Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Dutch painter Sandor Torday has said that the way a person chooses a painting is perhaps similar to the way he or she chooses a mate; there may be factors comprehensible only to the one making the choice and thus attempts to influence or interfere are inappropriate. Factors both comprehensible and incomprehensible are familiar ground to many artists. Most artists and collectors are initially drawn to painting by it's immediate sensuous appeal or by the very real magic of seeing flesh and bone and space and a myriad of other phenomena appear on a surface under the slight inflections of a pencil or brush. Things of this world beautifully felt and beautifully expressed in a medium are worthy motives and will continue to move people as long as images are created.Some artists however begin to suspect that these more accessible pleasures obscure some mysterious "something"of far greater value residing below the surface. This suspicion may arise while studying a masterwork ;hidden gestalts begin to emerge like ghosts from the pictures surface and then re-submerge to be followed by other apparitions of an ordering spirit. This numinous presence becomes the obsession; what is it's nature and by what alchemy is it coaxed into existence? Visual confections and fashion enjoy little consideration here. Mystery is a potent aphrodisiac. If you have never felt inexplicably aroused in front of a Cezanne landscape you're not looking hard enough. I've been fortunate; ordinary daily life has always struck me as so unnervingly miraculous that I have reflexively sought to steal a glimpse of "that immortal hand that framed all this fearful symmetry" . As a young man War seemed a likely place to look.Fighting in the mountains and valleys along the Laotian border I discovered that my assumption had been correct. The suspicion that the quest could continue through the vehicle of art has also proven correct. For this ,my first blog I am choosing to end with a statement that I wrote in 1988 to accompany an exhibition of my Vietnam War paintings in Albany N.Y. War, for better or worse,forces on man whole realms of psychic experience that otherwise would not figure into the consciousness of the race. There would be no Apocalypse, no heart of Darkness,no dark side. The paratroopers of the 2/327,101st Airborne Div. fought in the mountains of I Corps and,if vastly different species of experience were to be had, the cloud hidden summits of the Annamese Cordillera were custom-made. Had you magically walked into a stylized Chinese landscape painting, you could not have felt more separated from everything you had known up to that time. Every detail conspired to create a sense of dream-like unreality: the jungle, the heat, the leeches, the fear, the physical exhaustion,the violence and death effected a macabre apostasy. Never one to do things half way I eventually walked into a North Vietnamese ambush in the mountains west of Hue. After three cardiac arrests and 39 pints of blood, the doctors of the 22nd Surgical Group pulled me through. I cannot explain in Terrestrial terms, the states of mind I experienced those three weeks on the USS Repose; small devils visited my bunk daily. Sometimes they menaced and sometimes performed a kind of theater before me. Apparitions and visions of all kinds tormented me;but the worst,the very worst was when I descended into a sinister vacuum which only religious metaphors about the loss of God's love could begin to describe. Even the devils didn't follow me there. Although sometimes disquieting all these experiences have served me as an artist. They assured me of the depth and complexity of the human spirit and gave me an idea of the dimensions,the measurements of it's experience. Regardless of subject matter I think all my pictures reflect qualities that took root or were fertilized as a result of the Vietnam experience. The primitive,dreamlike images; admittedly so unrelated to the modern art scene,convey something of the inner life of this ex-paratrooper. John Wolfe,Former Sergeant 101st Airborne Div.