Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn Leaves at the Taubman Museum

L2P | Fall 2012 | Nature & Culture | landscape & soundscape | SMW

This installment of Listening to Paintings is focused on Nature & Culture or Landscape & Soundscape. Or, how human creativity interacts with the world and how aspects of culture affect it. We start with Burtynsky’s brilliant exhibit of large Oil-inspired photos and note the commentary his perspectives inspire. We pair the beloved standard, Autumn Leaves with his hauntingly beautiful photograph of rusty iron scraps piled up like fall’s most enduring symbol. Ferrous Bushlings inspires a reading from Lloyd Schwarz’s contemporary poem, Leaves, whose image of “flame and rust” is embodied in Burtynsky’s picture. (Poetry excerpts are courtesy of The American Academy of Poets:

Leaves – Lloyd Schwarz |Autumn Leaves | Burtynsky’s Oil
1. Every October it becomes important, no, necessary
to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded
by leaves turning; it's not just the symbolism,
to confront in the death of the year your death,
one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony
isn't lost on you that nature is most seductive
when it's about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its
incipient exit, an ending that at least so far
the effects of human progress (pollution, acid rain)
have not yet frightened you enough to make you believe
is real; that is, you know this ending is a deception
because of course nature is always renewing itself—
the trees don't die, they just pretend,
go out in style, and return in style: a new style.
3. You'll be driving along depressed when suddenly
a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through
and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably
won't last. But for a moment the whole world
comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives—
red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermilion,
gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations
of burning. You're on fire. Your eyes are on fire.
It won't last, you don't want it to last. You
can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop.
It's what you've come for. It's what you'll
come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll
remember that it felt like nothing else you've felt
or something you've felt that also didn't last.

II. Virginia Crossroads | pastiche | modernism | Color & Light…

Goolsby’s suburban landscapes | Clingempeel’s encaustics
Sulkin’s photos of “arbitrary objects,” “provoking more q’s than a’s…
Krisch’s photos of severe landscapes, Antarctic icebergs, waters & mountains
Freed’s "James River fragments" | "Heavenly Grass" by Paul Bowles & T Williams

Line | texture | pastiche | polyphony | harmony | chromatic | color & light | chiaroscuro

We comment on all the parallels between the so-called “plastic” arts and music, and the overlap in terminology between painting, music and poetry. The above terms are applied equally to all three lyric forms. Composers use a “palette” of harmonic “color” to paint musical pictures while “all art aspires to the condition of music” as art critic Walter Pater reminds us in his studies of Renaissance Art. And it is in the Renaissance where our forms truly merge.

As Caravaggio and his contemporaries master the art of chiaroscuro (literally “bright – dark”) through the use of color, light and shadows their musical colleagues like Monteverdi and Gesualdo are experimenting with the chromatic possibilities of harmony by exploiting the dissonances between the traditional steps of the “do-re-mi-fa-sol” scale.

We connect Clingempeel’s evocative encaustics: bright-dark nebulae, cells, glow-in-the dark creatures or abstract experiments back to ancient Egypt, and remember how tried and tested this method of creating color and texture is.

(encaustic = ancient technique of heating beeswax & adding pigment for color & texture)

We note Sulkin’s photographs of “arbitrary objects,” images of Rauschenberg-like combines or found-art collages that “provoke more questions than answers.” We pause to consider how central this truth is in the classroom and in life. It’s the journey not the goal, or as Sondheim says in his brilliant song, Someone in a Tree: “It’s the ripple, nor the stream | Not the building but the beam | That is happening…”

We read Carl Sandburg’s epigrammatic postcard of a poem to Autumn's "Harvest moon:"

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

One of the questions we posed in this room, looking at Sam Krisch's gorgeous photos from Antarctica, was whether or not the Roanoke artist had the Taubman's bold architecture in mind when he took one of his iceberg images in particular. Check it out on the artist's website: and then see it in person at the Taubman.

Goolsby’s suburban landscapes also prompt more questions than answers, and like Clingempeel’s encaustics, we appreciate these canvases for the technical accomplishments and their abstract beauty as much as we try to “read” what the artist is depicting in his dark contemporary landscapes. Connecting to Burtynsky’s industrial images, Goolsby is also concerned with how human culture has altered nature’s landscapes. We note his use of impasto technique, combined with a number of other brushstrokes and applications of paint in these engaging canvases.

impasto (impastare = to knead or to paste) = thick oil or acrylic texture; thick paste

Before we sing Paul Bowles’ folk-like setting of Tennesse Williams’ Blue Mountain Ballad, “Heavenly Grass,” inviting our audience to take a walk with the bard while we sing the simple, gently melancholy song, we read a Robert Frost poem to connect to Freed’s Japanese print – inspired etchings and prints of James River images. Frost’s October, Freed’s “Short Days” and Bowles’ wistful tune combine to evoke this season with pitch-perfect details.

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

III. Un-usual Landscapes, [found] objects, movements & riddles…
We next spent some time with Harold Little’s land- and city-scapes, his apparent homage to Van Gogh in his landscape with cornfields, crows and cryptically hidden deer. One must approach his canvas up close to count how many bucks and does are hiding in his corn stalks. Another cryptic landscape functions as an allegory and a memento mori (another “old master” form), as well as being a representational autumn landscape, replete with glowing Harvest Moon. We read another Sandburg poem to mark this spot.

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman,
the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things
come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go,
not one lasts.
(Autumn Movement – Sandburg)

Riddles – Little’s hidden images, more open-ended details...

We then read one of our beloved Edgar Allan Poe’s hermetically sealed poems. A Valentine is dedicated to another gifted writer and friend of the poet’s, Franny Osgood. The first letter of the first line, the second letter of the 2nd line, the 3rd letter of the 3rd line, etc spell out the name of Poe’s subject: Frances Sargent Osgood.

A Valentine – Poe
For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,
Brightly expressive as the twins of Leda,
Shall find her own sweet name, that nestling lies

Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly the lines!- they hold a treasure

Divine- a talisman- an amulet

That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure-

The words- the syllables! Do not forget

The trivialest point, or you may lose your labor

And yet there is in this no Gordian knot

Which one might not undo without a sabre,
If one could merely comprehend the plot.
Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering

Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus

Three eloquent words oft uttered in the hearing

Of poets, by poets- as the name is a poet's, too,

Its letters, although naturally lying

Like the knight Pinto- Mendez Ferdinando-

Still form a synonym for Truth- Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you can do.

Un-usual folk | Folk song as “found object” | Theresa Disney’s portrait poems |
Appalachian composer John Jacob Niles: Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair

We then sang another folk song, from Appalachian composer John Jacob Niles, who traveled through these here parts collecting songs he heard locals singing. “I wonder as I wander” and “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” are but two examples of these songs he heard, wrote down and arranged. Like the objects and crafts, quilts, prints and portraits in the eclectic “Un-usual Folk” exhibit, this folk-song proved a perfect filament to connect the various strands of art in and around the American galleries.

IV. Our fourth and final movement in this Autumn Leaves edition of Listening to Paintings paired two contemporary American art songs for which I accompanied Amy. We shared colorful – however contrasting – songs by Richard Hundley and John Corigliano under Anne Ferrer’s fantastic silk-sail-air-balloon sculpture, Hot Pink. Variously evoking sea creatures, French pastries and the idea of floating in air, Ferrer’s vision was a perfect canopy atop our renditions of Hundley’s Astronomers and Corigliano’s Halloween-esque “Song to the Witch of the Cloisters.” Honoring visionary women artists, we shared Amy Lowell’s bright poem, Autumn, and excerpts from Gertrude Stein’s fantastic “Tender Buttons.”

Autumn – Amy Lowell ("polyphonic prose" = modernist mix or pastiche...)
They brought me a quilled, yellow dahlia,
Opulent, flaunting.
Round gold
Flung out of a pale green stalk.
Round, ripe gold
Of maturity,
Meticulously frilled and flaming,
A fire-ball of proclamation:
Fecundity decked in staring yellow
For all the world to see.
They brought a quilled, yellow dahlia,
To me who am barren
Shall I send it to you,
You who have taken with you
All I once possessed?

From Tender Buttons – Gertrude Stein

In any kind of place there is a top to covering and it is a pleasure at any rate there is some venturing in refusing to believe nonsense. It shows what use there is in a whole piece if one uses it and it is extreme and very likely the little things could be dearer but in any case there is a bargain and if there is the best thing to do is to take it away and wear it and then be reckless be reckless and resolved on returning gratitude…

Light blue and the same red with purple makes a change. It shows that there is no mistake. Any pink shows that and very likely it is reasonable. Very likely there should not be a finer fancy present. Some increase means a calamity and this is the best preparation for three and more being together. A little calm is so ordinary and in any case there is sweetness and some of that

We may have no idea what Stein means, but her polyphonic poetry is a pleasure to recite and sounds like a “rich and strange” music to the ears. As a postscript, we dedicated Bernstein’s touching lullaby, “Take Care of This House” (originally written for the musical flop, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) to our friends at the Taubman Museum of Art, with best wishes for a bright future.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. The Taubman is right on the Blue Ridge Mountains and is a great place to see some contemporary art in a not so contemporary surrounding.

    Landscaping Virginia