By Stephen Mead
Drag, in the classical sense, is not something I've ever done. Aside from playing dress up as a child and later doing a graphite wash series on certain female icons, I just never had much interest in doing the actual work of it, the clothes, make-up, shaving, etc. Plus the idea of walking in anything without arch support strikes me as being akin to hot coals. Still, looking around this apartment, I can not say that it entirely lacks Drag aspects, for all domiciles are theaters. Some just have more flash.
As opposed to blinding razzle dazzle, I go in for more subdued sparkling tones. This is especially evident in the kitchen and living room windows where stands of beads hang amid the curtains. Across the kitchen walls and tiles, as the sun starts to set, rainbow reflections gradually begin, deepening as the sun goes lower, spilling vermilion.
The living room light is more southern and the turquoise strings there have a surprising warmth. There is a greenhouse garden effect in the hues augmented by a large stained glass parrot situated in the window's middle. On the mantel above are other stained glass pieces still in their leaden strips, another dusted off basement find.
At times the cats, Thomas and Speedy, are fascinated by these refracted shards of color, playing chase before curling up and dozing in the array. I too, if I let myself, can find something dazzling and then calming about the myriad prisms. It's as if they store moments of hypnotizing quiet. The windows of the farm house where I grew up, being made of a bluer, ancient, and subtly rippled sort of glass, also created such effects. I remember trying to capture that with a small 110 camera and later, in oils. Last year I saw a documentary about elderly Americans who considered such specters in their surroundings as visitations. In many ways, such apparitions were something for them to look forward to.
I can relate to that, for why should we not be able to have our instants of grace, even on a daily basis if need be? There is a religious quality about being able to find the stillness within then. I suppose
this is why I prefer houses of worship when services are not going on. The hush, the emptiness, the space is full the way one can feel full by walking among trees or through a vast field. Of course, my own surroundings are far from being as Spartan and rarefied.
The sparkle of the living room is a good case in point, not just due to the window beads but the fact that every available surface has something glittering on it. Onyx and jade marbles fill heavy glass ash trays. Dishes of clam shells compete with mason jar candles. Then there are dolphin statues and Egyptian cat figurines, and globe paperweights of spiral design beside Dutch mugs depicting sea villages, and fishbowls of potpourri continuously added to. This is all thanks to loved ones presenting me with faded flowers after anniversaries, weddings, funerals, birthdays. Certainly the cats think these things make for great toys. Just about every time I vacuum I come across a marble, a shell or some other trinket Speedy's buried somewhere. Thomas doesn't usually take the time to bury, just vanishes a split second after the crash.
Still, none of that stops this mosaic in the making, this large locket heirloom, each facet another room inside a room. Also, I am grateful to my family and friends for continuously adding to this shiny scrapbook, from a piece of elaborate mosque tile, the souvenir of an Istanbul honeymoon, to a pair of amber glass lamps, garage sale leftovers. Even the walls here shimmer with frame within frame, a gold Christmas tree garland of small harps, violins and trumpets strung in between.
How to tell the story of one framed image over another, be it the etching of a Vietnamese girl, chin tucked on her knees, or a series of New Zealand tree leaves stitched right to paper, a spotted moth pinned nearby? The truth is I am not about to attempt doing so. Suffice to say that each story was written in its own intimate language and was given to me in the same way. I share a bond with the friend of the New Zealand leaves and the artist of the Vietnamese girl etching. Each is unique, varied and individualized as the philodendrons in this room making their way up the walls, over the ceiling, down, under
and behind these objects framed. One is no less important to me than the other, and when combined with the light of this third floor tree top, like chlorophyll, there is an act of photosynthesis.
My own artwork is both shadowbox and light box for the energy of these keepsakes: so much of the long hibernation period finding its way in. Of the manifestations expressed though, at the time I still might not be entirely conscious of them.
A decade back, a year before a move to Provincetown, I found myself having to get rid of a lot of stuff. Ah, the mysteries of karma, much of it was similar to what I live with now. Again, one of the things I possessed was a fishbowl filled with flower petals. Instead of going the common sense route and chucking the lot, I poured a half gallon of house paint into a thick corrugated cardboard tray, swirled in the petals and added some spices to boot. Oddly enough, the thing held together and later an ingenious Provincetown framer helped me figure out how to display it. "Nest", I called the piece. It became a parting gift to my Ex. Even if we did not succeed as a couple, I felt it encompassed some of the best of what we attempted to share. (Yes, I know. Most people prefer alimony.)
It's been more than six years since that split, but I still see how much art was essential to my survival. Since I do so much of my work in the living room here, I've made it into a sort of shrine. Red folders surround me, red folders of manuscripts, various drafts, Xeroxes and print-outs of scanned images tucked amid shelves. These shelves, an assortment of packing crates really, are filled with hundreds of c.d.'s, tapes, and even albums.
Lines from a Rickie Lee Jones song comes to mind: "Some kids like watching Saturday cartoons, some girls listen to records all day in their rooms..." Yes, music is a very large part of my creative process, songs to conjure not only memories and feelings and to distill them into a particular piece, but music of all different types to form a thematic soundscape. From this, lines, colors, strokes,
develop rhythm, and flow. It's an immersion in a floating world, these soundtracks on paper, on canvas, a drop cloth and its splattered speckles...
In fact, the table I do my painting on has become both so stained and wobbly I have to periodically re-bracket it. I have also covered the top with layers of the mediums I use. The wood is now a lovely rough, marbled, bronzed and red glitter glaze. I sit at it, long legs stretched underneath, praying I don't topple it over when trying to get up in a hurry while being cramped with pins and needles.
Sometimes while steering myself here through a sea of brushes, rinse glasses, bottles and boxes of paints, I may look up, carried away for a spell by whatever I am listening to. Here now my eyes are landing on a plaster cast face found at the bottom of a dresser neighbors' kicked to the curb, or over there, there now, eyes on an anemone my partner photographed in close up. Behind that are dollar-store vases, each with a photo, one of Michelangelo's David a friend sent from Florence, another the statue of some fiddle player so life like it's as if his strings move.
Once I went to a local coffee house that had hundreds of glass jars suspended from the ceiling. Sturdy fishing twine kept them there, the jars filled with clear liquid and images of major international landmarks. Buried cities, cities under seas, cities from fables, mythical times...
What is this story I am painting using the materials which a child might, trying to keep the wonder of a child's eyes? It is all in motion, adrift.
Suddenly I notice that the music has stopped. The record is finished but the vinyl is still spinning. Directly across from me a silver clock of moon and stars loudly ticks, its second hand the blur of a whir.
I am in the mobile of this notebook, the mobile of this setting. I am in process, at the heart of what this process is: this table red as a heart and just as central, this room, this passage, vena amora, the life blood to everything.
Stephen Mead is an artist/writer living in northeastern New York. Samples of his artwork can be seen online at Absolute Arts and 123soho.com. He is the author of several eBooks incorporating both images and text, including his most recent We Are More Than Our Wounds. Losing Myself is an excerpt from a longer essay/memoir, A Thousand Beautiful Things.
Photos courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.
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