I once made a newsletter called Greymatter. I began writing it when I realized that in catching up with friends, I was frequently asked what art I could recommend - and we would spend the rest of our time together going down the list with folks taking excited notes.
If all your friends know you’re an artist, this is a likely problem. I thought I could probably visit with my friends in a more even way if I wrote all the recommendations down for their reference—and then nobody would have to take notes. So I did. It worked a treat. A friend even helped me name the newsletter.
Art—rather like life—is a holistic system. Even Picasso’s wildly popular Cubism owes a widely unpopularized debt to African artists. It seemed to me that any artist who has claimed to be an island was probably very wrong… and the apparent impulse to make such claims is perplexing. It has always been far more interesting to look at a real ecosystem rather than some tired myth of a lone genius.
Start with a book—and a book leads one to a painting, to an album, to a film. Pretty soon the newsletter had those things, too.
I stopped sending Greymatter despite what I am told was a high open rate (~70-80%) because it felt like busy-work in the context of the service I used to draft it. Substack feels lighter - pared down, airy. As with many things now, I only intend to do this if I like doing it. So, here goes - once more, and perhaps again.
I hope this brings beauty to your door as summer fades.
The Long Look
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I began reading The Wounded Storyteller months ago and I’m taking my time. Every second or third paragraph something is written which is deeply true, keenly well-researched, and at times startling in its illumination. I set the book down, digest, and pick it up again, my breath in my throat. For anyone interested in a complex and humanist text around the body… look here.
The English translation might miss some of the nuance and cleverness of the original French, yet this quote serves as a compelling recommendation:
“[Gentleness is] … power that is also soft, nobility that is also humble, sweetness that is also intelligent, subtlety that is nevertheless striking, fragility that has the potential to subvert the status quo.” I submit that we would do well to hold this kind of thinking close to us in the times ahead.
Anything with ‘resist’ and ‘economy’ in the title will delight my dirty socialist’s heart, yet this text in particular seems positioned to also make it sing. Odell does the work of relating one influence to the next, charting a course for some which may, to others, feel less like pioneerism and more like a homecoming. If you’re already a fan of the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer, this text seems to set its bullseye in relating some of the same indigenous frameworks to the urban settler set using terms they might already understand… and bless, it’s needed.
Upon reading the first three paragraphs I set off joyously cussing through the house, book in hand: she’s just that good. Her brilliance is generous, as it always was—her wisdom at once timeless and starkly relevant. Nothing I can say is enough. You don’t need me to tell you this, but for whoever does needs to hear it: this is a must-read, must-own, must-revisit-indefinitely.
May she rest in power.
By this time, Moses Sumney is beginning to get some real attention - as well he should. Vocals are gorgeous, virtuosic, and entirely unselfconscious (even if the lyrics may demur)—I find myself mumble-humming ‘My wings are made of plastic’ as I mix colors in the studio. The music videos for this album are Art, with sequences which would not be out of place in video installation in a white box gallery: thematically complex, at times emotionally conflicting - a fascination. Don’t sleep on this.
And a new, infrequent category…
The Moving Frame
iTunes • Prime Video
I saw FAST COLOR before knowing much about it - which could be shortly explained by the fact this awe-filled film only opened in 25 theaters total. It is mind-boggling that such an effervescent work could be so overlooked - and yet that seems a theme in a year like 2019, in which people who believe in goodness get knocks.
Here, however, all that’s gold stays: this film brings every beat home. As soon as I saw it, I immediately watched it again. When I heard some critics panned this film, I had to wonder: Do they have souls? Do they hate their mothers? Are they, perhaps less overtly, someone who is only happy when a cast conforms to irrationally limited ideas of what [super]heroes should look like?
These questions and their answers pale in comparison to the sublime, elemental, fiercely beating heart of the work.
Until next time - in art and resilience,