Kurt Schwitters: Untitled (Elikan).

Cy Twombly’s Natural History

Twombly’s Natural History collages (there were two series, Mushrooms and Some Trees of Italy) are the outsider’s view of the outside of science. It’s like looking at some horticulturist’s expedition journal in which the shorthand of expedience stirs in the layman fantasies of being rushed off one’s feet with exclusive knowledge. Twombly, here and elsewhere, seems interested in replicating the outward signs of privileged authenticity, or in trying to inhabit the states in which someone could produce images like his artlessly. As with some of his other work, there is some playing, some dress-up going on here. In his flower paintings, for example, there is an affected naivety that aspires to that most guileless and legitimately thoughtless of conditions - childishness. (And the approach, let no one disabuse you, is affected, no matter how much in sympathy one is with the luxuriant freedoms of pre-pubescent technique.) Here, the role is, obviously, the Scientist. He’s not making any comment on that profession, not saying anything trite about its having, beneath the glaze of rationality, a gooey irrational center, any more than he’s parodying childhood in his flower paintings. He’s only exploiting and expanding on its no doubt heavily mythologized pictorial conventions.

Twombly, like Rauschenberg in his prints, was a master of this kind of aleatoric-seeming collage, loose and dispersed but nonetheless composed. The intelligible and authentic science being practiced here is the testing of graphic structure itself - testing whether, in the end, it isn’t a matter of sensitivity. Mightn’t structure be so permissive and flexible a thing that even the chaotic, at infinite distance, has a shiver of logic? Like John Cage who, besides Rauschenberg, Twombly might have met - might have picked up the fascination with mushrooms from, for that matter - at Black Mountain College, Twombly seems to have realized that, in so many words, “it’s all good”. How easy art could be once you stopped struggling with it! And there’s no evidence of struggle here. Once his eyes were open, to paraphrase Cage, there was no going wrong.

"Twombly Week" - you won’t find it anywhere else, folks - continues…

Berni Stephanus: Untitled.

There is a huge archive of nice collage work by Berni Stephanus here. And his blog is also really interesting. Here’s one of his posts, where he goes step-by-step through his process.

One of my favorite films, Peter Greenaway’s The Falls, is itself constructed like a scrapbook (and the collages in the film - I was reminded of them by the scrapbook in my previous post - look like the pages of one), the only structural principle (in the film) being a numerical-alphabetical one (the 92 victims of a “Violent Unknown Event” whose names begin with the letters “fall”). You could say that a scrapbook operates with the same minimum of structure: the content belongs just by virtue of its 1) occupying a page 2) in the same book. Each image or doodle seems to inform the next but who knows whether it’s germane or merely exploratory, whimsical. Just as holding a camera gives you the right to bend down and take a picture of a flower, whatever is in a scrapbook belongs there by being there.

I’m a fan of scrapbooks, the way they look and what they are – fragments, ideas, sketches, juxtapositions of disparate odds and ends, and plans for unrealized things that sometimes function as artworks in their own right. And I’m also interested in the way movies are made by teams of people, all with their own skills and artistic motivations. This short piece in New York puts those interests together and gives me another interest, in the film, The Limits of Control, which is credited to Jim Jarmusch, but which he calls, significantly, “our film”. It sounds like he has a good crew to work with: Isaach De Bankolé, Eugenio Caballero (Pan’s Labyrinth), production design, who made the mentioned scrapbook; Chris Doyle, cinematography. I’m looking forward to this movie now.

Saint Passionate


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