A Mind of Winter
Oil on canvas
48 x 48 in.
The painting at left, a detail from A Mind of Winter,
was completed in the winter of 2010 and began with a walk in Buckhorn Canyon, a paradise of Jeffrey and sugar pine, oak, incense cedar, and alder at 6,500 feet in the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles. The piece was supposed to have been the first in a series that would take me into the woodson larger and larger canvasses. The second in the seriesBlind Night
(oil on canvas, 24 by 48 in.)was half the size of its predecessor. Though the image itself wanted to be realized on a much larger canvas, I simply didnt have the money for larger stretcher bars and more canvas, and built the support from materials I had on hand in the studio. I finished the painting in late May, and after that, the fates had other plans. My mother used to say, in Yiddish, Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht
Man plans, God laughs.
In June 2010 my mother suffered the recurrence of trigeminal neuralgia, a rare and harrowing disease she had lived with for twenty years. She died on August 18th. After her death, I transcribed the contents of a notebook Id kept that summer. I felt compelled to turn it into a bookbut of what sort? The answer has entailed an open-ended search no different from the search involved in producing a painting, in which, over many months, I discover (uncover) the image as I am making it. Today, my manuscripta willful blurring of boundaries composed of history, memoir, biography, scholarly arcana, invention, and imagemost closely aligns with a genre Northrop Frye called the anatomy. His exemplar was Robert Burtons 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy,
with its schematic arrangements that are hardly those of any systematic treatment of melancholy, and yet correspond to something in the mind that yields a perhaps even deeper kind of comprehension.
I am driven by an observation made by the psychologist James Hillman: What we find as fact in the body is often prepared for, if not predicted, by imagination. Please watch this space for an excerpt of The Hippocratic Face,
a term after Hippocrates, who first described the face of a person near death.
To read my essay on painting and memory, please see Immaterial Witness: An artist excavates the ground of memory and imagination, which appeared in the Summer/Autumn 2010 issue of the Harvard Divinity Bulletin,
by clicking here
. To read about the making of A Mind of Winter
(the title is taken from Wallace Stevens poem The Snow Man), please see my essay A Primitive Mind, which appeared in the January 2011 issue of Poetry,
by clicking here