Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Face in the Cloth

Seven days ago, in the morning, drinking coffee in the studio, looking at what I'd painted the day before, wondering what the new day would bring, whether the quail would appear, if the bobcat would follow, if the come-and-go fog would last until noon, if a trip to the market was needed or if, a thought much more satisfying as the sea breeze flipped cottonwood leaves yellow to blue in the breaking sun and lulled me with hopes that I could stay home all day, not shave, and continue working on questions of line and color the solution of which once solved, might lead to other similar questions for the same moment tomorrow, I noticed to my amazement an image at the far end of the room which fully woke me, sat me up straight, and held my gaze immobile for its appearance and its clarity. It seemed to come out of no where. I saw a face in the folds of a cloth laying over stacked boxes and canvasses.

The face, still there, I only found the nerve to photograph it this morning, is in profile. It is angular, as if sculpted, rough cut but sharp in stone, and the ochre dyed cotton duck on which the face is seen in dimension is transformed into a golden, opaque marble. The eyes of the face are heavy lidded, deep set and at first appear to be closed over boney, sunken cheeks, but they are half closed, and the shaded pupils look out as if in meditation concentrated both on what might be seen behind the eyes, as well as into a great distance beyond them. Whatever the face may be looking at, or not, seems not unpleasant. It is calm. The nose is large and hawkish, the nose is an axe. The small mouth is closed and set without rigidity. The chin is small but well formed and strong. The face in the cloth is handsome, it suggests androgyny tipped to the masculine. It is Romantic. It is a face that could have been drawn by Girodet or Géricault, it could have been a study of Napoleon for Baron Gros's painting of him crossing the Alps. It looks like Delacroix's Portrait of Chopin.

The expression on the face is one of repose, or death. And with my attempt to paint Elstir's "eclipses of perspective" on the wall, and his "completely circular castle" still on the easel resembling, in its present unfinished state, not the "exceptional purity of the atmosphere on a fine day" which delighted that artist, but rather the dark black round antique hand grenades thrown by anarchists and once used by cartoonists to great effect, I cannot help but think that the face resembles, imagination perhaps running wild, not the Shroud of Turin about which I know nothing, but Manray's photograph, and Helleu's drawing of Marcel Proust, on his deathbed. But shaved.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elstir's Harbor at Carquethuit

"...the eclipses of perspective."

On the beach in the foreground the painter had contrived that the eye should discover no fixed boundary, no absolute line of demarcation between land and sea. The men who were pushing down their boats into the sea were running as much through the waves as along the sand, which, being wet, reflected the hulls as if they were already in the water. The sea itself did not come up in an even line but followed the irregularities of the shore, which the perspective of the picture increased still further, so that a ship actually at sea, half-hidden by the projecting works of the arsenal, seemed to be sailing through the middle of the town; women gathering shrimps among the rocks had the appearance, because they were surrounded by water and because of the depression which, beyond the circular barrier of rocks, brought the beach (on the two sides nearest the land) down to sea-level, of being in a marine grotto overhung by ships and waves, open yet protected in the midst of miraculously parted waters. If the whole picture gave this impression of harbours in which the sea penetrated the land, in which the land was subaqueous and the population amphibian, the strength of the marine element was everywhere apparent; and round about the rocks, at the mouth of the harbour where the sea was rough, one sensed, from the muscular efforts of the fishermen and the slant of the boats leaning over at an acute angle, compared with the calm erectness of the warehouse, the church, the houses in the town to which some of the figures were returning and from which others were setting out to fish, that they were riding bareback on the water as though on a swift and fiery animal whose rearing, but for their skill, must have unseated them.

Excerpt From: Marcel Proust, Terence Kilmartin, C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Andreas Mayor & D.J. Enright. “In Search of Lost Time.” The Modern Library.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

To be near the Sea

On the train from Paris going out to Normandy, going to the conference in Cabourg, I may have told you, forgive me if I have... It was way past Évreux where the landscape is overwhelmingly lush with fields, tree banks, scattered farms, estates, calendar pages of the beautifully managed French landscape. I'd been thinking of where I'd end up after the year was done, where I'd live, whether I would stay in France or return to California, knowing full well that returning would be the choice. But where?

I rode along and dreamed. I liked the look of Normandy. Summer here was cool and pleasant. I imagined my father were he alive sitting in his chair watching a football game asking me as I told him of my trip, if I'd been to Normandy, why hadn't I gone to Omaha Beach? I would have answered there was there was no need, the sense of conflict could be touched through the glass of the train windows. I imagined Panzer formations coming through the trees, knights chasing peasants, Golo chasing Genevieve de Brabant, I thought of all the bones in the fields and under the dirt along the tracks, I was close to Deauville or Trouville.

The train came over a hill, passed through a dark copse through which a vector of the sea opened up, a view of water appeared through the hills, a puramid of darker blue water below an inverted pyramid of lighter blue sky, the two forming a diamond with the afternoon sun sparkling through the gem like the bright reflection from a much greater light behind the sun, a light shining from a very great distance, a great light of the universe surrounding everything, and all the green vegetation was blurred by the moving train, branches and twigs whipping past but pointing forward to the pyramid of the sky and the sea....ah, home I thought!

So yes, The Coast. Even as the sea rises and eats Venice and Carmel. We will sail out on the tide.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Self-portrait, 1981

My mother knitted the sweater.

Interview with Mark Baer

Patou Joy

Juan-Carlos d'Urudel y Machado

A recent letter included links to a video discussion by the historian and biographer Anka Muhlstein about Marcel Proust and his regard for Balzac. Muhlstein's comparisons of Proust's character Charlus with Balzac's Vautrin, reminded me as I watched and listened and twisted a torn leaf of Thai, (Queen of Siam) basil under my nose, of another letter received months earlier from an agitated friend in France, who wrote that he was so overwhelmed by the account of an incident experienced by a mutual friend, that he could not rest until he recounted our friend's story, as best he could, almost verbatim he said, to me: It follows...
He woke and opened his iPad. Something had upset him in the middle of the night, he could not remember what. The letter from his friend cheered him. It described a dinner party given by a writer of travel novels and mentioned another guest at the party, a woman from Hollywood whose French was better than her English, and whose blond hair he observed, as he listened to her talking to the hostess, was the color of lemon juice and butter, and the perfect complement to her perfume, which clung to his hand after they'd met, Patou Joy. 
He remembered the smell of Patou Joy as he read his friend's letter. He put the letter down. He'd tricked one night with a boy who wore Patou Joy. An argument at home with Miguel, his lover, which began at the bottom of a bottle of wine, had escalated to the point of violence. After sweeping up a thrown glass, Miguel had left with the dog and the car, they'd been gone two days. 
He went out the second night and met the boy who wore Patou Joy. He approached the boy on the street, in front of a bar, at closing. He'd noticed the boy earlier, sitting alone at the bar, reading a book written in Spanish. The boy was small but fetching. Muscular, wirey, tight. They made eye contact, once. When he told N about the boy on the phone a month later he softened the description of the boys features in an attempt at humor, and likened the boy, who had left boyhood behind, to Audrey Hepburn's younger brother with 5 o'clock shadow. 
He'd not noticed that the boy carried a little dog inside the ankle length coat the boy wore, a calf skin coat, stitched with elaborate embroidery and bone buttons carved with death heads and the iron cross. Afghani, Pakistani. Goat hair fringed the collar and cuffs. He thought the boy exotic, as clever as he appeared disheveled.
He went up to the boy and said hello.
"Hello", said the boy.
"What are you reading? he asked. 
" 'Poesías completas' by Antonio Machado. I prefer Garcia Lorca but Antonio Machado was my uncle. Do you know him?"
"No....I know some Garcia Lorca...I love your coat", he replied. "I hear old music looking at your coat. What's that you're wearing? What cologne?"
"Hah! Patou Joy of course! My mamma's Patou Joy. Here it is." said the boy, pulling a bottle of Patou Joy out of the pocket of the coat. "I took it from her dressing table. She will think the maid did not pack it."
The book of poems came out of the coat with the Patou Joy and fell to the sidewalk. The boy ignored the book, unscrewed the cap of the perfume bottle and waved the bottle in the air as if giving benediction. The little dog scrambled to stay in the boy's arms. "This is mama's perfume. This is her coat. Here is her doggie. This is Chica."
He picked up the book and asked the boy where he was from. "Montevideo", the boy replied. "Mama has gone home to Punta del Este and left me and Chica alone...Antonio Machado was friends of Gracia Lorca but they were not lovers."
He flipped through the book, he held on to it. "My name is Juan-Carlos" said the boy, "Juan-Carlos d'Urudel y Machado. My friends and my lovers call me Johnny Machado."
He told the boy his name.
"Do you want to be my lover?" asked the boy. "I must warn you if you do...I have been with another tonight. I think...we only met two days ago...yes...I am in love with this man. You could help me make sure."
He held on to the book but said nothing to the boy. He got a cab. He took the boy and Chica home. Chica fell asleep on Miguel's pillow. Sitting at the corner of the bed he asked the boy to undress, then he asked the boy to put the coat back on. The boy did, but the bottle of Patou Joy fell from the pocket of the coat. The cap was loose. The Patou Joy spilled onto the bed. 
"Oh oh! Too much of poetry, too much perfume", said Johnny Machado, and then quoted Whitman: 'Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes, I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it, The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it'...Let's be pirates now and bury poems in the sheets."
At dawn the front door opened. Miguel had come home. The dogs met in the hall. There was no problem. The dogs seemed to know each other. Miguel walked into the bedroom. 
"Johnny Machado!" said Miguel.
"Miguelito!" said Johnnie. "Where have you been?"
"He told me", I read, "that (our mutual friend's) recollection had ended at the sound of the television in the other side of the house oozing under the closed door of his room. He'd closed the letter back into the iPad, had gotten out of bed, dressed, and walked through the house to the deck. The rain had stopped, the morning fog had dissolved, it was sunny outside. The Richmond-Embarcadero train on the tracks in the flats below the cemetery redwoods had reassumed the crackle of urbanity which the rain had insistently replaced. There was land to be seen again across the bay. Islands, peninsulas, cities. Ships on the water. The season had advanced, the sun was setting earlier in the day, there would still be time for the chicken to thaw before dinner. At six o'clock he took a shower and remembered again waking to a dream, still lost to him, forgotten. But he had burst into tears in the falling hot water"' my friend wrote, "and he had cried alone, like a baby: "I just want to go home...I just want to go home."