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Posts Tagged ‘loneliness’

Security Guard

November 12, 2014 | by

Duane Hanson, Security Guard, 1990, autobody filler, polychromed in oil, mixed media, with accessories, 71" x 26" x 13". © The Estate of Duane Hanson. Photography by Robert McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Duane Hanson’s Security Guard is on display at Gagosian Gallery’s Park and Seventy-fifth Street location through December 3. Hanson, who died in 1996, is known for his doggedly realistic sculptures of Joe and Jane Sixpack: the paunchy, unremarkable janitors, shoppers, joggers, tourists, and deliverymen of the world. Hanson’s working-class men and women are always in some form of repose, wearing expressions that range from the melancholic to the merely phlegmatic. These are people with whom the world has had its way—people used to being seen through. They have body hair. They have hangnails and bruises, varicose veins.

Hanson’s sculptures, given the commonness of their subjects, are almost suspiciously accessible, and so the temptation is to dismiss them as condescending or facile—or just tacky, a bid for the same kind of gee-whiz mimesis on display at Madame Tussaud’s. They are, after all, uncanny likenesses, and it’s easy to get tripped up on that, or to marvel at the painstaking craftsmanship. Hanson made casts from real people, and for maintenance he’d send envelopes of human hair to museums with instructions on how to attach it properly; he went to great lengths to produce convincing skin tones. All that’s very impressive, but it’d have you think the sculptures are just workmanlike forays into photorealism.

And in the wrong setting, they may well be. I could imagine how a roomful of Hanson’s work might register as taunting rather than haunting—in aggregate, the statues could lose their subtlety, all but daring you to appreciate their lifelikeness. But Gagosian Gallery has done a shrewd thing with Security Guard: they’ve put him on his own. He’s leaning against the wall of an otherwise empty space, patrolling nothing, alone. You can see him in there from the street.

“My art is not about fooling people,” Hanson once said. “It’s the human attitudes I’m after—fatigue, a bit of frustration, rejection. To me, there is a kind of beauty in all this.”

By himself, hand in pocket, walkie-talkie at the ready, surrounded by white walls and looking at none of them, Security Guard evokes the whole spectrum of Weltschmerz. Stare at him for sixty seconds and you see a bored, stoical man, an intimate of blankness, maybe solving a Rubik’s Cube in his head or thinking about supper. Stare at him for three minutes and you think, Maybe a widower. Stare at him for five minutes and you want to jot down the number of a suicide hotline, press it into his breast pocket. Take lunch, you want to say with a clap on his shoulder, Go out and get some air.

But he won’t move. As the critic Sebastian Smee wrote of another Hanson piece, “He is not waiting for death, exactly. But death sure is what his life has in mind for him. And for us.”

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Once and Future

October 24, 2014 | by

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T. H. White. Photo: Burns Library, Boston College

Perhaps you’ve read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s short stories, or the volumes of poetry she wrote (some with her partner, Valentine Ackland). Lolly Willowes, her best-known work, is a sly novel about a spinster who takes up witchcraft, and well worth seeking out. But my favorite, and the one that’s been on my mind lately, is her 1967 biography of T. H. White, a small masterpiece of humanity.

White, born in 1906 and known to his friends as Tim, was the author of the Arthurian epic The Once and Future King and a number of successful sci-fi titles. A former teacher, he was prone to passionate enthusiasms—falconry, snakes, plans—and wrote a memoir about his experience training a goshawk. Townsend Warner captures his boundless excitement about these things, his humor, his kindness. But more than anything, this is a portrait of loneliness. White had no known relationships with men or women. Townsend Warner speculates that White was “a homosexual and a sado-masochist,” although others disagree on the question of his sexuality. In any case, he was profoundly alone; Townsend Warner wrote, “Notably free from fearing God, he was basically afraid of the human race.”

He did love his dog, an Irish Setter called Brownie. Townsend Warner writes extensively about his bond with Brownie, the love he could not express in other facets of his life. Upon Brownie’s unexpected death, he wrote the following heartbreaking letter to his friend David “Bunny” Garnett, presented in its entirety on the Futility Closet blog. Read this only if you are feeling emotionally tough: Read More »

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Lonely Hunter

April 4, 2014 | by

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A still from The Shop Around the Corner, 1940.

“That’s it!” someone exclaimed to her friend. “That’s the place where they meet!” She was standing in front of an Upper West Side coffee shop that figures in a pivotal scene in the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail. They snapped a picture, they went in; I guess it was their destination. It takes all kinds, of course, and New York is all about finding your own city within a city. Hadn’t I passed a Friends bus tour in the West Village the week before?

I’ve always really disliked You’ve Got Mail, without being sure why. It’s not just that it’s twee and treacly, or feels dated. It’s not merely that it’s such a pale shadow of The Shop Around the Corner, the 1940 Ernst Lubitsch classic to which it is an ostensible homage. I remember seeing You’ve Got Mail when it came out and stalking out of the theater afterward, surrounded by my bemused high school friends, obscurely convinced that the filmmakers did not understand love. What I knew from love is unclear—I had never had anything resembling a relationship—but it’s certainly true that something about the film got under my skin. And now I begin to see that this something was, and is, about loneliness. Read More »

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Poetic Doubt; Battling Anxiety

March 30, 2012 | by

I recently read Poets in Their Youth, by Eileen Simpson. Now I’ve taken to doubting my every turn. Am I a lout? A drag on my partner’s freedom and happiness? Am I going to drink myself into a coronary or into some sort of baking mishap? Is there anyway I can pretend that I won’t die cold and alone?

Ash Ponders

Dear Ash,

From your note it’s hard to tell whether you’re a poet or a poet’s main squeeze. Those are both high-pressure jobs and generally conducive to drinking. But take heart. For whatever reason, poets today—even good ones—are much less likely to walk in front of a car, or gas themselves, or even destroy their livers than poets fifty years ago. This makes them easier to live with, I imagine. (How could it not?)

Like, perhaps, more than a few of your readers, I am an anxious person. This anxiety manifests itself in a number of ways, but one of the most taxing is when it renders me extremely irritable. Feeling overwhelmed by a cornucopia of small tasks, I sometimes experience an actual skin-crawling physical discomfort as I attempt to slog through them—it’s nails-on-a-chalkboard all over if someone tries to talk to me or sends me an e-mail or if I even glance at any of my open tabs in Chrome. I have the feeling that reading should help—but all those tiny words on a page! It just makes me feel even more agitated. Do you have any particularly soothing books you could recommend? The book equivalent of a warm bath? (Obviously one can’t take a warm bath at work. Or at least not at mine.)

Tim

First, turn off your computer. You could have the calm of a lama, and you still wouldn’t be able to read a book and keep an eye on your e-mail. It can’t be done.

Now, are you able to sneak out of the office? If so, head to the nearest library. Really. In my last job I used to take the subway up to the Forty-second Street library whenever I could. One day I got busted by my editor-in-chief. He was doing the exact same thing.

If you can’t leave your desk, then close your door. If you can’t close your door, try earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.

Readers of this column know my opinion of the Jeeves books. They are gratinee for the soul. Kids’ books lower my blood pressure, too: Roald Dahl, Narnia, E. Nesbit’s Complete Book of Dragons. My grandfather, in his long final illness, swore by Trollope.

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