Di Piero’s Elusive Middle: When Can I See You Again?
From the Publisher:
“When Can I See You Again is a collection of the poet and essayist’s recent short art writings on subjects ranging from Morandi to Rembrandt to Pre-Colombian marine animal amulets. Di Piero has great zest for looking and a prose style equal to what he sees.”
Writing in 1959, artist Jack Tworkov addressed his social responsibilities as an abstract painter: “I am against the extremes, those that appeal to elite attitudes, and I am for the extreme of the middle, the creative middle.” Tworkov’s “creative middle” is situated between art as a social expression, fettered to the needs of other people, and art as an individual indulgence answerable to no one but the artist’s conscience. The “extreme of the middle” is about finding an uneasy space where art sits within an individual, formed by social forces, responsive to social needs, but not beholden to predetermined ideas or political ends.
I thought of Tworkov’s finessed occupation of the middle while reading W.S. Di Piero’s When Can I See You Again?, a recently published collection of fifty-four of Di Piero’s art reviews written since 1999, most of them first published in the San Diego Reader. At the time of Tworkov’s writing, W.S. Di Piero was fourteen years old and discovering poetry in a library in blue collar south Philadelphia. Like the painter, Di Piero is an elusive thinker whose greatest respect is for the specificity of experience — what Di Piero describes as “what’s irreducible in art.”
Tworkov, witnessing the ebb of abstract expressionism’s international triumph, was a stylistic shape-shifter whose work had an evolving relationship to the dominant art movements of his time. He said “bourgeois society as we know it in America today gives me the freedom to join nothing, no organization and protects me from its vengeance.” This is turtle shell art, responsive to its environment but protective of its maker, a natural extension that adorns the inside and defies the outside. It is an art about between-ness that takes a Mesozoic view of culture, disregarding short-lived artistic trends, and focusing on the long view of human creativity.
Tworkov once said he wanted “to paint no Tworkovs,” which is a way of saying he refused the predetermined quality of personal history and aesthetic habits. For Di Piero — a Guggenheim Fellow, twice included in the Best American Essays, award-winning poet and translator, professor at Stanford University — his employment as an arts journalist for an alternative weekly might seem like a way to write no Di Pieros. “Everything is about moving on,” he once told Publisher’s Weekly.
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