Archive for January, 2007

The Feast of the Epistrophy

January 6, 2007

Sphere swings Epistrophy, Paris ’66

Trot, Trot to Boston…

January 6, 2007

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…To see my nephew wed. My nephew Joshua, that is, not my nephew Billy, pictured above. I don’t have any pictures of Joshua, but I’ll take some tomorrow at his wedding. In Boston.

When I first met my wife Maureen—who is one of 11 children—I was swept into a maelstrom of future nieces and nephews, including Joshua and nine or ten others. All munchkins, and all delightful. I can still remember how much I looked forward to going big-time into the uncle business. I had no experience, but I felt I was immensely qualified. Maureen assured me it would be a snap. Just like skiing.

Soon, Maureen’s nephew Michael and his sister Jessica were ring bearer and flower girl at our wedding. That was 23 years ago. They were flower children—their father, an ex-cop, drove a Volkswagen. Then we all grew up. Mike is now an ex-Marine. Jessica is still a federal marshal in Florida. Billy, above, recently joined the Air Force. He’s training to operate the fuel nozzle for mid-air fueling, and is in his Uncle Joe’s (Maureen’s brother’s) crew on a flying DC10 gas station. Joe, a pilot in the reserves, told me at Christmas that he thinks there is near zero chance that Billy will be deployed to Iraq.

Joshua. The man of the weekend is a computer man. He works for IBM. His sister Katrina, studying pharmacy in San Diego, married two years ago. Very sadly, their sister Andrea died in October, 2001, of cancer. She was a senior in high school. I learned of her diagnosis on the morning after the 2000 election. That was a bad day. She lived into the saddest month of all our lives. I’m out of touch with Josh, but I have seen him from time to time. While most of my nieces and nephews are taller than me, Joshua towers over me. He has a goatee that encircles an enormous toothy grin. I remember him as a spry little monkey-boy in Terre Haute in the early 1980s. I have yet to meet his future (near-term future) wife, Christina. But I sent spygirls to her wedding shower a month ago, and they really like her.

Well, I now have 26 nieces and nephews on Maureen’s side of the family, including Joe’s two little girls, both adopted in China. The youngest of all, Dominic, was born to sister-in-law Katie more than two months prematurely. He needed heart surgery almost immediately. He’s a vivacious three year old now, and he’ll be Big Chief at the wedding, as he is at all family affairs.

Hope to have some good photos of the “munchkins” and others next week. And I hope to get a little time, camera in hand, in and around Boston, one of my favorite cities.

A Sticky Wicket, What?

January 5, 2007

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Rob, whom I know from the intrepid “UK Phalanx” of the International Chemical Business Press Junket, came by and commented on my poem, Ashes, yesterday. The poem is about reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which describes a trek through a torched, post-Apocalypse landscape. Rob, however, assumed I was taking on a far more dreadful situation now gripping Britain. We stiffen our upper lip in sympathy.

This will, however, give me an ice-breaker with the Australian receptionist at Tectura next time I see her in the elevator.

“Turn not from gloomy madness.”

January 4, 2007

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Here’s a painting by a guy who dared to paint Jesus Christ. Joachim Probst was his name, and he did it in the 1950s.

Probst chose what was then, as it is now, the most controversial, outside-the-mainstream subject imaginable for serious art. It’s a vagary of the post-war Weltanschauung, and a sublime irony as well, that in a big-business, big-media art world given over almost entirely to shock and irony, nothing is more shocking than an image that dominated Western art for 2,000 years. You want to snicker, Saatchi-like, at the masses as they howl before your perpetrated outrage? Then out-Saatchi Saatchi. Skip the eviscerated sharks in aspic. Skip the Virgin smeared in elephant crap, and just show them Jesus. Not Piss Jesus, not Eviscerated Elephant Crap Jesus. Just the man himself, straight up, portrayed by someone who believes or is terrified.

Mel Gibson will tell you the same thing. Well, not exactly. I don’t think his intent was to snicker at the masses. But he created a monster.

Back to Joachim Probst who seems to have been a legitimate Greenwich Village madman. Here is his brief autobiography:

“I was born September 1, 1913, in New York City. Self-taught. Through my endeavor to seek self-esteem, I became a misanthrope with a firm hand on delusion. This brilliance soon introduced me into poverty, and with so fearful a future granted me, I coined and struck this phrase, ‘Art is the stand against decay.’ And with this in mind, I entered my paradise of immortality. And with this paradise came my hell. And in hell I called on Satan.

O noble Son of God
‘Consider my madness.
I am a lunatic without an asylum,
Even a cripple without a crutch,
Surely the angels must weep for me.’

I feared, I trembled, and I painted. I stood in dark places (clothed in black) calling, ‘Would’st that I could take a sure step in a sure direction.’ Alas, Satan spoke. ‘God thou shalt never know, guilt is thy name. Art thou shalt have, best be thy lot an instrument to uphold the faith, Art thou shalt have. Sing thee Christ forever. Will is woe, woe is thy will, change “me” to “I,” brevity is thy purity—Seek the pact, turn not from gloomy madness. Despair is thy mother.’”—From an article in Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, University of Illinois, 1959.

In the catalog for an exhibit of Probst’s work at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1962, the Rt. Rev. James A. Pike, Bishop of California, wrote:

Joachim Probst is one of the few contemporary artists who has recklessly committed himself to deal with the ultimate symbols themselves; the Christ, the Mother, King David…and Ahab. These are some of the figures he dares to paint.

“Christ painter, go away,” was the epithet hurled at Probst by some of the Greenwich Viallage habitues who paint. Our Cathedral church again pushes the lesser over and makes room for the Christ painter who uses the contemporary idiom that few others can handle with any but non-objective work. This artist with unique defining power comes among us. His Christ will cause many of us to tremble as we are confronted by Him.

Greenwich Village hasn’t changed much from the place Pike describes. And his description of Probst is very powerful, I think. Few, indeed, can deliver these images, can handle this truth in paint–Christ, King David, Ahab.

My friend Paul Weingarten, a painter, would see Probst in the Village back in the ’60s. He never spoke to him. Few people did.

So, the Christ painter. Irony trumps irony, and we see through a glass clearly. Some tremble.

Painting: February Christ by Joachim Probst

Ashes

January 3, 2007

I sift the cold grey ashes through the grate
And think about the book. Apocalypse,
A trek through remnant earth and after-fate.

I read it by the fire, read the slips
Of consciousness, the fractal paragraphs
Of disconnected love. The road bereft
Of “godspoke men,” a field of epitaphs
In random piles of ash and bone.

I left
It open on the table by the chair
And curled into the blanket as the fire
Collapsed to ashes, smoke, and ember glare.

And still this talk of God beyond desire.

I kneel this morning, push the broom along
The ashen stone, this church devoid of song.

Chianti Bottle with Apples

January 2, 2007

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New Year

January 1, 2007

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I wrote an editorial for the science industry magazine that employs me in which I recount a moment of minor crisis during my job interview with the editor-in-chief and managing editor. It went like this:

MJ (the editor-in-chief) asked what I considered the best educational background for a journalist covering the chemical industry.

“History,” I said.

“Which,” she asked, “is the worst?”

“Any kind of science background,” was my answer.

I vaguely remember RB (managing editor) rising out of his seat at this juncture, and MJ touching his elbow. “Let him explain,” she said, smiling at me with a hint of nervous tension in her eyes.

Well, I ‘splained and I got the job. They even published my editorial, complete with my explanation–which I will spare you, other than to assure you I am not one of these “anti science” types. I will, however, for the second time in two days, lean on the Op Ed page of the New York Times to give you the views of a heavyweight on a topic dear to my heart. Here is Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. on better living through history, and the moral imperative of our “quest for an unobtainable objectivity.”