Monday, January 30, 2012

The Metaphysical Pictures of Wadsworth and White

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been thinking a lot about the distortion of space in the imagination. Recently, I discovered a contemporary painter that seems to be dabbling in a few of the ideas I was writing about.

Eric White creates collages of remembered characters from old pictures, trapped in impossible rooms; sometimes impossible cars. I feel a little embarrassed to be so obsessed with someone so closely associated with the Lowbrow movement, but I think his good work is accomplishing very different goals than the cute plastic toys of his bicoastal friends.

White often talks about the "metaphysical" nature of his paintings, something I recognize in the works of De Chirico or Edward Wadsworth. I think Wadsworth's later surrealist landscapes are notable because they deal exclusively in matters of a kind of heightened awareness that makes ordinary objects inexplicably present and significant. It would be easy to dismiss his seashells if you've never had a lucid dream. What we see that isn't shown— the irrational, the metaphysical; is the true content of his paintings.

The misfits of veristic surrealism: De Chirico, Balthus, Magritte, Delvaux, Wadsworth (even Freud and Hopper); employ an innate grammar of paranoid recognition. First, there is psychologically potent content with little regard to the pretenses of automatic techniques. We are dealing with images of things; things that are irrational but understood. And secondly, maybe most importantly, we see a focus on the intimate experiences of paying attention. Metaphysical painting is about the excitement that comes with simple perception, and its habitual faults.

Eric White's best work has a similar fetish for lucidity, along with the waking daymare quality that seems to occupy the other side of the coin. The cropping and segmentation of space in his collages suggest the same logic that the mind employs to make sense of the chaos of dreams, or transcend the limitations of linear time. I suppose what he is doing could be called Pop Surrealism. I feel that he sometimes teeters on inspiration, falling back from time to time on the tired conventions of his hipster colleagues. But as far as his ability to successfully wield the subconscious toward serious surreal work is concerned, he is without peer in his time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Day In The Life of the Four Zen Emotions

I was driving in my car in a thunderstorm and was lucky enough to catch "A Day In The Life" on the radio. Something caught me this time listening to it; the unstuck-in-time quality of the song's structure. John Lennon sleepwalks through the news, with a kind of sadness whose clarity is only really grasped once someone close to you has died. In those weeks afterward when the line between life and not life is for a time, tangible.

This thought itself has me searching around the room for Paul Schrader's "Transcendental Style in Film", in a near panic that I might have sold it. Here it is! And with it a passage that I think of nearly everyday:

Where the mood of the moment is solitary and quiet it is called sabi. When the artist is feeling depressed or sad, and this particular feeling of emptiness catches a glimpse of something rather ordinary and unpretentious in its incredible "suchness," the mood is called wabi. When the moment evokes a much more intense, nostalgic sadness connected with autumn and the vanishing away of the world, it is called aware. And when the vision is hinting at an unknown never to be discovered, the mood is called yugen.
From Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen, p. 176.

Do you recognize these Zen emotions? This feels like a short summation of all the most profound moments of my life; minus the absurdist emotions that one finds exploring the Paranoid-Critical Method. Notice how strangely the definition of yugen matches that untranslatable German word sehnsucht. Sehnsucht being a word I tend to associate with C. S. Lewis, and the feeling one gets while reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and the children first hear the phrase, "Aslan is on the move." I remember that profound moment when the curtain was pulled back and, decades between us, feeling that unfathomable palpitation of the heart that comes with witnessing the miraculous world. Of course, C. S. Lewis and I have very different explanations for such experiences. This does not lessen the novelty of C. S. Lewis, Bruce Cockburn, and I wondering where the lion's are.

Let's step back one quantum leap from yugen and contemplate the aware of "A Day In The Life."

Let's imagine Lennon as the sleepwalker slowly treading his way through The Daily Mail, catching a glimpse of the transience of the world as it approaches the autumn of the late 60's, and above it all thinking, "I'd love to turn you on so you could see what I'm seeing." The feeling swells, becoming an apocalyptic cacophony.

Then suddenly, the alarm rings. And here we are waking to another day in the morass of conventional daily consciousness; the true sleepwalkers, imagining that our rat race has some prize of substance for us in the end. Leading to such a simple, beautiful line, "And somebody spoke and I went into a dream."

This does two things. It introduces to kids everywhere, in a tiny pop song, that "real life" is the fantasy. Every once and a while in this short life you will suddenly waken to the world; a deep wakefulness that will cast into doubt all previous notions of what consciousness really is. If you are lucky. It is a tragic realization, but one that has the potential of correcting you over and over again, and giving you the power to share that glimpse with others.

Secondly, it really nails why the cut-up, medley structure idiosyncratic of mature Beatles work is so powerful. It shows that the pop song, and all its conventions, can be a delivery system for sophisticated irony and a working language for the cinema of the mind. Of course, none of this is really surprising. Eisenstein's editing existed in Beethoven before the motion picture camera was ever invented. However, the Beatles seemed to use the cinematic power of music very self-consciously. Geoff Emerick's synesthetic engineering, the schizophrenic toggling between Lennon and McCartney's writing, George Martin's musique concrete contributions that he began while working with the Goon Show. "And somebody spoke and I went into a dream" is Bergman or Bunuel. So many of the psychedelic Beatles classics have this oneiric power. What is Revolution 9, if not an experimental film we can only see in our minds?

"A Day In The Life" has that Zen sense of aware that makes a person feel unstuck in time. That we are aware, in the English language sense, only sporadically. It is a wrinkle in time that connects us tenuously to the moments we are truly alive, when so often in time we are tossed about as if at sea. Lost in the woods. Sleepwalking.

Which is to say: The Beatles are fucking great.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Parajanov Biopic

Poking around the twitterverse and discovered there is a Parajanov biopic coming out by Armenian-French director Serge Avedikian. Hopefully, this will spread awareness of one of history's greatest directors. Can't wait!

Here is another link I found. Some short films by Parajanov. You can see him preparing for Sayat Nova, visually.

Friday, January 20, 2012

André Kertész, Satiric Dancer, 1929

There are so many disturbing things about this murky photograph. One, is that somehow her limbs do not look like her own. Her body twists into a swastika shape on a tina sofa, as viewed from somewhere in the air. Her porcelain contortions are mocked by no less than a statue, a framed portrait of the statue, possibly a scribbled drawing tacked to the wall. Is it a come on? The room is dark; bare but decrepit. She's wearing a silky black dress and an Elizabethan collar. The kind of cone around the neck dogs wear so as not to scratch, but black and covered in fur.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Arcades

Over the last year, I have been investigating the warping of space in images. It began as an exercise in trying to understand the feeling of wide lenses vs. long lenses, and as a special curiosity toward the flatness of certain medium format photographs. I am still not entirely able to pin down what “it” is. It usually has something to do with the deep focus of the image, the composition in relationship to the eyes of the subject, and the apparent absence of barrel distortion.

In another way, what gives an image a different sense of presence? What are our subconscious clues that we are looking at a photograph, and how is that separate from how we construct images in our minds?

Cropped images can eliminate barrel distortion, or sample a flatter range. I believe that the landscapes we see in our mind tend to be collages. When you look at a drawing or painting, space is affected by insertion of things that were not; subjects and objects paid attention to a moment at a time.

Scannography follows this same wandering mind. Distortion of objects is not a matter of space, but of time. There is a flatness discovered in the simplification of drawing. A broadness and evenness to lighting impossible to source. A dreamy shallow depth of field to mimic the vagueness of memory. And a bizarre extended technique of creating new nameless anatomical features by gestures of the body through time; Bellmeresque distortions of the body.

I’ve been looking back into Cezanne, the cubists, and the Weimar Republic painters for new insights. New to me, anyways. This added to my permanent fascinations with 8-bit video games, Meatyard, Fellini, and Parajanov.

This constant awareness of space has begun to affect my dreams. Last night I was lying about with random friends playing these large handheld arcade games. About the size and shape of the new Lite-Brites. Some strange version of Ducktails, I believe. In the bottom third of the screen, the characters raced in an alley in front of a picket fence. Behind, and so above, were suburban houses uphill with all manner of strange repeating structures and rolling obstacles tumbling down. All moved sidescreen, which in the heat of the action would become live. Short spiraling picket fences, up the side of the hill, with photographic brothers inside throwing stones as we ran in duck suits through the alley. In my lucid awareness, I rewound and reviewed the memory, again and again, until it became too unstable to be conclusive.

Meditation in life is merely practice for the dream world.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flash/One Car Funeral

Flash/One Car Funeral (Instrumental)
Recorded August 2010

Allison/Bottle Rocket

Allison/Bottle Rocket (Instrumental)
Recorded June 2010

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bowed Piano and Universal Brotherhood

Scouring the internet for an example of a piano with a Turkish stop, to no avail, and discovered this video:

All those hands! It amazes me there are still new things, everywhere.

Reading Schiller's "Ode to Joy".

Freude, Freude, treibt den Raeder
In der grossen Weltenuhr.

When I think of universal brotherhood, I think about Whitman asking why are all the best poets are nationalist poets, alluding to Goethe. America and Germany both being sort of fabricated and disintegrated nations, respectively. Are these intense feelings of universal brotherhood really an expression of profound loneliness and awareness of the emptiness of national boundaries? The beginnings of capitalist atomization? Maybe this is why Hopper is always sited as the ultimate expression of the American national character. There's real empathy, and there are grand delusions. I had always associated these feelings with anti-nationalism, universal humanhood. Are loneliness, jingoism, and universal brotherhood the same emotion with different cognitive superficialities pasted on top? The difference in outcomes is not superficial.

Those who dwell in the great circle,
Pay homage to sympathy!
It leads to the stars,
Where the Unknown reigns.

Other thoughts: Looking for examples of turquerie in contemporary American culture. Appropriating for the purposes of colonization.