Seven Hundred Years ago–Haizi

7 Aug

Agnes Martin

By deliriumliberty

When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind.”

–Agnes Martin.

***

In the darkness of Chaco Canyon, over one of the larger Kivas, I spoke with a young Navajo man who wished to sleep with me, responding to his proposition by telling him that I wasn’t into men. Well, what was I doing here, he wanted to know.  That was a tough one, and I stammered something out about having studied Chaco Canyon at my university.

You’re on a quest, he said.  

Yeah, I admitted, something like that, a sort of an aimless quest that included living in my car in the Walmart Parking lot and rushing off from my six-day-a-week dishwashing job every seventh day  to see Pueblos and ruins. 

But the closest I got to a moment of enlightenment came about because I helped out an artist by the roadside.  He was driving a black model A and had run out of gasoline.  I can’t remember his name.  But because I helped him out, I got inducted into this circle of artists in Galisteo who all admired Agnes Martin.  I particularly enjoyed talking to the one-legged man who had invented a prosthetic leg and had it stolen by a corporation.  He did not have to work, since he had taken his Agnes Martins, which were gifts, and rented them out to a Museum in Paris.   Through him, I got vaguely acquainted with her as a sort of sage, an artistic savante, an orphic source of cryptic wisdom.

I had never been much a fan of abstract art, but I felt that I should use one seventh day to go to Pecos and have a look at these paintings that some said radiated the soft, inner fire of creation.  So I made the winding, forested trip from Santa Fe to Pecos, and I tracked down her miniscule gallery.

I sat a long time, despite a tearing pain up a long, hard muscle in my back.  I have to say that the experience for me was uplifting, serene, and deeply persuasive.  Years later, I sat with a roofer-mystic-jailbird who pointed out that if I looked deep into the sky, was peopled with swirling spots of light.  This was that same sort of giddy,  irridescent, meditative experience.

Ketro Chetl, Chaco Canyon

Now, I have another “quest”.  I am going to Haizi’s hometown–or as close as I can get to it.  My guide, my old girlfriend from a couple of years ago, hasn’t much interest, but she almost formulated a perfect trip, which would allow me to visit Hangzhou and Suzhou and the Yellow Mountain as well, but the tour company would not allow us to break off to search f or a bus treck to this backwater village in

Gray Stone II, Agnes Martin

Southern Anhui province. But whether she can use her saavy and come up with a plan B or not, there is a plan C.  Put the cash in my pocket, take up all the maps she printed, get in a taxi, and head to the airport and then to Shanghai and from there, take a train to Hefei and then on to Anqing, and so on.

Seven Hundred Years Ago

Haizi, translated from Chinese

***

All that remains today of the imperial city,

Seven-hundred years ago resplendent,

Is a shabby, grimy village.

In that year, I drove a horse packed with highland barley into the city;

I traded grain for eighteen heads.

Nine remain.  I have buried them in the center of the city—

Nothing has yet burst forth.

In a mountain cave, twelve wild beasts wail in unision,

Dreaming of becoming eagles.

A last cave upon the mountain peak,

Dreams vainly of sky.

A feeling invades me,

As if I were trudging a road, faint with hunger.

In the gloom, I scrawl my religious doctrine:

Untitled #2 1977

Once again on Earth:

Let there be light.

****

My work is non-objective… But I want people, when they look at my paintings, to have the same feelings they experience when they look at landscape, so I never protest when they say my work is like landscape. But it’s really about the feeling of beauty and freedom that you experience in landscape.

—Agnes Martin

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