Friday, November 23, 2012

An Artist working in Obscurity.

Rushing around the library a bit ago before Hurricane Sandy, for books to read by candlelight, if the need arose, two books literally fell into my hands. The first was "Collected Fictions" of Jorge Luis Borges and the second was "Their Eyes Were Watching God ", by Zora Neale Hurston.

The Borges literally fell on the floor as I touched it  as it was heavy and had a slippery cover.  The Hurston was in an end cap and I was struck by her photo, her eyes were knowing yet compassionate, she was elegantly and simply dressed.

This morning on PBS a biographer was discussing his new book on Cezanne.

I have been mulling over the subject of obscurity as I approach my 7th decade in January.  Until a few years ago, I entered contest after contest, entreated scores of galleries with dismal results.

Reading the New York Times art section can be bruising to the ego as untold numbers of artists with degrees barely dry on their diplomas are dragooned by well known New York galleries and a rotting shark by a billionaire arist is given an expensive makeover.

And yet.. my eyes are drawn to the feasts of art made by the many unsung masters who created the beautiful Islamic art and architecture, the exquisite Japanese and Chinese scroll painters. I have an silk obi that is a masterpiece of design and color and a Chinese woman's jacket of breath-taking workmanship.

There are so many beautiful things in this world by unknown masters- were they unhappy that the no one knew who they were?

In one of the Borges' short stories called "The Secret Miracle", a writer is facing a firing squad. He wants to finish an elegant and complex work. He had asked God for one more year. Then by some miracle, the physical universe stopped- everthing stood still, the tear on his cheek, the firing squads raised arms.  "He had no document but his memory"...He did not work for posterity, nor did he work for God"- but just before the "fourfold volley" felled him- he completed his play.

Nora Neale Hurston was a black writer who acheived some fame in the 1930's but the earthiness of her writing offended some leading lights of the black culture of her day. She died in obscurity. Her book, however is a revelation even to an old white Northern lady. It is about a young black woman navigating between life, men and hurricanes in the 30's. You know she knew what a woman wanted, her Janie Crawford was about getting what we all as women want. Janie is universal- but her own self. Her prose is brilliant, simple yet elegaic without being self conscious. I love this sentence' "The next morning Pheoby (Janie's friend wanting to seem casual) picked her way over to Janie's house like a hen to a neighbor's garden".

The PBS book review  on Cezanne was a revelation. Like Van Gogh- he was not so unsuccessful selling his work. His biggest show came the year after his death. He tried for 20 years to get his work into the French Salon, to no avail. He could barely give his work way, yet he is considered by many to be the most important figure in 20th century contemporary art. What I love about Cezanne is his dedication to the beauty of .painted surface. Each of his strokes, very much like Japanese brushwork, have a full measure of conciousness. I really dislike our contemporary realists for that reason- they are too fixated on copying the photographic reference. They are afraid somone will pounce on them for "bad drawing" if they stray to far from the image, when many of them cannot really draw well at all. Really drawing or painting well,  is to invest an image with your own reality, your own understanding.

I think being obscure, perhaps this is my salve, take it however you like- makes you fearless. Cezanne cared not a fig about what anyone thought and painted to the last day of his life.

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