“‘The first light,’ says Van Gogh, ‘in which the kindling impression lay, must itself have begun to share in the art of painting.’ Genius is thus the specific hard work of leading the visionary moment of light towards its expression, so that the mastered material adds not only strength but also depth to what was planned. In accordance with the true observation in Schopenhauer’s statement: ‘Talent resembles a marksman who hits a target which the others cannot reach; genius resembles one who hits a target so far away they’re not even able to see it.”
—Ernst Bloch, The Principle Of Hope
“I am by nature warlike…the undertaking is to master, not any resistances that happen to present themselves, but those against which one has to bring all one’s strength, suppleness and mastery of weapons—to master equal opponents.”
You’ve caused me to leap up from my rest and snatch up my most trusted Thor-blessed battleaxes: I awoke from a dream of you, Jörg and I sitting at the Leipzig Piano Bar Substanz discussing Ernst Bloch and eating ice-cream (dreams!?) to an officer beating on my door for mail-call. And what do I receive?—A letter from you discussing Art which contains some interesting thoughts: a challenge…and you know I love it. (Terrible German woman!)
It’s late, perhaps midnight (no watches are allowed in the disciplinary status dungeon). The incessant hoopla hee-hee ha-ha defense mechanism maniacal bliss has calmed down to a point where I think I can scribe out a few coherent thoughts to you. It’s sports season though so one never knows when the Great Hoopla Beast will raise up its thousand heads and begin belching forth clouds of asinine nonsense that overwhelms all else. So…
Much has been written about the varying levels of meaning in Art—political, sociological, spiritual, psychological, cultural, etc.—and indeed it has been debated if all Art has (or should have) meaning. Pieces of Visual art are essentially symbols or collections of symbols. All symbols have meaning; generally speaking most symbols have universal meanings and also meanings related to the individual psyche. What would most people say in response to the question “What does a circle mean?” I’ve actually done a bit of experimentation with this and common responses are “wholeness,” “completeness.” Hold up…O.K., I just asked two of my neighbors that question and their responses were “circle of life” and “360º.”
Some lightning quick free association from me—Circle: mandala. Dancing. Whirling dervishes twirling, circling. 360º of Knowledge, Divine revelation. Jung mentioned meeting women in India who danced mandalas. The dance, sacred dance, around fire, earth dance. The womb, eternal recurrence. Ouruborus, beginning, end, Alpha-Omega. Circle…All symbols and objects, all Art, have meaning and indeed varying levels of meaning. Giorgio de Chirico made some interesting comments on this—he spoke of how all objects have two aspects, one being what everyone generally sees and the other being the esoteric aspect, the hidden meaning that only reveals itself to the true observer, the true seeker. Any Latin American native Shaman—artist or ancient Tantric Yogic sage could tell us this but I’ll mention de Chirico because I’m feeling rather Eurocentric bourgeois Art-snobbish right now—a megalomaniacal coping mechanism because you’ve (seemingly) challenged my Artisticness, perhaps!
Every True Artist Possesses a Touch Of Madness
VINCENT VAN GOGH
Is the “Vinny Van: Every True Artist Possesses a Touch Of Madness” piece simply a Van Gogh that is almost similar to his self-portraits and just another picture of Van Gogh? Well…
You know that recently the SS—Sehar führer fraulein-schwine head of the Polunsky Unit Death Row Entärtung police attacked my property and confiscated ALL of my Art supplies. Her deep-rooted fascist tendencies overwhlemed her and she flew into an impassioned Art despising oppressive rapture (imagine a very ugly, vile, abhorrent version of St. Teresa’s “God orgasm.”) SS fraulein schwine confiscated every single Art book of mine, all of my art printouts, every last pencil and just everything. Many insightful thinkers have constructed lists of typical features of fascism and hatred of Art, of innovation, of difference is found on all lists (and indeed in all major discussions of the nature of Fascist ideology). I recently ran across Umberto Eco’s “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen ways of Looking at a Blackshirt” and in it he mentions the fascist obsessional fear of difference and diversity.
No one on this 2,500-man unit does the type of Art I do so when officers see it they tend to be a bit stunned because it’s so different. Most actually like my Art and think that it’s good that I teach Art to others, but when wanna-be Reichs führer fraulein fascist schwine sees Art, creativity, difference, diversity, beauty a ratty putrid Reichskriegsflagge (Nationalistic war flag) is fervently yanked over her entire psyche and she only thinks “Attack! Destroy! Blitzkreig! Kill!” So, there I was in this super-seg isolation disciplinary pod cell with no Art supplies. Then I get this big beautiful piece of handmade Japanese Art paper from you with your letter written on it with the Gottfried Benn quote. (Ernst Bloch called Benn “a disciple of C.G. Jung and Ludwig Klages,”by the way!—Whiskey and ice-cream talk!)
These dungeon cells—the disciplinary pod cells—are especially drab. Imagine: I’m in this wretched cage, all is dingy white and dull grey. The Entärtung police have taken all of my Art supplies and most of my property. I approach the paper softly, subtly, with a slight caution and tantalizing curiosity as one might approach a new lover. I let my fingertips caress the paper, letting them trace your words, your handwriting, feeling the variations in texture. I lay the paper out on my bunk. Large. Bright. Purple. Bold. I look at it closely, comfortably—with an air of flirtation it demands that I play with it, touch it, feel it, dance with it. I stand at a distance—with the uncompromising stoic stare of an ancient Japanese samurai it confronts me, challenges me, roars at me, demands of me…something.
I roll up the paper and put it up…but it keeps whispering to me, speaking to me, the little traditional Japanese sun-wheels eurythmically bouncing around in my Mind…
You, Göttfried Benn, conversations we’ve had, wheels of creation turning—and then I get a letter from Compañera L. Have you ever seen any of her Visual Art, read any of her fiction or non-fiction writing? She’s an artist in true form and she’s always pushing me to drink from the Castalian spring, the spring sacred to the Muses of Greek mythology. (Terrible American Woman!) In her letter she mentions reading a huge 900 page biography of Van Gogh. There’s a little exactly one-inch (2.5cm) ink stamp of Van Gogh on the outside of her envelope. L. has been heavily influenced by Van Gogh.
I’ve flirted with him but never really immersed myself in Van Gogh. So there I am, sun-wheels spinning and spinning and who leaps on them? Vincent Van Gogh—and he just will not stop. He’s leaping here, leaping there, doing some kind of maniacal French Cowboy hat-waving thing, riding a sun wheel like a Texas bull rider. Then he’s in this post-post modern P.K. Dick spacesuit shooting across the sky on his rocket sun-wheel and the following jet trail forms into words that are quotes from you and S. I pull out the paper, tape it on my wall. Now Vinny Van is running really-really-really fast on top of a sun-wheel like a hamster in a cage while calmly smoking a hash-filled blunt and periodically yelling out every possible association concerning him that resides within my psyche.
“Yes, yes,” I thought, “I must vibe with Van Gogh more, delve deeper into his Art, Life, History, Being,” I told myself to perhaps ask y’all send me a book/ or two on Van Gogh, a few essays, some printouts of his paintings…have you heard of Miyamoto Musashi? He’s one of the baddest Samurai warriors to ever live—17th century, wrote “The Book Of Five Rings”—and there are a bunch of stories relating just how bad he was and they all revolve around subtle psychological intimidation. Take the paper down and roll it up? Hardly! It’s staring me down with this kind of half Zen’d out half Musashi-esque passive-aggressive stare: “There will be no subjective unilateral movement. Approach. Prepare. Draw weapons. Create!”
Then Vinny Van melodramatically leaps off his sun-wheel and begins swimming around in the canvas sea of purple, doing backstrokes while puffing hashish and singing Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” while providing running commentary on non-linear psychodynamic Van Gogh associations. It’s insanity, so I send out word to a few trusted associates: a clandestine anti-Entärtung police operation is needed—get some colored pencils smuggled to me a.s.a.p. A few days go by…
Have you heard of the book The Art Of Thought, by Graham Wallas? In it he discusses the staged process of the creation of new ideas in the realm of thought and new works in the realm of Art. Many have done this but Wallas’ ideas are interesting and I’ll stick specifically with visual Art: Preparation: the stage in which the work is fully investigated from all angles. Incubation: here no conscious contemplation is engaged in; one’s subconscious marinates, ideas dance around. Illumination: the finalized concept emerges fully formed in appearance. Verification: the actual creation and completion of the work of art.
I fight with my Art. I love it, make love to it—it challenges me, attacks me, caresses me, battles with me. My art speaks to me, debates with me, rants at me. At times my Art is an inseparable part of me, at others it’s an outside entity, an overlord, an angel, a demon, a mask, a mirror, a bullet. Sometimes it’s a kaleidoscope of all these things, static, then moving. Sometimes it’s indescribable, a void, an abyss. But it’s always a part of my life, it is life. I think it could be said that I go through versions of all of Wallas’s stages but it’s different with every piece of Art that I create…
The pack of colored pencils are delivered, the result of quite an elaborate clandestine operation. A complementary Color Theory lightning flash—and I snatch up an orange and a blue. Musashi demands: draw! Shakti entices: create! Vinny Van shouts: now! You and L scream: go! So, I began to work on the piece with only the 1-inch stamp to visually vibe on (but w/other pictures of Van Gogh in my mind). I told myself I’d spend a little time on it, maybe 30 minutes, but I couldn’t stop. I fell into one of my Art Zones and without realizing it I spent 8 or 9 hours working. (This was just the first of quite a few sessions.) I kind of loosely sketched the main features with colored pencil and at one point I burst out laughing because I found myself altering his expression and thinking, “Yes, yes, more Berhardian for S.!” Then I did the pen work.
There was really no way to get away from the piece looking similar to the little stamp. (Which I guess is based on a Van Gogh self-portrait?) I don’t have time to wait weeks or longer to, say, get a bunch of pictures of Van Gogh in or, whatever and I don’t (I can’t) function in that manner and the spirit of Creation wouldn’t allow it with this piece anyway. I also dealt quite heavily with the ideas of the relation between schizophrenia and Art, insanity and Art, madness and Art while working on this piece, but that’s quite the conversation…
“Although [Franz] Marc now also saw a relationship between paintings and music, he did not, like [August] Macke, equate notes with color. Rather, he compared color theory and music theory and having experienced innovation in the latter, saw an opportunity to restructure the former.”
—Susanna Partsch, Franz Marc
“Jazz inevitably functioned not soley as music but also a vehicle for the expression of outraged protest.”
—Frank Kofsky, historian, author, and Professor of History at California State University, Sacramento
“Long ago Son Time engendered the past and the future. Through time the hymns of praise come into being.”
—Atharva Veda (19.53)
Is the Miles Davis piece just another picture of a famous person? Hmm…I have a shameful lack of knowledge concerning music theory and the psychoneurological science of music. I’ve always loved music though with a mad passion and it seems I’ve always felt music in a manner most others do not. Perhaps, this is because I have perfect pitch? When I was a kid, because I had such an interest in music, my grandma took me to some music place and had me “tested” for musical potential and they were quite surprised that I have perfect pitch. This wasn’t long after my father was murdered, so I guess I was around 10 years old. I’ve read that only a small percentage of professional musicians have perfect pitch; perhaps my love of music comes from something innate within me, but I also know it’s a result of psychological conditioning.
Music has always been a large part of my life, as you know I had and extremely bad childhood and some of the only happy memories I have of growing up involve music…My uncles barbequing, Santana, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix blasting from the stereo—they were all influenced by Jazz. I grew up going to Honky Tonks and hanging out with my uncles at Texas Ice Houses: Southern Comfort, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Live music, Jukebox music, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimi, Texas Blues, Southern Rock, Stevie Ray. Music, music, I loved the music…
• “During his breaks [working at a Jazz club Malcolm X] would gawk, openmouthed, listening to the rocking rhythms of the music…”
• “He was fascinated by the sounds and rhythms of Jazz…”
• “…Malcolm’s obsession with jazz, Lindy, hopping, zoot suits and illegal hustling encompassed the various symbols of the culture war between oppressed black youth and the black bourgeoisie.”
• “Malcolm’s Harlem style helped him meet and learn from the Jazz musicians who were his marijuana customers.”
I also grew up during the rise of Hip Hop and that’s what most of my friends listened to. Tupac was influenced by Jazz and Biggie Smalls developed his rhythmic rhyme style under the direction of a Jazz musician. I listened to a bit of Jazz when I was out there, just popular stuff—some Sadé, contemporary stuff that would come on the radio—but I only really discovered Jazz in this concrete cage in the Polunsky Death Camp. And I really discovered Jazz as my politics developed, as my Art developed, as my consciousness soared—as it traveled, leaped from mountaintops, danced amongst the clouds and stars…and this process is still continuing, perpetually, a dance, a never-ending, ever-evolving dance…
• “Many who favored the radical new Jazz coming from the Harlem nightclubs described the 1943 insurrection as another ‘zoot suit riot.’ The term had become a common metaphor for black activities that seemed subversive…Even African American sociologist Kenneth Clark characterized the new militancy he had discovered in Harlem as ‘the Zoot Affect’.”
• “[Malcolm spoke] in the urgent tones and pulsing rhythms of a jazz musician.”
• “John Coltrane, the most influential saxophone artist of the 1960s was deeply influenced by Malcolm’s style of rhetoric and his political philosophy…”
• “He lived the existence of an itinerant musician, traveling constantly from city to city, standing night after night on the stage, manipulating his melodic tenor voice as an instrument.”
Most of my pieces of Art are experiments in color theory and its relation to music…this is something I’m still developing and thinking about, meditating on. All of my Art is improvisation and a process of constant reinvention—brush-strokes, pencil-strokes, pen-strokes all flow to a certain rhythm, at times cool, calm and at other times wild, frantic. Sometimes they skip lightly across a canvas and at other times they soar across it with passion.
Before I did this piece I read Miles Davis’s autobiography. I had a blurry picture of him. Compañero N. sent me this beautiful huge card from India that opened up: a little red lotus of possibility. It became the canvas. Jazz History. Miles Davis. Listening to beautiful Jazz music under my headphones in this little Death Camp dungeon cell. Creation…
Thought: Most human actions are dictated by the subconscious. Music is filled with action. There is much surface meaning to a composition, whether it be Wagner’s Ring Cycle or a Miles Davis piece. I think I’ve always looked for—or perhaps I should say felt for—deeper meaning in music (and really in all things); both from an objective and subjective point and from a point of the creator, from varying angles, all angles and this has intensified greatly over the years.
Thought: Music is creation, beautiful creation. But should it be looked at solely as such? Looked at solely as a creation to be analyzed from present to past? Music sparks new thoughts, new ideas, new actions: music as a subterranean fire of creation. And Jazz: a fully active volcano of possibilities in music, in Art, in Life…
And I thought I had finished the piece. Miles in a sea of deep beautiful red. Blood red, Tantric red, passion red, Jazz red. But it attacked me, wouldn’t let me sleep. Miles let fire fly from his trumpet and dance across my mind. His autobiography, relation to music history. Music, rhythm, primordial rhythm…And I picked up my white colored pencil and scribed out symbols from the oldest (and little known) form of undeciphered writing ever found—Vinca, dating back to 8,000 BC…as I listened to John Coltrane flowing through my headphones in this little Orwellian Hell cell. Time, the past, the future, Art, music, a hymn of praise in honor of the future, in the honor of creation. The future is ours compañeros, the future is ours to live, to hold, to create…In this spirit I’ll sign off:
From the Polunsky Death Camp
In the East Texas Puey Woods,
With Unconquerable Strength & Love:
P.S. If I want people to take my art “seriously” I should go back to my earlier style of paintings? I could care less who takes my art “seriously!” I know the fascists sure as hell do and none of those I look up to were taken “seriously” by the masses in their day. Besides, I’m really just a midwife giving birth to ideas coming from what Ernst Bloch called “The Not Yet Conscious,” what the Hindus call Shakti…creating, in the worst possible conditions imaginable…