The Tangs and I

by | Mar 21, 2020 | The Hungry Eye

There is a famous scene in John Woo’s Hard Boiled where Chow Yun-Fat rescues a baby and raps to sooth its cries, as shots are fired and bodies drop in the ensuing battle. The quality of lightness in the midst of chaos, the lovely face of the child listening to the warrior, and the inherent humor remind me of the Tang’s poets. The technical framing of such a scene is nor dissimilar from the rigid rules governing Tang poetry. How to create beauty hemmed in by tonal, grammatical and symbolic regulations… how to be deadly serious in a crazy world yet maintain an insouciance acknowledging ephemerality. I like to think I have a bit in common with these poets who wrote gorgeous poems, seemingly about landscape and atmosphere with an undercurrent of Leonard Cohen… a certain weight of anguish with a leavening of laughter.
… and of course the images unfold continually into deeper and branching narratives. The characters themselves have multiple meanings and pictorial references.
I recently finished two paintings. One a Brooklyn sunrise on Myrtle Avenue:

36 X 48                   Myrtle Ave                 oil on panel

one a winter landscape:

48 X 60              Winter                oil on panel

Each is very concerned with light and dense thingness. It was in the midst of working on Winter that I began connecting the Tangs with my pictures, in particular the John Woo-ness of Li Bai and the dreamy ambiance of Meng Hao Ren. One could be happy with just seeing water, ice, reflections and fallen birch, but it seems so much an accurate self portrait. My brother’s perfect response was: Makes me want to be a leaf. 

I began to feel quite jolly about these long-ago poets being around me and my pictures… a bit of a Cheshire Cat interior smile feeling. When Winter was finished I took in its cousins hanging nearby. I like them as a quatrain:
                 Myrtle Ave, Non-Euclidean, Winter & Cartwheel