“Portraits & Perennials,” an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Robert Kushner, opens tonight at DC Moore Gallery, where it’s on display through March 18. In an essay accompanying the exhibition catalog, “Do REAL Men Paint Flowers?”, Kushner writes, “So, are geometry and botany at peace? In dialogue? At each other’s throats? I would like to think that when I am done after working on it for weeks and sometimes months, there is an interesting and intentionally confusing juxtaposition between pure abstraction and linear form—that they each balance one another and create their own tightrope act.”
Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Marcy Dermansky looks at Van Gogh’s flowers.
It’s a funny thing, being a writer. Sometimes, I don’t want to write. But I always want to create. I want to make art. I want to take my mind off of the inauguration of a president whose name I cannot bear to say, or the fact that I am not writing, or the many small irritations of the day. I want to go to a better place. So, I paint flowers. Honestly, I find this to be a little bit embarrassing. It makes me think almost antifeminist, anti-Marcy like thoughts. Flowers. How cute. Inane. Painting flowers. It is so easy to devalue oneself.
My favorite place to go see art is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This is my favorite museum of all museums. It has always been a special place for me, a place I can always go back to, where I have gone since childhood. I was floored by the audacity of Donna Tartt, who opened The Goldfinch with a nightmarish terrorist attack set in the Met galleries. I often think of that fictional attack when I am there—imagine the smoke and the fear and the smell of burning body parts, as I wander amidst tourists gazing at Dutch masterpieces, oblivious. Read More
After failing to save my dying fern, I decided to look for help among experts.
Last winter, I had a moment of crisis after failing to keep my Green Clubfoot fern alive, despite establishing a complicated routine for my increasingly ailing plant: I set my fern’s pot on river rocks within a tray of warm water, for humidity; I alternated its position according to the sun, and misted its fronds twice a day. But no matter how damp I made the air or how much I considered its position to my radiator, by February it had shriveled in on itself, its tendrils drying to paper.
I spent the next spring and summer attempting to read my way into expertise, but every field guide or plant study seemed to unfurl more disparate curiosities. Did you know, for example, that ferns reproduce with spores, rather than with seeds? Since spores are invisible to the naked eye, eighteenth-century naturalists believed the seeds of ferns to be invisible—some even thought you could harness the power of invisibility if you managed to collect fern seeds and stuff them into a pocket. In Fern Fever, Sarah Whittingham describes a method by which these enthusiasts devised to gather the mysterious seeds from bracken:
In some places it was said that brake produced a small blue flowers once a year on 23 June, the night before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist, or Midsummer’s Day. The flower’s seed could be collected by stacking twelve pewter plates beneath a frond at midnight. It would fall through the first eleven plates and accumulate on the last one. However, fairies were also meant to be particularly active on Midsummer’s Eve, and if you were not careful, they would seize the spores as they fell and steal away with them.
Our newest correspondent is Megan Mayhew Bergman, who will be writing about naturalism. For her first piece she considers the writer Alan Watts and the “age of environmental anxiety.”
For the others, like me, there is only the flash
Of negative knowledge, the night when, drunk, one
Staggers to the bathroom and stares in the glass
To meet one’s madness
—W. H. Auden, “The Age of Anxiety”
Living in rural Vermont, I enjoy proximity to wilderness, though I observe its sickness at close range. In spring, my family marks the return of swallows and red-winged blackbirds on the barn door. But the migrations are off, and the frosts are late, the harvests erratic, and the thaws early. Though the landscape looks bucolic, and the foliage bright, industrial perfluorooctanioic acid poisons our wells and the herons in town fish from polluted ponds. This year, the maple season started three weeks earlier than ever recorded, and some ski resorts saw only a few days of snow.
In the last decade, as I’ve followed the harrowing environmental data, I’ve experienced sharp pangs of human guilt and fear of the future. Fortunately, I’m able to turn to books like medicine in times of crisis. Recently, on an eighty-five degree October day, my crimson dahlias unusually fat and healthy outside, I felt my anxiety bloom and looked to Alan Watts’s The Wisdom of Insecurity, A Message for an Age of Anxiety. Read More
I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring
Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick Read More