Sunday, December 7, 2008
Consulting the online calendars of artists' birthdays for today, I learn December 7th belongs to two very disparate artists whose work I happen to like very much: the 17th-century Baroque sculptor par excellence, Gianlorenzo Bernini, and the 20th-century American painter Stuart Davis. Pictured is Davis' "Mellow Pad" from 1945-51 (image from WebMuseum, click to enlarge).
I dig "Mellow Pad." That's right, the classicist-aka-van-Gogh-junkie digs "Mellow Pad." Admittedly, Davis has been an acquired taste, and I wouldn't call myself well-versed in his work, but "Mellow Pad" for me conjures up two things: my love of jazz and the year I lived in New York, before I came to Florida. Davis wasn't from New York, but he showed there, and his paintings capture its essence: the noise, the neon, the crowds, the craziness. I remember seeing "Mellow Pad" the first time I went to the Brooklyn Museum during my NYC year, and it's one of the images I associate with that time in my life.
"Mellow Pad" also shouts jazz. Not smooth jazz/Kenny G stuff, I mean the real deal: Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, the bebop that Davis knew very well and sought to express in paint. I became a fan first of French jazz (leave it to me to do it backwards) after a happenstance visit to Paris during the 1996 Fête de la Musique -- jazz on the street corners of the Latin Quarter near my hotel, jazz in the Métro, this musical cacophony that set my brain to whirring. New York finished the job; I have fond memories of going to some basement joint in Greenwich Village where Kool-Aid flowed freely (no liquor license) and so did the beat, courtesy of some NYU students channeling the 1940s. I pull out my bebop now when my head feels busy and my nerves are jangled, when what I need is not something slow, but something to get whatever-it-is out of my system. (Um, like now with the end of the semester...) Jazz is healthy for a personality like mine, because it reminds me that sometimes disorder and the seemingly chaotic possess a strange harmony. Translation: don't get worked up, baby, mellow out!
In the past, I've showed "Mellow Pad" in art appreciation class. There's always some forehead-wrinkling at first, then I say, "Listen to this." On goes some Charlie Parker ("Ko-Ko" is usually my track of choice). Aha! Now they see it: the syncopation of colors, of notes, eschewing the obvious in favor of the unexpected. And the title -- Mellow Pad. Say it out loud. Mellooooow paaaaad. That's more Miles Davis-y and "Nature Boy," that title, smooth and, well, mellow.
Yep. I dig it, daddy-o.
ps. Stuart Davis' work was influenced by van Gogh, whose paintings he saw in the famous Armory Show. Had to be said. ;-)