Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Compton Verney

The images below were recently released to publicize the Francis Bacon exhibition that opened a few days ago on the Compton Verney estate in Warwickshire, as described here. The show examines Bacon's relationship to the photographic fragments that accumulated knee-deep on the studio floor throughout his working life. The tattered photographs themselves are on loan from Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane where Bacon's heir, John Edwards, deposited them. Bacon spent a good part of his youth in Ireland, it's true, and was partly Irish, but he hated the whole country intensely and avoided the place as an adult. Rumor has it, however, that London's Tate Gallery (owner of more Bacon paintings than any other institution) turned Edwards down when offered the contents of Bacon's studio as a gift, and the Dublin arrangement was faute de mieux. Even though Bacon was extremely famous when he died in 1992, there are many signs that nobody anticipated how robustly his posthumous reputation would continue to swell. It's a safe bet that if given the chance over again today, the Tate would eagerly accept. Half a dozen scholarly books have already appeared based on research using the studio-floor scraps and remnants.

John Deakin
photograph of Francis Bacon

Eadweard Muybridge
The Human Figure in Motion

Francis Bacon
Untitled 1949 painting

John Deakin
photograph of George Dyer

Francis Bacon
Portrait of John Edwards

Francis Bacon
Study for a Portrait of John Edwards

Francis Bacon
Untitled Sea Painting

To the best of my knowledge, the two unfinished paintings at bottom (from the Dublin collection) have never been published before. Pink and blue. Bacon's late work – done when he was in his 80s and his health was poor – is characterized by a clearer, cleaner palette than any he had used earlier.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Orange Bags

Sunday morning in San Francisco at the Powell Street MUNI underground station. I was heading home with a dozen white T-shirts from Nordstrom and some boot-cut jeans from the Gap. Everybody else seemed to be carrying bulging orange plastic bags. These bags all seemed to be the same orange as the wide orange stripe on the wall. The place looked like a film set arranged by an over-zealous art-director.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mission Statements

The San Francisco world of felony vandalism is always fresh, since everything gets regularly eradicated, especially here in the Mission where such activity is incessant. The shortness of the life cycle speeds up style evolution, I suspect.

This last piece (executed on the side of a moving van) is the current look offered by the VAMPIRE WIZARD ZEUS MAGAZINE person we have followed since 2008, as seen here and here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mermaid Revisited

I wrote here last Thursday about seeing John Neumeier's U.S. debut production of The Little Mermaid at San Francisco Ballet. Saturday night I saw it a second time, again with Yuan Yuan Tan (seen above in a close-up from the program) dancing the Mermaid. On Thursday I mentioned Rita Felciano's review on danceviewtimes, in which she praised the performances and the production but expressed reservations about the staying power of the choreography itself: "The problem ... is that Neumeier, who is theatrically so inventive, as a choreographer works with an extremely limited palette." I was inclined to be skeptical about Felciano's criticism after one viewing. Now, after seeing the production twice, I'd like nothing better than to see it half a dozen more times, secure in the conviction that Neumeier's "limited palette" is analogous to the painter Mark Rothko's "limited palette" – a level of economy and compression only to be earned (by the lucky and the gifted) after decades of artistic exploration.

My Saturday night companion absolutely agreed about what we were seeing: a new-born creature we had thought to be long extinct, a fully convincing full-length tragedy. My Thursday night companion, on the other hand, had a problem with the essential premise of the plot. Why in the first place, he wondered, would the two-in-one character of the poet/mermaid (bursting with exquisitely refined perceptions) fall in love with this bland nonentity, this cookie-cutter "handsome prince"?

"Oh, I can see that he's big and muscular," my Thursday night companion said with disdain, assuring me that he would feel the same if the love-interest were a pulchritudinous empty-headed woman instead of a pulchritudinous empty-headed man. I couldn't answer this objection at the time. Why is the mermaid/poet expending all this anguish over a Playgirl centerfold? The question left me dumbfounded, as if I had been asked to explain the allure of Helen of Troy. Nobody ever suggested she was a stimulating conversationalist, or that she had any particular attributes at all, except for the odd and singular one of embodying divinity in her flesh. And that is all that can be said of a thousand different fairy-tale princes as well. The myth, like any other, goes up in smoke under rational interrogation.

But most of us, at some point, have loved like that – loved the indefinable glow (of a person, or of some less corporeal aspiration) and smashed ourselves into a bloody pulp against an iron barricade of obtuseness, obliviousness, indifference, impassivity. It is a losing game. A game for the young. I would no longer play it, could no longer play it if I wanted to, and I don't. But through Neumeier's art (and the art of Yuan Yuan Tan and of the other artists of the company) I can revisit (and even exalt) ancient oceans of pain and loss, and regard them in a new way as old friends.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mrs. Bowes

A Soul Brought to Heaven
William Adolphe Bouguereau

On the Death of Mrs. Bowes*
Hail happy Bride! for thou art truly blest!
Three months of Rapture crown'd with endless Rest!
Merit, like yours, was heav'ns peculiar Care,
You lov'd
yet trusted Happiness sincere:
To you the Sweets of Love were only shewn,
The sure succeeding bitter Dregs unknown:
You had not yet the fatal Change deplor'd,
The tender Lover, for the imperious Lord;
Nor felt the Pains that jealous Fondness brings,
Nor wept that Coldness from Possession springs,
Above your Sex distinguish'd in your Fate,
You trusted,
– yet experienced no Deceit.
Soft were the Hours, and wing'd with Pleasure flew,
No vain Repentance gave a Sigh to you:
And if superior Bliss, Heav'n can bestow,
With Fellow Angels you enjoy it now.

by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
(written extempore upon a Card, in a great deal of Company)
*Mrs. Bowes was Eleanor Verney, daughter of the Honorable Thomas Verney. She died on 14 December 1724, at the age of fourteen, having married George Bowes (1701-1760) on 1 October 1724.

From British Women Poets of the Long Eighteenth Century / edited by Paula R. Backscheider and Catherine E. Ingrassia (Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009)

Friday, March 26, 2010


At Delphi

The only time I found myself at Delphi
I asked that ancient oracle a question
Not to be put in words, not then, not now.

The answer came as I turned round to see
A crippled woman clutching at the arm
Of a drunk man who matched his step to hers.

Robert Nye

from the Times Literary Supplement


This corner of Golden Gate Park (where I regularly wait for the bus on weekday afternoons) is running riot now that long sunny days have pretty well taken over from short rainy ones. Grasses and blackberry canes and lupin and dandelions are struggling upward in a dense tangled mass. I'd expect a gardener to come along and weed-whacker them down again, except that the city of San Francisco is cutting jobs and hours all over the place – which doesn't only mean there are fewer workers. It also means that the workers who remain tend to be seriously demoralized and less productive.

My second example of fecundity is a palm tree planted along 16th Street in the Mission. Suddenly out of its smooth trunk it puts forth this fantastically dramatic blossom. Or cascade of blossoms, swaying in the breeze and attracting bees and hummingbirds.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yuan Yuan Tan

John Neumeier's ballet version of The Little Mermaid makes its U.S. premiere this week at San Francisco Ballet. I saw it with a friend tonight, and will see it again with a different friend Saturday night. Yuan Yuan Tan is beyond praise in this role. She is far more than enough now completely to console one for being born too late to see Sarah Bernhardt on stage.

Summoning the ghost of Bernhardt is more than random hyperbole. Bernhardt's artistry showed itself primarily in vehicles by contemporary playwrights like Sardou, now forgotten except for his association with Bernhardt. And perhaps the excellent dance critic Rita Felciano is right in her online review to say (in essence) that the The Little Mermaid is a spectacular staging of somewhat weak choreography. I'll wait till I've seen it a second time before deciding whether I agree with that or not. But even if posterity does judge the work itself to be only second rate, the ruling will have no bearing at all on the apotheosis that Yuan Yuan Tan achieves with it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Speedy Delivery

Today the box arrived from with the fabric for the new big sewing project. Last Thursday evening after shopping for maternity clothes with my daughter, we rendezvoused with her husband at their apartment and studied the purlsoho web site with such intensity that we almost made ourselves late for our dinner reservation at Canteen.

But at the last possible minute we managed to settle on two fabrics and order them for lining the inside of the "baby room" that is about to be erected in a corner of the expectant couple's Sutter Street apartment. Today those fabrics arrived here at Spencer Alley and I had the inestimable privilege of opening the box. More to follow, certainly, as the project gets underway.

The top print is Freespirit Fabric's Nicey Jane in Green Pocketbook HB22. The bottom print is Alexander Henry's Good Earth in Brite Good Earth 7091A. I will also be making solid-color crib sheets to coordinate with these prints. The plan is that they will be just about the same pink as the tissue paper this parcel arrived in today (Schiaparellli pink, that is to say – a color also covering part of the continent of Africa immediately above).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pod Creatures

These guys only existed for a few hours. Where Spencer Alley gives out onto 16th Street there are tempting surfaces for boys with wide-tip markers eager to commit felony vandalism. There is also a zealous restaurant owner who polices the area with his pots of touch-up paint every morning and eradicates whatever went up the night before. Consequently, any photographs have to be taken promptly and early because there will be no second chance.

I took my creature pictures very early on Saturday when I was going in and out of my building (through the battered gates pictured above) to do laundry down the street and around the corner.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Another garden job on the sunny Sunday afternoon was to trim off the all-finished flower-stalks of the grape hyacinths and then to mark the location of the plants with chopsticks. When the foliage dies away we will still know where the bulbs are.

The violas are spreading out after a couple of weeks in their pots. In their row on the porch they get sun in the morning but not later. They needed to be rotated, because the blossoms proliferate on the sunny side.

Sweet pea seedlings got tucked in under some of the fence pickets. Some of the seedlings are traditional sweet pea colors like lavender and pink, while others are a hybrid dating back to 1907 and called Lord Nelson -- which reputedly will produce navy-blue flowers, identical in color to the one-armed uniform Nelson was wearing at the Battle of Trafalgar when death gloriously overtook him.

And a couple of freesias have decided to bloom. The plants have been in the ground for several years but have never bloomed before. Greetings to the freesias and sincere congratulations.