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Once in a Blue Moon (a guest post by MTM)

If you haven’t made it out to gaze at the Blue Moon, let this post inspire you.

Every day we live passes methodically and in most cases unremarkably. Sure, there are the landmark dates; the birthdays, the anniversaries, the varied special or Hallmark dates that we feel inspired or compelled to take note of. May 22, 1997 was not one of those ‘important’ dates. Maybe its significance came as it marked the transition when the warmth of the Spring day finally triumphed and carried over into the night.

It was the night that I remember. I was living in one of a long string of easy sublets that I habituated in my time in Chicago; this one was a three-month stint in a three-lobed tower at the south end of the Loop. Restless and rootless, I went to see a film–don’t recall what film–at the Fine Arts Theater in the old Studebaker Building on Michigan Avenue. Afterwards I found myself wandering about the city, a flaneur with the flat patois of the upper midwest.

I recall seeing a girl waiting to cross the street. In the bright moonlight she struck me as cute, at least from my distance. The light changed and she crossed. For a moment I thought of following her. But I didn’t; then she was gone. I headed off into Grant Park, eluding the aim of Bowman and Spearman, the two Indian Warriors that guard the entrance on Congress Ave. Once ensconced in the darkness of the park, the soundtrack of the night rose in my ears.

I knew this was more than a simple full moon; in honor of the occasion, the haunting sound of the Cowboy Junkies‘ Blue Moon Revisited” had been echoing off the bare walls in my apartment earlier that night.  Now, shrouded in the lonesome night, I was no longer listening to it. It was speaking to me. Painfully.

Who was it that caught my eye that night, then disappeared? Was the girl even real? All I know is that when I saw her again, five years later at a little cafe in Charleston, I did not hesitate.


Exhibitionism and a Dark Alley

He wore a Chicago Blues Fest t-shirt. Grant Park, it read. It was red, white and blue. Out of place on a day like that day. Yet, he followed me, pushing his stroller laden with his little girl sporting red shoes and the pink shirt that proclaimed she was a ‘Girly’ on the back.

I found some random graffiti, and I wanted to take a quick photo while MTM paid our tab and my friend Alison went to the facilities in our hip-and-cool Sao Paulo spot. So, I snuck around the corner for a quickie. At least, I thought it would be a quickie. The man in the Chicago shirt changed all that.

“There’s more. Around the corner. To the right.” He spoke slowly, his native Portuguese making certain I understood his faltering English before he left me. He directed me to an artistic wonderland of graffiti, though I didn’t know it then. Really, I didn’t thank him properly for following me, because he evaporated too soon.

We wandered along a cobbled street and turned the corner as instructed. The street opened into an outdoor gallery, street art that went on and on and on. It was gorgeous. Colorful. Illicit. Almost like the photos Liz Duren snapped of me on the eve of my fortieth birthday. She picked the location, and it was also a riot of graffiti.

Perfect for me. Both of these places, covered in color. How did he know I would love it? Why did he follow me?

Have you ever taken a wrong turn and found a riot of art?

This post is the fifth installment in the series Eye of the Beholder, my wandering observations about works of art that speak to me. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here to catch up on the first post, go here for the second, here for the third and here for the fourth.

The View Through a Tilted Arc

Sculpture boggles my mind. I have no idea how a person can see a form trapped in a piece of rock and chisel it free. Or, go through all that painstaking work to create a mold for liquid bronze or some other material. Of all art forms, sculpture probably intimidates me more than any other. I usually squirm when I view it, wishing those frozen people could be free and wondering what it must feel like to be imprisoned.

I never said I wasn’t crazy.

Maybe that’s why I find rapture and release in Richard Serra‘s work. His metal sculptures stagger me. I love to run through the circular ones at DIA: Beacon. I make noise like I am four years old to hear my voice mutate and pretend I am burrowing my way to the center of an exquisite sea shell. Coming upon one of his outdoor installations makes hours disappear. I want to photograph the work from every conceivable angle, using the full prism of natural light.

To me, Serra’s work is both masculine and feminine, heavy and weightless. And, whenever possible, a most excellent playground to frolic with my inner child.

Has a work of art ever made you act like a child? 

This post is the fourth installment in the series Eye of the Beholder, my wandering observations about works of art that speak to me. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here to catch up on the first post, go here for the second and here for the third.

The Raft of the Medusa

Minneapolis. The first time I saw The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault, I didn’t view the real thing. It was a study, not full-size, occupying one wall near the entrance. Zipping through the other great art in that museum, I returned to sit in front of it, eviscerated by the ruin that could be portrayed with canvas and some paint.

The original is in the Louvre, so massive that it occupies floor-to-ceiling wall space in one of the long galleries in a main wing. It was a packed house the day I was there, wall-to-arts-dripping-wall. Every painting in that room is an epic treasure. Still, I was drawn to the Gericault. I edged my way onto a crowded bench in front of it and craned my neck until it ached, my eyes shining with tears.

What is it about that work that is so seminal, so basic, for me?

It’s not a pretty picture, though it is well executed. When I first saw it, I knew nothing about the period, the artist, the medium, the history – absolutely nothing. I’ve since learned those things, trying to understand why I connected with a work of such despair and violent, hopeless death. I even read a whole book about the artist and his most famous painting.

I remain flummoxed.

It isn’t even that I necessarily like the painting. Sometimes, the things that move us are visions that repel us. The notion that art has to be something we like, a projection that makes us feel good, is one I don’t buy. For the first time in my life, I walked away from a work of art on my knees, hobbled by grief.

Have you ever cried over a work of art?

This post is the second installment in the series Eye of the Beholder, my wandering observations about works of art that speak to me. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here to catch up on the first post, and go here for the second.

The Artistry of Calvin & Hobbes

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I stopped reading newspaper comics the last day they ran the final Calvin & Hobbes strip. Yes, I know one can find reruns everywhere, but since I own the hardback box set – all fifty pounds of it – every single episode – I can read them whenever the mood strikes.

No matter where MTM is in the house, when my Calvin & Hobbes laugh blows like a geyser, he knows exactly what I’m up to. Which episode are you reading? And is this the 3 millionth or the 4 millionth time? Please, at least STOP LAUGHING long enough to tell me.

The beauty of Bill Watterson‘s work, for me, was the dazzling use of color and the amount of drawing he devoted to a single episode of Spaceman Spiff. The gorgeous pictures tickled my eyes, but the stories captivated me. The sheer volume of words he created, so many of them situations where I found myself shrieking I remember when I did that!, made me worship him as a writer, too.

I found it preposterous that when he retired from comics he had to reinvent himself as a serious artist. He was already among the living artists I most revered. As belligerent as he has always been about licensing his work, I wonder whether he could break into newspapers today, whether his unwillingness to compromise his artistic vision would’ve robbed the world of one of the greatest comics strips of all time by a genius of an artist.

Do you have a favorite Calvin & Hobbes comic strip? Does some other comic make you shriek with laughter? Please share your selections today in a comment.

This post is the second installment in the series Eye of the Beholder, my wandering observations about works of art that speak to me. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here to catch up on the first post.


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