I've split up this post, so that it's down to readable length. Originally it's from July 2006.
A few weeks ago -- I think the week before I went to the mud festival -- I went to a Picasso exhibit right around the corner from where I saw the soccer game.
Now this, this was fantastic. I know just enough art history, and art creation, to engage with Picasso in a way that I really enjoyed -- I wasn't all distracted saying things like "Well, Picasso's third major lover was very strong-willed, and that affected his lines in his paintings of female models during his blue period" (which is total bollocks -- I just made that up. I have no idea about the relationship between Picasso's biography and his art). But I DO know enough about art to make a few observations about how that man looked at the world, and how he presented his ways of seeing the world on canvas, so that we would start to look at the world in a similar way. THAT was amazing and fascinating. He has these paintings where it looks nothing like a crying woman . . . but it FEELS like a crying woman with every shape, colour, form, and angle. Your emotional reaction to the picture is exactly your emotional reaction to seeing a woman cry. He puts noses and eyes and shoulders in the wrong places, but he does it so that those features catch your eyes -- it's like he's saying, "I put these in the wrong place, or made them disproportionately large, or grotesquely misshapen, so that you'd know that I want you to pay attention to it." And then, once you looked at that misplaced shoulder, or leg, or finger, it would capture, exactly, the gesture of an arm, or an eye, even if it didn't have the "proper" form. A quote up on the wall of one of the display room (HUNDREDS of paintings and sketches and prints were on display) said something like, "I spend my whole life trying to learn to paint like a child." Every week in art class, I watch kids try to put the way they see the world onto paper, and some of them are starting to think in set patterns, but others still just play with shapes and colours as well as their hand-eye coordination allows them. Frankly, I wish I could create pictures as primally, and simply, as Ryan does, but everybody around him (except me) keeps telling him to "make the nose look like a nose. Make the car look like a car."
The other thing I loved about Picasso, truly loved, were the photos of him. He always had this fantastic look in his eye of a man totally participating in his life, eyes that could look carefully at something and love it, and see it, and see things in it, and even express it. He wore his genius lightly -- he didn't wear long black coats and dark hats and smoke cigarettes with long filters, and let the IDEA of who he was interfere with who he actually was -- there are pictures of him painting in his boxers, with a bottle of wine nearby and his belly hanging over his elastic waistband. Every picture made me think of a man who had the chance to do what he loved – create -- his whole life, who spent his whole life looking and trying to learn, and trying to find a purer, simpler way to think and live and then portray the world. I hope that when I'm an old man, I have eyes like that, too.
And in that vein, I will continue paying attention to my world, seeing and looking and trying to understand as much as I can without judging too much. Walking to work and hearing a cicada that must have grown up listening to John Coltrane's avant-garde phase. Smiling at the little boy and girl whose family works the bedding shop on the corner near my house who, if they see me or another caucasian, they'll stand in the middle of the street and just bellow "HELLOOOOOO" until they're right out of sight. And they really bellow, too. I'll continue sitting in coffee shops and shopping mall hallways and watching the people go by, and writing poetry and stories, and reading the same. Take care, everyone. Enjoy the pictures, and love your life, and find peace and joy in the meanings that fill your life, whatever they are.
In other news, I got a new laptop. This is the first bulk e-mail being written on my own computer, in my apartment. In fact, I'm in my pyjamas right now. It's a good little unit (the computer, not the pyjamas). It does everything I need it to do (the computer, not the pyjamas).
Last weekend I went to a mud festival in a village a little west of Seoul. Boy, that was fun! We smeared our bodies in healthy clay, played on a beach and in the sea all afternoon, and acted silly with thousands of other people, all smeared in clay and grinning goofily.
I played in the sea, throwing my body into these monstrous breakers as the tide came in. It was like being six years old again, riding my bike down a steep hill, or touching the tree branches above with my head as I jumped on a trampoline. The sea is awesome, and I hadn't played in big waves in such a long long time. It was really thrilling jumping into this thing SO MUCH bigger than I am, carrying so much power, and then being tossed around like an air mattress. Finally, exhausted and exhilirated, I walked home. . . the wrong way. I got properly lost, discovered an amusement park and then finally found my way home, too. The second day, it rained. I just took off my shirt and let the water fall on me -- better shirtless and wet than cold in a wet t-shirt, I say, and then I walked around and played anyway (as did most of the other people). Then, at the end of the day, just before my group reconvened to eat dinner and leave, I spend forty minutes in a mud sauna.
There was a bath house with special mud-enriched water (have I mentioned yet how healthy this mud was supposed to be? You could buy bars of mud soap!), and I soaked there, and showed a bunch of other western guys (first time sauna-ers) how to do a good salt rub. Then we went home. It was really fun.
Probably the high point of that day (other than singing "If I Only Had A Brain" with the silly Australian who approached me and started a conversation), was when a traditional Korean drumline, dressed up in full regalia, started playing, and immediately a dozen mud-caked westerners started a dancing circle. It was one of those spontaneous, surprising, just wonderful moments.