Some CREATIVE EXPRESSIONS OUT OF SANTA FE
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by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D.
I think that one of the more unusual communities in the world is, or, at least, has been, Santa Fe, New Mexico. A half century ago it was still a small mountain village of only about 20,000, but among them there may have been a half of one percent who were actively creative. Now I understand there may be about three times the 20,000 that may be there at this time and, as I think there may be, as proportionately as many creative artists as well, then Santa Fe is, as communities usually go, one of the most heavily populated with creative types as any place on earth with perhaps as many as 300 functionally creative people. A little salt goes a long way for one half of one percent sure does bring out differences between one community and another. Santa Fe is not a dull community. It is the intention of this writing to check out three of the theoretical 300 to see what it might be that identifies and, perhaps, explains, what this characteristic called “creativity” really is….or might be. Those involved in this commentary are: Chuzo Tamotzu, Rolf Koppel, Vincent Younis and Storm Townsend.
Sumie drawing of a bird and bamboo,A work horse
Chuzo with two young listeners
Chuzo Tamotzu was one of the most benign personalities I have ever known. Even my mother was not that gentle. This gentleness seemed to characterize his entire approach to life and all living expressions of it. His rejection of everything lacking in gentleness seemed to be just as firmly part of his character as his advocacy of patience and caring. I never heard him speak of these things. In fact, I rarely heard him speak at all….about anything, but, somehow, he managed to get his message across without intrusion.
It was through Glynn Gomez, a creative personality in his own right, that I first came into contact with Chuzo and his wife Louise. Glynn too, showed a wider embrace of kindness than most people, but in comparison to Chuzo he had none at all. Now, it has been my growing belief, that and interest in, the phenomenon of creativity that is leading me into the conviction that everything one does, says, attempts, rejects, etc., are forces which act upon our essential persons as effectively as the hands of the potter shapes the character of the vessel.
The more conscious we become of that process and our own power to effect our own development within ourselves the more completely creative we become in everything we do. We are in the process of constructing who we are. This also demonstrates the tragedy of an early death, one where the individual had been suddenly cut off from this sort of spiritual development. This observation may help us to understand the total misery which Judas Iscariot must have felt when he realized what he had done.
Where there is good, there seems also to be evil and what is good seems to attract that which wants to destroy it. Fairly early on Louis Tamotzu, the Jewish wife of Tamotzu asked if I would write a monograph on Chuzo. I welcomed the opportunity for I learned that whenever I did try to put into literary form concepts which were not literary at all I forced into a learning situation where the careful choices of elements from one medium (the written word) to give meaning to the elements from a very different medium (drawn illustrative images) became of vital
importance. While that process is akin to the development of ideograms I find it more detailed, involved and complicated, requiring the thinker to pass the thought across the mind more than once.
The evil that was attracted to Louise appeared after she had her lawyer prepare a contract for me to write the monograph was, I fear, in the form of one or two of her Jewish female friends, quite possibly Geraldine Price, who, consistent with the program of ethnic advancement, and dis-advancement depending upon the ethnicity involved, told Louise that I was a member of the Libertarian Party, a party, which was probably described as being anti-communist. Well, that claim, certainly was not untrue, but in the context it seemed to suggest that anyone who was anti-communist would be automatically, anti the art of a communist. While Louise, from time to time, showed evidences of thinking along the lines of a proper communist, Chuzo never did. His overriding concern for the fragility and beauty of life was too deep and too consistent for him to have been a communist, or a capitalist for that matter. I think Chuzo preferred to leave both organizational and political expressions alone as being inferior expressions of social concern, but he was deeply concerned about the suffering of people undergoing warfare.
Not so, however, with the individual who advised Louise to drop the matter of a monograph with me as its author. I believe I might have fought this development in court with some success but I had no desire to even try. I knew that our relationship had already been severely damaged by the unkind and troublesome interference. Years later, after I had moved from Santa Fe to Pojoaque, Louise wrote a long, handwritten letter expressing her sorrow at having treated me so badly…her expression, not mine. She also expressed the desire that I tell no one about the matter as she still had, at ninety years of age, friends and admirers whom she did not want to have influenced in any way to change their minds. I tried to tell her that it was quite likely that an apology of the kind she gave would have raised even higher a thoughtful person’s estimate of her character, not lowered it. After all, as one looks over the period of human history where the populous has placed its trust in leadership and been sorely disappointed it is merely our being naive that allows us to trust in the untrustworthy, not the intentions of our character. However, from my point of view the factors in the work of Tamotzu that demonstrate his creative response to his message through his medium can be identified quite simply by the ideas with which he infuses the marks he makes. They are not characterized by having a great deal of artistic sophistication. The academic discipline of making a controlled mark that conforms to a preconceived standard as one might find among the neo-classicists can rarely be detected in Tamotzu’s work. The abrupt changes in mark character as one sees in the sumi ink drawing with the large smudge which ends some inches below in the image of a vocalizing bird stands in sharp contrast with the traditional sumi handling of bamboo. The juxtaposition of the disciplined treatment of the bamboo with the threatening smudge above the anxious bird might be compared to the sound of a scream of rape during the singing of the Ave Maria. The absence of technical consistency only dramatizes the event of animated excitement from among the security of a bamboo grove. The sound of the bird is louder for having been treated differently technically. Imagine, if you can, then the aesthetic result of a lyrical decresendo by Monserat Caballee joined by the sound of a Liza Minnelli…and I enjoy Liza as well. The startling differences in the aesthetic of sound would clarify the character of both.. In this sense, This work by Tamotzu is not unlike the voices of the ventreloquist and his dummy
Rolf Koppel told me in 1969 that he had been born in 1934 and his mother told me he was three when in1937 they were on their way from Germany to “Amerika” and the toddler couldn’t resist his excitement to the dismay, I am sure, of all the other passengers on the train out of Germany into Denmark to refrain from making a little song out0------------------------------------------------------------------------p of the phrase. “We are going to 1111111111111Amerika” we are going to Amerika. We are go….
Koppel: Torso Koppel: double image
Ingre Torso unkown Etienne Maurice Falconet
Odd Nerdrum: Self portrait A masked man from New Guinea
Koppel: Self Portrait
Caravaggio: Self portrait as Baccus?
A Rococo “apotheosis”
I have paired Rolf’s work with the work of others with whom he may have been familiar as a means of demonstrating the level of Rolf’s visual sophistication. More than either Tamotzu or Younis, Koppel is a “cultivated man”. Now, that expression probably needs some explanation. In this instance to be “cultivated” means to imply a high degree of awareness of what a wide spectrum of the population is doing and thinking and it probably also implies a significant degree of conformity to the standards that those people have set. In this sense neither Tamotsu nor Younis can be considered cultivated. Tamotzu, it seems, while aware of the then contemporary thought in New York, chose to abandon that milieu and to come to Santa Fe where conforming or not conforming was less an issue. Younis, as witness to his having spent, at one point, nearly half his adult life in prison was a non-conformist. Younis is also the only one who lacks a formal art education. And Koppel has had an extensive, highly intellectualized and cosmopolitan exposure to a variety of cultural “trends”. It might be exactly that which seems to have made it difficult for him not to make references to what he knows and thereby, avoiding dealing with some more personal and original graphic concerns, or from another point of view that may be exactly what he is doing.
It is this aspect of Koppel’s work that may account for my ability to pair his images with those of other artists and from different period and different parts of the world. It may also be this aspect of his cultural exposure that makes it more difficult for him to achieve a personal creative level and, perhaps, to be permanently absorbed by the maelstrom of creative currents. Certainly, Younis was not burdened by this and was through the highly restrictive boundaries imposed by plastic sheets of stenciling patterns. But, and this may be the measure of Younis’s creativity, these preconceived stencils, which psychoanalytically could be compared to the strict regime of prison life and social contact, did not restrict Younis’s expression. Rather, he exploited those characteristics to build a large vocabulary of graphic statements, and, additionally, to do so with considerable humor. Koppel’s statements, in some cases, are more subtle , as in the pair of “apotheosi” . His willingness to compare himself to both Caravaggio and Nerdrum raises other questions as well. Nerdrum, himself, may be an object of some nefarious amusement in that the name “Nerdrum” whose word part “nerd” in American English refers to a personality type in Norwegian that word cell ,
as a word, is street talk for “prick” which, in turn, raises the question as to whether the name “Nerdrum” is a coincidental nomen omen or an adapted AKA.
Vincent Younis was about 30 years old when I first met him, newly returned to prison and awaiting a hearing with the judge, later Attorney General of New Mexico, Petra Maez It was his mother, Angelina Delgado, a member of the five generations tinsmith family and a tinsmith herself who had introduced us at the local jail house, she to see her son and I to see an employee who had got into trouble. Vincent was now in the state prison awaiting a hearing with the judge as a result of his having abused the privilege granted him by the court when he applied for a leave to attend a family affair in Santa Fe but took advantage of the opportunity to skip to Florida to see his wife and child. This accomplished, he returned to Santa Fe and turned himself in. By the time I met him he had already organized the other prisoners into a small staff of contributors to a prison publication entitled “The Revolving Door” in which appeared the drawings, essays, and other documents created by the fellow prisoners there. He had, as well, arranged for my coming to talk to the prisoners about what a creative attitude meant. I did, of course, as a favor to him. The experience was not without its instructional value, however. All the other prisoners were, I imagine, New Mexico Hispanic. Vincent’s father was Lebanese. Out of deference to Vincent they paid dutiful attention to what I talked about, but other than that paid absolutely no attention to me , not unlike the reception Anglos get when invited to an Hispanic house for a family party. Teenagers will let the Anglo know, without any doubt whatever, how despised they are and how much they do not belong. In the prison when a tattooed inmate approached Vincent, and ignored me when I spoke to him, carried on his chest a portrait of the head of the Christ with a crown of thorns and on his back there was a full figure of the Virgin Mary, which, I was told, was there to put off potential rapists. The logic of these behaviors is beyond me but through it all I could not help but admire Vincent’s ability to attract respect and attention in this rather specialized environment. When the time for the court hearing came about some months later the prosecutors had not been informed by the defense attornies that I was to appear and so registered their objections to the Judge and, in the process, managed, to treat me rudely until I, automatically, let it be known I would not tolerate the abuse. The prosecutor’s repeated concern was for the reputation Vincent had for being able to manipulate people. I took the opportunity to introduce the idea that not all manipulation was bad, but it did little good, if any at all. Judge Petra Maes gave Vincent another 13 years in prison and it is my assessment that this sentence, greater than some sentences for rape and murder, was, in fact, punishment for Vincent’s mother for having married outside the clan. The judge, not so by the way has lost an alcoholic husband through a driving accident and claimed not to notice that a plaintiff’s attorney was not functioning normally and ruled against the plaintiff and awarded a parcel of land to the defendants, also named Maes, who had been charged with criminal trespass.. The creative mind is as J.E.Drevdahl has described like a criminal evading the social control police as best he can and Vincent may simply have chosen to hide himself in a crowd of prisoners where, it seemed, his society seemed to want him in any event.
The vast majority of heirs to the Land Grants in New Mexico were conversos, that is, Jews nominally converted to Christianity who had managed to arrange an escape to the New World some two days after the passage of the edict legally introducing the Inquisition. Vincent’s mother never indicated to me that she was an heir to a land grant and I never asked. Her greatest pride was in the fact that she was a member of five generations of tin smiths. I showed the work of Vincent’s explorations into image making to a Santa Fe gallery director who had, at one time, hosted a large show of prison work , but her response was inadequate, incorrectly grouping Vincent’s work together with all the other prison art production to which it does not belong. I also used his work to test the then current concern for standardizing graphic products as a means of establishing levels of creativeness, that is, “official” levels of creativeness, something like an I.Q. score for the C.Q. Their assessments of Vincent’s level of creativity failed mainly because their parameters were too narrow and the analytical approach too procrustean. Creativity can be assessed in only a very primitive way if restricted to the counting of incidences of response, i.e., the number times something happens, or, in the case of something creative, the number of times its doesn’t happen. In short, it takes more than a statistical approach to understand the event. So, what is it that one conclude from these observations? Probably nothing more than that the creative artist in working out his own solutions to problems may touch upon societal concerns as well and in so doing hint at solutions.
While it has been said that cubism presaged the break up of 19thcentury society there were, after all, a number of other things going on as well and about a hundred years ago after a terrific earthquake which very much disturbed certain Indian cultures in the Northwest who experienced an increase in mental problems did not settle down until after someone of them came up with the image of a squirrel cracking a nut and placed it on the Totem as a symbol of their communal experience such a one to one correlation between our experiences and our art is not so easily come by. It may possibly be helpful to talk about it and this may be the art critic’s major purpose these days…a surrogate psychoanalyst. I think it was Picasso who said that all art was a lie in which case there may be a high correlation between the work of the artist and that of the politician. This is only a question, after all. Except, perhaps I do have an alternative to offer, in that in the research conducted at the University of Northern Iowa in 1968-70 it was determined that those subjects who were the most perceptive as well as creative received consistently on the average one grade point below those whose grade point average was at or above the cut off point for admission into the Teacher Education Program and that those who were allowed to become students in the program were also found to tell more lies about themselves to governing authority suggesting that the teacher education program at The University of Northern Iowa was successful in bringing into the teacher force uncreative liars to influence the youth.
Two sculptures by Henry Moore
Photograph by Edward Weston
Three sculpture by Storm Townsend
I have brought works by these three people together to help me make a point, that being, that beyond the representation of visual data the artist detects qualities in the subject upon which he extrapolates and explores, or, as in the case of Edward Weston, reveals to the observer by means of his concentrated focus. Weston has not changed the object. He has simply intensified our inspection of it so that, somehow, the observer is the agent by which its meaning is changed. Either way, the observer’s experience is enriched by these shifts in emphasis. One of the main differences between Townsend and Moore, as I understand their work, is that where as Townsend calls out attention to how our bodies feel in space, Moore tells us how our bodies partition space. One is subjectively affective in the approach, the other is objectively analytical. The aesthetic development of New Mexico will be an interesting event to observe as all these varied influenced work their way into some amalgam.