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Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Throne of Psyche news + Ashley Norwood Cooper

I have been having a bit of trouble finding wireless where I am at the moment--I'm afraid that I have abandoned most of my family and headed for Cullowhee, North Carolina. It's here, but it's hard to find at the tail end of Lent. So I wasn't able to post part of Dave Bonta's sequence on Friday. So for Easter weekend I'll post a bit of news plus a copy of an article I wrote for the Freeman's Journal in Cooperstown. One fun thing about the newspaper is that the founder built a house in 1808, and that is now my home. So I live in what was built as a wordsmith's house.


The Throne of Psyche is out, and I have finally seen a copy. And I must say that the art work by Clive Hicks-Jenkins is spectacular, that Burt & Burt are splendid designers, and that Mercer University Press has a level of attention to detail and quality papers and binding that I have not encountered before. My mother, a librarian for an astounding number of years, pronounced the binding work "perfect," and that is a thing that has never happened. She also said that the way the spine was done was precisely designed for library use as well, and it usually is not--that is, no bit of title would be covered by the shelving information. She is a demanding woman!


Elsewhere in The Throne of Psyche news, another poem-as-video by Paul Digby has made it onto the Moving Poems site. Thanks, Dave! Thanks, Paul!

* * *

THE FREEMAN'S JOURNAL, Cooperstown, New York
MARLY YOUMANS: ART REVIEW: ‘Snared In The Moment When Things Go Awry...’

Ashley Norwood Cooper’s latest work, “The Bear,”
is among 18 paintings displayed at the Earlville Opera House
through May 14
Cooperstown artist Ashley Norwood Cooper has a strong solo show of 18 casein-on-board paintings, “Homebodies,” at the East Gallery of the Earlville Opera House. These pictures are part of the resurgence of narrative, representation and pictorial beauty in painting. They are resonant with half-told stories and rich with mystery.

They demonstrate a fascinating relationship to what in the past has been considered a traditional, often-scorned woman’s subject, domestic life. Her statements about her work may sound modest: “I try to paint life in a small town as thoroughly and honestly as I can. We live with our families, protected from the elements in houses built on the bones of the past.” She finds that “mundane details are fraught with mystery and meaning.”

Ashley in her studio!
But the paintings have something powerful and not at all modest to say. Houses have been cut away so that we see simultaneously the ordinary and the terrible intrusions created by nature, accident and danger. These are not paintings removed from real life, located in some distant arena of action. They are the places where we live and die, where transformation is continually happening. Their middle-class interiors remind me of a poem by Mary Jo Salter in which “hidden in the house a fine / crack – nothing spectacular, / only a leak somewhere – is slowly / widening to claim each of us.”

The entire world functions as a kind of doll’s house, where we are allowed to see into the earth or through private walls. The bones of a bear seem to stir, longing to attack a heavy-racked deer that lowers its head to drink from a child’s wading pool in the dream-like “Night Secrets.” Not knowing that mystery is only a few walls away, a man and woman embrace inside the house. Here and elsewhere bones of the past remind us of the scope of time, that it is large and that our lives in the shelter of homes are small.

In “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board,” my favorite of the paintings, children play an occult game down in the basement, lifting a girl into the air with only two fingers from each hand. Weird light spills onto her face; her mouth is open, and she is in the grip of something ecstatic. What have these children conjured? The gold and green gleams shed from a streetlight through a basement window and the face of the half-thrilled, half-horrified child are uncanny.

That uncanniness is contagious. It infects the entire house as well as the yard and street glimpsed outside, where bats jitter and swarm in the twilight. A figure leaving a car seems strangely vulnerable to the open air. Upstairs, reflected eerily in a big-screen TV, a naked man stoops, seeking to get into bed with his wife, who has stiffly ensconced herself in the very center of the bed, her body as pale and cold as the sheets. Outside, a skeleton under the ground gropes upward, as if awakened by the séance game and wishing to snatch at life.

The figures in “The Bear,” Ashley Cooper’s most recent work on exhibit at Earlville, show signs of wanting to escape the dimensions of her current paintings. They have grown large and suggest that the artist is looking for bigger rooms to inhabit. She is looking for generous studio space where she can work on a larger canvas and has ideas about a new project. It will be interesting to watch where she goes from here.

In the cut-away interior of “The Bear,” a family is frozen at the moment when a bear knocks over the aluminum garbage can outside – awakened, caught up, and alarmed. Picasso once said that we see a painting better when it’s not hung tidily on a nail but is hung crookedly. These paintings are crooked in just such a way: their human occupants are snared in the moment when things go awry. Life is illuminated by strangeness and is suddenly more real and intense than it was a moment before.

Ashley Norwood Cooper is an artist with a vocation, one that we locals ought to support with our attention and time and, yes, money. From now through May 14, pay a visit to her work at the Earlville Opera House, a model for arts programs in our area.


  1. What a cool thing it must be to live in a wordsmith's house when one is a writer!

    And the book sounds perfect.

    I wish I could see these works in person. You write about them so wonderfully that any artist would be thrilled.

  2. Your house sounds wonderful. And how appropriate! I must say that Cooperstown, despite the fact that often you would rather be further south, is a fascinating place, from the sound of it.
    I am awaiting my copy of the book impatiently, having gotten notice from Amazon that it is on its way.
    Happy Easter! I don't know why I imagined that you would be home with the kiddos, consuming a wonderful holiday meal today.

  3. Robbi,

    Like all 1808 houses, it wants to fall down and be one with the earth. But we keep propping it up and putting a new hat on top. Cooperstown is a very intriguing place, despite the cold--and the cold is good for my work.

    So I don't really complain, and when all my children are out of the nest, I may go get warm in January!

    This is the first Easter that I have not been home with my children, I believe. But I am with my mother and my eldest. And the others are all together, too.

  4. marja-leena,

    Yes, it is a lovely idea, isn't it?

    The book does look splendid. A tribute to the bookbinder's craft and the designers! We hope it's a gift in the contents as well.

    And I am glad you like the article. I have recently decided that my area is so awash in dabblers in the arts--I should say that I think dabbling is fine and fun and enjoyable--that people (particularly women) who dedicate their lives to an art are treated as "Sunday artists." And I'm tired of that lack of attention to those who do dedicate themselves to an art.

  5. Oh! How I wish I could see more of Ashley Norwood Cooper's work! Your descriptions are very enticing!
    I must Google and keep an eye out.
    This week I should receive The Throne of Psyche through the mail and I'm looking forward to receiving it. It sounds like chocolates from Belgium; aged Whisky: Champagne of the best sort!

    2 short films on Dave Bonta's wonderful Movingpoems site is pretty fantastic, Marly. You should feel very proud of your readings. Very proud indeed!

    Flaky internet connections will plague you until you reach Wales. After that, you'll find blistering fast internet connection everywhere outside of the UK. HA!
    Happy Easter!

  6. Paul,

    There is a link under her photograph.

    My mother has a good internet connection, but unfortunately I can't dismantle her computer and replace it with my own--and I need to upload from my laptop. Wah. I'll try and go to the public library on Monday.

    You are very funny! As there will be a houseful of laptops, I imagine the connection capability--even if basically good--will be stretched thin.

    Happy Easter to all (including Paul!)


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.