Highlights from a much needed getaway to New York:

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Charlie Hass (Photo, Narrative Magazine)

Watching Charlie Haas carry off the best book reading event ever with his performance (I don’t use that word lightly) from his new novel, The Enthusiast. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who needs their spirits enthused. (Learn more about the book here.) If he is scheduled in a venue near you—like Los Angeles on the 18th of June—don’t miss it.

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Chapter/Chapel, by Bill T. Jones and company (The Phoenix)

Catching Bill T. Jones’ last performance of Chapter/Chapel at Harlem Stage. Telling the story of several violent murders, this piece by Jones asks an essential question with this multimedia piece: “How can this event suggest the uneasy distance our mediatized era helps create between the passive observers we are and the disturbing, sometimes incomprehensible ‘news items’ we encounter every day?” A deeply intense, haunting, memorable work, Chapter/Chapel gave friend and singer extraordinaire Alicia Hall Moran a remarkable venue for her gifts. (Here’s the review of Chapter/Chapel’s premiere in the New York Times.)

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Francis Bacon, Crucifiction

Not a highlight per se but worthy of a few words was seeing the Francis Bacon show at the Met. Bacon. He’s been a problematic presence in my life as an artist for as long as I can remember. As an art student I could see a mastery in his work, but it was not a mastery that instructed, inspired or enlightened my own intentions. He wasn’t speaking to me, and my “yes but” acknowledgment of his contribution hasn’t changed in all those years since I first began this journey.

I went to see this exhibit more from a sense of obligation than aesthetic connectedness. Bacon’s influence on 20th century art is de facto although the shadow he cast darkened the fields in a completely different part of the art making vineyard from where I have been laboring. Sometimes art is a snake charming of the dark, and sometimes it is a plea for transcendence. Bacon is the prince of the former.

My friend Andria said, Bacon is painting what’s there, but it’s the “what’s there” that the rest of us won’t allow ourselves to see. Bleak that is that deep can be dismissed as easily as the ambient bliss seen by another set of eyes. Bacon’s conflation of Michelangelo and Muybridge, his perennial view of flesh as pusillanimous vulnerability, his obsession with certain forms—the geometric artifice of his work, the shade pulls, the mouths that devour, the human/animal confluence—all bring his dark vision to a powerful, dissonant, full orchestra chord.

Some of the pieces in the show had a toned down rage that made it a bit easier for me to sit with what is painterly in his work. His portraits, of himself, his lovers and even William Blake, have moments for me that are not accompanied by the scream of pain I feel when I look at most of his larger canvases.

But having seen his work for years, I may have been somewhat inoculated over time. My partner David has not had as much exposure to the work, and I watched as he looked intensely at each painting, trying to understand the context and intent. He seemed to be able to detach himself from the dark content and did not flag in his exploration, but the next morning he had a very different sense of the imagery. He said he woke up haunted by the pernicious humanoid forms that sport nothing but a hungry mouth, reminding him of every dark impulse he has ever had. It was hard to shed those images once lodged, and the rest of the day that sense of dark creaturehood was with him.

Those particularly frightening Baconian forms are described wonderfully by Gilles Deleuze: Bacon’s scream is the operation through which the entire body escapes through the mouth. Not surprising that Bacon has mastered how to seed the unconscious with time lapse hauntings, those images that come back when you are most vulnerable and least expect them.

(To read a variety of reviews of the Bacon show, I’ve posted several on Slow Painting.)

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Bacon self portrait

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The best part of a getaway weekend to my old ‘hood in Manhattan however was reconnecting with friends, some of them with me for more years than I can count–Mimi Kramer, Mike and Peggy Porder, Paul and Lynda Gunther, Andria Klarer, Melissa and Annabelle Heckler, Jason and Alicia Hall Moran, Kathryn Kimball. There’s nothing like some serious high contrast to make the darks dark and lights light.

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