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Environmentalism metamorphosis New Blog Post New work Transformation

Le Rêve

Le Rêve (The Dream) is, of course, the famous painting by Pablo Picasso and famously punctured by the elbow of casino magnate Steve Wynn the day before he was to sell it for a sum that set records for the most amount paid for a piece of artwork by a U.S. collector. This record was shattered two years later but still–I don’t think this is a painting anyone would think about when looking at a pile of garbage. But that’s exactly what I did when I saw my neighbor’s garbage on the curb a couple months ago as I was walking my dog home in the dark in August.

Tabula rasa tabula rasa tabula rasa

This is what I spotted. A broken, spray painted table with busted legs.

I’m getting ready to sand this honkin’ mofo.

I dragged it across my yard and tried to conceal it in my back yard so as to not tip off my neighbor to my garbage tablenapping deeds in order to avoid awkwardness as we exchanged our awkward “hello”‘s twice a year. I went to sleep that night positive, indeed, my table hiding skills didn’t fail me and awoke to the reality that, indeed, my table hiding skills did fail me. I’m positive the neighbor saw it so I don’t look forward to our next “hello” in four or five months.

The next day I took the extremely heavy, broken legs off of the table and dragged the table top inside. I knew I wanted to turn it into a piece of yard/garden art for my front yard but I wasn’t really sure what to do to make that happen or HOW to do that to make that happen. Not yet. It is 42″ in diameter, which is pretty big. I’m not going to lie–my first impulse was to paint an anus on it. A realistic close up up of a glistening butthole. A 42″ wide realistic close up of a glistening butthole. I decided to go in a different direction, though, imagining the hoards of parents and possible law enforcement individuals showing up at my door and stomping on my blue sage plants next to my door. No, no 42″ anus for me, sadly. At least……not yet. I did briefly consider turning it into a giant pink button, drilled with four holes with brown “thread” sewed in an x. Since I couldn’t have a buttHOLE I could have a buttON at least. I couldn’t decide, though. It was hard to think of something I really wanted to do that was crowd friendly.

So the table top hung out in a corner of my living room being a 42″ pain in my fucking ass instead for the next six weeks or so. A couple things prompted me into getting it out of the corner of my living room. One was the pain in the ass factor but also I knew the weather was going to turn colder and wetter, making setting concrete a little more difficult. I needed to get this think on a post in a hole with concrete while it was still warm. So I started sanding and priming and trying to decide what to paint on the thing. And somehow, mysteriously, I landed on the face of Marie-Thérèse Walter from Le Rêve.

When I finished it I suddenly realized that this is WAY too good for my neighbors to gawk at as they walked past my front yard. *I* wanted to look at it, not them. I changed its’ final destination from the front yard to the backyard, in the center of my flower bed dedicated to flowers for my beloved monarch butterflies. I mean, other things visit the flowers too, including hummingbirds, countless insects, butterflies, baby rabbits, squirrels and birds.

The painting process was difficult but unbeknownst to me the most difficult part was to come: mounting this thing on a post and getting it into a hole filled with concrete. This was a *table*, not a sign. It was a heavy wooden table that was not veneered so it was a pretty quality table in its’ time. But it also consisted of six boards glued together and held in place by braces as you can see in this picture. I made the mistake of removing the braces in order to sand it and the table top broke in two. I had to immediately try to glue it back together and reattach those janky ass brackets in order to keep it from further falling apart. I didn’t want to tempt fate again by trying to remove the braces. Ever. So I decided to just paint the back with several coats of paint and coat the entire thing with many layers of clear coat and use the braces in the mounting process.

The thing is though–look carefully at the spacing on the braces. The damn braces were too closely spaced for me to get my drill close enough to the table top to get lag bolts into the post–>through the brace–>into another post on the other side. It was a MESS. I eventually hand chiseled those notches into the post, used deck screws to mount it to the notched post and then placed *another* identical post next to the first one, effectively sandwiching the brace inside the two posts with multiple lag bolts. My dog felt that something was missing though! Just seconds before I prepared to lift this thing into its’ final, glorious spot in my garden he decided it needed his pee. Alllll over the back.

Even though the glorious moment of finally placing this piece in its’ home in the ground was accompanied by dog piss it was a pretty fucking great moment. It was so much better than I even imagined.

“I peed on that.”–my dog

It is an absolute joy to look out my back door every morning as I let my dog out to pee (not on the art this time). Since it is late fall the flowers are a little ratty, yes. But just imagine it surrounded by zinnias, cornflowers, rudbeckia and daisies next year. The tithonia behind it will also return because they are so beloved by monarchs and hummingbirds.

One of my favorite photos of it because you can see a monarch flitting from flower to flower in the background.

I had to spend a long time researching Le Rêve in order to try to determine the actual colors Picasso chose to use in the original. In doing so I ran across many different analyses that mentioned the erotic elements of the original–her hands forming a vagina shape and that Picasso painted what is presumably his erect penis on her face. As I stood watching the butterflies, bees, butterflies, and birds surround her face and watched the flowers sway in the wind none of that came to mind. To me this was her dream–my dream–to be surrounded by this beauty under a blue autumn sky. The joy on her face is mine. From now on the $155 million original will always make me think of garbage.

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Environmentalism Growth New Blog Post Transformation

A Meditation on Pokeweed

I grew up in rural eastern Kentucky surrounded by garbage.

Garbage lined the roads and the railroad tracks near our house. Garbage littered the yard of our house that wouldn’t qualify as being a shack only because it had more than one room. It had four rooms. No running water, no bathroom and sometimes no electricity when there was no money to pay the bill. We certainly didn’t have money to pay for the trashman to throw our bags of trash onto the back of his pickup truck that he then drove to a random remote, rural area and unceremoniously make our tiny town’s garbage that landowner’s problem. So we kept our garbage our problem. It was the job of us children to burn the garbage in large stinking barrels, the tendrils of toxic burning plastic snaking into our lungs.

I used to ride the school bus to school and home again gazing through the thick window at the massive globs of garbage clotting the small stream next to the thin gray road that fed our smaller gravel road that then rambled between the two massive hills that silently watched us perched at their feet. They watched the dust clouds rise and slowly fade as our neighbors’ cars meandered up the hill to their own houses with large garbage-free yards.

I think growing up surrounded by people so happily unwilling to see the destructive, horrifying environmental destruction they were committing by believing it was their right to just dump their garbage wherever they saw fit instilled in me an absolutely rigid, uncompromising devotion to protecting the environment, to devoting large swaths of my awareness to that central, core devotion to the environment. This informs not only my art itself but the materials I use to create my art. It informs everything that I am and I am grateful for seeing so early on the gray apathy and black sneering entitlement that every adult I knew possessed when it came to dumping their garbage and running a disgusting “straight pipe“–a pipe run from a house directly to a nearby stream to flush raw human waste directly into the water supply and table. Growing up straight pipes, litter, dumping were all not just normal but unquestionable. But every single day, staring out the bus window at the clotted creeks my resolve to spend my life fighting for that creek and all creeks, rivers, streams, hills–the whole fucking earth.

In eastern Kentucky I also grew up surrounded by pokeweed (Phytolacca americana L.). It is a huge, intimidating plant that many people dislike precisely because it tends to grow with an unfettered zeal for being alive almost everywhere left unattended. It self seeds easily and is widely spread by the birds eating its’ truly beautiful but highly toxic to humans and pets berries. I remember desperately wanting to just put the black/purple berries in my mouth when I was a child. They look so juicy and sweet. I never did but even now when I see them have a vestigial, primitive desire to feel them burst on my tongue. It would have been a potentially fatal decision for me as a child and if I ate them now I would “only” have potentially simultaneous projectile vomiting and diarrhea. Poke berries are described as a “violent” emetic, after all. And according to the same Wikipedia entry it is a potential carcinogen too. It kind of makes sense, then, that I grew up only knowing how much adults hated pokeweed with a venom reserved for only the most despicable. It could poison them, poison their children, poison their cattle, horses and pigs. It grew unbidden, unwanted. It was a cursed thing and had to be removed by mower, by bush hog or by fire.

For the past four years I have devoted my yard to native plants with a specific devotion to pollinators. My suburban/urban yard is a shrine to bees, wasps and butterflies. I carefully cultivate and encourage native plants for eating and nectaring and sheltering insects. Before this I did what most suburban/urban people do with their yards: I mowed, I trimmed and specifically I pulled up and destroyed any pokeweed that emerged from the soil. Even after I started my devotion to native gardening I would pull up pokeweed seedlings that threatened to overshadow prettier, more manageable native plants. Last year I decided to stop pulling them, though. And my yard now has several 10-12 foot tall sprawling pokeweed plants covered with stems full of toxic green and black purple berries. My backyard birds I feed are happy with my choice.

Sadly there is a bird that would have soundly endorsed my choice as well if it was not wiped from existence by humans. I was reading about pokeweed/pokeberries a few weeks ago and learned for the first time in my life that pokeberries were a staple food source of passenger pigeons. My silly memory of being a child and salivating over the juicy black purple pokeweed berries became a manifestation of infinite sorrow and grief over a species destroyed by human beings. I remember learning about the passenger pigeon in elementary school and being overwhelmed with anger and disgust at previous generations ignorance and gall to obliterate this species. It reinforced my 8 year old devotion to the environment and allowed me to see that yes, the ruling zeitgeist of an era can be very, very wrong and should be questioned and rejected, even if doing so brings with it a great sacrifice.

Now when I see pokeberries I see ghosts of birds hovering over the berries, flocking on the stems, calling a call I will never know. They are now, to me, tombstones marking the both the grave of a species and also the blackest, most disgusting aspects of human nature.

I recently went for a hike as a second date with a guy I met on a dating app. We went to a large, beautiful park outside the city. It has large swaths of milkweed and other native plants, including pokeweed. I pointed out the pokeweed and told him about it was once a staple of the passenger pigeon. He had no idea what a passenger pigeon was, let alone anything about their destruction and extinction. He shrugged and claimed he just didn’t really like plants.

There was no third date.