Wilbur and I move to New York in 1979. We lived in Brooklyn until 1984. Those five years gave our lives a certain kind of strange and wonderful momentum that continues to this day.
I can remember taking the subway a lot. I did electrical work for money and my jobs were all over Manhattan so I got to know the subway quite well. I’ve returned frequently and my familiarity with the system has never really faded. It takes me a couple of days and then it’s like getting back on a bike.
While riding the subway the opposite window becomes a mirror in the darkness of the tunnel. If you ride the subway a lot you know what I’m talking about. Thankfully it’s not a perfect mirror and today I saw a man with a gray beard that I barely recognized. I still feel like that twenty-three-year-old riding home from work staring at the window become mirror. Time is always such a shock.
I can’t help but reflect a bit on time and the passing of years. Some people are stuck in time, others flow smoothly through the years not giving the passing much consideration. I like to think of myself as the later. I never really worry or even think too much about getting older. And yet here was this really old looking guy staring back at me. I felt my past leaning on me a bit while the subway clanked its unique rhythm.
To make art is an incredible privilege. I think it is indicative of a healthy society in the sense that there are economic and social systems that support the activity. At the same time art making is one of humankinds most basic activities, it happens everywhere in all cultures. Rooted in the shaman but also in the politician/business person. To be an artist is a strange and potent mixture of cultural stereotypes and pressures.
Wilbur and I went to NY, specifically, to see the Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. I suppose it was a bit of a pilgrimage. If you are not familiar with her work you should check her out. She created monumental abstract paintings well in advance of Kandinsky and other celebrated early modernists. She is a pioneer of abstraction who was overlooked probably because she was a woman and because she played around with mysticism. Yet the guys did that too, so who knows? I’m not blogging about that nor is this a review of the work, I can’t do that.
Standing as a kind of coda to the Klint work was an exhibition by the contemporary painter R.H. Quaytman. Over one-hundred years separated these two artists. Quaytman’s work was in relationship to Klint’s work but also commenting on the Guggenheim space. A series of dark square panels with a centered white circle was installed in each to the Guggenheim’s exhibition “bays”. As the spiral of the ramp rose the circle paintings descended. I thought this was an effective use of the space, referencing the repeated use of the circle by Klint and then tying it into the unique architecture of the museum. The white circles were a sort of screwed on cap to the upward spiral of the Guggenheim.
It got me thinking. About the museum space. Klint had envisioned her paintings created for a spiritual temple of sorts. A yet unbuilt space would link the viewers of her paintings to the cosmos and spiritual awakening she is attempting to elicit. I kept thinking that perhaps this space Quaytman asserts, the space I was slowly walking in…was that space. Was Quaytman using her art to signal that this was the temple? Or was it a statement opposing the dominating architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright?
The making of art bends time and space, I am utterly convinced of that. When I am working on a painting time does not exist. What I thought as a seventeen-year-old is still at play in my imagination and forms that moment. What I made as a seventeen-year-old informs what I create as that sixty-two-year-old staring back in the subway window.
This is the metaphysics of art. It is the making real of what Vonnegut called “getting unstuck” in time. While mortality is certainly the end game for us all there are “slipping glimpses”…to paraphrase De Kooning of a more infinite reality lurking in the art we make. A reality that is big and open unimpeded by fame, market, money or prestige. It is what makes art real and worth committing to a lifetime.