JANE of the oasis : GRACE and GENEROSITY

Jane Van Lehr

later Grunt, and Smith  –  in memoriam

As I write these two words, ’‘in memoriam,”  my brain moves to details I remember, about meeting Jane and becoming friends to the end of our days. Yet, single facts are the opposite of what I want. Here I’m only bringing up my “brief little dreams” about her, hoping they can explode like flowers of dandelion when a child blows on their fragile globes: heads covered with tiny soft stars, white, that spread everywhere in the wind not far from the ground.

That’s what Jane was, a field of energy planting seeds inside people around her, into the ground of the desert.  Her attachment to the land, and to her family history as a blooming garden of humans and trees, moves the past into the present and gives roots to the future. Her memorial was the epic of an extraordinary figure of a woman never tired of learning, giving, and improving the juice of life. And, at the same time, the least conventional. She was dancing by the pool with her daughter the evening before she died. Friendship was a secret pleasure without embellishment, or explanations. A sharing for real, no safety belt.

Even during the memorial it wasn’t possible to elude the impression she was sowing a new garden of connections  passing me on to her five sons and daughters, and to their proliferation as fathers and mothers. For the first time I met her two sisters. They are equals to Jane in intensity, grace and generosity. One had eight children, the other nine.

29 Palms Inn, The Pond

A long time ago Jane decided to produce bread for the Inn, family and guests, sourdough bread of course, but how to make it? She found a French chef, invited him to teach the technique, and the Inn has fresh sourdough bread every day since. All the facets of women’s lives dismissed or underestimated because careers and professional skills -by necessity- erase them from the personal storyboard, were valuable, intact treasures in Jane’s hardworking days. One day in August, 120 degrees in the garden, I helped to clean a big quantity of mesquite pods, because Jane wanted to  transform them into flour like Native Americans do. Her oasis is an ancient Native American site.

29 Palms Inn, Oasis

The wave of energy that for me started with Jane, became an ocean after she moved to eternity. Waves follow one another gently overlapping, they never stop. Same bad habit time has. The memorial turned into an island of kindness. Running tears and smiles and enchanting youngsters: one of them, a five year old girl with dark hair and big open dark eyes, not afraid to shoot them in my face, touched my heart. The same fearless gaze as Jane. It was, it is, a face to face conversation stripped of words: who are you as a human being?

 Little Gwyneth helped my pick up colors and paper to make washi flowers for grandmother’s ashes. Behind the couch where we were working, the box with the ashes was looking at us. It had migrated from the main house to another residence of the Inn. I was surprised and pleased seeing Jane’s remains move through the oasis where she was born, lived and didn’t say goodbye. With them next to us, we all worked as much as we could. Jane gone? not at all. Each inch of the garden, each step of the cabins, the old friendly furniture reverberate her figure, they will keep her myth alive.

Myths are the souls of our actions and our loves. We cannot act without moving toward a phantom. We can love only what we create.  —Paul Valéry

The garden of Jane is unexpected in the desert. The metal gate was designed by an artist. The soil grows mint, thyme, basil, parsley, grapes, lettuce, cabbage, pumpkin, zucchini, fava beans, figs, and pears. This year grapes were promising, I took a picture of her hand thanking the plant. With Jane I picked zucchini blossoms and cooked them for her birthday. Exchanging recipes, stories, and cooking together we built friendly moments of happiness from which time flies away, and the beauty of being human stays.

29 Palms Inn, Boat in the pond

I’m dreaming that early in the morning, when she squeezed her soul out of her body, she flew to the boat house in which she had spent years with husband and four children on the ocean water. Moving back to the oasis with the whole family to continue her father’s  commitment in keeping the Inn running, she brought the boat with her, and placed her in the pond. It is the only monument in that place, a boat impregnated with the growth of young lives. On July 22 she took the boat with her one more time, likely a light aerial replica, and happily left, to explore infinity. 

Holding her hand, I thank every second of my present, past and future. Sometimes I think back, in some fleeting delusional  flights, on the smell of African and oriental spices of my favorite drugstore in Paris. I know she would love it.

Matt Wedel : POTTED PLANTS-POTTED LIVES

LA Louver on-line exhibition

2015-2020 Five years of Matt Wedel painting potted plants

gouaches on paper

“I have been painting these potted plants over the past five years. They seem to be about my mother who is a gardener and my father who is a potter. They remind me to be in the garden, or to make a garden. They are a reminder to celebrate that garden and learn about other ways to be alive in the world. In many ways they are not about being art at all. They are about finding ways to exist.”

— Matt Wedel

FROM MY BROKEN POT

by Rosanna Albertini

Memories are dull.  The present scene is red. I still am trying to understand my mother, rethinking untold stories. If red is blood it must be invisible, said Jochen Gerz from his conceptual fantasy, otherwise it stains everything. That’s why along with his students he lifted each stone in the municipal square during the night and engraved them with the names of the Jewish cemeteries near the extermination camps in Germany, then put the stones back in place —their engraved face on the ground— as if nothing had happened. German people did not know they walked over their manipulated memory. Memory is like blood, it must be stopped from running. 

It’s May 4th, 2005. In the Kurdish city of Irbil a street is streaked with the blood of job seekers: one of the daily suicide attacks in Iraq. The soldiers’ boots are splashed with blood. It is the same red of the flag that carried socialist ideals for half a century, my little stamps on the cover of my blue Catholic doctrine book were red; but now, right now I see each of these images as a spring of lifeless memory. Every day human blood runs on the ground somewhere and soaks the first toast of my breakfast. No news anymore, no movies, ketchup please, mayo and chocolate, Paul McCarthy is a prophet. Since Cain and Abel, this is how war works. I scream against such massacres of human grace by myself, my blood vessels cry through the skin. 

Footprints trod on the page. Please mother, go away. She doesn’t. She mails me a baby clothe for my recently born daughter: a white shirt with tiny red dots. Something is wrong in that red for a newborn girl, as if the color punctuated our distance as well as inevitable blood links. Her skin, I can touch it on me. The eyes instead —the ones I found in pictures— are never present in that instant, as if they were moving her away from her own face. Invisible, her blood flows in me. It is the only undeniable connection, a thread impossible to break despite the stories that the mind brings up justifying abandonment, long nights and days on the train from North to South and back, by myself, hugging a pillow. I am twelve, thirteen, fourteen… Next to me faces of immigrants coming home from Germany. None of us knows if home is there, at the end of the trip. 

The curtain is pulled through the open window, it barely trembles. Sunlight, and rumbling noise from the freeway, and bird screeches interrupted by silly mocking birds who imitate snoring early in the morning, make a sort of density, a rumor kept outside by the curtain that I see like a luminous screen, vibrating and warming.  Yes Kristin, for the first time I understand why you painted on canvas a big, vertical curtain with little flowers blue and green. The painting is an absorbing screen raised to take time, asking things from the world not to come in for a while. Let us veil their impact. Maybe the Muslim veil that covers the women’s face allowing them to see through, while keeping them perfectly hidden, is much more than a discriminatory symbol. It could be a privilege.

Not to be seen anymore is the reason one leaves, not to be regarded by people who are only partially in touch with our life.  I have been biting my tail going away by degrees over decades, while the story which is mine followed me like an unknown ghost. I see why people do not usually leave their hometown or their country unless their roots have been snatched and pulled out. When they do, they often move as if they were inside a diving suit that makes their movements slow and uncertain, as if air were water.

It took me a remarkable number of years to realize how strongly my eyes have been wide shut to the ghost story that was glued to me like a shadow. I had to adapt my sense of space to the New World’s sky, my nervous system to the soil’s vibrations, my mouth to the tongue, my whole perception to an American story that seemed to be forever new. I was yearning for the excitement of the new —a curse that makes me think of my own death as the very last adventure.  You float over your worn out body, mother, and fly god knows where. Will I join you? Instead of receiving food from you, or dresses that I did not like, I would rest with you on an apricot tree. We rest and laugh, hidden by the foliage. Your body was your screen, wasn’t it?

 She smiles like Alice’s cat, her smile expands in the air until there is nothing else than an impression of her. She is back being an absence. I can only sing through her genes, enumerating the few keys she gave me to understand her mysterious withdrawing —most likely not knowing she was doing so.  A movie and an opera have become indelible detective stories in my mind. My mother’s pink lipstick was also indelible. The cream for her face —why am I remembering such details?— was named from herbs and leaves: “botana.”

Alberto Albertini : LAST CHANCE

LONTANANZE

Alberto on a rock

LAST CHANCE

I’ve always strongly disliked memories because time doesn’t exist. Memories, illusion: as if we could bring the past back. If time doesn’t exist, it’s obvious. The instant of our present is short, infinitely short like a film, only existing when the film frame encounters the small window of light. We do know there is a story within the film reel, go get it! If you have a film, you can project it again. You can’t do the same in real life. Although memories are there, to think of living  them again is nothing but frustration. Only the present, whatever the situation, is life, and thanks to our endless reaction times we are lucky enough to feel the present longer than an instant. For the vagabond each sip of beer is an instant, a sequence of instants extends the present. Past and future are always in the present. Being a moderate beer drinker, I chop onions and write this. 

Forgotten Garden
Dora

GLORIA

We used to walk through Corso Magenta to save the tramway fare, myself and some companions. Dirty jokes they told to each other were beyond my understanding, I was so different, their talking was strange. One of them was happy because for Christmas he was going to receive the balilla moschettiere gloves! [part of the uniform of fascist youth] Another was expecting a pair of shoes: for Christmas! That is something to buy when needed. 

My uniqueness was in trouble when Gloria was with us. A complex work. Gloria —her name was the same as the movie theater of the neighborhood—  used to appear and disappear, only randomly she strolled with us in Corso Magenta, yet to me she represented an exceptional presence of uniqueness. First her physical presence completely oblivious to me, and second my imagination about her which was strange because after all I didn’t often think of her nor for long, but I was waiting for her. Gloria was a girl with straight hair short enough not to touch her shoulders, and she was easy, mature, among the talk of her walking peers. 

It is hard for me to understand the key to her charm. As she was intermittently with us, I wasn’t allowed to know her better, but first of all it was me who had transposed her person into a story of an adult woman about to behave like an emancipated woman knowing who she is, able to run life and passions without reticence. Was it then that I perceived her, or now that I resurrect her eighty years later? Maybe Gloria never existed, I invented her in my unconscious, the unconscious invented her. 

First year after the end of fascism – Albertos’ journal

GIORGIO

Giorgio had become a friend of mine after we spent so much time to design the recording studio that a song writer wanted to prepare for his sons in Rome. I met him again in Merano; instead of taking a vacation he was having a second job with P, the head of a studio that recorded and published Tyrolean and local groups’ music.  If I was going to P, I did it in order to sell equipment. P’s wife was interesting: a true lady of the Serenissima [Venice], she stood out, conducting herself as if she were the Doge’s wife, shapely without excess. I couldn’t understand why her husband wouldn’t consider her as a woman or as a secretary.

In the evening we went for dinner at a castle over Merano: myself, Giorgio, P’s wife and someone else, but not P.

On the way back, Giorgio with P’s beautiful wife brought me to my hotel and he left with her.  

The following day I congratulated Giorgio and asked: is P disregarding his wife because he is homosexual? No, absolutely not! He has fun with the young girls that come to the studio. 

City of Rome

CREEPING REGIME

A strange survival instinct often pushes human beings to turn themselves inside out trying to justify things they might complain about. Thinking of imaginary compensation, they keep their resentment quiet and often accept to be exploited, abused, cheated.  Only when the pressure goes beyond the limits, rage explodes, maybe even stronger than necessary.    

We kept living quietly as long as possible, and the creeping regime exploited this, of course. It’s not a mystery that jokes about the regime in the fascist era not only were tolerated, but also sent out from the regime itself. Giving vent to the discontent, while the regime kept going undisturbed. It comes back to my mind when I hear or receive jokes, often very beautiful, on our present creeping regime. Here it is, could our intense on line communications  be a verbal vent good to console, making us able to endure? 

Why is the talk of action missing, now? 

Fort Lauerdale
Turkey
United States of America

SILENCE OF ONIONS – by Rosanna Albertini

First time Alberto stuck in my memory was the day his father, my grandfather, ended his journey on earth. It was summer. In the field next to our garden there was a small, temporary amusement park not worth noticing except it was noisy. The dismay among the living people in the house translated into equally noisy complaints that I found annoying. I was seven years old. The whole house from basement to the roof was pervaded by a sense of control: flowers! To me: go to your friend’s houses and ask for as many flowers as you can. It was a way to keep me out. We were like bees buzzing around the room where the only significant person of that day lay still on the bed, dressed up as in winter, with socks but no shoes.

That dead copy of my grandfather wasn’t interesting at all for me. But, I knew the real one was gone, probably flying to paradise with mountain boots on his feet, and naked like god had made him. I was so angry nobody mentioned him. It was a tragedy in which the characters couldn’t speak out the core of the story. I didn’t spill one tear. In the kitchen I found some people sitting around the table, grandmother and Alberto among them. Alberto’s eyes were red and puffy, no doubt he had spread many tears. Implacably dry, my little person asked him bluntly: why did you cry? He was silent. Grandmother answered for him: he was chopping onions.

NAOTAKA HIRO : Again, art is a mental thing

(I used the same title for the post about Marisa Merz.  https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2017/08/03/marisa-merz-art-is-a-mental-thing/)


NAOTAKA HIRO, Armor (Blue) 2021, cast 2021, Bronze and stainless steel with patina Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery LA

THE ARMOR

at THE BOX, Los Angeles, June 29-July 24 2021

text by Rosanna Albertini – photos by Peter Kirby

The artist tries to see, and grab, the undefined images that are ghosts of reality drifting in his thoughts, in his feelings, in his guts. It’s surreal and it is work. Before they become drawings, sculptures, and paintings, things randomly absorbed aren’t necessarily visual. Somebody’s scream, explosions, crows whining a perpetual discontent, the dust in the wind along with a tormented flag that would like to cover all the stories of intolerance in our time, and fails. 

Naotaka Hiro could recount the poet’s words as if they were his:

I am the truth, since I am part of what is real, but neither more nor less than those around me. And I am imagination, in a leaden time and in a world that doesn’t move for the weight of its own heaviness

(Wallace Stevens)

And he could say — art is my armor making me the blue warrior, a skin without body because all of my inside has been invaded by the pandemic, the news, the riots, the killings, my living space has been devoured, my only strength is my art.  

Reality found a place somewhere under the skin, as every experience of life gets sucked up, filtered, and sits in us if we feel and think about it long enough. No no, memory is not the major actor.  Imagine particles of reality becoming parts of us. We don’t even know we have them. Unconscious? Who knows? Physical rather, what and who merge into each other.  

What the eye beholds may be the text of life. It is, nevertheless, a text that we don’t writeWallace Stevens

Here we are. What am I doing? I replace one absurdity with another. Naotaka Hiro’s own world, squeezed out of his body (somehow like playing an accordion) appears on board or canvas giving an external presence to some things that were already deposited, or crystallized in each of his organs. Impossible to separate real world and the imagined. That’s the secret dance of the living. Everyone has a share of this destiny. But Nao discloses the mental offsprings he generated in unique visual partitions gushing and spilling from his hands like music.  Flat bodies whose parts fluctuate spreading layers of colors. Lines have their inscrutable developments, forms don’t have any resemblance to what comes from nature’s womb. Even less they meet words able to express them. I might be delusional, yet I see a few eyes, or crickets? things that are more masks than faces, leaves here and there. Tunes trying to be images without leaving the aerial freedom in which they vibrate.  

NAOTAKA HIRO, Untitled (Forum) 2021, Acrylic, graphite, grease pencil, crayon on wood
 96 x 84 x 2 1/4 inches.
Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery LA
NAOTAKA HIRO, Untitled (Rhyzome) 2021, Acrylic, graphite, grease pencil, crayon on wood,
 96 x 84 x 2 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery LA
NAOTAKA HIRO, Untitled (Belle Vue) 2021, Acrylic, graphite, grease pencil, crayon on wood
98 x 84 x 2 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery LA

I can see from my keyboard how desperately the artist wants to export something, intuitions that push him to bring them out, he is obsessed by his blindness about them. Imagination has already reshaped them. Restless, they change and change, they slip away. They must be stopped. Nao gives four legs to each board, two feet high, so he can introduce his body underneath the board. It’s surreal and it is work.

I crawled underneath the wood panel and laid flat with a face-up position. With the physical limitation, I have to keep my body quite close to the surface. I drew, often with both hands, reflecting my body parts, positions, and movement. I flipped the board over, stood, and sat on it to analyze, edit, and paint colors in. I repeated until the distinctions and binary systems got blurry and abstract, merging the two personal worlds. (Naotaka Hiro)

DETAILS:

The finished pieces reveal the accomplishment of these magnificent self-portraits of an artist facing the constant transformation through time (the six wooden pieces at the center of the exhibition) and the endless variations that follow board by board, half conscious, and half blind. Although impossible, his desire to resemble himself is so strong that his hands at times stub the wood, inflict exasperation and pain, you bring me in, stubborn surface! There he is, painted and sculpted in bas relief on the same surface. Our sense of reality in front of the hidden conflicts of cells, organs and limbs, grows emotionally and mentally.      

When we look at the blue of the sky

“…we live in the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there —few people realize that they are looking at the world of their own thoughts and the world of their own feelings.” Wallace Stevens

When we look at Nao’s self-portraits, we are as well in the center of a physical poetry. Because we are as humans as Nao is we can try to be him, and admire his challenging work while our body, inside, kicks our brain: I am your real treasure, and you don’t know me. Ha!

detail

Rebecca Campbell : painting is erasing

Infinite Density, Infinite Light

May -June 2021 LA LOUVER Venice CA

REBECCA CAMPBELL, Reflection 2021 oil on board 36 x 48 in. Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venice CA
REBECCA CAMPBELL, Beautiful Boy 2019 oil on board, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venica CA

El tiempo es la diversa

trama de sueños avidos que somos

y que el secreto Soñador dispersa

Time is the manifold 

texture of avid dreams that we are

and that the secret Dreamer dissipates

Borges

ROSANNA ALBERTINI Painting is deceiving. I ended up loving being unsettled in front of paintings I see for the first time, almost lightheaded. Like heaving to burst a dam, a barrier: that is not my world, not even the same colors I see. Each brain is hit by light in a personal way, we have our own colors within. The artist has hers, I hope she doesn’t believe we see them. Something similar. That’s why I let my whole body exposed to the paintings and wait. I wait for the heart beat. 

Rebecca Campbell paintings are the second skin of her life. She expands through the texture of time, feelings and light. Members of her family, the first boyfriend, images from the memory appear as her brush made them, as if guided by a state of mind that floats in midair. Gestures and tasks of every day are erased, what remains are symbols.

Feelings of the present wrapping an imags of the past: a friend passed away and the following day Rebecca made a painting of a family member when he was a boy, a beautiful boy holding four puppies, but the painting is the symbolic portrait of the dead friend’s kindness. The touch of pink beyond the edge of the house gives the mood of the piece: a twilight that once was dawn. “Purification and oblivion.” 

“What texture is this

of will be, is and was?” 

(Borges)

 That texture can be painting. I thank you Rebecca, for the constant displacement and mysterious tension you gave to each of these pieces.  Feelings remove from the scenes the certainty of only one moment in time. Time flows like light that makes the landscapes fluid, dissolved by colors, the seashore a repository of air and transparent secrets, almost ready to give birth. 

REBECCA CAMPBELL, Still Waters 2020, oil on board 36 x 48 in. Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venice CA
REBECCA CAMPBELL, Kin 2021, oil on board 36 x 24 in.
Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venice CA Photo RA
REBECCA CAMPBELL, Nature Boy 2021, oil on canvas 60 x 110 in. DETAIL
Cortesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venice CA Photo RA
REBECCA CAMPBELL, Nature Boy 2021, DETAIL
REBECCA CAMPBELL, Passage 2021, oil on board, 36 x 24, DETAIL Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER. Venice CA Photo RA

Painted humans seem to keep their features steady; their visage, their body defies the pressure of time. Not their story, which remains untold. Children are almost swallowed by exuberant bushes or trees so luxuriant and dense they could hide them forever, or clasp them in the density of ponds. Marvel and fear are tight together. In real life children share with nature a surprisingly fast and untamed transformation. As if an act of magic had given life to them. As if their growth, their unique figure had been prepared by the same secret Dreamer who refuses to be detected in any physical configuration, except his creatures. Shells, trees or humans are the development of His/Her/Its nature. Each destined to the same kind of measure, the only thing we know says Carlos Williams, each trying an infinite number of dances.

The flower dies down 

and rots away  . 

But there is a hole

 in the bottom of the bag.

It is the imagination

which cannot be fathomed.

It is through this hole

we escape   .   .

(William Carlos Williams)

Is it the children presence in some paintings that makes the brush strokes lighter and lighter? melting foliage into soft clouds, spreading veils of luminous gold, a dry rain of painted light may be the artist wishing to preserve forever the beauty of a moment? It was, already. Is and will be. Shaken in the memory’s bag, at every instant they are not the same. 

REBECCA CAMPBELL, Trevin 2018, oil on board 36 x 48 in.
Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venice CA Photo RA
REBECCA CAMPBELL, Vanta Envy 2021, oil on canvas 75 x 51 in.
Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venice CA Photo RA
REBECCA CAMPBELL, To Have And To Hold 2019, oil on canvas 75 x 51 in.
Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venice CA Photo RA

Patterns. Adult life. Search for an order of things. Everything that mind can build: good, rough, perverse, uneven, smooth, hard. Rebecca has recently introduced patterns into her paintings. Soft and benevolent. The white young men wearing a white shirt doesn’t care if colors and lines from the pattern behind him go through his body. A smiling face. The woman sitting on a chair wears the pattern in her silky dress, and the regular texture might help her to face the opacity of the black box she holds in her hands. A disturbing darkness sits on her laps. A man wears a blue pattern, the woman next to him had a sudden De Kooning style transformation. The contrast is striking. 

REBECCA CAMPBELL, Radiant White 2020, oil on canvas 88 x 109 in.

Through Rebecca’s artwork, the order of things, geometry  we rely on to make sure our feet are still on the ground and our head is not spinning, progressively adapts to the human body, expands and mutates. It becomes a cluster of bodies softly falling asleep on one another. The magic touch of her painted images. Not a crossing of straight lines: every shoulder is a pillow for a head giving up with awareness, heads become heavy, slipping into sleep. Geometry is only a mental thing, living bodies gladly forget it resting in their round, fleshy, heavy physical presence at the edge of light and dark, of black and white.

“Between dawn and dark lies the history of the world.” (Borges)

  “Nature gave to Raphael the gift of painting the sweetest and most gracious expressions on faces”  Vasari wrote a few centuries ago. I would write the same about Rebecca. Not only her skill equals the old masters, here and there she adds to these contemporary portraits a cut of the scene on the right side which brings into the painting the colors of time, in which eternity quivers. 

REBECCA CAMPBELL, Look Up 2020, oil on board 10 x 8 in. Courtesy of the artist and LA LOUVER, Venice CA Photo RA

BIBLIOGRAPHY

JORGE LUIS BORGES, In Praise of Darkness, transl. by Norman Di Giovanni, New York, Dutton & Co., Inc., 1974

WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAM, Paterson, 1946. A New Directions Book, 1995

GIORGIO VASARI, The Lives of the Artists, New transl. by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peyer Bondanella, Oxford University Press, 1998

BRENNA YOUNGBLOOD: an art piece is A SLICE OF LIFE

The Light and the Dark at Roberts Projects – Los Angeles

BRENNA YOUNGBLOOD, No More Drama 2021 Mixed media on canvas, 72 x 59.75 x 6.5 in
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles. Photo Alan Shaffer

A slice of life, words of Brenna. They include the fact that each art piece is also cut off and detached from a bundle of experiences that everyone carries and burns, to feed the mysterious envelope of their body inside and around. The living life. Do paintings have it? No doubt yes. If the artist gave it to them. For how long it is hard to tell. 

Brenna Youngblood 2021 is like a springtime blooming. A year of isolation and hard time made her hands lighter and witty, they can glue her shoes on canvas and tell them to walk away, drama is over. Remains of the reclusion enter the geometrical space of the canvas without embarrassment becoming the image of a headless garment, a bodiless, playable thing once filled and reshaped by a human sitting on a pile of darkness. The human vanished like Aladdin’s spirit quitting the lamp, and the tag remains, hung on the new prison of this object that strangely moves from wrapping a person to being framed, literally, as an icon of emptiness. 

BRENNA YOUNGLBLOOD, Incarceration 2020, Mixed media on canvas 69.75 x 40 in Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles. Photo Alan Shaffer
BRENNA YOUNGBLOOD, Hourglass 2021, Oil on canvas 72 x 60 x 1.5 in
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles. Photo Peter Kirby
BRENNA YOUNGBLOOD, Closure # 6 2021 Mixed media on canvas 24 x 24 x 2.25 in Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles. Photo Peter Kirby

Robert Rauschenberg    “When I lived on Broadway, I would go out to the middle of Union Square and take Polaroids to have made into silkscreens.  I needed some very simple images, like perhaps a glass of water, or a piece of string, or the bathroom floor with a roll of toilet paper on it. They didn’t need to have any immediate emotional content. I needed them to dull the social implications, to neutralize the calamities that were going on in the outside world.”* 

In the isolated time that’s what Brenna did: she unscrewed herself from the obligations of self-expression, maybe accepting to float among the clouds of the general uncertainty, and lifting from her artworks of 2020-21 the burden of showing what the public expectation asks for: coherence, continuity, identity, fear and rage.

BRENNA YOUNGBLOOD, Jolly Rancher 2021. Mixed media on canvas 72 x 60 in
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles Photo Alan Shaffer

What a relief to find her hands returning to the art manners of many predecessors with no drama and no affiliation. She takes walks into their fields as it works for her feet, as her mind rethinks them so her hands create an atmosphere she can breath. What we see is the visual outcome of Brenna’s conversation with Hammons, Magritte, Rauschenberg, maybe Frankenthaler, Mondrian, or herself of the past. Arbitrary references, my own incarceration in thoughts. 

Only Hourglass  is an oil on canvas. All the other pieces are mixed media on canvas, but they are all paintings. Single creatures telling their story, the artist gives them the energy to be an exuberant Jolly Rancher, an almost threatening Hourglass, a funny anti-geometrical field of rectangles incapable of keeping their edges clean, they are pieces of paper: Dirty Mondrian. Mondrian might be flustered in his grave trying to make the lines straight.

BRENNA YOUNGBLOOD, Out the Blue 2021 Mixed media, including archival hand-made wall paper by Kristin Calabrese, on canvas 60 x 72 in
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles Photo Peter Kirby

Out the Blue, details

The most surprising encounter is Out the Blue. It needs a long, accurate visitation. Brenna places directly on canvas pieces of wallpaper that painter Kristin Calabrese has handed her years ago.

The thickness of life is made flat on canvas, and yet, because some layers have been scratched out, small caves appear with a few words of a love story, or the drawing of a dog, graffiti on canvas. And five vertical cracks, mostly painted, suggest other stories hidden behind the cracks in full contrast to the blue flowers on wallpaper, breaking the wall and pestering them. It is life’s squeezebox, opening and closing according to no choice, it just happens, nothing to do about it. Calamities are neutralized. Brenna, what a great work! If there is a group to which I would like to associate you, it’s the old group of “artists of the humble Infinity” —a group of artists of the early 70s, who were considered inconsequential: the artists of Studio Z. 

You are a contemporary griot.  

  • RAUSCHENBERG An interview with Robert Rauschenberg by Barbara Rose, Vintage Books, 1987

Doug Aitken’s FLAGS AND DEBRIS: the other side of Los Angeles

At Regen Project, Los Angeles, January 16 – March 13, 2021

below: DOUG AITKEN Flags and Debris, 2020 Photo: Peter Kirby

Always about us: Act 2

by ROSANNA ALBERTINI

Ruthless as leopards, / sharper than wolves, / the powerful gallop / in the dark,  /coming from on high / like a falling star / to destroy. / They always want something, their faces / hard as a coin, / contagious / as a dollar. / The powerful /scoff at power / and laugh / at regulations. / They are everywhere, / blind to boundaries. Then wind changes / and they dry up / and are carried away. / It is a mistake to worship power, / even your own.

From Unbuttoned Sleeves, by Forti, Johnson, Swenson, Wadle, 2006

The following images are stills from the excerpt provided by Regen Projects, the stills were selected and grabbed by RA

And, for once, an artist channels his own power through the sleeves of his old shirts, blankets and fabric of his home, looking through the fabric of his life. Oh, ronawave certainly blocked him, forcing his day in a contingent straightjacket like all of us all over the world. This is now normal life, almost, as it always should be: facing sister death as a constant companion who smiles at our aging and ailments, little things after all. 

The artists, Doug Aitken, covered the many days of isolation with the same patience as Penelope waiting for Ulysses, cutting fabric and sewing the seams and hamming the edges of a population of words dressed with magnificent colors or gently depleted as if thoughts had dimmed the light on their skin. Paintings /  Flags / Banners / Quilts?  All of that. Some of them are hung at Regen Project, until March 13, 2021.

below: DOUG AITKEN, Digital Detox 2020 Mixed fabrics 115×102 1/4×3 inches

Others fell from the artists hands to start a completely different life. Sliding down the parapet of a bridge they fly for a short while until the water welcomes their flat body and caressing the surface of the fabric transforms them into translucent magic rags floating under the astonished eyes of birds. Homeless art. I hope the artist let them go away, for their natural polluted journey in the liquid realm. 

DOUG AITKEN, Digital Detox 2020 Mixed fabrics 115×102 1/4×3 inches

The scenes Aitken prepared for the 3 channel video installation (Flags and Debris) deserve more than a description. They have to be seen in person, sucked into the light space and sounds of an almost empty city. Carried away by cars roaring on a freeway like dark animals with fire in their eyes stealing your eyes for a ride with no direction. The loud slaps of fabric, the emotional voice of fabricated blankets folding and unfolding over invisible bodies with no identity. Homeless art on homeless humans. Homeless artist? At least for a while?

Lack of identity becomes monumental. It moves the figures and their coats to unnamed places of our time and to others, centuries old, dramatically balanced as in the baroque paintings. This symphony of images and sounds —13  minutes 20 seconds long— reveals something that cannot be described: despair, pain, delusion, fears   can be looked at as images of incredible beauty even on the most flat and gray beds of concrete. A whole day from morning to dark. The artist gives to walls, sidewalks and rivers of Los Angeles a down-to-earth portrait. Through a modest amount of time the dance of dispersed bodies that is the living city among cars, trains and bikes, shows what really those bodies are: simply humans, and wonderful. A foot emerge from the sidewalk like a classic pedestal. A hand raises from darkness and it feels like a tender flower breaking the ground after winter, naked and still colorless.        

I don’t know if Doug Aitken ever worshipped his own power as an artist, I don’t think he let his flags out unprotected without a bump in his heart. Then he followed the estranged creatures with his camera and composed a videopoem in their praise, and in praise of the most surprising city. Frankly, ronawave started the process, but the artist brought it out of time, on the other side of the Acheron. 

SENGA NENGUDI : THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD

 Sprüth Magers Los Angeles  August 2020–January 2021

Senga Nengudi, BULEMIA 1988-2018

About us fabula narratur  Act 1

By Rosanna Albertini

Macaronic latin, the morning light brings it to me, no reason to dismiss it. The new camellias drop tears of rain from the pink tutu of petals still swollen with water. Affection and admiration seem to be hidden in these flowers. Beyond the thick greenery of the fence a bunch of preschool children chirp names of things maybe for the first time and slip them into the fantasy game. How can I read the news? I don’t know where I am, walking through the garden first thing in the morning. It seems the other side of the world. News of the last six months condensed into a rock at the center of my body. Place undetermined. What’s wrong? History switched, it’s a new day. Something continues to feel wrong.

 I have no more the desire to know everything from the political arena; it was at the tip of my mind until a few days ago. And now I am surrounded by the power of security operations: the functional castle of women and men of good will trying to remake the country healthy, prosperous and happy. I see the grapes like the fox of the fable, can’t reach them. But I won’t say they are not ripe. The fox in me is moved around by a tornado of voices, opinions, commentaries; such a dense cacophony that it becomes an enormous cocoon. Simple facts of every day end up obliterated.

 Furthermore, it’s hard not to see that, as we search for certainty in this life, we avoid the sense of dread, the surprise that feeds the beauty of being alive. As we look for protection, we deplete the bag of energies moving our feet toward the unknown, inside and after the vanishing cloud that we call life. 

We always drew, wrote and told stories from the beginning of human time to keep track of existence. They were often indirect, or suggesting a moral, parables or metaphors. Truth only sits inside a story, becomes tangible at the end of day, an inner sensation, mostly invisible. In this life of today we don’t wait. But, to know everything at once? Impossible, it doesn’t make sense. 

Senga Nengudi, BULEMIA 1988-2018
Senga Nengudi, BULEMIA 1988-2018

Opening the file with Senga Nengudi’s installation images l finally find a visual story that is also, maybe, the other side of the world. Her collection of newspapers and the one of her mother, without separation. People of color and white, news, advertisements and portraits of the Pope and of Martin Luther King. “Bridging the gap”, “End the taboo, proceed with care,” “just hold on,” “See more love,” “an inside job,” “Remain Unshaken.” Isolated words with no context. You enter a room with a tapestry of papers on the 4 walls: a big mouth chewing words and images, inevitably throwing up the excess of BULEMIA from reading too much, as Senga calls it. She covered some areas with gold, painted over some sheets to establish a new space for mind and heart to recover, a space of undeniable beauty. Repeated, made of cut outs in different fonts, the word CLEARANCE goes through the gold like a river. Toward the floor, papers become an unreadable mass, the one human bodies had contained, and then expelled according to the laws of gravity. Yet they remain suspended on the walls like the news in our mind, bending their head and shrinking like a flower that has lost its ink.  Small golden paper balls rest on a shelf, more are on the floor. Even discarded, they belong to the humans and shine, perhaps, of living particles.

“We are all part of the same tapestry. It’s important that we know as much as we can know, and be exposed as much as possible, and be motivated, inspired, and show interest in something that’s beyond our own personal history.” SENGA NENGUDI

Senga Nengudi, BULEMIA 1988-2018
Senga Nengudi, SANDMINING B

That’s the real landscape of this time in history, a dejected and wounded land. Pain springing from forgetfulness and lack of care vibrates in the dark vertical creature near the wall, a body of spines in tension between two metal pieces. Not able to stand up by herself, the creature witnesses the miracle staged by the artist in her hopeful mind: little sandbreasts emerging from the desert bed, exposing their colored, bright nipples in the air. 

It’s a disconcerting, attractive scene sowing colors and industrial metals on the ground. They are hardly compatible. 

It’s a prayer asking for husbandry: “not a simple list of practices, but an attitude toward living that entails honesty and economy” (William Bryant Logan).

It’s a concert for crystallized physical evidence in the sand  and the heartbeat of the artist, and ours if we close our eyes and listen to her voice 

My ancestors I honor you,

I remember you I we need you

I we thank you for your guidance…

It is time. It is time… to chant the same song 

Hum the same melody of Now…

Heart to heart, our blood still flows from your origin 

Toes touching soil, muddied

1619, from human being to a commodity,

Soul of a nation, lost in an instant

Only love, still, only love can make it right

Only love can save the day  

Colors on the wall around the vertical creature and on parts of the sand are light, almost vanishing shades of pink, green and blue. They might announce the beginning of a new day, or the end of any day.

Senga Nengudi does not spread illusions, nor tries to seduce bringing up mirrors of eternal utopias.

She is just here, as we all are, turning pain and dread into gold.

A camellia to her from my grateful, quivering fingers.

A NONSENSE SONG BUT A SONG OF LOVE

Hannah Kirby with open hand holding fire

Participants and materials

A Cat from Paris on Bianca Sforni’s computer, photo by Bianca

The Moon, scientific image from Michal C. McMillen’s archive

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, poem by Edward Lear 1812-1888

from Michael C. McMillen remembrance of his grandmother reading it to him.

The White Owl from my search of a title for a book about LA artists;

Hannah Kirby with open hand holding the fire.

    

Introduction by Rosanna Albertini

Three friends are surfing the waves of distance. “There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the subject of anything,” said Gertrude Stein. In their hearts there is no distance at all nor an ocean or a hill: they see the same things since the beginning of time and after all they are pleased to be on the same wave without having to measure the distance, no need to count the money to cover the distance, either.

Black circles the cat’s eyes and turns around the moon. 

One two three the white light removes them from the chair of identity. Pages flew away like magic carpets. The black and white remains clear in the written words but fades into the infinite grays of the images. A perfectly white camelia blooms the day of my birthday, pure whiteness still uncontaminated like the days in their undisclosed bud. 

This is a black and white song repeating with Jon Batiste: “What a wonderful world” please don’t forget it. This is a song of silence for the contagious nonsense that is killing hope and joy and beauty all around the world. Like Torch Song, Alison’s Saar sculpture that wears a black and white keyboard like a vest of bullets and holds a burning torch in her right hand, I wear my pearls asking them to bloom flowers of light, and give them to the white owl to fight the darkness and announce a new year: a new, joyful, wonderful year. 

THE OWL AND THE PUSSI-CAT

BY EDWARD LEAR

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat:

They took some honey, and plenty of money

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the starts above,

And sang to a small guitar,

O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,

What a beautiful Pussy you are,

You are,

You are!

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl,

How charmingly sweet you sing!

Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried.

But what shall we do for a ring?”

They sailed away, for a year and a day,

To the land where the bong-tree grows;

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,

With a ring at he end of his nose,

His nose,

His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.

Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will,”

So they took it away, and were married next day

By the turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon, The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

In life and death the noble rider: JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE

March 12, 1933 – December 23, 2020

Photo: © Peter Kirby

John Outterbridge. The sower moved away from earth while the seeds he has planted keep cycling through the seasons well beyond racial and cultural differences. Mostly among artists who probably don’t even know his name or tentatively grasp the secret of the ancient art John Outterbridge shared with all his friends as a normal way of living: the art of storytelling. His sculptures are his hands recombining simple remains of used materials, or traditional rituals mysteriously repeated and contained in pieces of fabric, glass, leather, metal, and his hands were remaking a new life for them not because they were coming from dumpsters, or they were found at the corner of a sidewalk — damn the mythology of artists as scavengers of garbage —  but because they were consumed and altered by unknown lives, broken stories without a leash. 

Photo: © Peter Kirby

I remember him shaking in a big smile without stopping to inquire about the person in front of him with no words, looking into her eyes. It was like being shot by his dark interrogative pupils: who are you? From which stories are you coming from? See? I wear African hats and colored shirts, what are you bringing to me which is not only words? Can I trust you? John had the same fierce, commanding request of authenticity I found meeting Maori tribal members. You can’t lie — the direct physical communication speaks before words. Once the threshold is passed, and earned, a river of stories can flow for hours. 

John and Peter

Lunch with John. A pervasive smell of sweet potatoes soup had filled every corner of his studio-house. It had already boiled four hours — John told my husband Peter — he loved to cook and feel the vegetable and the human bodies merge into unique organic transformations. Interior sculptures, for sure. Never would he have competed with the succulent plants’ creativity: he proudly took care of his grandfather’s cacti, trying to maintain the family husbandry. 

Never was his art separate from the feeling that things and people could be lost and broken down forever if someone wasn’t caring for them, giving them a personal, surprising place in their lives.

Photo: © Ulysses Jenkins

Skeletons of broken cars were a passion for him. He could spend years rebuilding and restoring them. On the evening of an opening downtown he picked me up in West LA with another friend who was already in the car. The blue little Volkswagen was not complete. I sat behind John on a piece of cardboard, there were no back seats, and I had the most exciting drive to Downtown: there was not car on the freeway whose driver wasn’t bugging their eyes at the arrival of the little shiny monster that was us. 

Art was for John an offering to life asking for clemency, hoping for inclusiveness. Universe isn’t an audience, doesn’t listen, cares even less. If it wasn’t for humans, lady earth wouldn’t have a face, the many faces she shows to the sky who still cries tears and storms over their eternal separation.

Photo: © Peter Kirby
Photo: © Peter Kirby

In this blog there is another post about John Outterbridge, from 2016: https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/john-outterbridge-the-sower/