“I can entertain the proposition that life is a metaphor for boxing-for one of those bouts that go on and on, round following round, jabs, missed punches, clinches, nothing determined, again the bell and again and you and your opponent so evenly matched it’s impossible to see your opponent is you …”
Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it, ah, out of sight
Ya know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, oh, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there’s never, never a trace of red
—-Mac the Knife
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
― Pablo Picasso
Kettle Art is a gallery in Deep Ellum and is known for its unflagging support of local artists. Every February those artists get a shot at returning the favor. The gallery distributes about two hundred identical nine by twelve inch boards to be converted into works of art. They go on sale at seven PM for fifty dollars apiece, and all of the proceeds go toward the gallery (they return the favor a week later with their For the Love of Artists event). The thing is that there are two hundred or so pieces, but three hundred or so folks show up and many buy several works – some up to ten. That’s why they call it a “competitive shopping event.” They open the doors at seven PM sharp and everyone rushes in.
The paintings are numbered and you take the numbers up front and reserve your painting – if nobody else has gotten to it first. Then you pay, then you pick up.
I don’t have a lot of money, but I can come up with fifty dollars. I used to go an hour early so I could get a spot near the front of the line… and get the painting I wanted. I don’t do that any more – now I go an hour and a half early.
The event is at seven and I wanted to get there at five thirty. It takes an hour or so to get downtown on the train, especially since I have to change from the Red line to the Green to get from downtown to Deep Ellum… plus fifteen minutes to get to the train station – I left home right at four fifteen.
Everything went as planned until I got off the train at the Arts District station downtown. On the weekends the trains don’t run very often and the next Green train wouldn’t be there for a half hour. That would not do. My eyes fell on the electric scooters lined up on the sidewalk. I’ve ridden the scooters before (read about an adventure here) so out came my phone and I unlocked one and five minutes and a buck ninety later I was in Deep Ellum. The only problem was that the road I took was rough and the little wheels on the scooter didn’t help that – but I made it in one piece.
Arriving right on time, ninety minutes early, I was fourth in line. The fun thing is that the same people go early every year, so we had a lot to talk about. Mostly, though, we talked about strategy. You see, the line starts immediately at the reserve table, so the question is whether to rush to the table or walk around and look for the painting you really want – at the risk of someone else getting it.
I always stress out about this, stress too much. One year I went on a bike ride and arrived dehydrated and the stress got to me and I wrote down the wrong number – getting a random painting. It was OK – but not the style I wanted… and the artist saw me with it and said, “I can’t believe it sold so fast.” I lied and said, “Oh I wanted it right from the start!”
This year I looked in the window and could clearly see the first paintings with their numbers. I realized that I really liked four of the first five and would be happy with any of those. Talking to the people in line (we all traded our favorites and agreed not to buy each others) they suggested a great strategy. It involved buying two paintings. I would rush to the table and buy a painting I like right away (Painting #1, as a matter of fact) and then I had one that I liked locked up. After that, I could leisurely walk around, writing down any others that looked good and buy one of those later. Many would be bought, but some should still be left.
That was the ticket. I’d spend an extra fifty dollars, but get two paintings… and have fun, with no pressure, because I was guaranteed of at least one that I liked and would probably get two.
The line behind me stretched most of the way around the block… and then the door flew open and I rushed in, went right to the table (I was third, the people in line before me were there first) and bought painting #1.
In this photo you can see a painting by Richard Ross – I bought one of his in 2016.
Happy with my choice, I wandered around looking at all the art, writing down the numbers of about two dozen works that I particularly liked. Then I joined the long line waiting for a painting. When I reached the front, I was surprised at how man numbers I had written down were still available. I chose a colorful Day of the Dead skull that I knew Candy would like.
It was painted by David Pech. Candy really liked it.
Once I had both my paintings picked up it was getting late, though there were still people arriving and buying art. Looking at the board where they crossed numbers off when the paintings were taken I noticed that there were still a couple that I had written down as particularly liking that were not purchased yet. So I guess I don’t really need to go ninety minutes early next year. But I think I will. I’ll definitely save up a hundred and buy two paintings. That strategy is the ticket.
I should have brought a backpack because I couldn’t ride a scooter with two paintings in my hands. So I had to wait thirty minutes for the next train.
“There is a love that equals in its power the love of man for woman and reaches inwards as deeply. It is the love of a man or a woman for their world. For the world of their center where their lives burn genuinely and with a free flame.
The love of the diver for his world of wavering light. His world of pearls and tendrils and his breath at his breast. Born as a plunger into the deeps he is at one with every swarm of lime-green fish, with every colored sponge. As he holds himself to the ocean’s faery floor, one hand clasped to a bedded whale’s rib, he is complete and infinite. Pulse, power and universe sway in his body. He is in love.
The love of the painter standing alone and staring, staring at the great colored surface he is making. Standing with him in the room the rearing canvas stares back with tentative shapes halted in their growth, moving in a new rhythm from floor to ceiling. The twisted tubes, the fresh paint squeezed and smeared across the dry on his palette. The dust beneath the easel. The paint has edged along the brushes’ handles. The white light in a northern sky is silent. The window gapes as he inhales his world. His world: a rented room, and turpentine. He moves towards his half-born. He is in Love.
The rich soil crumbles through the yeoman’s fingers. As the pearl diver murmurs, ‘I am home’ as he moves dimly in strange water-lights, and as the painter mutters, ‘I am me’ on his lone raft of floorboards, so the slow landsman on his acre’d marl – says with dark Fuchsia on her twisting staircase, ‘I am home.”
― Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan
“I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.”
― W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
From the artist’s Instagram.
This piece is based on the previous intaglio print ‘Harbingers’ and is inspired by the works of Botticelli, Caravaggio and Rubens
“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”
― Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald
Yesterday, when I was looking at the stream of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents vintage television show – I noticed that one of the episodes that stretched across the top of the screen was “The Man From The South.”
That episode is taken from a Roald Dahl short story. I’ve written about it before – it’s one of my favorite things – both the original story and the television episodes made about it. It is a prime lesson in how to build tension… nothing is better.
It’s been done several times – but this one features two legendary actors, Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre – both at the top of their game.
You can watch it (and believe me, you will want to) here.
What are you buying when you get on a roller coaster? Not risk… but the illusion of risk. Being hurled to the edge of danger but knowing that you’ll never have to cross it. … Think of Alaska as one big theme park.”
—- Limbo (movie), John Sayles
I particularly enjoyed the artwork hanging on the walls. On our trip across the river to Algiers, we discussed a dark painting that I remembered. You couldn’t see much – only a snow capped mountain line and maybe a bit of an orange glow. When we returned for the evening, I took a photo of the painting with my phone and was surprised to see that there was more visible in the picture than there was in real life. There was a row of mountains and a small boat in the foreground that you could not see with the naked eye. I was particularly taken by that subtle orange glow behind some trees on the right hand side.
The staff from the Beuregard-Keyes House said that the painter and even the date of this particular canvas was unknown. I talked to the others that had been at Algiers with me and realized I had the wrong artwork – they had been discussing a nearby painting of Venice at night by George Loring Brown.
That didn’t matter to me, I still was fascinated by the dark line of snowcapped mountains and still water. The next day at a nearby breakfast place I decided to write a flash fiction based on the painting (changing the mountains into volcanic peaks for dramatic effect). Inspired by one of my favorite films, Limbo (see it at your risk, I loved the film but the others in the theater stood up and cursed the screen at the end – Christopher Null said, “I can forgive many things. But using some hackneyed, whacked-out, screwed-up non-ending on a movie is unforgivable. I walked a half-mile in the rain and sat through two hours of typical, plodding Sayles melodrama to get cheated by a complete and total copout finale.” – He is completely wrong, the movie ended the only way it could….), left the ending… somewhat unresolved.
Typed up from my handwritten notebook:
July 11, 10:30 Croisant D’Or, New Orleans
The darkness was so all-encompassing it felt as thick and liquid as the saltwater they dipped their paddles in. The four canoes and single small skiff moved in a rough line. Sam could almost see the skiff ahead – more of an impression than actual vision – rowed by the four on board – its sails useless in the dead calm night.
Beyond, the unseen moon hidden by an invisible line of cliffs to the right illuminated the snow capped upper slopes of the volcano. Its torn cone glowing in the sky – visible, but selfish with its cold light.
The paddles and oars clumped up and down the line, with an occasional weak splash. The men were all too exhausted with effort, fear, and lack of sleep to work efficiently and the sound of wood striking gunwale or skipping off the water at the wrong angle was a surprise to these skilled seagoing men – but they were so numb – the embarrassment passed.
They worked in silence. Sam wondered if the other men’s minds were silently exploding within – as his felt. The humidity thickened the darkness. The only breeze was provided by their paddling – the heat was broken every now and then by invisible lenses of cool air that fell down the slopes from the snowfields miles above. They passed through a bank of sour sulfur mist from the fumaroles along the shore. The paddling increased to move through that foulness as quickly as possible.
Sam saw something new – coming to life out of the ink. At first it was barely visible – a dark dull rust-colored patch ahead, quickly heating into a dark but distinct orange glow.
It was a bit to the right of the skiff, along the shoreline. Sam realized this was their destination, their camp. There was a line of dunes and behind them a swampy area before the land rose quickly up the mountain. They had pitched camp atop a series of grassy hummocks above the brown stagnant drainage, but still protected by the dunes from being seen from the sea.
At first the glow heartened Sam and the others as their rowing increased a little more in pace. They were almost back. Sam thought of a bit of a rest – of a stout drink around the campfire before they had to start the hard work of unloading the rifles and ammo boxes from the canoes and the skiff. Sam even thought beyond that, of crawling into his tent for sleep. That seemed the end, he couldn’t get his mind past the imaginary sensation of letting himself falling limp and snapping his eyes shut.
But as they approached at a frustrating pace, weighted down by all that steel until the tiny waves lapped at the gunwales, the orange glow began to grow and spread.
Soon, it was all-encompassing. They could even see yellow licks of flame flicking over the tops of the dunes. Long tongues of red light reached up the sides of the mountain above, moving and interspersed with long ominous purple moving shadows.
Shouts, curses, and desperate cries peppered up and down the line of little boats. Sam kept silent though, and continued to paddle with desperate hopeless effort. They all did, still moving straight into the growing conflagration.
They had nowhere else to go.
Sam thought, “I am mortal. We are all going to die… but when? Is it going to be tonight?”