When it comes right down to it we can only work with what we connect with on any given day. It depends on where we were, what our appetite for seeing was, what the coincidences of the day threw across our path, or finally, what we were alive to at any one moment.
I drove to the local health food store to get a few things for the upcoming New Year’s Eve dinner we were making to celebrate the end of 2013. I had spent a good part of the day inside preparing and doing other year end tasks, and so went to the bio, as they call it in France, late in the day, and as I pulled into the parking slot I saw this gnarly, furry, wild haired, winter naked bush, brittle in the last tincture of rosy light, sitting on a brutal pile of rocks behind a scrabbly chicken wire fence. All in all a tough image, one that might seldom hold my attention, and yet…
As I sat there for a moment thoughts of Dubuffet and Art Brut came to mind, and Philip Guston too, one of my favorite painters who never flinched at hard, ugly realities, and found ways to address them in his paintings, ways that challenged the values of the art world at that time. And so the longer I stayed in that moment’s reverie with this scrawny, bristling and blighted image, the more I realized that it was the most exciting thing I had see all day, and in fact was beautiful in its own demanding and difficult way.
I welcomed it.
It has always amazed me to see how ruthlessly orchard growers purge their fields once the trees have stopped producing as they had in previous years. Even when the trees seem fairly young as these do. But this kind of husbandry is wise and farsighted. They know what the land can do, and what changes it needs to continue to be fruitful.
In their practice I can see my own pruning methods as I have edited my work over the years. I used to call it the ‘sticky finger’ approach. That is; whenever I paged through stacks of prints (back in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s I printed like crazy – thus my 50,000 prints that I recently went to New York to sign for the sale of the archive) and so while reviewing prints, whenever I came across a photograph which, for whatever reason, refused to go quietly into the ‘Out’ pile, although sometimes it did so on a first cut, but then, somehow, it worked its way back into the mix of the ‘In’ pile, because each time I saw it, it ‘stuck to my fingers,’ as if it was telling me, wait a minute, you don’t get me yet, there is something here beyond your understanding at this time.
So I held on to those quirky images until either I caught up to what they were saying, or, by pinning them to the wall over my desk so as to catch my roving eye while speaking on the phone, or while daydreaming, I finally got their message.
Whatever the case, hard cutting is necessary for future growth, be it an orchard or a body of work.
The sky was in the valley. A dust and pink extravaganza with a glow in the center that felt as if cumulus clouds had slumbered there like giants in their piney beds.
Early Silent Night
Looking down on a small town often lets me feel the ‘sense of place’ that gives a locality its identity. Bonnieux has that quality; the butcher, the bakery, the newsstand, the market, the city hall, the church, all these basics set in an almost storybook perfection in a landscape of simple beauty. It is immensely fulfilling.
Silo, Birdhouse, Power station, Pump house? Who knows what its function was or is, but it puzzled me every time I passed it. Sitting there out in the countryside, at a junction in the road, the only landmark of its kind, I finally had to stop the car and give it a moment of my time. I never figured out what it was.
December in Provence is when the farmers and vineyard workers burn the cuttings from the harvest. Smoke signals rise everywhere in solemn flags of grey, wafting wherever breeze or cool air convection draws them, often mingling with other pyres in the valley and laying down a screen of fragrant mist.
These fires are part of the ancient rhythms of agriculture as it bows to the seasons, and it is a reminder that practices such as these are as old as mankind.
The Heart of Darkness was not Dark that Night
I always love these places; overwhelmed as they are by density and detail, which have little to offer in terms of familiar beauty since their form is chaotic and, well, indeterminate. Yet it is in the wonder of the detail, and abundance, and light, and all that bristling energy, that I sometimes am convinced that Beauty is this deeply seated in our consciousness!