To smash the simple atom All mankind was intent. Now any day The atom may Return the compliment.
John Sapiro and I began our email correspondence about this little poem and the history of the atomic age a few months ago, before the early August anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but amidst the early chaos of the pandemic. It seemed almost ridiculous to be talking about yet another threat to worldwide health, peace, and humanity — and yet, it was the mood of the day. I couldn’t find an exact date for Ethel Jacobson’s poem, although it is in a book I have that has a copyright date of 1952. And so our conversation centered mostly around the cold war of the 1950s and 60s but veered around widely. We talked about the physicist Richard Feynman and his “One Sentence” — the sentence he composed that could be left behind to restart all of science and technology in the event of complete cataclysm (i.e. nuclear annihilation).
“…all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.” – Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
I had planned to print Feynman’s entire sentence on my collage, but as I set up the transfer print, it felt wrong. It was too optimistic, too clinical, too exact for what I was feeling. I kept pulling away words and phrases until I was left with this one word; then I was satisfied.
We worked on our pieces in parallel and this is the result! Please stop by his blog (click here!) to see more of his unique combinations and recombinations of music, art, poetry, and video.
Lastly, my tiny paragraph of self-promotion at the end here:
Have doggedly kept up with the writing exercises from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the craft — latest entry (here it is!) is on POV and my very very short story called “The Mountain Lion Killing.” Also, I have an IG, come on over to @merb02 to say hi and see different haiku and monoprints and some desert photography.
Found a stack of old Thomas Guide Map books in my father’s garage a few years ago and didn’t have the heart to throw them out (or in the recycling). They represent a less intrusive, analog type of way-finding. At least in my family, it was also a rite of passage to receive your first Thomas Guide Map book of Los Angeles County when you got your driver’s license. I fondly remember sitting in the car with high school friends and looking up a street in the massive index and having to note down the page number and grid location (“…okay, La Cienega and Centinela is page 234, G6”). My nostalgia means I now have a stack of outdated Thomas Guides weighing down the bottom of my bookshelf. I figured at least I could try to make some art with them…perfect for a highway haiku!
I wanted to share the compilation post from Red’s Kingdom blog – so much amazing art to look through!
Our last Kickabout prompt, based off Sickert’s painting ‘Ennui’, inspired a range of new work by our participating artists on themes of listless, languor and waiting. When you consider the prolonged incubation times of your average cicada, you could say we haven’t moved all that far this week! That said, we’re a long away from Sickert’s rather drab little parlour, as instead we seek to celebrate the life, times and associations of these extraordinary insects.
I didn’t grow up with cicadas or the sounds of cicadas. There are apparently 30 species of cicada found in California (and 3,000 worldwide), but almost none of them are commonly found or heard in the Los Angeles metro area. I remember hearing my first true ear-ringing buzz-saw worthy cicada at a private campground in Arizona as an adult in my early-twenties. True story: I turned to my friend and asked why the campground would play a recording of such demented cricket noises so loud on the PA system. My friend, who also grew up in suburban Los Angeles, shrugged and said she didn’t know. Rest assured, I have now heard the infamous cicada mating calls many times and have been made to understand how much a part of summer they are for many people around the world.
So when the theme for the Kick-About #8 was announced on Red’s Kingdom blog as simply the word “Cicada,” I knew I wanted to lean towards the absurd a little. What is a cicada to someone who has never heard or seen one? Insects are as vulnerable to climate change and extinction as any other creature – what happens when we start asking after cicadas when they don’t emerge as reliably? Or at all?
I wish to emphasize that no bugs were harmed in the making of this art. I went in search of local insects that had met their demise naturally. I was lucky in finding the Swallowtail butterfly wings right away, but then the supply of large naturally-deceased insects dried up. As they say, the fastest way to make something disappear is to go looking for it on a schedule. I finally found a mostly intact green june beetle. I’m looking forward to seeing what “Cicadas” meant to the other Kick-About participants!
I went out into the desert to see the NEOWISE comet at the end of July (figured I wouldn’t be around to see it the next time in 5,000 years) and also saw a spectacular show from Jupiter and Saturn. I fell asleep before Mars rose blood red in the sky, but my friend told me about it in the morning. I’ve been thinking about Marvin Bell’s poem and my red monoprint from a couple of years ago ever since. The original post, including a little about Mr. Bell, is here.
I also did some experimentation with my old polaroid camera when I was out in the desert. This is what happens when you try to take a picture of a cactus with only car headlights for illumination:
For reference (and to alleviate the nightmarish quality of the polaroid above!), here is a nearby cactus in the early morning light:
On a side note: I am really terrible at self-promotion, so I have told exactly one other blogger-friend, but I do have an Instagram account! (@merb02 or click here) I admit when I first started on IG, it was basically a repeat of Illustrated Poetry, but from here on out, it will be new and different pieces from what I post here. So if it’s your jam, it would be great to see you on IG too.
A man wheels the plastic cow inside for the night.
True story – the specialty butcher near my house has a life-size plastic cow on wheels that is rolled out when they open and rolled inside at night when they close. The transfer print of the words was, well – let’s just say it was not what I had in mind. But somehow the piece felt complete anyway and so I am releasing it into the wild.
Wanted to be sure everyone had easy access to the results of the latest Kick-About – it is a fantastic assemblage. The next Kick-About theme, Kick-About #8, is posted at the end and so, if the spirit moves you…
Set my phone alarm this time so I posted on the right day! Take that, lockdown induced time blindness! For Kick-About #7 on Red’s Kingdom Blog, the prompt was the 1914 painting by Walter Sickert, titled “Ennui.”
Oftentimes, the prompt sends my mind shooting off in some wild meandering direction. But this time, I really couldn’t get away from the couple in the painting. After doing a little reading about it, this is clearly part of the genius of this artwork: it’s devastating “normality.” I kept saying to myself, “they really need their own space.” I fought that notion for about a week, tried a couple of collages of the whole painting I wasn’t happy with, and then finally gave in and made them their own collages.
The whole Kick-About 7 will be up tomorrow! I’m excited to see where everyone took this prompt. (While you wait for that goodness to drop, check out Kick-About 6, Kick-About 5, and Kick-About 4 – you’ll be glad you did!)
silver + slick legless mannequin a flash on the highway shoulder
Like most residents of Southern California, I spend a fair bit of my time commuting (although the pandemic lockdowns have cut traffic by at least half). My drive to and from work often takes me by the exit for the local landfill and it is not unusual to see items on the highway shoulder that didn’t quite make it there…
I’ve been working with small pieces of paper and doing repeated layers of transfers, glues, and textures. I’m not going for perfection in the transfer – I find it to be a meditation in accepting whatever comes as I pull the backing off.
I’ve always loved recycled art and art that uses household or industrial discards as a medium. I credit one of my high school art teachers – she was passionate about recycling as art and petitioned our school district to allow her to teach it as a stand alone elective. They did not approve her petition, but she was undaunted and incorporated almost all of the projects and curriculum into her “regular” art class.
Fast forward to today and Paul at Wombwell’s Rainbow had a post over the weekend about National Marine Week in the UK, asking for art and poems to celebrate the different themes each day (not too late to join in, I think!). It inspired me to try some monoprint transfers of old sea-themed drawings onto trash and plastic waste to highlight the strange tension of how we revere and utterly trash our oceans simultaneously.
The first transfer was of a 1809 wandering albatross engraving by George Shaw onto plastic pipet inserts. These are for reloading pipet tips into boxes for micropipettes (which are devices used to measure tiny volumes very precisely in labs). They are used once and thrown away. The next one I tried was of 19th century etching of narwhals onto a used plastic food storage bag.
It turns out all trash is not created equal for this technique! I also tried to transfer onto some tin cans but that didn’t work at all. My last successful print was of a 1921 etching of an oarfish by W.B. Robinson onto a foil cracker bag.