Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Baynard, with a Murakami moment

One of the many unique pleasures of last weekend in New York was visiting Ed Baynard’s show at Sara Tecchia. I’d already spent hours tromping around MOMA the day before and was in the right mood. A sequence of new paintings, very different from the delicate and precise images of Baynard’s still lifes that have been collected by the Met, Tate, and others, filled the gallery. The world of birds, flowers, elegant vases, order, and light created in his prior work is entirely overthrown in “Re-Emerging,” and watercolor is the artist’s means to its destruction on paper, for the painted world is melting, pierced, uprooted. Exactitude is hurled and splashed away. The skies are ravaged by the intense shapes of a Blakean or even an anxious Munchean sky, and the ground is dissolving. Tropical leaves whirl into a planetary exit. A trinity of birds, pierced by the hole of a perfectly round absence, plummets downward. Even color has fled, all but a single heavenly blue.

It is always interesting to hear what an artist has to say about paintings, though I think it’s clear that what was said was said in confidence, and as a kind of gesture of respect to Makoto Fujimura, who arranged the meeting. But it is evident, even without a conversation with the artist, that these pictures flow out of a fount of grief over the dissolution of the natural world.

Nevertheless, I found it curious that my own reactions to the paintings were not focused only on the destruction of the physical world in our time—a very great theme, to be sure, and one we neglect to our own undoing—but were ultimately larger. The large and perfectly round “holes” in each painting, piercing bird and water and sea alike, were evocative not just of the holes in the landscape (the ozone layer, the Amazon rain forest, the polar ice caps, the 9-11 “hole” in New York City, etc.) but of many other absences in and destructions of what should be whole. Yet the tormented skies, with their roiling clouds and vigor, held out a grace note or two of light that suggested that all might yet be well.

It’s intriguing that sometimes a work means more than one had thought. Sometimes it is bigger than one had dreamed. Or perhaps it is that the dream itself is deeper that one had realized.

And sometimes life is just quirkier and more fictional in tiny ways than seems quite possible. Don't these little things happen more often than seems quite believable? Often inconsquential but strange, suggestive of a complicated weave: think about the latest quirk and odd doubling-back in your life...

In Grand Central Station, just before I left for home, I paused outside a bookstore. What did I want to read on the way? Immediately and to the fanfare of a little bit of surprise, Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle popped into my mind. I had never seen a physical copy of the book, or even a picture of the cover. It’s not the kind of book I ever see, living where I do. I went straight for the “M” books—oh, those lucky authors who are “M”!—and found a paperback copy. It startled me: there was an upside-down robin on the cover, pierced by a perfectly round circle, through which one could see blue sky.

Well, that settled that.

Some things are, by the blessing of coincidence, absolutely fated to be—as if in a particularly unreal story.
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As I don't imagine somebody is going to give me permission to add a Baynard image, I'm adding a kindred sky: this is a royalty free picture by Mario A. Magallanes Trejo of Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, from http://www.sxc.hu.

6 comments:

  1. Lovely. And yes, it is interesting how one's work--and life--can take on meanings and colors one didn't see at first.
    As to your update--I wanted your books out in paperback yesterday. But I guess the world will wait. (Pilgrim Soul--what a perfect title).

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  2. Lucky "M"?

    Because M stands for "middle." Middle of the row, eye-high. Not XYZ at the tag-end, bottom right-hand corner or even around the spillover back in the Occult Corner or among the Local Cookbooks or some such.

    Paperback yesterday: it sounds like something from the Mad Tea Party. Something served with Never Jam Today.

    And thanks! Credit is, of course, due to W. B. Y. That's the good thing about being a "Y." Yeats. Yeats. Yourcenar.

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  3. What powerful images, both Baynard’s paintings and your word images, Marly. When viewing “Re-Emerging”, I imagine one more painting: man/woman with the hole. Isn’t it to fill the round absence that we seek after God? And isn’t it from that wound that we in turn wound, the world, its creatures, and self? “Who is man that thou art mindful of him?” plays in my head.

    Any update about your collaboration with Fujimura?

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  4. Yes, a good reading. One woman I was with said "macular degeneration of the spirit."

    Man and woman were utterly absent... No place left for them in the doomed landscape, though their handiwork was visible.

    Oh, that's not up to me. It will be fun if we do it, though!

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  5. Marly describes well the gorgeous blue works Ed Bayard talked about for our group. I was struck also by the beauty of his vision, that this color was so pure and so perfectly even, a miracle in watercolor, that his circles were so precise and ethereal, accomplished with the placement of a humble paper plate. The birds were fallen or falling, dead or dying, the sky was roiling and pushing against itself or against the loss of itself, and all so exquisitely, coldly, serenely blue. I will never forget that color. Essential questions about art and existence came to mind as we viewed this show and heard Ed's comments about it: what purpose existence? what end justifies life? and more. Like all great art, the meanings continue endlessly.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.