Friday, October 4, 1991

STELLA MARIS freewrite


It's 5 am, Venus and Jupiter in conjunction with Jupiter,
someone says the star of Bethlehem
on the eastern horizon, new crescent moon
in the old moon's arms star of the sea.
I remember  sleepwalking to the front door
awakening to find a configuration like this
celestial bodies, the planets are aligning themselves
venus in the moon's halo appears to be holding the new moon
and holding the old moon in her arms
Venus Stella Maris I awoke naming the planet by its Latin name
where did that come from? I was baptized at the Star of the Sea
church. Some say it's really 1993 years since the birth of Christ
some priest or another got it all wrong way back when
the millennium is approaching at lightning speed
how many time since the year zero, or 3 ad
have Venus and Jupiter crossed paths
of course, everything's relative
it's what we see from here, this place.
that we designate as the most auspicious of signs
above me, Orion's belt suddenly i remember
a pictograph I'd seen somewhere
was it New Mexico, Hawaii
the small man dancing on the horizon
I recognized Orion. The names of stars
arabic and greek interpretations
thousands of years after the naming
what were the Hawaiian names
or the Indian names for the constellations?
The Pleiades directly overhead
the Celtic new year. The night sky takes on a significance
in my subconscious
I am recognizing a passage of time
our creators were more finely aattuned
to the movements of the stars
now we're lucky if we can even see them;
 the lights of the cities
a common denomonator for the madness
that sits within the absence of ritual
biological clock finely attuned to the measurements of seasons
the equinox another rare celestial event full moon equinox
and hunter's moon in one Paleolithic beginnings
haang from that orange orb
is it merely pollution that makes it orange?
I remember the August eclipse moon over Kiev
not knowing it was an eclipse
I watched the moon bleed in to the evening sky, 1989
In less than a week I'll be  traveling to Kiev again,
my 3rd trip to the USSR in as many years
this morning I'm off to Montana
listening to Tracy Chapman singing Mountains of Pain.

October 4/1991

Uh-oh a lot of ascii at the bottom—never a good sign

Thursday, October 3, 1991

Making Things: Artist Raymond Barnhart 10/5/91

 Assemblages by Sebastopol Artist Raymond Barnhart

THE SUM OF ITS PARTS— Barnhart outside his Sebastopol work space with one of his "relief constructions,"
Consummation. "I want to please the work. I want it to please itself."

We asked the captain what course of action to take toward a beast so large, terrifying, and unpredictable. He hesitated to answer, and then said judiciously: "I think I shall praise it."   —Robert Hass, Praise


I recalled the twist on reality and an unexpected visit from poet Bob Hass' poem, Praise while viewing Sebastopol artist Raymond Barnhardt's latest exhibit, "Recent Constructions" at the California Museum of Art in Santa Rosa, California.

Because everyone's response to my queries about Raymond Barnhart and his work was the inevitable raised eyebrow, followed by an incredulous: "You mean you don't KNOW about Raymond Barnhart's illustrious career?" I gulped, and found that the best recourse was to praise it. Taking the beast by the horns—by asking Barnhart niggling details about his second career as an assemblage artist (painting was his first career) seemed sacreligiously inane and so unintelligent. Excuse me, your slip is showing...

And so, at a recent artist's lecture at the California Museum of Art (CMA), when the venerable artist himself was introduced by museum director Duane Jones as "Someone who needs no introduction," I thought, aww feck, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was right: "You can only ask questions and die." Luckily, the lecture was a quorum of questions ranging from "How do you name your art?" to "What kind of power tools do you use?" The questions were all answered by Barnhart, age 88, with such thoughtfulness, verve and wit, I was in love with love itself.

Artists know firsthand that one of the challenges in art and poetry is to create something that is profound, but with a sense of humor. One who can accomplish both—without lessening the impact of the statement—is a Master. Barnhart's elegant, formal masterful assemblages are intentionally playful, they delight the eye, they make you want to laugh. 

Conceptual artists make us look at ordinary things in a new way, they redefine our limited perameters of "definition." It comes down to rearranging concrete nouns into metaphor—Plato's nemesis. The metaphor of Picasso's bicycle seat and handlebars as a bull's skull. Man Ray's steam iron with nails, and Christo's running fence—all share that spirited kinship to challenge the senses and reality. How we see the world.

In his youth, Raymond Barnhart worked as a riverboat deck-hand, carpenter, fruitpacker, and window designer before becoming an artist. A painter during the first half of his life, Barnhart received his MFA from Ohio State University, and he was an instructor at the University of Kentucky for 32 years before leaving and moving to California in 1958. 

While teaching a design and wood sculpture class in Mill Valley, and from his contacts with the Bauhaus novement, Barnhart found his true medium: assemblage. His assemblage work is classical in the sense of composition, aesthetics, and design. From the Conceptualists, he incorporated the use of found objects. And he made a just marriage of it.

But whereas Conceptualists diverged, exploring man's alienation in society, Barnhart's work is full of hope and compassion: it reflects the linear sentiments of art, beauty, balance, harmony; it transmorgifies limitation as set in stone by various art movements: it remains unswerving in its devotion to the aesthetics of art.

Wind-blasted, sun-bleached, and burnt materials juxtaposed against man-made rusted and tarnished discards become the poetry of deserted places. Fellow Sonoma County artist John Kessel said, "Raymond Barnhart assembles diverse, objects to create visual poems that evoke either man's place in nature—or man in contemplation before nature. Some pieces tell a story, and all are poems which convey an impact. This is an art of redemption and reconciliation."

Raymond Barnhart's contemplative "Homage to Albers," a tribute to former teacher and Bauhaus master Josef Albers, is essentially a 3-D painting made of found materials. So many relief constructions, or constructed reliefs that double as sculptures, are also subtle and painterly—the wrong color value or texture would destroy the harmony. 

The piece entitled "Yesterdays," for instance, is made of mullein leaves and weathered boards accented with traces of vermillion and rust. "Straight Guy'" has a cerulean blue backdrop for the book, embellished with old Mexican coins—Quetzocoatl's centavos and cobwebs (intentional or otherwise). 

Many of the relief-constructions are formal in composition, and all have stories behind them: "Playtime," an elegant moment from another era, is captured with that one lost glove and fragments of a mirror set against a pale peach and tender green backdrop, while "Op-Art?," evolved from a run-in with a wood-munching gopher absconding with dried fruit in a prune tray—the ultimate recycler's revenge.

"Sort of an Altar" is in keeping with pre-Christian animistic Native, and Latin American traditions. Barnhart spent considerable time in the Southwest and Mexico studying new materials, including vinyl resins under José Guiterréz. 

Other pieces evoke a Japanese aesthetic. Simplicity and clean lines—an oxymoron when one considers the human detritus from which these constructions arise, phoenix-like, from our discards. 

In the Japanese sense of the tradition, Barnhart is Sonoma County's "living national treasure," an honorary title the Japanese bestow upon their finest artists. As it tums out, in 1962 and I963, Barnhart took a sabbatical in Kyoto, to observe traditional culture. His assemblage, "Memorial" is in the contemplative spirit of a Japanese Zen garden and is "quintessentually Raymond," as one art patron committed at the exhibit.

When someone asked. "How does the spirit enter the work?" both Barnhart's wife, Genevieve, a jeweler-sculptor, and CMA Director Duane Jones interjected in unison: "Because it's there!" A variation of the famous Adele Davis quote banged around in my head: "Your art is what you meet." 

Perhaps a more hard-hitting audience question was "Why is this art?" Barnhart sanguinely commented: "You're no beffer than what you are—you do the best you can. I make what I want—the best I can. Some people call it fine art. I don't have the ego to call it that, I just make things." At a previous an show, when an observer snarled, "What's this supposed to be?" Barnhart replied, "It already is what it is!"

Barnhart attributes his interest in recycling found objects both to his youthful visits to the city dump and to his job at a large department store where, like Andy Warhol, he got his start in the arts by arranging window designs... for women's corsets and brazierres. "I'd see something interesting." An under-statement. Apparently his bosses who kept abreast of his provocative displays, agreed: two year later he was appointed head of the entire display department.

According to Barnhart, bringing a relief-construction into the world for public display is usually a process of elimination rather than of adding to the composition. And he arranges things by degrees—the way a mechanic fine-tunes the points on a car: if the dwell-gap isn't just right, the end result is a car that won't run and you're on foot far from home some dark and rainy night. CMA Curator Duane Jones commented, "When one of Barnhart's assemblages undergoes subtle rearrangement, it might take months before it is completed."

"The piece and I become a team," Barnhart explained, "We grow together. I start off with a plan, but wonderful things happen along the way. I want to please the work. I want it to please itself, and I want people to respond to it. I'm not the great artist who makes things difficult to understand—children like my work." High praise, indeed.

When an art patron asked if he plains an assemblage in advance. Barnhart replied, "No, that would be like meeting three people you've never met before and already you've figured out how to manage them."

Barnhart commented that one of the first pieces to sell at the CMA exhibit, "Crisis" featuring Japanese dolls, is "an absurd sort of piece, it doesn't make any kind of sense. It's a kind of insanity that I had to follow." He compared his own artwork to how some people react to stress. "It's absurd; a pun." As is his purple mouse and throne, "Her Highness."

One piece with a conundrum of a title, "Emanon," is merely "no name" spelled backwards. Barnhart said, "I ask the pieces, what is it you're really standing for? I limit my definitions to a deliberate vagueness, because if I'm specific, I'm narrowing it down. You are not limited by your own presuppositions. I name my pieces purely for identification purposes. If you don't like them, why then, make up your own name."

Barnhart considers himself to be a third-rate carpenter with a proclivity for the hand saw. He said, "I'd rather do it by hand; it's in keeping with the material I use. I'm pretty conscietious about using authentic wood." He elaborates that nothing can mimic the natural aging process of the elememts—which gives his works their characteristic patina. 

Though owing to the fragile nature of his material, Barnhart doesn't imagine his art will outlast an art consumer's grandchildren. Barnhart says, "I use lots of nails. And glue is a serious proposition. It's embarrassing to have you piece come apart."

Barnhart reflects, the process of finding a home for the artwork is is often painful. "I hate to see some of them go, or to put prices on them." He dislikes working through a regular dealer and insead prefers that potential buyers come directy to the source, so he holds an annual open house and studio (this year's Open Studio is Sept. 28 through Oct. 6). 

Barnhart's prices are downright bargains—far below that of lesser artists' work-because he wants to make his art affordable to artists. One artist friend paid installments at $10 month for three years. "It should be on the wall for someone to appreciate." At any given time, he has over 150 pieces floating around his studio and home. At a dozen pieces a year, he's not a prolific artist, but then, he says, he doesn't do it for the money.

Bamhart migrated to Sebastopol in 1969 with "all the cumbersome impedimenta of an assemblagíste." He described his hand-built home, work areas and studio located in the hills west of Sebastopol, "like having an enormous library.' He peered over his glasses and said to me: "You're a poet; it's like your having a dictionary or a thesaurus." 

His "library" of reference material from which he draws upon to make the assemblages that are slowly born into this material world——is extensive. Sometimes it takes years to get each piece jiust right. Thirty years' worth of material slowly continues to evolve, or devolve, as the case may be, patiently awaiting the resurrection into art. 

Barnhart says he sorts things according to shape and substance: rebar, stones, bones, feathers, 2x4s, weathered barn-siding, etc. He says constructing assemblage is not like painting—from a few tubes, we can mix millions of colors. "I start to work on a piece. it tells me it wants something—then I have to go out and find it—without knowing exactly what it is." And so the hunt and peck system begins.

Barnhart's assemblages continue to appeal to the senses and delight the eye, because he is a master of composition and serene harmony. I am struck by how much "sense" his assemblages make—found objects, each with a particular history. The equation of this-is-to-this as that-is-to-that. Some found objects incorporated into the art have been knocking around Barnhart's studio since 1957. Other bits and pieces, are flotsam that people have give him. Finding a home for wayward objects requires persistence, patience—and a reverence for what they were in past lives. In Raymond's art, the whole is always greater than its parts.

"Recent Constructions" by Raymond Barnhart is on exhibit at the California Museum of Art at the Luther Bubank Center through Nov. 3. Also on view are assemblages by Santa Rosa artist Charles Churchill. Museum hours are 11 AM to 4 PM, Wednesday through Sunday. For more informaition call 527-0297.