SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON : Mi mamà era preciosa

MY MOTHER WAS GOLDEN  2017-2018

an art piece by Sylvia Salazar Simpson to celebrate her mother

 Veneranda Emanuela Gutierrez 

 

( Images of “Mi mamà era preciosa” in the final configuration)

 

text by ROSANNA ALBERTINI – photos by SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON

 

Poetry, poetry, is a gesture, a lanscape, 

your eyes and my eyes, girl; ears, heart,

the same music. And I say no more, because 

no one will find the key that no one has lost

And poetry is the chant of my ancestors

a winter day that burns and withers

this melancholy so personal.

Elicura Chihuailaf, “The key that no one has lost”

subterranean poetry from South America

Sylvia’s poetry is visual. It comes from moments and days that don’t sit in the memory, nor are they saved in a notebook. Time particles lacking the illusion of shape or names. Time is one name without a body. It’s hard for me to distinguish it from another strange name, life. Yet, both of them are the source of Sylvia’s attachment to decay as one of the most impressive, stirring and surprising living processes. A rosary losing pearls. Petals and fruits softened by their lack of effort in keeping their self separate from natural dissolution, and from human disillusion. Showing the decay as a body of marvels, Sylvia the artist reveals the physical apparition of time, and it’s a phantom.

ALLAN KAPROW      “Just steps along the way, and the artist’s eyes may have opened up a little…”

“But let’s say that art is a weaving of meaning-making activity with any or all parts of our lives.” 

SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON      “I had received some photographs of my mother. I reproduced them but didn’t want to put them on the wall. In the meantime the mantel of the fireplace accepted to receive some Indian globes, at the edges. On a round table adjacent I started to place flowers in glasses, with water. An old wrinkled squash and giant fresh Persian lemons were added to the globes. Persian lemons have a fungus on them that lets them rot quite rapidly. Some are green, some black. They were followed by pieces of bread from a Eucharistic celebration, and pieces of cedar. My mother crawled into the piece. It was appropriate for her to be on the wall, but her photographs wanted to be in the piece. There is a small owl. Some flowers were removed, or replaced, or added every day for fifteen, sixteen months, starting in April 2017. Drippings were done at Christmas to make beads and small candies shine for the day. They were drippings of piloncillo sugar liquified. My mother was a very proper person. The contrast of the baroque decay and her image is what makes the piece. The piece is a small offering, a celebration.”

Not only a celebration of Veneranda, also a salutation to

“The greatness of every day life, and above all its details, the sparkle of flames, eyes, hands”

as in the South American poem by Elicura. Eyes must become hands to approach Sylvia’s pieces, hands and tongues, two imaginary mouths opening when the moon fades and the sun is still pale, chewing and swallowing what the day brings, and at night, closing the gate of  teeth. Past and present are only one canvas. Dates, facts, would make hole and cuts in it as in Burri’s paintings. Family stories are a mirage from her childhood spread by words of the old women of Veneranda’s house in New Mexico, and later by Veneranda herself in Mexico City.

There is a pond of blood in their memory

a great great great great great…grandmother 

went to New Mexico with the first settlers coming from Mexico

Catalina Robledo gave birth to the first Spanish

 child to be born in that part of the world

they came with a land grant 

they had received from the king of Spain

not without disputes with the local Indians

Indians had their feet cut off

a puritanical morals in the house

more and more children were born

and when Sylvia arrived she was told 

she was better than darker people 

so when she grew up an adult woman she 

embraced the darker people’s side and started to say

about herself “I am Mexican”

she cooks and eats like a Mexican woman

it’s an art-making for her

ephemerality and messiness 

poverty and art were inseparable in Mexico City

where Veneranda lived with her husband and children

she sat in the park with them and taught 

them to draw and to revere art

Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera and the early colonial churches

metal or silver hearts, candles, flowers and food in front of them

miracles were described

every thing as real as light through the window

transforming objects in treasures

as if raining sparkles of gold

On the round table near the fireplace a jungle of dry and fresh flowers, candles, glasses, fruits, sticks of wood, almost cover an odd piece of wax: Silvia’s foot cut off and changed into a candle.

“Do you know my mother’s last words?” Sylvia told me years ago. “She suddenly woke up from her quiet absence and asked me, ‘what time is it?’ And I thought, in myself, the time to die.”

She died, — this was the way she died;

And when her breath was done,

Took up her simple wardrobe

And started for the sun.

Her little figure at the gate

The angels must have spied,

Since I could never find her

Upon the mortal side.

VANISHED. by Emily Dickinson

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Emily Dickinson, Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1982 Gramercy Books New York • Avenel

Allan Kaprow, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California press, 1993

Elicura Chihuailaf, Two poems on Poetry, in Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg

Source: Rodrigo Rojas, from “Three Mapuche Poets, ” in J.R. & J.Bloomberg-Rissman,

Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present,

Boston, Black Widow press, 2015.

“Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán (his fill name) has been referred to as the lonco, or chieftain, of mapudungun poetry, and works at recording & preserving the oral traditions of his people. Elicura is from Mapudungun phrase for ‘transparent stone,’ Chihuailaf means ‘fog spread on the lake,’ and Nahuelpán is ‘tiger/cougar.’ “

BELLINI and MANTEGNA : FAMILY LIFE

having derives from another’s possession

Transformation, where true possession takes place,

Transformation, all transformations, man’s furnace,
crucible of patience,
I say all waiting is pure patience
If these words be spoken at the crossroads of space!
(The voice of the Karaw,  African praise poem)

ANDREA MANTEGNA, Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio, c. 1453, tempera su tela, egg tempera on linen, 77.1 x 94.4 cm  Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
   © Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

GIOVANNI BELLINI,  Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio, 1470, olio su tavola, oil on wood panel, 82 x 106 cm
Fondazione Querini Stampalia di Venezia   © Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus – Venezia

HAND OF THE FUTURE

by Rosanna Albertini

Pure patience in me had evaporated. It was early June and Venice was as hot as Africa. Yet I was cooking patience in my crucible as if my love for Venice were floating on the laguna, waiting to reach at least one place, one image calming my senses. Eventually I found two. Right now Venice is a theater for lost souls, a market of cheap, repetitive masks and glass beads to feed the savages, a park of shaggy grass surfaces, Chinese Cafes and bridges and floors trodden by a million feet. My self was an empty basket quickly filled with nausea from lack of space between humans, and disgust in front of German kids filling their mouth with water and spitting it brutally on the pigeons. The charming place where I had lived in the early 70s was gone.

“One participates in things (understands their language). In this condition understanding is not impersonal (objective), but extremely personal, like an agreement between subject and object. In this condition one really knows everything in advance, and the things merely confirm it. Knowing is reknowing.” ROBERT MUSIL

You have been here already, haven’t you, you know where to go, right?” I crossed the entire third floor of the Querini Stampalia palace, the art gallery, as fast as possible, attracted by a magnetic force toward two paintings, or the same painting made twice, the first by Andrea Mantegna, the second about twenty years after by his brother in law Giovanni Bellini. Noticing I was spellbound, the museum guard, an old Venetian, couldn’t wait to tell me the story.

 

PREMISE: The two versions of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple were painted when Venice was at the peak of its power and splendor: 1453 and 1470. Venice was the second biggest European city after Paris and the richest. Jacopo Bellini, Giovanni’s father and an artist himself, who was the head of the most interesting and successful “bottega” in Venice, will be my principal narrator. His slightly strabic, dark and piercing eyes, look at us from center of the paintings. He is a grumbling man, for good reasons.

The two paintings are family portraits. Bellini enlarged the group with two figures. From the right: Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna are the young men (self portraits), Simeon the priest not identified, Jacopo Bellini the father, Jesus is the baby boy born from Mantegna and Jacopo’s daughter, the Madonna a symbolic figure with no name, at her left Nicolosia, Jacopo’s daughter and Mantegna’s wife, the last woman at the left is Giovanni’s wife. 

Because both these paintings underwent five centuries of transformations in the restorers’ hands – Mantegna’s background was probably blue, hard to imagine now – I will avoid conjectures already deployed by art historians and experts of technology, often contradicting one another. I will stick to the story. Not long ago Venice was still permeated by whispers and talks in Venetian, flying around like a wisp of wings. We are in Bellini’s bottega.

 

Jacopo (father)          Would you close the curtain please? I saw the usual shadow coming up from campo Santa Margherita. Yes, I know you like him he is a good artist, but I don’t want Nicolosia to see him and besides, I do not want to scuffle with her.

Giovanni           Cossa vusto, father? What do you want?  Antonello da Messina gave us access to the oil color making he learned from the Flemish, so we learned to make more luminous works, almost sparkling. He is charming, has curly hair and big eyes. Think of the business. 

Jacopo          I do, but, Nicolosia is my daughter, she just gave me a boy to adore, Mantegna’s sun. Maybe a son of ambition rather than love, with marriage Andrea bought his freedom from his adoptive father Squarcione and got his own studio in Padua. It’s true the family painting he just gave me as a thank you present is still mat, quite sculpted on linen with perfect proportions —he always loved the colors of ancient sculptures, and the stones’sensuality. He is so good he doesn’t need oil paint. The other guy from the south instead uses every kind of trick. Tempera, you know, is still my favorite. He likes pretty much to slip under the skirts…That’s why he came to Venice, our putee (unmarried girls) are wonderful. Oh, the boy painted by Mantegna is a mummy, a cocoon. Antonello could give me another grandchild… can I be a collector of grandchildren from the most talented painters of these days?

Giovanni           True enough, Mantegna is the master. Perspective! You are good father, and have been innovative, but he is like anybody else. Too much work in Mantua. Nicolosia is young and lonely. Did you notice his self-portrait in the right corner? A tired face. He is so meticulous. Admirable, no stencils, no cartoon. I keep learning from him. Who knows if in a far away future people will understand the emotional depth of each detail, his ability to make lively figures out of lines and brush strokes, almost revealing their souls’ precision with egg tempera!

Gertrude Stein          I am thinking of attacking being not as an earthly kind of substance but as a pulpy not dust not dirt but a more mixed up substance, it can be slimy, gelatinous,  gluey, white opaquy kind of thing and it can be white and vibrant, and clear and heated.

Jacopo       Whose voice is this? It makes me nervous. I’m talking about men and women. Not my language. 

Gertrude Stein           I begin again with telling it, the way I feel resisting being in men and women. It is like a substance and in some it is as I was saying solid and sensitive all through it to stimulation, in some almost wooden, in some muddy and engulfing, in some thin almost like gruel, in some solid in some parts and in other parts liquid, in some with holes like air-holes in it, in some hardened and cracked all through it, in some double layers of it with no connections between the layers of it.

Jacopo           Who is she? Stein? Never heard of her; familiar though, she sounds like a painter. We were saying of master Mantegna that each of his painted characters is locked into an invisible hole, inside. Six bodies together, in the family portrait, and the bottom of them is somewhere else. 

Giovanni          Starting with you, father, What were you thinking? 

Jacopo          Oh, I was jealous, I wanted to kill him for being so young.

Giovanni             For the same reason would you kill me and my brother Gentile, like Chronos did with his children? I’m for sure your son, although I heard rumors about my real mother. I don’t blame you, and I love Gentile, we often put our brushes on the same painting. Did you call him Gentile because of your apprenticeship with Gentile da Fabriano?

Jacopo           We all share the same passion. First I want to see what you are able to paint. Maybe I will save you for the business.

1470 – Seventeen years later

As the former baby is already searching a mate, Giovanni remakes the family portrait adding himself and his wife to the scene. Same structure, same figures, not at all the same imaging: this family is not sacred anymore, halos around the heads have disappeared. Mary and Simeone look at each other, Mantegna sends an oblique gaze toward his wife, Giovanni looks obliquely out of the painting, his wife and Nicolosia seem to share a secret, pensively. Jacopo looks directly at us, is he thinking of his death, that will happen one year after? And the baby is the only one speechless, probably hoping to reach his mother’s breast. 

Dresses are more simple, and colors are dominated by a light bouncing on them from the outside world. Not anymore contained in each figure like the mystery of life. “The image of each [painted] object becomes a wordless experience; and the description of the symbolic face of things and their awakening in the stillness of image belong without doubt in this context.” (ROBERT MUSIL) Then undeniably symbols move out of the hands, like the growing baby, in a world of conflicts, of doubts and uncertainties. As if by accident, or accepting fate, the painter had left the invisible hand of future modernity posed on the painting, transforming its message.

Willem De Kooning           When I used the newspapers in the paintings, it was just an accident. When I took it off, I saw the backprint of the papers, and I thought it was nice. That’s about all.

Bellini                         Mantegna

 

A legacy by Giovanni Bellini: the most remarkable students of his studio were Giorgione and Titian.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bellini Mantegna – Masterpieces face to face – The Presentation Of jesus to the Temple, Milano, SilvanaEditoriale, 2018  and Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia (Italy)

Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans Being a History of a Family’s Progress, 1906-1908.  Something Else Press, Inc., 1966

Robert Musil, Precision and the Soul, Edited and translated by Burrton Pike and David S. Luft, The University of Chicago press, 1990

The African praise poem from Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, University of California Press, third edition, 2017

Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Oxford University Press, 1991

Emile De Antonio and Mitch Tuchman, Painters Painting – A candid history of the modern art scene, 1940 – 1970  New York, Abbeville Press, 1984