Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Aqua Mustang 89 –ENTRANCE TO A VILLAGE
In those years when I was on the hunt for what had happened, and at a crucial point drove into the geographical, and also state-of-mind, place where what I was seeking would have come to pass, drove into the heart of darkness, it seemed, in this time I had become open to changing versions of everything I had believed about myself and the worlds I had been in – this time that seemed so crucial, so loaded, but for which my writing, by which till now I had defined myself, was useless. And so I had turned to visual art, at first hours and hours, often full days, of looking at paintings in the midtown and uptown and Soho and short-lived East Village galleries, and in the Metropolitan, the Modern, the new Drawing Center, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Frick, the Brooklyn. I could have walked with my eyes closed into to any of a couple of hundred rooms in those places and known exactly what paintings were where, which were in front of me, which behind, which to the right and which to the left – as well as knowing with my eyes shut the exact placement of each painting on each of those walls. And I was seeing my life, my past history, through what was coming to light as I looked – the hope and the plight of the young boy in Matisse’s piano lesson, the diagram into suicide in the razor edge, thorny and sexually charged supposedly abstract images in Gorky that were not the least bit abstract to me – and other paintings that had the opposite effect, my refuge in Deibenkorn’s arrangements of colors, which were not abstract to me either, and my old fears and warm longings in Bonnard – my recently rediscovered joy in Monet and Cezanne and newly discovered joy, and warmth and longing again in Corot and Courbet, and awe at creation in Rembrandt.
All this before I had done more than think about drawing and painting myself.
On a wall separating a 16th century Dutch gallery room from the grandiose Eberhardt Court there was a Hobbema painting, called Entrance to a Village – a couple of old houses and some very small figures in a woods. I would stand in front of that painting and feel I had stepped right into it, soaking in the atmosphere of fine summer days – until one day when I could see nothing comforting in Entrance to a Village. That day I stood there berating myself for seemingly having lost the ability to rise to perfect summer day. I walked away not sure when I would be back, but in the night I had a lengthy fearsome dream of being in deep, dark, very dangerous woods that seemed to be the Hobbema woods and then were also the deep, dark woods of the White Mountains that started just past the iron streaked rocks behind the biggest of the family houses, and went all the way to woods that climbed up the distant mountains, which were chopped up with ravines and had big brown markings made by trees dead from sudden storms that even in summer caught and killed hikers, all the way to up above the timber line where all was wind-battered rock except some wiry, low lying, desperately clinging miniature pines that hung on in places where there was no apparent earth.
That was the real Hobbema, I was now sure. And that was the long ignored reality of the those supposedly perfect days in the White Mountains.
And so I was learning more from that Hobbema painting and the visual pictures it triggered in my mind, waking and asleep, more than I had learned from writing – about White Pines and what had happened and why the chickens were coming home to roost in places of the past in the far north that were at one time to me as close to perfect summer day places as was that picture, for a time, of the dark clearing in Hobbema’s woods.
Twenty-three eventful, life-changing years later I am in the Met. It is not like that time when I had been there nearly every day and when in my apartment my lampshades had been lined with the colored buttons you wore to prove you had paid the Met’s entrance fee, which could be anything at all if you had not been fooled into believing a big fee was mandated rather than a donation of even a tiny amount. Since I had often been in there many days in a row back then, and without writing had had no income source, I decided a quarter was enough – until I saw students walking away because they did not have the supposed fee, after which I cut my entrance payments to a single cent.
And now after so much change and expansion in my life, I was back. There had been changes in the past year or two in the Met, though none of the changes as substantive as the curators probably thought, for it still had the same paintings. The brightly colored modern eras ones in the redone American Wing were now arranged in a silly way crowded together in numbered glass cases. But the Hobbema was where it had always been and I went straight to it, and again, like the day and night 23 years ago, it had become a different painting.
I saw light now in that village woodland clearing. Light I could have forgotten. I saw a warm glow. But there on the left was a vague, brown and black, hut-like dwelling so vague and dingy it must have to do with the intrusion of death.
Looked at more closely, that dwelling, too, was glowing.