Dialogue with a Painting

It is October. UM students gather for class in the subtle shift of South Florida sunlight. They come in twos and threes, texting and talking, their voices softening as they approach the doors to the Lowe Gallery. Some of them have never been in a museum before, but today they are in for a new experience. They trade their backpacks for a museum sticker and set out on an exploration, venturing into a world of oils and acrylics, watercolor and collage-a labyrinth of glass and stone, feathers and fabrics, photographs and artifacts. Today they are going to listen with their eyes as they meander through the Contemporary Hall, the Renaissance Rooms and the Beaux Arts Gallery. They want to see everything, but listen for the one painting, photograph, or glass sculpture calling their name.

Their mission is to engage in conversation with a work of art, to accept its silent invitation to linger and look and wonder. These are not art majors; they are Creative Writing students, who after an initial walk through the whole gallery, find a place to sit on the floor, or pull up a chair, or stand in front of their companion of the hour, writing on a notepad or typing notes into their smart phones. The conversation is imaginary of course, but John Berger’s words in Ways of Seeing resonate as their initial questions lead to others until fifty minutes have evaporated. “What we make of that painted moment when it is before our eyes depends upon what we expect of art.”

The questions asked of the art, the notes taken, become an interview transcription, or a poem, or even a play to read and share in the next class or in a blog or an online discussion board. Come Spring, these Dialogues have grown into collaborative works of art, the centerpiece of a portfolio, or an audio recording, a part of the Lowe’s on-going conversation between artist and audience, painter and poet, image and word.

                                                                                                          Judy Hood

 

Untitled, Karel Appel, gouache on paper, 1954
Jeanette Hamilton

 

I settle into the hardwood floor,
meditating,
ready to hear a silent voice
emanating from swipes of color.

“What is your name?”
I am afraid.
Why are you afraid?
There is too much.
Too much of what?
Of everything.
Does the noise behind me
bother you?
Everything bothers me.
What about that bird next to you?
Is that your pet?
Does it bother you?
It does bother me.
But it is the only one who understands.
Who understands what?
The fear.
What do you fear most?
This darkness you see around me.
The black paint?
It’s on your face.
Why don’t you take it off?
I cannot.
Why not?
It has my hands.
And your friend has none to help.
Exactly.
The darkness is closing in.
It is.
And you can’t fight it on your own.
No, I cannot.
I pause to fight off tears
and make sure no one
has seen me crying
over modern art
that doesn’t even have a name.

Can I only hear you
because I’m projecting my feelings
onto you?
Yes and no.
In what way is the answer no?
I call out to those who understand;
I called out to you.
Why do you call out
to those who understand?
That is the only way to fight this darkness.

 

Hand Holding Gun and Portion of Frame, John Baldessari, 2010
Traia Thiel

Strolling, separated,
I come upon a room lined with disintegrating Greek statues,
pieces of grandeur from an empire that gave us
The Pythagorean Theorem,
modern architecture,
and maps,
bankrupt.

I tip-toe, creeping,
as if mere pitter-patter of footsteps could tear them all down,
and erase all the time Before Christ, before his
crucifixions and crusades,
mirroring their death
with my silence…
Freeze.

Contrast startles,
jarring.

What are you doing here? You don’t belong in this place.
I’m cleaning.

I stare into the eyes of a gun,
its hand dragging white frames away from grey walls.
My hands float beside my face,
and I surrender.

Are you going to kill me?
I’m going to fix you. I’m clearing the way
for every beat-to-shit stone
disgraced by generations of grubby fingers,
pissing dogs,
and layers of irony-soaked graffiti.
I’ll fire paint on their walls
and hurl seeds into the barren ground.

 

Warrior, Wanxin Zhang, pottery and glaze, 1961
Wai Yan Kar

Q: Warrior, you seem… a little sad. Why are you sad?
A: That’s impolite to ask! You should greet me first.
Q: Oh I’m so sorry. You scared me! I was just murmuring to myself.
A: It’s okay, Young One.
Q: Warrior, how are you?
A: I am doing fine.
Q: Good to know. You know, I thought you were just a statue. I didn’t know you can talk.
A: I’m the spirit of a warrior and an ancient soul. I’m an old man.
Q: Oh, okay… Then why are you holding a baby?
A: That’s my child.
Q: What happened to you and your child?
A: My country was at war, and our village was raged. I lost my whole family in the war, and I even lost my eyes! My child is the only family member I have left.
Q: Oh, I’m so sorry. Why was your country at war?
A: The Emperor was a tyrant. People were living in a terrible situation and they rebelled.
Q: Is that why you are not wearing proper army uniform?
A: I was in the people’s army fighting against the emperor’s army. I didn’t have proper uniform, but my wife made me this protective suit before I left. It saved my life from an arrow shot by the Emperor’s marksman.
Q: Wow, I’m impressed. Your wife must be a very skillful tailor.
A: Oh yes, she was very talented. She was the best tailor in our village. I was a farmer. We were such a happy family even though life was hard.  (Sobs) I miss her….
Q: Uhh… I am sorry.
A: It’s okay. It was a long time ago.
Q: I hope you feel better.
A: I keep telling myself I would feel better when time passes by, but I’m not sure. It seems that there’s a hole in my heart I can never sew back no matter how hard I try.
Q: I’m sure time will heal.
A: I hope so.
Q: Maybe I should come to talk to you more often?
A: Yes, please, it’s boring here.
Q: I have to go now, but I can come back again later. Maybe when I come back next time I can bring a toy for your little boy.
A: Yes please.
Good bye.

 

Tensión Superficial, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Mixed Media, 1991
David O’Connell

An interview with the Buddha

Me: Why is your eye so bloodshot?
You: The all-seeing third eye never rests.
Me: You blink but never sleep? Surely Buddha’s third eye deserves some respite.
You: My purpose lies in regarding what you perceive as reality. My method rests in vigilance.
Me: But what is your goal?
You: I have no goal, no destination, no beginning, no omega, no meaning.
Me: Tell me what you have seen so I might learn from you.
You: You would not comprehend. I’ve existed since stardust enveloped everything in the finest powdered silt. You must learn to unsee. Do not mistake unseeing with not seeing.
Me: How might I begin down the road to unseeing? Please share something, Wise One; let me be your pupil, if only for a brief time.
You: Let me ask you a question then. Whose face do you presume is projected upon the monitor in front of you?
Me: It is yours, Teacher, the enlightened one, the great Buddha.
You: Incorrect. You rush and leap to conclusions. Be patient with the question. Approach it like a long-lost friend. Lose yourself.
Me: (Lengthy silence)…It is you, but who are you?  You are not Buddha… but the shared collection of everyone and everything that has ever existed or will exist.
You: You are getting closer, young one, but you must focus your vision. Stay away from the myopic while consciously avoiding the over generalized. I am not everyone and everything… I am you. You are Buddha’s eternal eye; you are reality’s collective experience and you are the nothingness of this precarious existence. You are the answer to a question never asked. You are the lack of meaning in a world starving for significance.
Me: I do not fully understand but I also understand that I cannot.  All I can do is continue down my path. My insignificance is significant within this collective existence so desperately searching for one particular interpretation.

 

 

Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia, Sally Mann, Photography, 1994
Sophia Pastorini

Would it mean something if
I told you I like the way you wear
your hair unfurled and long like it’s
a weight you proudly endure?

What about the way you wear dirty,
worn-out clothes tucked nicely in,
but they’re a stranger on your body?

How do you feel to be the oldest,
in the middle, the gravitated center of your
siblings’ lives?

Why the bare feet?
Do you like the freedom from a tied up shoe?
Do you have a yearning that you won’t communicate?

I can see it in your father’s shirt, your mom’s belt, your
unbrushed hair.
I promise not to tell, but I’ll lean in. You can
whisper the answer
in my ear.

 

 

Portrait of a Bearded Roman [possibly Emperor Antoninus Pius] marble
Grant Price

What Do You Know?

What do you know
about not having a nose?
When I’m thoroughly sick
I have nothing to blow.
My snout used to run;
now it has nowhere to go.

The nose did sniff;
it took many a whiff.
My snooze was so good
it inspired ten myths!
I loved my nose
Then it broke on the fist.

A chip off the old block
I saw it fall and stay.
Alas, no more nose;
we have parted ways.
I haven’t seen my friend
for many days.

 

 

Kuan-yin, Goddess of Mercy, Ming Dynasty, wood, pigment, and gilding
Raymond Audett

Find the Dragon

The cool marble surface tickles my knees
while I inspect the seated Goddess sculpture
on her throne and mumble, “Goddess of Mercy? What a joke.
How much mercy could you possibly have for those who deserve
none?
White noise pierces the room. I squint
my eyes and tilt my head to place a palm over each ear.
When the ringing halts
a soft voice whispers, There is always a merciful deal,
for everyone has a story with a beginning
before an end.”
I scan the four corners to see if anyone is in the room,
but only the ancient  relics and Guandi the God of War
bounce wind off their presence. I investigate the sculpture
and whisper, “And where does yours begin?”

Goose bumps pepper my forearms when the Goddess responds.
“I was a princess during the Sui dynasty, born
in the second month of the lunar calendar,
but my superstitious father decided that my birth
was a sign of ill fortune
bestowed upon our nation. Like an unwanted dog,
I was given away on my twelfth birthday
to my aunt and uncle who died soon after.

Hearing the news, another uncle took me in
only because he liked young skin.
I sprained my ankle running from him
and disguised myself as a laborer.
I wore the same sweat drenched clothes
peppered with dirt for months, and beneath the stars, I slept.
Eventually I roamed into the forest
to die of starvation, thirst, or bears. I didn’t care. I wanted it to end.

Sitting cross-legged I stared at the Princess
and said,”So why didn’t you end it?”

At first I thought, “How unfair! Why me?
I’m not supposed to be poor. I’m a princess.”
But why was it unfair?
I finally understood when I found my humble dragon.
It’s cruel that I was royalty at all.
Women smarter, faster, stronger, and much prettier
than I lived beyond the palace walls, but they only saw from the outside
and told stories about what life might be like within.
Whose achievement is birth? The baby’s?
I think not, but the child reaps the rewards.

Everyone has a fire-breathing reptile that’s feared more
than anything else. The winged monster is difficult to find
and harder to defeat. But vanquishing a dragon reveals that
the greatest teachers are those who inflict the most pain.

If you saek your dragon,
trust that no matter how dark the world becomes,
the stars will only shine brighter.

 

Football Player, Duane Hanson, oil on Polyvinyl, 1981
Briana Esposito

Porcelain
Frozen in time, a look of remorse furrows his brow. The corners of his lips drag to the ground where his defeat took place. His grime encrusted head falls to his crackled hands as he crunches the small Styrofoam cup and tosses it to the grass. Then he runs his fingers through his mangled, sweat-gelled hair.

“This should have been ours,” he groans, his eyes looking deep into mine searching for answers that I could not give. He stands himself up as if chains were trying to keep him down.
“You did all you could do; it’s a team sport you know?” I sighed quietly knowing it wouldn’t make a difference on his torn up soul.His eyes told his story of failure. The way they sank and failed to shine, I could tell he was done.
“You don’t understand,” he muttered. “This was my chance, my last chance.”
“You can’t blame yourself” I responded half-heartedly, yet again because nothing I could say would heal the disappointment he felt within his bones.He shakes his head and lets a deep sigh from within escape through his peeling lips.
“You’re not helping you know. Saying cliché lines to me won’t actually make me feel better. Make me forget that my career is over, and that no one will remember anything I have ever done.”
I cringed.“I don’t know what you’re yelling at me for; I was just trying to help.”
“Well you’re not, not at all.” He tugged at his hair.
“Okay then,” I said as I crossed my arms across my sunken heart and walked away. I heard him kick something and took that opportunity to sneak a glance.

He tugged at his hair; I knew the small mistakes from this one game would haunt his every nerve until they no longer functioned, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. His brow burrowed deeper into his face. Frozen in defeat.

 

  Broken Man
Taylor Wade

 I had never seen such a broken man, fallen shoulders and his head in his hands. His quiet desperation speaking through his every pore, the lines of his face etched deeply into his skin and more pronounced by his frown. He doesn’t speak nor does he cry, the only sound being the breaking of his heart.  Asking my sad stranger if he’s okay, he tells me he didn’t know he’d lost himself until he’d gone too far.

I think this is it for me, his whisper slips into the darkness of the night. Despair swims through his veins and pumps with his heart. He’s a closed door, lock clicked into place, and he offers me nothing more.My sad stranger turns and walks away.


Untitled,  Jerry Uelsmann, gelatin silver print, 1976

STILL LIFE
Sami Alawadhi


CHARACTERS
MAX…………………………………….a cartographer.
JAMES MORLEY……………………a geography professor from Oxford University and a midget.
 
TIME: Midday

SETTING: Max’s study.

 
Things are strange in Max’s study. The roof is mysteriously gone and the fireplace is stacked with unburned logs. On his desk stands James, gazing over Max’s maps. As a cartographer, Max has always been drawn to the unseen. He believes there should be a vast quantity of the mystery and that it should not be as brazen as a midget standing atop his desk. It was very quiet in the study and the outside world was inaudible.

Max: (finding his ability to speak) What are you doing here?
James: (without turning from the maps) I must see your maps. I heard you have a bit of the desert in Africa mapped.
Max: (offended) A bit? Who are you to call it a bit?
James: Dr. James Morley, Professor of geography at Oxford. Call me James.
Max: Why are you standing on my desk, James?
James: I must leap.
Max: Why?
James: (still focused on the maps) It’s the only way! To get where you want you must take a leap. Those too afraid to do so never get anywhere.
Max: (pointing at an uncharted region) Are you trying to go there?
James: (mumbling) That’s not the end of the world.
Max: (pointing at another region) There?
James: No.
Max: (pointing at another region)There?
James: No.
Max: Well, everywhere else has been charted. Would you like to accompany me on the excursions? I can get a seat for you on the plane. You can take pictures.
James: (looking up at Max for the first time) I’m afraid of flying.
Max: (skeptical) But not of leaping into uncertain land?
James: That’s different
Max: Why?
James: Gliding in the air in an artificial bird is being trapped. Leaping has purpose.
Max: Does the end of the world have that purpose?
James: Indeed. For whom do you know that’s been there? Who ventures to the end of the world and returns with photos and maps? It’s called the end because there’s no return.
Max: (interested) Any clues? Directions? A heading?
James: (He holds out an arrow) This arrow was given to me by a Bedouin, but without the bow.
Max: (looking at the arrow in disbelief)This arrow’s from the Round Rapier. It’s the mountain pass my cartography club charted two years ago. I led that expedition. Are you saying that this end of the world is linked to the Round Rapier?
James: (dryly) Let’s hope we may find out.
Max: (irritated with James’s elusive demeanor) But I need more certainty! I mean the club won’t go out with just this arrow. Besides, what does this end of the world even mean? Is it the death of us? An ancient sanctuary? Treasure? What?
James: (pulls out a wrinkled, stained, door-sized parchment and fastens it on a wall) This parchment I’ve wrestled from a market vendor describes it.
Max: (Looking at the parchment. On it is a depiction of a woman’s back and a constellation of stars above the shoulders, a serpentine river covering almost the entire body, people drawn on random areas, and ancient symbols similar to, but not, Egyptian hieroglyphics below the depiction. He turns to James in disbelief.) I never thought there was a written language in this region.
James: You must remember that no one’s ever known of this.
Max: (excited) I’m going to plan our next expedition. (He picks up the phone and begins dialing.) It’ll be soon. You should come!
James: (hesitant and frightened) Only if I can skydive.
Max: If that’s your preference.
James: (relieved and calm) Hey Max. (Max, tucking the phone between his ear and shoulder, looks at James.) What if it is, as you contemplated, the death of us? Are you still eager to go?
Max: (Places the phone down and nods yes.) (Aside) Why did I become a cartographer? Did I want to sell maps to the highest bidder when another war breaks out? Do I care to make a name for myself? No. I live to see the unseen. All that was ever around me was dissected, labeled, and owned. I hate labels and ownership. There’s no ownership over uncharted land. But unfortunately, I’d be an idiot to think that not all land will be claimed. It’s inevitable. It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just glad that the sky opened today and deposited this dwarf even if it leads ultimately to a still life.

Fade to Black.

 

Rondo, Petr Hora, cast glass, 1949
Chynna Hendricks

Mama had always told me never to question where I came from.  She told me that where I came from only defined my first step before I would walk away and forge my own path. But as I burned from the frozen air, I couldn’t help but wonder about my home.  I was burning at my feet, though it wasn’t the type of burn I’d ever gotten sitting in the scorching black leather interior of Mama’s car during a Florida summer.  It was a cold burn that captured my limbs before seeping into the core of my marrow and permeating its way nerve-by-nerve until my blood ebbed to a halt. The edge of my subconscious eased its way into the blanks of my mind.
Where did you come from? it asked as I tore away my first layer of armor.  The itching sensation from the burn waned slightly as I peeled away the wool-knit sweater from my arms, enjoying the onslaught of arctic air cutting my thinly veiled arms.
Frigid gusts surrounded me as I greeted the cooling effects that buried the burning strata of my skin.  The bleached blanket of frosted tundra welcomed me with its blank canvas expanses and sheer icy gusts.  The periwinkle of midday graced the windswept horizon with the sun beating its UV into my bones.
As the sun seared, so did I.  When I looked out at the blank canvas, somehow I was back in Florida, clad in my red flannel and long johns.  Sweat glistened on my exposed skin and between the cotton layers before I ripped off my flannel to sit in my tank top, accepting that the heat would never escape my veins.
Where did you come from? My subconscious echoed behind the throbbing headache. It sprouted between the baked patches of thought and frozen nerves of my cerebellum.  Tears dripped down with the sweat that started to cool my core.
The cold burn bloomed to my limp arms, cradling me between delirium and a crashing reality that Florida lay hundreds of miles away.  “I’m from the sun,” I whimpered, wishing to hold onto the heat.  Ivory white blankets again obscured my vision as the tundra stretched outwards toward the skyline.  I found myself taking tepid steps towards the horizon as I watched my once protective layers sweep away with the wind.
Why are you here?
“To…to show them.” My words left me before they ever processed.  The burn left me momentarily, and my realization came haunting back.  I stood deep in the arctic without so much as substantial clothing to preserve myself or an idea of how to progress.  My own thoughts were plaguing me with why I had to stray so far from home to accomplish something that might not even be possible.  I wrapped my arms securely over my chest, welcoming back the cold fever and the imaginary Florida sun.


“I’m surprised I even found you alive out there,” a voice came ringing in with the crackles of the fire spewing in front of me.  Damp towels were wrapped around my body as an old woman soothed the fire to a comfortable crackle.  “You don’t find too many people to around these parts stupid enough to walk around without more than two jackets on, let alone just a tank top.”
“It was hot.”  An aged eyebrow rose to question my absurd statement.
“I doubt you were hot.  When I found you between the layers of snow, you were as blue as the ocean.”  She turned back to the fire and prodded it with a metal tong.  “What were you doing outside like that?”
“I was searching for the truth.  There is a clarity out in that weather, and I have a constant burning in my veins.”  My bones tingled at the thought of burning up again.  I couldn’t imagine trying to walk through the icy wasteland again.
“Sometimes the mind plays tricks on you.”
“My mind seemed to know what it was thinking about,” I rebutted..
“It’s not unheard of…feeling like you are burning because it’s so cold out there.”  Her brittle finger pointed at the blizzard flurrying outside the window.  “A father died trying to save his family when they had been caught in a storm.  They didn’t find anything but a trail of his clothes.”  I felt my stomach drop.
“So what clarity did you find hidden amongst that frost?” she poked at my previous statement much like she was doing to the fire.
“I feel like the frost reflects my true nature,” I mumbled to myself, “the brashness of my decisions.”
“You had to freeze to figure that out?” she laughed as the fire rumbled.  “I could have told you that from the smooth blue of your face.”
“What else do you see when you look at me?”  The old woman turned her attention back to my face.  The flares from the fireplace flickered in her irises, captivating me in their implied heat.  I could feel a fire slowly simmering below my skin.
“I see someone lost and far away from home.  You don’t belong in a place like this; it was quite clear from that blue face you made.”
“But my mother said that I should never question where I came from…”
“Sometimes mothers don’t know best.” Her words stung harder than the bitter blizzard I ran to. I came from the heat, and it never left me.

 

The Great Wandering, Elizabeth Ryland and L.Lindsay Mears
Sculpture, 2005

Lachae Smith

Me: What do your shadows hide, Forest?
Forest: The shadows of the lost and forgotten.
Me: How did they get there?
Forest: You tell me.
Me: I'm pretty sure you know how these people found you.
Forest: You are mistaken. I've no idea how they got here.
            And they are not people.
Me: What are they then?
Forest: They are lost memories, regrets, forgotten loved ones and missing dreams. I reflect what they are through my glass bark and leaves. I am their transparent parallel that no longer exists in the minds of the people that have left these shadows behind.
Me: Forgotten I can understand, but what makes them lost now that they've found you?
Forest: If you were lost for a while and found a shelter somewhere, would you consider yourself found?
Me: No. I guess I'd say I found a place to rest for a while. Is that what all these shadows are doing? They're resting?
Forest: You tell me.
Me: Enough with the "you tell me" alright?
Forest: They are waiting.
Me: For what? And don't say "you tell me."
Forest: To leave. To possibly return home to their people. To possibly find a new home to begin again.
Me: What are these shadows over here?
Forest: They are missing dreams.
Me: Who did they belong to?
Forest: You. Have you really found your dreams yet? Have you found yourself? Or are you just resting in a comfortable place right now? Transform the shadows back into what they should be. And then, into what they could be.
Me: How?
Forest: You tell me.

 

Zebra, Vik Muniz, after George Stubbs, Pictures of Junk,  2006
Shelby Torrese

A million little pictures
a portrait doesn’t make.

The hideous,
the horrendous,
the innocuous.
the magnificent.

When representation screams,
what’s represented barely whispers.

Move from the welcoming to the intrusive,
or take what’s working and make it troubling.
Rounded this,
pointed that.

Jabs and flows
unexpected,
inconspicuous,
serendipitous  for all the wrong reasons.

People only see what they’re told they want to see.
Imagination versus mirror.

What we see
what we are
what we want.
None add up to what is.

Yearning for all our pieces to make a whole,
no one wants to pretend they know which way they fit.

Not even the sly forgotten fox.

 

Dinka Woman, William Morris, 1957
Alex Pruefer

Q&A with a Sculpture

So how long have you been here?

I’m not quite sure it’s been a while. I’ve added an earring for each year.

Why earrings?

I don’t have toes or fingers so I don’t have a lot of options for rings. I don’t really mind as long as I balance them on my ears, or it hurts my neck.

But you’ve got bracelets on your wrist.

Its not so much wrist as its lower arm. It’s hard to have wrists without hands.

Where are you from?

It’s a funny name I don’t remember. I came here on a floating door. I followed a dolphin at sea and ended up here.

Do you want to go back?

I would but I doubt I’d be able to find another group of dolphins

What did you do back home?

I modeled for a bit. Which is odd to most people because I’m only 8 inches tall. My father always said I had nice features besides my head being twice the size of my body. I try to look at the bright side of life, but it’s hard to see when you can’t open your eyes. I don’t get crows feet at least.

What does your house look like?

If you listened to what I just said you’d know I’ve never seen anything. I prefer to smell things and taste the air.

I didn’t mean to be ill-mannered. My apologies. Would you like a seat?

Nah. I don’t have knees so chairs are kind of tricky for me. I’m fine standing, but I think we’re done here.

 

WORD 391 Class in front of Frank Stella's Le Neveu de Rameau

 

           

WORD 391, mixed genre, 2015

after Pablo Neruda

Today you consider what I am saying to you.
Tomorrow you will challenge the sun.

 I am one who keeps turning around ideas.
In my house of ink and parchment,
with quill and glass,
I raise up ritual and passion.

I urge these voices to whisper 
who did not speak ‘til now,
to sing and to shout,
to question and be amazed.

What I want is for them to hear your words
and for you to never die.

                                                Judy Hood