DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt

2014/02/23

Creating a Masterpiece: Frank Moore

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Sasha Cagen, cropped

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Michael LaBash, cropped

One of my mentors, the California-based writer and performance artist Frank Moore, died last October at the age of 67. Frank was born with cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk, but he was determined to break out of his own isolation. Once he had done that, he kept on going in that direction, which led him to create a kind of initiatory performance art aimed at dissolving the artificial barriers between people, and between individuals and their own creative power. (Frank tells his own story in the classic autobiography Art of a Shaman.) I first encountered Frank’s writings in the MIT-published journal of performance studies TDR: The Drama Review, and in 1989 was privileged to experience “Journey to Lila”, one of his all-night participatory shamanic erotic ritual performances at Franklin Furnace in New York.

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

“Journey to Lila” was an eight-hour series of experiences, by turns silly, sexy, disconcerting, frightening, ridiculous, liberating, playful, warm, and bonding. By the end of it most of the audience was undressed and playing with each other like naked children. While some moments of it could be challenging, I never felt that I or anyone was unsafe or coerced or being exploited or laughed at.

When the World Wide Web came along in the mid-1990’s, I discovered that Frank Moore was a pioneer in using that new communication medium, with his extensive “Web of All Possibilities“. I was able to reconnect with him and his tribal extended family, got to know Frank personally, and participated in several other Frank Moore performance events over the years (I’m in the left background in the photo below). The first artwork I ever put on the web was on the Featured Artists section of Frank’s website. I consider Frank a mentor and one of the few genuine geniuses I have been privileged to know.

Frank Moore's "Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam",  Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

Frank Moore’s “Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam”,
Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

I’ve seen a lot of great performances and experienced many immersive theatrical events, but nothing has had such an enduring transformative effect on me as Frank Moore’s “Journey to Lila”. It came along at a pivotal moment in my life, and it opened my mind. I had recently moved to New York and was trying to figure out how to live my life as an artist. I was fascinated by magic and was reading about things like Tantra and alchemy, but magic remained a sort of abstraction for me. I had thought of it more as a subject matter for art, as symbolism or as fantasy, only pointing towards mystical truth. Frank showed me that magic can be the operational technique of art, that it is a completely practical approach to transforming reality or creating freedom, and that its materials can be utterly humble (a cup of water, a roll of aluminum foil, a Sonny and Cher song) and its actions very simple.

Frank Moore and dancers in the "Outrageous Beauty Revue", 1987, photographer unknown

Frank Moore and dancers in the “Outrageous Beauty Revue”, Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco, 1987, photographer unknown

Ever since, I have understood that people deeply desire freedom, that they want to live in a world of love and joy, and that if you invite people to play with you in such a world, many of them will. It has nothing to do with the harsh things our society uses to drive and motivate people – fear, envy, guilt, competition. The magical way is the way of a pure heart – which, in Frank’s case, provides the perfect complement to a dirty mind. Frank showed me a wild but gentle way of freedom, and I still try to follow it in my own artistic career and in my own life.

Americans always talk about Freedom and Liberty as our great values, but everybody has different ideas about what these words mean. I grew up in the American West, where the icon of freedom is the lone gunslinger, and where a common notion of personal liberty understands it as autonomy, or as having your own turf where no one else can meddle, protecting yourself and your family or community with fences and guns, and if you’re rich, with dollars and lawyers. Of course, everyone needs a place to feel at home, and fiercely defending that is important, but to really feel free, to have the kind of freedom you need to make art, to make love, to nurture people, requires trust and connection, not autonomy but interdependence. That is the kind of freedom Frank Moore wanted to foster.

For a disabled person like Frank, dependency is obvious and it’s impossible to believe in the delusion of autonomy. Frank had to gather helpers around him, and he would never have been able to do all he did without the support of his larger community and his intimate tribal group, which, at the end included Mikee, Linda, Erika, Alexi and Corey. Any tribute to Frank is also a tribute to Frank’s people.

Frank was a rebel of the underground, and his use of sexuality and messiness and a deliberately crude aesthetic helped to keep him in that place below the radar where magic can be safe. I am sure that many people were transformed by his work as I was, and that the seeds he sowed will be producing nourishing fruit far into the future.

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore’s publishing company, Inter-Relations, just put out a posthumous collection of Frank’s writings called Frankly Speaking. It’s full of great stuff, but I’d like to share here a brief piece that gets at something profound about the creative process, wisdom that is often neglected by teachers. Since many of my readers are artists or art students, this should serve as a good introduction to Frank Moore’s way. I’ve interspersed the text with some of my own doodle-like abstract watercolor sketches, not as illustrations of Frank’s essay but just as my tribute to Frank Moore, examples of my own attempts to work with the kind of freedom Frank is talking about here.

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

CREATING A MASTERPIECE, by Frank Moore, published in Lummox Journal, March 2000, included in Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore, 2014, published by Inter-Relations

An artist starts, let’s say, a painting with a set idea of what he is going to paint. Sooner or later he makes a “mistake” – a color or a line which doesn’t fit in the original idea – which “ruins” the painting. When this happens most people give up, thinking that they are not cut out to be artists, and withdraw back into the common existence. Others try to pretend that they didn’t make the mistake, that the color or line isn’t there on the canvas. They go on painting as before. When they are done, they have painted the shadow of what they wanted. Morevoer, this shadow is covered with a haze. Others keep starting over whenever they make mistakes, not accepting any mistakes. They are rewarded for their endurance with the perfect copy of the thought form which they had held for all this time. They are rewarded by what they think they want to create. Their thought form has been brought down into the material plane. The creation is perfect. But it is not a masterpiece. It is perfect within the limitations placed around it by the rigidness of the artist. The work is perfect, but not free.

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

A masterpiece is perfect and free. The master artist paints an adventure in color, words, or notes. What others see as mistakes, he sees as challenges, boxes out of which he has worked as the basis on which he creates a totally new, fresh pattern. These challenges, boxes, keystones, keep appearing as he works, demanding the artist’s flexibility. If the artist looks back, trying to hold on to what he thought the painting was or would be, he gets trapped in a box out of which he must battle or be turned into a rigid, bitter pillar of salt. The artist has to keep his whole attention on the swirling colors in front of him in order to be the creator.

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

To create a masterpiece, the artist has to use and risk every bit of himself. But he also has to create with God, for God is the one who creates what most people call mistakes, and that the master artists sees as his tools and materials. God does not create for the artist. God just provides the tools, the guiding bumps. It is up to the artist’s free will whether he creates or gets dragged down by the weight of the tools. When the artist is creating, he feels no weight.

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

The most important masterpiece is a lifetime. This is a statement of hard fact. Creating a masterpiece in every day living is governed by the same rules as creating a masterpiece in paint, but much harder because the artist is also the canvas. In every period of time, in every land, there are a few masterpieces of art and writing. But a masterpiece lifetime is much rarer.

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

“Creating a Masterpiece” is on pages 64-65 of Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore.

Photos of Frank Moore and his performances were found on the web. Clicking on the photos will take you to the sites where I found the photos.

2010/06/06

Ohno: Oh Yes

Kazuo Ohno, photo by Guido Harari, date unknown

Kazuo Ohno, a seminal figure in the butoh dance movement and one of the great creative spirits of our time, passed away June 1, 2010, at the age of 103.

I saw Ohno perform in 1996 at the Japan Society in New York.  In an essay posted on my first website, I wrote, ” I will never forget seeing Kazuo Ohno dance at the age of 90, light as a feather, radiating love, a whole audience embraced in his heart.  Love was a palpable force in his performance.”  I have never seen another live artist who created such an aura.  I felt that the hearts of those sitting around me in the auditorium were opening up, and that a kind of love filled with both sadness and joy was circulating through the theater.

The soulful singer Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, whose album The Crying Light is dedicated to Ohno, said, “In performance I watched him cast a circle of light upon the stage, and step into that circle, and reveal the dreams and reveries of his heart. He seemed to dance in the eye of something mysterious and creative; with every gesture he embodied the child and the feminine divine.”

The arc of Ohno’s career was far from the norm.  Coming from a fisherman’s family in Japan’s far north, he attended an athletic college.  As a student he saw an electrifying performance by the dancer Antonia Mercé, known as “La Argentina“.  Deeply moved, Ohno knew he had found his muse, but he had at the time no dance training, and it would take him many years to be able to pay tribute to her with his own performance.  He was drafted into the army and spent nine years at the front.  He presented his first public dance performance at the age of 43.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Ohno was a major collaborator of avant-garde performance artist and choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata.  Hijikata’s work evolved from raw, radical provocation to a sophisticated choreographic vocabulary based not on external forms but on internal images and sensations.

In 1977, fifty years after the encounter with his muse, Ohno created the solo performance “Admiring La Argentina“, directed by Hijikata.  This dance moved audiences around the world, and suddenly in his seventies Ohno had a new career as a solo performer and a new status as a master of soul expression.

Japanese Poster for "Admiring La Argentina", 1977, photographer unknown

As a dancer, Ohno’s approach was to embody the essence of human feelings, not to act out a story or explore a concept.  When he was interviewed at the Japan Society in 1996, in connection with the performance I saw, he was asked what kind of response he hopes to get from the audience.  He said the thing he doesn’t like to hear from an audience member is that they “got it”.  “How could they ‘get it’?” he asked, “I don’t get it.”

There’s a description of a class taught by Ohno at his studio in the 1988 book Butoh:  Shades of Darkness, by Jean Viala and Nourit Masson-Sekine:  “[Ohno] doesn’t ‘teach’.  He nourishes; he guides; he provokes; he inspires. . . He assigns a subject for improvisation.  The ‘dead body’ is a theme he often suggests.  ‘What could be the life of that which is dead?  It is this impossibility which we must create.’  He explains that for his dance, we must not try to control the body, but to let the soul breathe life into the flesh.  He adds:  ‘Be free!  Let go!’  Being free is not doing what we want or what we think.  On the contrary, it means being liberated from thought and will.  It means allowing life to blossom within.” (p. 55)

Kazuo Ohno, photo by Ethan Hoffman, p. 46 from "Butoh: Dance of the Dark Soul"

The 1987 photography book (in which the image above appears) Butoh: Dance of the Dark Soul includes these extracts from Ohno’s writing, “The Dead Begin to Run”:  “Superimposed on the story of the cosmos, man’s story unfolds.  Within this cosmological superimposition emerges the path that leads from birth through maturity to death.  The Butoh costume is like throwing the cosmos onto one’s shoulders.  And for Butoh, while the costume covers the body, it is the body that is the costume of the soul.

“A fetus walked along a snow-covered path.  It cleared a path by spreading its clothes upon the snow after removing them one by one as in a secret cosmic ceremony.  Then it peeled off its skin and laid that upon the path.  A whirlwind of snow surrounded it, but the fetus continued, wrapped in this whirlwind.  The white bones danced, enveloped by an immaculate cloak.  This dance of the fetus, which moved along as if carried by the whirlwind of snow, seemed to be transparent.

“In life there is, without a doubt, something beyond the brashness of youth which bursts like summer light.  There is something between life and death.  This part of ourselves is like the wreck of an abandoned car; if we fix it, it could start up again.” (p. 36)

Kazuo Ohno in "The Dead Sea", photo by Nourit Masson-Sekine, 1985. “The dead start running…” p. 51 from "Butoh: Shades of Darkness"

Perhaps Ohno had to wait for the ravages of age before his body could express this transcendence.  I see many performances by young dancers with powerful, trained bodies.  But to see Ohno’s small, frail and aged body move was to see divine grace manifesting in the only way it can, through mortal, vulnerable, transient living matter.

From a young age, Ohno had been devoted to the Christian faith.  While his beliefs and their part in his art are barely discussed in any writing I have read by or about Ohno, I see in his work an expression of the Christian theme of divine cosmic spirit entering into bodily form to experience passion, love, sacrifice, suffering and death.  This is not just the story of Jesus, as Ohno shows us, but the story of all embodied creatures.  And this embodiment is not, as some would have it, the debasement of the spirit, but its exaltation.

 

The video above, showing Ohno improvising in his studio, is dated 2000, but I don’t know the source.  If anyone can identify what this is from, please let me know so I can credit it properly.  The images used in this post were all found on the web, and clicking on the pictures links back to their sources.  Where the scans I found on the web match illustrations in books I own, I have also noted where they appear in those printed sources in the captions.

2009/10/21

Hair as Art: Edisa Weeks

Edisa at work, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Edisa at work, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

As a child, dance artist Edisa Weeks attended Quaker meetings with her family. These meetings involved group meditation and sharing, conducted without leaders or hierarchy. As an adult artist, she found herself in a field defined by elitism and a rigid division of roles. The artists were expected to demonstrate their skill, passion, and cleverness to a separated, passive audience. There was none of the mutuality or intimacy of the Quaker meetings of her youth. She wanted her art to be a way of connecting with people, not a way of asserting her superiority to them.

Edisa is far from alone in this impulse to break through the “fourth wall” – it’s been a major thrust in experimental performing arts since at least the 1960’s. Her dance company, Delirious Dance, has done things like performing in private living rooms, exploring through movement the awkwardness of encounters between strangers.

Chashama, an arts organization based in midtown Manhattan, invites visual artists and performers to use storefront windows in the city as special venues to reach a broad audience including many that might not enter a gallery or theater. When she was offered access to this forum, Edisa hit on the idea of inviting people to get their hair done. The wacky sense of fun with which she tackled the task was a hit, and since the first window event, Edisa has done people’s hair at many parties, benefits and festivals.

Applying dinosaurs, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Applying dinosaurs, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

The conventional beauty school approach to hair essentially moves people towards conformity with certain established style norms, smoothing over their peculiarities. Edisa, on the other hand, tries to push the quirks to the limit. Upon meeting each new “client”, Edisa’s first question is, “How crazy can I get?” The response to this question provides the first gauge of the personality she’s working with. As she begins to play with the person’s hair, she’s assessing the shape of the head, the quality and strength of the hair and what it might support. At the same time, she’s observing the style and colors of the person’s clothing, how they speak, how they respond to touch, and so on. She’s surrounded her workstation with a huge array of flowers, toys, and sculptural and decorative items, from which she chooses the elements of her construction, weaving extravagant headdresses that may be silly, scary, or lovely.

Some of Edisa's decorative items, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Some of Edisa's decorative items, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Edisa's hands, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Edisa's hands, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Edisa weaves flowers into a child's hair, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Edisa weaves flowers into a child's hair, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

I was acquainted with Edisa and had seen her performance pieces, but the first time I saw her doing hair designs (at a benefit party for Chashama), I was amazed at the speed with which she worked and at the variety of what she created. The people wearing her creations looked blissful, as though their own unique beauty had been perceived and manifested in art, on their own heads. I immediately identified with what Edisa was doing, because the impulse to use art to connect to people is exactly what I’ve explored both through body painting and through portraiture. So many artists use their talents to put themselves above people, to impress them or preach to them. It is beautiful to encounter an artist like Edisa, who seeks rather to celebrate and uplift her audience. It’s a mutual gift – they offer her their heads as a creative playground, and she shows them how much fun can be had there.

Applying a feather boa, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Applying a feather boa, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Queen of Burlesque, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Queen of Burlesque, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Head, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Head, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Cleopatra, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Cleopatra, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Applying flies, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Applying flies, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Catching flies with honey, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Catching flies with honey, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Fiber Optics, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Fiber Optics, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Zombie Apocalypse, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

Zombie Apocalypse, 2009, photo by Alex Kahan

How to impress your friends, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

How to impress your friends, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

You can see more examples of Edisa’s hair designs at her Delirious Hair Design website.

Photos in this post were taken by me and by Alex Kahan at Edisa’s Delirious Hair booth at the DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival last month in Brooklyn.

2009/07/01

Pina’s Hands

Filed under: Homage: Performers — Tags: , , — fred @ 00:43

Pina Bausch, a choreographer who reconceived theatrical dance as a physical laboratory of passions, has passed from us unexpectedly at the age of 68, with her career still at full steam.  I don’t have my own images or video of her, but offer this YouTube excerpt from Coffee with Pina, a film by Lee Yanor that finds something of the essence of Pina’s restless grace in her dancing hands.

2009/06/29

Moonwalk & Sequined Glove

Filed under: Homage: Performers — Tags: , , — fred @ 23:10
Moonwalk & Sequined Glove, 2009, b&w version, photo by Fred Hatt

Moonwalk & Sequined Glove, 2009, b&w version, photo by Fred Hatt

I’m working on a big drawing post but it’s not ready yet, so perhaps I should join the throng and post my tribute to Michael Jackson, my generation’s incandescent performer and tragic lonely man.  Ever since New York City put up these new LED pedestrian signals, I’ve been reminded of Michael’s iconic glove and dance move.  Farewell, blazing one.  Let no one say our civilization has renounced human sacrifice!

Below, a color version of the same shot.

Moonwalk & Sequined Glove, 2009, color version, photo by Fred Hatt

Moonwalk & Sequined Glove, 2009, color version, photo by Fred Hatt

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