Thoughts: Icons and Strange Light

icon 1700.JPG

Last Friday, the woman I love and I took an artist’s date and went to Clinton, Mass to visit the Russian Icon Museum. It is a place we have been before, but there is something about these hand-painted panels (typically painted on wood panels) that have always sung to me.

I actually have a Russian Icon in my house, and the discovery that both the woman I love and I have an affinity for icons was one of our first connecting points.

It’s an odd little museum. Outside it is a small industrial building, the sort of thing you see in New England towns. Perhaps a small factory or warehouse from the turn of the century (1900’s, not 2,000’s). Inside it is remarkably modern and airy, with lighting that changes color every few minutes, from reddish to blue-ish to greenish to purplish and back.

Personally, I find the ever-changing light colors a distraction. The lighting changes the way the rooms, and more importantly, the icons appear. Being someone who likes to study, not just look at, paintings that touch me, the shift in color makes it hard for me to fully see the artwork. I am constantly trying to see past the hues of the lights to the colors of the paintings.

icon 2.JPG

There is likely a reason for the colors. Perhaps the colors of the light replicate colors from the stained glass windows of churches where these icons may have hung, and the lights are designed to let us see the paintings in context.

At times I found myself looking closely at this icon or that icon. At other times, I stood back and looked at them, noting how they changed as the light changed.

It is, after all, all about the light.

Most artists will tell you that. So will most photographers. Light changes how we see everything. And the light changes throughout the day, taking any landscape or vignette and always, subtly shifting how it’s seen, how it’s experienced, how we end up feeling.

I am a strong believer (and brain science is starting to catch up and verify this common belief.) that how we choose to see things in our life, the light, and color we choose to paint the events in our lives, change how our live actually are, just as light on a landscape changes how we see the landscape itself. The same section of farms and mountains can be alternately washed out, harsh, warm, inviting, hopeful – all according to the light.

Which is right? Which is true? The dark? The hopeful? All of them? Yeah, you can get all philosophic on this one – generations of philosophers have filled stacks of books wrestling that puppy down, or at least trying to.

I downloaded some of the pictures I took at the museum this morning. Each icon was bleached with the color of the moment. I spent some time in software trying to bring the image to the way I believed they would look in uncolored light, trying to wrestle them down to how I saw them. That’s what you see in the top image of an early 1700’s icon.

And we do the same with our words and thoughts in real life. We choose the colors of the life we live. We choose what light to see things in. It’s not that there are not things in our life that suck and things in our life that make us rejoice, but even at the extremes, we have a choice of the crayons we use, the light we apply, and in the end, how we see things.

I’ve wrestled with that at times. Bouts of depression paint a pall on how I see things. Some days the depression light is a faint one, easy to “photoshop” out with positive thoughts and actions. At times, it’s a black fog, with everything seeming negative and ugly. On those days, it takes more work.

I’ll do the work, just as I did the work on the top picture. I want to choose how I see things, I don’t want an artificial pall, or the rest of the world, or you or anyone else to choose how I see. I did that too long.

Photoshop is easy. Carving away the artificial light we all carry around with us is hard. But it’s worth it. I like the way I choose to see, even it takes some work.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

icon 1700

Poem: Abstract Art (3)

IMG_3248.JPG

Abstract Art (3)

It hangs on the wall like a frozen wraith,
a brightly colored wall between the worlds
either
shielding the other word from yours,
or you from them,
or perhaps it simply waits, a tantalizing tease
for some etherial unveiling.

You stand before it,
unsure why it sings to you, or even
what song it is singing.
A dirge?
A hymn?
A siren song of unspoken desires?

You cannot say, aware only
of some call deep in your breast,
that this piece of stranger’s art
has forced you to feel
beyond images or scenes from reality,
to something more real,
a tease, subliminal and blatant both.

Your heart beats faster.
Anxiety?
Excitement?
Confusion and chaos?
Hope?
Joy?
Yes, Joy,
odd and unexplainable,
it is enough to rejoice without reason,
to allow this assault on your senses
to rule over the kingly mind,
an unruly child,
charming and maddening both.

About this poem

I often go to art galleries and take pictures of things that touch me. I am good at taking pictures of the tags that tell you who the artist is, the name of the piece and perhaps a few paragraphs of history and explanation. I like giving attribution because I would want the same for anything I put out there.

For some reason, I did not take that tag shot of this piece. It lives in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and I’ve seen work from the artist in a few museums here in the Northeast. Yet the name of the artist eludes me. All of his work ( I remember that the artist is a he.) intrigues me. I can’t tell you why, but I often find myself parked in front of them for long enough that regular patrons probably wonder at me.

That’s OK. I wonder at me sometimes too.

I seem to write about Abstract Art often. This is the third poem with that title since I began this blog. I decided to make it official by giving it a number because somehow I am sure that title will show up again. I’ve said it before, I am less creative than expressive.

I did some painting myself yesterday. First time in a bit. Therapy.

It’s the winter solstice. A time of turning.

From those thoughts, this poem.

Tom

Artist’s Date: Mass MoCA, Space and Yearnings

9_resize

Saturday, the woman I love and I went down to North Adams to visit Mass MoCA. 

I go there a few times a year because the exhibits change constantly. It’s never the same collection twice and I find myself constantly inspired. Recently they just added a huge addition, opening up one of the old factory buildings and transforming it in thousands of square feet of exhibition space.

I will be honest. There was not a lot of the current exhibition that sang to me.  There was some good work. Some odd work. Come curious work. But very little that sang to my soul and inspired me. What really sang to me though, was the space itself.

1_resize

It began when we entered one of the first rooms. There were three little multimedia works on the wall. They did little for me, but as I stepped away, I saw them in a different light. There were three chairs set out for the devout to look at them at length, and the juxtaposition of the chairs and art, the spacing, space itself, struck me.

2_resize

In the next room, one of the huge galleries, there was this installation called “In Bed (how will we sleep when the planet is melting?) by Sarah Braman. The piece itself was for me kinda “meh”, but as I walked around it, and saw it in space, it took on a life of its own.

And so it was the rest of the afternoon, particularly as we came to the new space.

8_resize7_resize5_resize

4_resize3_resize

Space.

I have been missing space. A decade ago I had a huge old farm house, about 4,000 square feet. There were five acres and outbuildings. There was space for anything I might buy or anything I might want to do. All that space was, I have come to realize, and incredible luxury.

Since my divorce, that house had to be sold. I lived in a couple of tiny apartments with a whole lot of furniture crammed in, and finally landed here in Vermont, where I have a nice house, what has been a perfect house for me and the kids the past several years. There’s plenty of room, plenty of light, but not much wall space. It is house on a smaller scale. It’s on two-tenths of an acre of land, which is nice when you travel like I do. Not much to take care of. But also not much to do things with. No sculpture gardens here. No workshops. No storage for strange and odd things that I might pick up. (because I do.)

I have to be economical with my space.

In the last year or two, I have been half-looking for a big space. A barn or large garage, or perhaps a section of an abandoned factory to move my studio into. I don’t know if it is a natural progression of my art, or some inner part of my spirit that feels the need to do bigger things again, create bigger art, impactful things, but I yearn for more space. Nothing fancy. Just space and light. Or even space without light (Lights can be bought, after all.).

And that’s what my artist’s date did. It brought that yearning back. Is that inspiration? In a way I suppose. But inspiration or not, it’s a reminder of what lies underneath this mild, economical facade I carry with me, and that has value. Without yearning. Without dreams, I am nothing. I am dead.

I learned that a long time ago. The hard way.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

 

Poem: Art. Life.

museum site

Art. Life.

Space.
Juxtaposition.
Color, and the lack thereof.

Concept.
and at times, little more.
Shape.
Contrast.

And emotion.
never forget emotion.
Without it,
everything lacks life,

lacks a reason
to be.

About this poem. 

I have an artist’s date to Mass MoCA planned for tomorrow. So art and how it touches life (and visa versa) seems to be on my mind.

The picture was taken in the west wing of the National Galleries in Washington, DC.

Tom

Poem: Purses at the Market

img_1598_resize

Purses at the Market

The purses hang at the farmer’s market,
bright and colorful, each one hand made,
each one unique, beautiful things you have no use for,
but gaze at for perhaps a bit too long,
letting the vibrancy fill your vision,
letting the ebullience push out your inner winter
and leave you twenty again,
innocent and free of baggage,  or triggers,
free of the mistakes that have piled up like so many weights.

The purses hang at the farmer’s market.
You don’t stare as much as meld,
letting the patterns feed your joy,
fill your parched soul, that tattered thing,
dry as dust, hungry for color, unknowingly
hungry for that lost innocence.
You are no longer seeing.
No, it is something more, feeling, rising,
oh yes, you remember now,
living.

About this poem.

Too much going on here to write a pithy “about” section. Some of it has to do with age. Some of it has to do with the woman I love and all the color she has brought to my life. Some of it has to to with growing older. Some of it has to do with a talk I have to give later this month on “How to Look at Abstract Art.” Some of it I am still sorting out. Most of it, I am still sorting out.

But that’s why I write poetry most of the time, to sort things out.

Tom

Poem: Art

placement

Art

This is the thing.
I do not know if it is art
or not.
For all art does not live in museums,
but people’s lives,
color and line and placement
singing a song
they never imagined.

About this poem

I have an installation of paintings at one of the local libraries for the month of September, and last Saturday we had the reception. I spent some of the time taking people through the pieces, talking about what was going on in each one and how I got there.  My work is, like the installation above from MoMA, abstract, and the people I walked through things seemed to be happy to get some explanation.

My favorite people,though, are the ones who look at my paintings (or read my poems for that matter) and find their own meanings. At that point my art is no longer mine. It is theirs, or perhaps ours, as they pull something from it that I never even conceived of.

I love that.

Tom