Saturday, November 8, 2008

Other Artist Friends, pt. 1

I want to post links to the work of two other artist friends who are very dear to me. One, Susan Mastrangelo, lives in Brooklyn and teaches art at The Buckley School on the Upper East Side. She has made art her whole life. When I lived in Brooklyn and would go to her studio, I always loved to see her new work and was amazed at how rapidly her work developed and changed. And I also saw the heartbreak of being an artist in New York through her. When I met her she primarily made sculpture. And there came a time when her studio, cut down smaller and smaller as rents continuously rose, was too full of work. In order to make room for the new work, she was dissembling and getting rid of old work, some of which had never been shown outside of her studio. When you live in New York City, it takes a lot of faith to make sculpture. It's not even something you can really give to your friends, whose apartments are as small as your own.

Susan's work can be seen at Her work has always struck me as quite autobiographical, and whimsical. It is beautiful and melancholy. I don't think she likes it when people say her work is sad. That has never bothered me. I have one of her prints, a portrait, which seems both sad and autobiographical, hanging beside my desk. What has kept me from hanging it in other rooms is that I messed up the framing. I had it professionally framed, but too tightly around the print. It needs room to breathe. I always feel bad about trapping the woman in the frame and I need to have it redone.

Susan was born on June 27, and I was born on June 25. We were both at Yaddo in the summer of 1990 and there was a party to celebrate the birthdays. It was more an excuse to get the serious drinking of summer started, I think, and just to have a party, than it was about us. A lot of people were in transition. Susan Mastrangelo had only been there a few days-- she was mostly there in July, and I was leaving in a few days, having been there three weeks in June. The party was held at a composer's studio that was out in the woods, in a sort of stone tower, with a bridge over a small moat. The party was as magical as everything else about that place. I remember strawberries and champagne, and dancing. But mostly what I remember was the walk back. A few of us women, tipsy and happy, walked home together and it was absolutely pitch black dark. But there were fireflies too.

In my new manuscript, I have a series of sonnets that answer questions. They are sort of opposites: "When were you loved best?" "When were you loved worst?" "What was the brightest day?" What was the darkest night?" I am playing in them on the figurative and the literal. That night at Yaddo is the setting for

What was the darkest night?

It was in the woods in Saratoga Springs,
after a party with champagne and strawberries we took
a bridge to reach, so dark we could not see
the path, our own white tennis shoes, our hands before our faces.
We could see fireflies, many fireflies, that gave
the dark a depth and height. No moon, no stars,
no light except those pulsing, love-lit tails
and the slow, languorous way they wove through the air.

Their flight was in our blood. And though
it was a month of nightmares,
the month I learned I would never take my life
and just how close I could come, I almost cried for joy
in that darkness. My laughter went up through the invisible trees
like birdsong, a flock of doves released.

I am not bothered by dark art, by melancholy art. That was a dark time for me, the spring and summer of 1990, when I was facing memories of sexual abuse from my childhood. It was also a great party, and a beautiful night, which I treasure. And once she got back in New York in August, Susan Mastrangelo made good on a promise to call me when she returned to the city, and we've been friends ever since. We're very different people, but somehow it works, and each time I see her or talk to her, I feel like no time has passed.

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