Category Archives: worksonpaper

Five Streets

FIVE STREETS
by Julia R. Gordon & Noah Saterstrom


 

They live in a city, but the kind that has only five intersecting roads and is surrounded, otherwise, by vast plowed fields and hundred year homesteads. Downtown means one street of shops: grocer, butcher, dressmaker, baker; one street of words: bookseller, newsstand, library; one street of medicine: doctor, apothecary, hospital, asylum; one street of god: two churches, three synagogues, a large gathering hall. The fifth street is shadowed and not easily traversed, its cobbles in constant disrepair; it is littered with those who have no homes and no gods but instead have reaching arms and begging voices. Grime collects in the corners of windowless rooms furnished with only beds and basins.
 
 


 

It is on this fifth street that they find a place to meet – a basement coated in thick dust and the faint musty smell of newborn rats and cobwebs. They figure that the newly installed officers won’t come here looking for their place of planning, and they are right. All through the long winter of breaking glass and scorched shop streets, the fifth street gives them cover in its filth. They meet at different times and on different days, planning, always plotting, within the basement’s dank stone walls. The notices of their gathering times are carried from kitchen to kitchen by young girls in aprons who hold napkin-covered baskets filled with hot bread rolls layered atop slips of paper carrying coded messages of what, the girls do not know.
 
 


 

Most of these girls, given the papers by their fathers and the breads by their mothers, put kerchiefs on their heads and shawls around their shoulders and follow well-trod paths to the next kitchen over, dropping baskets on their way, having left the messages unexamined, cyphers
unbroken. She does not. She has been taught to read, and these coded missives, with their strange transpositions and substitutions, are too enticing for her to ignore. She stashes a broken slate and pencils in an old log between her house and the Brody’s farm, and for three days copies the nonsense letters in sequence. She also eavesdrops. She listens to the Brody father’s whispered murmurs to his sons when they think she is out of earshot; in her mind, she compares what she hears with her own father’s murmurs to her mother, and thinks she begins to understand.
 
 


 

On the chosen day she lies awake, waiting, fully dressed under the bedclothes. The back of her knees itch where her woolen stockings pill against the covered mattress ticking. When the moon rises past the top of the chimney she hears it: a stirring downstairs, the heavy tread of her father’s boot and the lighter, canted tread of her brother’s limp. Folding the covers back, she eases herself out of bed and moves silently through the house and into the night, keeping the men in her sight but lagging just far behind enough to avoid being seen. She follows them to the fifth street. She presses her ear to a basement-level vent carved from the stone above one particular basement annex and listens.
 
 


 

The men inside do not hear her but minutes pass and then hours, and she hears too much. Before they have finished, she learns she was right and now she understands the fullness of their plans, the whole of their murmured secrets of resistance and revolution. Heart beating, she runs back, down the fifth street, past the shop street, the medicine street, and the god street, up the street of words and back to the kitchen where her mother sits awake, watching and waiting. Though she is startled by her daughter’s appearance, the mother is not surprised by it but resigned to it, and the girl rushes in to the embrace of raised arms. Her father and brother hew close behind, but they did not see her flight and are thus shocked to find her, dressed in her shawl and kerchief, face buried in her mother’s neck, arms clutching her mother’s thin shoulders.
 
 


 

It does not take long for them to discover the extent of what she knows. It does not take long for them to determine that she is unsafe, all twelve spindly years of her, and it does not take long for them to realize that in her youth, she is the most vulnerable of them all. It does not take long for them to decide she must go. It does not take long for them to book her passage on a ship to somewhere that is, if not safe, than at least away. And then, she is gone. Dandelion plucked from the vast fields and the five streets and the Brody’s farm. The messages are carried, but without her basket to cradle them. The meetings are held, but without her bearing witness. It does not
take long until it is almost as though she was never there. She is gone.
 
 


 

Soon another unexpected listener will hear the plans, but intent means much, and it is then that the resistance, too, will be gone, ripped from the vast fields and the five streets and the Brody’s farm. The soldiers will come, thick-booted and armed, and they will all be gone: fathers, mothers, brothers, the other girls, their shawls and their kerchiefs, their bread. It will be almost as though they were never there. It does not take long.

 


 

“Five Streets” is a group of drawings which illustrate a short story written by Julia R. Gordon. The tale is a fictionalized amalgam of the stories she heard throughout her childhood detailing her family’s life in Vilnius, Lithuania, under the late-19th century rule of the Russian Empire. Part of the intellectual, Jewish resistance against increasingly anti-Semitic Russian Czars, and under threat of pogroms, loss of land, and loss of life, the majority of her family fled to the New World as part of the general exodus of European Jewry in the early 1900’s. Those who stayed were ultimately slaughtered under the German occupation. Her great-grandmother, depicted in the story as the young girl unwittingly (at first) ferrying messages for the resistance, was one of the first family members to escape to New York as part of a forced flight when her family’s political involvement was discovered by the Russians.

Peaceable Kingdom

11″x14″

Peaceable Kingdom

11″x14″

Peaceable Kingdom

11″x14″

Peaceable Kingdom

8″x10″

Peaceable Kingdom

8″x10″

The Quiet Game

11″x14″
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Rear View Mirror

11″x14″
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Sam Brown

11″x14″

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Boys Will Be

11″x14″
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Child, Version of Child

11″x14″
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Another Brick in the Wall

11″x14″
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Sam Brown (study)

5″x8″

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Tetherball

11″x15

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Shubuta Fountain

5″x5″
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Car

6″x8″

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Bathing Suits

8″ x 10″
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Tiger Man

8″ x 10″
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Bird’s Got the Word no. 9

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Bird’s Got the Word no. 8

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Bird’s Got the Word no. 7

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Bird’s Got the Word no. 1

7″ x 9″
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The following are a bunch of bird-influenced paintings and drawings I did for a show that’s up now at MuseuMM in Los Angeles. A great group of people and sales go in part to the Audubon Center at Deb’s Park.

Calliope no. 21

11″ x 14″
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I was asked to show some work at the tricentennial celebration of Natchez, Mississippi — the old river town where I grew up. I am honored and overwhelmed by the idea. I feel like the only way to “celebrate” it is to first recognize it as the site of incredible atrocities, as well as a place of natural beauty. Natchez was the setting for the decimation of the sun-worshipping native Natchez Indians, followed by a massive and brutal slave trade, and then Jim Crow-era violent oppression. Of course, as anywhere there are humans, lots of wonder and kindness and intelligence also exist. I don’t want the work to only be provocative or to lack beauty. At any rate, I’m working on a 25 foot work on paper of the river bluff of Natchez, populated by fragmented narratives, some historical, some personal, some pure reverie. These Calliope pieces are basically me getting a running start, hoping for something better than utter failure. My friend David reminded me of those old Presto Magix games where you were given a setting and rub off figures to populate it. Imagining something like that.

Calliope no. 20

11″ x 14″
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Calliope no. 19

9″ x 12″
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Calliope no. 18

9″ x 12″
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Calliope no. 17

9″ x 12″
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Calliope no. 16

9″x12″

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Calliope no. 15

9″x12″
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Calliope no. 14

9″x12″
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Shubuta fountain

8″x10″
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Calliope no. 11

9″ x 12″
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Calliope no. 10

8″ x 10″
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Calliope no. 9

6″ x 8″
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Calliope no. 7

8″ x 10″

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Calliope no. 4

11″x14″
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Calliope no. 2

9″ x 12″
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Group

11″ x 14″

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Cows

11″ x 14″
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Night-Fishing at Palmyra

9″ x 12″
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A little corruption of Picasso’s “Night Fishing at Antibes” at MOMA; may be ill-advised to make a new version of a Picasso, but there it is. This one set at Palmyra, no doubt the next target of destruction by ISIS.

Rene and Georgette Magritte, with their Dog After the War

9″x12″
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The title taken from Paul Simon’s song, which was taken from a photograph by Belgian photographer Lothar Wolleh, which was allegedly taken during WWII, but likely taken some time in the 1960’s. I think of this painting as related to other paintings I’ve done called Going To Shubuta, about my ancestors fleeing Natchez, Mississippi during the Civil War.

When We Were Sun-Worshippers

9″ x 12″
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This is a version of an image that has something to do with wastrels up trees, either hiding from something, or avoiding flood waters, or playing in trees, or they live up there for all the dangers on the ground. I remember a kid in my class in school telling a story about his uncle (whose name is ‘Brother’, which was a point of confusion in the retelling) who got run up a tree by a wild boar. He stayed up there overnight. I think of that when I see this wastrel up a tree, but it doesn’t really have to do with boars. I could call this “Adam and Eve in the Garden” but it’s not about that either.

Dandelions

9″ x 12″
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There are those trees in urban and suburban forested areas where teenagers have carved initials, declarations of love (such as they are capable of grasping) and various ways of drawing “I was here” type pronouncements for the ages. These scars bear wonderful qualities of line. I wish all drawings could be like that. This drawing isn’t about these things, but the tree and the scarification of many drawings under this drawing as it muscled through versions of itself, makes me think about things.

Tiger Fox

9″ x 11″
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Yellow House

9″ x 12″
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Inverted Figure

8″ x 10″
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Pluto

9″ x 12″
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I found this drawing in a sketchbook from years ago and on the facing page, this excerpt from Christian Peet’s book Pluto:

I take comfort in knowing that when the stars have all burned out, and their protons and neutrons have decayed into mere light particles and radiation, the universe will be in a state of almost complete disorder. And none of it will be my fault.

Cutter

11″ x 14″
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A guy with an axe, and a floating one of those head cones they use on dogs.

Taconic

11″ x 14″
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From a ride up the Taconic Parkway, New York City to the Hudson area to see our friends Deb and Karl, and also Elwood, if that’s his real name.

Cutters

11″ x 14″
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More cutters from the NYPL photo archive.

CDV_11.18.14_02

7″ x 10″

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This one has several cartes de visites painted on top of one another. The props and backgrounds from different photographs mingling. Not that it matters, because at the end it’s still just a painting.

Moose and Businessman

8″ x 10″
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Walk #4

11″ x 14″
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Walk #2

11″ x 14″

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Forty Second Street

11″ x 14″
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Bricked Up Tree

11″ x 14″

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A tree around the corner near Hunt’s Woods in Mt. Vernon.

The Lion Who Ate Up Dixie

11″ x 14″

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I’m doing a large oil version of this destroyer. I recently discovered that I use the word “et” instead of eaten as the past participle of “to eat” – as in: those bagels will get et – which is what I said recently and the person I was talking to said Oh, how old-fashioned. I’m not sure how that crept into my vocabulary. Presumably through my Grandfather’s country side, though I don’t remember him ever saying it. At any rate, this is the lion who ate up Dixie. It was there, and then it got et.

Stick Fight

11″ x 15″

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Theatre

7″ x 10″

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A theatre of recollection maybe, or a screening room for a projection of memories. Words throw images against the wall of the mind, or whatever is the right way to say it; Ezra Pound said it better.

 

Harlem River Drive

7 1/2″ x 9 1/2″
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Hartley Park, Mt. Vernon NY, 1920

11″ x 15″
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This is painted from a photo I took with my phone of a small xerox of a magazine print that hangs, at a slight angle, in the entry of our building along with grainy pictures of notable Mt. Vernonites, like Art Carney and Denzel Washington.

Ghostbed

9″ x 12″
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Rabbit & Cart

5″ x 7″
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I feel like if I could read the text I’d be able to get a grip on what’s happening here. It’s like the dream I had where I was trying to read text on a piece of paper but the words were upside-down, so I turned the paper around and they were still upside down.

Ford LTD

12″ x 18″
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Hands and Arms

11″ x 14″
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“I think of everything I do as a form of drawing.”

“Every day I awake with the idea that ‘today I must teach myself to draw’. I have also each day to experience the fact that images can only emerge out of chaos.”

I love these quotes from Leon Kossoff, hilariously obsesses with drawing – as one must be. Images can only emerge out of chaos.

Cezanne

18″ x 24″
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Georges Perec, 1970

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I like to make drawings of people of note. Writers, painters, scientists, musicians and so on. Not to deliberate too much, or struggle to make them just right, but just a quick thing. Here’s one.

Not the House in My Dream #1

12″ x 16″
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For as long as I can remember I have had a recurring dream about a house. The plot line of the dream is a variation on a theme. I am in a situation where I have no where to live and I remember that I actually own a large house on a hill, perhaps a family house. I once lived in the basement of this house but left a long time ago, was relieved to put it behind me. The house is not a a good place, not loving, but haunted, bereft, a place of dread, and I’m faced with the prospect of having to go back to live in it again. This is not really that house, and neither is the other one, but something close.

Ffffffyyyyuyuyuyu

6″ x 8″
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Marine Park, Brooklyn, the Day After Easter

6″ x 8″
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Mt. Vernon 03

6″ x 8″
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Mt. Vernon, NY

11″ x 13″

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Shubuta xi.

12″ x 16″
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Someday I will try to work one of the these up in oil, but so far the image is too turbulent, shifty, and oil doesn’t lend itself to improvisation for me – or I don’t lend myself to planning things out.  A corny metaphor, but drawing can be like jazz – pick a key and start playing.  Oil painting is operatic.  Try to improvise an opera and you’ve got a nasty mess on your hands.  I admire painters who seem to truly improvise complex paintings in oil.  Amy Sillman, Tim Hyman, R.B. Kitaj, Nicole Eisenman, Ken Kiff to name a few.

Shubuta ix.

7″ x 9″
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Wagon ghost horses and switch-cane.

Shubuta viii.

7″ x 9″
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The ancestors are still on their way to Shubuta.  The previous sentence may only make sense if you have been following the Workaday for a while.  Or it may make sense to you for other reasons.  At any rate, we’ll leave it there.

Gone to Shubuta (vii.)

30″ x 40″

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In the olden times we were sun worshippers.

Gone to Shubuta (vi.)

26″ x 40″

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Sugar ants in the cracker pail, night-fall in the switch-cane, where is that Emmaline.

Gone to Shubuta (v.)

30″ x 40″

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Big drawings.  All the people going to Shubuta, fleeing troubles, or returning to them.  Snake, tree, horse, a picnic on what would be called ‘the hanging bridge’.  And the thumbnails need to be bigger.  There that’s better.

Sumer #2

8″ x 10″

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Sumer

8″ x 10″

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River Water

7 1/2″ x 10 1/2″

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De Lumine e Umbra

11″ x 12″

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“De Lumine e Umbra” (Of Light and Shadow) is the title of a book that Nicolas Poussin never wrote.

Fire (Wastrels Discover Fire)

10″ x 15″

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Blocks and Flying Eye

9″ x 12″

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Night Crawlers

13″ x 13″

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There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both. The method he hit upon was to run away from them. So he got up and ran. But every time he put his foot down there was another step, while his shadow kept up with him without the slightest difficulty. He attributed his failure to the fact that he was not running fast enough. So he ran faster and faster without stopping until he finally dropped dead. He failed to realize that if he merely stepped into the shade, his shadow would vanish, and if he sat down and stayed still, there would be no more footsteps.
(Chuang Tzu, 4th c. BCE)

Birthday Blocks, Yellow, Red and Pink

6 1/2″ 10 1/5″

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Cake & Colors

11″ x 15″
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Systematic representation and systematic abstraction. This one has been through several stages, including a Josef Albers-ish color exercise, there was a cartoon viking on there for a bit, then this monochrome cake. Decided to stop on the cake.

Wastrels Go To Shubuta

5″ x 8″
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What We Were in the Olden Times

5″ x 8″
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Blue ballpoint pens are, I think, terrible to write with but the lines sling all around, good for drawing. The river below. Above is a sketch of this little lady from a group of plaster Fisher-Price casts I did years ago. In this she’s maybe an ancestor, or celestial something.

Hush Up

18″ x 24″
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Fern

8″ x 12″
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“I constantly have to negotiate with my doubts.” – Peter Doig

Bees Took a Balustrade Down

18″ x 24″
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Sources and Expenditures

9″ x 12″
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The snake is saying, “For me, drawing is a source of energy, while painting is the expenditure of energy.” I really have to say that’s my experience as well. As much as they have over-lapping concerns, the stylus and the brush are very different instruments and when I go looking for how an artist thinks, I look at their drawings. It’s like looking at their drawings gets you closer to the source of what motivates their ideas.

Weevil Sanders Goes to Town

6″ x 8″
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Last week I wanted to call the “Chicken and Beard Man” drawing something about Weevil Sanders. But I didn’t know who Weevil Sanders was and thought I would at some point, but I still don’t. So here he is on his way to town.

Why Is Six Afraid of Seven

6″ x 8″
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Because seven ate nine. On another note, the word stylus comes to us from Etruscan, as few words do.

Recently talking with Bill B. about polysemy and open meanings in drawing and writing. He said about one poem “as much polysemy as the poem can bear.” (phrasing taken from something Jane Freilicher said, about wanting “as much light as the painting can bear”).

Of the Federal Occupation

8″ x 10″
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I came across a photograph of a Confederate army camp. What struck me about the image was the manner of the soldiers’ poses, one draped over another’s lap, comfy as BFF’s at a sixth grade sleepover.

Sugar Ants in the Cracker Pail

6″ x 8″
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Nightfall in the Switch-cane

6″ x 8″
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Where Is That Emmaline?

6″ x 8″
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Clearing on the Road to Shurbutee

6″ x 8″
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