Friday, September 23, 2016

A poem for my uncle

I recently started a project with my uncle, who is doing a series of sculptures using wood trimmed from the trees in his yard. Here is the first print.

And here is a letter I sent to him along with the poem.

Dear Bob,

I’ve been meaning for a few weeks now to send some thoughts on the print that I sent you. So here I am, beginning. These thoughts are meant to explain the poem in relation to the sculpture.  

This particular photo of your work reminded me imaginatively of Brancusi’s Bird in Flight series. The single ray of light, gold surfaced, slicing through the air. But one of the things that engages me about the line of light in your sculpture is that it is natural; it is not a sleek, polished surface, it is not homogenous in line or surface. The subtle shifts that are part of tree branches and that are more acutely part of nature engage the eye in a way that Brancusi’s do not. We cannot really examine Brancusi’s sleekness. The eye just slithers away from what it sees. It does not rest on the surface but rather “looks at” the whole. “Reads” the whole. This is not true of your sculpture: the organic snags the eye at almost any point, but in a way that is pleasing. There is elegance in the sideways shifts of the organic surface.

So while the upward movement seen by the eye, and perhaps in the memory of Brancusi, suggest flight in the photo detail of the “animal” from your “ménagerie”, I wanted to move away from that in the writing. There is only one image in the poem that is connected with flight, and that is of the shoes – a person – running through heaps of apricot blossoms in the street. That running is intertwined with falling, something oppositional to flight. So the questions that came to me before writing the poem was: how? And where to start?

I wanted the poem, physically, to inhabit the negative space of the photo. So three columns, differing in width. Here it is, in an easier way to read:

A painting here                  columns of              forecasting
in the Uffizi.                      darkness                  round
Sky gold leaf                     into which                fruit, pink      
the air sacred                      warm sun                 cheeked
space cleaving                    does not                   apricots,
to the figures of                 reach — rise            a bite, mouth
Mother and Child               and fall of                full of sudden
who have in turn                surface, the              sweetness.
vanished from the              lean slope                How hearts
wood panel paint                dividing                   beat in the
peeled in gauzy drops        air’s  thin                 elastic space
faded tears or perhaps        integrity                   of moments,
evaporated dispersed          — slow rain             defying
into bright air. Gone          of blossoms,             algorithms of
the eyes nose mouth           unfastened,              perfection.
cheek and chin. The           rising again              Spin of breath
long fingers wrapping        in the scuff              zephyrs,
the child’s leg. Only          of shoes                   and light’s
their outline remains,          and running feet      vortex
the void of their                 the texture of           — gleam
substance. And the             petals. Rain              of gold
blazing sky

I started from the idea of gold, which has had so many meanings in art, but one of the most fascinating I’ve found is the substitution of gold for the sky in medieval religious painting. Gold is reflective and yellow, almost the opposite of what we sense when we look at the actual sky. In the poem, the column on the left describes a painted wood panel I saw in the Uffizi. It was of a Madonna and child but all the paint had disappeared, leaving only the shape of the two figures and the gold-leafed background.  In contrast, the right two columns of the poem move back to the photo of the sculpture itself, they describe the sculpture but in terms of a natural world phenomenon – the falling of apricot blossoms, which is known in parts of Asia as an apricot rain. The warm color range of apricots seemed similar to the warm background of the photo.

Well, I think that’s all I have in the way of comments.

All best to you and cousin Glenn,