Friday, September 16, 2022

Out of My Hands

I am up in a tree in front of Garett Brewer’s house on Erna street, off of Janice street in my hometown in Texas. It’s 1987. I am 9 years old. In my hands is a copy of Prime Slime Tales #1, from Mirage Studios. In the back is an advertisement for metal gaming miniatures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, also published by Mirage. A few years later I would eventually obtain some of those miniatures, and I would paint them in a comics-accurate style, with the turtles all wearing red masks. 

I’m trying to write about the last Europe trip, but I still can’t locate it in my language, or fully understand what I even saw. The Ghent Altarpiece, gothic cathedrals, the Rijksmuseum, documenta fifteen, the Bourse de Commerce, Serpentine Gallery…there are no words, I can only talk around and to those things, I cannot explain why I fixated on details in Frans Hals portraits, or how a Barnett Newman at the Stediljk was recalled when I saw a work by Miriam Cahn from the Pinault Collection. 

Europe looks like old paintings. New York looks like old movies. Los Angeles looks like old TV shows. When we stayed in Ghent, Belgium, we stayed next door to a castle. We could see the castle from our hotel room window. It's still too soon to write about the trip. It hasn't been properly processed and romanticized into memory yet. Only the food stands out in my mind – the chicken sandwich from the cafe at the Rijksmuseum. The chili cheese schnitzel from Lohmann in Kassel that actually had cheese sauce and red chilis on it, but I was not disappointed. Or the schnitzel at Sudhaus, also in Kassel. Or the view and the vibe and the sausage at Rondell, my third recommendation for a place to eat in Kassel. The salad at Magazine, the Zaha Hadid designed cafe at the Serpentine Galleries in London, was great. The Bourse de Commerce in Paris has a restaurant inside called Halle aux Grains, and I had a fucking great piece of fish, turbot. The Indian food we had delivered to the Air BnB in London was fucking amazing. Ghent’s fine arts museum, the MSK Gent, has nice cafe attached with an outdoor patio where I had a great salad. Lots of beer.

In my mind's eye are two blue paintings. Mare Nostrum, from 2008 by Miriam Cahn at the Bourse de Commerce, and Cathedra, a 1951 work by Barnett Newman at the Stedilijk Museum. Cathedra was slashed with a knife by Gerard Jan van Bladeren in 1997, about eleven years after he slashed another Newman painting at the same museum. No one's done anything like that to Mare Nostrum as far as I know, so we can back out of that rabbit hole right now. Again, I offer no explanation of how the profound sublimity of one work is recalled in the confrontational spectrality of the other, or how they both, for me, visualize the phrase, “wine-dark sea”. 

On a field trip to the San Antonio Museum of Art in 1995 or ‘96 for my AP art history class senior year of high school, I see a painting with Spock and a video game sprite in it. I don’t learn this at the time, but it is by artist Rachel Hecker. In the fall of 2001, I look up the website for the painting area of the fine arts department of the University of Houston. I click on the names of the faculty and an image of that painting comes up; I realize the artist of that painting teaches at UH. I decide to transfer there and finish my BFA there. Because of Rachel Hecker. 

Our waiter in Ghent remarked on my Tetsuo the Iron Man t-shirt. He said it was a film from his youth. He looked about my age. Tetsuo was released in 1989, but I didn’t get hip to it until the early 2000’s, when I was collecting research for my master’s thesis. While we were eating I saw our waiter across the street taking a smoke break. He stared pensively into the distance, no doubt reminiscing about the 90’s. “Where did the world go?” I often ask, when staring off into the distance myself. It’s a non-sensical question that somehow perfectly encapsulates my feelings of grief and nostalgia for the version of the world where I knew less but felt more, before I thought contemporary art was a lost cause. Tetsuo is a about a Japanese salaryman who, over the course of the film, becomes a horrific, monstrous machine-man with a giant drill for a penis. There used to be so much to be interested in, to be drawn to. Now I’m just waiting for the next disaster to react to. The most influential things in my life – my parents, 9/11, the Great Recession, COVID-19, climate change, etc. – were all completely out of my hands. My own choices and decisions seem to matter little in the face of the continual calamities I have no control over. Stuck in a slow motion car crash we can’t stop. Every positive future envisioned has been lost. I’ve woken up from all my dreams. We’re not born knowing how to feel; we have to learn it. Art is how we learn how to feel, that is its function. Art gives form to the inchoate animations inside.