Tuesday, April 23, 2013



This week I feel like I've been able to hit the reset button, somewhat.  To recenter, refocus, and... re-read.  That last bit, especially.  As I've mentioned here before, comfort reading - which I've been in need of recently - for me almost always involves re-reading.  No surprises please (at least, not in general, since my memory isn't the best), no ambushes by unpleasant subject matter, instead a return to the known and the loved.  Which thankfully comes in many forms.  This week I revisited and took refuge in the writings of the modernist painter John Marin, whose house in Maine was not far from my own childhood home, even though he himself had already exited this vale of tears long before I was born.  Simply because of the proximity of his aura, however, I can say that his life has directly influenced mine.  And now, as I try to find my way in life as a painter, and right the ship, as it were, re-reading his words brings an immense comfort and sense of homecoming.  In a fragmented package, too, because his writing style is as his paintings are - himself with no excuses or apologies, full of his unique seeing and individual mark-making.  He is not my favorite painter, by any means, but that fragmented way of his means a lot to me.  He sees the details and notes them one by one, and simultaneously sees the big picture, and attempts "To paint disorder under a big order." (p.46)  Also, of course I love hearing him describe places that I myself love, up and down the Maine coast.  Again, the known and the loved.  The difficult and the beautiful.  Home.

I see I am getting ahead of myself - the above quote is from the book I'm re-reading, The Selected Writings of John Marin, edited by Dorothy Norman (Pellegrini & Cudahy 1949), and it consists mostly of Marin's letters to Alfred Stieglitz.  Many of the letters are from Marin's summer painting trips to Maine, and are hence of even greater interest to me than they might otherwise have been.  Because when I'm not painting myself, I want to know how everyone else manages to get it done, so I usually have several art books going at once, and am always on the lookout for first-person narratives from painters of all kinds.  Especially those who worked and lived in Maine.  Well, Marin's book is strange and great and written with lovely disregard for the rules of punctuation (he reminds me of Byron in this way - lots and lots of dashes and very few full stops), just as his painting sets its own rules, and meets his own requirements.  He asks himself, of his work, "What have I done?  I don't know - Is the way clear? - It is never clear - " (p.23)  And yet he continues to search and question, and find, all his life.  Wonderful news, this is.

A side note.  When I left home to go to college, I did not know I was going to study art history and learn to paint, until I got there.  The museum at my school is a good one, and is about to become even better with a recent gift and expansion, but what I loved most when I was there was a quiet little room full of paintings by John Marin.  Several were made a few miles from my old home.  They were always on display, as part of the museum's permanent collection, and I could see them as often as I liked.  What a gift of peace that room was, to a struggling, homesick college student.  Even now I revisit those works of art.  Re-read them, in a way.  While thinking about home, what home means, and how even when it is fragmented, or broken really, it still feels like home.  And it is possible to revisit, and to see anew.  As the goofy novelist Tom Robbins said, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."

Another side note.  My upcoming painting shows are now listed in the mini-blog on my website, here.

I had asked and it disappeared. Computers! I'll ask again. What are you favorite first-person narratives from painters. I'm always looking for interesting reading and the library is always growing.
Hi Steve, I don't know why your first comment disappeared in the ether - I received it via email just fine. Thanks for following up. My response to your question is too long to write here, so I will answer in a new post instead. Thanks.
Morning Sarah,
I'll look forward to that post. I'm a big fan of getting things first hand. I have about 60 first hand accounts from the age of sail. Some parts are fascinating, other parts dull as can be, together you get an idea, a feel of things you can't get any other way. I think that art is much the same. No mater how good the critic or biographer you can't really get a feel for a person the way you do when you read their own words. The truth is not always what matters, exaggeration and down right lies can be quite telling and very much part of the story.
Here you go, Steve! I had a great morning puttering around in my art books, thanks to you. Yes, one of the books on my list, the autobiography of painter Cecilia Beaux, is justly famous for what she does NOT say about herself. I mean, major life events barely alluded to! A marriage proposal! A terrible accident! Fascinating...

I love nautical books too, and also have some published diaries in that field. But really, when it comes right down to it, all I want to do is re-read Patrick O'Brian (it helps knowing that HE read so many first-person accounts himself).
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