Sunday, September 16, 2007

On the Road in Lowell

Yesterday I spent the day in Lowell, Massachusetts starting with a visit to the exhibit of the On The Road scroll at the Boott Mills. The scroll itself is a wondrous object and the exhibit accompanying it about Kerouac and Lowell is excellent. I particularly liked being able to sit with headphones and listen to Kerouac reading and speaking. I read and loved On the Road in my early twenties but did not delve deeply into Kerouac's work and the story and legend of his life until I lived in the
Lowell area from 1977 to 1985. At the time I was doing calligraphy and I found the rhythm and power of his language a constant inspiration and source of material for interpretation.

In 1988 I was invited to be part of an exhibition of Lowell artists at the Rencontre International Jack Kerouac in Quebec City. I created four new pieces for the exhibit: two calligraphic works, a sculpture of found wood with artifacts that showed hints of the Spirit Books to come, and my first artists' book, Contradictions: Jack Kerouac, Lowell, the River. Here is the work and the descriptive texts I wrote to accompany them.

A Calligraphic Tribute
A name is a powerful thing. This is a tribute in letterform to Kerouac using his full baptismal name. When I chose the color of the ink and paper, I was thinking of these lines from Dr. Sax– "that daguerreotype is gray all over, but my mother's robe sends auras of warm brown (the brown of my family)"

Wild Form
When I first read this excerpt from a letter to John Clellon Holmes from Jack Kerouac in Joy Walsh's book of essays on Kerouac, Statement in Brown, I knew I wanted to do it calligraphically. The black shapes were made by squirting sumi ink from the bottle onto a sheet of Japanese paper. I started by writing wild form and then added gestures. The original lines spread into shapes as the ink was absorbed into the porous paper. I used part of the sheet for the final piece. I often work in this way, starting with spontaneous gestures using a variety of tools and then adding words. The text is: Wild form, man, wild form. Wild form's the only form for me, my mind exploding with every image and every memory. I'm making myself sick to find the wild form that can grow with my wild heart because now I know my heart does grow.

Prayer for Jack
In Japan, on the anniversary of a parent's or grandparent's death, or in memory of ancestors, prayers are written on thin slips of wood and placed at the entrance to the temple. This piece is inspired by that custom and offered in the same spirit. The materials and meanings are described in the small scroll. The text on the slip of paper is Jack Kerouac/equally empty/equally to be loved/equally a coming buddha

As I read various biographies and articles about Kerouac, I found that I disagreed with their portrayal of Lowell. In this book I have tried to convey the power and mystery I feel in Lowell and its connection with Jack Kerouac's life and writing.

Contradictions was later made into an edition book and now has a virtual life as a powerpoint slide show

On the Road in Lowell
is on view daily from 10-5 through October 14. There are related events throughout the run of the exhibition. After that, it moves to the New York Public Library where there will be an exhibit created from the library's Kerouac collection.

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