Ian C. Smith – The Movie in My Mind

Ian C. Smith
The Movie in My Mind

Exiting the M6 for Liverpool, January 1984, thankful for the heater in my tin can car bought to stretch travel costs, I felt like a film noir private eye searching for this mysterious disappeared dame, Molly, my aunt who dumped her husband during WWII, with two small children in tow, and a past.

With a twenty-year old address from the Records Office, a marriage of one of her children, surnames unusual, I plodded door-to-door, sky a thin wash, those acrid streets stained by Thatcherism, shuttered shops, rubbish desperately clinging to fences, wind, prospects, bitter, but kind folk listened, my tale, Aussie accent, fogged breath, the idea of a quest, igniting tiny sparks.

About the time of my teenage cousin’s marriage that mirrored my first I quit smoking, but still liked a drink, so pub-crawling together, bursting into swaying song, the bandage of sore people, all smoking, building the screenplay of my imagination in that coarse, hoarse atmosphere where nobody walked alone I pictured myself played by Albert Finney as a bipolar yet cool ambitious wit, not a self-indulgent interloper.

The screenplay stillborn, my research did spawn an episode of a corny TV programme presented by a raucous scouse pop sweetheart my aunt, now a sweet old dame, secret history intact, liked, resulting in a London rendezvous for ageing family members, their struggles glossed over.

Dreams behind me now, hours still, as in a mortuary, a review of a movie set in Liverpool in the 1980s transports me to headstrong days when my cousin slept at his girlfriend’s, vacating his little flat for me, the scald of that land of drama and conflict, a time of big ideas, of hope propelling us into those dreams.

Meryl Stratford – Ancestors

Meryl Stratford
Ancestors

As surely as Walt is the ground we walk on—
beautiful
carpet of grass,
dust under our feet—
Emily is the sky,
fierce as falling stars,
granting no wishes,
hymnist and heretic
indivisible,
jury of one.
Keep watch over your borders,
Lady of the Loaded Gun.
May we
never
open your book nor read your
poems with their
quaint capitals and
restless dashes, with their
syntax slight askew
too carelessly.
Unique soul,
vestal in
white,
exuberant bacchante,
you leave us
Zero at the Bone.

Meryl Stratford – Modern Math

Meryl Stratford
Modern Math

I am one-half her—
the baby of the family,
the girl who was good at math,
who wanted to be a teacher,
the girl who never learned to swim,
the homemaker, the baker of apple pies,
the beachcomber, the bridge player,
the reader of mysteries,
the woman who never
drove a car, or voted.

I am one-half him—
the youngest of twelve,
the boy whose father spoke only German,
the poor boy with only a sweater
to wear in the winter, the smart boy
who graduated early,
the draft dodger,
the union organizer,
the man who worked
forty years in a factory,
the man who loved Great Books
and butterscotch candy.

David Subacchi – Closing That Door

David Subacchi
Closing That Door

Philip has traced his ancestry back to medieval times
He tells me proudly,
He has researched church registers and graveyards,
Looked at state census records on and off line,
Investigated old Welsh newspapers
Now captured on microfilm;
There is very little more he can do
He says, the picture is complete.

He asks if I have done anything similar,
I tell him ‘No’ and his eyes widen,
So I explain that before 1913
All my family history is in Italy;
Things take longer over there
And are less accessible,
The storage of records
Interrupted several times by warfare.

He nods and I think he understands
But I’m not sure,
He suggests various search engines
While I think only of gazing
Into the vacant eyes of officials
And the pain of unanswered letters;
I thank him for his kind advice,
Mentally closing that door.

David Subacchi – Uncles

David Subacchi
Uncles

I have a great uncle I never met, in Italy,
A soldier, killed in action
In the First World War,
The ‘great war to end all wars’
His name is carved in stone,
On a town square memorial,
Many miles from
Where they shot him.

I have an uncle I never met, in Italy,
Murdered by Nazis,
In the Second World War,
Falsely accused
Of hiding resistance fighters,
His name is carved in stone
Right outside the village church,
Where they shot him.

Bob Ward – Two Signatures

Bob Ward
Two Signatures

John Shepherd’s his name
    but he has no truck with sheep.
1797 Leeds: dressing a raw weave
    into finest woolen cloth a quality
    hand might shed a glove to smooth
    – that’s where the money sits!
A bale is thumped aside, today’s
    document spread out for signature
    and witnessing; three men crowd a boy.
The Master reads his terms, no malice:
    first year – six shillings a week,
    on duty fifteen hours a day
    (no payment due when sick),
    notched up one shilling annually
    through seven dogged years.
“There!” He distorts his finger-tip
    in the blank space bottom right.
So gripping an un-practiced quill,
    the teazel-boy stutters out a cross
    upon the paper, and thereby binds himself
    to the lifelong mystery of cloth.
The merchant deliberates his turn;
    he inscribes ‘Benjamin’ and ‘Gains’
    as escorts either side the mark,
    then after loosening his cuff
    he unfurls his perfect signature
    upheld by sideways loops, drawn surely,
    that swoop to a final twist,
    a lift and two stub strokes.
Conclusion:
    another apprentice trotting at his heels.
Foxed and cracking in the folds
    that paper served a turn tucked
    so securely in the family Bible
    which connects me to Ben’s empty cross,
    while the phantom at my shoulder now
    would commandeer what I write . . .

But I need not let him.

Bob Ward, Two Signatures, photograph, 2005

Rosanne Trost – Too Late For Answers

Rosanne Trost
Too Late For Answers

I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. My mother’s maiden name was Murphy. Dad’s mother had the same maiden name. My sister and I used to joke that our parents were cousins.

March 17th was always a big day in our home. Dad had one Kelly green plaid tie, which he wore every St. Patrick’s Day. My sister and I always donned some sort of green attire for school. For several years we would receive half-dead three leaf clovers from Dad’s distant relatives in County Mayo. The box also contained St. Patrick medals.

To celebrate the holiday, my mother always made corned beef and cabbage, and during dinner we listened to Irish music on the radio. Dad would choke up when he heard the sad song, “Danny Boy.” He reminisced about his parents who had emigrated from Ireland to Denver. Back then, I was embarrassed by his tears, but now I think how tender. I can still see his expression as he talked about his family.

Dad was the youngest of five children, and was baptized Philip. Joey, the sister next to him in age, was nine years his senior. His parents were older when he arrived, and both of them died within a year of each other when dad was just a teen. Joey and her new husband took over his care, and moved from Denver to St. Louis. Years later, my dad and Mary Murphy were married. I was their first-born.

As a young child, I was Joey’s favourite niece, and she shared with me how very devoted she was to my dad. I can still see her, cigarette in her mouth, praising dad, “He has been a good brother, and you know he is a loving father. Your dad was happy-go-lucky and he always made us laugh.”

My dad was the last of his siblings to die. It’s been over 40 years. For his funeral Mass, he was “laid out” wearing the green tie. In his hands was the rosary that his sister, the nun, had made for him. When I looked at his tie, memories flooded in from my childhood.

Our family has continued the St. Patrick’s Day traditions. I still see him struggling with the green tie, and my mother straightening it.

Last summer, all the memories of dad took a bit of a detour. Through a second cousin, we learned that my dad was Jewish and had been adopted. He never learned of the adoption.

Aunt Joey had sworn her family to secrecy, saying, “If you tell Philip or his family that he was adopted, I will come back from the grave to haunt you.” Apparently, family members believed her. No one shared the information…until last summer when our second cousin, the only surviving relative, could no longer keep the secret.

As of now, we have had no luck locating records surrounding my dad’s birth.

My sister, brother and I did have DNA tests, each of the results reflected that we are half Jewish.

So many questions, and few, if any, answers. AQ

Renzo Besozzi – My Lisanza

Renzo Besozzi (translated by Bryan R. Monte)
My Lisanza. Summer memories of an octogenarian.
A reading by the old ‘doc’ from Lisanza

There are no certain rules to define whether a village, like Lisanza, should have a masculine or feminine name, but I shall decline it in the feminine: Lisanza is small, and beautiful, and my homeland. I’m not the only one: our dear dialect poet Giovanni Bonfini used to say ‘Lisanza mia’. Lisanza preserves my summer memories, memories of a Lisanza that is no more; only in my heart.

The sounds. Not the far roar of the road, but the chirping of the birds, the cockcrow, the mooing of cows waiting to be milked, the crickets, the croaking of frogs, the vociferous calls of the children in the square, the sweet toll of the bells crowning summer evenings, when the sun is engulfed by its own embers.

The cobbled square. The boys, armed with long poles try to intercept the improvised flight of bats. The men sit on the steps to observe complacently and to tell the events of the day. The old women drag their chairs under the hallway of the backyard to watch the spectacle of the rowdy youth. Clouds of midges clustered in columns sway up and down. Myriads of sparrows intertwine the sky, myriads of midges cluster in columns, sway up and down, and then line up later on the strands of light.

The shore of the lake. The fishermen sitting on the ground, armed with shuttles, patch the long nets spread out on the grass, the house of the tencia (for the dyeing of nets), the women kneeling on their ‘stretchers’ while plunging the clothes into the water of the lake, the sheets stretched out on the grass by the shore to bleach, the boats lined up, the cows left to graze the sharp grass on the marshy shoreline banks. The wailing, under your barefoot step, of the grassy ground wet by the slow reflux of light waves.

Fishing. The children, armed with cane and bait boxes, spent the entire morning trying to ‘hunchback’ fish into their ‘tanes’, or to more easily lure a ‘perch-trout’ (the boccalone). Myriads of bleak shamans, from the forest of green algae, bite the bright hooks. The older children organized themselves into groups for bag fishing, much more productive, and they share the spoils. At home, mothers are tired of cleaning small fish every day, but they let them do it, so they have some free time by their children.

The lake. Always calm and smooth, in the sunny and silent noons you can hear the voices of the children fishing on the other shore, you do not see them, but feel them as if you were next to them. Clear and clean water, who does not have the well in the yard, draws from the lake with the bucket (in the corona, or where the water is deeper). The magnificent sunsets paint the waters red and violet. The slow slipping of the boat, the water slapping against the keel, while the oars rub across the surface.

The castle. It was already considered a ruin during the Maria Theresa of Austria census of 1722. The steep, cobblestone road that winds its way up the strange, low, near-lake chine, from the other moraine hills. The square, roofless tower, the oval wall enclosing the plateau where the church was, the enclosure of the old cemetery, with the headstones on the walls, according to the dictates of Napoleon’s edict of Saint Claude.

The icehouse. Beautiful and practical hexagonal construction near the lake, which the cooperative of fishermen fills with ice and snow pressed in winter and that throughout the year serves to store the fish waiting to be delivered to the merchants.

The slingshot. Toy and weapon of all boys, built with a small piece of wood and strips of rubber cut out of old bicycle tyres. Hunting for poor paserotti, poor sparrows or swallows or the few lamps on light poles. Sometimes also used in bloody battles between groups of boys. Fortunately, the shots are not very precise. We were no better than the youth of today.

One day a year, a great party for us children, comes to ‘Crociera’ Street (where today there is a traffic light) a hellish and noisy threshing machine and all those who have cultivated wheat or other cereal bring the bundles to be shelled, and they bring back their sacks with the fruit of their labour and the straw bales, magically spat out and tied with the wire, which will be used for the litter of the animals in the stalls.

The hay. Guys, let’s go to make hay. Yesterday, the great ones mowed the grass of the fields and this morning they have turned it over to dry completely. We bring the cows to the cart, the double yoke to the rudder, tridents and rakes, and we children on the empty wagon. We keep the cows still while the big ones load the hay; now and then we move the cart, and the mound grows … up to two or three metres. And then back on the wagon, we climb over the scented hay and so we return home, hot and happy.

Dear, old Lisanza, which I revive in my heart, the land of my father ‘in whom I trust, a kind and pious mother, who covers both my kinsman’, as Petrarch says! AQ

AQ23 – Genealogy

Bryan R. Monte – AQ22 Summer 2018 Art Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ22 Summer 2018 Art Reviews

Günther Förg, a Fragile Beauty, Amsterdam Stedelijke Museum, 24 May to 14 October 2018
Wayne Thiebaud, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, 10 June to 16 September 2018.

It was if the gods themselves were listening when I chose Texture as the theme for AQ’s 2018 summer issue. Amsterdam’s Stedelijk and Wassenaar’s Museum Voorlinden have both recently opened retrospective exhibitions by artists, whose primary focus is texture: the Stedelijk featuring work by Günther Förg and the Voorlinden, work by Wayne Thiebaud. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches for texture art devotees.

How the view changed

The Stedelijk’s Günther Förg, a Fragile Beauty, runs through 14 October 2018. The Stedelijk’s collection, the largest in world, curated by Veit Loers, includes work from his entire oeuvre including a variety of mediums such sculptures and photographs, and materials such as bronze, lead and plaster in addition to more traditional paintings on canvas. The exhibition is organized thematically, starting with a gallery of black and white photos of Bauhaus buildings. Most of these photos are of exteriors, but a few are of interiors, taken through the regularly-ordered blocks of the window frames. It’s this raamwerk leitmotif that is used by Loers throughout the exhibition to provide thematic unity. It is also reinforced by a series of four framed photographs entitled Wall Painting, Vienna Succession, 1990. These include four slightly different landscape views from windows in a house in which the exterior is dark forcing the viewer to look outwards.

A second unifying element or motif is, of course, colour. Some of Förg’s paintings are in fact wall-sized panels of single colours that were originally viewed singly or placed next to each other for contrast. This contrast is even more apparent in a gallery filled with dozens of paintings, which have two or more contrasting colour panels on one canvas but which frequently share a common, grey underlayer. Many of these paintings remind me of Abtract Expressionist Mark Rothko’s horizontal bar paintings where two or more bars create a tension and a unity with each other based upon their surface and underlying colours.

As the visitor continues from one gallery to the next in this exhibition, the window motif begins to morph from a cross-hatch to more of a cross motif and it is combined on canvases with the colour tensions. One gallery, the fourth or so from the beginning contains a collection of nothing but crosshatches on somewhat monochromatic backgrounds. These cross motif and colour tensions are exploited later in what seems like landscape paintings. This two elements come together in Förg’s, Untitled, 1995 in which light green, light, earth-tone orange and white are mixed together with brown, fence-like crosses. It’s a painting that reminds one of Piet Mondriaan’s Impressionistic, Zealand seascapes with tidal barriers from the late 1910s.

Some of the best and darkest pieces in this exhibition are towards the end. In the same a gallery as Untitled, 1995, are a series of dark, hung, large, canvas-sized bronzes. These bronzes include three works with large, deep slashes (all Untitled, 1988) and two with seemingly semi-buried, fossil-like shelled creatures (both Untitled, 1990). A smaller gallery on the right, which dead-ends, includes work from the 1970s and 1990s. This gallery includes one dark brown, almost monochromatic painted canvas, (Untitled, 1974), which, in this reviewer’s opinion, seems to include ghostly torsos looking outwards in a layer just under the surface.

Beyond this gallery and the next is a collection of Förg’s photographs including close-ups of women reminiscent of 1950s glamour photos and a photo of a young man sprawled at the bottom of a staircase either from a fall or another reason from a true crime magazine. These noir images while interesting (as are the photos of ancient mosaics and modern architecture from Italy from a few galleries before) seem, however, to detract from overall trajectory of Förg’s art.

In contrast to the gallery with the dark, hanging bronzes, is the last, very large gallery with what seem like giant, jagged, up-and-down, trial, pastel-coloured pencil markings on white canvases Untitled 2007 and 2008 and mixed-media, untitled white plaster sculptures from 2001. His mixed media white plaster sculptures include objects such as a blue torch or photographer’s flash, white and green plastic bottles, and a fluorescent lamp and copper wiring. These pieces are in stark contrast from the work that has preceded it and obviously an attempt by the artist, in the last decade of his life, to continue to re-invent himself. Perhaps if Förg had lived longer, these new, wall-size practice palettes and smaller, playful plaster sculptures might have enabled him to continue to create work in new directions.

Have your cake and eat it too?

Wayne Thiebaud’s mouth-watering pie slices, cakes, sundaes and donuts are known to almost any Art 101 college student. He is probably the most famous, living American artist and the reason this writer travelled from his usual Amsterdam museum beat to Wassenaar’s Museum Voorlinden to see and interview the great man on the opening of his first European retrospective. Unfortunately, due to an illness and his advanced age (97) Thiebaud didn’t make it to his opening, but museum director Suzanne Swarts ensured that the show went on, providing rolling commentary for the press as she took them through the Voorlinden’s galleries featuring Thiebaud’s work.

Museum Voorlinden has collected approximately 60 of Thiebaud’s works from the 1960s to the present from both public and private collections. The exhibition is curated in such a way that it fortunately seems to answer some of the questions I was going to ask the artist himself. For example, one of my questions was: ‘The room reflections in Two Paint Cans (1987) reminds me of the reflections in silver, glass, and mirrors in some 17th century Dutch still lifes and interior paintings. Were you consciously aware of this tradition as you painted these objects?’

This seemed to be immediately answered in the first gallery where Two Paint Cans (1987) hangs just to the right of Robed Woman with Letter, (1976-2013), who has the same facial gesture (albeit from the front) of bracing herself for bad news as does the woman evocative of Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663-64). So right from the beginning, this exhibition places Thiebaud’s oeuvre firmly in the realm of high-art, although Thiebaud insists, as Swarts reminded the press, of calling himself a painter and not an artist. Another unifying technique in the same gallery that is used to present Thiebaud’s work, is chromaticism. At the opposite end of the gallery are two paintings that use similar green colours. The first is Green Dress (1966-2017) of a seated woman in a green dress and the other is White Shoe (1995), the title shoe painted on a green glass table. On the facing wall between these two sets of paintings are paintings of a lipstick (Lipstick, 1964), a portrait of a seated man wearing a red tie and a woman wearing a pink dress, red shoes and a red hairbow, both figures arms crossed, looking opposite directions, and their cheeks flushed (Two Seated Figures, 1965), and a candy counter (Peppermint Counter, 1963) with its 5 and 25 cent striped peppermint sticks and its 10 cent, red, candy apples, the unifying colour between of these three paintings being different shades of red. Thiebaud’s people or figures, as he calls them, seem to come straight out of Edward Hopper, but their boredom or anger is painted in the much brighter California light with its blue and green shadows.

It is these paintings of everyday American images that made Thiebaud, one of the first and most original of the Pop Artists (a term he continues to disavow). Unlike Warhol and the other Pop Artists, however, Thiebaud doesn’t appropriate others’ commercial or comic designs or celebrity photographs for his art. Yet, he does paint common objects from everyday American life: for example, platoons of pie and cake slices lined up for sale in a canteen. And he paints these objects the way he sees them and in his own style with thick slathers of paint, similar to icing strokes. This is not realism. It is an artistic reinvention of what’s before him, giving it texture and thus more visual and mouth-watering appeal such as in Pie Counter, 1963 and Cakes and Pies 1994-1995.

If these beautiful, delicious objects and subjects are perhaps too saccharine or tame for some art aficionados, then they may focus their attention on room 5, which contains Thiebaud’s landscapes, especially his cityscapes which are sure to shake them up. These include aerial views of the agricultural Central Valley, near Thiebaud’s home in Sacramento, or the vertiginous cityscapes with people and cars hurtling down rollercoaster hills painted in his San Francisco Potrero Hill studio. Thiebaud’s somewhat naively-painted, Diebenkornesque, rural landscapes have a feel of God looking down on his/her green creation on a good day, one with one tree lit in golden twilight in Reservoir 1999 fit for Blake’s or Swedenborg’s angels. The perspective in these paintings also sometimes folds out in a somewhat M. C. Escheresque manner to create a new area, expanding the painting’s three traditional planes Fall Fields 2017, or to include the mirage of the reflection of lights in a body of water from a city or large factory that isn’t there. In contrast to these pretty rural landscapes are the monstrously hilly San Francisco cityscapes, filled with skyscrapers Intersection Buildings 2000-2014 (which I believe is a composite painting of California Street) roller coaster motorways, empty urban areas under or around the motorways or in construction areas Towards 280, 2000 and steep hills, such Bluff 2013 which seem to only be climbed at your own peril.

These two very different types of landscapes answer another question I had: ‘Do your two contrasting types of rural and urban landscapes express the order, security and perhaps boredom of Thiebaud’s candied-appled, suburban home in Sacramento vs. the artistic exhilaration and intrepidness you felt working in San Francisco? I think the answer to that question is another resounding: ‘Yes’.

A final question I had for Thiebaud which would have probably come at the beginning of the interview after ‘How are you feeling today at your first European respective?’ It would have been: ‘What influence did your southwestern Mormon origins and Southern Californian upbringing have on your painting?’ I think the first obvious answer to this question can be found in Thiebaud’s work ethic: at 97, according to director Swarts, he still paints everyday. It’s also found in his pastel colour palette, the fully lit figures or objects, whether on display or under the California sun, with their blue and green shadows. In addition, it can found in Thiebaud’s humility and his service to others. Even after Thiebaud found fame in the ’60s, he continued to teach and mentor undergraduates out West at college and university rather than surround himself with a coterie of admirers and move back East. Thiebaud’s art has a simplicity to it, in its subjects and its technique, which continues the credo of ‘less is more.’ (Not Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s but Robert Browning’s in ‘Andrea del Sarto’). Thiebaud probably got this from his work in commercial art. It helped him focus on his subjects—at least the human and edible ones—and find the extraordinary in the ordinary, which has made and sustained his long career.