I have been making small paintings that look like collages of torn postcards and mail art…although the only real paper in these are the postage stamps…everything else is done with paint (including the “Air Mail” labels. This is a backup project for the Tactile Arts’ “Text” members’ exhibition, since there is a slight possibility that my original embroidered piece may garner disapproval for the word ‘fucking‘ that I have used in it. Fair enough, it’s a craft organization and not an art organization, and self-expression takes a back seat to tradition and execution in the world of craft. I’m going to make it, anyway, because I want it for our own boat.
The alternative project is not a lesser one…these postcard paintings are an old theme of mine, and I always did want to make more of them.
The paintings start with some text…often something lifted out of my journals from when Kris and I lived in El Nido, Palawan; sometimes just a story or description that I remember from those days—an image or experience that I treasure. I write/paint the story on the canvas (as much of it as will fit!) and then start to layer ‘torn paper’ effects, images, patterns, stuff related to the story. I pick a complementary postage stamp (I bought a beautiful antique stamp collection, from a dealer in old coins, that I keep for collage work like this), paint on a faux label, add finishing touches like gold leaf, and then varnish the piece.
It’s been lovely, nostalgic work…re-reading my journals, resurrecting memories from our time among the islands, looking at our old photos, browsing through the stamp collection, digging up the poetry books that were my constant companions during those years.
By Yusef Komunyakaa
For Derek Walcott
An island is one great eye
gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
of glass on the mainland, a seagull’s
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
out to where the brain may stumble.
But when a mind climbs down
from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
& has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
& plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
filled up with centuries of waiting.
Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
& seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors’ parrots spoke of sirens,
the last words of men buried at sea.
Someone could stand here
contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
behind today, but tomorrow’s beyond
words. To behold a body of water
is to know pig iron & mother wit.
Whoever this figure is,
he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger’s log,
ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
he intones redemptive harmonies.
To lie down in remembrance
is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
& sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun’s blinding eye,
born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
stretching out over the white sand.