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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

George Tooker (1920 – 2011)

The Subway

One of my favorite (if not my #1 favorite) American painters has left us. George Tooker, whose painstaking egg temperas showed us a sterile world of isolation and anxiety, lasted to the age of 90, somewhat secluded. A few years ago I knew he was still alive. For a while, I didn't know one way or the other: Schrödinger's Artist! He died today, March 29, 2011.

Government Bureau

I first saw his painting, "The Subway" (top example) in the 70s and was fascinated by his creepy vision of a nightmare populated by strangers who didn't look happy about it either. On my first visit to New York City, I made a special trip to the Whitney to see it and was disappointed to learn that they didn't keep it on display most of the time. I bought a poster, though.

Landscape with Figures

People in his paintings seem haunted. Like strangers on the street, they look at you (perhaps momentarily) with no joy or flicker of recognition. Each is isolated in his or her concerns. I wrote a paper on him for art history, almost thirty years ago, drawing on images from Raymond Chandler and dissecting "The Subway" on layers of clear plastic like animation cels.


He painted in the difficult medium of egg tempera, mixing his paints as he went along. He could make a mix last another day by putting it in the refrigerator. He was influenced by Reginald Marsh and Paul Cadmus. He and his lifetime partner, William Christopher, were active in the Civil Rights movement. I have a book about him, but I don't know an awful lot about him. Here is his self-portrait, from 1947:

George Tooker

More pictures can be found here..

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

for Family Day (March 24)

P3240141 meet sw

On March 24, 2003, in China's Anhui Province, Cathy and I stood in a conference room at the Hefei Holiday Inn. Late in the morning, somebody handed us a thirteen-month-old girl named Xi Huan, who we renamed Sarah.

In honor of the occasion, here are some reprints from my Live Journal.

@ 2006-02-07 18:04:00
I waited at the door with the camera tonight, to get a picture of the last time my three-year-old daughter came in after school. Tomorrow she'll be a big four year old. I took a couple of shots. Sarah demanded a tuna sandwich. I managed to get a word in, to tell Cathy I'd finally heard back from the insurance people, and we weren't covered for vandalism. "Angie's grandpa died," announced Sarah.

I expressed sympathy. She asked why he died. "Probably because he was old," I said carefully. We proceeded into the den.

She asked me what other reasons people die. "Well," I ventured, "sometimes if they're in a really bad accident, or if they get really, really sick." I didn't want her to think you die from just any sickness. "I hope you don't die," she said. "Give me a tuna fish sandwich!"

I parried the sandwich gambit. We were having supper soon. She wanted me to accompany her to the bathroom. She continued her inquiries. "Why do people die when they get old?" I tried to explain without scaring her, which she so far wasn't. This was a matter of curiosity. "Well. When we get really old, our bodies wear out."

"Why?" "Everything wears out if it gets old enough," I suggested.

"Like what?" "Well, cars..."

"And trucks!" "Yes..."

"And fire trucks." She was on a roll. "Yes, and..."

"And cars!" "That's right." "Why do they wear out?"

I tried to explain that our bodies repair themselves, but when they get really, really old, they can't do that any more. I still wasn't telling her that everybody dies, everything dies. Like my dad's cousin Marilyn, who lost her battle with cancer this past weekend; but Sarah never knew her, and now she never will. It's too bad, because she was a good relative -- she had been a real support for my sister Martha years ago, when Martha was diagnosed with colitis.

My answers seemed to satisfy Sarah, who was now more interested in something to eat. I told her it was too close to dinner for a tuna sandwich, but she "couldn't wait!" We settled on some more of the orange she'd started yesterday, as long as I removed the yucky parts. I turned my attention to making food. Cathy came downstairs. Death talk, for now, was over.

@ 2006-02-15 18:56:00
the other shoe drops
Tonight at dinner, Cathy remarked that Andreas Katsulis had died. I said I'd heard that. Sarah chimed in: "Angie's grandpa died." We said we were sorry.

"Why did he die?" Sarah asked, still looking for information. This time Cathy fielded it. "People die when they get very, very old," she said. "Their body can't repair itself any more."

"I don't want to die," said Sarah in a small voice. Uh-oh. It had hit home this time.

"Oh, honey, you won't die! Not for a long, long, Long time!" Cathy assured her.

"And you won't die?" She looked at Cathy, and then me. She seemed to see us, maybe for the first time, as people who could die.

"No, honey. Not for a long, long time," said Cathy.

"We have to take care of you!" I added, "And we love you."

I looked at her beautiful, dark eyes. She was very quiet, and I couldn't tell where she was looking. I put my hand on her shoulder and leaned closer. "Ow," she said, half-heartedly.

We told her again that we loved her. Then the conversation somehow changed to other topics. The room felt a little colder as we finished our mac & cheese.


@ 2006-04-30 21:43:00
bedtime lines
"Sarah, take these dead flowers off your bed. They don't belong there." Referring to some wild flowers (aka weeds) she picked out of the yard just before I mowed it.

"They're not dead. They're alive."

"They were alive when you picked them, and now they're dead."

"Well, they're not dead to me!"

* * *

"I have tattoos on my toes. You can't see them because they're under the skin, but I can feel them."

@ 2006-04-08 13:40:00
Sarah and I were on our way to get a bagel (for her) and a souffle (for me) at Panera's. As we passed the cemetery on King's Highway, a backhoe was digging a new grave. Sarah said something about people in boxes that I didn't quite catch. I asked her what she said.

"That's where there's people in boxes in the ground that are dead." she told me.

So she knew. I hadn't ever volunteered the information that the cemetery was full of deceased people in boxes, but she had learned it somewhere. I confirmed the accuracy of what she had said. "There's a whole bunch of them by my school," she went on. Indeed there were. Her pre-school is across the street from a very large graveyard. I have a photo I took of it while I was backing out of my parking space there -- I took it in the rear-view mirror, with the words "OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY LOOK" showing. It seems that she picked up the information about cemeteries at school. Lucky me! The stuff I'm leery of telling her, she picks up on the street, as it were. We drove past another one, and she said, "There's some more people in boxes."

Then we went to Panera's, and she had a plain bagel with plain cream cheese, and our morning continued.


@ 2006-05-23 22:19:00
The fact, as of today, that Sarah has a couple of caterpillers in a cup with a vented top on it, and a stick and some leaves, fills me with a strange feeling. I don't know what it is. Is it that I remember doing this? That she's now old enough that she's doing things I remember doing? I just don't know. She's such a kid, you know?

@ 2006-05-29 23:23:00
she wants
Sarah's wants are simple. She wants the bed we looked at today, with a ladder up to the top and a desk and dresser underneath (and some shelves). And she wants a slide that goes around three times (actually two), like the one at Stanley Park. We explained that these things are very expensive. She counters that the slide costs a couple of dollars, and she is willing to contribute her own money (that is, the change she picks up here and there in the house). Whichever parent she is talking to, she cites the other parent as an authority who has okayed the whole deal.

Anybody want to buy some of our old furniture? Cheap.

@ 2006-06-10 08:53:00
in the car
Sarah and I were driving home from the playground yesterday.

Sarah: I want to take a bike ride when I get home!
Me: Well, I'm kind of tired from the playground right now.
Sarah: Can I take a bike ride with Mommy?
Me: I don't know. We'll have to ask her.
Sarah: She said yes.
Me: Really? I didn't hear her.
Sarah: (again loud) MOMMY! CAN I --
Me: Shhh.
Sarah: Okay.


@ 2006-06-11 21:22:00
It was so touching when Sarah put two caterpillars in a cup, with a stick, and leaves for them to eat. It brought back a lot of memories somehow, and the feeling of innocence that the bugs will eat the food you give them, and prosper. I was encouraged when one of them spun a cocoon (the other one apparently didn't make the grade -- or perhaps it was more successful in its escape attempts -- in which case it didn't meet any enviable fate anyway).

Then as time went on, I started to wonder just how long a thing like that is supposed to take. Were we peering in, every couple of days, on a sarcophagus instead of a cocoon? Just today we went to try and look up the information online, but we didn't know exactly what kind of caterpillar we had anyway.

Tonight as I was helping Sarah get to sleep, Cathy came in with news. The cocoon was now empty. A moth had emerged, so recently it still hadn't gotten around to flexing its wings. Sarah and I took it out on the porch and watched it continue to sit on the edge of the cup for a while. "I'm cold," Sarah said, so we went inside.

I'm hoping the moth will get it together and be gone by morning, off to a life of success. At least it made it farther than those poor butterfly wannabees I saw in sixth grade -- the younger sibling of a classmate had disturbed the chrysali early, and there were these wretched insects that weren't what they were supposed to be, vainly trying to ready their wings for the flight they'd never have. I've never forgotten those poor things, and I'm glad Sarah's caterpillar didn't share their fate. "I wanted it to be a butterfly," she said sadly, little realizing her accomplishment.

Thanks, moth, for making it.

artistic stuff

@ 2006-07-04 18:58:00
sarah on relatives
We're driving to the McDonald's in Holyoke.

"Grampaw is your daddy."

"That's right, sweetheart."

"Your daddy is my grampaw."


"Grampaw loves you."

"Yes, he does."

"Grampaw loves me."

"That's right."

"He loves me more than you. He told me so."


@ 2006-07-06 18:34:00
bye bye flowers
Sarah picked some fluffy blossoms -- tiny thistles, maybe? -- at the Fourth of July celebrations. The next day at school, she picked a bunch more and brought them home. We let her bring these "flowers" in and left them on the counter.

Tonight she noticed them again. "Oh no, they're dying!" she said. Then I think she wanted to water them. I told her they were dying already, because flowers don't live a whole long time after you pick them. While I continued to get supper ready, she decided she would take them outside, "so they can live."

"Honey, they're already dead. They..." Never mind. I stopped with the explanation. She was already on the move. I helped her open the back door, and she tossed them out onto the back steps. "Bye bye, flowers," I said, respectfully.

She turned back to me, sadly. "I let them go," she said.

I picked her up and hugged her and patted her on the back, remembering as I did those early days in China. Picking up our daughter -- literally, a little stranger -- and holding her and patting her gently, rhythmically on the back. And then I felt something: one of those unbelievably tiny hands was patting me on the back.

"I'll never let you go, honey," I said.


@ 2006-07-23 12:32:00
morning of a child
Last night, for some reason, Sarah just wouldn't go to sleep peacefully. She finally surrendered to Morpheus between 11:30 and midnight. But she seems to have gotten up around her normal time today.

She and I got in the car to go have our biscuit -- actually, to go to Panera's. About four blocks from home, she was singing part of the theme from one of the Disney channel shows.

"Everybody knows it when push comes to shove
Nothing feels better than FEELING THE LOVE.

"Everybody knows it when push comes a shove
Nothing feels better than FEELING THE LOVE.

"Everybody knows at when push a push shove
Nothing feels better than FEELING THE LOVE.

Everybody knows it when (very carefully here) push, comes, to, shove
Nothing feels better than FEELING THE LOVE!"

"Sarah, please don't sing the same thing over and over."

"I have to practice! I'm going to be in a band and I have to practice over and over to learn the song right!"

"Yeah, but..." She was using my words against me. I hate it when she does that. I tried to get her to do it more quietly, and she went on singing. I turned up the music. So did she.

We had a pretty normal time at Panera's. She got a cup of fruit to eat. Then she wanted to go to the bathroom, and when we got there, after elaborate preparations, decided she didn't have to go after all. We washed and went back to finish our breakfast. After that, we decided to go up to Holyoke and see if the merry-go-round was running. The Children's Museum doesn't open on Sunday any more -- apparently, not enough people were coming, so they decided to make it even harder to find the place open. That's sure to increase attendance. The merry-go-round was running, and we took a ride together. After that, I had two tickets left, and Sarah wanted to ride some more. I said she could ride by herself, and she did, both times on the carriage/bench seats. I ran back to the car to take pictures and a movie of the historic occasion. Big girl!

Next we played in the playground there in Heritage State Park. Mostly, she played while I took photos. I tried out the ultra-big picture mode of the camera. I haven't looked at the pictures yet. Sarah noticed some weeds with little clusters of white flowers on them, and bent down to grasp one. "I'm picking..." she started, then let go of it. "I'm leaving it in the ground," she said. I wanted to hug her.

Then she wanted to take some pictures, so I told her she had to put the camera strap on her neck to keep from dropping the camera, and she took pictures of the pretty buildings -- brick factories and mills that line the upper canal.

Holyoke actually has three canals. I never have noticed the third one, though I saw what looked like the start of a third. I learned by browsing some local history books at Barnes & Noble that the reason for the upper and lower canals was to provide energy for water wheels. That means the arch-like openings on the upper side of the lower canal weren't entryways, but places for mill water to exit. This all fascinates me, as do the somewhat timeworn brick buildings and the virtually deserted streets they sit on. I need to go back during the week some time and take several hundred pictures.

We walked along the canal toward Dwight Street, then crossed the street so she could get a picture of the bridge-like construction that carried a water pipe across the canal. Viaduct? Then I wanted to take a couple more pictures, since I hadn't been at that vantage point before. I clicked a few, including Open Square, where I once applied for a job in vain, and where Gary Hallgren, one of my personal favorite underground cartoonists, has a shop/studio, which I keep intending to go see during the week some time. The camera beeped that the card was full, so we went back to the car. I took a different route back to the highway to see more shuttered factories, and then we reached home and told Cathy about Sarah riding the horses by herself.


ps: There's a certain amount of morbidity in the selections. It reflects that particular time in our life when she was figuring that stuff out. And here's a recent pic from last month or so:

We Are All Andy

Saturday, March 05, 2011

in which we leave our hero

He sat at his table, dregs of Victory Hunny unlicked on his cheeks. He sat very still, not even brushing away a fat fly that came to inspect the glistening stickiness on his face. He tried to hum a hum, but all he could think of was “Three fours are fifteen.” And sometimes it came out “Three fours is fifteen,” and he didn’t know which was which. Owl came by with a Very Important Message about the Progress in the War Against Heffalumps and he listened attentively to it.

It didn’t matter. He knew that the Heffalumps would be defeated, just as he knew they would always be fighting them. It did not bother him a bit to hold both these thoughts fervently. He smiled slightly and hummed, “Three fours are fifteen.” He would do anything for Christopher Robin. He would give Eeyore over, just as Piglet had given him over, and for the same reason: love. The love of wonderful Christopher Robin, from whom all goodness flowed.

A tear twinkled from one eye and slowly tickled its way down his cheek. Winston Pooh was happy, happier than he’d ever thought possible. He was a Silly Old Bear.

[reprinted from Chunga 18]

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