Tuesday, October 17, 2006

marcia hafif, susan howe, minimalism, monochrome, meditative work

Green Lake Deep, by Marcia Hafif
Looking for more information on Marcia Hafif (who has a show up at Larry Becker in Philadelphia at the moment), I came across this interview with Susan Howe in which she recounts their early shared space and Howe's transition to poetry...
In 1965 I was living with the sculptor David von Schlegell, and in 1972 he became the Director of the Sculpture Department at the Yale School of Art; the job required we live in the immediate New Haven area. We found a house in Guilford, a town several miles north/east beside Long Island Sound. For a couple of years I was able to keep a space in Manhattan by renting a portion of the painter Marcia Hafif’s loft on Crosby Street and I came into the city two days a week. At the time Marcia was drawing vertical pencil marks, as a kind of meditative exercise into standard black drawing books. She started at the upper left corner and worked systematically down the paper. Then she began to use words instead of lines, but words semantically unrelated to each other. She tried not to make sentences or phrases, used no punctuation, left no margin, line breaks were contingent on reaching the right hand edge of the page. You saw a wall of penciled words. Meanwhile I was arranging sentences and photographs on my side of the sheet rock walls we had put up as partitions. We didn’t discuss our work so we don’t know if it was shared influence or some mystery of affinity—certainly we were both intrigued by the idea current among minimilists and conceptualists that painting was no longer valid. I was also working in sketchbooks but I filled them with word lists, usually nouns typed then cut out and pasted in. The words were arranged as vertical lists. Names of birds, boats, flowers, combined with ruled lines and photographs from old instruction manuals charts, and maps. Increasingly, words I chose did relate to each other. Increasingly, line breaks mattered. The sketchbooks were a matrix, names and nouns were less tied to the way they looked on the page space than to the sounds I heard in my head when I put them there. (I still use exactly the same 5”x 6” drawing books when I begin working on poems.) I liked to leave a lot of margin. Gradually I filled the first pages of these books with quotations taken from reading, so they came to have the feel of commonplace volumes rather than art objects. I began going to a poetry workshop at the St Marks Poetry Project because it was near Crosby St., and because it was funded by the NEA it didn’t cost anything. Ted Greenwald, the workshop leader, had an open-minded way of reading our work: he encouraged us to think about poetry that embraced experiment. One day he came to the studio to see what I was doing there. I had been laboriously attaching a series poem (though at the time I didn’t think of it in this way) to the wall. I started to explain its logic and he asked why I didn’t put this particular group into a book. I thought about it and decided he was right.
Very intriguing...and so this action, this meditative drawing (which makes me think of Eva Hesse, Agnes Martin, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf), leads two women in two very different directions...or does it? The line between conceptual/visual art and poetry just keeps shrinking, or perhaps more like the embattled string theory idea, it just keeps twitching...


In any case, the work of Marcia Hafif glows. Her glaze paintings, which I posted on last year, really do seem like reconceived classical paintings of glowing 17th century Dutch interiors. Except we don't see the figures hovering around the candle, we see instead pure color, the glow and texture of it. The act of glazing itself requires layering of slightly different tinted colors, and one assumes veneers of some kind as well. I have this image of Hafif engaging in the same meditative actions as the earlier lines, then words, each of them layered from corner to corner as she strokes across, down... She says she wants the paintings to seem to be a kind of skin which is why she doesn't frame them but rather allows the edges to be visible.

The edge, or the seam, doing something in this case....as in the case of Susan Howe, but I am still bouncing off the surface of Susan Howe. When I have something to say, I look forward to posting... Meanwhile in Philly we can see Hafif take on two colours simultaneously.

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