Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kerry James Marshall Drawing

Study for Blue Water, Silver Moon, 1991, Conte Crayon and Watercolor on Paper, 49 3/4 x 38 1/8 inches, MoMA collection

I love this drawing by Kerry James Marshall -- it has a masterful play with value, solidity, liquidity, flatness and space all in a narrative context. As I get images ready for a new semester, this stopped me in my tracks as it has many times before.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Maximilian Vanka

Still life tabletop with vegetables and vessels
I ran across a few paintings by the painter Maximilian Vanka(1890-1963) recently.  They were really nice compositions and odd takes on color and perspective.  I can't find much on him online but this painting above is a nice example.  It's echo of the teapot in the painting pinned to the wall behind the painted teapot references dimensionality in such a 2015 meta, ironic sort of playfulness.  I think he has some work in Pittsburgh, I'd really like to see more.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Murakami and Language


I've gotten around to reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami finally.  It has been on my to-read book list for years now.  I think it is really exceptional so far (still have about 1/3 left).  

I keep finding myself thinking about the fact that it was originally written in Japanese.  So many of the passages are exacting to experiences or thoughts I have had.  Like someone finally put words to it in just the right way.  Like this one:

“I decided to make spaghetti for lunch again. Not that I was the least bit hungry. But I couldn't just go on sitting on the sofa, waiting for the phone to ring. I had to move my body, to begin working toward some goal. I put water in a pot, turned on the gas, and until it boiled I would make tomato sauce while listening to an FM broadcast. The radio was playing an unaccompanied violin sonata by Bach. The performance itself was excellent, but there was something annoying about it. I didn't know whether this was the fault of the violinist or of my own present state of mind, but I turned off the music and went on cooking in silence. I heated the olive oil, put garlic in the pan, and added minced onions. When these began to brown, I added the tomatoes that I had chopped and strained. It was good to be cutting things and frying things like this. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that I could feel in my hands. I liked the sounds and the smells.” 

The way he switches from the empty act of cooking to his semi-conscious thoughts about the music to a reflection at the end is so true to actually living in that moment. 

I wish I could read the book in Japanese because I keep wondering how two languages that have different structures and words could relay the same feeling to a reader.  But maybe its even better in Japanese?  But that seems hard to imagine, the words seem so well picked.  I guess what I keep turning over in my mind is how universal the human experience is even when miles and languages should make it seem more distant.  

Which ultimately brings me back to painting and a particular painting I keep looking at recently.  Its a Fairfield Porter and it conjures up a feeling in me that has no english equivalent I'm aware of.  I guess nostalgia is the word closest, but its nostalgia without the sickening, sweetness. It's the way looking at a summer night sky, something supposedly ordinary strikes a sublime chord and makes it feel like a lightbulb is in your stomach.  

Someone sent me this link to words with no english equivalent a while back.  And the Japanese word "aware" stood out to me, the article says it means "the bittersweetness of a brief and grading moment of transcendent beauty."  Maybe english is just too dry to contain all that in a single word, or maybe it exists and my vocabulary isn't good enough.  But either way I am thankful that paintings and visual experiences need no translation.  Nothing is lost or mitigated when looking.

But even if something gets lost in translating The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle there is enough power in it to overcome the gap and express that universal transcendent beauty.  Highly recommend it.