To steal quantum rhythms
Gordons ramblings about the 60ties and 70ties
It is by no means easy to organize a decade (the 60 ties) into a brief and concise account, if any amount of re-writing could recount what I have in mind. Bedevilled at the outset by cultural upheavals that transform the history of forms. Upon my part, a preference for the pre-literate. Those that did not rush to be a judgment-artist, labelled and placed before they had a chance to do their work.
How sumptuous and over-ripe…The connection between the built city and the fabricated texts fell apart. I got pissed and tried to swim the Grand Canal. I knew things could never be the same again. A great city de-Ruskinized and un Prousted itself before my eyes.
Amid the optical retention of this watery organism, where time consulted ancient calendars, a greenhorn found himself an accomplished practitioner in dissipation.
I consulted walls, was accosted by pigment. My arms hung limp over a balcony, my eyes vegetated upon a crack. I was parochialism defeated. I gave myself short shrift, and found myself in dialogue with an American Jesuit seminarist, together in a rubber dinghy in the labyrinth navigated by reflection. Ruskin’s Stones of Venice: “soft iridescence, a lustrous compound of wave and cloud and a hundred nameless local reflections. “Bollocks! Lavatory-Gothic. Interference we would, all images have detractions, and hence identity. We were on the verges of abstraction, the stimulus of Bellini to the novelist Henry James: “I simply see a narrow canal, in the heart of the city – a patch of green water on the surface of a pink wall”.
The return was again and again. The Tempest of Giorgione, the working out of the theme, the plastic changes made, the inner tension, the overt subjectivity of Giorgione’s “poesie”, the mysteries f the psyche. The self had replaced theology, a deliberation within myself was deleted by a delegation of selves arrived.
We stood before Giorgione. The seminarist was leaving for the States. I for Rome. Now I understood the late Cézanne, he was Giorgione’s Heir. So we are all Venetians, I said out of my lagoon. I’m for Mantegna, the seminarist said, as if not to have the last word. The dialogue must stop before we hit eternity.I have resolved one question, I replied. I shall keep my thoughts in my shoe leather not in shoe boxes.
The Biennale as ignorant
Anglo-Saxons males, black or pink, under thirty entered free. The American Fleet was copulating in the park. It would seem that the fraternity of pimps had the franchise. In retrospect, a dry-run for the money-meter culture of today. Against the background f camp-followers, coincidence, parallel course, call it what you will. The last dissection of the Cubist onion, Willem de Kooning’s Women stood, omnipotent. The onomatopoeic chorus of thighs only served to entrance me into the brushwork. I doubted he could have painted again, a belated ending to the throughgoing Picasso gave to painting with his epic making Demoiselles d’Avignon. Tintoretto’s Paradise I’d seen hours before. This was first sighting of American Modern painting in the flesh. Now all was expectation of an idiom powerful and easy to handle.
Of New York and its painter I was as ignorant as of events on the Ligurian strand.
The Venetian regatta at this moment in time provided the topographical stance. The testimony of that art world I had encountered, both ancient and modern, was its theatre. I had no idea that the undercurrant had detached the European admiral from his fleet. That the drift was to the knackers’ yard.
NOTE: The craft of indigestion
On numerous occasions I visited the Peggy Guggenheim collection. For me, the first time I was to see a private collection of modern art in a domestic stable. The apprehension of these objects as a sense of end-ways, en famille. I bought the catalogue for the black and white illustrations, not for the exposure to artist’s biographies. Pollock, Motherwell were seen as cosmopolitans amongst cosmopolitans. I took it that they had entered a game where the cooks exchanged dishes and all that could be said if all went wrong was “that bastard couldn’t poison the ivy”.
The fascination was Yves Tanguy, nor for the Surrealism. The masterpieces of Surrealism were Picasso’s. Africa had entered into the inquisitive section of my imagination. Here you were being handed a will to invent a curiosity and the gamble, morphology without a coastline. Old maps had been enjoyed as farragoes, as a contradiction to the nautical dereliction of Liverpool. It was all so simple, The African Plateau, the plane of the painter. Tintinnabulation, Timbuktu(tombouctoo) was the capital of the artist’s worlds.
Seeing a collection before the impediment of colour reproduction, it had what Walter Benjamin called “aura” and you remembered that, and that of each uniqueness, size, texture and colour, etc. HAND INTACT.
Camp on the hoof 1955-70
The ridiculous imitation of American distractions that repeated itself as dislocated plague of lisps. From Pop-Art to Minimalism and dullards in dugouts. Fake horology that all were without question, taken to have set the workings of their inner selves by, was made possible by the phenomenon of history being prepared for the printer before the paint on the canvas was dry.William C. Seitz was the most prominent pioneer of the genre of “instant art history”. You have only to think of the situation, the with-it sentimental humanist, the sort of formalist, the museum presentations that became as significant as the art itself. It was unbelievable that one was expected to accept that this warm piss pot was the history of ideas.(Second thoughts: a whole generation had been numbed by obnoxious toading language of Sartre, poor sods who were influenced by his writing on art.)
By 1955 the enthralling changes that were located in New York were over. In their wake, New York was the financial centre of the art world. Some space was given to events outside the environs of its tribes. For New York,as it had been for Paris of 1945-50, it was incapable of comprehending that anything other than itself might exist. It included from its dominion historical correctness. By that I mean accident, tragedies, luck and things that go bump in the night, etc.To exclude the tissue of events from the artist is to make the word artist a euphemism as, for example, isolationist, superior posed, or “pluralist once and for all”.
Artists do not make history. They are the recipients f its change. Inspiration is your vulnerability to accident, and, besides, accident qualifies the painterly instinct of thievishness. It is yours for the duration and purpose of hand keep.
NOTE: The dissolution of art centres is nothing new in this century. The termination of art’s capitals is felt as a dissonance. There is an artist here, an artist there, as points.
I know only too well that I have more than one self, an accumulation of selves, yes. It is something like the Spanish archives before Cervantes, I have not sought to codify its language. The debates I have engaged myself in should “relate” in, I hope, a compressed structure, with some exceptions, I know more or less the time of the encounter with a plastic fact or fiction. But it is safe to say, give an unexpected meeting or two from 1970 onwards.
Gordon Fazakerley, 23 May 1993