Friday, October 31, 2008

The Dumb Supper

I'm making cornbread for the Dumb Supper, which some celebrate on Halloween--you put out foods for ancestors and departed friends and such, sometimes dining with them. "Dumb" has its archaic meaning of "silent," in this case. I usually do cornbread, greens, sweet tea and open a beer (this year two, one for my grandfather per usual and one for an acquaintance who left this year).

I got a New Year's card yesterday from a friend who can fly (Samhain is sometimes called the witches' new year), and it reminded me of her card from last year, which had a black cow and a white cow on it, and that reminded me of the artist Vernon Pratt, so on this Day of the Dead I'd like to remember him, too.

You could call his work conceptualist/minimalist, but since it gives you enough to think about for days, it's pretty maximal. He worked often in black and white--now there's something to get started chewing over. Where do they meet, where do they blend, when does it become "more black" or "more white"? For instance, one work was hundreds of marbles, black and white marbles in separate containers; one marble was dropped at a time into the other container.

Just think.

You can see his work large scale in Raleigh: The Education Wall.

I met him when I was 22 and had gotten a grant to work at an artists/writers colony, god knows how--you submitted your work w/o a name and the judging was very blind, indeed. (I wasn't the youngest ever there yet; that would have been my best friend at the time; he got in at 20, which is what gave me the idea to apply.) I was lonely and awkward and never knew what to say or do; we had to eat dinner in this big room and I felt like an idiot most of the time. Like when the director put me down in front of everyone for not having read Issac Singer.

Vernon was fun and kind and unpretentious in every way; he never flaunted his considerable intellect but was just curious and interested in everything going on around him. The colony was on a working farm that raised a black-and-white breed of cows; he had a lot of fun with that. He was also a musician and we talked alot about jazz. He had a car and I didn't, and he gave me rides to the nearby college in the mornings where we were allowed to use the pool and gym and we even went to movies in town ("Pretty in Pink," can you believe!). He was a straight man who didn't try to sleep with me; now, not that there's anything wrong with making a polite and happy attempt, but I say that to bring out how deliriously happy he was with his wife and family. He spoke often with pride of his daughter (who became Jane of Jane magazine), barely my age and already a star.

He died after a biking accident during yet another stay at the artists' colony. He gave me my first real painting by a real artist; it's one of a series of "scribble scales" he made, once again adding black gestures to white canvas. It's hanging above my altar room (aka closet) now.

Photo: James Stewart and Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle. Both such great physical actors, and the physical harmony and communication between them is so palpable. But of course the real reason I love this movie is for the witches and beatniks.

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