Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Hypertext, New Work, Edward Hopper, & Clowns

Some good, no great news, although possibly you've heard it already via Twitter or Facebook or both. I've started taking part in a hypertext project, called "That Reminds Me..." started by writer Dan Waber. My story, "Italy, 1990" appears as part of the project now. It does not load automatically, however. In Dan's initial story, about a terrible waiter, you must click on the words " a trip to Italy" and it will take you to my tale (partially true) about European technicians and hardware salesmen I knew as a girl.

Hypertext is a kind of "choose your own adventure" story--remember those? I made reference to them before in my review of Matt Bell's Wolf Parts (which appeared here in an earlier posting). Choose-your-own-adventure stories usually had sentences like these at the end of cliff-hanger segments: Turn to page 120 if you want Jim to return to the space ship or 350 if you want him to swim the phosphorescent canal. I was always amazed at the architecture of these stories--how they were put together, where the narrative paths converged. I was constantly flipping between segments, trying to determine their path, their trajectory, to see if they ultimately lead to the same outcome. I don't remember what I discovered. I just remember they were a revelation. I even remember, back when I was painting and making images of brightly colored cadavers (no, not macabre--never macabre because there were sequins) on canvas, I conceived of an exhibition in which a pulley system moved a series of canvases around the lower half of a gallery wall. The canvases that hung from this line would feature the legs, tails, or escaping vapor of monsters. The top canvases, which defined faces and torsos, would be static, but visitors could choose the combinations they wanted to see. I had been planning to call it the "Choose Your Own Adventure Series". (I'll have to admit this idea was inspired in part by a box of long fireplace matches my parents' bought in the late 70s. You could move the lid and get different dress combinations for the men and women--long yellow muumuus of the women might soon become purple bell bottoms that had previously belonged to the man on the adjacent facet of the box).

So, let's talk about art now that we're on that subject. Specifically, let's talk about Edward Hopper. To the right is Soir Bleu, painted in 1914. Her was 32 at the time of its execution. It was after he'd sold the painting Sailing (1911) at The Armory Show and moved to Greenwich Village.

Here, the lasting influence of Impressionism in the Japanese lanterns, the gauzy atmosphere and the low skyline (and Post Impressionism--is that one of Van Gogh's potato eaters on the far left, sitting with the seltzer bottle?) is evident, as it is in many of Hopper's earlier works, where he admitted to having difficulty finding his own style. But it is the characters that are so arresting here: while the woman might be the focal point the first time you look at the work, since she rises like an Amazon over the horizon (and the longer one looks, the more one asks whether this is a woman at all), the white clown is what my eye is drawn to on the second look. It is his sheer unsullied pallor and the dangling cigarette that says to me: this is the real subject, and while not a genuine self portrait of Hopper, it is the portrait of the artist, even...the writer. We perform and make other laugh or cry or feel, but we, too, are full of cynicism and addictions (and here we are again at the cigarette, the drink). Here, a Pierrot, smoking. Before him, a glass with yellow-green liquid. It could be absinthe--the water is there, but I see no slotted spoon or sugar cube. Perhaps that part of the ritual is done.

Is that Van Gogh across the table from the clown, and who sits with epaulets and short-cropped hair next to him? Here, Hopper reaches into Toulouse-Lautrec's world, into the green-glowing gas footlights that colored the faces of Degas' second-rate, scandalized actresses. Here, friends, is beautiful blue bohemia. Here, Hopper has not yet met wife Jo, who will bring him into the brown, ochre and black of the Ashcan School where she grew into artistic maturity herself. Then Hopper went from the clown (a la Hamlet's dear Yorick) to the King of Melancholia.

No comments:

Post a Comment