Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sunday Tales.

For reasons familiar to some that know me personally, I'm having a bit of difficulty embracing my job conditions this particular June. I'm ready for the freedom that I'm typically blessed with during this time of year. So to some degree I'm finding myself acting like I usually would, despite this year's peculiar circumstances. Even after spending all of Sunday at an outdoor family barbecue, I found myself wanting to continue the carefree socializing into the night. Not really feeling any strong motivation to go out to a bar, I decided instead to join a couple of friends for some mellow conversation in one of their homes. Inevitably the talk turned to our work lives, but before that we exchanged stories about artists that we've known.

My friend L. has spent time with many artists throughout her several decades of involvement in the arts scene. She's amassed quite a collection of artwork by both local and national creators, and much of it has been acquired through trade. She fell to talking about many of the pieces that were on display around us as we sat around her dining room table. As anyone who collects art knows, there is usually a story involved in every single acquisition. Her tales are usually quite interesting, as she runs in unusual circles with folks that are often quite freakish by conventional standards. In fact she owns several works by various "outsider artists"- some of whom have acquired widespread prominence.

Our informal examination turned on a specific piece created by one of these more prominent figures. Although I'm tempted to identify the artist in question, I've decided to respect his privacy because of the nature of the story L. shared with us. L. has actually been friends with this individual, and has spent time in his studio. He was once a hell-raiser, but found God and renounced his sinful ways. After his "rebirth" he devoted his life to producing a very idiosyncratic body of work that features his current obsessions with a millenarian brand of evangelical Christianity. His work is often darkly apocalyptic, and quite challenging to the largely progressive and academic paradigm of "Modern Art".

Anyway, L. says that this individual (who I'll refer to as N.) never tried to push his beliefs on her, despite the fervency of his faith. But despite this restraint, L. had a very strange experience one time when N. came to town for an exhibition. She put him up in her house, and his initial appearance on her front porch was accompanied by what she took as a foreboding omen. As he ascended the steps and had a seat on the ratty couch, a large black raven swooped down and perched on a nearby post. L. says she had never before seen such a bird on or around her property, and its presence unnerved her. In her account she had an overwhelming sense of "evil" and traced its origination to N.'s person.

This was an odd reaction for L. to have in proximity to an individual whose company she had enjoyed for a long time. When she explained this event, she expressed an astonishment for what she basically interpreted as an almost supernatural phenomenon. But as unsettling as the whole thing was for L., I didn't find her apprehension of it to be that extraordinary. In fact I've had similar interactions with a number of strangers throughout my life, as well as a few that I've been amply familiar with beforehand. It is interesting to me to see how different folks process seemingly mystical experiences. I think these incidents reveal more about the witnesses than the objects of their attention. Everyone seems to perceive these manifestations in a form that they are somehow prepared to understand.

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