The lily is a paradox– death and life. It was the harbinger in paintings of the Annunciation. The Pre-raphaelites loved this subject matter, but my favourite is Rossetti’s take on this news-flash moment. There is a reference to Fra Angelico’s beautiful treatment of the subject matter and Rossetti even seems to be riffing off the stark white cells of the Monastery of San Marco in Florence where much of Fra Angelico’s frescos can be seen.
Rosetti’s Mary is very much human, full of wonder and terror. The angel’s face is merely suggested in a haze of fleshy shadow as if to save those looking from the divine information that might just do us in.
But Mary survives this message– backed into a corner of her tiny cell, the traditional blue of her dress is only represented by a makeshift screen– something you’d see in a hospital. And the lily takes center stage with its innocence and knowing, its face of life and death.
Happy Easter, friends. I will be trading at Eastercon, the British Science Fiction Association Convention in London over the weekend. Look for me in the dealer’s room if you will be there. I will be putting my Etsy shop in vacation mode for a short time while I am away.
The news of L.A. artist Mike Kelley’s suicide has left me reeling and bereft. The world is suddenly a much less interesting place without him.
Mike Kelley was perhaps my first real art world love. I’d shaken off my infatuation with the Preraphaelites in high school and signed up for the whole art school experience as a rebellion, as a middle finger to all the other choices I didn’t have at the time. I had no voice of my own, no medium I’d mastered. I was stumbling along, and I stumbled on Kelley.
I remember going to the Newport Beach museum where this guy I’d never heard of had a solo show with peices like The Banana Man and Kappa (a scatological Japanese fairy). There were things made out of crocheted animals. Freud and everything else was turned on its head. My heart beat faster, looking at this show. I went back over and over. Having never been to a circus I suddenly felt like a kid who’d been taken to see the clowns for the first time: terrified and giddy.
Later, Kelley actually came to my school to speak. He was perhaps one of the few artists and writers who meeting in person was not a let-down. The school I attended in the late 80s did indeed suck– not least because the chair at the time was a misogynist who was sexually harassing his women students. (Later, a group of women won a law suit against the school, but that is a matter for another post.) In this darkness, Kelley was a light– he was, to me, a feminist artist, deconstructing received notions of the body and framing women’s work in subversive ways. He showed up looking like a sinister mod, with this crazy black hair and pegged trousers. He was funny, captivating and able to talk about very dark things with a lightness and beneath it all was a sly compassion.
Though I ended up working in very traditional mediums– oil paint and printmaking– I carried Kelley’s work around with me as a reminder of what is possible.
I can only think his suicide is some sort of medical failure– depression too often goes untreated. I end with this youtube video and hope it isn’t in bad taste– in it Mike Kelley talks about what he’s buying at Ameoba Music in Hollywood. It sums up for me his unassuming presence and his creepy fascinations and characteristically gleeful attitude toward the abject. I can’t believe he’s gone.
The other day I was confronted by this image which had been tacked up on the construction barrier at Tottenham Court Road. It was part of the 100 Years, 100 Artists, 100 Works of Art, comissioned by Art on the Underground to celebrate the centenary of the “roundel” or Underground Logo. The posters for the suitably random exhibit can still be seen around town, a bit smog-speckled. The offerings were spotty and can be seen here.
The roundel is meditation-worthy: a beacon of primary colors and simple shapes that calls to you wherever you might find yourself in London. It promises to get you where you need to be, pointing to a magic carpet you just happen to share with 7 million other Londoners and another million tourists as well.
I come from Los Angeles where the car is venerated, and in some areas there are no pavements, no zebra crossings. Whole swaths of the landscape are only traversable by automobile, and I never learned to drive. The contrast in mobility is so stark between the two locales that the roundel has taken on a generous, freeing emotional association for me.
But I didn’t pay much attention to this until the Bloor piece accosted me with its Banksy-esque stencil font and its hyperbolic assertion which is nonetheless true. This “vast expanse of the world” is beyond notions of empire, though the cultural panoply of London may have started there, it is now something else entirely.
A little girl builds the rondel as if from blocks. When she is done, she will have placed together a magic key to a microcosm on which the sun never sets. This is the beginning of the fairy tale every Londoner knows.
This show features the collaboration I did with Edith Abetya– Salty: Three Tales of Sorrow. (Fiction about Marie Antoinette and the Salton Sea as well as a series of ghazals from the point of view of handkerchiefs.)
Before I leave the flat, I often consult the codex of the A-to-Zed, the exhaustive walking map of London. (It’s not an A to Zeee. No, never!) I have no shame in taking it out on the street, appearing lost, or worse–a tourist. It is because I love it so. Often, even when not leaving the flat, I read the city in this way. The place names suggest stories I have read or have not yet been written, the density of history.
Cornelia Parker’s A to Z has a hole burned through it. If one were to turn the page, surely the meteorite would have also obliterated Westminster Bridge on the next page, and might just miss Waterloo Station as it would surely take all of Borough Market, Druid Street and Tabard, where I am supposed to go this evening.
I have made a note of my destination, not far from the Marshalsea Road and a place I have never been which is now called Little Dorrit Park, named after my favourite Dickens novel. Much of my London geography I owe to Dickens. Long before I picked up an A to Z, his London was mine. When I’m blue I often say to myself, Let’s see what’s going down at the Marshalsea Prison and I will pick up the novel and begin reading at random.
I haven’t made many literary pilgrimages since moving here, probably because they are always a disappointment, either completely missing from the landscape of chain stores, luxury flats and tourist crowds or they are overly mediated Heritage sites. There is something joyless about having someone else’s official dream imposed upon your own.
In the A to Z London returns as a tabula rasa, a web of place names held in the hand. Even the name suggests the sprawling labyrinth of London could somehow be alphabetized to order. Everyone orders London differently, the maps of our minds no doubt carry with them distortions, contractions and omissions. Cornelia Parker’s Tube Map brochure from last year suggests this by using the iconic colours as an ink blot.
Tonight I might just visit Little Dorrit and make something of it, leave there a little of my own jealous imagination.
‘In the space of a few hours with a couple of hundred cans of paint, I’m hoping we can transform a dark, forgotten filth pit into an oasis of beautiful art – in a dark, forgotten filth pit.’
On a sad, dirty little forgotten street near Waterloo Station Banksy has taken over, flying in graffiti artists from other countries for a stenciling extravaganza on Leake Street, which also entailed coercing the homeless men who normally live there to move temporarily. A Daily Mail reporter has jokingly noted that Eurostar wants the street back in the exact condition the artist found it in originally– so they’ll have to find those men and “also have to painstakingly urinate on the walls and bring back all the used needles.”
Which says a lot about how property developers estate moguls and ad men see our public spaces. And it’s a savvy move by Banksy to lease the street temporarily. Freedoms granted are not easily taken away.
It’s an all-stencil event, and anyone can contribute. When the street originally opened to the public, the queues to see it were an hour long. But on the day we went it was like a florid secret hinting at the possible, and if the rest of us have our way in shaping our world, the probable.