Thursday, July 15, 2010

`Good and Full of Error'

From Hermes, Dog and Star (1957), a prose poem by Zbigniew Herbert, “Painter” (translated by Alissa Valles):

“Under walls white as a birch forest grow the ferns of paintings. Amid smells of turpentine and oils Miron reconstructs the drama of a lemon condemned to share its life with green drapes. There’s also a female nude.

“—My fiancée – Miron says. – She posed for me during the occupation. It was a winter without bread and coal. Under her white skin blood collected in blue spots. Then I painted a warm rosy background.”

For as long as I can remember my brother, mr. ken kurp, has been painting, drawing, clipping and pasting, assembling collages and writing non-sequitur titles to accompany them. Most of his pictures at least made me smile, whether out of enjoyment, amusement or politeness. It’s hard not to when Baudelaire and a ’62 Buick share “a warm rosy background,” with a nude thrown in for the hell of it. Ken works in his basement and garage, on weekends and after his day job at Walken Frame and Art in Cleveland, which he owns with Walter Waskawicz (Wal + Ken = Walken).

Ken’s first show, “Not Now We Are Busy,” opens Friday at his shop with a reception featuring “free hot dogs and green jello.” Ken has framed forty-five works dating from the last two years, including three portraits of states (Mississippi, Missouri and Massachusetts), three works devoted to the Nazi invasion of Poland and another sequence of three titled “People Holding Things in Their Right Hands and Looking to the Left.”

“There’s no big theme,” Ken told me. “The pictures are little glimpses, a journal, a commonplace book. Isn’t that what you call it?” Asked about the show’s title, “Not Now We Are Busy,” he said:

“That’s my life in the last ten years or so. People imposing. It’s not life imposing, because that’s not possible. It’s the invasion of personal freedom, the way we’re losing little pieces of our freedom all the time.”

Ken has based a number of paintings on poems by a writer we both admire, Zbigniew Herbert, though none is included in the show. One I remember from about three years ago was inspired by “In the Studio,” which includes these stanzas:

“When God built the world
he wrinkled his forehead
calculated and calculated
hence the world is perfect
and impossible to live in

“on the other hand
a painter’s world
is good
and full of error
the eye strolls
from spot to spot
from fruit to fruit”

As Ken talked about the unseen, unacknowledged erosion of personal freedom and how it relates to his work, I thought of a passage from an essay in Herbert’s Still Life with a Bridle, “The Nonheroic Subject”:

“Freedom – so many treatises were written about it that it became a pale, abstract concept. But for the Dutch it was something as simple as breathing, looking, and touching objects. It did not need to be defined or beautified. This is why there is no division in their art between what is great and what is small, what is important and unimportant, elevated and ordinary. They painted apples and the portraits of fabric shopkeepers, pewter plates and tulips, with such patience and such love that the images of other worlds and noisy tales about earthly triumphs fade in comparison.”

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