Saturday, July 18, 2020

Yes! (for John Schroeder: A Catalogue text)

 The seeds lay sown 

in the glowing moon.

Seeds given, carefully planted, 

and given again.

The moon grows,
and some pluck the fruit.

The fruit will grow
over many seasons,
and many will pluck and eat, 

many whose eyes I will never see.

It matters not,
for the seeds were given me. 

I only planted.

John Schroeder (1943–2004) 

The lovely poem John Schroeder wrote—the one that serves as the epigraph to this celebration of his work—is an incantation, a “spell” of words that accompanies the scattering of seed. He wants us to know that he sees himself less as the creator of his artwork than as the chosen recipient of a gift, or many gifts—not for himself but given him with the responsibility to re-distribute them, to scatter them and leave them lying where they fall. It is others than himself who will benefit from their blossoms or their fruit.


It’s an engaging vision of the artist’s role—and a very different one from the more familiar, ego-driven vision of the artist as one who speaks out boldly with “something to say”, a “statement”, a message to be delivered to the expectant world. John sees himself more as the medium, the messenger—he’s often called a “shaman”—between a meta-world, a world of, let’s say, super-reality (“truth”? “spirit”?) and the mundane world we are given to inhabit, the world of our ordinary experience.


It is not surprising, then, that John’s work has a kind of modesty, a quality of self-effacement, in scale as well as in intention. Look at his drawings...

(my apologies for the absence of titles, dimensions, etc. with these images)

They have a delicate, whimsical quality in execution, and offer a simple delight to the observing eye; yet they explore the marvelous diversity of nature and—importantly, today!—expose its vulnerable fragility. They seem to me the product of a curious, inquiring mind engaged in a restless search to find out meanings on the way to giving them expression


The theme of vulnerability finds renewed and deeply poignant expression in John’s “war” paintings. Even the surface—glass!—on which they are painted speaks to the fragility of those somehow exposed and defenseless human beings that are their subject...

 The broken, ravaged landscapes offer them no protection as they call upon our compassion, through the artist’s. His function, here, is to channel their distress without mitigation or artifice and with such intensity that we are not excused nor allowed to look away.


John is best known, surely, for his assemblages, where similarly vulnerable detritus rescued from the real world—often, as I recall, the desert floor--is pieced together, restored, and given new life in constructions that exude not merely aesthetic but a haunting spiritual power. Some belong in the ancient tradition of amulets and talismans, the tools of the shaman’s trade. They pay homage, particularly, to the accoutrements of our Native American forbears: drums...

... pouches, water bottles lovingly assembled out of ritually-charged materials from the natural world, skins and feathers, sticks and bones, rocks, seashells.... Others belong more clearly in the tradition of contemporary artists since Dada pioneers (Joseph Cornell comes immediately to mind). 

And the most powerful of John’s construction works bring both those two traditions convincingly together, the ancient and the entirely up-to-date contemporary.


And let’s not forget the humor in John’s artworks, the subtleties and odd juxtapositions, the wit and wiles and eccentricities that elicit a chuckle or a smile, for these are the evidence of their compassion and their humanity. They are the triggers for the delight we can experience when we encounter his acts of magical metamorphosis, where eye and mind are beguiled by the revelation of some heretofore hidden but unquestionable truth. We gaze into the mysterious, irreducible presence of his objects, and we just say: Yes!

1 comment:

stuart Rapeport said...

terrific memories of John and his work