A Hollywood Party

I was there because my cousin’s best friend was a producer, and I had been swept along because I was visiting. It’s nice to go unnoticed at this kind of Hollywood party, where everyone is in the notice-me business. I wanted to be almost invisible, and I was. The grand, central room for the party, in this big, big house, was the two-story tall, mustard colored living room, filled with guests and with many sofas, most of them plum or maroon. On the walls, everywhere, were bad paintings, many of them by the host. This follows the universal fate that all actors eventually take up painting. I think that I saw Willem Dafoe, who, at that time, had not taken up painting. Later, naturally, he would. There was a very large and celebrated woman who would be noticed anywhere, in the center of the mustard room, wearing a squeaky green dress. Cocktails that I thought to be gimlets were being served to everyone from trays. The stemware was pale blue. The ghastly paintings, and so many of them, promised to give me a headache very soon (gimlets might speed the onset), so I wandered a bit.

I turned a corner into a tiny office – just a delicate French desk surrounded by gray silk wallpaper – and above the desk, on the wall, was a small work that reshuffled my knowledge of painting’s possibilities forever.

Who knows how long I was there, sitting in the desk chair. Long enough to understand this: I may have been seeing a landscape of emerald and wild yellow lawn, but it was much more. Behind yellow trees, a field of gray-violet stepping back on the right to a violet tree the color of a dusty raisin. And, near the center, a hanging flow of sparkling aquamarine – the very reason the painting was made, I think. It was both mountain and forest, spreading from ground to sky. Closer, those three thick fans of yellow trees. A suggestion of pink figures walking their dogs. Above, perhaps a sky at morning – lemon against which periwinkle clouds flew upwards. All the sensations were of food or jewels. Emerald on the ground, very cool. Egg yolk in the tousled trees, lettuces and turquoise, iron and wood. It was a high view over a park. I was held in a kind of charm that might make me a better painter.

Possible spaces in the image multiplied. The surface was knit together and compact. Every edge, where color met color or light met dark, was laid down with care, but often the color assumed to be behind was swelling forward. Dark set out as purple or chocolate in very narrow blocks; light held in the flow of the big aquamarine tree, in a mysterious blossom of white and blue at the left edge, and in the speckled lemon sky. It was as if a caravan of jeweled bundles traveled on its way across the land.

This work was about paint itself. The clusters of marks were not so much clouds or foliage or fences as they were the material, acting on its own. Where a field was grassy, chunks of coral dirt intruded. Blue greens met lime yellow greens as neighbors. Every form had its moment of focus, but then gave way to another.  In tiny letters in dark green at the bottom: B O N N A R D.

My cousin just then appeared behind me and took my arm. “Come with me,” he said, “you have to see this.”

“Wait, wait,” I said. “You have to see this!”

“Good, OK, paintings later. This is happening now,” he said as he pulled me into the hall.

One last glimpse of the Bonnard, and I was hurried down the hall to the great mustard room. A crowd was cheering the very large and celebrated woman as she took off the squeaky green dress. Very soon, near naked but for green shoes, she was dancing.

My cousin’s best friend, the producer, declared that we had seen the highlight of the party now, and could leave. There were other parties just beginning somewhere. Out we went into the soft Hollywood night, driving under the silhouettes of palms, leaving behind forever the best painting in California.

Wall with Petunia

 

Wall with Petrunia, 2022, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 60" x 108"

Wall with Petunia, 2022, Oil, acrylic, and ink on Yupo, 60″ x 108″

Against the weedy, vegetative, imaginary pattern on the studio wall hangs a dark petunia in its own poster.  Perhaps the poster celebrates a famous artist. This petunia is the plant form, black and precise, that invites our discovery of other things. Color navigates through structures, making space and asserting the presence of things awaiting our recognition. First shown in Santa Fe at Strata Gallery, 2022.

Summer, 2022

 

Summer, 2022, Oil, acrylic, and graphite on Yupo, 31.5" x 60"

All summer, the tapestry maker found herself weaving a story she had read.  In the story, men and dogs could share souls. English fields under summer skies welcomed doggy adventures like the pursuit of rabbits. Orchards bore fruit. Royal Tokay wine was often drunk, and reincarnation seemed likely. By August, the maker’s tapestry panels all reflected the book she had been reading: My Talks with Dean Spanley by Lord Dunsany.

Coyote Pond, 2021

Coyote Pond, 2021, Oil on Yupo, 26" x 40"

 

The trail in this red canyon is long and dusty. At the furthest point, the red rock walls capture a warm, shallow pond, fed by a tiny spring. In the afternoon, we and the birds and dragonflies wade in. The water feeds willows and makes our air feel cool while our eyes are stunned with warm light. In the night, the coyotes drink here. They have run in from the desert, through a gap in the rocks, fresh from hunting jackrabbits.

 

Study after Betty Woodman, 2020

Study after Betty Woodman, 2020, Oil and graphite on Yupo, 60" x 60"

Betty Woodman built a ceramic world where solid authority eased itself into graceful explorations of space. She stuck tables, walls, and vessels together in Baroque simultaneity. Copper green met Asian ladies and pitchers shaped like pillows. Betty Woodman was a reprimand to painters.

Snow at Cline’s Corners, 2020

 

Snow at Cline's Corners, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 26" x 40"

The heavy clouds at Cline’s Corners are reflecting down on us the orange of burning energy – the beacon of the venerable and garish tourist stop, and the lights of the traffic on Interstate 40. Snow has fallen on the dry, grassy hills, on the pinon and cedar. There is plenty of room out here to be quiet and safe. It is only that hot intersection of gas stations, souvenirs, snacks, and bright parking lots that reminds us we live in two worlds.

Cold Pasture, 2020

Cold Pasture, 2020, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 14.25" x 26"

We are driving to that snowy white mountain range. We are careful to avoid the ice patches on the road. More storms will soon bury these pastures in white. Where, in spring, antelope and cattle saw a little green, and tasty seeds in August, there is sour brown grass, cold as the air. Under that ground, mice and hares and prairie dogs hide in burrows, and the coyotes watch.

Blue Landscape with Plums, 2019

Blue Landscape with Plums, 2019, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 40" x 52"

On the skirt of the tablecloth appears a landscape like ones on Chinese porcelains, where islands dot a wide river. Each island is inhabited by houses or temples, scholars or laborers, as if it were a vision of existence. Everybody working at the business of life. Above the river world, on what might be the tabletop, freshly picked leaves stand in a glass jar. A pair of plums has been set down. They could be the dark, double moon high above the blue river. Around the table, a sturdy, green and ochre tangle clings to the table’s edges.

“Everything stays close to what keeps it
content, no idea what others may crave.”

From “Enjoying Pine and Bamboo” by Po-Chü-I, translated by David Hinton

Garden House, 2019

Garden House, 2019, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 60" x 60"

A yellow tulip lies where it was thrown down on the table in this dim room. Someone, perhaps a gardener, has left pink jars, ochre-printed cloth, and handfuls of flowers on the table of dark wood. In this small house, the cloudy glass has a pattern of starflowers. The brown bird, whose portrait is painted on the pink jars, is a guide who says: “Things become apparent.” This bird comes from the notes of Kiki Smith, in her prose poem “The House.”

Garden House was a temporary, one-day installation in Kiki Smith’s exhibition Her Home, 2008, Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld, and 2008, Kunsthalle Nuremberg.
The small house held puppets, dolls, and wreaths.

Table with Bonnard, 2019

Table with Bonnard, 2019, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 64.5" x 60"

In my half-imaginary studio, great works of art can loom above the table, where a dog from a Vuillard is allowed, and where the distance between near and far is a matter of scale and shape more than of color. At the edge of the table, the tonalist and the colorist touch and almost agree.

In the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth is Pierre Bonnard’s Landscape at Le Cannet, 1928. I am pretending, in my painting, that Bonnard’s grand, 109” work has come to my studio. While it is there, behind the table, I remember the Vuillard painting Studio Portrait of Pierre Bonnard, painted between 1930 and 1935. Vuillard painted his friend Bonnard standing in his studio gazing at Landscape at Le Cannet, the light behind him, and his shadow falling over his dog, who sits on a divan between Bonnard and his painting.