Thursday, July 24, 2014

Alex Katz

[Alex Katz -  Allen Ginsberg 1 [study], 1985. Oil on board. 20 x 16 inches.]

The American artist, Alex Katz turns 87 today - 87 years young - Happy Birthday, Alex.
From an interview with Alex Katz by Richard Prince - for Journal of Contemporary Art Richard Prince: What are some of the things in your life that you saw or heard or came on and you thought, "Yeah, now that’s new"? Alex Katz : Lester Young. Billie Holliday. Be Bop. Stan Kenton. Dizzy Gillespie, Machito, Charlie Parker. Stan Getz. Miles Davis. Sonny Rollins’s "Wagon Wheels". Man Ray. Charles Lamb. Georges Braque’s 1913 black and white collages. Pablo Picasso’s sculptures. Malevich’s Suprematist paintings. Henri Matisse’s collages. Jackson Pollock. Barnett Newman. Clifford Still. Roy Lichtenstein, early 1960s. James Rosenquist, early 1960s. Eva Hesse. Jeff Koons. Mike Kelley’s rugs. Richard Avedon’s fashion photos, 1960s. Red Grooms' early happenings. Paul Taylor, late 1950s. William Dunas, early 1970s. Samuel Beckett’s "Happy Days" with Ruth White. John Jesuran’s "Red House". Meredith Monk’s theater and music pieces. Godard’s Breathless. Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. RainerWerner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Antonioni’s L’Avventura. Rudy Burckhardt’s city and country films without acting. 1960s vinyl coats, white or black. Guillaume Apollinaire. John Ashbery’s "Skaters." Color TV. Ads. Football. Wide-angle technicolor movies.and here's an  article from the Boston Globe a couple of years back on Alex’s reading habits
Alex's interview/conversation with Francesco Clemente (from 1989) may be accessed here
with David Salle, here

Selected other interviews - an oral history interview from 1969 for the Archives of American Art - here 
A video-taped interview with Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, from 1979 - here.
More recently, Adrian Searle interviews Alex for The Guardian here (2012), and, this past August, Kim Heirston visits his studio and "shares inspirations, methodologies, and stories". 

The "New York School" and poetry connection - Andrew Epstein's exemplary Locus Solus blog has two useful posts on that (the latter connecting to Matthew Sperling's illuminating interview in Apollo magazine)  - here and here  

 Here's a miscellany of Alex Katz paintings and images 

and four more of Allen

     [Alex Katz. Allen Ginsberg, 1986. Oil on linen. 48 x 144 inches.]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 89 - Guillaume Apollinaire's Zone

[translated in 1950, this is the cover to the 1972 Dolmen Press, Dublin edition of Guillaume Apollinaire's Zone translated by Samuel Beckett, the first seperate appearance of the text to appear in print]

[Illustrations pour


[Pierre de Gasztold - illustration from   "Les poètes voyagent de Baudelaire à Henri Michaux" -  Henri Parisot,  Delamain et Boutelleau, Paris, 1946]

AG: (So) then we have (finally) "Zone" - "You are tired at last of this old world/ O shepherd Eiffel Tower the flock of bridges bleats at the morning/ You have had enough of life in this Greek and Roman antiquity/ Even the automobiles here seem to be ancient/Religion alone has remained entirely fresh religion/Has remained simple like the hangars at the airfield" - [Now, you'll notice that there are no commas (or) punctuation, so that the thoughts are enjammed, or come together, or are sutured together, so that actually (I'm) reading it as a stream-of-consciousness, or as if one thought (is) following another without a gap, and then a break, and then another thought. But it's a thought juxtaposed wih no stop] - "Even the automobiles here seem to be ancient/Religion alone has remained entirely fresh religion/Has remained simple like the hangars at the airfield" - [Well, for one thing, "Religion alone has remained entirely fresh religion" is one line, no punctuation ("La religion seule est restée toute neuve la religion") - but this is nineteen-when? - I don't know what year this is. This is 1912, I guess, the poem, I'm not sure.  Maybe before World War I - "(R)eligion/Has remained simple like the hangars at the airfield" is a completely srtange thought to have in the turn of the century. I mean, it's a completely modernized thought, like the whole archetypal mass of imagery and consciousness completely retooled for the twentieth-century. For the airfields and the railways and the pharmacies. So you can see the lineage between (Jules) Laforgue and Apollinaire and (T.S.) Eliot.] - [Allen continues with the poem - "You alone in all Europe are not antique O Christian faith…"…"It is Christ who soars in the sky better than any aviator…"…"The eagle rushes out of the horizon giving a great cry/From America comes the tiny humming-bird/From China have come long supple pihis/Which only have one wing and fly tandem.." - [that's supposed to be funny] - "Then the dove immaculate spirit/Escorted by the lyre bird and the ocellated peacock.." 

Common Hoopoe

AG: Do you know what the pihi is by looking at it?   
Student (CC): Yes
AG: Is there such a thing? - "From China have come long supple pihis/Which only have one wing and fly tandem.."   - Is that mythical, or is that…
Student (CC): No, it's a natural bird, but it's just a strange..
AG: Oh really, it's  real.
Student (CC): Yes
AG: Ah
Student (CC): And then… very strange birds that are.. that are in mating, they're just always flying together and just constant whirring their wings (somewhat like a humming-bird) so it might give the effect of having one wing.
AG: Ah, They actually have two
Student (CC): They actually have two wings
AG: And it's called a Pihi?
Student (CC): No, it's… it's..well, the bird that I think that he's describing is the hoopoe
AG: Hupu?
Student: That's what I think he's describing
AG: It might be pihi in French

(That was (Roger) Shattuck).  (Here's) the other translation, by Samuel Beckett - "From China, the long and supple one-winged pihis that fly in couples" - I always thought that that was an esoteric Cubist joke - or just playfulness - just having fun - "just having a little bit of fun, mother" - [Allen continues] - "Then the dove immaculate spirit/Escorted by the lyre bird and the ocellated peacock/The phoenix that pyre which recreates itself/Veils everything for an instant with its glowing coals/Sirens leaving their perilous straits/Arrive all three of them singing beautifully. And everything eagle phoenix and Chinese pihis/Fraternize with the flying machine…"…"Now you are on the shore of the Mediterranean/Under the lemon trees which blossom all year"…"Astonished you see yourself outlined in the agates of St Vitus/You were sad enough to die the day you saw yourself in them/You looked like Lazarus bewildered by the light/The hands of the clock in the Jewish quarter turn backwards/And you go slowly backwards in your life/Climbing up the Hradchin and listening at night.." - ["Hradchin" - Hradchin is a hill in cenral Prague, in old Prague, the old castle hill] - Climbing up the Hradchin and listening at night/In taverns to the singing of Czech songs"… [Allen continues, reading through to the end of the poem] - "Adieu, adieu/Soleil cou coupéSun's neck cut" - [ or, "Sun the severed neck" - "The neck of the sun cut" - that's a famous line - "Sun corseless head", says Samuel Beckett - corseless? - corpseless - head]

Student: (Are there other translations?)

AG: "Sun slit throat - Anne Hyde Greet  - And Ron Padgett - "Sun throat cut" - but, "Soleil cou coupé" - "Sun throat cut" - "Soleil" - sun - "cou" - throat - "coupé" - slit, or cut, or cutted . Cut 

Well you get some sense of the panorama and panoramic grandeur of the poem - The juxtaposition - one moment you're in " Marseilles amid the watermelons/ Here you are in Coblenz at the hotel of the Giant/Here you are in Rome sitting under a Japanese medlar tree.." - It's almost cinematic. - The consciousness of the flash-back (or the flash forward-flashback) or fade-in-fade-out is like a scenario - a shooting-script.
So the idea of jump-cut, seeing one scene and then a jump-cut to another and gaps in-between, that's completely modern and new, and Cubist-style, in poetry. You get a little bit of it in Laforgue, but here ( it's) in full-bloom, full-face, the swift movement of the mind from one place to another. Or as (William) Burroughs says, at the beginning of Naked Lunch, "I am not American Express". It is not my business to transport the reader from London to Tangier or to Morocco, the mind can do that - so Burroughs says the poet doesn't have to be American Express and provide the transportation because the transportation is natural to the mind, in any case - or the jump is natural to the mind).     
So Cubism, in the sense of, rather than a linear progression, including the ship or the train from Marseilles to Coblenz, you simply have the "jump-cut", you simply have the different angles seen almost simultaneously, or in such rapid succession (that) it's like the Cubist method. That actually came in, in that part of the century, by importation of haiku and Japanese landscape painting  (and Japanese prints, particularly). (Henri) Toulouse-Lautrec and (Vincent) Van Gogh (and) the precusors to Picasso, in fact, (were) so influential that Cezanne put down Van Gogh. He said "Ah, he's not a painter. All he does is make Chinese images (because Van Gogh was imitating Chinese and Japanese painting for a while in order to get that funny perspective in which various depths seem to be occuring on the same optical level, on the same plane)

An Oiran courtesan dressed in a colourful kimono placed against a bright yellow background framed by a border of bamboo canes, water lilies, frogs, cranes and a boat
[The Courtesan (after Eisen)  (1887) - Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890),  oil on canvas, 105.5 cm x 60.5 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam]  

Student (CC): Well, the Japanese were doing wood-block printing
AG: Yeah
Student (CC): And many of their lacquered works, which were being imported, and spices which were being imported, into Europe were coming in wrapping paper, similar to our newspaper (in the way that you'd wrap up your china before moving, or such goods as ceramics). And that was where it came from. It actually came from these…
AG: From the wrapping paper?
Student (CC):.. from the wrapping paper of these…
AG: Uh-huh. So it must have been…
Student (CC): …fine articles.
AG: …been disseminated into the bourgeois class who were buying chinoiserie in the department store…
Student (CC): Yes, that's exactly the source.


[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately thirty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in, to approximately forty-nine-and-three-quarter minutes in]  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 88 - Jules Laforgue

[Jules Laforgue (1860-1887) - (Photo - Portrait -aged 25)]

AG: So enough of this bullshit, now to "Zone", and it's his (Apollinaire's) greatest poem, and it's spoken of as the first modern poem of the (twentieth) century. But, before we get to "Zone", we'll go back a little bit to another poet who turned the Modernists on, Jules Laforgue (also an enormous influence on T.S.Eliot  - (as well as on) Apollinaire).  I'll read a brief poem (well, not so brief) called "Sentimental Blockade" ("Blocus sentimental!..) [actually, it's entitled "The Coming Winter" ("Winter Coming On") ("L'hiver qui vient")]by Laforgue, because he's very little known, but he's the first modern poet, according to (Ezra) Pound, and according to Eliot, and according to other critics - the one that leads from the nineteenth-century into Apollinaire's modern spirit.

Student: What are his dates?

AG: Um, let's see, I believe, 1880, 1890 when this was written, I guess. Probably 1860. Let me see.. Well, I don't know, I just grabbed this before I left the house, because I thought, well, might as well bring this up, but I didn't do the proper study..

AG begins - "The Coming Winter" -  Sentimental Blockade/Express from the rising Sun,/Oh , falling rain, oh, night fall,/ Oh, the wind…/All Saints Day, Christmas, the New Year,/ Oh, in the drizzle, all my fine chimneys!.../ Of factories…/  There's nowhere to sit down, all the benches are wet. /Believe me, it's all over once again./ All the benches are wet, the woods are so rusty/ And so many horns have sounded - ton-ton - have sounded - ton-taine!.../ Ah! storm clouds rush from the channel coasts./ You can boast of spoiling the last of our Sundays./ Drizzle,/ in the wet fields the spiderwebs/ Give way to the waterdrops, and fizzle,/ Plenipotentiary sons of blonde river gold mines,/ Of agricultural pantomimes,/ Where is your tomb?/ The evening a worn-out sun lies dead on the top of the hill,/ Lies on its side, in the broom, on his coat./ A sun, white as tavern spit,/ On a litter of golden broom." - [the plant- What is he broom plant? It's a yellow plant?.. What we're talking about when he's talking about broom, it's the plant] - [Allen continues] - "..Lies on its side in the broom, on his coat./ A sun, white as tavern spit/  On a little of golden broom./ And the horns resound!,/ Calling him.../ Calling him back to himself!/ Tiaaut!, Tiaaut!, Hallali! /, O doleful anthem, when will you die!.../, And madly they have fun.../ And he lies there like a gland torn from a neck,/ Shivering, without anyone!..." - ["When the evening sun is spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherised upon a table." - that's (T.S.) Eliot in…]

Student: Prufrock

AG:  ("The Love Song of J.Alfred) Prufrock - "Let us go then, you and I/When the sun is spread out…"

Student: The evening sky…

AG: "When the evening sky is spread/Like a  patient etherised upon a table" - "And he lies there like a gland torn from a neck,/ Shivering, without anyone" - So the Eliot turn came from a Laforgue turn. [Allen continues] - "On, on, and Hallali! ,/ In the lead is Winter, that's understood./ Oh!, the turns in the highways,/ And without the wandering Little Red Riding Hood…./ Oh, their ruts from last month's cars./ Trails in a Don Quixote climb/ Toward the routed cloud patrols,/That the wind mauls toward Transatlantic folds.../ Accelerate, accelerate, it's the well-known season, this time." [Well, you get the modernity in his language, and the modernity and raciness and nervousness of his speech] - "….It's the season, the season, rust invades the masses/, Rust gnaws the kilometric spleens/ Of telegraphic wires on highways no one passes" - [So, it already begins to sound like Eliot. And also begins to sound twentieth-century with telegraph wires and trains and horns and melancholy]  - "I can't get out of this echoing tone.../ It's the season, the season, farewell grape harvests!.../ Now with the patience of angels come the rains./ Farewell harvests, baskets, nothing remains./ Those Watteau twig-baskets under the chestnut trees./ It's the cough in dormitories coming bad,/ Nursed by only a stranger's herbal tea./ The neighborhood sadness of pulmonary phthisis".. what's "p-h-t-h-i-s-i-s? 

Student: That's TB

AG: How do you pronounce it?

Student: Tis is

AG: This is?

Student: I'm not sure

AG: Does anybody know how that's pronounced. It's a famous word in…

Student: Spelling bees

AG: Spelling bees, yeah - Plee-sis?  - "The neighborhood sadness of pulmonary tuberculosis/And all the metropolitan wretchedness./ But wool clothes, rubbers, pharmacies, dreams.." - ["wool clothes, rubbers, pharmacies, dreams"] -  "Curtains drawn back from balconies of shores,/ Facing the sea of suburban roofs,/ Prints, lamps, cakes and tea,/Won't I have only you to love!.../ (Oh!, and then do you know, apart from the pianos,/ Each week, austere twilit mystery,/ The journalistic/ Vital statistics?...)" 

So this is completely up in time, like up into twentieth-century.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately twenty-eight minutes in, and continuing to approximately thirty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in]  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Expansive Poetics 87 - (Cezanne's Methodology)

[Paul Cezanne  (1839-1906) - Self Portrait (1879-80) -  oil on canvas, 33.7 x 24.7 cms via Oskar Reinhart Art Collection, Winterthur, Switzerland]

AG:  (So) (Guillaume) Apollonaire's "Zone" - We have three different translations here and I have a couple others with me. The first one which is probably good as a working one is (by) Roger Shattuck. There's one by Anne Hyde Greet. And I xeroxed one by Ron Padgett - and there's also one by Samuel Beckett, so you can see how solid a poem it is - so many intelligent people have worked on it. Samuel Beckett, certainly, and Ron Padgett, excellent poet. Roger Shattuck, brilliant scholar, who's wortk The Banquet Years about Apollinaire and Picasso and the great turn-of-the-century French art movement is something worth looking up. If you want to know more about that high-class golden bohemia, Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years covers the personal gossip and literary and artistic and musical history of an era, with Erik Satie introducing a new kind of economy (and humor) into music, Picasso and Braque taking off from the original optical experiments of Cezanne to invent and develop Cubism out of Cezanne's painting technique, (Sergei) Diaghilev from the ballet coming in (Vaslav) Nijinsky era, a little later). But all concentrated in Paris - a collection of real zany wits and brilliant poets. Apollinaire himself lived only up to the end of the War, and died on Armistice Day,World War I, so you could say, (a) "pre-War" explosion, that affected everything that came in the century afterwards.

[Paul Cezanne - The Bather (1885), oil on canvas, 127 x 96.8 cms], via The Museum of Modern Art, New York]

Do you folks know about Cezanne's method of painting. Because that, actually, in a sense, is the key to the whole twentieth-century relativistic aesthetics that you'll find in painting, poetry and music. (Does) anyone here know what I'm talking about? Cezanne as the precursor of Cubism? 

Student: No

AG: Is anybody familiar with that?

Student: No

AG: Ok.

Student: Tell us about it

AG: Okay. I don't have any Cezanne. I should have brought something here, but Cezanne's theory was that, following the researches of the Impressionists who were interested in optics itself (so you have Pointillism, where you could compose what looked like a three-dimensional picture by means of points - little points of pure color). And then you put ared next to a blue, put a green next to a yellow and it would, in a certain area.. and you might have that register optically as blue. Put a green dot of paint rom the tip of the brush next to a yellow dot (with( the tip of the brush, it might register as blue to the eyeball if you got a certain distance from the canvas.
So the Impressionists went out to paint the external phenomena as seen by the eyeball, as distinct from previous centuries which painted more idealistically, or painted what they could see in front of them in the studio, trying to get the right definition of the line. The Impressionists began exploring the phenomena of the eyeball and the surface of the eye and what was the relation between perception and the external world. And so that led to Impressionism, or making experiments with what things appeared to be like looking through your eye - looking from behind your brain, through your eye, to the outside, I guess.  It was sort of relativism. Actually, they were painting the eyeball rather than the external world. They were painting the impression on the eyeball, rather than assuming that the external world was out there for real to paint. They began looking directly at the measuring-instrument, just like (Albert) Einstein, who says the measuring-instrument determines the shape of the universe, or the appearance of the universe, so they began examining the measuring-instrument. 

George Wald nobel.jpg
[George Wald (1906-1997)]

There are a lot of books and theories of optics at that time, which developed ino theories, which developed into the Nobel Prize for George Wald, who's study of the function of sight led him to the conclusion that if you look at the door, which is orange, and then, if you shift your gaze to the wall, which is white, there is a readjustment of the retina, and that the retina cannot focus on two colors at the same time. Now did everybody know that?

Student (CC): Yeah

AG: You can check that out. But the retina cannot focus on two colors simultaneously. It can only focus on one color and has to refocus to hit the other color. This is something that painters understood during the Impressionist era (though not proved scientifically until George Wald) and what they began realizing was that hot colors advanced (bright red, like the crimson out there, and the bright red of O (sic)'s dress and her purse, or the Pepsi, or the door) bright colors tend to advance in the eyeball, optically, like in 3-D, and jut forward in the apparent space of the eyeball, and that cool, or cold, colors tend to recede spatially. A cool or cold color would be a dull brown or a dullish blue, or this.. To take the example of that door, that door would appear, if you just suspended your eyeball and let the external space hang, (it) would appear to jut out more close to you than the neutral wall. Does that make sense? That is, if you got high on acid, say, to hypersensitize the eye, the bright color would appear to jump out in 3-D. People have had that experience. Now, the corollary is that a cold color will tend to recede compared to the hot color.


So Cezannne attempted to "reconstitute my little sensation of space" (to reconstitute his petite sensation of space) by painting a canvas without use of perspective lines, as the ancients had used, (that is, without narrowing the railroad tracks to the center in order to indicate distance, without using that kind of perspective lines), he tried to give you the appearance of space by cross-hatching a lot, advancing color and putting next to it a cold receding color, and putting next to that a hot advancing color, and then a cold receding color till his whole canvas was a cross-hatch of deliberately designed cubes, triangles, squares and spheres that optically would appear to recede in space. In other words, to create the space of the canvas, not by perspective lines but by the use of hot colors advancing and cold colors receding. And to create an inter-relating network of forms that would lead the eye optically inward in a canvas and give you the appearance of space. 

Does that fit your experience of looking at Cezanne at all?  I don't know if you can.. we don't have anything (here) to visualize. but I'd say, take a look at Cezanne and you'll find that that's the method - at least in his letters, and he's famous for that. 
Well, in other words, you might have a long patch of dullish green foliage on the fields and on the miles on the way to his famous theme - Mount Sainte Victoire, then you might have a more bright Mediterranean brick orange roof sticking out, giving the appearance of something sticking out in 3-D space, then another long passage of green or blue or a dull-blue-like lake and then another bright color or piece of red on a cart or chimney, so that you'd have the appearance of an enormous distance between the tile roof and the chimney way back, except they would, apparently, both seem to jump out but be separated by a huge distance of dull, receding color hatches. In other words, something like what you get when you see it through 3-D glasses. And that's why, sometimes, when you look at a Cezanne painting, the whole thing jumps, like (when) you reverse a Venetian blind - there's a certain optical shudder which is caused by the fact that you can only focus on one color at a time on the canvas, so that when you shift your eye to the dull, receding colors, you suddenly get this space jump - you literally do get a jump. And Cezanne emphasized that further by  making a darkish outline, say, between the curve of a jug and the drapery behind it (the jug might be orange and the drapery behind it might be blue), he'd make a darkish outline so (that) the eye, passing over it, would have to focus three times, the eye, sweeping, scanning, would have to focus three different times and it would cause a sensation of space.

[Paul Cezanne - Jug and Fruit On The Table (1893-4), oil on board and paper - 41.5 x 72.3 cms)

It's similar to the fact that you focus on here and then you focus on there, you have to refocus - right? Dig? You've got to refocus. So if you focus on an object in the middle of the room and then focus over there, you've got to refocus to see the wall. So you get exactly the same sensation in refocusing for the different planes of color, and it gives you the appearance, the sensation, of space. And Cezanne said, "I am trying to reconstitute mon petite sensation - my little sensation of space, which is none other than Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus" (Father Omnipotent Eternal God)". So he was defining God as space, or defining the ultimate - Pater Omnipotent..  (Father Omnipotent Eternal God) as space, and saying that he could stand up on a road and look at Mount SaintVictoire and turn his head slightly to the left or an inch to the right and the composition of the entire optical field and the composition of the canvas would change. His senses had become so subtle and refined - "not coarsened like some other old man  I know", he wrote in a letter to Emile Bernard, because he didn't smoke or drink or fuck or anything but he was just pure attention to optic space and every day looking at Mount Sainte Victoire. 

[Paul Cezanne - Mount Sainte Victoire (1904-6) - oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cms - via Foundation E.G. BührleZürich]

You know the paintings of Mount Sainte Victoire at all? Those are a recurrent theme at the end of his life. The vast solidarity of this mountain, outside Aix-en-Provence, where he lived, which gave the appearance of a great hanging solidarity in eternal space. So he's trying to paint that eternal space. Or reconstitute the "little sensation" of space. 

Cezanne's "The Bay"
[ Paul Cezanne -- The Bay of Marseilles, Seen From L''Estaque (c. 1885), oil on canvas, 73 cmd x 100.3 cms, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

So in "Zone", or in Cubist poetry, Apollinaire and other later writers are trying to reconstitute a certain specific sense, a little petit sensation that they have, again, by juxtaposing different objects together in a non-linear way, in a mixed-media way, so to speak, to give them the appearance of distant space time eternity, of some vast expansion of mind by being able to see things from different angles simultaneously and yet the mind having to move back and forth and fill in the gaps. So it may be that the mind, filling in the gaps between images, creates an eternal space, just as the eyeball filling in the gap, jumping between bright red and dull blue experiences a sensation of space. Yeah?

Student: (Kind of like in advanced) meditations  where you see the body both within and without at the same time?

AG: Yeah

Student: You know, from all different angles.

AG: Yes. And the most advanced Tantric meditation practice is an examination of thoughts rising, flowering, diminishing, a gap between them, and then the next thought, knowing that thought is discontinuous also.

So there was some super-modern psychology among the Dadaists and Surrealists and Cubists and they realized that consciousness is discontinuous, and therefore it's alright to put down the discontinuities, to express the discontinuities, juxtapose the discontinuities, and let the mind fill in as it does in reality.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately thirteen-and-a-half minutes in and continuing to approximately twenty-eight minutes in]