When William Carlos Williams wrote “No ideas but in Things," I'll swear he was thinking of 'thing' as resting within its original meaning -- A meeting, an assembly, a joining. A juncture. A Junction -- Things are happening in West Oakland. Poetry is rooting in the earth, attaching to fences, drifting skyward.
“The subject matter of poetry,” Wallace Stevens reminds us, “is not ‘a collection of static objects extended in space’ but the life that is lived in the scene that it composes; and so reality is not the external scene but the life that is lived in it. Reality is things as they are."
And here are things as they are at Peralta Junction in West Oakland. Everyday a new cheerful painting appears on the exterior wall; Nome and Eskae's two story mandala is very nearly finished, and Haley's blue whale is leaping through vibrant waters. None of these artists is being paid to create these magnificent works of art.
They paint for love, for community, for our collective futures.
Imagine that. They paint for you, for me, for us -- all of us. Not 1%, not 5%, not 47%. All of us.
They are creating art, life, future . . . and poetry.
Rene Magritte stated in a letter to Sarane Alexandrian: “I conceive of the art of painting as the science of juxtaposing colours in such a way that their actual appearance disappears and lets a poetic image appear . . . There are no ‘subjects,’ no ‘themes’ in my painting. It is a matter of imagining images whose poetry restores to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable."
And, so, here on a dusty lot in West Oakland artists are working together, collaborating consciously and tangentially to “restore to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable."
They are working magic and transforming reality. Burlap becomes beauty; Shipping containers canvases.
Reality is productive activity--green mountains forever walking; a stone woman who bears a child by night--an endless phenomenal flux, and therefore, if an artist wishes to reproduce the ‘real,’ that reproduction is necessarily unstable, in a constant state of revision, layered stroke upon stroke, much like, perhaps, the unfinished but glorious paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder, a painter much admired by the quintessential modernist painter Jackson Pollack who once defined modern art as “the expression of contemporary aims of the age,” aims that might be described as the physical manifestation of collective desire, the reality of things not as they ‘are,’ but as they are becoming.
Let the noble creatures of the sea live. As we enter this time of actual sea-change, let us awaken our imaginations and see through walrus eyes.
To love the world so deeply as to want to recreate as recognizable, beautiful, and as verifiable images that can be preserved is a grand and even graceful ideal, and it is equally marvelous to summon the unknown and allow it to coexist with the known.
To welcome the unknown is to trust that there can be a future and also, to allow that future to be imagined and created.
George Oppen writes in Being Numerous,
Because the known and the unknown
and as witnesses, we can recover active memory, capable of dialoging with the future. True vision, clear seeing, comes not from recording the limits of things but from hovering outside those limits and noticing what transpires at the border between the known and the unknown, the past and the future.
That shifting border, indescribable and uncontainable, is reality.
Art is that which connects us, as artists and as people. Art is the vibrancy that reminds of our skin, of the borders that separate us, of the love that can penetrate those borders without destroying the subtle communication of distance.
Art need not deny realization, or transcendence if we learn to love and to keep love.
“In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games,” as Emerson writes, “we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.”
That ‘expression,’ barbaric yawp or not, can exist as invitation to each other and to life.