The Path of Playing Cards (Or the Gospel of Salty Junk)

On Tuesday afternoon, walking to the parking garage after work I passed a perpetually trash-strewn patch of plants and stopped to free a Macy’s bag impaled on a  thorny branch. Grumbling with fatigue, heat and misanthropy, I snatched the bag and tossed it in a trash can, not feeling quite self-righteous enough to recycle. 

In the trash barrel, I noticed a tiny card from a children’s game. Delighted, I snatched this vintage treasure from the bland refuse that surrounded it. The illustration showed a fisherman hauling a net of blurry colored trash from the edge of an unseen sea. I found the title vaguely obscene: Salty Junk. I couldn’t imagine where the hell this old sod had come from. All I thought of was a haunting story I’d read in the New York Times about the debris field left by the Malaysian plane that crashed in the Ukriane, how the writer reconstructed passenger stories through objects: Bali guidebooks, passports and a scattered deck of children’s playing cards. 

I tried to engineer a reverse synchronicity in my mind to make the discovery feel inevitable. Hadn’t I just been thinking of how I’d make all of these entries into a book?  Hadn’t I just been thinking, how much I’d actually enjoyed cleaning the little piles of dead balloons and tar balls off the beach, especially when my friends came with me? Could the universe, my throbbing narcissism insisted, maybe be acknowledging me for my own modest harvests of salty junk? 

My love for piles of free and abandoned things aside, I don’t know why this little card had the force of revelation to me. I dug through the can, but found no other tiny red cards among the Subway wrappers and coffee cups.

The Wednesday walk to my car was similarly uneventful. But today, past the trash can where the concrete sidewalk curves up the hill, I found another tiny red card  face down on the ground. I turned it over as if awaiting a revelation from the Tarot. There she was: Wacky Witch like some emissary from childhood classrooms dressed up for the New England fall, the green faced dime-store hag with cat, owl and cauldron, her leering face somewhere between a comic strip and a tribal mask.  I scanned the brush for more cards, but found nothing. To what scattered and abandoned game these old icons belong I will never know. But I sensed their odd, intermittent path was something I was meant to follow. 


Day 354 6/24/14: “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”

When I was a child, I scanned the TV listings every week. If a Beatles movie was being shown during school hours, I would feign illness or just beg my mother to stay home and watch. She usually relented. I loved everything they did, but “Help!” always blew my mind because of John’s “pit bed” his Dylan-sneer, the rich color, and because let’s face it: they all looked so damned beautiful.This clip, like all things Beatle, is a forever source of inspiration and happiness for me. I would love to hear if The Beatles cast an enduring enchantment on you.

Day 334 6/4/14: Deep Sea Gossip

Whale painting - after1. The young Florida woman who was attacked by a bull shark had a funny feeling about the dark water. 

2. Find out why artists Marina Abramovic, Ed Ruscha and others have placed their art in a sunken vault at the bottom of the sea.

3. Whale hidden in Dutch landscape painting finally free.

4. Can new technology slow extinction?

5. Ever wondered what it’s like to live underwater for 31 days? Sure you have. And soon you’ll know.

Day 337 5/28/14: The World’s Greatest Shark Painter?

APEX2A while back I posted a shark painting from Dave White’s Apex series, but today I went to see White’s show at the Gusford Gallery on Melrose in Los Angeles.  White’s 12 oil paintings of white sharks in motion are the most dynamic, beautiful and haunting shark images I’ve ever seen. Maybe it has something to do with his use of color (the purple stains that evoke both bruises and the color of the cosmos), but in “Apex,” White has tapped into that eerie eternally shape-shfting beauty and horror, grace and force that is the great white shark.

Each one of White’s numbered fish (“Apex l-XIII”) has a specific presence, personality and gravity. Like their real-life counterparts, they are perfectly, serenely adapted to their element. Composed of  light and dark blues and purples, with energetic brushwork and blobs of black and white, the texture is thick when evoking the mass of the animal that has been alternately described as a “tank,” “freight train,” “submarine” and “bus.” But this heavy color is often balanced by a thin sheen near the gills and along the back that evokes both the  massive shark’s surprising elegance and light filtered through the ocean’s surface.

Up close the skin of these sharks comes alive with a fury of thin lines, swipes, surprising dots and splatters that recall the chaotic scratches and battle scars that mark shark snouts in the wild. Each shark bears a unique mouth. “Apex V,” for example, has a grinning of unsettling pink maw somewhere between bubblegum and flesh. Michelle Schultz, Gusford Gallery’s warm and helpful director told me that patrons had dubbed “Apex V” the “Finding Nemo shark” on account of his smile. “Apex VII” and “Apex X” (shown above) have gobs that look like microcosms of the sea itself, the teeth like frantic white caps or the sails of doomed vessels. And the eyes! Ringed with half circles of lavender, or a hair-thin line of white, these aren’t the  “lifeless doll’s eyes” of Quint,  but orbs animated by a much more enigmatic intelligence that marine biologists have struggled to define.

Perhaps because “Apex XI” has blue and white skin like the Milky Way, I imagined sleeping on the gallery floor with all of these sharks floating above, their long drips of color seeping into my dreams.

“Apex” ends June 21, so if you’re in the Los Angeles area go, go! And if you’re not near L.A., it’s worth a pilgrimage, not just for shark lovers but for anyone who enjoys great painting.