Art Talk at Cade Tompkins Projects
Thanks. Cade has a good eye, a big heart, and sound business sense. She is willing to take a risk. She's been a fierce supporter of this off-beat work. She must have been 21 when we met, and she had the same good eye and sound sense then. She's been a part of every phase of my work. Thanks also to Allison for her incredible attention to detail and creative support. And to you for coming. It is a real pleasure and rare opportunity for me, who works a lot in a real‐world job, to celebrate and share this work.
1. What it's about. I just picked up Huck Finn. Twain's first note says anyone looking for meaning there should be prosecuted; someone looking for a moral should be banished; someone looking for a plot should be shot.
This handwriting on the Wall - it's all an endless landscape. It's about negotiating a private universe and public engagement. Or maybe how to titillate. It's about pilgrimage, found sound, raggedy haiku, concrete poetry-visualizing language. Imagism, advertising not products but processes of thought. I call it ecphrasis, where image and word go hand in hand. Assonance (that's being asinine with vowels) and alliteration. Mental maps.
Just-lists. Naming for the sheer joy of it. The first writing involved Assyrian ledgers of accounts, for flax, sheep, wheat, stone. I'm just listing the prices of being human in a geography of the imagination. I'm just trying to stop making sense, yet build a framework for you to compose a story out of fragments, artifacts, or data.
2. Influences. El Greco (do you know his Vision of St. John?). Maybe Andy Warhol or Kay Rosen? Dr. Seuss, Blinky Palermo, mail art, outsider artists like Reverend Howard Finster and Bill Travers. Folk art. Labor history. Fluxus art, which gave me the courage to put words up in public space. I've written about Albert Pinkham Ryder, Giacometti, Paul Klee. My collaborators.
3. Collaboration. Love to collaborate! With Group matierla form the early 80’s onwards, to planting trees for documetna 8 in Kassel, Germany (with Barbara!). To Endless Landscapes with Birgit Jensen, Jochen Saueracker, and abrara Westermann. With many people who are here: Cade, who's introduced many readings and supported the work, including with Kathleen Hughes at White Electric Coffee, with Thomas Palmer on Rose Island in a real estate show with Lisa Perez, poetry and art with Brian Burt and Irene Lawrence. My partner in crime Barbara--so many times, and in these Endless Landscapes and Three Pillows.
4. Form. Form makes a space to create, to be sloppy and colorful and funny. I took up the Seven Deadly Sins from Chaucer, assigned each one to a first-term Bush cabinet member, to write out a narrative that exactly fit a wooden grid about the incursion in Iraq. Later those texts, defined be arbitrary edges, magically became perfectly working poems. All multiples of seven.
In 21 Stations, a 21 poem set of 21-line poems (I call them sonnets-and-a-half), it turned out that it took exactly the same time to read one poem as it took to journey from one subway station to the next. Lists of names are endless, so I make constraints… and build a story from found objects.
My manifesto is INCIDENTALISM--not accidentalism, not scatter art, not coincidence. In software we call this incremental change control. I let things find me, but I apply a gestural, private signature through handwriting to keep it distinctly other than mechanical or digital reproduction. Really like a scribe with an illuminated script. The goal is to stave off information overload.
5. Stories. Mysterious loops in time. My Chad Did painting, now working with a guy in Chad to support our Country Office in the Central African Republic, with its enormous challenges in democratic governance, resource management, poverty, civil strife and education.
My mom's mom was an artist who liked to sketch trees, historical houses, and make maps. Which is what all these are... I showed her an early print of words on zinc, and she honed in on my phrase Horse Piss and eagerly added, you should have named it Hospice. But she was really into it!
I moved to New York City to be a painter. In a tiny studio in the East Village I was making little typewriter poems like Carl Andre or Apollinaire, when I met Galway Kinnell, who saw in me some poetry. I also met Cade, Barbara, Norman then poetry, prints, and painting found an active three-decade dialogue. I couldn't keep them straight.
I fell in love with John Adamson's handwriting in first grade. We drew endless battles of Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg, and we named every hillock and gulley and rebel on our maps.
I emailed the International Planetary Nomenclature Society to ask how they named craters on moons of planets. All very systematic. Since Pluto's moon Charon had been assigned a category (underworld deities) but the craters were not yet named, I got to do it myself: Ixion, Vesuvius, Rhadamanthus. [Mercury - artists names like Flaubert, Ibsen, Charles Ives]
6. Poetry and Painting. Turner did it. Melville did it. Anais Nin did. The Providence Art Club and Cade asked me to explore, so I went to the attic and discovered lists of titles of paintings that were lost, by Edward Mitchell Bannister, an African-°©‐American Beaux Art bucolic landscape painter. But his titles belied his quiet still lives with the onset of the industrial revolution and the Abolitionist struggle. So I took the titles of the non-°©‐existent paintings and wrote some poems to resurrect the paintings, but with words. I'll read a few because they also speak to the paintings in the room. THE POEMS. The poems are sadder than the paintings, I'm not sure why.
7. What's next? Good Fish-Bad Fish, Just Discovered species, Galaxies. Still working on Berlin subway mapping poem. I wonder if you have questions about the work. What do you think? I hope the paintings speak louder than words. Maybe Barbara would say a few words about Endless Landscapes.