MAXIMILISM

I’ve been reflecting that the fruit/logical end to a culture based on power, property and prestige is an overweening cheapness, ugliness, homogeneity and banality; an oppressive force, monstrous in its seeming blandness but actually evil…militatating against vigor, humor, creativity, curiosity, interest, enthusiasm, spirit, life. Come, it says, fall asleep….

Understandably we want to anesthetize ourselves against the pain…blend in…belong to a tribe…It is probably one of the greatest gifts of my life that my own efforts in that direction led to an addiction so deep that I was faced with the choice either to quit or to die…

Of course I still have my own myriad ways to “fall asleep,” distract myself, avoid being awake. (And of course I also avail myself of the bits of culture that appeal to me: Is anyone else watching Wimbledon for the next two weeks?)

In the midst of it I march and careen and lurch about, eating my rancid snacks, inwardly laughing at my own jokes, and walking, always walking. Walking is the last redoubt or one of them against the “noxious paste,” the ooze in which so many sinners are mired in Dante’s “Inferno,” that wants to suck us into the depths of what can seem like a contemporary hell…

The treasury of art and museums in Washington DC were almost overwhelming. At the end of the day, what I remember best was chancing upon a little gallery tucked away to the right of the entrance (if you’re looking out to the street) of the East Building of the National Gallery. It’s called “The Nabis: Bonnard, Vuillard and Their Circle” or something like that and two small Vuillard paintings absoltuely captured my heart.

One is the title image above; the other is called “The Yellow Curtain,” c. 1893.

I am a thousand percent opposed to “minimalism” in interior decor. My whole life, whatever space I’ve inhabited, and even while drinking, I have spent a ton of time, thought, and effort into building and feathering a little nest (a friend once described my apartment as a grotto). Shelves full of tchotchkes, icons, postcards, holy cards, votive candles, Christmas ornaments in July etc are what “sparks MY joy” (vomit) and, chacun à son goût of course, but everyone I’ve known with an anodyne monochrome “aesthetic” (admittedy, a grand total of two) has a soul to match.

Anyway, so these homey domestic scenes of Vuillard with their rich but muted colors, their curtains concealing hidden treasures, their mirrors back-reflecting the rest of the room, their evocation of extravagant and carefully-tended inner lives, spoke to me.

Meanwhile, back in Tucson, I have just checked a book out of the library called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig that is filled with inventive names for various emotional states we generally DON’T have a name for.

Right away I came upon “chrysalism”: “the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.”

Yes!

Even better, and maybe this is a separate word, is being indoors during a thunderstorm with the French door to your bedroom open and looking out through the screen to a yard full of twittering birds, waving agave fronds, snapping tree branches, the sound of rain on mesquite, sidewalks, and asphalt, the gentle humidity and the sublime smell of creosote, wet warm earth, juniper, and desert flowers.

A super special treat: this last rain the hedgehog (and other) cacti threw a pageant. In the ensuing couple of days seemingly overnight heavy with buds, and the day after that, when I crept out at dawn, all up and down the neighboring streets was a riot of bloom.

The next day, two at the most, the blooms look like wet tissue paper, fading away almost instantly to “nothing.”

A metaphor for life…but to my mind that brief burst of bloom speaks of God’s preference for maximilism, too.

13 Replies to “MAXIMILISM”

  1. Wow, gorgeous pictures. I never knew that cacti blooms were so varied and colorful.

  2. Thank you so much ,Heather,
    for sharing all of this beauty.
    It brings joy to my soul.

  3. Paulette Renaudin says: Reply

    Heather, I enjoy your writing so much! This one with the pageant of flowers in the morning was such a gift after the heavy rain. Your writing warms my heart.

  4. Molly Walchuk says: Reply

    Gorgeous cacti!!!! I’ve never seen that many in full extravagant bloom in person. Sigh…. Teensy bit jealous😉

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Aren’t they wild, Molly? They almost look fake they’re so perfectly formed and vibrantly colorful…Weeks of 100-plus degree temps is the offset for such beauty so no need to feel jealous, HA HA. Happy 4th!

  5. Heather – God be praised for His creative influence!

    The one and only time I’ve went to Tucson, all I could think was, “God’s palette is just SO lovely.”

    The thought comes again with these pics of the cactus bloom. “Surprise! Here are some flowers for My beloved,” He says.

    Thank you so much for sharing. The post-travel essay was also a treat.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      I couldn’t agree more, Angela…it’s like He’s constantly sending these little (really large) gifts, many of which you have to be on the lookout for, in return for the often harsh climate…I will be back at DFW soon and hope to continue my exploration of this wondrous airport. The city of Dallas/Fort Worth should really give me a couple of meal vouchers or maybe a free flight…:)

  6. I’m also a lover of The Nabis. I think you would like the paintings of Fairfield Porter, who had an epiphany from seeing the Nabis which transformed his own work. He went on to paint figuratively through the heady years of Abstract Expressionism. Porter’s work maintained the intimism of his Nabi predecessors but with a distinct American light. His wife Ann Porter was a poet and convert to Catholicism. Some of his children were also confirmed Catholics. He was an atheist but was open to the choice of religion of his children. He was buried in a Catholic cemetery after a funeral Mass. His children witnessed him reading Julian of Norwich in the days preceding his sudden death. On another note I’m also a maximalist when it comes to interior decor. I have tried the opposite but always ended with riotous colors and patterns 😝

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh that is fascinating, Lin, the name sounds familiar but I knew nothing about him. From wiki: “Porter said once, “When I paint, I think that what would satisfy me is to express what Bonnard said Renoir told him: ‘make everything more beautiful.'” So I love him already, and his paintings from a quick glance look almost like a combination of realism and abstract expressionism….Also he seems to have a bit of a sense of humor as in this: “Anne in a Striped Dress.” Anyway, I will explore further and the biographical info and Catholic leanings are esp interesting. So thank you–

      Right, everything I try to “pare down” and cull and discard, next thing I know I’m tacking up another Masaccio postcard or arranging a few dessicated peonies in a chipped Roseville vase…

  7. Melanie Poser says: Reply

    Ooohh, what’s behind the curtain?

  8. Dear Heather: You’re very astute to recognize the abstract expressionism in Porter’s paint handling. He was friend to some of the most accomplished Ab Ex painters of his time especially the de Kooning couple. Did you see his sense of humor in Anne in Striped Dress because of her smile set next to the Mona Lisa pinned on the wall? I’d seen this picture many times but had not noticed Anne’s smile before!

    Each Fourth of July I post on FB his July Interior (https://uploads6.wikiart.org/images/fairfield-porter/july-interior-1964.jpg!Large.jpg) & Great Spruce Head Island with Flag (sorry I don’t know how to hyperlink in comments). The former shows Anne convalescing from an illness. Above her on the wall is a picture of the Blessed Mother.

    If you are interested in exploring Porter’s philosophy on art and reality, I recommend Art in Its Own Terms, a collection of his essays and criticism. I find much of his ideas innately Catholic.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Hi Lin no I didn’t even notice the Mona Lisa smile! It was just more of the feel of the painting that for me conveyed a senese of humor…Again, this is all v intereting. Art On Its Own Terms costs 60 bucks or so minimum so I have bookmarked it on Internet Archive..preparing to go on a week-long retreat but hope to get to all this down the line. Thanks so much for sharing with us…

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