Thursday, June 23, 2011


My twin brother, who keeps his versions of the past in order, would think my credentials for finding out what really happened are as suspect as the credentials of a conspiracy theorist. For when I am looking for proof or citing proof it often now has to do with what I see in art work that I look at in my head or in museums, and that remains forever in my psyche. My past in visual terms, the paintings I see, and then my visual images of the places from my life and what can be known from these places of the people who inhabited them. A full world that is now more real to me in visual than in verbal terms.

Real in much the same way as the paintings in museums that, since this search began, have told me so much about my own story. The deep dark forbidding woods of Hobbema capturing the deep dark woods I knew when very young and tried to believe for so long were comforting. The knife’s edge sexual horror and slasher death in Gorky so much like things buried deep in my memory, maybe too deep to ever coax out of darkness. And then memories entailing hope that come with the colors in a Deibenkorn abstraction, or the sight of a Matisse bronze girl, or light and color in anything by Monet, or the life in the Hellenic era statuary of the ancients when sculpture could for a time get beyond the merely ideal, or in everything in life, hopeful and horrible, seen in the eyes of Bellini Madonnas. These images in museums in some ways on a footing with the strong visual pictures I retain of actual people and places. I am not big on allegory or myth, nor on the archetypal, and yet I know as much as I know anything that where visual images lead me has taken me as far as, or farther than, any other versions I have known or concocted.

Partly as an insomniac and partly out of fascination I would when young retrace in my head patterns of life. As in looking close at every girl of every stripe that I had ever slept with, and then every one that I had wanted, the way right now I look at each of these new people in this unexpected time of change. And then I would, and still do, run through the rooms of museums where I am moved, knowing exactly what painting is where, knowing when to look right or left, knowing what is ahead.

Lying awake I am standing before the not quite finished Andrea del Sarto holy family painting in the Met, and then his small Madonna which is apparently the pretty young wife who deserted him when he caught the plague. Looking at the images and knowing that Andrea del Sarto knew more than anyone in his time what was there – knew the world and its possibilities and pitfalls. I know this just in the Met without hunting him down in the Louvre or in frescos in Florence. Know it even if the critics and art historians run from it the way people with doctorates in literature run when they encounter life in writing. The way I know the location of every Hobbema in the Met and the Frick, and know that the critics, the art historians, got this wrong too, for they fled from Hobbema for the correctness, even niceness, of van Ruisdale. I still know, still can see, where Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, artists and models picnicking, was hung. Know the exact placement still as I could see them ahead of me, high up there on a wall while I was in an adjoining room of the Jeu de Paum when I was 16, and also still know precisely where I shall see his glorious young Olympia. And I see Hopper’s Night Hawks exactly where they were placed in the Chicago Art Institute when I was 21. I also know precisely where in New York museums the Picassos are, even though I hate them, know what I hate almost as well as I know the exact placement of the Matisse’s and the Courbets and Pissaros and a lone Sisley, and then Daubigny in Brooklyn and in rural Massachusetts.

And in the same way I walk through, while not sleeping yet, the rooms of the places I write about. Old and new. And I know not just where every chair and clock was in every one of the many rooms in White Pines but also what was on the Steinway what was in every drawer of every desk and end table. I almost always know these sights. Usually confident that I will know what I will see when I travel in my head this way. Usually starting out confident I will know what I will see when I write about these places from memory. Maybe.

And here I pause… And wait… And look…

1 comment:

  1. I feel very drawn in by this piece -- drawn into myself, but also into the writer's world -- this piece conjures up such real tangible places and a reality that otherwise I would never know existed.