Jelly Fungus (excerpt)
In his essay on Jasper Johns, John Cage mentions Leonardo’s (only by first name) idea that the boundary of a body is neither a part of the enclosed body nor a part of the surrounding atmosphere. Painting makes air compress upon bodies, you have to paint what is around the body with same weight as the body itself, I mean the two—the enclosed and the surrounding, need each other in order to exist. Painted space presses in on painted bodies, and the emergent boundaries neither hold within or without, rather they are in the process of meeting, in perpetuity. Sometimes the space might be held by an outline, but in the bristling of stroke next to stroke, it is always present.
Same essay by Cage quoted by Anne Boyer in her book on cancer: “A painting is not a record of what was said and what the replies were but the thick presence, all at once of a naked self-obscuring body of history.”
I find myself easily awed by in person paintings, again. I linger for many minutes in front of a large Rubens hunting scene at the Met, The Wolf and Fox Hunt (1616). I would have once walked by, bored by the unhinged machoism of the piles of enraged wolves, their fear and adrenaline contrived by the setting the hunters and Rubens have created, a narrow stage play of domination. Now I am nearly laid out by the size of the painting, I feel like a visitor from the 17th century, who has never seen such a large canvas, who has never watched a movie, and is now seeing a sculpture in movement, a sculptural image for the first time. The figures and their enormity, hunters cloaked in voluminous fabric, one wears funny pantaloons navy with grey velvet overlay, wealthy men on their horses and a lady onlooker, the men seeking the spectacle of sport in the anguish of the wolves, and foxes underfoot, the hunting dogs sinking their teeth into the fur hides. Supposedly Rubens painted the pelts himself, rendering the mottled coats luminous and thick. Much of the painting was completed by his workshop. The Wolf and Fox Hunt was the first of many lucrative hunting scenes on canvas which Rubens’ sold. He adapted the traditional form of hunting tapestries to the more inexpensive material of canvas.
(relation of painting to tapestry, a passing thought, canvas still has a weave, a warp and weft, the image is on top, the image is not quite woven, as it is built in tapestry. In tapestry, the image emerges laterally, in painting, it is visible through layering)
I can feel the layers of muscle and fat tissue in the light shifting on the animal skins, the silkiness of the horses’ tail, made more fluid by the contrast of the short fur on its back.
At his best, Rubens is a muscular painter, a painter of inner structures and of cartilege.
Painting as naked self-obfuscation is non-narrative, it’s admits of every paintings’ non narrative qualities. It is painting as material, and as presence alone. The shadow on the hunter’s ruddy calf. The movement of the pink clouds. It also means that every painting, without knowing it, presents a total view of the moment of its making, and preserves its naked pigments into the material of the now.
On the importance of material history:
1616 narrative: Flemish baroque, Descartes, Galileo, slavery, natural philosophy, poly maths, world eternal, witch trials, Pocahontas, empire, cargo.
If narrative history (and painting) is the memory of the state (Howard Zinn), it is the history of material, natural and visual, of the non-boundary between bodies and surroundings, of microbes and illnesses, which are living histories.
Growing together, across much of the land now called the United States, are two plants, both medicine, one the antidote for the other. Stinging Nettle is an herb rich in nourishment for the body, a cleansing tonic when taken as a diuretic, it is rich in iron, an antihistamine, and anti-inflammatory. But in its raw state it can cause a painful, smarting skin rash and hives. Almost always where the nettles grow, the buoyant and soft green jewelweed can be found in abundant colonies. Its hollow stem contains an almost aloe-like sticky, foaming gel perfect for soothing nettle stings and other itchy rashes, like those caused by poison ivy.
I gather both nettle and jewelweed in the Wissahickon park near my new apartment, on Lenni-Lenape land. I make a slushy of the jewelweed in my blender to freeze into ice cubes for summer-long treatments.
Green always appears transparent to me, permeable and made of light. Even when I try to mix it in oils, it only sings with colors that keep open one doorway into translucence. The strangeness of green mixed with opacity verges on sickness, bruising. All color comes from light, but green especially is made visible, chlorophyllic absorption, a plant’s survival and sustenance relies on green, on the interaction of green and light.
Irritants + Salve
Plants make possible the understanding of the vitality of difference. But even antidotes and inflammations grow in common soil. I think the delineation of nature and culture much the same. The impulse of natural history to make nominal the visible (Foucault) is of course, the imposition of language. But the natural was never the virginal, meaning, what is nature and what is culture is a boundary belonging to neither, a kind of imaginary meeting of body and space.
Botany is the beginnings of poetry. Or in plants, exist the form which I call language, and color. In Mycology is the beginning of painting. Language is material, it is cellular units and organic systems, it is death and decay. It is emergence and growth.