Monday, January 30, 2006


[For a lecture at Cuny-LaGuardia, 2004]

Some Paragraphs on a Paragraph by Eileen Tabios
by Thomas Fink

The concluding section of Eileen Tabios's Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2002) is "A Triptych for Anne Truitt." and this "triptych" exemplifies the conceptual density, imagistic richness, and subtle narrative layering of the book as a whole. The title of the third prose-poem in this triptych, "The Continuance of the Gaze" (117-119), announces the text as an anthem for the viewer and the artist's endurance, and indeed, the artist is "always already" a viewer, and visa-versa. The "you" in the opening paragraph might be an art lover, a lover of human beings, an artist, two or all of the three, or yet others, but I am interested in reading this paragraph as guidance for a contemporary painter hungry for a clarification of his/her painterly poetics when the usual "trial and error" is too trying and error-laden:

Can you see with such compassion that I might mistake your lucidity for the high line of a clearing sky, when instead it is the song of foam cresting a distant wave? Can you pay the price for risking perception and imperceptibility? Can you be surrounded-- sink into, then be uplifted -- by the singularity of a color emanating from a teal painting tiny enough to stand on one hand? I have felt Michelangelo's slaves surge out of stone. I trust in radiance. Let: Us. (117)

How does the artist assume the challenge of "seeing" what is unfolding, let's say, in her/his canvas or sculpture with "compassion"--with the ability to set aside personal gain and self-flattering gestures in order to make a contribution to the perceptual experience of others? Is it to "trust in radiance," to pay attention to that unfoldingpatiently until "radiance" manifests itself?

The co-presence and equivalence of "let" and "us," rather than the obvious "let us," urges the artist to "let" the artmaking process lead to "radiance," so that the felicitous intersubjectivity of an "us" can be established. If this successfully achieved "compassion" is posed as a cause not only for significant "perception," like the ecstatic release of "Michelangelo's slaves" from the "prison" of his "stone," for miscommunication-- the viewer's mistaking the intention of one tropological imagistic/figurative possibility for another--"imperceptibility" is not necessarily a negative result of the artist's "risk" but the inevitability of endlessly proliferating imaginations.

Further, "imperceptibility" may not be caused by flawed rendering; the very mystery of what is considered imperceptible enhances the appeal of the artwork for the viewer and the artist who cannot, as interpreter, contain effects produced by her "creation." Both of these participants in the art-making process can be psychologically "surrounded" by emergent "radiance"--paradoxically in a spatially tiny area--and then experience aesthetic immersion, a further relinquishing of control that makes them "sink into" a kind of quicksand, and finally, realize the reward of being "uplifted"--relieved of the discomfort of surrendering the ego by a lightening of psychic gravity, an exquisite simultaneity of plenitude and weightlessness. And if the "song of foam" lasts only a moment, it can come again in other "emanations" of color, shape, and motion.

Tabios's notion of "compassion," then, is as far from self-sacrificism as it is from self-indulgence. Its "trust" in "radiance" nurtures the open, patient cultivation of possible causes and conditions of perceptual "lucidity" in selves and others.


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