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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIONA CONNOR : Corpses For Dry Eyes

 

FIONA CONNOR, Closed Down Clubs, 2018 Mix media installation at The MAK Center, Los Angeles

 

FIONA CONNOR: CORPSES FOR DRY EYES

text by Rosanna Albertini    

    Photos by Peter Kirby

From far, they look like vertical pages separated from their book, pages that thickened enough to stand up in an empty space. They are the last page of different volumes. Volumes of a time that was. 

Glass and wood and metal might have absorbed over decades after-shave perfumes, coffee steam, and smells of sweat, garlic, burned bread, beer, whisky and bad breath — “better bad breath than no breath at all,” sings Willy Nelson. That’s just me, I have a strange system of senses: enough to think about a crowded bar, I can smell it and absorb the cigarette smoke blending with the car exhaust on the sidewalk. All gone now. 

But the sculptures in person still carry the hidden volume of stories moving through the doors open or closed, by the years in numbers.

Fiona Connor remade the vertical, thin bodies as they were their last day of work, after opening and closing for people in search of food, drinks, music, eager to clasp hands, or lost in rage. She couldn’t reproduce the secret feelings each geometrical guardian shared with the fingers touching them, pushing or pulling. Music could do it, not visual arts. 

Remade, opened to a new life in spaces for art, usually neat and aseptic like hospital rooms — surgery happened for sure — the inanimate guardians move in a limbo, following the uncomfortable translation into a body of language: walls and ceiling disappeared, as well as the address. The remains are a calligraphic profile.

It’s a day filled with smog and smoke in Los Angeles. My vision might be blurred, but I see Fiona Connor putting together little by little faithful archival alter-egos of the original architectural elements, adding handwritten signs, eviction notices, other messages to the public, as a spider does secreting the thread for geometrical webs. And I see Allan Ruppersberg rewriting in a perfect copy on canvas the whole text of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. 

As their own life goes through the time of building and making, the two artists become one thing with the process.  Once their work is done, “reality slips away from them because she is real again, and marks a distance.” Albert Camus. “Such thickness and strangeness of the world is nothing but absurdity.” They both deal with a reality which is thick and quaint; in a word, the absurdity of the physical world, which is a primitive substance refusing dominion: humans made it their own only to toss it, or forget.

Eh bien, voilà. That’s the art. To feel the growing power of natural or cultural blocks, stronger than dragons, and fight against them, or move away. Apparently protective, historical frames keep at bay any wish to move out, far from them, from their mask of permanence, even from their beauty.   

THE WALLS DON’T FALL, wrote Hilda Doolittle in 1944. One year before I was born. She was born in Bethlehem, PA, in 1886 and died in 1961 in Zurich.

XLIII

Still the walls do not fall,

 I don’t know why;

there is wrr-hiss,

lightning in a not-known,

unregistered dimension;

 we are powerless,

dust and powder fill our lungs,

our bodies blunder

through doors twisted on hinges,

and the lintels slant 

cross-wise;

we walk continually

on thin air

that thickens to a blind fog,

then steps swiftly aside,

for even the air 

is independable, 

thick where it should be fine

and tenuous where wings separate and open

 

XXXVIII

my mind (yours),

your way of thought (mine),

each has its peculiar intricate map,

threads weave over and under

the jungle-growth

of biological aptitudes,

inherited tendencies,

the intellectual effort

of the whole race,

it’s tide and ebb;

but my mind (yours) 

has its peculiar ego-centric

personal approach 

to the eternal realities,

and differs from every other

in minute particulars,

as the vein-paths on any leaf

differs from those of every other leaf

in the forest, as every snow-flake

has its particular star, coral or prism shape. 

 

Like Hilda Doolittle, Fiona Connor is a voyager, a discoverer of the not-known and unrecorded. She has no map, nor rules of procedure. How could she bring to us the death of these social spaces without knowing what death is? She made a flat coffin for each of them, a profile. “I must find out what is moving inside them that makes them them, and I must find out how I by the the thing moving excitedly inside in me can make a portrait of them.” (Gertrude Stein) There is no way in, no way out. But they are strongly anchored in the floor, solitary skeletons offering their nakedness to the viewers, with no regrets.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, Paris, Gallimard, 1942

Revolution of the Word, editor Jerome Rothenberg –a new gathering of American avant garde poetry 1914-1945, New York, The Seabury Press 1974.

 

FIONA CONNOR’S PORTRAITS AND REPETITION

Fiona Connor

FATHER DIGESTING THE NEWSPAPER    ―   New Zealand, January 2016

“One of the things that is very interesting thing to know is how you are feeling inside you to the images that are coming out to be outside of you.” (Gertrude Stein with one alteration: images instead of ‘words’)

Fiona-Dad-1

Fiona-Dad-3

Fiona-Dad-4

Fiona-Dad-2

Courtesy of the artist – Photos: Peter Kirby

Gertrude Stein’s portrait writing (from “Portraits and Repetition”)

“We in this period have not lived in remembering, we have living in moving being necessarily so intense that existing is indeed something, is indeed that thing that we are doing. And what does it really matter what anybody does. The newspapers are full of what anybody does and anybody knows what anybody does but the thing that is important is the intensity of anybody’s existence. Once more I remind you of Dillinger. It was not what he did that was exciting but the excitement of what he was as being exciting that was exciting. There is a world of difference and in it there is essentially no remembering.

And so I’m trying to tell you what doing portraits meant to me, I had to find out what it was inside any one, … and I had to find out not by what they said not by what they did not by how much or how little they resembled any other one but I had to find it out by the intensity of movement that there was inside in any one of them. … I must find out what is moving inside them that makes them them, and I must find out how I by the the thing moving excitedly inside in me can make a portrait of them.”

“Portraits and Repetition” is one of the five lectures Gertrude Stein wrote in 1934.
They were originally published in a book called Lectures in America, New York, Random House, 1935.

AN AMERICAN IN INDIA

Jason Underhill – FROM LOS ANGELES TO LONAVALA

By Rosanna Albertini

American, but a son of Los Angeles which is America and the edge of it, lapped by the Pacific. Our young artist had to go to London and stay there for two years to realize that post-colonialist echoes in Europe have a resonance and a flavor that is missing in his frontier city. But he needed one more step out to personally experience a colonized country. In November 2103 he went to India for a month keeping his behavior perfectly coherent with a “gross” —as he says— American side to whom he is attached more than he thought.

JASON UNDERHILL, Paradise Lodge Catalogue Text, 2013 Silkscreen print on paper 6 x 8 inches Courtesy of the artist

JASON UNDERHILL, Paradise Lodge Catalogue Text, 2013  Silkscreen print on paper, 6″ x 8″
Courtesy of the artist

Only after coming back he started to think about his residency at the Paradise Lodge in Lonavala, among eight artists, as a long game that changed his life. Jason is nor afraid of clichés, for self irony saves him from shots Munchausen style. People from the Valley (continental part of Los Angeles) do act sometimes like barking dogs and laugh about it. It’s a natural thing like yawning when the day is too long, but “it being a natural thing makes it a curious thing a very curious thing to almost anybody’s feeling.” (Gertrude Stein – Narration) No doubt Jason is Jason because his dog recognizes him. Simplicity shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, “it just does take about a hundred years for things to cease to have the same meaning that they had before.” Stein again. And besides, it’s extremely hard to understand the habits of societies in constant transformation all over the world.

Underhill landed into a hilly place non far from Mumbai. Monks excavated the mountains with caves. People of these days filled the walls with simple graffiti. Four castles towered on four of the hilltops. In the small town the foreigners became bizarre celebrities: children wanted to be filmed with them.

Jason Underhill, INT. CHICKEN STALL – NIGHT, 2003

Running: Camera by Chinmoyi Patel, Merike Estna. Driver: Justin Gainan

Train: Camera by Justin Gainan

Kumar Resort: Camera by Chinmoyi Patel

Slam Book : Camera by Justin Gainan

Underhill filmed his own daily life in Lonavala. He looks like an American character incrusted into a place where jogging on the road, or sleeping as a standing horse on the train, do not make any sense. The image of India that he grabs, on the other side, gallops across imitations of western water parks and urban settlements by the same, undeterred pertinacity that fills the image of the young American guest. The two images might merge their foolishness, yet they don’t. None of them is idealized.

Underhill brought to India his human nature and gently revealed his displacement. India crossed over him cutting his breath with pollution and filling his sleeping hours with local music and sounds; he did the equivalent looking deaf. Reality was much more effective than Jason Underhill shows in the films and left marks on his mind. But, as everyone knows, the mind only relates to human nature, they are not the same: the India visitor needs to make sure he is still himself, despite the pleasure of being immersed in a much more communal life than the one he has known in Los Angeles. I’m sure for instance he wants to keep his dog for himself. Mind or nature? Never mind. Of course, there is more.

turtle

A crime story for Christmas

1, 2, 3, 4, 5        by Rosanna Albertini

Thank you, COREY STEIN

Numbers have such a pretty name … They have something to do with money and with trees and flat lands, not with mountains or lakes, yes with blades of grass, not much a little but not much with flowers, some with birds not much with dogs, quite a bit with oxen and with cows and sheep a little with sheep and so have numbers anything to do with the human mind … They ought to have something to do with the human mind because they are so pretty and they can bring forth tears of pleasure …” (Gertrude Stein)

COREY STEIN, friction 2006 bead work on wood   Courtesy of the artist

COREY STEIN,    Friction     2006     Beadwork on wood   5″ x 21″ x 11/2″
Courtesy of Christine Arburua

And they have something to do with Corey Stein’s counting and beading, beading and counting and hanging stories of fear on the branches of a pine tree who shows the story of other trees dancing their deadly waltz on the wind – fire, fire! – asking the green green grass for relief but burning as well while a fox runs away from the flames in search of ponds lakes or a comfortable shade where to rest and count her dreams of rabbits maybe not so fast runners.

Maybe there is no crime if wind and flames are only told by words and beads and they only came to clean the forest to make space for young trees or the fox might run looking for her love in a different forest there is hope for sure although we never know what might happen that we are not able to see or tell, nor write. Fears have a house: they become a tree. Do they know that same body that embrace them contains the tools for a crime?

COREY STEIN, Waltz on the wind    2006 Beadwork on wood with stone & matches   11" x 16" x 2"     Courtesy of the artist

COREY STEIN,    Waltz of the wind    2006
Beadwork on wood with stone & matches 11″ x 16″ x 2″
Courtesy of the artist

COREY STEIN, Waltz of the wind    2006  Matches detail.

COREY STEIN,    Waltz of the wind    2006    Matches detail.

COREY STEIN,fox on the run 2006 beadwork on wood with stone and matches   11" x 16" x 2" Courtesy of the artist

COREY STEIN,   Fox on the run    2006
Beadwork on wood with stone & matches 11″ x 16″ x 2″
Courtesy of the artist

COREY STEIN, green green grass of home    2006 beadwork on wood with stone and matches  11" x 16" x 2" Courtesy of the artist

COREY STEIN,    Green green grass of home    2006
Beadwork on wood with stone & matches 11″ x 16″ x 2″
Courtesy of the artist

Gallery

IMPORTANCE OF BEING PERPLEXED

PAINTER STEVE GALLOWAY, a SON OF THE DESERT

by Rosanna Albertini

Object is fact not symbol (no ideas). It is, is cause for joy (John Cage)

But words are not shadows. Words are objects. (Viktor Shklovsky)

 Let me tell you a story. There is a ditch between the pleasure we receive from an artwork and truly seeing what the artist did. With Steve Galloway’s pictures, I could be stuck in the ditch forever were I asking help from books. One of the smartest tells me that “we don’t know how art began any more than we know how language started.” (E. H. Gombrich) Therefore, I must thank yesterday’s sunset: it was a scattered movement of light fighting the grayness through the clouds. As the light grew dim, electric ovals, intertwined, drew in the sky one of the most classical and mysterious secrets of painting: how the painting itself generates light. The sky became an immense painting over the city of angels which is desert and money and romanticism and politics, but the desert comes first.

STEVE GALLOWAY, About 20 Feet  2014  Pastel on paper 25" x 20" Courtesy of the artist

Steve Galloway,  ABOUT 20 FEET  2014,  Pastel on paper,  25″ x 20″
Courtesy of the artist

STEVE GALLOWAY Consumed   2014  Oil on linen  20" x 16" Courtesy of the artist

Steve Galloway,  CONSUMED  2014,  Oil on linen,  20″ x 16″
Courtesy of the artist

As an artist, Galloway is a son of the desert. A master in the land of nothingness, where our individual nature is the least part of ourselves. He questions the space, the sunlight, artificial lights, transient colors, bushes, rocks, animals, insects and paints them as estranged presences; history will never box them in. Galloway’s house, the mouse, the spider or the red bed underwater bring up the triumph of a detached isolation. “Look at me, I’m a different bed, you don’t know me. Only Steve can touch me, not even him, his brush, or his pencil does, I’m powerful. I’m a light plant.” The red bed has become the quintessence of an heroic solitude, a king hiding the crown. A medusa bed? When the aquatic Polyphemus bites the red cover, then really the bed’s power flows over the sand surface and goes far, far away. That’s the art: a common object mutates into a magical presence and we can feel it’s power.

Yet, before the sunset I hadn’t seen that each scene built in Galloway’s mind doesn’t include shadows. The opposite happens: the painted image diffuses the light it contains, may we call it life? Images mark their presence on the ground in spite of realism or physical limitations. They play with words, but don’t reveal the story. Bushes devouring a little house, a big frog hoping to eat the dragonfly. Our eyes eating the image in one blink. Although constantly threatened, this imaginary universe is meant to expand as a message of freedom. Is the mouse dreaming to be Cootie Williams while he blows the trumpet? Is the TOOT the center of desire that generates light around the little animal on the straw? Whatever the environment, the circumstances, it is, is cause for joy.

STEVE GALLOWAY, MAYFLY 2009, Charcoal and pastel on paper, 28" x 20" Courtesy of the artist

Steve Galloway, MAYFLY 2009, Charcoal and pastel on paper, 28″ x 20″
Courtesy of the artist

Steve Galloway, TOOT, 2013 Pastel et fusain sur papier, 38 x 28 cm. Courtesy of the artist

Steve Galloway, TOOT 2013,  Pastel et fusain sur papier, 38 x 28 cm.
Courtesy of the artist

I believe that I like to see what is seen.

Ah yes of course.

I believe that I like to see what bothers me.

Oh yes of course.

I believe that I like to be what is not human nature to be because human nature is not interesting. …

But anything flying around is.

Oh certainly.

Therefore there is the universe.

Because it is flying around.

It is interesting.

Romance and the human mind are interesting and are they flying well they are not. (Gertrude Stein)

MEMENTOS

 SAM ERENBERG : HISTORY IN WATERCOLORS

by Rosanna Albertini

As a (modern) divinity, History is repressive. History forbids us to be out of time. Of the past we tolerate only the ruin, the monument, kitsch, what is amusing: we reduce this past to no more than its signature. (Roland Barthes)

 

Chicago 1921: Court of Honor and Grand Basin

Chicago 1921: The Chicago World’s Fair. The Columbian Exposition: Court of Honor and Grand Basin (from Wikipedia)

Queen Nzinga in peace negotiations with the Portuguese governor in Luanda, 1657 (from Wikipedia)

Angola. Queen Nzinga in peace negotiations with the Portuguese governor in Luanda, 1657
(from Wikipedia)

Golf of Sidra incident August 1981: A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4J Phantom II escorting a Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevitch, M i G-23.

Libya. Golf of Sidra incident  in August 1981: A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4J Phantom II escorting a Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevitch, M i G-23. (from Wikipedia)

1953, Iranian coup d'état. Overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Moraddegh replaced by an absolute monarch, Shah Reza Palhavi.  Tehran men celebrate the coup. (from Wikipedia)

1953, Iranian coup d’état overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Moraddegh, replaced by an absolute monarch, Shah Reza Palhavi. Tehran men celebrate the coup.
(from Wikipedia)

West Virginia 1921: The Mine Wars between coal companies and miners. Photo: Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. (from Wikipedia)

Egypt 1956: Suez crisis. Israel invades Egypt, followed by Britain and France. Photo: Damaged Egyptian equipment. (from Wikipedia)

Egypt 1956: Suez crisis. Israel invades Egypt, followed by Britain and France.
Photo: Damaged Egyptian equipment. (from Wikipedia)

Snapshots might be History’s appropriate marks, one shot in time from which we pick up the illusion we know what happened that very moment, it has to do with remembering and forgetting, occupying but not interesting, so says Gertrude Stein.

Think of WRITING as neither remembering nor forgetting, neither beginning nor ending, and I would say that PAINTING works the same way.  With photographic documents or photo journalism we are forced to consider, precisely, which side we are on. Wars and violence break our mental shields. Mysterious snapshots need a great many words to describe an event that is not in our memory except maybe for a name, a date, or less. But here I’m interested in Gertrude’s a-synchronous thinking. She places writing out of time. So does Sam Erenberg’s painting. Did Roland Barthes like her writing? Probably not he was not American. But Gertrude and Sam they both grew up as American Jews.

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Libya 1981, Watercolors on paper, Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Libya 1981, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Egypt 1956, Watercolors on paper, Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Egypt 1956, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Angola 1976, Watercolors on paper,  Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Angola 1976, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Chicago 1892, Watercolor on paper,  Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Chicago 1892, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Iran 1953,Watercolor on paper, Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Iran 1953, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, West Virginia 1920, Watercolors on paper, Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, West Virginia 1920, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

Is it by arbitrary choice that artist Sam Erenberg diluted in watercolors all the thoughts in his mind for each historical event he found interesting over the last one hundred years? Destroying the likeness of images and facts, and letting only one word and one date marking the painting like a wound? Is it by accident that The Making of Americans was 925 pages (first paperback edition 1966) of family stories in a tapestry of feelings and behaviors if you go to the bottom of them the same kind in every time, therefore free from dates and memorable events? Unofficial history with her mind fluttering through the sameness of being human it doesn’t matter when, maybe a little more where.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of any thing…” (Exodus 20:4)

Sam’s mind has a need of words. They are shadows, calligraphic stills of a landscape, a human land in which we get lost. Call it history, it doesn’t make it more limpid, or readable. If each event were a tree, we could imagine us in it’s shadow, trying to share the same umbrella, engaging the most impersonal connection. Diluted in watercolors, history has entered the artist’s perception. His mind gives back a physical surface. Painted events are just colors in movement, signs that filled for a while an artist’s cave, his mind with no time nor identity, so “when it sees anything has to look flat.” (G.S.) The event was melted in his eyes.