Monday, February 12, 2007


The sublime and the ridiculous...

...are usually one and the same, all wrapped up together. I'm back at the shop this morning and the heat was mysteriously off. My fabulous landlady was already on the case, so to do some double duty of warming myself up and getting back into being here, I gave the place a good once-over with the vacuum and mop. I meant to do it last week before I left, to give myself a clean place to come back to (not to mention any stray customers who might come in), but it didn't happen. So, by the time I finished I was toasty and the shop was warm again, too. These blonde hardwood floors are great, but they show up the melting mud of winter very easily. Oh wow, how great to have a bookshop! Oh dear, I need to mop the floors and clean the bathroom. Next came dealing with the mail: back-to-back envelopes telling me I missed paying my insurance bill and thank you for paying your insurance bill. No, thank you. The company's grace period must be an hour long, maybe two. I sent the bill five days early. I swear.

Busy last few days. Highlights:

The Tibetan sand mandala was amazing and I'm going to visit the museum again this week (the builder of it, Losang Samten, finishes and dismantles it at the end of the week) to see it complete, barring the possible blizzard currently forming to the westward and heading this way. I watched Samten for a few hours. The sand used to construct the mandala is tinted with watercolors and is very vivid both in its little bowls and on the platform the mandala sits on, and seeing it made my hands itch to paint. I did do a few quick sketches in my journal. It was very interesting to watch the mandala coming together and think about the act of creating art - the iconography in the mandala is fixed and has been for 2600 years, so there are no individual artistic choices or unique flourishes being made, and there is no permanancy. Totally foreign to what we westerners think of as making art, or artists as creators making unique objects that will outlive the artists themselves. One bystander asked Samten why it was swept up afterwards, when it was so beautiful, and what did this mean? He answered, "Impermanence. Beauty come, beauty go." Ain't that the truth. He said it with such finality.

When the impermanance got to be too much for me, I turned the corner and looked at a few terrific paintings in the permanent collection at the museum, including Fairfield Porter's portrait of Larry Rivers, Lois Dodd's large close-up Cow Parsnip (I wish I'd painted that...), a small juicy masterpiece by George Bellows of a cliff on Monhegan island, two rooms full of John Marin's prints and paintings, a bold Spanish dancer by Robert Henri. I go back to visit these works over and over. It occurred to me, on the way to the museum that day, that really the only things I'm interested in learning about right now are landscapes. In nature, and Maine is a spectacular place to do this, but more importantly perhaps, inner landscapes. I go to see art in museums and at friends' houses, to absorb their inner landscapes. I read books to do the same thing.

Speaking of which, I just finished Dorothea Tanning's memoir, Between Lives (Norton 2001). Some of it was rambly and wordy in a surrealist/convoluted way, but the meat of the book was straightforward and brave. A few parts I particularly responded to: first, her descriptions of her hometown library in Galesburg, Illinois, and the head librarian there who "... instituted an ingenious method of marking with a small red cross under the catalogue number any book that she considered immoral, unfit for minors. Thus I had no difficulty in finding the best books." (p.27) Next, her descriptions of her life with Max Ernst and her lifelong commitment to her own work. She said as a child in Illinois she knew she wanted to be an artist and live in Paris. And by god she did, on her own terms. Now I'm reading Michael Kimmelman's book of essays about art, The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa (Penguin 2005). I'm halfway through and I get the feeling that the book aspires to be like Alain de Botton's books - wide-ranging, philosophical, warm - but he sometimes misses the mark. Overall, though, pleasing and intelligent writing about some terrific artists and how they do what they do.

Over the weekend I also bought a trunkful of art supplies (stretcher bars, canvas, gesso - enough to last at least until summer), had brunch with my mother, visited a dear friend and looked at her studio filled with paintings and drawings and dogs (five lovely dogs, either swirling around our legs or sleeping). All in all, a good getaway. Back to it, now.

Hey Sarah,
I'm so glad your weekend was great. I'm hoping to go see the sand art on Thursday in the early afternoon with Matthew and Noah. I can't wait. Maybe I'll see you there?
Welcome back to the north country! I'm glad you had a weekend full of friends, family, and art. Missed seeing you among the usual suspects at the book sale Saturday!
Happy Heart Day! I lived vicariously as you described the has been so brutal up north that it has taken all my energy to keep the cabin warm for the fifteen fur balls nestled in down comforters...I have lost two dear ones this winter...both 24 years old and dying in my arms while we rocked and sang meow songs...waiting now for the snow that would have been our insulation but coming late...even the wild fox sought refuge this winter on the porch under an old navy wool blanket...we were both surprised at 4am...My painting has provided the certainty of spring and the coast and water flowing is the book coming?
Any special volumnes I need to purchase? Gone thru everything here and some twice...too cold to do anything but feed the fire, stroke cats, drink good coffee, and READ! Much love from the north, Sandy Brawders, Cross Lake
Hey Katie - we're hunkering in for the blizzard, I don't know if I'll make it back to see the sandman. Sigh. I want to. I may be at home instead watching the snowflakes. xxoo

Vicky, I missed the sale, sadly, but at the time it opened I was stacking up art supplies at the store in Portland I favor, Artist & Craftsman, so I was *almost* as happy as if I was stacking up books instead. Next time...

Dear Sandy - glad to hear you are weathering the cold, what a bitter few weeks we've had... so sorry to hear about your kittens, winter is lonely enough as it is without having to suffer losses like that, of dear old friends. Come visit when the first breezes of spring blow. I'm writing and painting, not much, but enough to keep from freezing over myself. Thanks for your encouragement, you are truly a rock in my life, a steady force of nature!
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