Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Willow Mask:

The Hexmaster's Apprentice:

The Old Hexmaster's away,
So I'll practice MY art.
I’ll work wonders and
His spirits will obey...

So start
walking, Old Broom,
to the well
and fetch some water
for my bath.

Voila! ~ this rag's a coat
that suits a slave.
Have a head ~ AND
zhazam ~ two legs.
Here's a bucket -
on your way!

Ha! He's reached the well
lickedy-split -
got his bucket full,
and back as quick as quick.
In no time, the tub's filled up ~
Ack! Now he's filling
every pot and cup.

Stay! Stay!
You've brought enough!
Egads! I've forgot
the words to make
it stop!

You fiend of Hell,
with wooden face,
cease the flood,
or with my axe
I'll split
your head for good! ~ Take that!

Oh no. ~ each half's got legs ~
and worse, and more,
both bringing buckets through the door,
and pour
a deluge on the floor.

At last! Here comes
the Master! Hurry! Help
me, please! From
the spirits I've evoked
I beg relief!

"Into the closet gloom,
return again, Old Broom.
Be as you
were before,
until I
call you out
once more."

(my version of Goethe's 1797 poem)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is the English name of a poem by Goethe, Der Zauberlehrling, written in 1797. Paul Dukas composed a tone poem, L'Apprenti sorcier, on the same theme, and it was this music that Walt Disney appropriated for a Mickey Mouse cartoon. It was a better fit than some of Disney's efforts - Disney informed Igor Stravinsky that he intended to use "The Rite of Spring", as it's called in English, in Fantasia, offered the composer a ridiculously small sum along with an warning that since it was composed before international copyright laws could protect it, he intended to use it with or without Stravinsky's permission.
After the movie was shown to Stravinsky, he was asked what he thought of it ~ "I do not wish to comment on an unrelenting imbecility." was his reply. But I digress.

Recently I took on an apprentice myself, and every time I return to the studio I half expect to encounter brooms with buckets sloshing through a flood. He's been after me to make him a mask, of the ancient willow tree in the old forest that grows now only in the imagination of dandyland. Yesterday I gave in and started work on the mask.

For some reason I had it in my head that the thing was supposed to be blue, so as a shortcut I started by placing plastic wrap over his face, along with willow weeps, secured in place with torn bits of the tape house painters use to mask things they don't want paint on. Then I coated the thing with "black earth", a synthetic paste made to simulate the walls of a painted cave in France - (yet another plastic simulation of an older sorcery.) After it dries I'll model on the bark and cut holes for the eyes, etc, and then paint it all. I thought you might enjoy seeing the beginning of the process.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Garden:


The year before last a late frost
Blackened the apple blossoms and the crop
Was lost. Last year the trees
Made up the loss, so much fruit the
Branches broke from the weight.
Yesterday I cut the limbs, hanging
Half broken from the trunk, and this evening
I piled them up
To burn.

Finally, with chores somewhat done,
I sat down to watch the fire
And bid the various troubles depart,
Pleasured in a moment alone, with
Untroubled thought.

And that was of Pete.

In the story my dad told, my great grandmother
Lucy (who smoked a pipe) told him, when he took
Their horses to hide in the knobs, to give the horses up
If he was found out. To this Pete was said to reply,
“They’ll get them horses when Pete’s dead.”
Was this true? And was it said out of loyalty to
The woman who’d
Taken, whether in rescue or bondage, his
Birth mother’s place? Or was it just a tale,
Made up of things the teller wanted told?

He was 26 then.

The historians are no help. One says that
He didn’t know how the earth was made, or how human life began.
One says his soul was saved, another denies it.
One says he would have known as little about
The world as an animal knows.

I sense him standing just outside the present flame,
As sleek and strong as a painter (as panthers hereabouts are
Called) ~ his thought, since I must invent it,
Is poised with animal elegance. Histories, mythologies,
Mean nothing to him. The pads of his feet press
Into the spring soil exactly as mine do, pulling the furrow
Ridge in over rows
of onions, potatoes, peas.
The same chorus of frogs chimes in the bottoms, the sweet
Wild plum casts its love into the breeze, and the thin
Peal of the meadow-lark gives way to twilight,
And fire of apple wood, burning the past
Which was too much, too little
Counted year by year; but grand, exquisite beyond
Telling, in the endless time of planting
And harvest.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Woodcutting:

Was there a pause,
A thought, of what was falling? One
Thousand acres, or merely the edge
Of the old forest – like the edge of a single leaf
Gnawed by a caterpillar – vanished axe
Crack by crack. The vast stumps and a million
Limbs too small for firewood shot
Sparks up from the burning brush.
The contour of the hill was exposed,
And a rush of rough weeds and briars
Grew hyper-green in the novel open.
Then it was utterly gone.
The cutting had come in from every side.

And so there was no symphony of
Night creaking inside the inside
Of the tree web. The shorn off top
Of what had been hidden,
Full of flying squirrels and owls, made no
Secret warren of
tunnels and branch paths. The layers
of green yellow sun shade, the porous
barrier to light, gave way to a scouring wind
and the stones lay naked under the stars.
Slowly the ancient roots
Too, gave up their shapes
Beneath the earth.

And then the old woodcutter lay
On his bed, listening to the creaking
Wagon wheels and the harness
Of the mules that hauled it all away -
To be houses, ships, firewood, books…
Everything became everything else,
Fires were in everything and everything was a flame.
The little ganglia of sparks stopped hooking
Their branches together in the mental wind
And he forgot what he’d started to say,
What he’d always meant to say, but could
Not now, to save himself, remember the
Beginning of, save the sound of the axe.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Copy Machine & Pegasus:

I was looking in the studio for something else and found this drawing instead. It's a drawing, or a collage, or both, made with the aid of a copy machine, back in the days before digital scanners. The first part of the drawing was the flying horse, done on a torn piece of transparent vellum. I put that in the copy machine, then a ginseng leaf (from Pete's Spring!) and some birch bark, copied it, then added some details with a pen.

It was made for the cover of a booklet of poems that I was working on, so the reference is partly to Pegasus, a symbol of poetry.
But it was a real horse too, that I traded my first car for ~ but that, as they say, is another story!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Invisible Forest:

For days I've been looking at an image of the invisible forest in my thoughts, in the form of a painting for "You'll Always Come Back". I'm intending to show the landscape of Dutton Hill as it was when it was covered by a forest of old growth trees. There are still remnants of that forest, but precious little. It was quite a surprise to find that my friend and collaborator Kim has been imagining that forest too! She says that she's still working on this poem, but here's her note and the initial version:

(When I was working with Dan on his last project he told me the story of a great oak forest that once stretched from hwy. 39 to 1247 (along the Campground Road route). Of course this fascinated me – being enthralled by all things ancient or enchanted and a lover of forests (having spent my youth tromping through them). So now as I travel Campground road from my childhood home to my grown-up (ha! debatable) home, I pass through this invisible forest. I was inspired on my way home last night to write a poem about it. This isn't complete yet, but I'm posting it anyway as a work in progress:)

The Invisible Forest:

I journey home in a soft daze of chatter, winding
through invisible forests. Ghost trees hover silent,
majestic over great rolling waves of palest green.
Their home now occupied by bovine herds, babies
wiggle-kicking, suckling mothers, indifferent.
or do they know?

Gentle spirits of giant trees tower over
footprints left as memories beneath manure.
I feel their presence. Their sadness.
Their strong bodies chopped, mangled, sawed,
dispersed and lost. Forgotten to most,
but not to some.

I imagine a space, expansive green shadow bright,
a ceiling held impossibly high by great oak pillars.
Explosive heavy silence presses upon my ears,
giving audience to the birds. I see leaves applaud
birdsongs while unseen animals whoop and call for
encore. encore. just one more.

It's an odd coincidence that I've been having conversations of late with a poet and musician who thinks about trees a lot.
Maybe I should rephrase that to observe the axiom that I gave to him - coincidence happens; significance is made. Together we looked through one of my sketchbooks with images of trees. He was drawn to these:

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Cebah went out to pick some buttercups ahead of the rain.

Friday, March 6, 2009

You'll Always Come Back ~ The Poet:

Yesterday I visited my cousin Peggy, to show her some images I'd found of the first Dutton homeplace, here and in Virginia.
She surprised me with a letter, written by her grandfather, William Perry Cundiff. Describing exactly how Peggy and I are cousins still requires a complex map - suffice for now to say that her grandparents were 1st cousins, and the genetics of the Cundiffs and Duttons are and were quite intertwined, both before and after Wiliam Perry's time.

When I started work on You'll Always Come Back I thought I would be able to pick and choose my subjects. History is a different sort of plan ~ some individuals, however interesting their lives might be, leave little trace upon the earth behind them.
Others, dull as dishwater perhaps, leave plenty. What I hadn't expected to find amongst my deceased relatives was a poet. William Perry Cundiff certainly was one, as these two artifacts show. Peggy had given me the poem about waiting some time back, not knowing who had written it. Her later discovery of the letter in rhyme shows the same hand, and is signed.

An inclination to poetry - could it be genetic? Or just a result of the repeated intermingling of two families who were bookish?

I haven't made out all the words yet - W.P. uses two forms of "e" & sometimes uses an "f" for and "s" as was the practice of that time. Besides these two documents, all I know of him are these photographs from Lucretia's little leather-bound album of tintypes, and that he worked at one time as a whiskey taster.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Fox:

Oftentimes a second take on a painting can suffer from a lack of excitement. Perception winds up comparing rather than exploring the image, with lackluster results. For that reason, and another which I'll explain, I had some trepidation in accepting a commission for a new and smaller version of The Fox on the Town-O painting, made some years ago for the Ballads of the Barefoot Mind installation at 21C Museum. But because I love that ballad, and all the memories of my dad, fox hunting, and nights long ago when there were fewer roads, houses and fences, more foxes, quiet and moonlight mystery, I did accept the challenge, and here, 3/4 finished, is what I came up with. I like it better than the big one.

The other difficulty that I thought this painting would be hindered by was the change in scale. Scale determines everything that follows in my work, especially the size of the brush and how it is handled. The large version of Fox on the Town-O is 8' x 10', not counting the frame, this painting is 30" x 34". Much of the texture and illusion of substance in moonlight in the larger image was the result of using a very large brush, handled much as ink brushes are in oriental landscape painting. I was able to use the movement of my body and entire arm to make the rhythmic curves and strokes that form the hills and trees. I was afraid that the lines in the small piece might be "tight" and lack the lyric quality that the full body dance provided. But I did one important thing right ~ I didn't look at the earlier work at all.

I hope that the Canadian couple who commissioned it will like it as well as I do!