Saturday, December 29, 2012

Poet Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman"

Maya Angelou
Bruni Sablan, 2005
Phenomenal Woman 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. 
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size 

But when I start to tell them, 

They think I'm telling lies.
I say, 

It's in the reach of my arms 

The span of my hips, 

The stride of my step, 

The curl of my lips. 

I'm a woman 

Phenomenal woman, 

That's me. 

I walk into a room 

Just as cool as you please, 

And to a man, 

The fellows stand or 

Fall down on their knees. 

Then they swarm around me, 

A hive of honey bees. 

I say, 

It's the fire in my eyes, 

And the flash of my teeth, 

The swing in my waist, 

And the joy in my feet. 

I'm a woman 

Phenomenal woman, 

That's me. 

Men themselves have wondered 

What they see in me. 

They try so much 

But they can't touch 

My inner mystery. 

When I try to show them 

They say they still can't see. 

I say, 

It's in the arch of my back, 

The sun of my smile, 

The ride of my breasts, 

The grace of my style. 

I'm a woman 


Phenomenal woman, 

That's me. 

Now you understand 

Just why my head's not bowed. 

I don't shout or jump about 

Or have to talk real loud. 

When you see me passing 

It ought to make you proud. 

I say, 

It's in the click of my heels, 

The bend of my hair, 

the palm of my hand, 

The need of my care, 

'Cause I'm a woman 


Phenomenal woman, 

That's me.

  ''There is a kind of strength that is almost frightening in black women. It's as if a steel rod runs right through the head down to the feet.''   
Maya Angelou 

painters and poets

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"To Be a Poet": The Work of Stephanie Brody-Lederman

In Stephanie Brody-Lederman’s art of images and words, some bold, new abstract gestures are shaking up the emotional mix. Read article in the current issue of Art & Antiques

Frank O'Hara "Why I Am Not a Painter"

Mike Goldberg's "Sardines"
Larry Rivers' "Double Portrait of Frank O'Hara"
Frank O'Hara

Why I Am Not a Painter 

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be 
a painter, but I am not. Well, 

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he 
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there." 
"Oh." I go and the days go by 
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days 
go by. I drop in. The painting is 
finished. "Where's SARDINES?" 
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says. 

But me? One day I am thinking of 
a color: orange. I write a line 
about orange. Pretty soon it is a 
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be 
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is 
and life. Days go by. It is even in 
prose, I am a real poet. My poem 
is finished and I haven't mentioned 
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call 
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery 
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

Read more at Smithsonian's American Art Museum blog 

painters and poets

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Willem de Kooning on Titian's paintings

"Even when crippled by arthritis, Titian kept on painting Virgins in that luminous light, as if he'd just heard about them.

Those old guys had everything in place, the Virgin and God and technique, but they kept it up like they were still looking for something. It's very mysterious.

You have to keep on the edge of something, all the time, or the picture dies."

- Willem de Kooning, quoted in Barbara Guest's Forces of Imagination

The Rape of Europa, 1538
Assumption of the Virgin, 1518

More on Titian here

painters and poets

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Feast of Vermeers

Young Woman Sleeping 
The Lacemaker


Officer and Laughing Girl
Seeing All the Vermeers 
by Alfred Corn
Met Museum, 1965, the first
I'll see, his Young Woman Sleeping.
Stage right, bright-threaded carpet flung over the table
where a plate of apples, crumpled napkin
and drained wineglass abut the recapped pitcher.
Propped by one hand, her leaning drowse,
behind which, a door opens on the dream, dim, bare
but for a console and framed mirror—or a painting
too shadowed to make out. Next to it,
(certitude) one window, shuttered for the duration....

That dream also timed me out, a lull in the boomeranging
hubbub of the staggering city I'd just moved to.

In the Frick's Officer and Laughing Girl, spring sunshine
entered left, partly blocked by the noncom suitor's hat-brim,
wide, dark as seduction, conquest. A map dotted with schooners
backed her fresh elations, the glass winking at them both.... He'd see
why, in a later day, crewcut recruits were shipping out to Nam;
and she, why the student left was up in arms against the war.

In '67, Ann and I spent a graduate year in Paris;
and lived in the Louvre, too, along with The Lacemaker—
self-effacing, monumental, an artisan
whose patience matched the painter's, inscribed
in tangling skeins of scarlet oil against an indigo
silk cushion. Silent excruciation
among toy spools framed the bald paradox
termed "women's work," disgracing anything less
than entire devotion to labor entered into. (That May,
a million demonstrators marched up the Champs Elysées.)

From there to Amsterdam and The Little Street,
where innate civility distilled a local cordial, free
from upheaval, from dearth and opulence, each brick
distinct, their collectivity made credible
by a chalky varicosis that riddled foreground façades.
A century's successive mortars filled those cracks,
nor will the figures down on hands and knees in the foreground
stand up again till they've replaced that broken tile.

The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter calmed misgivings
with the global trust that swelled her body, a soft counterweight
to expeditions tracked across the weathered map behind.
A new-found Eden, festooned with portents, history
piloting ship and cargo across the wrinkling sea.

The Maidservant Pouring Milk's power to see
in threadbare clothes and plain features a meek radiance
made of caritas, doesn't need words... But since I do,
call her a velvet motet developed in blue, in scaled-down
yellow-green that I could hear, the resonant stillness
centered on movement's figment, cream paint paying out
a corded rivulet at the cruse's lip. Crusty loaves, nail-holes
in plaster, and knuckles roughened by scalds and scrubs
witnessed to the daily immolation, performed as first light
tolled matins from a dutch-gold vessel hooked to the wall.

By train to Den Haag, to see the View of Delft's ink-black
medieval walls and bridge, barges anchored on a satin
water more pensive than the clouded blue above,
where one tall steeple took its accolade of sun.
(Proust's "patch of yellow wall" I couldn't find, though.)

The Girl in a Turban looked like Anne Wiazemsky,
Godard's new partner, whom we'd seen in his latest film.
Liquid eyes, half-parted lips, a brushstroke ancillary
to fable highlighting the weighty pearl at her earlobe,
her "Turkish" costume stage-worthy, if she ever chose to act.

By then it was set: No matter how many years or flights
it took, I'd see all of Vermeer—which helps explain
the Vienna stop we made that spring, and our instant beeline
to An Artist in His Studio (called, today, The Allegory of Fame).
What to make of the Artist's bloomers, outmoded even then—

and why would his model hold book and clarion, standing
before the mapped Low Countries? If that anesthetized mask
on the table near her denied the chandelier its candles,
then who hung a tapestried curtain in the left foreground?

Vermeer; but his meaning subverts comment, always
less hypnotic than the surface itself, a luminous
glaze adhering to receding frames in series,
chromatic theaters for featured roles that also kindle
fervor in their supporting actor, the secret soul.

Strike me dumb on first seeing The Astronomer
in Guy de Rothschild's study—well, a photograph of it
in an '80s coffee-table book, The Great Houses
of Paris. Not long after, thanks to philanthropy
and the tax structure, it devolved upon the state.
Semester break that winter, McC. and I jetted to France,
entered the Louvre's new glass pyramid and fought
dense crowds to where he hung, The Lacemaker's late consort.
In a brown studio, his fingers reading the globe,
he sat, immovably dutiful to calculations
devised ad hoc to safecrack the star-studded zodiac.

I was one of the visitors tiptoeing
through Isabella Gardner's house in Boston
decades before the heist, which to this day
remains unsolved. But balance one instance
of good luck against a trip made to Ireland
in '86, missing by only a few months
the Beit Collection's Lady Writing a Letter.
Paid so often now, the compliment of theft
puts a keen edge on our art pilgrimages:
The icon may be gone when you arrive.

That fall, I lived in London's Camden Town,
writing on... call them stateside topics; and soon
tubed up to Kenwood House, relieved to find
their prime collectible unstolen—its potential
as ecphrastic plunder not apparent at the time.
(A sonnet, no less, completed earlier in New Haven,
qualified me for that satire on the Connecticut bard
besotted with Vermeer. Still, subjects could be barred
in advance only if they and poems were the same gadget.
Disbelief, you're suspended, even for the standard
gloat over shots knocked back at the Cedar Tavern,
ca. 1950, with Pollock and de Kooning.)

Here then was Kenwood's Lady with Guitar, in corkscrew
curls, lemon jacket trimmed with ermine, lounging
like some hippie denizen of Washington Square,
strumming for the nth time his secondhand Dylan...
Maybe they heard her, too, the National Gallery's
paired women portraits, each playing a virginal,
both in silk dresses, one seated, one standing—
Profane and Sacred Love, if the old allegory fits.

A trip from London to Edinburgh produced, beyond
the classic-Gothic limestone city grimed with soot,
an early Christ in the House of Mary and Martha,
conceived before the painter's parables began unfolding
at home in Delft. Still, Martha's proffered pannier is as real
as the bread it holds, and Jesus' open hand, rendered
against clean table linen, as strong and solid as Vermeer's.

A chill, damp March in Dresden with Chris.
We'd begun with the Berlin State Museum's holdings
and then trained down on our way to Prague.
The Gemäldegalerie, quiet as a church, listened
while beads of tarnished rain pelted the skylights.
Works known from reproductions offered themselves
to the gray ambient, visibly conscious
of having survived Allied firebombs fifty years
earlier and a postwar Ice Age that slammed home,
then froze every bolt in the Eastern sector.
Young Vermeer's The Procuress makes love for sale
push beyond the sour analogue
of art-as-commerce into distinct portraits,
comedic types you have and haven't seen before
caught up in cheerful barter while wine flows
at a balustrade draped with carpet and a fur cape.
The client's left hand could have been mine,
weighing down a pretty shoulder (and the bodice),
but not the right, poised to let fall a coin
into her open palm. Men's hunger for sex
and poverty's for comforts—an old story,
mean or tragic, and never finally resolved.

Having missed Her Majesty's The Music Lesson, lent
over the years to several exhibitions, guess who danced
when told that it would grace the show to end all shows
scheduled in Washington, the fall of '95.
And other hard-to-sees from Brunswick and Frankfurt—
jubilation—were included also, plus
apprentice works on pagan or religious themes.
Long caterpillar of a line, composed of hundreds
come to worship art and its obsessive love of life.
An hour's wait on aching legs, and in we go:
The Geographer, taking his place by The Astronomer;
Ireland's letter-writer, look, recaptured, and now restored
to the public; a View of Delft, cleaned so thoroughly
you couldn't miss that patch of yellow—not a wall,
Proust got it wrong, instead, a roof... Sheltering involuntary
memories of countless choked-up viewers,
whose gazes added one more laminate of homage
to a surface charged with how many hundred thousands now.

From the permanent collection—why?—I saw as though
I never had the Woman Weighing Gold, some twenty years
(gone, and still here) since that first visit (Walter with me)
to the National Gallery. By word-origin Galilees,
international through their holdings, these cathedrals
of art draw in the faithful that faith in art has summoned
for mutual appraisal, what we are seen in what we see.

Hence the scales at center canvas Vermeer suspended
from her fine-boned hand, the face all understanding
and, so, forgiving all. Nevertheless, the great maternal
judge weighs one gold (a ring? a coin?) against a smaller gold,
in gloom as dark as the Day of Wrath, whose millennial
trumpet tears away a final veil.
                                                   So human error
will yield, her calm demeanor says, to Pax caelestis
and dawn break forth in perpetual light transforming
breath, strife, treasure, theft, love, and the end of love,
into its own substance—strong, bright beam of Libra rising
step by step up the scale to Eden and a countenance
the soul, made visible, is now accorded grace to see.

Around us, heads bent toward a morning vintaged
more than three hundred years ago. Manifold delight
wearing Nikes, Levi's, parkas; students, grizzled veterans,
young mothers, teachers, painters—awestruck, whispering
Heavens! Just look at that!—his New World public.

More on Vermeer paintings here

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Update on Hurricane Sandy's Damage to Museums, Galleries in New York

By ALLAN KOZINN, NY Times Artblog

“We’re beginning to see progress,” Linda Blumberg, the executive director of the Art Dealers Association of America, said on Tuesday morning. “Galleries are reopening, albeit sometimes in raw states, but they are rebuilding, and putting their best foot forward. We’re determined to bring this community back and get people down there.”

Read more here

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Help Is on the Way for New York Galleries

In today's NY Times ArtsBeat blog, Allan Kozinn describes a financial aid program of grants and loans a trade group, the Art Dealers Association of America, will make available to galleries damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Read more here.

Cleaning Up New York Galleries After Hurricane Sandy

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rotterdam Art Heist Nets Work by Picasso, Matisse

Paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin, Meyer de Haan, Lucian Freud and two by Monet were stolen on Tuesday from a gallery in Rotterdam in what will rank as one of the most spectacular art heists of modern times.

The dawn raid at the Kunsthal museum in the Netherlands' second largest city was described by police as a well-planned and bold operation. Security experts speculated that the thieves might have taken advantage of Rotterdam's port – one of the largest in the world – to swiftly move the paintings abroad. While police were reluctant to put a price tag on the stolen paintings, experts said it ran into tens of millions of pounds.

One security expert described the museum, designed by the star Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, as a "gem of a gallery", but a "nightmare to protect", and suggested that thieves spent months plotting the robbery.

The works were named by the museum's management on Tuesday afternoon, as Pablo Picasso's Harlequin Head; Henri Matisse's Reading Girl in White and Yellow; Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, London, and Charing Cross Bridge, London; Paul Gauguin's Girl in Front of Open Window, De Haan's Self-Portrait and Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed.

Read more here

painters and poets

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Painter Robert Motherwell and Poet Garcia Lorca

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 34, 1953-54
Robert Motherwell (January 24, 1915-July 16, 1991) named his 1949 painting At Five in the Afternoon after a line in the poem "Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias," by Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936). The work is a prelude to Motherwell’s tour de force, the Elegy to the Spanish Republic series, which eventually comprised some 200 paintings. Lorca's 1935 poem is dedicated to the legendary Spanish matador who suffered a fatal wound from a black bull named Granandino, “at five in the afternoon.” Lorca would be killed a year later by Fascists at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. This is the first section of Lorca’s majestic eulogy to his close friend:

The Goring and the Death

At Five in the Afternoon, 1949
At five in the afternoon. 
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A frail of lime ready prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death, and death alone.

The wind carried away the cottonwool
at five in the afternoon.
And the oxide scattered crystal and nickel
at five in the afternoon.
Now the dove and the leopard wrestle
at five in the afternoon.
And a thigh with a desolate horn
at five in the afternoon.
The bass-string struck up
at five in the afternoon.
Arsenic bells and smoke
at five in the afternoon.
Groups of silence in the corners
at five in the afternoon.
And the bull alone with a high heart!
At five in the afternoon.
When the sweat of snow was coming
at five in the afternoon,
when the bull ring was covered with iodine
at five in the afternoon.
Death laid eggs in the wound
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
Exactly at five o'clock in the afternoon.

A coffin on wheels is his bed
at five in the afternoon.
Bones and flutes resound in his ears
at five in the afternoon.
Now the bull was bellowing through his forehead
at five in the afternoon.
The room was iridescent with agony
at five in the afternoon.
In the distance the gangrene now comes
at five in the afternoon.
Horn of the lily through green groins
at five in the afternoon.
The wounds were burning like suns
at five in the afternoon.
And the crowd was breaking the windows
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
Ah, that fatal five in the afternoon!
It was five by all the clocks!
It was five in the shade of the afternoon!

More on Lorca’s poem here 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grace Hartigan and the Poets

Grace Hartigan's papers are at the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Library and were used in a 2006 exhibit “Imagine! Painters and Poets of the New York School." She gave this personal account of her collaboration with Frank O'Hara on the Oranges series: 
Grace Hartigan and Frank O'Hara
in Her Essex Street Studio

Black Crows (Oranges No. 1)
 Oil on paper
To the New York avant-garde in the late '40s and early '50s, fame or historical significance seemed impossible. As a result, the collaborations between painters and poets were casual and spontaneous.
 For example, one day in 1952, Frank O'Hara and I were talking about Apollinaire and his relationship to the Cubists. I said, "I'd like to do something with your poems, but I don't want to do only one." Frank said, "How about twelve? I have a dozen poems called 'Oranges.'?" I painted 12 oils on paper, at times writing the whole poem, other times just a line or two. All the images related to each poem. 

This turned out to be crucial for my own painting. I had been working in what came to be called Abstract Expressionism. Inspired by Frank's combination of "high" art and popular culture, I began painting images from my Lower East Side neighborhood. Grand Street Brides was based on Goya's Royal Family and used gowns from a bridal shop on Grand Street.

My dealer, John Myers, director of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, had worked for View, the Surrealist magazine, and he issued some small pamphlets of O'Hara's and Ashbery's poetry. He planned to show my Oranges in my 1953 show and have mimeographed copies of the poems available.

He suggested we put a dozen or two in folders and that I could paint a cover on each. I spread these folders on my studio floor and painted still lifes of oranges, each different, on the folder fronts. We priced them at $1.00 and sold very few. Elaine and Bill de Kooning each bought one.

Looking back at that time, it seems so magical, so innocent. In the words of a popular song, "It was a good time, it was the best time, and we thought it would last forever.

Grace Hartigan made these comments on her first lithographic prints:

In 1959 I was living at 25 Essex Street in New York's Lower East Side. Tatyana Grossman [sic] called me and asked if I would do some lithographs for ULAE [Universal Limited Art Editions]. I had never done lithos and knew nothing about it and she said she would bring me some stones. She came to my studio with Maurice, her husband and Bob Blackburn and left four stones with tusche, litho crayons and distilled water. 

I was working with poets at the time, and after a week stalking the stones, I plunged in with splatters of tusche, free drawing, rubbing, pounding with hands and with rags and did four lithos based on Barbara Guest's poem "The Hero Leaves His Ship."

I called Tatyana and she came with Bob B, took a look at the stones and sort of gasped and moaned, at the same time. Bob said "If it's on the stone I can print it."

In February 1960, poet Barbara Guest and Grace Hartigan began collaboration on a series of poems and lithographs entitled Archaics. In October 1961, Guest wrote of her deep artistic connection to Hartigan's work:

I feel your painting so acutely that often when I write a poem I begin to see it as you would paint it....How well you understood the poems. I did use "nature" midway in space between myself and life. I do think of nature pantheistically, almost as the remote God who conjoins with my own remoteness and it all moves mysteriously and must be lightly touched-unless, the great unless, if, one wishes to "enter" it, the enormous step that must be taken. This step appears before me now.

Hartigan's lithographs were printed at Tatyana Grosman's Universal Limited Art Editions in West Islip, Long Island, but not until 1966. Barbara Guest remarked upon this delay in a letter of 28 November 1966:

It's very good news about the Grossman [sic] project....I am very eager to see the work you have done. It is all such a long far off time ago. Really archaic in my head.

Read more about the 2006 exhibit “Imagine! Painters and Poets of the New York School," which was held at Syracuse University here

The Hero Leaves His Ship, 1960 
Lithograph on paper

Who Will Accept Our Offering
at This End of Autumn? 1966,
Lithograph on paper