Sunday, June 17, 2012


Feeling bland today, in spite of the gorgeous weather, and the fact that I have more or less nothing on earth to do.

Which, of course, doesn't mean there aren't things that need to be done -- far from it.  In fact, on my last little tour across the street, where I can see the newly-painted house, and savor the 'just-right-ness' of the trim John and I finally chose -- not black, but so dark that the casual passer-by would probably register it as black.  While in fact, the color contains just a hint of reserved warmth, a very faint implication of a pulse under the dark exterior.  How distant, how romantic -- anyway, from across the street, I noticed something glinting down by the chimney, among the old leaves from last year, and some trampled rose stems. 

There lay four old storm windows, forgotten by the clean-up crew, who were supposed to stow these back by the garage, with all the others.  And as I looked at these old windows, most probably destined for the town dump, I found myself thinking about... making art.  What would it be like, I wondered, if I were to break these windows out of their frames, and assemble all the resulting shards in one of the baby buggies I've salvaged from here and there over the years?  One such -- a miracle of luxury engineering, with three handsome spoked wheels -- is lying on its side in the driveway this very minute.  I'm reminded of the work of Donald Lipski (just had to spend fifteen minutes searching for his name, as my mind is turning to cheese while I type), who seems to specialize in combining untoward items into possibly eloquent hybrids -- a wheel chair, for instance, comfortably holding an old glass crucible that still has a pool of self-annealed blue glass at its bottom.  A baby buggy filled with broken glass?  That would certainly raise some hackles here in Mommy-ville.   And I think there was another astonishing piece, by Michale Scheiner, from a number of years ago now, which he made apparently just from large, irregularly-shaped panes of glass, somehow joined into a great ominous floor-bound cloud, that managed to look both airy and threatening, as though it might collapse into thousands of shards, just when it was my turn to make sure the exhibit hall stays clean.

It's so easy, germinating these ideas -- they crop up lavishly, most of the time, like those pale inedible mushrooms out on the front lawn.  But, as I've been saying recently, I don't find all of this as interesting as I might have, say, thirty years ago (!).   It's not a matter of lacking the energy -- how much work would it take, after all?  I mean, the materials are within a yard of each other, and all I need is maybe two or three tubes of clear silicone, and -- hey presto -- another wonderful thing that everyone will tell me how much they love, and then I'll have to figure out how to get the damned thing into the van and then down into the Newark storage space. 

Is there a moral question here?  Is there an ethical issue I'm missing?  As an artist, am I obliged to obey, if you will, the creative voice I so often hear (if, indeed, that's what that voice actually is.  Maybe it's a landlord's voice, taking the roundabout way of forcing me to rent the other half of his leaky basement?)  If I refuse to listen, who am I, after all?  Because I have, more or less willingly, taken on the 'persona' of the artist -- without, it must be said, understanding what that title entails -- am I under some sort of obligation, to continue to produce things, even in the face of fiscal impotence and general indifference?

Anyway, there it is.  A heap of glass.  A baby carriage -- far better built, I think, than the first car I owned.  And there's also a pile of copper gutter, painted white numerous times, but now folded over on itself, in great bony lengths -- I 'saw' another expressive conglomeration, as I was looking down on all this from my second-floor bathroom window:  A free-standing black-pipe support structure (this, in spite of my vow never ever to use black pipe again, because no matter how much I tighten it, it always comes loose again, the treacherous stuff...), and hanging from this, a clump of the copper, white paint still in place, and partly wrapped in plastic, with some glass pod-shapes interspersed, kind of like the odd kidney or spleen...  Sort of a cut-rate, anemic John Chamberlain rip-off (may he rest in peace).  I sort of like the idea of working with the copper, because it's so malleable, because I understand it, and because it has this almost magical, alchemical allegiance with glass, in that the two materials expand and contract at pretty much the same rate, at similar temperatures.  Making the two uniquely compatible, on a physical level.  And I like the idea of making expressive work that's taller than I am -- it makes it seem less incidental, harder to overlook.  (To say nothing of the inevitable struggle with transportation.  I will say no more)

Well, perhaps this week, while John is out of town at a music convention, I'll finally take myself down to the basement, where I've been working for the past year or so, and delve into the inevitable task of cleaning up.  Like the worst imaginable case of atherosclerosis, the little pathway through which I negotiate, from the bottom of the stairs, back past the furnace, and over to the table where my old computer used to sit, until it irrevocably froze up (was it all the shellac I spattered over it?  Why didn't it tell me, for heaven's sake?), like this artery, I repeat, this path has grown so narrowed and twisting -- even though it runs barely twenty feet -- that I need to get it back under something like control.  Who knows how many box cutters I'll find?  How many rolls of electrical tape, or the many other items of which I seem to have multiples, because I can't keep track of their predecessors?  Maybe I'll be cleaning because I'm getting ready for another round of making useless, disgusting things; maybe I'll be cleaning because I've decided, on some level, to pretend that I'm already dead, and I'm just being more polite than most dead people, who leave things in such disarray.   I prefer doing these things when John's away, because, oddly enough, I don't seem to feel entitled to do them when he's at home and might need something.  It's the remains of that protective coloration I learned so long ago -- if I look like I'm not doing anything, at least I'm not doing anything wrong -- when the house is empty, I become like the little mice that come out to see what nourishment might have been dropped on the floor.

So, I guess I"ll think of this period as something like a hiatus -- I think I'm going to disengage the 'make things' gear system, and see what my life looks like to the casual observer.  What would a stranger do, confronted with a supposed guest room upstairs, that holds at least three virginal sets of fine oil paints, pencils and pens without number, and a dazzling array of really good paper -- possibly enough to cover Connecticut, if everyone would hold still?  How would you react, in fact, reaching the top of the attic stairs, and seeing spread before you the sum of thirty years and more of obsessive drawing -- piles of drawings, none finished; piles of notebooks, none with any but the first few pages on either end marked to any extent; piles of fabric, some loosely organized by color, others just stacked every which way?  One lone Singer sewing machine, ironically named the Sparta, off at the far end of the floor, under a sheet of plastic to keep off the dust. 

What would a stranger do, whether I were that stranger or not? 

What, if anything, would that stranger expect to happen, next?

©  2012                                  Walter Zimmerman

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