Saturday, April 7, 2012

Laurels; Station to Station;Whistler; Chile

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Laurels, oil on card, 10.5 / 12cm




I recall reading, though I am damned if I can find the interview now, about David Bowie writing on the matter of the production of Station to Station (unquestionably his greatest record*) and in which he stated that he had a regret, which was that he used an echo in the production, that the sound should have been harder.

I may misremember the quote, but it  serves to illustrate the element of courage required to follow a  a creative idea to its conclusions- not to doubt, not to worry about "taste" or "appeal".

All that is by way of nothing much: I have purchased passages to Rome and Chile: the only form of resistance I know to torpor and the miserable, mediocre state of mind I am in is travel and art. That necessary combination of inoocence and creativity, and the why the hell not attitude, so necessary, summarised wittily by Hillary "because it's there".

 I have no deep interest really in Chile, though Whistler came from Valparaiso so, perhaps I can make some sort of homage to the butterfly there.

This is from Robert Hughes's book, "American Visions":

 "Whistler was the son of a railway engineer, born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but throughout his life he pretended to be a Southern gentleman. He was, in most imaginable ways, self invented.

"...he was irked by the low status America accorded to its artists. His solution was not to attach himself to a court, as West did, but to depart for Paris and London and pretend to be a native aristocrat from an America he would never revisit. Perhaps his fixation with rank was impressed early: he was partly raised in Russia where his father was designing the St Petersburg-Moscow railway for Czar Nicholas I. It may have been reinforced at the millitary academy at West Point, from which he flunked out in 1854 for his cluelessness about chemistry. "Had silicon been a gas," he would say later, "I would have been a major general". He left for Paris the next year aged txwenty-one. Thus, although he liked to pose as a dashing Tidewater cavalier, Whistler never became an officer, still less saw action in the Civil War. This issuficiency troubled him, and it accounts for a peculiar adventure he undertook in 1866, when he sailed from France to Chile- a long and gruelling trip across the Atlantic and around Cape Horn - to be present at a Spanish naval blocade of the port of Valparaiso. Whether Whistler thought his being there would make an ounce of difference in the outcome of Chile's small colonial rebellion, on cannot tell; in the event, the Spanish warchips bombarded Valparaiso and reduced most of its waterfront to rubble, while Whistler, along with most of the Chilean officials, fled for the hills. By the end of 1866, he was back in Paris with a few misty, blue, crepescular seascapes of Valparaiso to show for his trip, but no honourable scars"

Whistler's Chilean pictures do seem particularly limpid, even judging by his own standards.

 *quite why and how I can like, nay, love a record so explicitely Fascist in its implications is something I cannot easily answer. Perhaps the record merely flatters my instincive will to power; it's such a cocaine fuelled fantasy it just draws me along, helplessly. The music seems to empower me, but. Lord knows, I have no deep seated desire to see or be a new Mussolini. It is perhaps, also in part, a question of opposites, that the record lends cool tempered relief from the insistant fluffiness of much pop: there is no lovey dovey stuff here, no I wanna hold your hand crap, no bollocks about lets get together and feel all right, It's very pure, very hard music, shamelessly strange, utterly egocentric.


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