Thoughts About Dad
I had an interesting conversation with a couple of friends yesterday. One person was saying that she understands that I'm still grieving, that that's why I'm doing all this work. She was talking about how all this "stuff" from the earthly life can be an obstacle for departed souls to break free, all the stuff and the emotions tied up with them...that Mom's idea about making a big funeral pyre with her paintings was really quite a practical idea....that it would have been very liberating. And, she continued, the reason that I'm doing this with the work instead, is for the benefit of the family, that we have something of them to hold on to...She also says that she's seen my dad's work and that he really couldn't be called a "master", if he had, it would be selling for allot more than it sells for...
Well...it's a big topic, and I really didn't have my wits about me to follow through with this conversation, so I've brought this home with me to sort out in a coherent way that I can clarify...what's really going on.
Granted, the process of sorting through these images is arduous and emotional for me, but I think I'm not grieving so much as filled with appreciation...which translates into wanting to share. And the other friend's comment, that all of these things...art, photographs etc that people surround themselves with are just a human tendency to want to possess, to capture and to hold. My response to that was to tell them about my dad's little statement that "responsibility = the ability to respond"...which I think is much closer to the motivation behind all of this work...drawing was their means of being responsive/responsible...and MY means of being responsive/responsible at THIS point is to share this, beyond their capacity in their lifetimes, with the world. Somebody else had to do it for artists historically...and it is not so much about grieving or holding on to for us, as it is about HONORING. I think the question of whether they were masters is determined by the history of their practice. Like tea bowls, the expression of their process evolved through time...and they did become masterful through time in their practice of SEEING and training their hand to their eye...maybe not in ways that everyone will appreciate...but in ways that merits acknowledgement among the few, perhaps more than a few, who recognize their language and value their process. Ultimately, I think it all comes down to the historical context in which they practiced their art...and perhaps that silly little word that Pirsig made so much fuss about...
Which is NOT all about making a masterpiece! This is something that I think about allot as I sort and organize these hundreds of slides. I remember Dad's work was so much about just keeping the responses going, almost like a compulsion to keep the world alive by participating through response. EVERYTHING was given its due...dog food bag collage, Buttreys and Bozeman Daily Chronicle collage, daily lists of things to do, a poignant passage of a favorite book...with a stool attached to be able to take the time to read it, homages to masters, homages to friends living and deceased, homages to family to homes to current events. An homage to the 100,000 mile celebration with a bottle of champagne at the spot on the road when the Volvo odometer turned over. And when the responses moved from the external environment to whatever materials held his attention...paint, pastel, charcoal, ink, wood, mylar, fabric, concrete...elements of collage or construction, the pieces became simply that - homages to the elements in the simplest assemblages to complexly arranged juxtapositions of esthetic deliberation and specificity. He played with them and worked with them and found solace and struggle in their presence. Like a musician with notes, a writer with words, a dancer with muscles and bones...
Sometimes the responses were fascinations with a theme, objective or non-objective. Variations on a hillside (Wolny's Hill, Karl's Hill), variations on the simple form of the tie...for ten years, variations of his imagination and fascination about the theme of the Rapture and what he came to identify as the "Flight Series", variations of the human figure. Events of his life like trips to Cannon Beach, to Cliff Lake, to Portland, to Kentucky, to Paris, to the Winter Fair, to the Bozeman Hot Springs, to Pow Wows... all became subjects of recurrent themes, models for exploration and variation of the familiar. And always the people...wherever, whatever context he found himself among people - family, friends, strangers - he drew them. Whether three line sketches or layered toiled dredging of semblances, he was fascinated with the visual presence of people. These portraits were a life long exploration of responses to the essential form and expression of individuals. Full of soul, indeed! And not so as to hold or to capture, but to respond to, to be response/able to...to have a presence with.
I never regarded Dad as an out door kinda' guy. He was not a hiker or recreationalist. He had no overt compulsion to be outside, other than the camping trips through the decades with family and friends. But when I began to sort and organize the loose files of random multitudes of slides labelled "landscape", I realized that I'd forgotten...how much time he spent in his observations of nature and the surrounding environment of all these contexts of his life. Interiors, natural and urban landscapes were a presence of visual form for him, and to which he responded with the same repetitive return to places as he did faces, whether familiar or fresh and unknown, he saw them in multitudinous ways, he made the unknown familiar and he made the familiar fresh. When I saw these drawings and paintings in order, I wept. The familiarity of this home up Cottonwood was as much so for him as it was for me who spent years exploring on foot and on horseback, (and always with a camera) the mountains and the trees, the context of our home.
Of all this work, some of course became studies or exercises toward a greater piece of work. Masterpieces. Serious paintings, prints, portraits. But the process of his responses and his observations were the soul of his work. The ninety some sketchbooks, the hundreds of "little drawings" on scraps of paper and note cards bound with rubber bands in his pocket for perpetual and easy access...the napkin drawings from nights of social discourse at the round table....like the drawing with chocolate sauce...or orange peel collages right on the table...nothing precious, just a way to make a mark...THIS was the thesis of his work. It's the markings of the little events, the moments of acknowledgements, the return to the familiar in a new way. Homages to the moment.
When Pirsig talks about "dynamic" quality as that moment prior to consciousness and to identification of that moment, like the leading edge of perception...that is the edge that drew Dad to his work....and which so much of his work reflects. Modernist, postmodernist? He certainly didn't define himself by those terms....he just lived there! Perhaps in that historical moment when the modernist world acquiesced to the relaxation of a hierarchy of classical form and found value in all things equally, the revelation of a quality in all life. I don't think Pirsig saw Bob DeWeese as a spiritual guy. He just recognized him as a presence in the world he himself was tracking in his mind. Prior to his arrival at the DeWeeses (in the book), all of his thinking was internal. I think he recognized in my dad a receptivity to his own inquiry, an empathic spirit of familiarity, despite the fact that they spoke different languages. Trying for the Absolute...the Whole Yin Yang Yazoo, Forget to Remember/Remember to Forget, About All I Had to Say for Today....(titles of various pieces of Bob's over the years)...and SURE! ANYone can do it!
Tina DeWeese 2012