Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Remembrances of David Carrow, sculptor, by Christopher Cairns

When I arrived at Oberlin College as a transfer student in 1963, David Carrow was a senior. I became aware of his existence, but never knew him well at Oberlin. He was part of a motorcycle club that included my brother Michael. David looked like Marlon Brando in the Wild One. David studied in the art department sometimes, mostly with the sculptor Norman Tinker, who was also my teacher. 

In the fall of 1965 I went to Columbia for a post-graduate year to study or work with the sculptor Peter Agostini. In the spring of 1966, I went to a class and was startled to see someone across the room who looked familiar. It was David Carrow. I said to myself, oh shit here I am in NY and Oberlin is following me!  During the break, David came over, and started talking to me. We very quickly became friends, bound together by our mutual interest in sculpture. 

At the time I was living in a medium-sized closet on 111th street. One day, David, seeing how I was living, invited me to share half of his 6th floor walkup on the lower east side at 122 Forsyth St. I remember clearly going downtown for the first time, coming up from the subway and seeing how bright and open lower Manhattan was. I quickly took Dave up on his offer and moved into the front room of a small tenement apartment. I paid $25 a month, which was better than the $100 for my uptown closet accommodations. 

I spent the next six months in this apartment, mostly going in the evenings to the newly formed New York Studio School on lower Broadway, working in the day at Peter Agostini’s studio on 12th street and Avenue B. 

Often in the evenings Dave and I would walk over to Chinatown to Dave’s favorite restaurant, Hong Hing, on Mott St. The first time that we went there Dave gave me instructions. He told me that they did not like “ghosts”. He explained the noodle soup menu and said that the price varied according to how they felt about the customer. Since Dave was a regular, he paid less. I paid more. Often the waiter gave you the soup that they wanted you to eat. The soup was great and for 50 years I have been looking for something that is as good.

Occasionally David would come with me in the evenings to the Studio School where he would work in clay from the model. Sometimes he would help on casting projects of Agostini’s. He was less responsive to Agostini’s dictates and criticisms than I. Consequently, Dave’s interactions with Agostini were limited, although, ironically, they continued into the future when he worked as Agostini’s assistant in Greensboro in the 1970s. I think Agostini had a mixed influence on David and his pursuits. Dave’s instincts appeared to be less inclined towards modeling and more towards welding and construction.

I remember well a typical exchange we had during these months of living together.

Chris: Where are you going?

Dave: Out

Chris: What are you doing?

Dave: Nothing

In the summer of 1966 Dave and I rented a studio on the Bowery. The studio belonged to the painter/sculptor Peter Pinchbeck. Dave and I worked in the studio every day during a very hot summer. We would sit out on the fire escape, drink beer and watch the old men stagger across the Bowery, often standing very tipsily on the center island divide, cars whizzing by in both directions. At night we had a drawing group, working from the model, which included Margo Martin, Jonathan Silver, Bruce Gagnier, Lance Solaroli and others.

David worked all summer on a seven foot high piece made out of concrete, metal pieces from the street and other objects. The base was fashioned with pieces of stone. I think Dave had James Wines’ sculpture on his mind. When it came time to vacate the studio, Dave dismantled the base of the piece so that a number of us could carry the heavy upper part down to the street and around the corner onto Bond St, where Dave re-cemented the base in place and chained this impossibly heavy piece to a lamp standard with an industrial gauge lock. We waited and watched for days, but the task was above the pay grade of the trash removal people. The piece remained as part of the neighborhood for about two years, when someone finally tackled the removal job.

One day, Dave, I  and Jeff Armistead were making pancakes on a Sunday morning at Jeff’s place on Eldridge St. It was a lovely spring day. Since Jeff lived on a front ground floor apartment we decided to open the front window and offer free pancakes to the neighborhood kids through the window bars. A bunch of kids showed up and we quickly ran out of pancakes, just as more kids were showing up. We closed the window after announcing with a sign that we would be having free pancakes the next Sunday at 11am. The kids continued to rattle on the bars and window for some time until they got discouraged and melted away. We got prepared for the next Sunday with a large batch of pancake mix. Jeff was startled awake at 10 am with noisy banging on the metal gates. Soon Dave and I arrived, but we were a bit taken aback by the size of the crowd. We furiously made pancakes and tossed them out the window to our new fans. Again we underestimated the demand and quickly ran out, having again to close the window. Dave and I had to stay inside for some time until the crowd dissipated and we could safely leave. We were slowly learning what it meant to have an audience and none of us were very enchanted with the idea. Two mornings of free pancakes were enough to discourage us. We did not put out a sign this time but Jeff made the mistake of shouting out, Come back next Sunday! In the meantime, we agreed that this project should be terminated. Crowds gathered for several more weeks on Sunday morning, but Jeff only sat and endured the banging and shouting.

When Agostini moved his 12th street studio to Greene St, Dave took a set of fantastic photos of the studio. They are viewable on my daughter’s website. 


Years later David gave what I took to be his ultimate assessment of Agostini: “If you want to get ahead in life, watch closely what Agostini does - and do the opposite.”

Dave went to Vietnam and I was drafted. We would write letters back and forth. One week Dave was able to go to Hong Kong on R&R. Margo’s father was US Consul General in Hong Kong. Margo’s parents were very fond of David. He stayed with them at the Consul General’s residence, up on The Peak overlooking Hong Kong.

Dave and I remained close though the 1970’s. Dave was in North Carolina, while I was teaching at Haverford College.

Dave was close to all three of my kids. He very much liked to torture my sons, especially Nicholas, wrestling with him on the floor. Peter was younger - Dave would hold Peter upside down over the cat pan.

In 1977 Dave had a terrific show at Haverford College. This included larger outdoor pieces on the campus, including “Big Arc”, “Circles and Cylinder”, and “Orange Sucker”, and the astonishing “Terrathopter" in the college gallery, along with other pieces. I think this was Dave’s first show. One of the outdoor pieces, “Big Arc”, remained on the campus for about ten years, until it was removed for “the usual reasons.”  

Sometime later, “Nonayet” was installed near the Foundry. It remained there until I retired.

In the early 1980’s Dave facilitated my meeting Herk van Tongeren and Issac Witken. Herk invited me to be a visiting artist at the Johnson Atelier, several years that were the most productive and enjoyable of my life. 

One day Dave told me that he thought that artists were “deficient, incomplete people,” as if they were people who had holes in them. He felt that they made art to try to make themselves complete. This thought struck a chord in me, and I have repeated it many, many times.

Dave and I continued to have regular exchanges, either in person or on the phone. We continued to try to help each other. Dave helped me in so many ways, and I know that he also did this with others. He was flat-out generous. 

Dave had a second show at Haverford in 1995, at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery. This show included “Autobiography”, “Resolve”, “Detent”, and “Double Bit Table Lamp”. It also had an installation. I am not sure if Dave took pictures of the installation in this show.

Soon thereafter Dave got sick from his exposure on the Mekong River. A number of us ferried him to Sloan Kettering to get treatment. He was his usual tough self in dealing with this illness. I remember bringing him back one day from radiation treatment. His doctor would set the number of times for radiation treatment and then move the goalpost. He said that they just gave as much radiation as he could take. The heavy doses of radiation along with an experimental cobalt implantation saved his life. 

I was surprised that Dave went back to work at the Atelier. Dave had his own ideas about this and he was right. He caught a big break and snagged Michelle. Michelle was what Dave had previously been missing, and he appears to have been an individual with a bifurcated life, the second half building on and surpassing the first. 

Dave was a gifted artist. He developed in his own way, with various early influences. I remember going to the World’s Fair with him and looking at Agostini’s fantastic “Windy Summer Day”. We visited many galleries and shows together. Dave showed an inclination towards Richard Stankiewicz, Raoul Hague, Reuben Nakian, Bruce Conner, Ed Kienholz, Joseph Goto, 1950’s David Smith, Simon Rodia, Stephano Cusamano and Marisol. His strongest affinity was with H.C. Westermann. I think Dave was attracted to these artists’ individualistic and somewhat offbeat/obscure temperament. 

At the same time I think Dave felt himself aligned with the larger tradition of metal sculptors. Certainly his time at the Johnson Atelier allowed him regular contact with other serious artists working with metal, among them Larry Steele, Herk van Tongeren, Issac Witkin and, most importantly, Mel Edwards.

Dave himself spoke little about his motivation in making sculpture. In presentations that I observed, Dave kept things simple, with no grandiose statements about the purpose of art, either his or others. One can get the sense of his aesthetics by reading the “Rant” section on his website.

Dave Carrow’s sculpture was thoroughly conceived and well-wrought from the very beginning. Dave made a habit of making complete, somewhat hermetic sculptures. The mature pieces tend towards the hierarchic or totemic. Each sculpture provoke a complex set of feelings, from the playful, to the whimsical, to the mysterious, to the truly enigmatic. The viewer is sometimes invited to participate with moving parts, often non-functional. At other times, the visitor is ‘screened out” by objects in cages or behind screens, The objects that fueled his sculptures were  all “collectables”, shards or pieces of metal gathered from his surroundings, work or junk yards. Dave had a way with devices and mechanics and it clearly shows in his sculpture. Each sculpture had a distinct personality, often enhanced by color, and each invited close viewing. The sculptures all have a great sense of nobility. 

When the catastrophe of my daughter’s illness descended upon me, I gradually lost contact with David. l regret this. David was a fine person and a terrific artist. 

More photos of sculpture can be accessed on davecarrow.com

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Reflections on Mike Price on the occasion of his show in St. Paul, MN, October 2015 // by Christopher Cairns

I met Mike Price in New Orleans in 1968. Mike was a devilishly handsome and sexy young man, if one can be permitted to say this in this modern day and age. Margo and I had recently been married and we would run into Mike at various parties. He always had incredibly beautiful women with him, but never the same one - until one evening, another astonishing beauty was introduced to us, a certain Susan.  Well, this gal stuck around. Susan Davis then was everything that she is today. She and Mike would dance and dance – and sing and laugh. What a couple they were!
Mike and I became fast friends, bonded by our both having roots in the urban north - something that was not entirely understood in New Orleans.  We were both workers, but found time to spend together at various watering holes and oyster /shrimp bars. We would wander from my studio on Decatur St, near the old mint, to eat beans and rice at Busters. This would cost us 27 cents apiece, including a piece of bread and butter along with a glass of water. Seventy-nine cents would fetch the same, along with a piece of sausage. Other treks took us to Felix’s, where we would pound down shrimp and beer.
In those days, Mike was working on molded wax sheets and also on bronze heads. I heard stories from him of his time in the US Army, somewhere in Alabama, Huntsville, I believe, He spent two years modeling heads of Generals and other officers, wandering around the base in civilian clothes, the only soldier not in uniform. Mike was a clever young man. He didn’t like to salute. Mike had been a math major at Indiana, even getting his Masters, before going in the army. He took a sculpture course at Indiana with Frank Gallo, who was all the rage at the time. But the Army gave him his grounding in sculpture. So let’s not be too critical of the armed forces.
One day Mike - knowing I was from the east coast - asked me,  “Have you ever heard of Harvardford College?” (name changed to protect the innocent).  I said yes, that a high school friend, a certain Bobby “Thunder” Bird, had applied to Harvardford, but didn’t get in.  That was the extent of my knowledge of Harvardford, in spite of growing up within a half hour distance of this school.
Mike said that Harvardford was hiring a sculptor and that he had the inside track. Mike shared a Chicago gallery - the Vincent Price Gallery (no relation) - with a painter named Charles Stegeman. Stegeman had just been hired at Harvardford to start an art department. All this was news to me and of very little interest.
About a year deeper into our friendship, I got a notice advertising this sculpture job at Harvardford. I asked Mike, “Whatever happened to that inside track that you had to the job at Harvardford?” Mike said - without going into details - that it wasn’t going to work out for him. I asked him if it were okay with him if I applied for the job.  He said sure, with that big smile of his.
Through a series of improbabilities, I got the job at Harvardford College.
At exactly the same time, I was looking for other jobs, and an opportunity surfaced for me at another small liberal arts college in St. Paul, MN, a place called Hemline (name changed to protect the innocent). They had asked me to come for an interview. But I already, improbably, had a job. So I told Mike about this job, phoned up the chairman of the art department at Hemline and suggested that they substitute Mike Price for me. It happened fast, and Hemline hired Mike Price. I always felt this was my greatest academic achievement, and that I should put it on my vitae, at the top- if I still had one.
In this way, I got Mike’s job and he got mine. Such is the way of chance – or such was the way that chance used to be.
A number of years later I learned that Mike was not considered for the job at Harvardford because they deemed him to be a “loner”. This is the kiss of death in acanemia. This is a strange turnabout. The most isolated from reality, lonely and out of it group of individuals on the face of the planet determined that someone else is a “loner.” What a joke! What Mike Price was is this. He was thoughtful, precise, honest, smart, relaxed, reserved (at times) and gifted. Harvardford’s loss was Hemline’s gain.
With both of us leaving New Orleans in the summer of 1970, a long and deep friendship ensued.
This included long weekly phone calls for years. Mike had a great curiosity about many things, not the least people. He had the ability to sense special things about people. On several occasions he told me of para-psychological events that happened to him. Mike Price was a lightning rod - and the effects often generated ideas for his sculpture.
In time, Mike started to make long impossible drives in a rickety van packed with his sculpture from Minnesota for various east coast destinations. Invariably Mike would stay at my house in Harvardford, PA, having driven 20 hours straight through or having stopped for a few hours to sleep in the van. Often he had a student helper with him. The first thing that Mike would do upon arrival would be to take our dog Aurora Roxanne (Roxy), for a walk. Roxy loved Mike and would go nuts when she saw or smelled him. Everyone - dogs, chipmunks, women, men, and children - loved Mike Price. He was that kind of guy. Only one man, later in Mike’s life, took a dislike to him - but more about that later. Immediately, Mike and I would head to Dunkin Donuts, my off-campus office. Mike liked Dunkin Donuts as much as I, and Minnesota was seriously deficient in this regard.  If Dunkin Donuts existed there at all, it was in a lesser form and was eventually driven from town by the more sophisticated coffee roasters. But Dunkin Donuts was our speed. At Dunkin Donuts, we would talk and talk.  And laugh and laugh, as Mike had a terrific sense of humor.
In a matter of hours (he was always in a hurry) I was on the road with him and several of my students, driving his sculpture to NYC and the Krasner Gallery on Madison Avenue just north of 79th street. Together we would lug his bronzes to the second floor gallery and set up the work. Mike’s shows in NY always met with limited success, but he kept doing it as long as this gallery existed.
One delivery day, a student of mine was watching the van - sitting in the van - when several serious looking fellows in suits and bulging pockets came up to his window and told him not to get out of his van. They said it in such a fashion that the student did what he was told, more than a little alarmed as to what was going on. In about a half hour, Moshe Dayan emerged from a curio shop just under the gallery.  Moshe Dayan seems to have been a great collector of ancient artifacts.
About the same time, Mike started selling a lot of sculpture to Philip Berman, a collector who lived in Allentown, PA.  Berman was a big shot in a small town. His white Cadillac license was “Allentown #1”. He wore a cowboy hat and acted the part. Mike was always circumspect with Mr. Berman and urged me to be the same. But it was hard for me. I got along well with Mr. Berman, but we had our differences. These are told in a different place, a book that I have written of my academic experience, entitled “Poisoned by Mediocrity”. 
A number of Mike pieces are at the Phillip and Muriel Berman Museum at Ursinus. One of my bronzes, Synagogue, stands close to Mike’s pieces. My sculpture has assured me that it likes the proximity and so do I.  Mike’s fine Firefighter stands outside of the Allentown fire department, where there is a Dunkin Donuts nearby. Berman commissioned this sculpture. Berman was a big supporter of Mike Price.
Now fifteen years after his death in 2001, we are treated to a small show at the school where he taught for so many years.  Some of us are still alive; and we appreciate the opportunity to view the work. This show presents a fine array of Mike’s pieces - including examples of his best work - done over his entire artistic life.  The show leans heavily on pieces that remain in the family, including many larger pieces from the 1970s. These include life sized, standing or reclining figures, heads of children, portrait heads of friends and various small reliefs, often telling religious stories. The show includes an early wax-formed semi-abstraction. Mike would manipulate the wax sheets, “modeling” them, and then cast them in bronze.

A centerpiece is a hanging shroud, or drapery entitled Artist’s Cloak. This is a simple but powerful expression, speaking of both presence and absence. Many of his small-modeled reliefs employ the use of drapery, heightening or shadowing events. Mike was a master of the use of drapery, presenting shrouds and modeled cloth in a most stately, almost majestic fashion.  Years earlier, I had worked with another modern master of drapery, Peter Agostini.  Agostini’s use of drapery was equally powerful, yet more dynamic and explosive. Take your pick. There is room for more than one.

As with many good artists, as time went on, Mike’s sculpture became more complex. This complexity came from many different inputs or influences; not the least being Biblical or historical stories or figures. His spiritual thoughts also developed over these years and he spent time writing about his ideas and matching them to his sculpture and sculptural commissions. There are a number of small bronze plaques or reliefs. These are all masterworks, the entire lot of them, probably close to thirty. In this small format Price squeezes in all his sensitivity and attachment to the subject, with the most direct economy of means. These are in no way to be seen as sketches but instead as the clearest view into his own story-telling. Each establishes clarity regarding what sculpture means and what it can do at its most powerful. He took incredible care to match the color of these pieces to the subject at hand. I myself possess two of these pieces and they have engaged my attention for many years now. Without the slightest hesitancy in my mind, I see them as the works of a master.

Missing from this show - by distance and their very size - are the major commissions, which occupied Mike in the latter years of his life. If I were to indicate a shortcoming in this show, it would be the absence of photographs of these pieces. An early example is at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, a bronze couple, John and Lydia Morris, standing on a slight rise overlooking a field of flowers. Here too one of my sculptures, Stanchion, stands within sight of Mike’s fine pieces.

A number of these commissioned pieces reside around St. Paul and Minneapolis.  A nice long bike ride would allow you to see pieces at Koch Common, St. Thomas, Hemline, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Olivet Congregational Church, Plymouth Congregational Church, and Rice Park.
The best of these commissions, in my modest opinion, is the Scott Fitzgerald bronze in Rice Park, commissioned by Garrison Keillor.  The sculpture stands at eye level in a casual, yet formal pose. It generates a contagion of feeling for this author and his personality. The mark of a powerful sculpture is that the viewer wants to go back repeatedly. This certainly holds true for me.

My son Nicholas spent the summer of 1997 casting this Fitzgerald piece with Mike. Thousands of dollars were spent on Nicholas’ education as Overland College (name changed to protect the innocent) but Nick’s real education took place that summer working with Mike Price. Nick even got to meet Garrison Keillor, which, fortunately, had no lasting effect upon him. Many other young artists and students can attest to the same “Mike Price imprint," as Mike was always open to such suggestions -and he needed the help, as his projects and dreams were always large.

In this current show we get a glimpse of the larger commission through an exquisitely modeled Fitzgerald head, a study for the life size portrait in Rice Park. Those who love sculpture can recognize the DNA of the full-sized large piece embedded in this fragment (head). Stated another way, this head has the quality of revealing in the small the authority and completeness of the larger entirety. This bronze head made an appearance at the end of the film “A Prairie Home Companion”. One looks in vain for the attribution of this piece.

Mike was a complete artist in a manner that is almost incomprehensible today. His hand was on his sculpture from inception to completion. He took pride in casting his own pieces, always as original bronzes. I tried to encourage him to make editions, but he always said no, preferring to limit the production through direct original casts. For a long time I had squirreled away a set of slides of Mike working and casting in his foundry in the early seventies. I finally assembled them several years ago and they can be viewed on a separate post on this blog of my daughter Alexis.
Like many great artists, Mike had many influences, going back through the ages. His influences stem from all times and all places. He saw himself as part of a sculpture guild, stretching back for centuries. As a consequence of this, he was not concerned about so-called originality. Mike had little interest in commercial success beyond gathering enough money to embark on the next project. Ultimately he worked for a song, but the making of sculpture and the complete expression of his ideas was what fueled this man. He valued artistic friendship beyond artistic fame.
I want to return to this curious accessibility or likeability of Mike Price’s personality.  As far as I could determine, Mike set aside or did not employ judgment towards others. Things that would freak me out did not bother him. We were very different people. As a reasonable person might do, I tried hard to be more like him. Just in knowing him, Mike made me be a better person. I am certain that there are many others who would express the same sentiment. I suppose our relationship employed an equal exchange the other way, although Mike is no longer here to ask.
Mike’s natural generosity and good humor was tested to the extreme at the end of his life and beyond. A certain personage – a Leo something - took to disturbing Mike’s equilibrium and peace of mind. This person owed his job to Mike but, for this character, this added up to nothing. Instead it elicited a curious and dedicated animosity. This person was a muddle of a fellow. I myself would not believe such things happen, except that this phenomenon happened to me also – not once, but twice.  Individuals to whom I provided a lifetime sinecure found this insufficient and did everything they could to “pay me back”. Academia has its own code of behavior, which lies outside of the norm. There is no explaining it, but it is an unfortunate reality.  Is there another explanation to this strangeness? No, there is not.  As they say today, it is what it is. Thank heavens this dark shadow has passed – through “retirement” - and we get to glimpse, if only for the shortest period of time, a quite spectacular show. Don’t miss it.
When Mike was diagnosed out of the blue with terminal cancer, his response was immediate. He went back to work on a commission, saying to me, “There is no way this is going to kill me.” And yet as the cancer went to his brain, he described the phenomenon of shooting lights and showers of flashes with a detached marvel the likes of which I had never seen, nor encountered since.  He was a fantastic observer to the end.
In arriving at the gallery slightly after four, the day after the opening I was amused to find it closed. The inscribed sign on the door said, gallery hours, Monday to Friday 10-4. This must be designed to inhibit students from observing the art, as many are not out of bed by this hour. And what about people who work? Or people who can only come on weekends? I know a bunch. Further instructions on the door indicate that people under 12 are not allowed without an adult. My suggestion is to raise the age to 20 years, just to be careful.  Art can be dangerous to young adults. Further instructions allow for no backpacks, another dangerous item in this day and age. Unused space on the door indicates that there is room to add other impediments to viewing the art. Perhaps a trigger warning about sculpture would be in order, as this antiquated art and its powerful effect is unknown to the college-aged? God only knows what might happen. But this is American education at its best – absurd strictures, limitations, and rules.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Zwischen Leben und Tod [Between Life and Death]: twenty-two pieces after images by Peter Weiss // by Michael Hersch

Die Maschinen griefen die Menschheit an

I first learned of Peter Weiss’s (1916-1982) artwork almost a decade ago while reading W.G. Sebald’s (1944-2001) On the Natural History of Destruction. Sebald’s writing -- as it has on many others -- made a deep impression on me, so much so that fragments from his poem After Nature form a framework for my horn and cello work, Last Autumn (2008). Isolated lines, or groups of lines, from the poem came to mind as I was writing the piece. Particular verbal images captured in shape or texture much of what I felt. When Last Autumn is performed, however, Sebald’s texts are not sung or recited; it is purely instrumental music. I placed the texts at designated junctures in the written score before various movements of music. The texts did, and still do, represent a kind of private communication between me and Sebald’s words. This kind of dialog between composers and poets is nothing new, of course. There are many examples across the centuries of composers writing music with outside texts in quiet co-existence. 

Some five years later, the artwork of Peter Weiss had a similar effect on me, but Weiss’s paintings and drawings had a more direct impact on the music. Weiss’s spectrum of color and motion, of proportion and spacing, struck me as particularly musical, and I found this both provocative and inspiring. While Sebald’s texts had acted as companions which reinforced and heightened my own state of mind, Weiss’s environments included both familiar and alien worlds that I wanted to capture directly in sound. In either case, I felt at home. For the first time, I felt compelled to engage directly with images through music. 

I had only known of Peter Weiss as a playwright before reading Sebald’s essay about him. While I was familiar with some of his searing stage dramas, I did not know that from the time he was a young man he was a serious visual artist as well. One of his earliest works, Selbsporträt zwischen Tod und Schwester (Self-portrait between Death and Sister), was completed in 1935 after the death of his sister in an accident. The drawing has many hallmarks of his later writing and artwork: pronounced disquiet, looming threat, wistfulness. I find compelling that Weiss, from one work to the next, takes an active or more participatory, or more passive and detached, stance toward his subjects - especially in the paintings expressing what appears to be terror or grief, or both of these states simultaneously. Throughout his work there are also recurring images that seem deeply meditative; for example, animate and even inanimate subjects lost in thought. 

Selbsporträt zwischen Tod und Schwester

In his essay on the artist, subtitled On Memory and Cruelty in the Work of Peter Weiss, Sebald discusses several of the paintings, including Das grosse Welttheater (The Great World Theater), which he describes as 

“... a pandemonium of transgression in front of a background of capsizing ships and lit by the reflection of a conflagration ... it denotes a now permanent state of destruction. What is seen, here and now, is already an underworld beyond anything natural, a surreal region of industrial complexes and machines, chimneys, silos, viaducts, walls, labyrinths, leafless trees, and cheap fairground attractions …” 

Das grosse Welttheater

In Weiss’ Gartenkonzert (Concert in the Garden) Sebald sees

“... figures with lowered eyelids ... including the young harpsichordist with his blind gaze, are among the harbingers of a life surviving at best only in the sensation of pain, in unreserved identification with the despised, scorned, crippled, and fading, with those who sit weeping in their concealment …” 

Das Gartenkonzert

Though each of these paintings is quite different, below the surface similar tensions roil. 

Zwischen Leben und Tod is a program-length work for violin and piano. The music is structured in twenty-two movements, each movement corresponding to a particular image by Weiss. This is my third work that has had a relationship with visual art; the others are Images From a Closed Ward (after etchings by Michael Mazur) and Black Untitled (after a painting of the same name by Willem de Kooning). Of the three pieces, Zwischen Leben und Tod is most closely intertwined with the artwork, while my approach in Images From a Closed Ward and Black Untitled was closer to that of Last Autumn

While I did not know him personally, W.G. Sebald gave me two great gifts: his writing itself which has been, and continues to be, a source of solace and inspiration, and an introduction to Peter Weiss’s artwork. I am neither an art historian nor literary critic. But I hope, as Sebald did, that more people may discover the artwork of this extraordinary figure. 

At the conclusion of his essay, Sebald quotes a passage from Weiss’s Ästhetik des Widerstands (The Aesthetics of Resistance)

“O Herakles. The light is dim, my pencil blunt. I would have wished to write it all differently. But the time is too short. And I have run out of paper.” 

Junge im Garten

Translations of W.G. Sebald into English from the original German by Anthea Bell  

Der Krieg

Michael Hersch (b. 1971) is a composer and pianist.

Michael Hersch's Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images by Peter Weiss receives its world premiere on February 26, 2015 at the Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University, performed by violinist Carolyn Huebl and pianist Mark Wait.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kevin Tuttle at the Martin Art Gallery, 2012

Altar to an Unknown God, 1989-91

Kevin Tuttle's Comings and Goings ran from August 29 to September 23, 2012 at Muhlenberg College's Martin Art Gallery. Below is the artist statement that accompanied the show.

Soto! Explore thyself!
Therein thyself shalt find
The "Undiscovered Continent"—
No Settler had the Mind.

-- Emily Dickinson

The work presented here is selected from about a 30 year time frame. It chronicles a journey from decorative, to reductive formal, to subject-narrative driven work. However, even in the decorative work there was the beginning of subject matters that would unwittingly resurface over the span of many years.

There are a number of influences in the work from literature and poetry; and from Greek/Roman and Chinese/Japanese painting and sculpture to contemporary artists such as Christopher Cairns, Jonathan Silver, and Anselm Kiefer. I have tried to have no fear of influence. I have been guided by statements from other artists such as Goethe and Matisse who advocate for the possibility of being influenced. In particular I’ve been guided by Matisse who felt that an avoidance of influence is an act of insincerity. I also have taken courage from his ability to periodically re-form himself especially during the period of 1915-1917. While one of the preeminent artists in the world, and at the age of 45-47, he undertook a belated response to cubism and also reaffirmed his much earlier statement and heritage, “if Cezanne is right, then I am right.”

But possibly the primary linkage between the work shown here is not a development of ideas from one point to another. Rather, it is that due to both scale and general homeliness there likely is no future for these works. So, thank you to the Martin Art Gallery for the opportunity to see the work together for the first and last time.

A Death blow is a Life blow to Some
Who till they died, did not alive become—
Who had they lived, had died but when
They died, Vitality begun.

-- Emily Dickinson

Click on photos to enlarge.

Le Tombeau de Baudelaire

Voyage to Cythera

Blackwater - Exsanguination

Uselessys, 1988-89

        Palatine Hill (detail, Uselessys), oil on panel, 12" x 8", 1994

In Light Of (Interior)


Almost Aquamarine, 1985
Death of Artists

In Light Of (Interior)

Photos courtesy of Kevin Tuttle.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jonathan Silver's Studio, As Photographed by Michael O'Keefe

For most of his artistic life, Jonathan Silver worked in a crowded, third-floor loft space on East 4th Street in Manhattan.  "The 4th Street studio was an environment in itself when Jonathan was in it,” Marion Smit, Silver’s longtime assistant, wrote in an email.  “I spent quite a bit of time [there] in the early- to mid-eighties, sometimes helping Jonathan with various things or just sitting there listening and talking to him while drinking some of that delicious coffee/ heavy cream/ sugar concoction he used to make. Talking with Jonathan was always a pleasure. He was to the point and incredibly engaging, sometimes acerbic. He was erudite beyond belief and passionate.  His commitment to, knowledge of, and involvement with music and art was total. He lived it, he was in it. The studio was a physical manifestation of that. Literary passages, phone numbers, engagements were scrawled in pencil on the walls, chunks and shards of plaster and plaster dust covered the floor, various versions of 'Wounded Amazon', 'Eve',' Half Eve' were in the process of being worked or reworked, part clay/ part plaster, fragments scattered around, books here and there, and the piano in the middle of it all."  

After Silver died in 1992, his wife Barbara preserved the space largely as it was when he was alive.  Over the years, she has admitted visitors by request—friends, former students, and admirers.  One of these admirers was the young artist Michael O’Keefe, who, in the early 2000’s, visited the studio twice, taking the photos included here.  (See all of O’Keefe’s photos here.)  In the text below, written in 2011, O’Keefe describes his experience.


The first time I visited Jonathan's studio was well after his death, some time around 2001 or 2002. Barbara Silver graciously had me into her apartment above the studio. She greeted me at the door and then, as if it was the obvious thing to do (and, as far as I was concerned, it was) she began to give me a tour of the work in the house which included many paintings, drawings and sculptures made by Jonathan, but also a few works by artists that were close to Jonathan, most notably Christopher Cairns and Bruce Gagnier.  After looking at the work we sat down for tea and a little history of Jonathan. From that conversation I remember her description of Jonathan's love of classical music, the piano and for Beethoven, specifically. And I recall Barbara's comments about how at the end of his life Jonathan worked very late into the night and while doing so listened to strange talk-radio shows, what she described as "Christian radio".

Upon entering the studio I was struck by the amount of work that was still present in this space that had not been used for many years. Barbara mentioned that it was more or less just as he left it, except she had recently swept up the plaster dust that covered the floor. One could easily imagine this room with an overwhelming amount of dust and debris as there was a lot of work in a relatively small space and the work was clearly made with some degree of violence and excitement.  I imagined piles of discarded sculptures, molds, shards, etc., that Jonathan would have turned to as his stockpile of materials.  

Barbara left me to look around. I had only ever heard about Jonathan and seen just a few of his sculptures, and so this was a large dose of the artist, all at once. There was writing all over the walls, oftentimes illegible. I recall making out some things about Rodin, something to do with Rodin's use of "color", meaning light, I think.  Most of the legible writing seemed over my head or hard to piece together its relevance to the work - it was very clear that Jonathan had a massive intellect. But the work itself is more often ruled by expressionistic desires. 
Every part of the studio, including all of the work and even the lighting in the space, seemed to be perfectly aligned with the image I had in mind of what Jonathan looked like, his dark, wild hair and his serious eyes.  

After looking closely at the many sculptures in the front room I went into the small back room where I sat down with the stacks of drawing pads that were there on a table. I flipped through hundreds of drawings, most of them very small, all of them careful and precise while maintaining a remarkable sense of spontaneity. Discovering the work in these drawing pads remains one of the most exciting and inspiring art viewing experiences of my life. 

Two years later I returned to the studio to look again at the drawings and to take some photographs.  Two years later the front studio looked exactly the same, still preserving the point in time when Jonathan’s short adventure as an artist came to a relatively abrupt and maybe premature end.  By that time the drawings in the back room had been moved from the table into a closet. I shudder to think where the final resting place might be for these important and beautiful drawings.



Click on photos to enlarge.

See more of Michael O'Keefe's photos of Silver's studio on our Flickr page.

Learn more about Jonathan Silver on his profile.