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Monday, 22 August 2011

Henry King on Evan Jones's 'Little Notes On Painting'

Little Notes On Painting by Evan Jones

Take a Spanish painter and put him in Paris. Take a Greek
painter and put him in Madrid. Take a Quebeçois painter
and put him in Paris, too, and a German and a couple
more Spaniards and also a Greek-born Italian. You wouldn’t
believe what I’m doing now. I’m up very late. I’m placing
an American painter in Albany and hoping school
will be cancelled tomorrow. There are fewer and fewer days
like this left; they fall like uses for wax paper. Don’t ever
mention abstract artists to my face or my books, my friend, for
who owns a house and has never been kissed in one? Right?
Take a Russian painter and put him in New York beside
a Mexican painter. I am two feet from the bed; the pillows
and blankets are swelling and rising towards the ceiling.
It doesn’t matter. Take a Javanese painter and put him
in Cairo. The phone won’t ring anymore. I called a street artist
“Picasso” but thought better of it as all those women were
going down on him one at a time and bearing him children.
Take a little-known Nova Scotia folk painter and put her,
posthumously, in Cleveland or Skopjë. The mattress is filling
with honey and the box spring is humming like bees; my hand is
in my pyjama bottoms. I stop and say, it isn’t love
that makes you weak, to the night table or maybe the bed frame.
Take an Italian Futurist for example. Take a 19th century
Japanese print and slip it between the mattress and the box spring.
Take a pregnant painter by the hand. I’m home and touching
the unborn child of her easel. It would be nice for a night
if silence was the colour of water but it would be nicer
to sleep in the desert. Take a stolen Brueghel from
the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and bury it
on Easter Island. I arrange the sheets every morning
to resemble Mount Athos so that every night I sleep
on God’s arm. What did I say about abstraction?
Take a British painter from a home he’s not once ever loved
and ask him why he never paints the same thing. Take a moment
to join an art school, the aristocracy or merely buy
a beret. A photograph of a painter’s palette is no
good to anyone and the sky outside is nothing like Van Gogh.
I just wanted to say that the moon’s going down.
I remember every moment. Thank you.

from New Poetries V © Evan Jones

'Take a Spanish painter and put him in Paris' – aha! I know this one: it's Picasso, isn’t it. Or maybe Juan Gris. Either way, the smoke from Gauloises in Montmartre cafés immediately fills one's eyes and nose. 'Take a Greek painter and put him in Madrid' – El Greco, at a guess. But then,
                                                   Take a Quebeçois painter
and put him in Paris, too, and a German and a couple
more Spaniards and also a Greek-born Italian.
The trivia’s getting harder. Then the speaker steps in:
                    I’m up very late. I’m placing
an American painter in Albany and hoping school
will be cancelled tomorrow.
Perhaps he’s revising for an exam – art history, probably – and meditating upon displaced artists. (Is an American displaced in Albany? A Quebecois in Paris? Are they doubly so?) But he's tired, and the room's spinning, 'The pillows / and blankets are swelling and rising towards the ceiling.' Dream-logic is taking hold, and with it, the teenager's sexual imagination:
                                                               I called a street artist
“Picasso” but thought better of it as all those women were
going down on him one at a time and bearing him children.
For a teenager stuck at home, with school in the morning, what could be more glamorous than to be a painter, to escape to Europe and get laid? 'Take a British painter from a home he’s not once ever loved' – the sentiment recalls Baudelaire:
Pour l'enfant, amoureux de cartes et d'estampes,
L'univers est égal à son vaste appétit.
Ah! que le monde est grand à la clarté des lampes! ('Le Voyage')
The whole world becomes a playground: 'Take a stolen Brueghel from / the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,' – remember how Picasso was brought in for questioning when the Mona Lisa was stolen? – 'and bury it on Easter Island.'

Finally, 'I just wanted to say that the moon’s going down' – it's dawn, but it's also Diana, chaste mistress of the chase, performing fellatio, as in a pornographic Poussin.

'Thank you', the poem ends. For what, though? Perhaps just for listening. But the operative word through the poem is 'take': take a painter, take a woman, take a moment. This may be rapacious, but it may also be generous, as in 'Please, take this.' And what is it to create art, if not to urge, almost demand somebody to take your creation? A gift economy is in play. But as Lewis Hyde wrote about gifts, 'There are times when we want to be aliens and strangers.' 'Take a Russian painter and put him in New York beside / a Mexican painter…'

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