Sunday, September 07, 2003

The love of handwriting: Tom D. on Patti Smith 

Thursday night was a pleasant and warm evening. After teaching my first creative writing class of the term I walked over to the ICA with rock critic and arts writer Anthony DeCurtis. He told me that Patti Smith was the first major interview that he did and talked about seeing Smith's band play a great show in a very samll lodge hall in Indiana at that time.

I mentioned the first time I met Patti Smith at Allen Ginsberg's apartment and I said to her, "We have something in common." She looked at me and I said, "We both play the clarinet." She smiled and we talked for a few minutes. Anthony said that her clarinet playing is very important to her.

When we arrived at the ICA Frank was there and we all went in.

While it's usually difficult to look at the art at a big opening, I was able to spend some time looking at Patti's work before the room was filled with a crowd of about 100 people on the artist/curator tour.

About the work itself: the piece I most responded to is a drawing called "Happy Birthday Robert." Patti and Robert Mapplethorp were longtime friends. The drawing has a simple wooden frame and is a little larger than the size of a sheet of paper 8.5X11.

As with much of the work here it is filled with handwriting and script. You can hardly read the script, though that is not the point -- much of the handwriting is drawn (seemingly traced) in lightest of pencil.

The soft and intricate graphic impact of the piece is what is most striking. It's layered with colored pencil handwriting in the background. The washed colored pencil handwriting has echos of some of Blake's illuminated manuscripts. Here part of Patti's project: her privacy, beauty, and other visual elements all come together in a way that some of the pieces doing similar things may not do as well.

Frank talks (below) about the 9/11 series (and the handwriting in them), which are silk screens and one large Ab Ex painting -- the silk screens have a faint echo of Wharol, but are more understated and muted than his. The ICA show was organized and first opened at the Wharol Museum and I wonder if working closely with the curator there informed this series?

On the north wall are Patti's most recent work and work that was not in the show at the Wharol museum: her photos.

At first viewing I didn't respond to them, though I came to understand their signficance for Patti and her larger project as an artist, visual or otherwise.

The photos feel different from the other work in show, though like the other work they feel very personal. Like "Happy Birthday Robert," they show a warmer side of Smith's visual art. There might be a comparison to Mapplethorp here, but they are surface comparisons -- his photos are precise and clean in a way that Smith's are not, which is a credit to both artists.

It is Smith's details of the Declaration of Independence, which I most did not like when I fist looked at them and most want to talk about now (even though they still don't blow me away).

When I heard Patti speak about them I started to see something about them that I did not at first see, understand or connect to the other work in the show.

Patti is from the Philadelphia and said that she has vivid memories of going to the Franklin Inst. and receiving copies of the Declaration of Independence as a kid.

She said that she loved the calligraphy of the document and she copied the script over and over -- all of which has contriubted to her love of handwriting. So it is the love of handwriting: its texture and character that really is the insight for much of the drawings, which Smith uses so much and so beautifully. (Not to metion the powerful content of the Declaration, and consistent statements of independence which is a hallmark of all that Smith does.)

The one great and prefect mistake Smith made while talking about the Declaration (in the artist Q&A) is that she said it was drafted by Thomas Paine and Jefferson.

What's great about this is that Paine did not draft the document.

Still, it's exactly right too. Though not historiclly accurate, Smith's association with Paine and the document and herself are all right-on as far as the intergrated whole of her firey, dead-on, beautiful hell-storm art.

p.s. there is a display case showing Patti's books -- one is of the wonderful and tiny 4x2 Hanuman Books, which I used to own and lost at a rally to save the gardens in nyc with Greg Fuchs in the spring of 1999. That was the most beautiful rally I have ever been involved with. Dozens of nyc neighborhood gardens were saved that day.

--Tom Devaney

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?