovely sketch of my son, David, looked at it, said, too pretty , and tore it up. Often he'd smudge, blur, distort, work over, do anything he could to break up the simple, direct containment of his line. He'd watch our kids draw, and delight in how they could know, intuitively, where the action was, where the line could find it.

He was a very warm, intensely reassuring man during this time. I knew nothing of his periodic depressions, actually the paranoid seizures, that so battered him during those years. My own life was falling apart and it seemed to me as if John had some psychically determined intuition of it all. Then, as my wife drew farther away from me, it happened she was drawn to him, and that could have no simple resolution. I left to come back to the States, and for some years only heard occasionally of how he was.

So some time after, I was living in New Mexico, I must have got word of him through some mutual friend like Tony Landreau, or possibly Stu Perkoff, whom I'd just met at his reading in San Francisco, etc., etc. Those particulars are always hard to get exactly. In any case, we were back in touch by the late fifties and my wife, Bobbie, and I would stay with him now and then when we were on the west coast. I recall one place he had then, a sort of bungalow feel to it, somewhat down Wilshire Boulevard, or off in back. There was a younger man living with him, whom he'd befriended—shy, raw in manner, very loyal to John, I remember he gave Bobbie a little leather purse he'd made, as a compliment. John himself gave us many drawings; I was embarrassed but deeply pleased and grateful to have them. He was working in ink, drawing with intensely quick resolution, extraordinary haunting suggestions of people, things, very often animals or birds. I have one of a mournful crow-seeming bird, with a little window of sorts in its breast, with a little man's face in that. I could dig it, like they say. He'd give us piles of them to look through, they were on a mat board, often very large—there was just no way to make a simple choice, or probably one wanted them all.

When John talked of women in the abstract, like they say also, he gave a sense of this utterly blonde, clean, white person, impeccably erotic often, but with no pubic hair, for example, and really no odor nor tone of any specifying kind. She was the American dream, in short, and she was far more a defense, I thought, as an image, than any active desire. I know that John had girl friends who were the classic dumb blondes—but I don't know that, I'm only saying they looked great, and were always nice to me. I never had a chance to know his first wife, Fay Spain—we talked once on the telephone


after they'd separated and her intelligence and care of him was very moving. He had said it was the money that had made it hard, the fact she could go out and buy a Mercedes the way he might a pair of pants. When he went on location with her, he was the awkward, in the way husband. That could never sit well with him, despite how much they shared as people who had made it the hard way.

Then, more years later, after a time out in Santa Monica—I recall a great time on the carousel with John's terrific dog running round and round after us—he was back in a place on Harper. (He did a great series of that name, sadly slashed during a time of breakdown.) But writing, I can't trust my memory of the time pattern. But this I do remember very vividly. I was in L.A. again, another old friend, Neil Williams, was there also, and he knew John well. Neil was telling me about John's great new wife, Babs—which proved utterly true. He said she really ate and I should watch her in action. So not long after, as it happens, we all four went out for dinner and I think we had the proverbial steaks, which tend to get filling, after ample drink, so it seems we variously left this and that, the salad, the bread, the steak, etc. All of which Babs politely, quietly, and completely ate up. God knows where it went, she never showed it. I think the fact was she had a factually healthy person, as my mother would say, and the system was working perfectly.

At this point I feel empty that so much hasn't got said here, even arguments I'd like to continue on John's behalf as to why hasn't there been more use of him. Not much is so good or so humanly relieving. Talking to Tibor de Nagy one time at his gallery, being there to see what he had of John's, in fact, he said that possibly people were intimidated, even spooked, by the humor. They didn't know what to do with a picture that was so inescapably funny, and if it was in part laughing at them, it surely could be with them also. John invited me generously into a portfolio once, the first Gemini ever did and the first ever of his lithographs—and we cast about for a title, and ended up with a pretty crunky one, Of Women . Not even Picasso ran so many particularizing numbers on that possibility as did John—cowboys and Indians, the works. My own favorite is one of the usual dowdily buxom lady leaning over the fence to attend a gesticulating, squatty, and naked man, who is pontificating in an amiable way whilst his erect and knobby malehood stands forth from him in a charmingly emphasized way, i.e., the head is a singularly yellow rose. Well, one picture is worth a thousand words—but don't tell me art doesn't mean something. John Altoon always did and so do I. If you don't mean it, why bother.


My New Mexico

Whatever the newcomer's disposition toward it all, the place is adamantly a condition in all that she or he can do. But it is as far, finally, from a simple regionalism—some accretion of human place and time—as is the literal moon, despite people have now walked on it. The scale is wrong, so to speak—immense, dry, displacing, vast, inhuman, intently particular. Yet we have been here specifically a long time, thousands upon thousands of years, in fact, and this secularizing aridity was once the ample bed of an ocean as fossils still testify. So who are we—not Indians certainly; hardly the initial chicanos , for instance, Cabeza de Vaca, moved by his own wanderings to write to "Your Majesty": "And who is any of us, that without starvation he can go through the kingdoms of starvation?"[1] It would seem we come here in some peculiar moon-driven loneliness to stave off (starve out) the contemporary devils of distraction, who buy and sell our lives in lieu of ever confronting us more particularly. There is no success here, no matter what star of what firmament has briefly come to rest and dazzle. The trade is elsewhere, and clearly those who make a life here either forgo it or else retreat here from its involvements.

Therefore two classic patrons of this way of life, this concentration upon an art, may well be considered as measure for those here presented. D. H. Lawrence had no patience with any aspect of the old world from which he'd come, and in the new he recognized an

In Place (Albuquerque: Albuquerque Museum, 1982).


unresolvable contest of beliefs because our old way of seeing and believing put us always at a remove from the thing itself, whereas the peoples indigenous, the "Indians," were at one with all the forms of an existence shared with myriad species thereof—or as he puts it in another context: "Everything is very soft, subtle, delicate. There is none of the hardness of representation. They are not representing something, not even playing. It is a soft, subtle being something."[2] Lawrence is prevented from returning to his ranch in Taos (actually in the mountains north of Taos, above a small town called San Cristobal, appropriately enough) because he has tuberculosis and the United States health officials are committed to preventing the admission of anyone so infected with an epidemic disease. So he is recognized as a carrier of plague, physical as well as spiritual, which last he had long known.

More happily, Georgia O'Keeffe, born in Sun Prairie, a small Wisconsin farm town, of Irish, Hungarian and Dutch descent, second child of seven, was always 'local,' and when she comes to live year-round in New Mexico in the late 1940s, she has, in fact, known it since 1917 if only in passing through, but substantially since 1929, when she begins to spend summers in Taos, settling finally near Abiquiu at the Ghost Ranch. But what she says in 1944, in a statement "About Painting Desert Bones," is the point to be recognized:

"I have picked flowers where I found them—
Have picked up sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood
    where there were sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood
    that I liked
When I found the beautiful white bones on the desert I
     picked them up and took them home too
I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and
    wonder of the world as I live in it"[3]

No matter what particular relations may be so involved—even if any of these artists care at all about their elder loner , who, as they, will (as she always has) take care of herself—it's both the stripping off of particularizing human habit and ego, the investments of life characteristic of an intensive city pattern among others possible, and a Blake-like emphasis upon "the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it . . ." In short, everything is remarkably, even casually, here .


Just so, then, Terry Conway's insistence that: "Painting is seen, or read, when its intensity forces us to participate in the illusion and in a dialogue with a world where the beautiful and the ugly, the common and absurd are indivisible—a world in which history, fantasy and reality, dream and memory are inseparable . . ."[4] The resonances, echoes of surface, which his paintings can manage with their "incomplete erasures"[5] (as one critic put it)—effects of overpainting or wash, or scrims applied with a dry roller—are neither faint nor recessive in a world itself so sparely present, so intently dry about its own admission of either emotion or others. So this surface, as one says, is ground of extraordinary tension, but without a finally willful human confidence to shout out at its company some demand that it enter, touch, take heart, be accessible in more than an illusional sense. It is as if our dream of community had been pressed between large plates of glass and as it "bled," one saw its forms even as they faded—except that here one side is canvas, and the other a proposedly "open" world of being alive. Let me quote his friend, the writer Gus Blaisdell: "Conway's pictures seem to exclude everything that has not been already absorbed into their interior ardency. We are reminded by them of a mutual contingency—there is no need for either of us to be here—a mood which underscores the evanescence of emotions, causing the depiction to waver; as if a consequence of acknowledgement is discovered in the unravelling of monstrous feeling."[6] There is, of course, no explanation—only what this same friend calls "the intelligible silence that is the heart of painting" and what we enter is what we see before us, to be there —when here was all we were.

This intent disposition of spatial context may be of necessity the bulwark kept against the "all outdoors" that can bear in so heavily. A critic of Conway, William Peterson, aptly quotes Robert Smithson: "The desert is less 'nature' than a concept, a place that swallows up boundaries."[7] The point is well made for all who live where one can, not uncommonly, see more than one hundred miles in any direction. It proves a curious reduction of objects in their usual places. Therefore Allan Graham goes into his painting much as did Pollock, recovering a locus for all the possibility of transformation


and recognition that he, humanly, must have for survival. He finds therein not an idea of his intelligence or person but an accounting of his own perceptions, a track of emotional orders. He leaves one place (the insistent, fragmented, intently textured herringbone grids) to find another (the speed of the calligraphy, the incremental echoes of the underpainting)—albeit they are one. He is, in short, what he has defined a painter to be, "a person entirely involved in a two-dimensional surface. He feels it; he loves it; he is sensitive to everything that happens on it. If a person is a painter it doesn't matter what he paints, for the two-dimensional surface is the language he speaks."[8]

In some contrast, the surfaces of Richard Hogan's paintings are apparently more quiet, yet deceptively so, since the gnomic teasing and luminous color of his drawing are fact of an intelligent reduction to that which permits a 'traveling light,' a 'place in mind' discovered in that which is , factually the canvas and the means where-with to mark it. He has lived here a long time and it is, as he puts it, literally home. He is therefore looking out from what others may presume themselves to be looking into, and his is a tradition thereby of being in place, blessed with it, stuck with it, cursed with it, either way. He makes line serve as no direction in or out, but far more as oldtime tally sticks or such markings as one meets with in primordially local places, marking the time and presence of human attention to its amusements, its musing with the edges of where it discovers itself 'on edge,' a place apart. There's an old hymn that goes, "Brighten the corner, where you are . . . ," with reference, I believe, to a lighthouse—and these are many lights, then, moving with whimsical care for that "someone" who wants to bring it all home.

Possibly the impulse most common to these artists is that of localizing, in one way or another, whatever the content of their various activity may prove to be. Clearly, they are somewhere and would like to insist upon it as actuating perception rather than mere social appetite. For example, William Masterson writes of recent work (January 1982): "My latest paintings are derived from figurative, and, lately, landscape sources. Rather than representing these sources, they are a record of a way of looking, as well as a coming to terms with the painting as a unique event. The paintings have become progressively more active with the eye of the viewer


moving about the field. The field color has become more saturated and interacts more with the colored lines. There is an implication of a limited space in these paintings in tension with the actuality of the surface."[9] Again the intentional modesty of the work is significant because it is neither indifferent to the information of a universe, call it, nor inarticulate when so confronted. Rather, it seems the compacting of such information, the sense of "a limited space in these paintings in tension with the actuality of the surface," which clearly knows there is more room, so to speak, yet places "a record of a way of looking" in reductive lines or gestures rather than "representing" an actual or imagined wholeness. One feels a time compacting also, as if there were entirely a pressure to be finished, complete, before all melted into an undifferentiated space forever.

Such preoccupation proves insistent, whether inside the frame of a painting or placed in the box of a room or a yard bounded by fence or edges, however determined. David Anderson speaks of his work as being "within the current movement of the 'new architecturality'"[10] and his sculptures, primarily of steel, are modes of affecting spatial situation much as a wall might, or a table, in short, any thing that locates movement in a necessary focus or pattern. However, they are equally iconographic, particularizing images, but faintly so. For example, it is characteristic of him to drill small holes at random into the plate steel so as to echo the situation of stars. As he says, "The night sky is a dominant reference for me" and with that quiet emphasis, one realizes how far the top and bottom of a usual world have been extended. In contrast, the works themselves have a variable scale and character, ranging from massive steel constructs to others one can hold in a hand.

Less apparent, possibly, is Bill Gilbert's extraordinary authority with abstraction, by which one means not so much the power to take away something as to redistribute the habits of its acknowledgment. Because the materials with which he works are often humanly sweet—adobe, juniper—associations will inevitably occur, especially in a place having so long had the common use of such stuff, be it for house or for sheep pen. But there is no argument. As he has said, "I opted for a material that reflected a closer associa-


tion with the earth and the elements in an attempt to open a more humble dialogue with our world. In my development as an artist, this dialogue has led me away from the enclosed forms of pottery [he was initially a ceramicist] toward a more fluid apprehension of matter in space; matter as a combination of particle and wave. I have chosen the format of installation for its ability to invoke the fragility of the massive, and the impermanence of the permanent, implied by this theory of matter."[11]

Still much remains doggedly exterior to any imagination of human world, and especially in this one. If this is the Wild West of Geronimo and Billy the Kid, it's also that of White Sands and the first atomic tests—equally brutal and ahuman. Because there is so much outside , such a vast, extraneous skin, such a plethora of virtually useless space, one hands it over to whatever can inhabit it, missile ranges, uranium mines, anything to take it away. So most crucial and dear are the persistent, quiet, unaggressive attempts to internalize it, to make the small world of human habits and understanding also undertake it, bring it in. Gloria Graham works in this way, no matter such statement can or can't say what she does. It is her secrets that matter, the tightly bound urns, the insides that don't spill out in a vacancy of self-exposure. It's living with what one doesn't know, is never to know—or has to forget ever knowing. So she stacks, ties, places the things of her art with their half-echoes of function—but what? But what do any of us do here or anywhere. These will keep us good company . . .

Finally, I had not expected our drive to the east of Santa Fe out over the arid mesa to where the condominiums and ersatz town houses are already accumulating as a raw and leaking wealth—to arrive, I say, in such spillage at the particular house of, of all people, a nomadic French photographer who is not an 'artist' as he will tell you, simply one who takes photographs with a classic 50 mm lens, neither more nor less. He is the latest arrival, although his people were among the first of our own to come to the 'new world.' Mon Nouveau-Mexique  . . . So after an excellent lunch with his wife, Kathi, and small son, Shane, Bernard Plossu gave me specific and careful audience, showed me a range of his photographs taken in Africa, Mexico, New Mexico, talked of a mutual friend in Paris, Denis Roche—with Giles Mora and Claude Nori they consti-


tute Ulysses and also produce Les Cahiers de la Photographie , an excellent journal—and of, as he calls them, "the brown lands": "My photographs reveal what I personally relate to: Place, weather, music, sensuality. I like the desert . . . there's nothing better than to be on top of a hill in the desert and look all around you and it's just space, no noise, no time. You have to be at peace with yourself. That emptiness is very good for the soul. We just wanted to keep that 'brown lands' feeling, to be in the desert, and the American desert is one of the most beautiful in the world . . ."[12]

Insofar as eyes are the most primary of human senses, and what world we make with them will be ours of necessity, the eight people of this place, this still new place "New Mexico," are crucial arbiters of whatever vision, whatever sight, we may still be permitted. They have as yet no fashion or school simply to contain them. But the ground they stand on is the edge.


Jim Dine/Five Themes


Just as one's self will serve as constant in a world of otherwise shifting reference, a heart is sign that one can care, that there is a consistent presence of feeling. In a curious way this heart is neither inside nor outside oneself but, rather, exists in a hieratic determination of its own possibility, and so lives in a place that can be as powerfully singular and remote as the moon or as physically evident and contained as one's own hands, feet, and head.

This heart is an imagination, of course. One knows the actual heart looks not at all like those most familiar from the iconographic slogans of Valentine's Day—which seems itself an invention from faint root except that there must be one day on which, unequivocally, hearts triumph. Have a heart  . . .

It would be an error, however, to presume that these specific hearts are either symbolic or ultimately abstract. They are far more like weather, a shifting presence that has faces but is not itself a fixed content. More apt then to call them, among other things, a ground or context which serves as means for feeling out the possibilities of what is going on.

The insistent echoes of this image must have been delight to an artist so remarkably open to language and its powers. One can trust the associations here of everything from 'A heart as big as all

Jim Dine/Five Themes , ed. Graham W.J. Beal (New York: Abbeville Press, 1983).


outdoors' to 'hardhearted' or 'broken-hearted' or, simply, 'The heart of the matter.' The language of the titles is a useful evidence of how variously this 'heart' can find occasion, whether it prove "I'm Painting with my Animals," where a veritable outside comes in to lean against the heart, or "Nancy and I at Ithaca (Straw Heart)" with its backward pun upon The Wizard of Oz . The point is that it does not stand for something else nor has it only a force determined by what it means, or wants to. As a presence it gathers resonance as would a cross or flag, even without information. Playing literalizing objects against it, or determining it as object also (as must be the case with "sheet iron and straw, 60 × 70 × 12 1/2"), leaves it much as a whale on a beach, persistently itself in whatever locus.

Therefore what changes is all else, and that is why one does engage in "Romancing in Late Winter" and "Painting a Fortress for the Heart." It is an elegant, fructifying image, often voluptuous in its provocatively paired French curves. Yet one feels the pain and frustration its emblem has incessantly borne with it, pierced with arrows, split in two, blackened, cracked. It wears its colors bravely.


If clothes can make the man, these robes exist in a place that is neither quite one nor the other. They stand foursquare through the years, sometimes primarily an outline but always with an intrinsic volume much as if an invisible man were their occupant. In that way they are like houses for a particular imaginal body, a self embodied in a 'self portrait,' which sees always what it is either doing or what is being done to it. The heads are missing because the plane of the painting has no room for them. They would fall off like those ships once were thought to, having come to the edge of the ocean. But more, the torso is under the cloth, not apart from it. There are no necks or hands, for example.

It is also interesting that they are robes, not suits, or coats or other modes of clothing. It seems that a robe, a bathrobe or dressing gown as it may variously be called, makes a dignity possible between a state of usual dress and undress. It is both intimate and intently formal. So too is the repetitive stance, faced to a presumable mirror, taking a clearly determined look.

Initially it all seems playful or at least open to an employment of possibilities which are more fact of the situation resolved on than


what's brought to it. "Double Isometric Self-Portrait (Serape)" and "Self-Portrait Next to a Colored Window" each have a double play on any presumed fact of person, not only this one. In short, the same is not the same but always different. It thinks apart from itself, by objectifying mechanical agency in one instance (it holds itself together, thank you (twice)) and, in the other, what's alongside so defines it that there's no getting out of it at all (a dotted line no less). Another work of this year (1964) has much the same intrinsic humor, "Charcoal Self-Portrait in Cement Garden," the garden a few fragmented bits of funereal oddment or possibly pedestals for birdbaths—but nothing, in fact, very funny at all as the figure back of them finds its dimension and substance somehow located by these squat, small solidnesses. Its belt, for example, has become curiously persuaded.

A little more than ten years later one finds much changed, although the apparent form has survived. Yet one might say that in this work, all of it, content is never more than an extension of form(s). Paradoxically, that formula can be read either way since the terms prove inseparable, at least in thought. And while this work is not overtly intellectual exercise, any of it, it is deeply thoughtful, thinks through feeling. Now there is nothing in front of the image, no term of inherent reflection. All that happens, or that has happened, is manifest directly on the face of what one sees. There one is, whoever, and again as with the surface of the hearts—or literal person or painting—what happens happens here, and is that information, happy, sad, all the same. And all comes closer.


Here associations are more explicit, although that may have only to do with the fact that one's information of the Dine family's involvement with classic hardware tools —they had a store in Cincinnati—is both provocative and secure. It was the substantial factor in the family's economy. The young artist worked occasionally in the store relating. Tools are both insistent and functional, suggest a complexly ranging physical environment and also keep the stability of 'home,' are familiar and strange.

He obviously thought about them a good deal and if the hearts were and are the emotional weather of his life, the robes the at-


tempt to see oneself not only as others might see one but as that sight given back, then tools are somehow what one does and can do. Or, perhaps better, one can recognize things are done and these things do them. The occasional presence of a glove in the company, in "Untitled (1973)," for example, makes clear the transitional factor of agency, the who does what with what. The tools are forever. At times they are far more than what their function, taken literally, will provide for and two hammers with immensely elongated handles become "The Hammer Doorway." How can one confidently propose this is simply a metaphor for what hammers can make, or a play on the visual suggestions of a hammer head, or even some threatening possibility there is to be violence 'inside'?

At times the tools are codifying anchor for a reality—the artist's whimsical and perceptive understanding of the powers of order—that includes a solid emphasis upon all manner of literal and abstract thing. "Five Feet of Colorful Tools," crowding in all respects the top of this painting "with board and objects," has as much practical density as people waiting for a subway and as curiously evident a sense of time as old coats hung in a closet. All the echoic layering is, one would think, a good deal more than simple memories. If "a place for everything and everything in its place" were ever to have a chance in this world, this painting would still come to haunt it. The act of hanging things up, putting things back, respecting things the way they were, is all wound in here in a way neither ironic nor pragmatic. Even who hung them up is very much a question.

Still the presence of tools is remarkably particular and common, even when they are in situations of transformation ("The Hammer Doorway") or, in some sense, visually incomplete ("Untitled (Pliers)"). They also take place in the painting, drawing, assemblage, etc., in a very matter-of-fact way, upright, either sitting firmly on bottom margin or plane, or else hung in like manner. Clearly they are the things that do work and can, however various, echoing and unlocated one's own relation to them may sometimes be.


There seems some change in preoccupations here. For one thing, the gates —or more truly the gate, since the images come from one factual gate, as the titles make clear—are a new presence in the ico-


nography. Too, they, along with the trees (which are also new arrivals), are referred to as "forms to hang paintings on." But that is nothing so remarkably new, thinking of the robes and hearts. Often the image has been used as a constant, repetitively, to permit the painting to move as freely in its experience as impulse and recognitions might permit. Insofar as the phrase refers to gates and trees, that sense of "to hang paintings on" is inevitably interesting. One is sure it was no casually determined expression.

"The Crommelynck Gate" can be found at 172 rue de Grenelle, Paris, which is the address of Aldo Crommelynck, master engraver and printer, who with his brother has collaborated in a singular range of etchings, from those of Picasso and Matisse to Jasper Johns and Dine himself, with whom he has worked on several projects in recent years. This gate is the entrance to the atelier and residence. The place has a grand and imposing air, somewhat like a hospital or official residence. Dine must have passed through this particular gate many times, to sit at an immaculate work bench, attended by very specific provision and respect, to make art , as is said. So these gates (or gate) have an unexpected parallel to those gates most common in American habit possibly, those of a factory. The other gates one thinks of quickly are the cemetery's (or heaven's).

Whatever might prove the case, the fact that this image has a literal source is useful. One supposes that most of Dine's images are so founded, but again the accessible fact of this one gives means to recognize the particular modes of investment and change he works with. It is interesting that the image is intently centered, that one sees that much of it which would be commonly seen walking toward it from some short distance away. One is reminded of a cinematic device or focus, curiously, as though one were the 'eye' of a camera.

In quite another sense, a poem of Thomas Hardy's recounts the awesome terror of approaching such a gate—the gate to death itself—to see on its other side the ghoulish objects of despair and terminus beckoning. Then he asks, were it simpler to pass through and have done, rather than to live knowing one will one day come again? These images depend on an almost elegant insistence of tracery upon a vast emptiness of opened space. The formal fascinates because it is all that is there to hold any concept, any possibility, of place. But there is nothing seemingly behind it, but "Fog," but blackness. Even at home ("Vermont") it remains ambiguously inviting.

Is one to stop here? All art would wish to remain at one with its


human limit, to be so contained. Clearly there is to be an end. But here one cannot know whether this is its sign, or simply the thing we see, waiting.


There seems always an emphasis upon the singular, the one. Even in a cluster, of tools, for example, it is their particularity as single objects that determines the nature of their company. It is a feeling that they have come together, as people might in some public situation, each from some specific circumstance or use.

There is, in fact, an anthropomorphic disposition in many of the images but it is not an enlargement of their proposed value, by presumption of human attributes. Rather they are seen intently, intensely, in ways that make of them precise human contexts and evocations.

Of all the themes variously engaged, only the trees might be said to have no necessarily human origin or invention. Certainly the tools and the hearts are each artifacts that have no meaning apart from how one may use them. Again, the image of the heart has finally little to do with that physical organ it so faintly represents, however closely it may relate to an imagined heart's crucial significance to human life itself. So too with the robes and gates.

However, the language of the titles insists equally upon this relation for the trees: "Painting as Summer Ends"; "Red Tree, Flesh Tree"; "A Tree in the Shadow of Our Intimacy"; "A Tiger Lies at the Bottom of Our Garden." Much as a figure approaching or else loomingly present, the trees are central in each image. Either one looks up to them, or sees them directly ahead, so to speak, in a scale significantly larger than one's own. In that respect they are as dense with imminent human information as might be any actual human figure.

Very probably this fact invests the appearance of these trees, this tree (one would feel them to be a single tree, in shifting perspectives but always forefront), with echoes of a human torso or, more aptly, the look of the robe images with open space of the neck a marked parallel to the effect of the tree's crotch. It is particularly evident in "Desire," with its three panels of robe, tree, and heart respectively. Someone is insistently here , one wants to say, whether it be the artist, the onlooker, or the image found in the work itself.


One feels witness to a presence which will momently say much more than its brooding silence will now permit.

To see the trunks of trees, the entangled, twisted branches, as a myriad of human detail (hair, arms, fingers, bodies) would be a familiar nightmare of children, for whom the thing must be the thing as one sees it, without relief. "A Tiger Lies at the Bottom of Our Garden" plays complexly on a diversity of text, both in language and in image, confronting any possibility of securing resolution or containment with unremitting ambivalence. So does a reflecting 'tree of life' become the life itself.

For J. D.

Pass on by, love,
wait by that garden gate.
Swing on, up
on heaven's gate.

The confounding, confronted
pictures of world
brought to signs
of its persistent self

are here in all colors, sizes—
and hearts as big as all outdoors,
a weather of spaces,
intervals between silences.


Face It

It's hard to think of any human world without the insistent measure of others in it, what and how they've done things—and what that meant. Like it or not, there's finally no one here but us people, or certainly nothing that gives a damn about that fact other than those we have a life with, either as past or present. It's a long time, however, since anyone's had the chutzpah to say, "Lives of great men all remind us, etc., etc." Those "great men" have long since fallen with the revelations of Watergate or else the bleakly persistent appetites of such as brought us the casual nightmare of Love Canal. We despair in trust, so to speak, we no longer believe much. High school kids surveyed as to their contemporary heroes recently came back with not one human being, living or dead. They had literally all gone to the stars, of Star Wars .

So were there nothing else here but this dear human care for what there is and has been, to go by, it would be immensely moving in itself. That someone can still say he wants to "Pay homage to people whose world and/or life has touched and influenced mine—people I think are important human beings . . ." is unexpectedly reassuring because it's so often felt as square, somehow mark of an innocence, a lack of hipness, a simply naive disposition toward the world that hasn't as yet suffered its own comedown. But this painter is no kid nor are the figures of his proposal a comfortable pop topography. So-called public persons here are as real as

Foreword to "Man Is the Metaphor": Paintings by Philip Behymer, 1981–1983 (El Paso, Tex.: El Paso Museum of Art, 1983).


anyone else, often as faded and certainly as vulnerable. As one of them, Ed Dorn, once said, my heroes have been men and women  . . . It is a dry, classical specificness, a toughness of human needs—including that something matter—that wants to look and be looked at. Because otherwise it's too much like an eighteen-year-old seen with dog walking down sidewalk a few days ago, here in this small still backwater Maine town, and on the back of his T-shirt was: "It doesn't matter." Terrifying.

Even so there's finally not enough mileage in saying anything, if the art itself can't bring one to sight , to seeing it without any words at all. Therefore all the resources of the painter are on the line, and all the echoes, resources, distractions of the business of the so-called art world are there to blow him away, as and when he falters. Again the strength is the artist's heart, remarkably enough, that in making these complexly personal icons, he can "Attempt to record the sense of the presence of that person as well as simply the image . . ." Impeccably he manages a detail of a photographically determined reality together with a far more subtly actualized experience of the qualities of person inherent. He digs these people, he feels their presence as his own.

Back of all of this is that funny word, face —and here are many faces, all full face, looking at you. Funny that it comes from a Latin word you find also in factory: facere , to make, do. The face was always something you were making, whether it was make-up or simply funny faces. In any case, it's your turn now.

Bristol, Me.
July 21, 1983


Seeing Things:
Preface to Scopophilia

by Gerard Malanga

It is expectable, even reassuring, that a term so quaintly suggestive as "voyeurism" should be taken from the French, like they say, and that it should only become at home in our language as recently as the late '20s. (The OED gives as date 1929.) This peeking, taking looks at, beholding unaware, even spying (as in "spyglass") has old associations with the sexual informing of our humanness. Thus Adam and Eve first "see" their nakedness in the Garden of Eden and it becomes the burden of self-consciousness ever after. Just as they saw themselves, we see others, with that insistent presence of the sexual in any recognition of those ones, whoever they are, out there, apart from ourselves. So it is our habit to respond to this dimension, this potential and presence, of person primarily; and if we are cautious, shy ourselves of observation, possibly we are fearful we will forfeit authority and become equal game.

In the intriguing range and particularity of this book—its persons in all respects—the act of looking is the necessary center insofar as the art of photography so depends upon and defines how it is we see, and think we see. Because each image is specific, outside the time or circumstance in which it occurred, a determined possession has already been accomplished, something taken from the otherwise seemingly random and hardly to be recollected flux. So even the most chaste instance of such seeing—the impromptu wedding photograph, the children, the girl or boy friend, even or particu-

Gerard Malanga, Scopophilia (New York: Alfred van der Marck, 1985).


larly one's dog—would be counterpart of those here, made to serve a far more intensive ambition possibly, the will to possess beyond any moment of time the scene of one's proposed pleasure and its increasingly pathetic artifacts, the fading subject.

I know the parallel in writing. Despite what the rhyme says, names do indeed "hurt" and possess equally, and one may make of any innocent bystander a means to a complex end just by saying, "you are here. . . ." That is, one says so, and so it is. One takes them unawares.

Because those here collected speak with such apt instance, and are also masters of their authority, better to let this brief note and introduction move even more personally. What is it one feels so questionable in peeking—as if to look before a permission, without requisite provision, acknowledgment, much like opening a Christmas present too soon? I am sure that the occasions are far more invested, again as those making so much clear here make very evident as well. I've certainly looked when I wasn't meant to, with or without discovery, or with an invitation I of course presumed. Often I was simply afraid to, was displaced, wanted myself to be seen, seen to, taken apart as a part. The enclosure of such obvious grounds of human interest by dictates of propriety and good taste may be legitimate—"legit" feels more accurate —but the illegitimate, that which has only its singular existence for birthright, so echoes and persuades. Feelings can be made to seem characteristic improprieties, at least with respect to rational intent. Yet they must have our attention too, want all that may insist upon response to be acknowledged, admitted. They preempt thinking, by making it think twice.

Therefore Dig this , as they say, what's so hidden from us, buried, so covered over with whatever clothing, that we of necessity must gain means to get to it despite the "no-man's-land" we are forced to traverse or the fact that we will have no one to speak for us, if discovered. Unforgettable, sad story woman told me years ago, she was a New Zealander, of her English mother-in-law who had never seen her husband naked, until at last, when he was old and dying, she had the job of bathing him. Were eyes, then, hostile to sight (sex?) so that they were better cast down or removed? There is D. H. Lawrence's story of the blind man who touches with the power of seeing.

W. C. Williams had the repeated phrase, "No ideas but in things,"


to which one wants to add, "nor people either. . . ." One has to look, whatever the cost. The ingenuous diversity of means here evident makes clear that to look is not the end in view simply. To see something is where it's always at.

Ithaca, N. Y.
April 28, 1985


Foreword to The Poet Exposed

Portraits by Christopher Felver

How hard it seems, finally, to see another, to apprehend who it is is there, and how constantly fragile the whole exchange, even at best. I had been thinking of Robert Burns' wry emphasis, "to see ourselves as others see us . . ." But that's not the point here. Nor is Eliot's: "To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet . . ."

There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate . . .

To define a quick context—faces are appearances , the visage, the countenance, the expression of the countenance, the outward aspect, the determined dignity, self-respect, what's manifest as face value . Face has a function involved with making (facere ) as make-up would testify. It looks like.

To make a portrait of that subtle, manipulative occasion is complexly demanding. I'm struck that portrait has a root sense of "to draw forth," which in turn provokes a sense of "draw" I'd never before thought of. The painter Kitaj called the act of drawing another human being the sum and measure of the art. It is an entirely human one in all respects. No other relation can so define imagination or the power of seeing literally. Photography proves a consummate instance.

The old-time portraiture, like that of Bachrach, in the northeast, had the clear purpose of social investment. My Uncle Hap worked

The Poet Exposed , Portraits by Christopher Felver (New York: Alfred van der Marck, 1986).


for their company in the thirties and contrived to have portraits done of his mother and father. Their faces are backed by some curious indeterminacy of lit cloud or smoke; they look solidly secure, bemusedly accommodating—and are in no way my grandparents. There is certainly nothing wrong with that fact. There are other values at work, and image serves by its contrivance to hoist these two commoners into the apparent ranks of the financially blest. We might have some questions, and I don't know what they thought of it all. (The same uncle had battered together an extremely tentative "family tree," which gave us remarkable affiliations—again all bankrupt, in fact.) We did see someone, however, of our relation, in a place we had heard about but never known, and that gave some added dimension to our otherwise mundane lives. Yet the ploy is the same as the undertaker's exceptional use of rouge, the suit bought just for that final occasion, the hair curled at last. Such "drawing forth" as that can be has little to do with its subjects.

Chris Felver's concerns are intensely otherwise, and here one sees writers, poets —those most blest by an art but also made most vulnerable. There's no money in it, like they say, or at best very, very little. And so the casual interest fades. (Had any a lingering doubt concerning Cardenal, to see him so comfortable here must banish it forever.) The photographer is a friend, the faces are remarkably open, and a reflective small grin echoes from page to page. I think it is that, for the most part, all are at home in the world, and this person come to call, with his camera, is there in like manner, equally open. What drama there is is muted, faces are extremely without artifice, look for the most part straight forward. So the man looking at them is by that defined.

W. C. Williams makes clear his anger at the cost of Man Ray's portrait of him, if flattered, possibly, by the occasion. He looks alert, raw, vulnerable. Without question Man Ray has put him in his place (in contrast with the portrait by Charles Sheeler). Berenice Abbott's portraits of the same period—of Djuna Barnes or Joyce, for example—show a far more intimate sense of the person sitting there. It isn't just that she cares, but that she knows, explicitly, where she is and in what relation. She honors the subject with her clarity. Otherwise, a lot can be made of a camera, as a defensive weapon, for instance, or a means to manipulate the look—to divide and conquer, as it were. I can't think a photograph any less of a determined artifact than a painting, and to say "the camera never lies" is to be complacently ingenuous. Everything lies, with or without art, cameras included.


Therefore I much respect Felver's own integrity in this work and the commitment shown in the detail and perception his book makes evident. He has given it a significant dimension in the notes and compact poems that accompany each photograph in the person's own script. These are useful, authenticating signatures, again a substantiation of person—that someone is here, that another bears witness.

Oh haunting witness—
you've seen me again
without my knowing it.

Will my face dissolve
in my hands, will I
still remember you?

Ithaca, New York
March 9, 1986


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