Tuesday, May 31, 2011
'The way you get to know yourself is by the expressions on other people’s faces, because that’s the only thing that you can see, unless you carry a mirror about.' Gil Scott Heron: April 1 1949 - May 27 2011
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/09/100809fa_fact_wilkinson#ixzz1Nwlfx5pK
Friday, May 27, 2011
Patti Smith, 1976. © Robert Mapplethorpe
A further thought upon finishing Just Kids by Patti Smith. A key element to the Mapplethorpe story is this: that without Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe may have been little more than a significant footnote in Patti Smith's story. Wagstaff was Mapplethorpe's benefactor, a wealthy art collector who became the most important collector of photographic art of his time. He enabled Mapplethorpe as a photographer.
I raise this point with only this in mind: having described Smith's book as one of the great accounts of becoming an artist, and what it is to be an artist, it's worth acknowledging the part that money played in at least one half of this particular story. Without Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe would still have been an artist - but whether he'd have been a successful artist, whether we'd have heard of him in his own right, free of the Smith/Mapplethorpe mythology is questionable. Of course, you can argue that Mapplethorpe's social climbing was a contributing factor in his art - that he made the meeting with Wagstaff happen, and the fact that they fell in love, inspired one another, was due in some part to Mapplethrope's creative instinct. But it doesn't alter this fact: that if he'd never met Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe would likely have been just another side-long story of talent with unfulfilled dreams.
The image above may be my favourite Mapplethorpe portrait. I have mixed feelings about his portraits. Typically they're cold and don't reveal much about their subjects. This one has heat to it though.
Monday, May 23, 2011
It's no easy thing to write of innocence, long after innocence is gone. Patti Smith's memoir of her early life, and of her deeply spiritual relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, won a National Book Award last year, and it accomplishes this with enormous subtlety and grace.
For me, what makes Just Kids so remarkable is the absence of self-aggrandizement, it's relating of life simply as it was, without any pretense of wisdom or judgment arrived at through hindsight. More than anything, it describes the journey of two artists in pursuit of their talent... and specifically, it illuminates the fact that while art may be what results from devotion to one's craft, it's possible - intrinsic, in fact - to be an artist long before you've found your means of expression. I can think of few works that describe the road to artistic self-discovery so well.
Bob Dylan set the recent trend for rock musician memoirs (beside Smith's book, Keith Richards Life was well also received of course, but a mass of less interesting books, by lesser talents - Steven Tyler comes to mind - arrive weekly, it would seem). Smith is an avowed devotee of Dylan, and given her poetic/ mystic leanings, I anticipated a similar book from her, one that would play with structure and allusive imagery. For twenty pages I was surprised, confounded even, by the simplicity of the prose. This, it turned out, was the book's strength - and my misreading. And of course, the writing isn't simple - it's seamless instead, which is far from the same thing. It's a book filled with tenderness, not only for Mapplethorpe, but for Smith's own youth, for an era, and for the remarkable characters who somehow populated Smith's life (see brief, delicate portraits of Sam Shepard and Jim Carroll, for example). It's a book that's particularly notable for one of the rarest qualities in memoir, or indeed, in arts and entertainment in general - humility.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
Am alternative title for this post might have been, 'The Indulgence of Women.'
'Chicharito' translates from Spanish as 'Little Pea.' It happens to be the nickname of Manchester United's wunderkind striker, Javier Hernandez. Hernandez is only 22 years old. He signed for Man U at the beginning of last year, and before doing so, he was barely known outside his home town. He's obviously carried the nickname since he was a baby...
Chicharito has made an enormous impact at Man U - I saw him score in his first game, in Houston last year, and most recently, against Everton when I was home in Manchester and took my Mum to a game. There are several notable things about Javier Hernandez, outside of his phenomenal goal rate, but first and foremost, for me anyway, is the joy with which he plays the game. He's that rare sportsman - humble, modest and clearly in love with the game itself, rather than with the fame and material rewards it brings.
How does this tie-in the photograph above? Because my dear, sweet, indulgent wife, began referring to the baby growing in her belly as 'Chicharito' almost as soon we learned she was pregnant. And make no mistake, I know it's an indulgence! Hernandez had only played a few games for United at the time. His reputation has grown in direct relation to the size of her belly, it would seem. But I'm drawn to consider the way men, if they're lucky, as I am, are indulged in the simplest yet most meaningful of ways by their partner...
(No sleeping pregnant women were compromised in the making of this photo)
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
To be a truly great artist, or performer, or athlete, to maximize your potential, to drain every last drop of talent from your being, your chosen vocation must come first, before all else - love, family, health, money. Your 'career' must be the singular love of your life. Anything else is mere dressing. I've long believed this. Art of the highest order demands not only inordinate sacrifice, but unreasonable selfishness. It's why so many people who operate at the highest altitudes of their craft leave behind them trails of destruction in their personal lives. I don't mean to over romanticize it, 'the artist's way.' But the number of healthy, happy families borne of the very greatest artists are few. If you have examples, I'd be curious to hear them (I was about to suggest Nabakov, and his wife Vera, as an example. But then I thought of the unavoidable strain of paedophilia that runs throughout his work, which at a certain point, has to elicit suspicion).
Alexandra Styron's memoir of living with a difficult father tells of an unhappy relationship, but does so in a clear-sighted way that is far from vengeful, as some such memoirs tend to be. It's a book that doesn't propose to have all the answers - clearly, it's an exploration, a search for the man her father was, and answers as to why he proved so difficult and ugly, even before he crashed hard on the obliterating rocks of depression. In some ways, the book represents a daughter's journey in trying to find a way to love her father, in spite of the havoc he reeked upon his family. An understated detail towards the end of the book suggests that Alexandra, the youngest of Styron's children, reconciled a complicated love for her father with all the feelings of hate she grew up with, even into adulthood: she named her first born William, after her father.
One more thing. The book mentions that Styron's books have never been received in England with the same praise they've received in the States. One reason suggested here is that Styron's Southern voice is too florid for English tastes. I find this interesting, only because of my reaction to Sophie's Choice when I read it a few years ago...that despite the beauty and sorrow of the books denouement, as a whole, it read overly sentimentalized to me. I wasn't always comfortable with the prose. My Englishness, perhaps?
Monday, May 9, 2011
Stretford End, Old Trafford, home of Manchester United.
Since I moved to Texas, I've felt estranged from England and its culture in a way I rarely did when I lived in Los Angeles and New York. For this reason perhaps, my attachment to football, and to my home team specifically - Manchester United - has never been greater. It helps that I can watch every game on TV, even here - like yesterdays magnificent deconstruction of Chelsea, which took us within touching distance of a record 19th English championship.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles and my mother first came to visit, she expressed mystification over the laundry habits of Angeleno's. In a city with such beautiful weather, why, she wondered, does no-one hang there washing on a line to dry?
A couple of years later, I watched a documentary on the great English artist David Hockney. Hockney was raised in Bradford, a gritty, working-class city less than an hour north of Manchester. Hockney has made Los Angeles his home for many years, and in the documentary, he said that his mother, upon visiting LA, wanted to know the same thing as my mother - why no washing lines? Such then, are the concerns of a certain generation of working-class women.
A couple of weeks ago, home in Manchester, the newspapers - and the public at large - were celebrating 'the hottest Easter in 100 years...sunnier than Los Angeles, dryer than Madrid!' Good then, to see that my mother was taking advantage of the weather, hanging her laundry out to dry.