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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in MoMA (3)


In Which We Experience The Subtle Ferocity Of Cy Twombly

photo by Mario Dondero, Rome. 1962

The Rush


Cy Twombly was born Edwin Parker Twombly Jr. in Lexington, Virginia on April 28th, 1928. The nickname Cy was passed along to him by his father, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, who himself was nicknamed after the famous pitcher Cy “Cyclone” Young. Twombly Jr. graduated high school in Lexington in 1946 and over the course of the next four years proceeded to study at the Darlington School in Georgia, at the School of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Washington and Lee University back in Lexington, and finally at the Art Students League of New York where he would meet fellow artist and friend Robert Rauschenberg.

It was during his time in New York that Twombly became widely exposed to the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning.

Living in New York during the rise of American post war painting allowed Twombly incredible insight into the present art world. Of his experience as a young man amidst the new art capital of the world, Twombly recalls "In New York I lived in galleries ...I hardly ever went to school. I looked at anything and everything." It was here that he would create his earliest calligraphic or scribble paintings, influenced heavily by the paintings of Franz Kline.

Soon after his arrival in the city, Rauschenberg convinced Twombly to follow him to the famous Black Mountain School, where they would spend the summer and winter of 1951. In 1952 the pair would be awarded grant money by The Richmond Museum of Fine Arts, allowing Twombly to travel all across Europe and North Africa, ending the trip in Rome. Only a short distance to the Tyrrhenian Sea, Rome’s bustling city streets were studded with monuments and heavy with history, simultaneously modern and ancient, solemn and celebratory. It was here that Twombly would be exposed to, and inevitably fall in love with, Italy and its rich heritage and culture. In 1957, at the peak of his career as a young American painter and sculptor, he relocated permanently to Rome.

in Rome 1960

Actually, it wasn't all that scholarly, my reason for going to Rome. I liked the life. That came first.

I fantasize often about a young Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly sitting street side at a cafe, having coffee on a warm Roman afternoon. It is easy to see them both there, well tanned and wearing summer shirts, casually discussing the merits of assemblage and found objects in sculpture. Two of America’s greatest painters vacationing in a city known both for being holy and pagan.

An artist friend of mine once told me that Twombly and Rauschenberg, at one point during their initial travels, began to argue over the fact that Twombly was spending all the grant money on artifacts. Twombly, like Van Gogh (who once said he’d rather buy a Japanese print than buy a weeks worth of bread), would forgo food and even financial security for art.

untitled bacchus series VII

It was easy to become enamored with Cy the moment I read he was an American abstract painter who up and left the heart of the American art scene at its peak in exchange for a quiet villa. But this was not the exact moment I fell in love with his unique take on abstract expressionism.

I first witnessed his Quattro Stagione series on a cold February afternoon while visiting MoMA. I didn’t yet live in New York and had only been visiting with a friend, but I managed to make two trips to the museum during my three day visit.

I had spent the previous summer studying art in Florence, surrounded by the culture and language of Italy. At this point in my studies I was insatiable and wanted constantly to see and be surrounded by art. Upon entering the MoMA atrium that day I recalled having only heard of Twombly in passing. His name sounded funny and I couldn’t recall what slide was attached to it during my Post-War American Art lecture the previous semester. This all changed the moment I saw the towering Four Seasons and the word “primavera” scrawled haphazardly in pencil across the canvas. I stood there entranced as the white walls of the MoMA began to fall away and suddenly, without knowing it, felt myself as close to experiencing Stendhal syndrome as I ever have.

photo by robert rauschenberg

The Four Seasons, those are pretty emotionally done paintings. And I have a hard time now because I can get mentally ill. I usually have to go to bed for a couple of days

Because what exactly was I seeing here for the first time in person? The Four Seasons were equally symphonic and chaotic. It was painting but drawing, it was representation but not, it was brutal and delicate, equally calligraphic and gestural. Inverno (Winter) felt dormant and cold, Primavera (Spring) felt painfully temporal with its tiny hyacinth like purple splotches, and L'Estate (Summer) was blinding and dripping, as though Icarus’s wings had melted right upon it. There was the neon yellow of pollen and the deep crimson of dried blood. White paint permeated the canvases like a fog or a veil and reignited in me a barely bridled lust for painting and paint itself.

After that first encounter the more I read about Twombly, the more he became everything I desired from a painter and artist. He was an expatriate who continually subverted his own genre and culture, who did so almost gently and with whimsy, who breathed new life into seemingly archaic themes. A man who would not be confined to one medium or mode, who was informed as much by history as by his own impulses, and who, most alarmingly, was still alive and working 60 years into his career as an artist.

robert rauschenberg's photographs of twombly in Rome

To paint involves a certain crisis, or at least a critical moment of sensation or release.

Twombly easily stood apart from his contemporaries, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, because of his general refusal to incorporate contemporary imagery and subject matter into his work. Instead of examining humanity at large through contemporary symbols and icons, Twombly paired the painterly impulse of the Abstract Expressionist movement with themes that are more in line with those of the poets Ovid or Rilke than that of a modern newspaper. This in contrast to Johns and Rauschenberg who would often use actual newspaper in their works, directly referencing the present, incorporating contemporary objects and imagery.

untitled Twombly work

People make too much of the mythological titles. For me they are just a springboard. They're especially alive here in Italy and in Greece. But it’s simply about human beings. Human emotions haven’t changed much.

When I look at Twombly’s work I am struck by his allegiance to both the past and present, to that which is inherent and that which is contemporary. His paintings are the incarnations of fever dreams, wrestling equally with myths and his own perception. His works are the result of raw impulse mediated with such devotion that the result possesses and mesmerizes us. His palette is at once dazzling and of the earth.

We are made to think of mud, sea foam, wine drenched mouths, plums, peonies, and flesh as much as we are made to think of greying marble and roman ruins. Language floats throughout his work as gregorian chants might echo in a cathedral. The phrases haunt, beg repetition, and demand to be swirled around the mouth and ruminated on. His use of language at time evokes equally the first words of a child and words murmured in the heat of passion.

Action must prove from time to time the realization of life. Act is therefore the primary sensation. In painting act is the formation of image, the mechanical action of its evolution. The direct or indirect impulse brought to exasperation in this high act which is invention.

- from an interview in L’Esperienza Moderna

What at first would appear to be childlike in his scrawls and smears will often reveal itself to be phallic, bloody, or relating to bodily fluids. His depiction of Leda and the Swan is not a charming pastel image of a doughy nude caressing a swan, it's the raw aftermath of a struggle. Here is a tumult of feathers, blood, scratch marks, phalluses, hearts, breasts, beaks, scars, and stains.

"Leda and the Swan", Rome 1962Twombly’s dizzying red Bacchanal series is as much blood as it is wine. If you’ve ever read anything about Maenads you’ll understand why these paintings evoke both frenzied fear and drunken ecstasy. These depictions are true to the very base of the mythologies from which they spring forth.

It is through Twombly’s reconsideration of these themes that he urges us to also re-examine their nature, and by extension of our own mythology, the nature of ourselves. Twombly himself has spoken of his works as sort of an experience, the resulting images are what is left behind. The art critic Roberta Smith noted that "his raw mark making could be seen as Surrealist automatism pushed to unprecedented extremes."

I'm a painter and my whole balance is not having to think about things. So all I think about is painting. It's the instinct for the placement where all that happens. I don't have to think about it. So I don't think of composition; I don't think of colour here and there. All I could think is the rush.

The MoMA acquired a sampling of Twombly’s sculptures. I visited them on the first viewing day and found myself no less enthralled. Of his sculptural work Twombly remarked, "I love my sculptures, and I was lucky I had them for fifty years because no one would look at them, and I really liked having them around." It is clear to me why Twombly didn’t mind having these works around. I found myself hardly aware of my own presence when looking at his masterful assemblages. They are quiet works, not exactly monumental but none the less objects made to drink in and know. They feel ancient, beyond design as we know it today, just as his paintings often feel primordial.

Rauschenberg combine materials photographed by Twombly

Twombly has stated that “white paint is my marble”, and it is clear here that this is effective, because these sculptures appear classicized and almost spiritual. They embody a sort of playfulness in material that gives us a glimpse at Twombly’s sense of humor. A paint stir, a paper cup, or plastic leaves take on the feel of a mausoleum in their stark white incarnations.

Meanwhile brief instances of blue crayon and electric pink paint provide shock and excitement, their pigments suspended somewhere between subtlety and ferocity upon the white surfaces. One can even see the artist’s own thumb print imbued in neon pink, calling to mind a certain lipstick mark that was left on one canvas of Twombly’s triptych Phaedrus by the artist Rindy Sam, who could not keep herself from kissing his work out of adoration.

Q: Do boats have a particular meaning for you?

CT: Yes, boats. I like the idea of scratching and biting into the canvas. Certain things appeal to me more. Also pre-historic things, they do the scratching. But I don’t know why it started.

Q: It’s a very basic kind of mark making.

CT: Infantile.

I cannot bring myself to blame Sam for kissing one of Twombly’s works. How could anyone? Twombly has more often than not made me want to use my hands, to grasp either at clay or at paint or conte crayon, to speak and read in languages both my own and not. As Jerry Saltz put it, his work will make you start thinking between your legs. The very infantile and instinctual impulses that gave birth to his work make me want to tear into blood oranges and blackberries, to dig my hands deep into the mud, and to drink in color as though it were wine.

Twombly continually reminds me of the very pleasure that is to be found in merely existing, in being human, and in having the miraculous ability to control language or line, be it on paper or canvas. It is both painful and impossible to imagine a world without Twombly, but not nearly as much so as imagining a world deprived of his artwork. He is and will always be my favorite artist.

Amanda McCleod is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She wrote about the sculptures of Cy Twombly here.

"Queen of (K)nots)" - Matt Nathanson (mp3)

"Modern Love" - Matt Nathanson (mp3)

"Drop To Hold You" - Matt Nathanson (mp3)

The seventh studio album from Matt Nathanson, Modern Love, was released on June 21.

photo by robert rauschenberg

The Finest Artists of the Period

Elaine de Kooning recalls her time with Mark Rothko

A conversation with Picasso

Alex Carnevale on the life of Fairfield Porter

Hilton Kramer on the legacy of Mary Cassatt

The surrealists and Giorgio de Chirico

Amanda McCleod and the Whitney Biennial

The unfamiliar masterpieces of Bonnard & Vuillard

Molly Lambert takes an art class

Will Hubbard and Franz Kline together at last

Amanda McCleod and the sculpture of Cy Twombly

The studios of the damned

Joshua Bauchner on Anselm Kiefer

Amanda McCleod sails along with JMW Turner

Alex Carnevale on the meaning of the self-portrait

Will Hubbard connects poetry and painting

Wal Mart, Lexington, 2007, Photo by Cy Twombly


In Which We Are The Parent of the Child

Take Me to the MoMA, Mama


I imagine the crammed rooms at the MoMA on a Saturday afternoon to function similarly to our breathing cycle. Admittedly, I do not know much about it, about this system of contracting and relaxing, of the tray-kee-uh, the bronchioles and the capillaries. I have heard that the process of inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, occurs fifteen to twenty-five clicks per minute, which I confess, seems a little fast. And I know about the exchange of gases — CO₂, O₂ swap — but really, my modest knowledge and propensity to understand complicated systems abstractly, enlists my imagination far more than any facts, and as a result each MoMA room behaves like a lung, emptying and filling, emptying and filling. So much so that the canvases appear to curve and the rooms appear to round, simply to accommodate the weekend throngs.

But when the crowd passes and the walls exhale and recede to their usual shape, the interim moments are entirely private. I am joined by a little girl, maybe seven or eight, a stray in yellow Osh Kosh corduroy overalls, one strap tighter than the other, who seems to have been plucked from boredom or Wonderland—it really could be either—and who is following the lines of the room, walking its square shape, making sharp turns at each corner.

Arbitrarily, she stops in front of paintings, yielding to their size and colors: riotous blues, bruised purples and greys. In this room, more so than in others, the themes seem far darker and potent. A Munch hangs ominously; its figures holding their faces in anguish, the sky olive and stormy. Next to it a painting of a train station is stricken with bold, lawless, black lines. And beside these paintings, the little girl in her corduroys, with her ponytail curling like a comma, seems oddly placid. She occupies the whole of the room.

I notice something compulsive about her step but quickly appreciate that she must be playing a game in her head, something with numbers perhaps, repeated numbers, a series, a rhyme, or maybe her game is more elaborate and imagined and is one she never stops playing. I envy her absolute abandonment of the world, but only fleetingly, similarly to how I envy my childhood in moments of laziness or dramatic despair. She walks the length of the room once and starts again without the slightest hesitation or nudge back into reality. She is in no hurry to return.

It would be so easy to kidnap her. The thought surprises me. Its conception is entirely bizarre and unprovoked and I am embarrassed and shocked, but also amused by my own self. Admittedly, at twenty-three, I am quite captivated by kids, but never to the point of kidnapping them. I begin to wonder where her parents might be. Museums are not that dissimilar to parks or malls, and yet they are often scattered with unaccompanied children, wandering and wondering, both. They stumble through mazes of legs and more legs, chasing their brothers and sisters and cousins, pointing at things and people.

The parentless child at the museum is cause for little alarm: the father or mother is never too far. That’s probably him over there holding the small jacket and hat, swinging a camera in his free hand. Or maybe it’s that woman over there standing beside the string and rock sculpture, fixing her hair. Childless parents and parentless children are everywhere at the MoMA on Saturday afternoons.

With each thumb behind an overall strap, she wanders to a woman sitting on a bench in front of Monet’s water lilies spread across a single wall. There is nothing else hanging in this room. The woman, her mother I assume, looks young, yet weary and worn-out. Somehow she holds a jacket and a purse, a shopping bag and a book, an apple with a bite in it and a poster rolled up in plastic. Her shoulders droop and her hair is pulled back into a loose, unassuming braid. Her daughter will always remember that braid, its exact texture and smell.

I have learned, although only recently, that most patterns in my life are often a symptom of larger things happening to me or around me. They are projections or buried thoughts that surface in my day to day. They appear and gather, and soon connect like fated, figured constellations. Recently it’s been a veritable ‘I Spy’ of somnolent mothers and fathers.

My parents, both living in Montreal, both remarried, both visibly weary, have given everything to me and my brother. I used to hear it when we’d fight, hear that loaded everything, and I used to catch glimpses of it when revisiting those burdensome photo albums. Only in the last year have I have really noticed the wear of that everything. It lies affectionately in the deep set bags under their eyes, in the grey of his beard, in her mistakes when cooking and correcting papers at the same time. But it exceeds the visible traits of growing older, too. There is a depleted sense of something and it surrounds them with a cheerless glow. Even when we are close, sitting side by side on the couch, there is a contemplative distance I cannot yet pin down.

The girl in corduroys is bored. Her mother notices and pulls her close, squishing her into the shopping bag and jacket. Playfully, she takes her daughter’s little chin and turns it towards the Monet, ushering her to a specific part. She whispers something. The mother tries to explain the painting. She asks her daughter, What do you see, darling? Her daughter is uninterested. With her finger in her mouth, she looks around the crowded room— full and round with people. I think we make eye contact. Her mother, still sitting, pulls her daughter close once more and tries to tell her something about the lilies, the brushstrokes, the colors, Monet. She wraps an arm around her daughter and points at the canvas.

They’ve been seen like this before, perhaps on a bridge somewhere, staring off at a horizon, or a city skyline. But the daughter grows irritated and begins to sigh. She slouches and crosses her arms. She takes long, tedious breaths. Her tiny chest rises and falls, rises and falls; inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. She wants to go, right now. Mom, please. I don’t want to be here anymore. The mother playfully twirls her daughter’s ponytail. The little girl gives her a look and backs away. The mother returns to staring at the painting. She takes a long, sleepy breath. She closes her eyes, opens them and says, Darling, just two more minutes. I’m waiting for a fish to jump from the water.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here.

"Bunker or Basement" — Fionn Regan (mp3)

"The End of History" — Fionn Regan (mp3)

"Noah, Ghost in a Sheet" — Fionn Regan (mp3)

photo by autumn de wilde, drawing by fionn regan


In Which Light Is the Queen of Our Senses

Piles of Bones


This past August was my first month living in New York City. At around age twelve I can recall considering the MoMA to be a mecca of sorts upon my first real visit. It contained some of my most favorite paintings in the world, and I could have happily lived there and dwelled amongst those works until the end of time if it had been up to me then.

One of the earliest story books I can remember having was Linnea in Monet’s Garden. Yes, a story book about visiting the home of the great impressionist himself. Do you know that they even have a cookbook about Monet’s home? Well, they do, and the meals are paired up and photographed in various pastel rooms of his estate.

I still dream of going there of course, standing on that japanese bridge, looking out at the same reflections Monet himself was so captivated by. Other artists evoke daydreams for me as well. Caillebotte makes me want to drift lazily in the wooden row boats in Central Park. Turner made me swear I’d see sundown in Venice one day (and oh did I ever), and Whistler still makes me want to expatriate.

I recall a very impassioned lecture in which I was first introduced to Ensor in a Political Art course. “Look at the masks," my professor exclaimed, "That’s you!" Was it me? I felt aghast. The faces looked dead and terrifying; they laughed, committed violent acts, wore eery childish grins, and mocked you to your face. These masks expressed a total lack of reason, an idiocy, a violence, a lack of cause or sense.

Ensor had grown to despise the drunken debauchery of his home country, and their notorious masquerade carnivals. His famous masterpiece, “Christ’s Entry Into Brussels” was a brutal critique of the bourgeois people. “He loved people and empathized with them, but also criticized them passionately" my professor explained. "He hated them for their dim interest, laziness, their overall lack of control."

Our professor had forced us to read Marx and Nietzsche in the first half of the semester, and upon the midterm, made the only students to get A’s stand up in front of the class and promise to assist the ones who did not (I got an A, and changed my major the next semester to art history). I looked forward to lectures like most people look forward to their weekends. That is what Ensor reminds me of: a sort of burning passion.

“To some extent, the future of painting was determined in that attic” - Paul Haesaerts

To see so much of Ensor’s work in one place alone is an exhilarating experience, greeted by earlier works, consisting mostly of murky portraits and gorgeous greying landscapes of the artist’s native home, Belgium. It even smells beautiful in there (this also happened to me in the Uffizi). The exhibit is scented like you might imagine the streets of Olsted would, like waffle vendors and the faint smoke from a pipe and dessert wines. I am not sure how this happened, but I approached “The Rainbow, After the Storm” (1880) and immediately felt weak in the knees.

My Grandparents had in Olsted.. a shop selling seashells, lace, rare stuffed fish, old books, prints, jams, china, an inextricable jumble of assorted objects constantly being knocked over by a number of cats, deafening parrots, and a monkey. My childhood was filled with marvelous dreams an frequent visits to my grandmother’s shop, with it’s iridescent glow from the reflections of the shells, sumptuous lace, strange stuffed animals and terrible savage weapons that terrified me. This exceptional milieu without doubt developed my artistic faculties and my grandmother was a great inspiration. - James Ensor

Ensor, deemed “the painter of masks” by the poet Emile Verhaeren, is known for participating in the Tachist style of painting. The term tachism is derived from the french “tacher” which means to mark or stain. It should be noted that after leaving the Academie Royale Des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (he enrolled in 1877), Ensor returned home to refocus his studies, setting up a permanent studio in attic above his family’s shop.

In 1883 he co-founded the artist group Les XX (also referred to as Les Vingt), a group which advocated the freedom of personal expression over any certain style of painting. This is only a small insight as to why it is difficult to confine Ensor’s work within the brackets of any one particular “ism”, but this assertion of ‘staining’ by way of the palette knife is spot on for many of the works within the exhibit. “The Rainbow, After the Storm” is a work in which the horizon is barely discernible, and the sky appears a fresco inspired symphony of paint.

In the distance a pale arch of color is born against the clouds, not quite vibrant, but arresting all the same. This and other works depicting Olsted and Brussels suggest the artist's quiet love for his country and all of its natural beauty. Ensor's painting confronts me with vast skies, cascading light, and a sense of atmosphere which feels almost ethereal. I have always favored Ensor for the versatility of his palettes, but I didn't expect to be seduced so by his handling of natural light. His subjects had such life inside of them and yet the paint itself was so visible. There is no way to compare him with any other painter.

I don’t have children, but light is my daughter, light one and indivisible, light bread of the painter, light soft part of the loaf of the painter, light queen of our senses, light, light, illuminate us! Animate us, show us the new routes leading to joy and bliss. - James Ensor

I move along and find my feeling of ethereality is not misguided. There are many works which are religiously inspired in this show, notably “Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise” (1887), “The Tribulations of Saint Anthony” (1887), and “Christ Calming the Storm” (1891). Adam and Eve are expelled by a radiant angel three times their size who appears to be producing the most spectacular light. They turn in shame, two indistinguishable human figures rendered in the same tones as the earth they themselves have sprung forth from.

"The Tribulations of Saint Anthony" is a painting literally out of this world, so much so that it scarcely suggests any perspective and instead presents us with the absolute torment endured by the poor saint. Are you one of those people who is interested in how monsters and demons have been portrayed in art throughout the history of time (especially those great medieval ones)? This painting is for you. It is feverish, delirious, fantastic, certainly unlike anything I’ve come into contact with before. It only hints at what Ensor would infuse into his later masterpiece “Christ's Entry into Brussels” and the works following.

Yes, our actions are pictorial, our inventions are enormous, our thoughts are tragicomical, our temptations are burlesque, our desires are born of the flatlands, our paradises are made of dough and condensed milk, and our endearments are made of butter. - James Ensor

Ensor in some way empathized with Christ’s suffering and torment, and feeling so used this theme of tribulations repeatedly throughout his career. I find the line between empathy and parody to be a blurred one, and yet Ensor portrays himself as Christ numerous times. Is this arrogance or sincerity?

Such portraits were suggested as metaphors for his suffering due to critics' poor opinion of his work, and in the same stroke they were also allegories for his disgust at the inhumane tendencies of the public. In "Calvary" (1886) Ensor portrays himself as Christ on the cross being pierced by a spear bearing the name of a popular art critic of the time.

He has also portrayed himself as a skeleton, a herring being eaten by skeletons, an insect, a head on a platter, a "pisser", and as himself being assaulted by demons. Ensor has an ability to make you laugh, feel solemn, feel horrified, laugh again, and then feel complete awe. As if made uncomfortable by what they saw, patrons of the MoMA's Ensor exhibit default to laughter to thwart their discomfort. There are a few that make me giggle, “Self Portrait with a Flowered Hat” (1883/88) in particular, but other works are far more grave in their assertions.


Vision is altered by observation. The first type of vision, the common kind, is the simple line - dry and with no attempt at color. The second is where a keener eye makes out the value and delicacy of the different shades. This type is already less comprehensible to the common man. The final kind is where the artist discerns the subtleties and manifold effects of the light, its planes and gravitational fields. These progressive investigations after primitive vision, undermining the line and rendering it subordinate. Such vision will not be widely understood. It requires long observation and attentive study. The common man will merely see disorder, choas and impropriety. This is how art has evolved from the Gothic line through the color and movement of the Renaissance to arrive at modern light. - James Ensor

Moving through the rooms the theme of death becomes far more prevalent. An equally stunning and chilling work, “Skeleton Looking at Chinoiseries” (1885/88) is one of the first in the progression of the show to depict Ensor’s trademark skull.

It is yet another in a series of works that he revisited in the late 1880s when his work was about to undergo a great transformation. The painting was once a portrait of a sitter, now changed into a skeleton who seems to be situated beneath a waterfall of colors. This work at once ignites a sense of unease and interest. The colors seem to celebrate life, and yet the tilted skull whispers that one day we’ll be just as he is, a pile of bones.

This same sense of being drawn in persists once the theme of masks begins to dominate the works. I feel haunted, mocked, accused, estranged, and fearful all at the hands of these paintings. Is he expressing the misery, the anguish, the nature of turmoil that has befallen his beloved country and town? Is this his own personal tribulation? In 1888's "Mask Mocking Death" the masks themselves appear to have no sense as to fear death, they are so disillusioned, so far from human. White paint dominates the canvas and a chalky pinkish background offers no sense of space or depth, but only allows the masks to crowd further into the frame. With hollow eyes the skull stares out at its viewer undaunted by the madness, delivering an unwavering truth - life extinguishes.

I want to survive. The transiency of the pictorial material frightens me. Poor painting! An art exposed to the incompetence of restorers and the imperfections of reproduction. Yes, I desire to stir future generations for a long time to come. - James Ensor

Up on that sixth floor exhibition, I felt overcome by the paint, which is second only to being overcome by sound. Visiting the depths of every lightwave and spectrum, I have been shown life, death, chaos, madness, catharsis, calm, nightmares, and still each vision was alive with delicate rendering. Such an atmosphere is like going to church in a sense, so much divinity and damnation in one place.

Amanda McCleod is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here.

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"Sensing Owls" — Jose Gonzalez (mp3)

"Hand on Your Heart" — Jose Gonzalez (mp3)

"Stay in the Shade" — Jose Gonzalez (mp3)