Friday, September 4, 2009

the Lonely Metropolitan

In my path was a box of diaries, the first 67 notebooks. Being allowed almost nothing but idleness in the extraordinary heat of late July/early August, I picked up a book at random and started reading: it was 1990 (the cover is above). That’s a year I could never read before. I was trying to be hopeful in a bad situation around a negative person. The diary gave me an interesting perspective on today.

An artist was all I wanted to be; it was the obsession. A Working Woman in New York City, I instead maintained a wannabe status, if only in my mind. Help and time was the ultimate Nirvana. My boyfriend told me that any help came with strings attached and the whole thing was impossible anyway. He said he had given up the game and didn’t even want to go to openings, which was sort of odd because that was where we met. My response at the time was that my job at Bergdorf Goodman had all kinds of strings attached anyway - I can dream, can’t I?

In this blog I don’t say half of what my life is like but let’s just say that I am a part of the global economic freefall. But to read of the impossibility of an art career, in light of the present - despite the freefall - gave me great hope and a strange satisfaction. I beat the odds.

By the time I got out of that stupid relationship, I did not even dream of being an artist. I got very sick along the way and that dream was a luxury I could not afford. The dream was so much kicked out of me that when Katherine Dunn brought it up upon my return to Portland, I burst into tears.

- So it blew my mind to read how “impossible” a real art career was and that all these years later, I had it. There isn't even room for anger at the ex-lover because the reality of a life in art – my own and others - is so strong, I was almost shocked and surprised when I read it. I am not in touch with him at all.

When in San Francisco last year, I actually ran into the woman who introduced us and encouraged the match. “Hi, remember me? Remember him?” As if I could ever forget. I was speechless and cold as ice unfortunately.

The same year – 1990 – I made a series of photomontages called The Lonely Metropolitans (subtitled We Dream of Leaving the Ghetto). The title is of course borrowed from the famous photomontage by Herbert Bayer.

By then I had lived in NYC for 4 years. I was well into my 30s but still slept on the floor to make room for work. During this year I also had surgery and the recovery gave me time to think – about art, love and compromise, work, money. The collages are the direct result of the introspection. Many unsaid things floated on an elevated circuit in my inner life. Just which ghetto did I want to leave? The bed on the floor? The ditch in these works was almost where I ended up. By 1991 I was so sick I thought I was dying. In some ways the collages articulate the letting go of the art dream. Mission Impossible as it turns out.

I never really commented on that work at that time. It wasn’t discussed with anyone and they were not shown. These days I tend to think that “art is a conversation” - if that’s the case, then this work did not exist! The years passed, the relationship and situation came to a close and I never really looked back at that work. I think that’s because the images – like the Targets of today – were so “obvious” to me. The personal and private holocaust just seemed like something you did not have to explain. But of course that’s not really true.

All of this was on my mind when I received out of the blue an email from Robert Tomlinson, a curator who was putting together a group show at the Jupiter Art Center in Centralia, Washington. It just seems completely remarkable to me - and maybe it’s not - but which pieces did he want to show? The Lonely Metropolitans. If he had asked me just two days before, it would have been like an archaeological project. But there I was, sorting through the diaries which held their naissance almost 20 years ago.

The show is called Portland Photography, which I love because I am not really a photographer. I am in good company including Sika Stanton, Grace Weston, Heidi Kirkpatrick and Loren Nelson. The Lonely Metropolitans are there, perhaps possessing the oldest bits of paper to grace the room: every single one has pieces from 1933 issues of Die Woche, a German magazine reeking of Nazism without ever displaying one swastika. It oozes sepia in every ditch, bootstrap and hungry child.


self taught artist said...

thank you for sharing this. it gave me succor as in my own way i feel i am giving up art right now in order to go towards it if that makes any sense.
your passion shines through.

namastenancy said...

I admire your strength, determination and courage because that's what it takes to survive and continue creating. I think that "we" survivors who beat the odds must have that determination in our DNA. You found a way.
Brava! Brava! Brava!
On another note, I found myself getting all tearful about your time of pain and sorrow and sickness. I went though a bad time as well but ended up shredding my diaries of the period because they were just a long sad saga of suffering. Kudos to you for making beautiful art from that pain.

sharonA said...

What a great post, Eva. I can't believe how much it evoked the loneliness, the drive, that now-or-never feeling that came back to me too while I lived in New York and it has stayed with me ever since. Well, the loneliness is gone. I've come back to a veritable Utopia of welcoming artists in the Pacific Northwest. Not that New York doesn't have that - it really does. But somehow, one can stretch out for miles here.

Eva said...

Thank you very much for the comments.

Nancy, I threw out a diary only once - and have since regretted it. I was 19 and had one book which took ages to fill and was, to my mind, full of BS. So I was in Europe and threw the book away. Within a month I started writing again, determined to not be so full of BS (right!). When I returned to the States, I read all the previous books - painful because I started at age 12 and was a lousy writer with a lousy life. But I saw some value there, if only for myself and decided to keep them, warts and all.

Anonymous said...

I kept a journal from the time I was 16 until I was in my 30's. I recently retrieved the boxes from our attic and secretly began to read through them from the beginning. It was quite the revelation. Amazing how much we forget when we don't write it down. Of course you have to risk finding what you would have wished had stayed forgotten, but much more that you are glad to once again remember.

admin said...

Interesting post Eva. And congratulations on beating the odds.

Reminds me of a quote about measuring success not by what you have, but by what you gave up to get it.

The recession began for many artists,well...when they became artists. Living with limited resources ain't exactly new.
The irony is so many who took the road-most-traveled are now unemployed. Put their dreams aside to work on a career, and now have neither.

Over the years met some famous, rich and talented people. What it taught was no amount of money, connections, or external glory would make a better artist. It was a liberating realization. Didn't need to curry favor or network. No unnecessary socializing. The onus was on me. Make work that means something. And then do it again. And again. Until you can't (or won't) anymore.

Thanks for sharing Eva, and letting me comment.


Eva said...

Hey Anonymous,
Many people close to me had conflicted feelings about my diary keeping. I even heard once "I can tell you've been writing again" - which really meant I can tell you've been thinking again. And it is true that some things are better forgotten. What I love most are not so much the events but the states of mind. It's so easy to forget what being 18/28/38 was really like. Maybe some people and their lives are static and things are a given. Not so with me.

Anonymous said...

The unexamined life isn't worth living.

nod said...

it's so nice to know you.. smiling

Eva said...

Sean, Whoa, I hadn't really considered before what you contributed here. I tended to think that the reason I was broke was because I chased art so much. But I could have ended up unemployed anyway, like so many others - and not have had either, art or money. Scary thought....

CAP said...

Great post Eva.

Anonymous said...

HB! And many more.

1990 was a big year here, too.


Eva said...

Thank you Dammit! Nice you remembered.

virginia said...

Its always a pleasure to read the posts when you talk about your own realities, because its authentic- wish that was not such a rare quality!

Anonymous said...

OK Eva, so I just came back from my first visit to Manhattan, and you were right, this was way over due. I have no more excuses for my blindly naive perspective you repeatedly pointed out to me. I placed excessive expectations on myself and the city I visited, and in both cases, exceeded my wildest fantasies. I finally saw some of the world's greatest art and saw immediately that all the beauty and brilliance I had waited so long to see was encased in a harshly dualistic world of haves and have-nots. I thought about how great a place the Manhattan would be to live, if I had a lot of money; and how hard and harsh that same city is to anyone without money. I returned to Portland with an even deeper appreciation for how in this unique art scene, the work trumps the money. I want to believe that talent combined with heart and soul produces great work. I am convinced that the arts community here validates that belief. We may not have the Met, the Frick, the Whitney, and Chelsea, but have a bottomless well of heart, soul, and talent.


Eva said...

Yet surely you do remember Duane that you pay what you can at the Met? And the best galleries in this country: free.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, that's part of the reason I was able to afford the trip in the first place. But, since I have no possible means or circumstance that would allow me to live there, my opportunities for taking advantage of those amenities are extremely limited. What I am alluding to is the arduous task an artist faces in simply surviving in New York if they are not part of the successful elite in the Manhattan arts community. I'm not saying New York doesn't have great art, of course it does, it has much of the best. However, the price for work from that market is very, very high.
I have no disagreement with your comment and I appreciate you response.


Eva said...

Hey again Duane,
Actually last night a small group of artists were having the same conversation about surviving as an artist - in Portland! Not easy times here either.

eve said...

how interesting you only threw one diary away... you should write a few paragraphs in an empty book about that discarded time.. so the two volumes bookending the lost time wont feel anxious :)

i'm reading backwards.. i am sorry you dont say how the show went or include pictures..