Sunday, February 13, 2005

Merrily into hencity we go

A comment posted by my friend Joni in the previous entry stirred an ancient memory. It's something I haven't thought about for several several years. It never crossed my mind when I was in Amsterdam in 2002, even while visiting Holland's homage to its native son.

I have a confession to make.

Sometime during the mid-70's, I visited the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. The Norton is home to Auguste Rodin's anguished sculpture, The Burghers Of Calais, which stood in bleak congress outside the entrance back then. (The Norton also houses Rodin's ruminatingly timeless, The Thinker [made famouser as the opening setpiece for the late 50's hit TV show The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis]; the sun-worshipping St. John The Baptist; and the imposing Monument To Balzac).



I lived in Pasadena in those days, smack on the city border with Altadena, which, as the name implies, is above all other Dena's, perched atop the base of the broad alluvial fan of the San Gabriel Mountains. There was a traveling exhibit of Goya's private drawings that drew my interest. The Norton was going to have them for only a limited time, so I drove the three miles down to Colorado Boulevard to see them in the opening week.

I'd read an newspaper article about his controversial drawings of madmen, prostitutes, the politically cartoonish nature of some, and the fully-rendered study of others. The article spurred me to set my guitar down for a few hours to absorb some real Spanish culture. Even though I'd passed it hundreds of times, it was my first actual visit to The Norton. (My good friend, Bill, and me always say the word Norton with a Gleasonesque squonk, imitating the way Jackie yelled his television buddy's name: Nawh-ton!)




After viewing the Goyas, I explored the rest of the museum at a leisurely pace. Lots of art. Degas, Cézanne, Brueghel, the Elder, Bonnard, Daumier, Arbus, Duchamps, and that's just some of the A through D's. I remember feeling the atmosphere of The Norton was somewhat antiseptic, smelling of flourescented floor wax, not at all warm or embracing.

It might have been that the prestigious Norton was unfairly crashing against my decidedly Bohemian 70's-lifestyle of long hippie hair, devastatingly potent foreign-grown pot, and the overall blend of wooden book crates beanbagged within a knotty soundtrack of folk and rock music. In those days, I thrived far more wholesomely in the smoky strata of natural, earthy environments than in the ultra-clean, glossy-polished sterility found in the exhibition rooms of an art museum. Duh.




Meanwhile, back at The Norton, there I was meandering through the museum, most likely settling into the backstretch of a doobie-enhanced viewing experience, when I came across a nice little unassuming painting of sunflowers. Of course, they were anything but sunflowers. They were Vincent's Sunflowers.

Van Gogh painted a total of eleven pictures of sunflowers, so I'm not certain which of them was hanging at The Norton that afternoon. If you click on the sunflowers link, I can tell you it was not any of the four darker, wilted Parisian blossoms. But if I had to guess, with someone holding a loaded sunflower to my head, I would guess it was either the
Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers currently in Tokyo, or the Vase With Twelve Sunflowers currently in Philadelphia. And if I had to flip a coin, heads being Japan, tails being Pennsylvania, I'd say tails. (The Norton could easily answer this question, but if I were to ask them to do so, I may risk arrest).



I stood lost in his Sunflowers. I could smell them. I could hear country life in Arles coming from outside of the window in the light that passed through it to gatherly caress them. I could feel the ambient temperature of his quiet room, the door complain when the banshee Mistral howls. I could feel a yellow hunger in the pit of my stomach. Of course I could. I was still high.

It had not a thing to do with my having read Irving Stone's highly popular
Lust For Life some years before, because I was monolithically transfixed by the thought that here before me was something that Vincent Van Gogh himself touched with his own living hands, labored over, drank bad coffee in front of, and routinely placed upon his very own clackety easel.




Thus, in the spirit of it being good for the soul and all that rot, I hereby tender my confession: As I was completely alone in this section of the gallery, I folded my arms before me and leaned in for a closer examination. I studied the pigmented furrows that gave eternal life to the head-weary stalks, the braided rows of paint that conferred the illusion of arc to the vase, the goldenfired dragon-tongues of glazened ochre that made up the lapping petals, the variances in the distended areolas at the center of each blossom.

I traced his blood-dried signature with my eyes, imagined him carefully forming each letter of his singular name, noticed it was the same color he chose to outline the vase with. The minty green wall in the background offered even more hidden treasures of light and shadow; minute textural changes that presented the flowers boldly to the viewer, but without pushing them crudely into the face. I leaned in even closer to praise the brushwork that gave depth to the table, savored how he applied the subtle lacings of color combined to make it solid and vaseworthy.

And with my arms still folded in front of my chest, I turned to look to both sides of me. No one. Not a patron, not a guard, not a camera, not a soul. Just Vincent and me. I musingly put my right hand up to my mouth and sat my gaze into a tiny area of the table located at the far right bottom corner. I was but an inch or two away. I slowly and deliberately leaned forward, now centimeters from canvas, and gingerly extended my pinky finger toward some honeyed ridges of golden paint that comprised an inconsequential point on that table beneath that vase.

I touched it.

I noticed my breathing had ceased and quickly leaned back, imagining that if anyone had seen me surely they would think I had satisfied some deep scholarly curiosity and, finding everything in order, simply withdrawn. But I had just engaged in a criminal act. I touched something that Vincent himself had touched. My heart raced. I was an instant art thief.




Except for when I visited the Van Gogh Museum, whenever I see a picture of Vincent's flowers, which, until Joni jarred loose the recollection, hadn't been for quite some time, I think of that afternoon at The Norton. I think about the fact that my own DNA is permanently lodged on the surface of some unremarkable yellow pigment in the form of skin oil that oozes with biological regularity from my fingertips.

My DNA on a Van Gogh.
Together into hencity we merrily go .

When the aliens come to salvage whatever is left after we obliterate ourselves with the horrendously realized machinations of our far-too-clever-for-our-own-good brains, they may possess the means by which to genetically reconstitute all the great painters, composers, artists, pyramidicists, and common laborers from what ever scraps of their handiwork might survive.

And when they dip a common little painting of sunflowers into their prime resurrection solution and both Vincent and Joseph pop out onto the luminous petrie dais, they may well scratch their oblong cranial braincases with one or more of their tendrilous suction-cupped appendages and raise whatever passes for an eyebrow in some far-futured eon to come.

So I touched a Van Gogh.

This confession does not make me feel better.
It makes me feel wonderful.

4 Comments:

Blogger ankhara99 parried...

I was wondering what the confession might be. Of all people, I'm glad it was you who did that - for your appreciation of it.

I have not touched a Van Gogh, however, at the London Museum with hundreds of people milling about, I noticed the ancient egyptian sculptures have no ropes, no alarms, no diaz, nothing to separate any passerby from them. So I touched them. I touched them ALL. The oil of my fingertips mingling with the stone and labor of how many ancient egyptian artisans and slaves. It was exhilarating, amazing and took me someplace this life, this time, can not offer.

Thank you for reminding ME. I had logged that in an apparently dusty part of my brain. ;-)

February 14, 2005 3:22 AM  
Blogger joseph parried...

Well, I'm glad to know you will be among the pyramidists and sculpturists who will be reconstituted in the Alien Resurrection to come.

We'll have lots of fun when they loose us on a sweetly pristine planet free of the likes of all those folk and institutions that wreak havoc in today's world, with the happy admonition to: "Go forth and be fruitful."

Now where have I heard that before . . . . ;-)

February 14, 2005 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Ryan parried...

I another here to make you unalone in your infatuated criminality. Pollock's "Guardians of the Secret" (in SF's MOMA) was my victim and benefactor.

I drive a little more carefully now.

Wonderful, wonderful entry, wonderfully told, my friend.

March 13, 2005 12:29 AM  
Blogger joseph parried...

Nice to know I have yet another comrade in crime lurking about out there patrolling unsuspecting museums around the world.

I wonder how many more have breached the forbidden stony & pigmented walls of art couture?
;-)

March 13, 2005 2:10 PM  

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