[Philip Guston, “Day’s Work”]
“I knew that I would need to test painting all over again in order to appease my desires for the clear and sharper enigma of solid forms in an imagined space, a world of tangible things, images, subjects, stories, like the way art always was…”
I was initially put off, a bit baffled, by Philip Guston, but I’ve come around. Guston was daring enough to turn his back on abstract expressionism and color field paintings at the height of their respective popularities. His paintings are cartoony, bizarre, and highly personal, full of objects and people. Everyday objects become totems. He believed that making bad paintings/work was OK, even necessary. He said of the artist: “we are image-makers and image-ridden.” In the essay I’ve quoted above, he talks about the painting starting with a “a trifle, some detail observed.” That thrills me. I’m a sucker for details.
I also love the phrase, “the sharper enigma.” In the context of the essay, he’s talking about the intrinsic difficulties of figurative painting, but I think that phrase accurately describes my favorite type of writing: something simultaneously well-defined and opaque.
When reading about the recent HeartBleed bug, I downloaded a list of the 10,000 most commonly used passwords. A selection, in descending order of frequency:
Most of the passwords are names, nicknames, or obsessions.
And so sometimes as I’m washing the dishes or just thumbing a belt loop, glassy-eyed, I hear these incredible cheers.
Have you read Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood yet? Who thrust it into your hands? Were you a D&D person, or a Magic: the Gathering person? And is your allegiance in any way tied to your opinion about the colon in the latter? The vicarious bent in the former? Boobies (the bird): still a funny thing to say? Did you find The Interrogative Mood to be a clever experiment, not unlike, as the blurbs on the back of the book say, Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine? Or did you think it was the tiresome noodling of an established, male, white, middle-aged writer who can afford to put out stakes-less navel-gazing and call it a ‘novel’? And does it not infuriate you that the cover of the book cheekily describes itself in a question—that is, “The Interrogative Mood: a novel?” But, then, do you hate fun?
ICD codes are used by healthcare providers and insurance companies to identify what injuries, illnesses, and conditions are present in patients. These codes represent what my friend Ben says—and I'll paraphrase—is the human desire to winnow and solve, to identify and categorize. Every injury or condition you can think of can be found in these codes. Shark attack, depression, acne, frotteurism. Injury resulting from a rupture of explosion of a boiler. Struck by other birds. Intentional self-harm by jumping from a high place, exposure to melting of nightwear, gunshot wounds. Prolonged stay in weightless environment. Exposure to noise.
Writing is almost impossible: you have to capture a very fast thing (life) with a comparatively very slow one (language). Hence this line from Ed Skoog: "When a woman takes off her shirt, the English / language goes crazy."
Just as photography is better at documentation, animation easily trumps writing when it comes to the illusion of life. One of the oldest and most visually interesting methods is the "smear," one or several intermediate frames in the middle of an action. Like a lot of good writing, animation smears are literal distortions; they show a character occupying multiple positions simultaneously, anchored to a previous state but becoming something different.
I was walking home and looking into the windows of an apartment building when I saw a man hanging from the ceiling. He was wearing a suit. It was a dark suit, although I couldn't make out what color it was, exactly. Probably blue or black. He was swinging slowly, his arms limp at his sides. I stopped and reached my hand into my pocket for my phone. I thought I should call somebody. People were walking behind and around me to get to a bus stop. As the man rotated further, he lost his third dimension, and I realized that the man was actually a suit left hanging from a curtain rod facing the window.
My brother Aidan’s artwork reminds me a bit of Guston’s cartoonish, flamboyant depictions of nails, shoes, and cigarettes. There’s a searching weirdness to both of them. Sometimes my brother’s work is silly and playful (a man dons a hamburger exoskeleton), but it’s never simplistic or childish. Idioms, conversational asides, existential quandaries, and found phrases are furcated across panels or whole images. It poses far more questions than it answers, and it’s constantly developing in ways I don’t expect. In that sense, his work isn’t a text I’m reading, but rather a set of texts I’m trying to anticipate.
This is from a four-hour video taken from the front of a train as it travels from Bergen to Oslo (it’s only the first half of the ride; the second part is over three hours long). It's been viewed more almost 320,000 times. There are long, wonderful sequences when the train goes into a tunnel and the screen is completely black. Most of the yards next to the train tracks in Norway look just like the yards next to the train tracks in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey: brown, leafless bushes, some growing through the windshields of rusted-out cars. A corrugated metal shed next to a chain-link fence. You can't hear it but you know there are dogs barking.
Willie Fitzgerald grew up in Cabin John, Maryland, and lives in Seattle. He is the co-founder of APRIL, an annual festival of small press and independent publishing. His fiction has been published by Hobart and Keep this Bag Away from Children.