The Visual Poetry of Poeticah explores the boundaries between poetry, languages, and traditional with computer visual art.
The Jury Duty Page explains my beliefs concerning the penal system and morality.
Atop a scaffold, on a hot summer day, with my prototype as a guide, I start to work on Harlem. I look at the white Morris Jumel Mansion on my prototype, and its large well-manicured landscape. Across the street, the white, beaux arts style town houses appear to complement it. It all is so clean and proper. Even the simple facade of the Apollo Theater, with its bold neon sign in capital letters, is clean and proper. I apply strict, careful strokes. Everything here looks rigid and fixed.
But areas of flowing action surround the same places on my original prototype. Young blacks on the streets cool off with streams of water from fire hydrants. A poor man works on a green, 1970's Chevrolet Impala. Graffiti covers cracked-up tenements and buildings. These areas are animated with fierce strokes and they melt in and out of the private, proper enclaves.
I shrug my shoulders, then dab my brush in green paint to work on Central Park. I paint large deciduous trees that serve as a backdrop for a paved street. I dab a brush into a shade of brown then mix in some yellow. My brush glides in a free-flowing style. Here I paint a rollerblader gliding along. There I paint a biker peddling on. On the final stretch I portray a white, slender, horse pulling a dainty, red carriage. With light quick strokes, I paint a semi-abstract scene that flows with many colors and action. Central Park teams with people working out their stress, frustrations, or pent up emotions. That young blond lady by the street, graceful and vibrant. A model? A young black biker, braided hair, loose casual dress, passes by. Rastafarian? A brown lady, in long dress with her hair covered, walks daintily. A Muslim? Then my brush runs onto the summer stage area to show a crowd of people drinking, smoking, dancing. A great place to unwind or people watch.
But in the summer stage area on the original, young Latin and black boys fight. A blond homeless man lies on the grass with a cheap bottle of wine. The restless energy of the young boys will not live in this mural. Among the concert revellers, several people smoke marijuana. Some of these people have a "laissez faire" smile on their faces and would have been painted in relaxed strokes. This tolerant, lazy spirit will not exist on this mural.
I clench my fists, take a deep breath, and slowly exhale. This restless energy exists within me too. The imprisoned energy within me erupts. My brushes run with the fury and freedom of wild and spirited horses. The reckless young thugs are on the mural looming before me. I have deviated from the prototype and broken my contract. Surprisingly, I laugh and feel free and relaxed.
"Hey! Just what do you think you're doing? Come down here and lets talk."
"Oh, Bob! Uh, hold on and wait till I put my brushes in some thinner."
"What are those boys doing on there and why were you laughing? Take them off immediately or I'll put an end to this project!”
"I'm sorry. Just simmer down. It will be OK. I'll redo that part."
"I don't want any more slip ups, OK? Please redo it immediately. This project is already behind schedule."
"I'll do the best I can."
"I need to go to a meeting now. Remember Chris, I'll be watching you."
"Don't worry. It'll be OK."
I regain my composure and start on the Metropolitan Museum of Art which fits well within the middle eastern part of Central Park. With careful strokes, I paint its regal columns. It has four pair of columns topped with intricately designed capitals. I hint at the statues of lions and other figures that peek out of the wall and roof's edge. Now I depict, in semi-impressionistic style, a hot dog and pretzel stand, and a black saxophone player. But my eyes wonder back to the large posters on the museum's walls that advertise some of the new exhibits.
My mind wanders off, and my vision is taken over by the same scene in the old prototype. It shows ghostly faces of people from the Gilded Age. These faces gaze with shock and disappointment at the advertisements that deface the neoclassical beauty of this building.
To ease my frustration, I mix white paints with a healthy dose of thinner to make a glaze needed to create the ghostly faces. Suddenly, my ears rattle hard. A honking car brings me back to my senses.
I deviate my path to the northeast. Next to Central Park lies the spiral shaped Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The rounded walls of the original cry out with the soaring spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1950's. But the more recent boxy wing looks out of character.
In spite of my best efforts to avoid distractions, the original haunts me. It has two images that are lacking on this mural: Wright admiring the spiral part and Wright's ghost deriding the boxy part.
To avoid a grievous error, I start to work on the buildings of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The plaza has a large fountain and an outdoor stage called the Guggenheim Bandshell. I take special pains to depict the Metropolitan Opera House with its tall narrow arches. The buildings in this complex are plain, and seem hardly worthy of serving as venues for many of the world's greatest musicians like directors of the New York Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein. Still, I depict the people that come here to add life to the scene.
But my copy of what Bob wants fails to express my deeper personal feelings. On the original a ghostly woman, dressed in a white translucent dress, floats like a cloud out of the wall of the Metropolitan Opera House. She wears a translucent white veil over her face. Streams of airy mist spread from her and permeate everything. If you look closely within her, you would see tiny, musical instruments, and elegantly dressed musicians. You might even see the nine muses from Greek mythology lost within her bosom.
Like a character in a tragic play, I engage in a forlorn soliloquy.
"To be or not to be that is the question; Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them. To die - to sleep . . ."
"Hey you! Up there! That sounds pretty good! I know where that comes from. Are you an actor?"
Why do I become so oblivious of my surroundings that I often make a public spectacle of myself? My face is hot and tense as I grin, "Oh, no. I just read some of his plays once in a while."
"I love Shakespeare's Hamlet. Anyway, got to go."
I inhale to prepare to sigh with desperation but when I exhale my sigh becomes a smug grin. After difficult preparations, I apply very careful strokes to the running waters in the Lincoln Center Plaza fountain. Voilà! To someone who looks at the running waters in the right manner, a stereogram of Orpheus with his lyre emerges.
After this small victory, I feel relieved. With renewed resolve, I dab a broad brush in black and white with a smattering of raw umber. Then I produce a rough outline of the fountain situated in front of the white, green roofed Plaza Hotel. I paint tourists posing or taking pictures around the fountain. Not far from the fountain, rigid brushwork depicts the elegant turn of the century hotel.
More true to the real Big Apple, the original shows a homeless person confronting a man dressed in a designer suit who ignores him. It also has an opening in the Plaza Hotel's wall, as though you could peek inside to see the elegant dining area that awaits the well-heeled man.
How can I show what I feel and still do what Bob wants? With the project behind schedule, it is not wise to pull another trick akin to the stereogram here.
I start on one of the most photographed scenes located in the vast Rockefeller Center complex: the area at the end of the Channel Gardens that has the fountain which contains the gold statue of Prometheus. Sometimes it is used for an outdoor dining area, but during the winter it becomes an ice skating rink, and for Christmas it is the sight of the famous giant Christmas tree. Excellent musicians perform free concerts in Rockefeller Center. It also contains restaurants, clubs, theaters, and shops. As if this is not enough, it contains NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall, an excellent example of art deco built in the 1930's.
All this power and opulence reminds me of the original prototype. From the pool, which lies below the ring that contains the statue of Prometheus, emerges a strong well-dressed prince. He has gold necklaces and bracelets covered with diamonds and emeralds in his hands.
As my brush sweeps east across Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, it gracefully glides toward St. Patrick's Cathedral: a late 1800's Gothic Revival church. Facing its main entrance from across the street, you can see its tall, ornate, twin spires. You can also see several tall windows with pointed arches. It stands several hundred feet. But look around and imagine how it must look from the air. It is lost like a small jewel amid the skyscrapers of midtown.
I think of how this building would feel if it was a person. As my brush glides carefully on the pointed end of the left spiral, I want to let my brush strokes go wild melting the top of the spire into the ghostly figure of a bewildered and forlorn old priest who looks up at the giants that surround him.
I step down to the next level on my scaffold to work on Times Square. For many years it has served as the hub of the Big Apple's famed Broadway Theater district. For decades Times Square has been called the "Crossroads of the World" because many of its Broadway Musicals are played throughout the world. The many lights that pulsate on the big billboards and signs remind me of the Las Vegas strip. Its bright lights, street performers, and diverse people, create a vibrant continuous show. My brush moves carefully as I paint a Pepsi can on one of the big signs with blue.
I look down because a roaring truck below distracts me. Vivid, turbulent strokes jump into my mind. The old prototype contains a picture of one of the gaudy entrances to a club that has pornography and exotic dancers. Bright colored waves radiate out and border the scene. At the end of each wave is a miniature stage with colorfully dressed dancers. A pair of flags, from countries throughout the world, flanks each stage.
As I put the finishing touches on, my brush strokes lose their rigidity. In spite of my best intentions, my true feelings subconsciously influenced me.
I step one level down to depict the building that dominates midtown. It was the tallest building in the world. Today, even though the Sears Tower in Chicago lays claim to this title, the Empire State Building has a special place in my heart. This building has been immortalized by two historical events: a World War II bomber plane that once crashed into one of the upper floors; and it appeared in the film King Kong from 1933.
As my brush sweeps carefully up the antenna on its spire, I imagine how this building must feel. Since the World Trade Center was completed in the 1970's, this building was no longer the tallest in Manhattan. It is the dethroned old king. I want to bend the building's antenna into the proud face of a gray, bearded king, and off to the face's side paint a bejeweled, falling crown. This king has always had a deep appreciation of his royal status. He looks disappointed as he gazes southward at the mighty twin towers of the World Trade Center.
My hand takes on a life of its own and my brush traces the rough outline of the face. Before realizing it, I am dabbing on the details of the old king’s peppery beard.
"Chris, I told you I'd be watching you! Come down here so that we don't have to yell at each other."
"I'm sorry Bob. I'll fix it. Look, didn't I do a good job when I got rid of the boys up there? Isn't the mural shaping up fine so far?"
"We've invested a lot of time in this project. I want to see it completed. Please take that face off immediately. If there are any more problems, we may have to reconsider how much you'll get paid."
"Please be patient. I will be sure to stick to the specs from now on."
"Now the brushwork flows strangely and looks a little different from the prototype. Also, the running waters in the Lincoln Center Plaza fountain look odd. I'll let those slight discrepancies go. But be careful. Don't use any wild imagery or bold or crazy brushwork. The image that Classic Travels projects is important because we don't want to offend our clients. See you later."
I'm glad he didn't notice my trick on the fountain. That took a lot of planning and work. Soon after, I cannot suppress a naughty smile.
Down a level I focus my attention on Greenwich Village. I proceed to paint the white, sculpture adorned Washington Arch. This is one of the major entrances to Washington Square Park. At a certain angle you can see it perfectly frames the hazy twin towers of the World Trade Center in the distance. I depict a young couple walking their dog in front of this arch. The young man wears ear rings, a lip ring, and long hair over the middle of his head with his sides shaved. The young lady has a nose ring, with a chain that leads up to her ear lobe. Young Bohemians, from nearby New York University, add a festive ambience to Washington Square. I work to the right into a Greenwich Village scene: A row of brownstone, federal style town houses in reddish brown, green, and blue-gray. The blue-gray town house has a broad, red oak in front and the reddish brown one is partly covered with lush English Ivy. Just to the right, I paint with lazy strokes, a young couple drinking cappuccino in the subdued light of a cozy espresso bar. Finally, my calligraphy letter set traces the message: "Greenwich Village, a place for artists, musicians and writers."
The drab colors of this image of Greenwich Village coalesce into a gray cloud of mist which spins into vivid colors and lively strokes. The Washington Square, townhouse, and espresso bar scenes melt into and out of a ribbon that carries lively performers playing acoustic guitars, tenor saxophones, and other instruments. The ribbon carries dancing books and paintings. No written message. Instead, you see the late 1950's beat writers like Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Corso, and the 1960's folk singers like Baez, and Dylan.
I am lost in the colorful storm of the original, and without realizing it my hips are swaying. As I sweat in the summer sun, I dance with the old beat writers and 60's folk singers. As I dance and look at the mural, images rush through my head. They flow like warm pounding water over my body. Deviating only a little from what Bob wants, livelier and brighter strokes are dabbed here and there.
My right foot steps into thin air and just in time I grab a beam on my scaffold to keep from falling. The lively colors that surround me swirl into a burnt sienna haze which gives way to the reality of my precarious position. I hang by one hand from the scaffold's beam with my gaze fixed on the finished Greenwich Village scene. Tired and sweaty with pounding heart, it takes all my strength to get back up on the scaffold. The Greenwich Village scene on the mural, even though it resembles Bob's plan, looks livelier.
I am exhausted and still scared but a bit more satisfied with my efforts. This is a long project that spans weeks. So I rest for a couple of days.
Rejuvenated and back on my scaffold at the same level, I mix a new batch of paints to work on Little Italy. Centered around Mulberry Street, it is the best known of the Italian communities. I depict the entries and walls of the shops and restaurants in a conservative style. This serves as a backdrop for the tables and chairs covered by colorful umbrellas of the sidewalk cafes. Up high I show with flowing strokes the waving banners, in the Italian green, red and white, that hang from the strings over Mulberry Street. I paint with lazy strokes some sidewalk café patrons relaxing over a cappuccino and pastry.
The pastry immerses me in the robust tastes and spicy smells of wines, pastas, and cheeses. I am swept into the rough texture, and dashing colors of the old prototype. Plates loaded with food come out of the restaurants onto the streets on dancing feet. A dancing plate covered with Fettuccini Alfredo oozes steamy juices. A dancing dish, holding heavily textured chewy pizza, painted with powerful sweeps of the palette knife, tempts a lady who smacks her lips. Drinks and dishes covered with colorful foods dance among the people in the street. They dance on and around sidewalk café tables covered with colorful umbrellas. I smile as the juice in my mouth oozes and nostrils flare. My eyebrows rise, eyes open wide, and notice the inadequate scene before me. I mix in a little red here, some bright green there. Lighten up that dark patch underneath with white. My brush moves as if floating on air. The final scene ends on a slightly higher note. Sweeping my hair back, I say, "not bad."
"Not bad! Those colors are too bright. I told you to be careful. Come down and let’s talk."
"Uh? Bob, I'll fix it! OK?"
"Tone down those colors. At this point the project's time has taken twice as long as what is on the contract. I hate to do this but I am going to reduce your pay by half."
"But Bob. Please . . ."
"That's the price you pay for your mistakes. Now I don't have much time left so listen up. I have to go to a convention in Dallas. I will be back in three weeks. You'd better be finished and close to specs by then. My new assistant, Tom, will be watching you. Any questions?"
"Who is Tom? What does he look like?"
"We just hired him and it's better if you don't know what he looks like. Any more questions?"
Uh . . . No."
"See you when I get back."
After yesterday, that juicy lasagna and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon I had last night were what I needed. So, I set to work on the large area that mainly lies south of Little Italy. This region reminds me of San Francisco's Chinatown. I gingerly glide my brush depicting the orange Chinese characters on a store's sign. The stores and shops serve as a background for the street scene with Chinese merchants and patrons. On the left, in a strict style, I apply green shades to show some bok choy and brown shades to form the man shaped ginseng roots lying in the bins of a Chinese vegetable stand. My brush sweeps to the right to a scene from a Chinese restaurant. Two tourists, a man and a woman, sit at a table dining on skimpy noodle dishes, while a group of Chinese restaurant employees dines on heartier, steamy, dishes.
But wait a minute. This is the restaurant scene from the original. The travel agency made me change the scene by showing fine dishes for the tourists and omitting the restaurant employees.
A bright red blob dances before me splattering into a fine deep orange mist that dances into the jazzy shapes of the original. Winged, fire breathing, bright green, scaly dragons fly amidst the workers and tourists. They carry bowls of steamy oriental dishes like shrimp Chop Sui and Kong Pao Chicken. The steam permeates the street and enters flared nostrils. A small number of bok choys and ginseng roots from the vegetable stand's bins grow legs and arms and climb off the bins and walk on the sidewalk. Some of these walking vegetables metamorphose into the savory bits on the steamy plates. By the door of one of the arts and crafts stores stand ornate china dishes with smiling Asian faces. Beside the dishes, in broad brushwork, stands a large, green, smiling Buddha. Not far from him, in feathery strokes, lies a tiny cross. Under the street scene is a large plane. Many abstractly painted Asians gush from the plane, and march into the street. A large dragon lies above the large Chinese scene, and breathes a mighty flame that surrounds Little Italy.
A honking sound from the street below startles me. The large dragon's flame ebbs, and the small flying dragon's wings stop flapping. Then the high-flying kaleidoscope around me falls down to the street below, and solidly in front of me appears the current scene. I dance to the left, dance to the right, spray a little orange here, rub a little yellow there. My thin brush sways to form a wisp of steam that rises from an exotic dish to the tourists' flared nose and smiling face. This scene now looks less wanting. Bathed in a soothing sweat, I am filled with dreamy, warm euphoria.<<Writings>>