Friday, October 30, 2009


Soon in my bright apartment a lampshade was ringed by those little metal lapel pins, a different color for each day, that proved in the Met that you were legal because you had paid at least a tiny donation, if not the asking price.

I was also in the Frick and the Guggenheim and the Drawing Center and the Brooklyn and the Whitney and Met over and again, and soon the galleries on the Upper East Side and along 57th Street and in Soho and in the East Village.

And in my new range I almost immediately had paintings that I was visiting several times a week. Some brought up fearful darkness. In the Met and the Whitney, Gorky’s sexual organs that grew razor sharp blade edges and fish hook thorns. In the Met, the bullying gray woman looking down on the boy in Matisse’s mostly harsh Piano Lesson. And then the northern Renaissance paintings in the Met that created horror in me with their aqua skies splashed with blood red.

These paintings that face horror, and others that are the reverse. At the Frick, Claude Lorraine’s mount and Bellini’s St. Francis. In the Met and the Guggenheim, Pissaro’s generous world view. At the Met, Bellini’s very alive madonnas and Courbet’s equally glorious and not unrelated undressed women of flesh. Diebenkorn’s great squares of color in the Brooklyn. Hopper’s sunlight at the Whitney. Bonnard's ghostly dining table scenes in the Me. And in the Met Matisse’s bronze girls. Everything by Monet and Manet, though maybe Renoir was merely a memory of what I had once hoped would be easy. As in the Rembrandt self portraits and depictions of his two women he loved. And then in Constable at the Frick trees and rivers, a white horse, the smell of mud in springtime. And in Daubigny, whom I had never heard of until I saw his work in the Brooklyn, my memory of green river banks on slowly flowing rivers, causing me to get at something I knew once and had nearly forgotten.

And that same feeling about the 17th century landscapes of Hobbema, which seemed far more evocative of nature, more Constable like, than the cooler ones by the critics' favorite, van Ruisdale. But this part of my adventure in art came to what felt like a violent end.

In the Met I was standing in front of Hobbema woods – a clearing, a thatch house, a pathway disappearing among thick, tall trees in the middle distance, in the near distance the trees so clear that you'd think he'd painted each leaf separately. Or you would think that way if you believed the words of a guide that I overheard speaking about this perfect summer day. Woods on a summer day.

I stood there feeling, to my surprise, quite blank. A death-like lack of feeling. I knew the Hobbema well by how. Why today could I not connect with this summer day that had been evoked here?

So like death, it kept seeming, this inability to place myself in this version of sunshiny nature.

That night I entered a feverish series of dreams in which I was caught in dark and dangerous woods – caught in Hobbema’s woods – a place now of infinite danger. And as the night wore on these Hobbema woods were also the deep woods of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the family place of huge cold formal houses and avalanche streaked mountains, which until recently I had thought of as being as warm and beautiful as, frequently more warm and beautiful than, anything else I had seen in my years of traveling.

I went back to the Met. If before this I would not admit to the darkness of the Hobbema scene, this time I could see nothing nice or even summery in it. But I went back like a soldier who knows he had sworn an oath to press one. And like a soldier who has a life away from the battlefield, I also had Constable and Daubigny and Deibenkorn. Not to mention Manet’s Dejeuner sur les Herbs, which I had visited and revisited in Paris at 16 and afterwards kept in my head. This possibility of a life – these artists on a picnic with their nude model.

No comments:

Post a Comment