Saturday, April 14, 2012

Artist Open House, Concord, MA

I should read Tristram Shandy again, or A Sentimental Journey, because Laurence Sterne’s ability to ramble seems noteworthy and praiseworthy. With poems, movies, and novels, the more easily that you can say what the work is about, the less interesting. I like when trails are broken, rambling on. So this peregrination…

Two weeks ago, then, Beth and I went to an open house at The Emerson Umbrella. The Emerson Umbrella is an art organization in Concord, and it offers studio space. The building is a former school, a three story brick edifice, suitably drear for a school but completely inviting as an artist hive.

One notices quickly that the artists are older. It makes sense, since Concord is a swish town with a paucity of starving young artists in its population. Or starving young anything, even the dogs are fat (fat labradors should be oxymoronic). Whatever studio space costs, it is probably more than most of the artists make in their art; they are well-heeled by other means. That’s my guess.

The quality was pretty good. I stiffened a couple of times at rank amateur work, I mean work that didn’t seem at the level to be shown to anyone outside of family and close friends. but largely I saw work that one could look at with pleasure.

Some of the studios did not look like work areas. Sure, cleaned up, but no materials around. Maybe they hauled that stuff out for the open house, but that seems against the whole concept. I dunno. The studios lack the convenience of sinks, so you would have to head down the hall  for water.

A man had a real workshop set up, for making model boats. Historically accurate ones. He was engaging until his wife and daughter showed up, then he ignored us. Some of the artists were weird that way. One woman was talking with her friends and didn’t even acknowledge us. There’s an ostensible sales opportunity, hello? Not that we were there to buy, and not that I wore my Rolex pants to alert artists that I might be looking for something to hang above my Dior toilet. But you never can tell. We left that woman’s little world pronto.

Most of the artists offered nibbles, which was the first thing I looked for as I entered. Crackers and cheese, cookies, jelly beans, chocolates. Some of those jelly beans were the gourmet kind, mango and espresso flavoured. I found myself putting the pieces together. I mean, one served hummus and blue corn chips, what does that say? Or how about standard quality jelly beans, flavoured red, green, whitish and black? Obviously there’s a different mindset there compared to the mango/Alka Seltzer flavoured treats.

And the music. Mushy soft jazz stylings a la Starbucks, or Indian music, or Baroque, or hyper Dixieland. Enter my little world.

One artist used Tyvek, which proved an interesting material to work with. She cut out bird shapes, painted them, and hung them on a branch for a lovely mobile. She painted a large sheet they she said she displayed outside, and it survived a torrential downpour during which it got blown down and sat in a puddle all night. Cool.

A potter made mostly uninteresting things, tho a couple of oddly skewed house shapes were very interesting. She was remarkably concerned about not losing anything, and took pictures of all her work. One needn’t go all self-ultimate about one’s work, but one can let some of it go. You’re learning as you go. She had, by the way, the best light of any of the studios.

One dullard actually seemed to be making a financial go of it. I rather liked his work, which tended toward houses and street scenes in Provence, with some influence of a guy named Cezanne. He was an Artist Type with the given spark of having been a lawyer. He did talk. Not to us, but a woman who seemed like someone who would buy had his attention. I mean, her interest seemed to have a possibility of acquisition. The studio was more like an office, with muted lighting. His walls were completely covered with his work.

A couple of artists ignored us out of shyness. Might as well not bother with the open house. In fact, one studio had a Poet. I did not want to enter, because a mousy woman just sat there with no sense of invitation. Turns out she was just sitting in for her friend. I suppose it would be interesting to have an office like this, especially amongst all these artists, but it’s a pure luxury. Seemed like a setting, with her standard issue poetry books (some guy named Frost), and her typewriter.

One studio held an older woman and her friend. They were friendly. The artist’s paintings were mostly copies of pictures of galaxies, say 5’x7’. The conversation quickly directed itself to the political rocks towards which our ship sails. Beth has a way of finding the firebrands, being one herself. The general political sway amongst the artists was presumably liberal in a conservative way, so it was nice to see some elevated feistiness.

I enjoyed the studio of an illustrator. He does art for children’s books. He did several Math is Fun books for a Korean publisher. He said that he mostly made up the illustrations that he did. That is, the scenes he depicts barely conform with anything in the book. Which is what I have suspected. He had several large originals displayed. All of them were on spec. There were no stories behind them, he just made these tableaux as samples. That struck me because they were loaded with adventure. One showed a ghostly figure in a cavern looking down at a pirate looking bunch, The Goonies plus ghosts. Zowie!

I noted that artist work could be expensive. You got your computer and Photoshop and the deluxe scanner, as well as the old-fashioned material, and you got serious commitment. I also note once again that there’s a shitload of art out there. What will be do with it all???

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Pygmy (Chuck Palahniuk Redux)

There is something to be said about reading thru a chunk of an author’s works. I engaged a second Palahniuk novel, Pygmy. I also got three novels by Mary Renault at the library, but have only read one so far. CP’s Damned interested me even as it disappointed or irritated me. Pygmy satisfies me more. Maybe I will continue with this author.

I guess what I like about CP is his tendency towards tour de force. He sets up somewhat impossible situations—somewhat because this is, after all, fiction—then tries to hang on. This is an especially definitive plus in Woolf, whose experiments seem part of her lifeforce. Okay, CP does hang on. Damned featured a cheerfully detestable Hell, as seen thru the eyes of a sassy 13 year old. Pygmy posits terrorists from an unnamed totalitarian state infiltrating high school, as part of a scheme to overthrow the country.

It is written as a report from one operative, who is inexplicably named Pygmy. He is brought to this country as a foreign exchange student, along with a number of other operatives. The parents are fundamentalists—they give him a PROPERTY OF JESUS t-shirt—the children denatured teen revolt.

Pygmy writes in a broken English that cannot be explained. Full of literalisms and semantic confusions, it doesn’t add up. If he’s writing to his own people, he would use his own language (helpfully translated by CP into English). This manner of expression is the book’s style, and one of its pluses, but its use makes no sense.

But so it goes.

Choice state bromides course thru Pygmy’s mind, as well as ruminations on how it would be to perform various martial arts moves—Lashing Lynx, Barracuda Deadly Eye Gouge—in situations he is in. The cover consists of some figures illustrating the moves that Pygmy thinks about and uses. He’s supposed to be 13, but he and his host siblings don’t add up agewise. We assume that he’s just daydreaming. but after his pigdog brother gets bullied, Pygmy doesn’t just efficiently beat up the bully, Pygmy anally rapes him. And it would have been graphically described had Pygmy not described it in his screwy patois.

Such a scene seems in accord with a certain style of outrageousness. It is almost lurid, but resists, finally. Outrageousness is a pale form of currency, after all.

Pygmy fears retaliation by the bully, but in fact the bully becomes infatuated in Pygmy. Unrequited, he sets off murderous events at an Academic United Nations, so that Pygmy will kill him. Ugh, I’m getting lost in the plot. There’s some satire in there, under heavy hand.

You can relax. It all comes to an orderly climax in which Pygmy thwarts Operation Havoc, his host family survives, and he removes the hollow molar containing cyanide from his mouth. Boo hoo, no spoiler alert. Thru out the book, he develops feelings for his host sister. I guess we’re supposed to think his humanity causes him to turn from the robotic state.

Like with Damned, we have pat resolution. The hyped outrageousness of both books receives a shock tempering in the final chapter. Palahniuk does not know how to keep his hands off the product of his imagination at the crucial point. Neither book offers a clear way to end, so CP opts for platitudinous relief. I wonder if he ever solves this problem.

Thru out, quotes from heroes such as Hitler, Mao, Idi Amin, part of Pygmy’s inculcation, celebrate the mad social effort to keep in line, as lived by Pygmy. These revolutionary statements sound good. I mean, you could sweep them together with Jefferson, Rousseau, or whoever. They represent the cannier side of CP. His writing sets framed in the social context, which is quite compelling. I wish he wasn’t so convinced by a satisfying ending, however.