At the O’Neill Branch of the Cambridge Public Library
by James Foritano
CAMBRIDGE – Thank goodness for the nooks and corners of neighborhood branch libraries which, like the O’Neill, give shelter to local artists. This September, Irene Koronas, a member of the North Cambridge Artists Association (NOCA), holds forth with a solo show arrayed behind glass-enclosed shelves, push-pin friendly walls of the O’Neill’s vestibule, just steps from Mass. Ave. and Porter Square.
It’s a quiet vision, but also relentless and restless. Colored marks that can only be identified as “squiggles” repeat endless tight coils; boomerang-shaped vectors face left and right, climbing in seething counterpoint towards a horizon just inches below the top of their rectangular paper fields — where they become fainter, but just as relentlessly themselves.
I almost typed “feel” instead of “field,” since these marks seem to be not only measurable, quantifiable traces of some event, some energy racing through a medium prepped to pick up quirky outlines, but also simply the record of a feeling, a frisson that leaves no more mark on the world than a tightening of the muscles as it breezes through a surprised observer.
I am impressed more with the feeling of the graphics than their meanings. The spaces they hold in their curves and angles loosen and tighten, rolling towards a definition, and then repeating their dynamic in a reverse direction. The colors, muted, few and harmonious lighten and darken with the artist’s pressure, changing their tints ever so slightly in the hand-made depths of their paper backgrounds.
I feel that I’m responding to the artist’s movements with a kinesthetic sense, I move closer, then further away, in hypnotic rhythm to the varying pressures of the artist’s hand, pressing down, lightening up.
Then I shake myself and cruise away from these “written landscapes” towards the “odd little books” of the exhibit’s title. My clipboard angles hopefully towards my poised pen. Here in books will be, surely, unambiguous meanings, which I can transcribe and retail to my waiting audience.
But, alas, here too, I fall under the spell of suggestion and feeling rather than discursive thought. Just as the artist’s “paintings” don’t have titles or numbers, I’ll bet these books, have, none of them, a proper table of contents. Not that we could turn their unnumbered pages if they did, since, behind clear glass, we see them only in part.
These slight volumes defeat any attempt to decipher or impose an intention, seducing us with the texture of half-turned pages, the interplay of colors and shapes that hint at meaning in broken phrases but ultimately win our attention with suggestive rather than discursive revelations.
I cap my pen, fold my clipboard into my backpack, and descend the few steps of the vestibule to sidewalk and home. I notice how nature and the artifices we model on nature’s ingenuity depend on pattern: the leaves and the bark of trees repeat themselves in microscopic patterns to form a whole, so do the walks, fields and fences that lead us home. Maybe it’s enough they should just be, without giving us a meaning, a quick recipe for living. Maybe we’re all going somewhere without knowing exactly how or why.
I remember that I forgot to get a book out of the O’Neill Library while I was there. Maybe I should race back and pick up the thread of whatever studies I’d dropped? Aesthetics are fine, but what do they mean?
Then I remember the Victorians, so strenuously dedicated to unraveling ultimate mysteries. And that most strenuous of Victorian seekers, the poet and churchman, Gerard Manley Hopkins.
At home, I Google “Pied Beauty,” Hopkins’ poetic testimony to those moments, perhaps long moments, when we give up seeking sense, and sense the ‘seeking’ of all things:
“Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stiple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.”
Just the first stanza leads me to think that I have brought back a volume from the library, the same volume, perhaps, that Hopkin’s and Koronas were crafting in their different ways; maybe the volume I’m ‘writing’ now with my heightened observation of:
“All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (Who knows how?).”
(The Irene Koronas exhibition continues through September 30 at the Cambridge Public Library, O’Neill Branch, 70 Rindge Avenue, Cambridge, Mass. Call (617) 349-4023.)