Pictures That Stick: Memory & Emotion
Since I was a boy, I have loved visual images. I remember much of what I see and next to nothing of what I hear. I don't know why. What was being said to me as a child that taught me to let words go right past me yet allowed pictures to stick forever? I can describe to you the sweater my mother was wearing and what her hair looked like as she taught me the alphabet on the large wood framed black chalkboard in our darkened basement when I was four. I remember my first trip alone to New York City when I was 16 as if it were a travelogue. Sometimes, to play games with myself, I will conjure a house or an apartment that I haven't been in for years and call up what was in each room as I walked through. As I get older, this "virtual" visual memory is a particular treat with memories of sex often more potent than whatever is or isn't much happening anymore. Ask me to quote what someone said over dinner last night. Forget it. But -- if you're interested -- the menu was yellow, two-sided and printed boldly in black.
Fears of inadequacy come from not being academically attuned to art. I know what I like. I operate pretty much from my gut in all aspects of my life, so I mark what makes me stop flipping through a book or pause while walking through a gallery. But -- unlike Sister Wendy (who I love) -- I haven't a clue as to what "period," "phase" or genealogy, if art has such a thing, can be attached to a particular work.
So, with all that as some sort of caveat, what follows are images that caught my attention. Some elicited a distinct emotional response, some a particular personal memory and with others -- it was simply enough to get lost in them and, for a moment, not hear a thing.
Copy Berg: A Dog and a Ball (1993), Dinosaur Conversation (1990), Two Boys on the Beach (1991), and Waiting for Sleep (1995). If I had been forced to choose just one artist, it would be Copy Berg. I love his work, the simplicity of the drawings, and the bold patches of color. The warm playfulness of the puppy, the rowdy boldness of the dinosaurs, the intimacy of the sunbathers and, I can't quite say what about the window just really appeals to me.
Bob Corti: Exposed: Michael (1996). I kept coming back to this photograph, the way you might not be able to stop yourself from painfully pressing against an aching tooth again and again. Floating, haunting, unable to return.
John Dugdale: Coin Bouquet (1996), and Thank You Note (1996). I love this blue. (It says cyanotype on the slide.) It makes the scattered design of the silverware, the expanse of field and the brilliant white shirt unforgettable. Who was sitting there?
Daniel Gray: Thunder Valley (1998), Fallen (1999), and Sum of Its Parts (1998). Thunder Valley is my favorite. I don't just stop, I stare. You can fall into each of these paintings for a long, long time.
Frank Jump: Carriages, Coupes & Hansoms (1997), and Miss Weber Millinery, Flatiron (1997). I was so glad to come across Frank Jump's sheets of slides that afternoon in the Visual AIDS offices. I'd read a few articles about Frank's work, which I really like. If writers Caleb Carr or Jack Finney were artists, they'd be Frank Jump. I love the stories all three tell. I've often been wandering or walking through Manhattan, seen the side of some old building and thought, "I wonder if that guy who shoots these got this one?" And I never knew who to call. For instance as the tenement buildings next to the Biltmore Theatre on Eighth Avenue came down, a long-covered sign painted across a brick wall two stories high was exposed: "Schmuck Brothers -- Theatrical Supplies." I'm not kidding. It's gone now. I hope Frank saw it.
Robert Miles Parker: West 90th Between Columbus & Central Park West (1993). If I could be an artist, I'd do pen and ink drawings. They remind me of the illustrations in some of my favorite books. I like how the artist takes a photographic image and simplifies it into something that becomes much more expressive and fantastic than base reality can ever be. It brings forward an interior life that is completely unreachable when looking at the actual subject of the drawing.
Eric Rhein: Bird Eight -- Flying East (1997) and William (1996). These wire and paper constructions are so delicate it seems they can't be real. They must exist only in the artist imagination and then only for an instant. Ethereal, ghost-like, magical images.
Michael Slocum: Zander Alexander, PWA (1993-1995). I met Michael years ago at a retreat in Palm Desert. He never identified himself as an artist. He was very cute. In 1994, Michael and I re-met at People With AIDS Coalition/NY in the offices on 18th Street. He was one of the editors of Newsline; I was on the board. I like graphic art and edgy cartoons. I loved how Michael's repeated design patterns would appear between the articles in Newsline. Sometimes, I thought they were the only respite from an onslaught of printed information constantly coming at us. Too much! I was thrilled to come across a page of slides of Michael's work tucked among the file folders at Visual AIDS. He was my first choice. I never got to know Michael well, but looking at this page again, I miss him.
Peter Urban: Bubble Lights (1996). Well, this should be pretty obvious. But what captures my imagination and my attention are the bubble light tattoos. When I was a kid, my parents had three of these lights that would be hung each year on our Christmas tree along with a bundle of Sears-bought ornaments. These three lights were completely unlike everything else on the tree. And they really bubbled. No matter what else was on or under the tree, as a child, I would be hypnotized by the bubbles moving and popping inside the colored glass. I would sit in our small living room in the dark with just the tree lights on and the room glowing red from the light in the life-size cardboard holiday fireplace and watch these ornaments with rapture. I love that they've appeared again . . . and where.
Tom Viola is the Executive Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation's leading industry-based not-for-profit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. Since its founding in 1987, BC/EFA has raised over $50 million for critically needed services for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families nationwide. Go to: www.broadwaycares.org
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