Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Dangling Man, Coffee Mugs, and Solitude

This afternoon during Experimental Painting class I finished The Dangling Man, Saul Bellow's first novel.  Saul Bellow's characters always bear such a sense of solitude.  In Dangling Man, Joseph is waiting for the draft board to call for nearly a year and in the meantime, slowly loses his sense of control and balance, but also gains a sort of comfort with the solitude.  It is a feeling that I am often curious about.  Much of art is this solitude.  Until my recent marriage, the majority of my studio days were accompanied only by feline companions.  To be sure I played a variety of music in studio and listened to a number of podcasts and different musicians but at the end of the day an art practice is a quiet practice.  It is one that has traditionally been accomplished in solitude.  What of this type of man in wait for his calling?  Joseph was waiting to be called by the draft board.  Is that so different than waiting to hit your big break.  Eventually we see in Joseph that his inability to act, which is exacerbated by his depression which is in direct correlation to his loneliness and lack of purpose, becomes the very source of his lack of happiness.

With this in mind, I started to think about my ability to act.  I have been taking some solid steps in the right direction these past few months, but still have a couple major steps on the way to success.  An inability to act on these steps will only result in loneliness and depression, or as the rock band AC/DC put it back in the 70's, "It ain't no fun waiting 'round to be a millionaire."  I've got to take some action and it is important for me to prioritize these actions.

In contrast to this thought I have also been very much involved with a new series that I am producing for Art Stream Studios' "Off the Grid" show coming up in December.  All work is 6" X 6" and under $250.  I started these four panels by painting a color pattern field in the back.  Actually, to be fair, I indicated the colors, mixed them and laid the panels out like paint by numbers for my studio assistant.  You can read about that a bit over on my Tumblr blog, which she has taken over as a sort of process diary from the studio assistant perspective.  It is certainly different hearing these perspectives from outside of my own head, but I digress.  As I looked at these color field paintings, I had originally planned on doing a few more pipe and drop pieces, but realized that that had nothing to do with the way that I was feeling about this show.

I started to think about the ordered chaos of the color patterns.  None of the shapes were really the same scale.  The colors alternated back and forth and so the pattern was the same but the color and size varied from piece to piece.  They were all very much related but would never be mistaken for being in the same pattern.  They fit together more like a quilt.  Recently I had been visiting my nieces and had broken my favorite coffee mug which they have set aside for me at their house for some five or six years now.  I have since found one which I use at my own house, but that has only been in use for maybe 2 years.  I thought about how objects hold some of that relationship, working as a sort of totem and concluded that I needed to do a series of mugs over the top of these patterns.  It would serve as my source of mental pause over top of the ordered chaos that is the world these days.

This first mug is the mug which I spoke of that my nieces would always hand me.  It carries with it my memories of my past relationship, the roots of a couple fantastic friendships and a family which is not really mine but which I will always feel is mine.
 This second mug is a mug which I purchased on a trip back to Seattle after I had moved away the second time.  I was staying with my friend Jill in her First Hill studio apartment, where she had shown me images from her recent trip to India and her adoption of Buddhism.  It was a defining moment in my life.  Her apartment was so simple and cozy.  We had tea.  We lived quietly those two nights and she worked very hard.  The morning after I finished staying there we had coffee at Victrola on Pike Street.  I left with this mug and it now carries that story with it for all time.
My father was a forest ranger in New York State, as followers of this blog well know.  There were two mug designs that I remember from growing up.  There was this one and one with a simple green tree on a very tiny mug.  This commemorative mug is the mug that holds my paint brushes.  While drawing this mug I couldn't help but think of Jasper Johns castings of his mug and brush set up, but also was taken with thoughts of my dad, and drinking coffee at home.

It is a little odd to be drawing from life and perhaps a bit odder to find so much meaning in these inanimate objects, but it seems natural and I really like the way the pieces are coming out.  I'm doing at least two more; one more for Art Stream and an additional one of the mug that I won at a muzzle loading match with my father in the 90's for my folks.  Coffee mugs have always been my family's jam.


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