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  • - * 13 DOORS OF X* *Meeah Williams* The Barking Cat Press * 2015 Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA copyright 2015 Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat...

Monday, December 30, 2013

=some stuff done on the way to Florida & back & in-between=

My husband and I took a road trip to Florida for the Christmas holidays. We usually fly, but the SS-like trauma that is associated with airport travel these days convinced us to actually see the country we usually travel blindly above this year. I found that stitching postcard collages was a relaxing way to pass the time as we drove from Brooklyn to the Sunshine State. Some of the stuff I stitched into the cards above was picked up along the way.

In whatever hotels we'd stop to spend the night I'd be sure to tear a few pages out of the Gideon Bibles that were left in the night-table drawers. I painted these birds on them—fallen sparrows as I think of them—and then I stitched the pages together. Did I feel bad about defacing Holy Bibles that weren't mine? In a word, editing out all the qualifications, Yes. But then I figure who is going to miss a couple of pages out of Leviticus or Jeremiah, let alone even look at these Bibles? In my own way, I'm spreading the good word, too, after all. I suppose the road to Hell is paved with such dodgy rationalizations. Still, I can't help but think I'm doing God's work, as if He needs the help.

Above: a couple of journal pages I did during the trip. I call these "palimpsest paintings" because they are actual painted-over journal pages recording day to day events. I like the way the stuff underneath half-shows through, adding visual and textual complexity to the painted over surface. The second painting is based on a period portrait of William Blake. I've no idea what made me think of him, of all people, but so it goes. Easily apparent is the fact that I used up a lot of thread on this trip. Mile by mile, stitch by stitch I traveled. I couldn't have done it without my husband, who did all of the driving, while my hands and eyes were mostly in my lap.  

Here are another couple of journal pages. The first is a collage with notes from a short story I was writing during the trip as well as a found poem made from newspaper clippings. The second is another palimpsest painting—a view from our hotel room in Tallahassee with another found poem, this one ripped out of a (defaced) New Yorker magazine from last year (not mine either, as it happens).

Friday, December 20, 2013


—this one heading for Elgin, Illinois with a real-life Brooklyn pigeon feather on it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013



—finally broke down & bought myself one of those Gelli-Arts monoprinting things that i've seen so many people using (and raving about). i called it a christmas gift to myself. if nothing else, it's worth its cost ($26 for the 9x12 size) in the fun i've already had with it. these two prints are from yesterday.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

=Books recently read=

The Remains of the Day. Mr. Stevens, as he's almost exclusively known throughout this novel, is an English butler of the old school, when butlering wasn't just a profession, but an art and a calling and butlers devoted themselves fully to a house and a master. Mr. Stevens devoted himself to Darlington House and to Lord Darlington, a man who had some unfortunately misguided old world notions, or so it seems in retrospect, about fair play vis-a-vis the harsh punishment meted out to Germany after World War I. His judgement proved even worst when it came to dealing with Hitler just before the start of World War II. Anyway, those days are long over, Darlington is dead, and the house has passed into the hands of a nouveau riche American businessman. Mr. Stevens, himself now advanced in years, is taking a motoring vacation and reflecting on his long career, which, he hopes, stands up to the fine example of butlership exhibited by his father before him. As it happens, being the devoted servant he is, Mr. Stevens has a practical goal in mind for his journey. A meeting with a woman who some twenty years earlier was the head housekeeper at Darlington House. She and Mr. Stevens had locked horns on a number of occasions in ways that make it clear the issues weren't strictly professional. She eventually left to get married but that marriage is now apparently kaput and Mr. Stevens has arranged an interview at which he plans to offer the former Miss Kenton her old job back. As he gets closer and closer to his destination, Mr. Stevens replays events in his memory and realizes, or rather, he stops denying to himself how much he's always felt for Miss K—and how much Miss K seemingly felt for him. Eventually the two come face to face. Whether they reunite or not isn't quite the point of "The Remains of the Day" but rather that the regrets we have over how we lived our lives, the mistakes we made, the chances we didn't take aren't worth ruining what still remains of the light, however brief, even if it's only a sliver on the horizon before the final inevitable unending darkness descends. 

The Paper Garden. Poet Molly Peacock has written what is ostensibly a biography of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) but this book is also several other things as well, including an examination of the process and importance of creativity and craft as an enhancement of life, a work of history with an emphasis on the role of women in the 18th century, and, finally, personal anecdote, as Peacock links her 21st century life as an artist with that of her subject. Delany is credited as being the woman who "discovered" collage when she accidentally observed a fallen geranium petal lying beside some red paper and was struck with the inspiration to replicate the real flower with bits of colored papers. She was 72 at the time, deep in grief after the death of her much-loved second husband, and her discovery brought her back to life. Over the next dozen years or so, Delany made 985 of these incredibly beautiful and scientifically accurate floral mosaics, becoming a celebrated personage among painters, botanists, writers, aristocrats, and even a king and a queen (George III and Charlotte). 

Peacock traces the arc of Delany's long life to show how making stuff engages us with the world around us and how craft can keep us going through tough times, even open us up to an experience of existence deeper, richer, and more illuminating than what we had—and lost—before. By working creatively, Peacock asserts, whatever our medium or discipline, we can literally transform our lives through art, giving them form, meaning and beauty, no less than we transform the materials with which we work to make poems and paintings, needlepoint and sculptures, gardens both real and replicated in paper. In this sense, life and art are not only interchangeable, but the same thing. As a poet, Peacock writes not just informationally about her subject, but inspirationally, with passion and authority. If you weren't already so inclined, she makes you want to pick up a pencil or a sewing needle, a garden shears or a scissors and set out right now to make something.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

=This holiday season, remember...=

Keeping you under surveillance for 
your own good.

*courtesy of the N.S.A. 
and the National Santa Association

=red cat=

Saturday, December 14, 2013

=american martyr envelope altar=

—heading for Finland as soon as I can work up the resolve to make it to the post office.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

=Warholian non-letters=

The third in a series of "non-letters" (the first two have already been dispatched) consisting of an envelope constructed out of a single used sheet of typing paper, which has been painted and sewn shut. As the words stamped on the back unabashedly, proudly, even hysterically advertise: "there is nothing to open!"/"there is nothing inside!" In other words, the envelope is the message, such as there is a message at all. Or, in still other words, to paraphrase Warhol: "If you want to know who sent this, what she has to say, just look at the surface of her envelope and there she is. There isn't anything more."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

=End McSlavery Now!=

For the first time in my life I wish I ate the poisoned shit they serve at McDonald's just so I can boycott eating it today. 

Go McStrikers! 

Time to stop feeding our children garbage that leads to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and a lifetime of bad eating habits--and then building Ronald McDonald cancer houses to assuage corporate guilt and cook up good PR. 

Time to stop tempting toddlers in the door like pederasts with cheap plastic gew-gews mass-produced in Chinese factories where they've got people cowed to accept even greater injustice than they've managed yet to get them to accept over here. 

Time to pay employees a wage that doesn't require them to go on public assistance just to make ends meet after working a 40-hour week. 

How much does it actually cost to produce one of those disgusting sludge-patties? Certainly nothing close to what they charge for it, you can bet your McNuggets on that. Cut your disgustingly elevated profit margins. Shave a little off the stockholder's earnings if necessary, you greedy bastards. Stop making pigs of yourselves. Stop hogging the trough you corporate fat-asses. The only thing more nauseating and unhealthy than your "food" is you.

Why should people work at all if they can't make a living working? When they finally wake up, they won't--and that will be the end of the day for you.

=haiga sorta=

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

=Books recently read=

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. A collection of five short essays in which Doris Lessing tries to make sense of the fact that the world is so messed up and has always been messed up and will likely continue being messed up in spite of us knowing the reason why it's so messed up. She writes, "Looking back over my life, what I see is a succession of great mass events, boilings up of emotion, of wild partisan passion, that pass, but while they last it is not possible to do more than think: 'These slogans, or these accusations, these claims, these trumpetings, quite soon they will seem to everyone ridiculous and even shameful.' Meanwhile, it is not possible to say so. One mass movement, each a set of mass opinions, succeeds another. And each breeds a certain frame of mind: violent, emotional, partisan, always suppressing facts that don't suit it, lying, and making it impossible to talk in the cool, quiet, sensible low-keyed tone of voice which, it seems to me, is the only one that can produce truth." 

If there is to be any hope for change, what we must do is take "that deliberate step into objectivity and away from wild emotionalism, deliberately choosing to see ourselves as, perhaps, a visitor from another planet might see us." 

She touches on the methodology and effectiveness of brainwashing, both consciously employed and unconsciously brought to bear on each of us by governments, by the media, by the community, the social group, and the family. These pressures to accept conformity are all but irresistible if we don't anticipate them beforehand, recognize them in ourselves and others, and consciously and consistently fight against them to keep our minds clear and our emotions from being manipulated. We're going to have to teach ourselves to do this, however, because even in a so-called "democratic" society the status quo has a vested interest in keeping you from thinking for yourself. 

"What government, anywhere in the world, will happily envisage its subjects learning to free themselves from governmental and state rhetoric and pressures? Passionate loyalty and subjection to group pressure is what every state relies on." 

Yet it is only by breaking the enchantment of conformity that we can escape the reactionary "us vs. them" mentality that has dominated human behavior and that has doomed the human race to repeat the same catastrophic mistakes since the beginning of recorded history. We can see that history written plainly. We lament it. So why don't we finally wake up and change? Well for one thing it feels good to the majority of people to stick with the group, to wallow in communal emotionalism, no matter how squalid, sometimes especially because such mass emotions are so squalid and stupid and sadistic. 

"Everything that has ever happened to me has taught me to value the individual, the person who cultivates and preserves her or his own ways of thinking, who stands out against group thinking, group pressures. Or who, conforming no more than is necessary to group pressures, quietly preserves individual thinking and development."

Yes, sounds like a good idea. Sadly, despite Lessing's hopeful note at the end of this collection, my guess is that one in every hundred million people will actually put her wisdom into practice. I mean, Socrates said much the same thing 2,500 years ago.

Angels & Insects. These books consists of two novellas, "Morpho Eugenia" and "The Conjugal Angel." In "Morpho Eugenia" William Adamson has just returned from a long research expedition through the rain-forests, far from civilized England. It's the late 19th century and the theories of Charles Darwin are electrifying the intellectual world. Some see Darwin's work as elevating man to a liberating new plateau of understanding; others see it as devaluing all of creation into a meaningless, godless clockwork mechanism and redefining man as just another beast. Adamson is staying at the home of a fairly well-to-do patron until he can fund a new expedition. He's been marked by the savagery and beauty he's witnessed in the jungle but not so much that he cannot appreciate the refinements and beauties of civilized England, not to mention the charms of the Alabaster daughters, one in particular. He falls in love, thinks his affections hopeless, finds they aren't, and ends up married to a woman above his own social station. His father-in-law promises to fund Adamson's next expedition—but when?—since the babies start coming fast and furious. Meanwhile Adamson grows less and less enchanted with his new life, his wife, and his father-in-law, who, though unfailingly good-natured, belabors poor Adamson with his repetitive literary attempts to defend the old religious order, seeing in the beauty and functioning of the world a divine order of some kind, a working of God's invisible hand. Adamson, though, has seen how disorderly life can be in the jungle, where nature is both horrifically prolific and utterly amoral, where for every one experiment in life that survives, a thousand others perish. In the end, he discovers that not only is it a jungle "out there" but also right at home, where his wife is reverting to a shockingly amoral animality in their conjugal bed and this when he's not in it. To make matters worse, she's doing it with a member of her own family. Luckily for Adamson, he's been slowly but surely falling in love with one of the servants, an intelligent, free-thinking woman who's just as interested in biology as he is and every bit as eager to escape that perverse hothouse of dysfunction and hypocrisy and head for the jungle where things are what they seem, be they ever so brutal.

"The Conjugal Angel" is also set in the late 19th century and deals with another consequence of the general crisis of faith brought on by the new scientific understanding that was then sweeping the intellectual world: spiritualism. A circle of like-minded people gather regularly to conduct seances where they hope to make contact with the departed. One of the group is a woman who was once betrothed to a close friend of Alfred Tennyson. The young man died and she's been in mourning for him ever since, though she's been remarried now for years. The "conjugal angel" of the title refers to a theory set forth by Emanuel Swedenborg that we each have a soul-mate to whom we'll be joined in a kind of eternal orgasm when we die. The eccentric Mrs. Jesse thinks its the man she was betrothed to and lost and she's trying to find him again in the Great Beyond. She's in for a surprise, though, when he eventually does show up via the medium used to channel his spirit. In the meantime, Tennyson himself feels the stirrings in the aether as the spirit of his old friend comes closer. It turns out he loved Arthur, too, loved him quite a bit more than as "just" a friend, as evidenced by the extended love-poem he wrote him after his untimely death, "In Memorium." So it turns out it was a love-triangle, after all; is it Tennyson's body, not Mrs. Jesse's, that the angel Arthur awaits in the afterlife in order to complete a conjugal love for all eternity that neither of them dared while still mortal? 

Friday, November 29, 2013

=squirrels & frogs=

=Mail art received: Richard Canard, Carbondale, IL=

"Upon occasion I will either trip over or stumble thru the truth but I certainly try to avoid getting any on me." —Richard Canard

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that correspondent Richard Canard might well be the La Rochefoucauld of mail art. It's still possible, but just as possible, in an American vein and in light of his most recent piece-- in particular, the aphorism extracted above, is that he might even better be thought of as the contemporary Mark Twain of mail art. Aside from being hilarious, the genius of his observation on the "truth" is that it offers wry wisdom in a variety of contexts. For instance, you can as easily imagine these words in the mouth of a Socrates as you can in the mouth of the most cynical, self-serving member of Congress—with diametrically opposed messages!

The card itself, cut from a box of Ring Pop candy, is about as eye-poppingly colorful as you could wish. Actual ring pops, alas, look nothing like those pictured here, but that's the point of advertising, after all, and, often as not, art, too. It makes things look bigger, brighter, tastier than they can ever be in real life. But more than that, this vibrantly-colored card with its promise of impossibly sweet delight makes you happy just looking at it. Even without the exclamation mark, you hear it: RING POP!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

=Books recently read=

Bringing Up the Bodies. Henry VIII is tired of his second wife. He's already gotten into a pile of trouble with the pope and Europe's Catholic kings for divorcing his first wife and forcing her into exile just so he could exchange her for Anne Boleyn. Now, the sad fact is, he's just not that into Anne anymore. She's turned into a rather unpleasant piece of work: a pinched, sharp-tongued shrew. What's more, she can't seem to bear Henry a son, she may be sleeping around with members of the court, and, most important of all, Henry has the hots for a new hottie, the otherwise drab Jane Seymour. So he directs Thomas Cromwell, master of dirty deeds done dirt cheap, to make short work of Anne. No messy divorce or lingering exile this time around. Henry wants Anne's head in a basket. Cromwell, who has his own past scores to settle, sets about orchestrating the downfall of those among the uppity nobility who made the mistake of treading on his toes. He rounds them up, subjects them to some enhanced interrogation, gets the confessions he needs and, before you can say "bob's your uncle," they're all in the Tower awaiting execution for treason. Thunk goes Anne's head, Henry makes a beeline for Jane, and Thomas Cromwell ends up looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. Book Three in the trilogy—Wolf Hall was the first—still to come.  

The Master. Henry James is "The Master" of the 
title, a writer who devoted his life to keeping the world at arm's distance the better to observe and write about it in long novels full of labyrinthine sentences whose purpose seems to further protect James from the very world he describes. Colm Toibin directs the novelistic gaze back at James in this novel and the picture we get is of a man so deeply in the closet one wonders if James himself even realized he was in the closet. His father was overbearing, his older brother William was overbearing, his younger sister Alice was overbearing in a passive aggressive way, and his mother was cripplingly possessive and protective. Covering a few years of James's middle age at the turn of the 20th century, and reaching into the past, "The Master" shows James turning the real-life characters he observed in his own non-life into fiction. James himself pines for a few of the guys that cross his path, but his boy-crushes remained strictly platonic, according to Toibin, anyway. He's reminiscent of Warhol in this respect, who famously claimed he "preferred to watch" than participate. The Henry James depicted here, however, leaves you wondering if he ever had the experience necessary to make an informed decision on the matter. You have to figure that James would be horrified to find himself observed in this way, even if it is, by and large, a sympathetic portrait of a man who elicits in the reader more pity than admiration. Actually, that in itself would probably horrify the dignified, reserved, and almost always in control author.

The Fifth Child. Harriet and David are two of a kind. They both dream of getting married, buying a big house, and having a big family. The first four children arrive in rapid and happy succession; it's the fifth time that proves to be no charm. Ben, as they come to call him, is a problem even before he's born. He feels like he's practically trying to kung-fu his way out of Harriet's body. She's so exhausted, drained, and depressed trying to carry him to term that she practically begs her obstetrician to induce labor. When she finally delivers herself of her burden, Harriet feels a guilty hatred of her baby. He's no charmer either, not in looks or behavior. He's got a ferocious appetite, an unnerving stare, and he's growing by leaps and bounds. Not even a mother's eyes can rose-tint the picture: Harriet thinks Ben looks like an evil troll. Before long, he's terrorizing the family with his roaring demands, bad temper, and overall malevolent aura. Hardly a toddler, he strangles a dog. Harriet is persuaded that the best thing to do is send Ben away to an institution. Soon, though, riddled with guilt, Harriet eventually rescues Ben from this institution where she finds him warehoused with other misfit children. Ben lies in a cell, wrapped in a straitjacket, and perpetually drugged. Harriet brings her son back home and once again, to the disapproval and skepticism of the rest of the family, tries to "civilize" him. The rest of the family is right. Her efforts are of little avail. Ben grows larger, stronger, uglier. He becomes a juvenile delinquent. Harriet's other children decide to leave home, preferring to live  with relatives rather than their brute of a brother. David and Harriet age beyond their years, grow distant from each other, and find that their dream of "a big happy family" now seems like one of life's cruel jokes when compared to the horror of their reality. Harriet comes to believe that Ben is an "alien,"  born as the result of some random DNA still in the gene pool and inherited from a time when other races walked the earth. She's felt this way to some extent all along and slowly but surely, first David, and then others in the family come to feel the same way. Harriet's convinced that the only ones that can't admit such a thing are the professionals—the doctors and bureaucrats and law enforcement officials—even if they, too, suspect something of the sort. On the surface, it seems a crazy theory—that non-humans walk among us, throwbacks from a time of trolls, gnomes, ice-giants, extraterrestrial and underground dwellers but it does seem to explain a lot about the state of the world, the origin and the persistence of evil. It helps explain bank executives, for instance, and such institutions as the U.S. Senate. 

The Heart of a Dog. A starving mongrel on his last leg, shivering in the Russian cold, staggers from the scant shelter of a doorway to accept a sausage from the hand of a kindly stranger. It must be true: every dog has his day. Because in short order, the one-time scroungy cur is now the sleek, well-fed house pet of a prominent physician. But the good doctor has ulterior, less than altruistic motives. He doesn't want the dog for a pet so much as he wants him as a test subject for his latest experiment, implanting a human heart and pituitary gland into the poor beast. The operation is only a partial success: the dog becomes only partially human. By which author Mikhail Bulgakov satirizes the experiment of the Russian Revolution which, in his drolly reactionary, counter-revolutionary view, tried something similar by raising the proletariat up to the status of the educated, professional, and ruling classes with the unexpected and undesired result that equality was achieved all right—everyone was equally miserable. The dog-turned-man is brutish, cowardly, undisciplined, a slave to his baser appetites. As the story progresses, there seems no end to the havoc and chaos he causes in the doctor's once well-ordered and useful life. The moral, as it was in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, is that man had better beware when it comes to fooling around with the natural order of things. Both doctors have created monsters—one from helpless corpses, the other from a common dog. Bulgakov's novel, published in the days when the pros and cons of the revolution could still be discussed without being automatically sent to the Gulag, is a lot more humorous than Shelley's grim cautionary tale, but considering the Stalinist purges that were soon to come, it was Bulgakov and intellectuals like him who had more reason to be terrified of what was heading their way on the day dogs came to rule the world.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Second Coming

I always see him with a dog,
a mid-sized dog
of indeterminate breed,
not a border collie,
but something like that,
short-haired, though.
I see him doing stand-up
at a third-rate comedy club
in a Hoboken strip mall
the room is never more than one-third full;
he’s textbook
at handling hecklers.
I see him waiting out his time on death row,
gaining weight, going gray;
he never files an appeal,
never claims he didn’t do it
doesn’t pen a memoir;
his crime is unspeakable;
when the day comes
he’ll refuse a last meal,
speak no last words.
When I picture him back from the dead
he’s an old man on a bicycle
riding a tottering line
a loaf of bread under his arm;
he’s a Chinese guy collecting plastic empties
on a winter street;
the homeless wreck
propping himself against a fire hydrant
to vomit in the gutter
He’s that old woman picking her way
over the busted-up sidewalk
on Nostrand Avenue
the wind fluffing her cinnamon-colored hair
revealing a bald spot.

—Emily Szabo Birch

Thursday, November 21, 2013

=mail art received from Borderline Grafix, Austin, Texas=

At first glance, I thought this envelope was from some official city agency or other—the water bureau, perhaps, informing us of the importance of saving water, or the sanitation department, warning us to curb our dogs. I thought it was a serendipitous example where art is made accidentally in the course of some nameless, faceless entity doing something mundane, ie. such as sending out a mass-mailing that almost every recipient is guaranteed to ignore. My first instinct—simultaneous to my first glance—was that in this case I could use those Warholian photo-booth style fire hydrants in my mail-art. I was about to go for my scissors. Then a closer look at the envelope revealed that what I held in my hand was already mail-art.

And that is the crux of the genius behind these pieces from Borderline Grafix. They look like art that has come about unintentionally, by accident or chance, art that no one has actually made, never mind contemplated beforehand. They are a manifestation of Fluxus, which, in short, is a way of erasing the line between art and life, so that an envelope from the water bureau or the sanitation department can be as much art as anything hanging in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's supremely difficult to make art that looks like no one has made it at all. One has to be a kind of invisible magician working behind the scenes, bringing together elements while erasing his or her own hand in the conjuring. BG makes it look easy in these pieces, which is the hardest thing of all. 

Here is a page of stickers featuring entirely ordinary objects which, lifted and isolated from their normal contexts, are reinvested with a numinous strangeness. I am reminded of what Max Beckmann wrote about his own work: "I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting." Or what Jesus said in the Gospel of Thomas: "Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed."     

Next comes a collage featuring an encore appearance of the repeat image of the fire hydrant on the envelope. 

These gritty, faded shots, taken from five different angles, suggest a series of crime scene photos. But what is the crime? Does it have to do with the two women in the photo above? The compass gives us a direction, but a direction to where? There is someone present behind the scenes—the guilty party, perhaps?—we can see his or her legs from under the curtain, so to speak, but who do they belong to? And why the fire hydrant? It's an important source of water, especially in the city, both for cooling off in the summer and, of course, for putting out fires in an emergency. It's a place where you can't park, where your dog lifts its leg, where drunks vomit. The fire hydrant is suggestively cruciform; it gives life-saving water as the blood of Christ from the cross is said to save souls. This collage doesn't just tell us a story—it tells us an infinite number of stories.

Finally, here are some "Fluxus bucks"—an ironic conjoining of art and money, a purely imaginary currency that is perfectly beautiful and absolutely worthless. In a culture that commodifies everything it can possibly make a buck on, including what should be beyond commidification, art and love and revolution, to name a handful, Fluxus artists don't wait for their work to become worth something on the market. Like good capitalists, they cut out the middle man. They literally make their art money. They're counterfeiters, and, like all counterfeiters, they undermine the system.   

Again, as the envelope mimicked an official correspondence, so these Fluxus bucks play with the idea of authorized legal tender. At first glance, you might easily mistake these bucks as real foreign currency, something you might be able to spend overseas somewhere... maybe Freedonia? You have to take a second, closer look to see that there's nowhere on the planet you can buy so much as a pack of gum even with a purse stuffed with this paper.

Taken as a whole, this is a fantastic, thought-provoking collection of materials from a talented "invisible" artist. Before now, I hadn't received anything else quite like it and that's saying a lot. Thank you Borderline Grafix!    


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

=paper plate memorial=

The first paper plate I ate off of the morning after learning that Doris Lessing had died, November 17th, at 94. I came late to an appreciation of Doris Lessing, real late, reading her for the first time only two years ago, a novel I picked up on a whim from the Brooklyn Public Library..."Love, Again." Until then, the predominant feeling I had about Doris Lessing could be roughly summed up as "What could this old lady possibly have to say to me?" But she won a Nobel Prize, after all, and I figured as any supposedly well-read, intelligent ex-English major, I should have at least a passing familiarity with something the woman wrote.  "Love, Again" isn't even a major novel in the Doris Lessing canon, but after forty or so pages, I was hooked. What an idiot I was, but if there's one good thing about waking up an idiot is that you have another whole day in which to change enough to be a little less of one by the time you go to bed that night.

Since that first novel I've read "Shikasta" and a bunch of her short stories and, as synchronicity would have it, I "happened" to borrow "The Fifth Child" from the library less than a week before she died. I'm going to read it next, after I finish Colm Toibin's "The Master." At some point soon, I'll tackle "The Golden Notebook," usually considered her defining masterpiece, although Lessing herself didn't think so; she favored the Canopus in Argos series, of which the excellent and thought-provoking "Shikasta" was the first installment.

When someone dies at an advanced age, it's a commonplace to console ourselves and others by pointing out what a long full life they lived, how we were lucky to have them around so long, that everyone should only be so fortunate, etc. But that really doesn't touch the essential thing, the true loss, which is that no matter how long a person has lived—10 years or 10,000-they are gone now and gone forever and the emptiness they leave behind will last an eternity. For better and for worse, we live in the present, we feel in the present, and the memory of past fullness can never entirely satisfy a present lack. A star in the sky is gone, snuffed out, what difference does it make if it shone yesterday or a thousand yesterdays before that? The dark isn't any less dark tonight for that. 

Somehow I got a kind of comfort just knowing that somewhere in the world Doris Lessing—with her acerbic wit, her wisdom, her special brilliance—was still alive. Now she isn't and the world seems a lesser place for the erasure.

I suppose in one sense I can be thankful for the ignorance I showed in not appreciating Doris Lessing much earlier in my life—I now have enough of her books still to read and enjoy to last me the rest of my life, even if I should be so lucky as to make it to ninety-four.

Monday, November 18, 2013

=mail art received, Vizma Bruns, Waitpinga, SA, Australia=

No sooner do I think that I'm beginning to get a handle on what mail-art is then I'm sent staggering drunkenly back to the proverbial--and literal--drawing board my dazzled eyes newly opened (yet again) to the infinitude of possibilities of what you can do--if, as Carl Jung once wrote, only you knew it. Today's instructional came in the form of this absolutely delightful package from artist Vizma Bruns who hails from the land of kangaroos, koalas, platypi, and other dadaistic anomalies...Australia. 

Here is the front of the envelope Vizma sent me as well as a card representing a "layering experiment with my almost dead printer." I love the offset Warholian screenprint effect of this piece. It's cooler, creepier, more complex than if it were done "the right way," meaning, with all the lines matching and the printer working perfectly. It's the little accidents that creep into a work that, I find, make it unique, the random elements that produce revelations, insights, surprises, and that catch the occasional ghost which always avoids a more carefully controlled effort. After all, if you know exactly what you're going to do before you do it and then you execute that plan to a "t," well, congratulations, but what have you learned? To me, the best art, the most meaningful art, is also a record of the artist's journey in the act of creation, which, in effect, recreates that journey for the viewer. 

Above you see the back of Vizma's brilliantly colored envelope--a packet of virtual sunshine--a repurposed "gift tag," and a small pocket envelope folded from a Roma tourist map. All of it bright and cheerful, a kind of mental confetti. Below is a postcard collage titled "We are cool chicks." A wonderful striped effect that reminds me of a rolling television picture serves as the background, the kind of thing you don't seem to see anymore, now that I think of it. Maybe televisions aren't prone to that sort of malfunction anymore? I miss that rolling television effect of my childhood (which might explain a lot) and wish I could get my television to do it again since it would be better, more visually and mentally stimulating, I think, than most of the actual shows that are broadcast--a kind of Fluxus/Dada TV. 

Beneath the postcard is a little doodad that I found in one of the pockets of the handmade notebook you'll see pictured further below. There are all kinds of little stamps and pictures and papers hidden throughout Vizma's mail-art, the discovery of which, as you can imagine, is part of the fun. I'm still not sure I've found everything yet. It's a little like Christmas morning in an envelope.

Next is Vizma's first mail art zine. I've unfolded it so that you can see all 8 pages--and also so I could figure out how she did it without staples, glue, or thread. I've seen this kind of thing described in books and on the internet but I'm so inept at following instructions of these kinds...origami, knitting, tai chi, you name it, basically anything that requires me to know and coordinate my right hand with my left...that it's just hopeless. So it was great to have an actual example of a staple-free zine in my own human paws. But after unfolding it, examining it, scanning it, I couldn't figure out how to put it back together again and was nearly reduced to frustrated tears until my husband arrived and I thrust it at him, saying "Can you figure this out?!" Fortunately he did and I'll be making my first 8-page staple-freemail-art zine soon (so long as my husband is around to show me--again--how to fold it). In my excitement at learning how it's done I almost forget to enjoy Vizma's fun, non-sequential, exuberantly creative zine: 

Finally here is a beautiful little notebook of assorted stitched papers decorated with stamps and stickers and complete with an interior pocket; its, perfect as Vizma writes, for "lists, mail art, tabs, plotting revenge, whatever!!"

 I think anyone taking a look at this cabinet of curiosities in an envelope will easily understand why I'm such a huge fan of mail art and why it has moved front-and-center among the creative endeavors I most passionately practice. 

Thank you so much Vizma for this amazing work!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

=flowers on a plate=

=bird on a plate=

All in all, I rather wish I could finally quit my recurrent desire to paint such sentimental, trite subjects as birds and flowers, but, in spite of my best efforts to be postmodern and beyond all that, I cannot. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

=mail art received: Claudia McGill, Wyncote, PA=

From Pennsylvania artist Claudia McGill comes the eye-popping piece shown above, sides A and B. It is a repurposed card such as Claudia likes to use, often finding these chance canvases among her junk mail or cutting them postcard-sized from cereal boxes and the like. She repaints them, draws on them, collages them and then sends them back into the world as art. I was thrilled to get one of her pieces, which are highly valued, and quite rightly so, among the mail-art community. 

The image at the top features broadly applied strokes of vibrant paint in a series of frames and boxes that enclose the central subject: the diagonal black slash that doubles as a hill upon which a calligraphic human figure seems to be arrested in mid-climb by a contemplation of the sun poised over his/her shoulder. There are various asemic marks and scratches in the paint surface which add texture and mystery as well as a random-spray pattern of black paint that impart a dynamism to the overall composition.

The bottom image has an entirely different feel, with the clear demarcation between the left and right sides of the picture plane. The eye passes from one state (of mind) to the other as if from night to day and back again. The red box  on the right recalls Rothko, doubled, in this case, by the purple box that surrounds it, and departing from Rothko by the bands of color upon which the boxes float. On the left we have a spattered cosmos of starry white milky drops; indeed, a kind of milky way. Bits of text show through the "intergalactic" darkness giving tantalizing clues to a meaning we sense we will never entirely grasp. But take a step backward, so to speak, visually, and unify the image. What you get is a kind of alternative American flag, a retinal after-burn of the stars-and-stripes...glimpsed, this time around, by some Francis Scott Key of the future after a nuclear holocaust? Or, more hopefully, perhaps this can be the flag of the "other" America, the silenced, the sick, the poor, the still huddled, the still yearning to breathe free? 

Claudia's work encompasses a wide range of materials and formats: handmade books, collage, and fabric, to name several. All of it is marked by an exuberance of color, invention, and spirit. You can see more of her work at her blog, as well as links to some of her writing and thoughts on art and life. She even offers detailed descriptions of some of her techniques which you can try on your own. I highly recommend you pay her a visit: