I’m reading Olga Tokarczuk’s epic, The Books of Jacob, set in the 1700s in an area that’s now mostly Poland and Ukraine. The borders are ever-shifting, but unlike now, in that pre-industrial time, animals are ever-present in daily life. I chose to read a chapter about a mythical three-hundred-year-old goat into a microphone the other day.
Actual animals and ones made by art to stand in for either people or their ideas and feelings blur together sometimes. I write in my book-in-progress about a fellow art student who brought a pig head from Chinatown and painted portraits of it in a common room at school. Making a portrait of an animal, or, in this case, its severed head, divorces it both from its now-ended life as well as its place in whatever anyone could take as its natural place in the world. Now it’s no longer part of the animal kingdom——if it even ever was, since it was livestock bred to be eaten——but it’s no longer part of the food chain either. As that head sat and rotted on a table in a downtown Chicago art school the window in which it might have been consumed closed fast.
There are a million examples of amazing paintings of fish and game throughout art history. I wonder how many painters worked fast enough that they could cook their subjects for dinner after the picture was done?
I never painted a dead animal aside from memorial pet portraits. But those were from photos their grieving owners sent me. A very different kettle of fish. There are a couple ink paintings and pen drawings of the dog I had a short time I had to put him down because he had heartworms so bad the vet told me he likely wouldn’t survive the operations needed to rid him of them. Everyone but me was terrified of that guy. I still miss him sometimes though he was a handful.
Last weekend I got to catch my friend Bill play with his band, Black Duck, at Thalia Hall. Nice to see him let loose and shred in ways he usually doesn’t allow himself to. They were opening for Yo La Tengo, a band I loved in the 80s and early 90s. Last I saw them was in 1991 or 1992 at Lounge Ax. That club is long gone but they’re still at it.
I stayed for about five minutes of blissed out noodling, then biked home.
Listen to Cecile McLorin Salvant’s Ghost Song. Though some of the tunes are very old, it feels like she’s singing them up to your ear right this second.