Thursday, April 14, 2005

Dali, Esherick and Me

Salvador, Wharton and me...

To anybody who’s talked to me in the last 3-4 months, you are aware that I spent my 48th birthday in Philadelphia. The initial mission was to finish seeing the Art museum there, a project I started when I went to Philly to attend a friends wedding, while still in Art School. I was extremely impressed by the collection and I vowed I would finish my tour before the dark hand of Death decided to take from this level of consciousness. I asked some friends to join me, I had promised a tour of the Rodin museum there. It was suggested that there was a Salvador Dali retrospective there if I might like to attend. I’ve seen Dali…I knew what to expect so I figured what the Hell. There is always something to learn from somebody who has mastered their craft as Salvador Dali had…and I’m not necessarily speaking of his painting technique or his choice of his imagery. Dali was the ultimate showman; he marketed his stuff like a barker at a freak show. He never disappointed his audience with what he produced but he was a brilliant showman. I considered the possibility of seeing a museum I had run into in an old Fine Woodworking that I had purchased. The museum was dedicated to an artist/woodworker named Wharton Esherick; it was his house and studio. It seems he was an innovator and fused the concept of more organic less academic methodology to woodworking. He made a set of chairs from Hammer handles, but I figured it could wait till next time. It was then decided that we would stay another day. The rented vehicle had been rented for a week, I was not in a huge hurry to get back; after all one turns 48 only once in one’s life and it had been years since I’d been on vacation. Our hosts were delighted with the idea of us staying another day so I made the appointment to see the Esherick museum for the day after my birthday…April the 11.

We began on April the 8th with my promised tour of the Rodin museum, all agreed that I was correct in my assessment that the Raleigh Museums show handled the presentation about as badly as they could manage. Then on to the Philly- I was delighted by the Dali retrospective…fortunately or unfortunately it had its effect on the folks I went with. Dali is a bit much for people who don’t know what they’re getting involved with. But I was there to look and look I did. I replayed all the stories about Dali I’d heard and put a few of the pieces of his life together that I had lacked to put together before. I saw works that I had seen before and some that I had only seen in reproduction form. Dali was a character; He knew he was a genius and quit Art School by announcing that his faculty was unworthy to judge him. He was an early admirer of Freud’s and spoon fed people’s Psyche to them. He revealed his own demons and his own obsessions, much to the delight of his audience. I was amused and quite impressed with his technique.

We took Saturday off to chill and was cool. I needed a day off.

The next day I finished my tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was amazed. I have rarely encountered a collection of gems like I saw there and Never in this country. It refreshed my soul, it cleared my mind, and it pumped new blood to my heart. I rarely reveal this but I need to look at stuff like that to put me in touch with my head. When I am experiencing art the way it supposed to be done then my life seems to make a little more sense; for you see I look at art to understand me a little better. I seek myself there; I ponder my own thoughts, the decisions I’ve made, the things that I’ve considered important and upsetting. I see what I find important and know that it might not be that for other people but for me it’s less like seeing relics of saints but more moments from the lives of the predecessors of my “tribe.” It gives me a sense of history and temporarily I don’t feel quite so alone in this world.

The next day we made the trek to the Wharton Esherick Museum and I hafto admit I was a bit excited. I wanted to see if this guy was everything that he was cracked up to be, if the hype was justified. When I entered, I saw the house and the work. I saw myself. His universe that he created for himself was so like mine that it felt like I was home. His head worked so similar to my own that I was sure I knew what he was thinking when he made decisions about a particular design feature. I must apologize to the guy who gave the tour…I must have scared the Hell out of him…I effervesced with excitement. I was all over the place, pointing and giggling and asking permission to touch and asking hundreds of questions. I kept interrupting to ask my questions, Mr. Esherick was a woodcut artist, he stated he couldn’t understand how one could draw something backwards to come out forwards…I proceeded to give him an explanation how it was done…having more then a few woodcuts to my name. He queried why Mr. Esherick didn’t seem to care for drawer pulls wishing to carve out an indentation or remove a bit from his doors for a handhold. I explained why to him in some detail using my own reasons…suggesting that all I did for my own kitchen cabinets was drill a finger hole in the middle of the drawer front. In his desk drawers was this same device. He wondered why his high bed had such big drawers under them. I told him I had steps leading to mine and the risers were drawers. He discreetly mentioned Mr. Eshrick’s wife’s deciding to live in town with the kids, visiting on the weekends and eventually parting from him to live her own. But I knew it when I walked in…the house was built just big enough for him and the muse. I spent the trip back to NC pondering all that I saw and discovered a part of myself that just might help me get through whatever time I have left. I am a member of the tribe called Artist. Dali was a showman, little is known of his private life. All one saw was the character. Esherick was a private quiet man who was trying to get his talent to pay for his life. Ditto for me. Both quit school because they knew that all that could be taught was technique and all that could be discussed was politics of the peer group. You can’t teach somebody how to be unique. I chose to finish cause I had something to prove. Gala stayed with Dali because she loved the mystique and probably realized that if it weren’t for her he’d probably die, and despite his reverence for her he resented her for her having her hand in every aspect of his life. By the time she married him he was already a legend worth millions. Esherick’s wife probably left because she was tired of sharing him with his muse and knowing that it would always come first. He might have been a legend to his peers but wasn’t worth millions. A woman “friend” came to take care of him when he was older and was with him when he died. She lived in the house until she too died…He built the “silo” with a bigger kitchen and a guest room 4 years before he died-my guess is because he was tired of her complaining that she couldn’t function in a kitchen the size of a closet. Been there a couple of times. The Art muse is a jealous lover. She will allow you to seek a companion if you can find one who’ll put up with being second. The muse thinks nothing of waking you up in the middle of the night with the next piece of the puzzle often demanding that you undertake this assignment immediately, keeping you up for hours sometimes days with a puzzle of a problem. She will only titillate you with a glimpse of the order and vision you seek. She will smile and reveal, just for a half a moment that what she is all about. When you are finished with one project she won’t allow you to rest on the contentment for long…after all this is just one piece of the bigger puzzle…there is much more to do. Depending on the discipline She will barely feed you if the world will truly benefit from your labors. If it’s a gimmick that she’s selling then you might do pretty well, maybe. Then if you are successful at it…you will die and you and your life’s work might be revered as miraculous, maybe. For the person sharing this experience-it isn't usually enough, you promised to be devoted to them not for you both to be devoted to what you do when you insist on being alone. To those of us it decides to make brothers and sisters in Arms, it’s the only life possible for us, for our loved ones will only see us as “genius” when we are pointed out by admirers. All they saw when they looked before then was this insane relative that insisted on living like a hermit and pursuing this strange obsession. I guess I’m in decent company…I could bitch but what would be the benefit? Oh well. Something’s never change.