Agnes Martin has been one of my absolute favorite artists ever since I saw her work in person for the first time. I had known about her work, but having only seen images online, I wasn’t particularly struck by it. But as soon as I stood in front of one of her quiet, contemplative, meticulous paintings, I was obsessed. I appreciate art history and I can’t help but insist that appreciation of art benefits from knowledge, but at the end of the day, the artists that I love most of all in any medium spark a visceral, emotional reaction. And Agnes Martin’s art, seen in person, was like that for me. I soaked up her paintings and couldn’t get enough.
So I started collecting books about her and eventually made it to this amazing book by Arne Glimcher. Through its beautifully reproduced letters, stories, and essays, juxtaposed with images of her art (which, now that I’ve seen many in real life, transport me back to afternoons spent sitting in front of the real thing), I was glad to learn that my reaction to her art mirrored her own thoughts about art and life. She said “Reality is seen as beauty, felt as truth, and responded to as art.” When I read that, I felt like a forest had sprung up around me. I loved the book so much that when my copy was lost by the postal service during our move back to San Francisco from Tokyo, I had to buy another one.
So much of what her art says resonates with me. She wrote to the Whitney, “To live truly and effectively the idea of achievement must be given up.” I’ve been thinking a lot about how I live these past couple years as we moved across the ocean and tried to build a different life, came back and tried to rebuild an old one. I’m still unlearning a lifetime of overachieving, surrounded by other achievers, constantly trying to improve, grow, and accomplish. I often catch myself falling into the trap of caring too much about constantly getting better, doing things better than I did yesterday.
But when I look at Agnes Martin’s paintings, when I read her calls to respond to life with joy, I remember that it’s possible to let that compulsion go, if you try hard enough, or rather if you stop trying. And then you can experience perfection.
In my dream we’re (big surprise) back in Japan, and we’ve rented a car this time so we’re driving around Aomori and I’m getting so excited to see 紅葉 (autumn leaves).
Often, when a trip I’ve been looking forward to a little too much approaches, I have dream(s) about it. So predictably when our short jaunt back to Japan in the fall rolled around, of course I had a dream about Aomori.
See, there’s this thing I have for Aomori. I’ve been fixated on it for so long and yet had never managed to get there, so when I finally decided to make the trip, my subconscious went crazy.
But why Aomori? The first time I took a trip to Japan, it was just before fall, and so of course the JR ads everywhere were touting various autumn color spots to visit. And prominently featured that year was a billboard of an insanely beautiful view of beech leaves reflected off a tiny pond in the middle of Aomori, the northernmost prefecture of Honshu. In the bottom corner of the billboard were the words 青森、いいな, which roughly translates to “Aomori…how nice.” I LOVED that billboard. I couldn’t get enough of the tagline and the genius of simply letting the beauty of this place speak for itself. It was both infinitely amusing and impressive. From the moment I saw that billboard, I knew I wanted to visit Aomori.
Somehow I didn’t end up making it there until last fall. It was partly because Aomori is quite rural and it’s hard to get around without a car, and I didn’t have my Japanese driver’s license. And maybe it was partly because I sort of liked it living as a kind of dream for me. But after 5 years of wanting to visit Aomori, we finally did, and I am so glad we made it. Wandering the quiet old growth beech forests was beyond amazing for a forest lover like myself. And, as evidenced above, I got to visit the very pond featured in the billboard I saw while waiting for a train in Tokyo that first trip. It was quite the hilarious adventure which I won’t recount here, but visiting the spot that started my Aomori dream and snapping the same picture featured in that billboard was about more than just having a photo in my catalog. It captures the very essence of what motivates me to work on this blog. I had a vision, held in my mind so strongly it invaded my dreams, and I’ve managed to meld dream and reality into memory, and these photos are the proof.
In my dream I see rainbows everywhere, springing out of whiteness.
I find my more abstract dreams more inspiring than my long, plot-driven ones. When I came upon this exhibition in Tokyo last year it immediately reminded me of the rainbow flashes I saw in this dream, and it’s been sitting waiting in my queue for far too long. I do sometimes feel bad that it can take me months to get dreams put together, but I want more than anything for this project to stay a fun creative endeavor rather than a chore, so I’m working on banishing guilt entirely from the equation. In a lot of ways, 2018 was a year of “adult responsibility”, so while I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, if I do have an intention to set for the year, it’s all about less guilt and more chill. And of course lots more fun with Drempt!
I had a crazy dream about jumping through these portals into other worlds, doors perched on hillsides that lead to parallel universes of sorts. As you’re jumping through a portal you have to sort of turn yourself in mid air to actually cross over, if you just jump straight through it doesn’t work. You get a running start, throw yourself through these doorways, turn a little bit left or right, and then there’s this flash of color, red or blue or yellow, and you’re in a new world which is almost the same as the one you came from, but not quite, and they’re numbered, and we’re going backwards, approaching 1.
A lesson in patience: it took me over 5 years for the seed of this dream to sprout, but the experience of wandering chilly hillsides looking for hidden portals made it so worth it.