Bob Ward – Young Jeremiah Gains

Bob Ward
Young Jeremiah Gains

Young Jeremiah Gains, Carte de visite, Leeds, UK, photographer unknown, 1884

We are able to see what ordinary people in late-Victorian times looked like due to the popularity of what was known as a ‘Carte de visite’. Portraiture no longer the privilege of the rich, it had become possible to get photographed in one of the many studios available. The product was about the size of a playing card, just right for circulating among friends or adding to the family album. Although subsequently displaced by the postcard print that could be mailed, it was the arrival of the Box Brownie camera at the beginning of the 20th century that brought real change. Simple to use, everyone could now take pictures in their own settings, away from the make-believe backdrops provided by the studios.

Bob Ward – Carte de Visite, Leeds, 1884

Bob Ward
Carte de Visite, Leeds, 1884

Young Jeremiah Gains, carte de visite, Leeds, UK, photographer unknown, 1884

                           Great Uncle Jerry:
                              twelve years old in sepia,
                              bowler-hatted, smartly buttoned up,
                              with an elegant walking-stick,
                              left hand holding a floral spray
                              as if it had been thrust upon you.

                           Put in your place for this photograph,
                              you don’t convince me you’re at ease;
                              perhaps the required rigid pose
                              for a long exposure suppresses
                              the merest chance of a smile;
                              you’re incubated in an oval mount.

                           I guess that you’ve been marshalled
                              through the studio door by relatives
                              as a Victorian rite of passage,
                              post-school, into a quasi-adult life
                              shut up in an album by your family.

                           Now I revive you with my attention,
                              bring you a childhood memory,
                              just one, of you as an elderly bachelor
                              who baffled me with a conjuring trick –
                              items disappearing under cups . . .

                           These days I conserve your photograph:
                              flowers droop but what became,
                              I wonder, of that walking stick?
                           Don’t forget to carry it
                              next time you come visiting.

James Broschart – HGTV

James Broschart
HGTV

Watching well into the night again
to see
 if the couple who clearly
do not understand one another
will finally make up their minds 

and decide to either love it or list it, 

whether they will muster up the courage

to pick the fixer-upper or the budget-buster, 

or will remain, still miserable, in their

current house, obviously not a home. 



I’ll take the rental on the top floor in Paris

in spite of the steps and the small closets, 

or the two-bedroom on the beach in Costa Rica

with the view of ocean breakers that never quits.

So what if the kitchen lacks a dishwasher, 

and the toilet flushes only with the aid of a bucket. 

Forward my mail to Greenland, where I’ll claim
that house perched high on a rock

they say is too small for two.

Margaret DeRitter – Dateline Kalamazoo

Margaret DeRitter
Dateline Kalamazoo

For eighty-six years the Gazette stood granite-solid
at Burdick and Lovell. Now it’s moving to a storefront
on the mall. Seventy journalists are down to nine,
though some may be rehired by a renamed,
revamped company that gives out news for free.

A new press pumped out its first edition
just eight years ago, rollers whirring,
paper spinning, folders folding, clips grabbing
each section, winders whipping pages
onto giant spools that would later unwind
them into News and Sports before they flew
out the door to pickups, vans and beat-up old cars.

We were an army then — carriers, accountants,
sales crew, artists, designers, editors, reporters,
the lady on the phone with a real live voice.
We called the new section Today, with no clue
about tomorrow. We even threw a party
with tours and punch and praises for the pretty
clock tower high above the press.

One day we surrounded our three-story beast
by the hundreds, climbing its metal stairs
like kids up a slide, lining its skinny catwalks,
jostling for spots amid paper and ink.
We were Newspaper of the Year.
The photo looked like a celebration
but layoffs crouched in the corner.

Consolidation with Grand Rapids had already
begun: accounting first, then ad creation,
classifieds, copy editing, printing. The paper rolls off
another press now, at midnight, sixty miles away,
the promise of a high-speed German machine
never to be realized in this city of The Promise.
Its hulking silhouette lies still behind glass.

Diane Giardi – Naming It

Diane Giardi
Naming It

They die telling the truth.
Journalists, witnesses, newspaper publishers,
Uncovering it
Exposing it
Saying it
out loud, in writing, in voice,
in photo, in vote.

The it forever changes.
Severed heads rolling on playgrounds,
hundreds of rapes in a Congo village,
untouchable politicians, leaders, buying votes,
and subtly, silently, planning their massacres,
dead-on force
and the cold, numbing turning away
from all who pain and need
and at their feet openly bleed.

They die telling the truth.
Photographers, ministers, next door neighbours.
Naming it
Signing it
Facing it.

Bravery in a statement.
This is what she said.
This is what they did.
That is what he looks like.
Yes, that’s him.
I saw it. I heard it. I know this to be true.

Jury S. Judge – Saturated Colours

Jury S. Judge
Saturated Colours

Jury S. Judge writes: ‘My photographs, Diaphanous and If You Love Yellow, This Is For You, were both taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T3i. I captured both images using a shutter speed of 1/80 of second and at an F-Stop of f/5.6. My cell phone served as an illuminated light source in the background, which set the delicate flowers aglow with bold colours. These pieces are both celebrations of the simplicity of vividly saturated colours and the exquisite, timeless beauty of plant life. I enjoy when small-scale subjects such as flower petals are magnified by camera lens, and become elevated to art.’

Diaphanous, Jury S. Judge, photograph, 2018.

If You Love Yellow, This Is For You, Jury S. Judge, photograph, 2018

Bryan R. Monte – AQ24 Spring 2019 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ24 Spring 2019 Book Reviews

Jane Huets, With Walt Whitman: Himself, Circling Rivers, ISBN 978-1-939530-06-6, 192 pages.
Scott T. Starbuck, Carbonfish Blues: Ecopoems, (with art by Guy Denning), Fomite, ISBN 978-1-944388-53-9, 93 pages.
Jacob M. Appel, Amazing Things Are Happening Here, Black Lawrence Press, ISBN 978-1-625577-05-4, 152 pages.

These past six months I have received some interesting books from publishers concerned with three different subjects — a Walt Whitman documentary biography, a book on ecological poems with paintings of war and climate refugees, and a collection of short stories, which are strangely and memorably linked to each other due to their images and themes. These books are extraordinary due to their new treatment of old subject matter, their manner of presentation, or their ability to capture and hold one’s interest. Two of the three use visual media such as paintings, photographs and reproductions of historical documents to reinforce their points. The third’s fiction writing style is so explicit, its characters and images that will remain with you long after you have put the book down.

The first book is Jane Huets’ With Walt Whitman: Himself from Circling Rivers. This book is a beautiful, multi-media documentary of Whitman’s life and times and includes gems this reviewer was previously unaware even though he thought he knew Whitman’s biography fairly well. Its multi-coloured texts and reproduced images also make it suitable for instruction in secondary and tertiary schools. These gems include a reproduction of a draft of ‘Live Oak with Moss’ and pages from his journals. One early 1860s journal entry includes a sketch of a soldiers’ hospital ward, the location of the men’s beds and also list of some of the men’s requests for reading material or for contact with clergy.

Having read over a dozen books about Whitman and his written works, this is the first book I’ve seen which adequately describes Whitman’s immediate family and his ancestors, their influence on his life, and his parents’ and siblings’ response to his writing. (For example, Whitman moved away from New York at least twice in his life to be with family in St. Louis, Missouri and in Camden, New Jersey). The book also provides an interesting selection of paintings, drawings and photographs of the places Whitman worked, lived and frequented and also of Whitman and his friends and associates. This includes paintings of then rural Long Island, where Whitman’s father tried twice unsuccessfully to farm.

Walt Whitman: Himself also explores Whitman’s participation in literary circles and their New York hangouts and patrons such ‘Pfaff’s Chop House and Beer Cellar’ and ‘Henry Clapp’, who ran ‘the weekly literary magazine Saturday Press’. The book also mentions Whitman’s early artistic supporters such as Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta and Anne Gilchrist. It also mentions Whitman’s attendance at musical and theatrical performances in New York influenced his work, with specific references to his poetry.

Colour plates, paintings, drawings and photographs are beautifully reproduced and take up a significant portion of the book’s pages making it suitable for use in secondary and community college settings, although I suspect many scholars will also appreciate many of the documents, paintings or photographs Huets has assembled in With Walt Whitman: Himself.

The second book is Carbonfish Blues: Ecopoems by Scott T. Starbuck with artwork by Guy Denning. His book includes poetic observations of sequoias and spruces which live hundreds of years longer than humans, displaced Pacific Islanders who remember the ease of their ancestors, how rising sea levels will effect the world map and species, and the deaths of boat refugees. As he cleans a bluefin he’s caught in ‘Breadfruit’ he meditates on the four things that human beings really need to do to survive: ‘eat, mate, avoid predators, / three ways to give Thanks / to the Source of all.’ Thanks.

Opposite ‘Breadfruit’ is one of Denning’s 12 artworks. This one of a face in blue grey colours with an open, downturned mouth entitled Requiem 2 (for the now forgotten) and another face, Opposite Starbuck’s poem ‘One Raven’, about the Sitka Spruce’s more expansive sense of time, is a copper, brown face with eyes open looking out towards the reader on in a background of what appears to be books and newspapers. Denning’s art underscores the importance of Starbuck’s warnings about the destruction ahead due to global warming. In ‘Climate Reality’ Starbuck places the blame for global warming on schools and employers who: ‘said / if you followed the rules / you would be okay. …. The truth is …. they lied.’ ‘Rosetta Poem’ emphasizes mankind’s and Nature’s common ancestor. Starbuck reflects: ‘is it possible distorted language / has been (the) real enemy / all along?’In the next two poems, ‘Titanic Radio and the book’s title poem, ‘Carbonfish Blues’, Starbuck compares the sinking of the Titanic and the drowning of its passengers, especially those in ‘2nd and 3rd class’, to what will happen to those people (the poor) for whom no ‘lifeboats’ were even planned and others like Esther Hart, who stayed up all night fully dressed, ‘ready in a way / none can be for abrupt climate change’.

Immediately after these poems follows a double page spread of Denning’s The disasters of war 11 showing a woman holding a child on the left looking upward, and a man holding a child and a woman on the right looking downward. The words GRACIAS and MUSEO DEL PRADO appear printed vertically just to the left of both women. The artwork is reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War. However, it could also reflect the apocalyptic world soon to come if climate change is not halted. In a very short poem, ‘Soon’, Starbuck relates how dear things will soon become: ‘salmon cans will be opened like rubies. / Oranges will be as rare a diamonds.’

Starbuck’s poems also discuss the floating plastic waste in the world’s waters ‘Floating Plastic Jesus’, the endangerment and extinction of species in the last century ‘Warrior’s Story of The Last Wild Otter’ and ‘Invader’, and the price, according to Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan ‘per person per year in the top one billion people’ to save billions of people from death by heat, is ‘$450’. His dire poetic descriptions of habitat destruction due to over-harvesting, fishing and hunting, pollution and global warming are placed beside Denning’s artworks that depict warzone/ climate refugees or the faces of the dispossessed, such as in Denning’s sketch on a grey background of an expressionless face entitled Your opinion is worthless. Is our opinion and action worthless when it comes to global warming? Starbuck’s poem ‘Stepford Congress’ is ‘bought / by oil companies, / and dying / with them.’ doesn’t seem to show much optimism. In ‘Observer Post 9’ he imagines Earth’s epitaph written by an alien civilization. Students there ask their professor if the reasons humans drove every week to ‘‘poison stations’ / with many other options’ were “Convenience?” and “Insanity?” Their professor unfortunately answers: ‘“Yes and yes”’.

The last book is Jacob M. Appel’s Amazing Things Are Happening Here, his ninth book of short stories and his fifth with Black Lawrence Press. This collection of stories, with their snap endings, are set on the East Coast in Appel’s favourite fictional town of Creve Coeur, Rhode Island, in Manhattan or in Florida. One of his returning character types is the shy, male protagonists in ‘Canvassing’ and ‘Embers’, who despite their goodness and devotion, do not get the gal, and, in the first story, is also not as nice and as patient as he seems.

One thing that I find also enjoyable in short story collections are stories which are connected with each other thematically over time. Passion rules the day. The heart knows what the heart wants — and in the case of three female protagonists in ‘Canvassing’, ‘Grappling’, and ‘Live Shells’ — the heart wants bad boys. It isn’t interested in the logical suitors with steady jobs, from the right side of the tracks. It wants passionate and/or burly men from the wrong part of town.

Three stories with plot lines that for me are departures from Appel’s previous subject matter include ‘Helen of Sparta’, ‘Amazing Things Are Happening Here’, and ‘Dyad’. The first story involves the black sheep of a family returning drunk to her old high school to visit her old drama teacher, (long deceased), who almost gets herself and her nephews arrested for entering without permission. In ‘Amazing Things are Happening Here’, the collection’s title story, the head nurse at a Manhattan psychiatric hospital covers the disappearance of a patient for weeks by falsifying his file with fictional meds, treatments, consultations and ultimately a discharge. The story’s tension is due to the fact that someone, probably the narrator, will lose his/her job if the patient isn’t found, so that the falsification of the discharge is preferable to revealing the truth. And in ‘Dyad’, a childless, female ocean park ranger, contemplates leaving her husband for a French oceanographer and his eighth-year-old daughter, as they both urge the ranger to use her boat to keep some whales from stranding. She changes her mind, however, when one of the whales they had ‘saved’, suddenly and unexpectedly beaches itself anyway.

My criticism of this collection includes the following observations. ‘Bigamist’s Accomplice’ has a storyline I’ve read before in at least one other writer’s fiction work. A man and woman, who have Alzheimer’s, find each other in a senior home and their real partners decide to let them have each other (a rabbi even performs a fake wedding) because their partners with memory loss no longer recognize them and they realize these partners will be happier together.

My second criticism would be that some of the narrator’s vocabulary in ‘Live Shells’ occasionally seems not to be her own such as when she mentions ‘ersatz windmills’ and ‘inertia.’ Perhaps, however, I’m being unfair to working class, shop-operating, triple divorcees. Lastly, in ‘Grappling’, Jeb Moran, this story’s 1920s bad boy, who has spent time in the state penitentiary, uses the ‘N’ word once when reporting from whom he had won money through gambling and cockfights.

These reservations aside, however, Appel’s collection of short stories, brings to life the lives of American bad boys — gator wrestlers, machinists, murderers, bigots, and even a homicidal teenage wallflower — and the women who have been attracted to them or who have failed to notice their dangerous presence. Appel’s stories in Amazing Things Are Happening Here create a world where unfortunately, fabricating the truth, is often preferable and less complicated than telling the truth or facing it.

Bryan R. Monte – Paper, in memory of Dawn Clements, 1958-2018

Bryan R. Monte
Paper
in memory of Dawn Clements, 1958-2018
© 2019 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

In August 2013, my partner and I were holidaying in London. Looking through a gallery guide, we saw a listing for the Saatchi Paper exhibition. We had originally planned to go to another gallery, but for some reason, probably related to time and/or distance, we decided instead to walk to the Duke of York’s HQ, just a few blocks from our hotel near Sloane Square, to see Paper.

Not expecting much from such a simple, unassuming title, some of the art didn’t disappoint. One piece was a ‘sculpture’ of brown, butcher block paper wrapped around a wooden frame with a hole torn straight through the wrapping. Others included furniture wrapped or tree trunks capped in newspaper. ‘How sublime!’ I thought sarcastically. However, in one large hall, I believe it was the first one, were panoramic drawings of modern home or flat interiors, which immediately impressed me. They reminded me of the establishing and/or travelling shots used in film, where everything is in deep focus as the camera follows the actors from one room to the next. I looked for the title of the works and also for the artist, whose work I had never seen before. One of the drawings, which started with a staircase on the right and which drew the eye upwards and to the left to reveal rooms with their exterior walls removed to show their contents, was entitled Travels With Myra Hudson, 2004, by Dawn Clements. Dawn Clements. I believe there was another room of interior drawings, one which wrapped from one wall around a corner to the next. ‘Could this be the same Dawn Clements, with whom I attended film and semiotics classes at Brown?’ I thought. The artist’s bio, with birthplace and date in another gallery, confirmed it was indeed Dawn.

Dawn and I met in Professor Michael Silverman’s Berlin Alexanderplatz film class in September 1984. She immediately caught my attention due to her unique attire. Unlike the other students standard uniform of jeans and flannel shirts that made the first week gathering on the Green look like the most recent Levis commercial, Dawn usually wore a plain blue skirt, white blouse, dark tights and flat black shoes. I also remember her straight blonde hair and big eyes, which seemed to take in everything. She usually sat quietly in the middle or back of the room during the weekly viewing and discussion of one or two episodes from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s then-recent, but now legendary, 13-part, television series. The series was named after Alfred Döblin’s novel, which we read as we watched each instalment and compared it to Fassbinder’s film in terms of narratives or discourses and their containments, suppressions and/or erasures.

Dawn and I became friends and I remember talking with her before and after class. She was especially excited (as was Professor Silverman) when I decided to republish my class paper on the gay discourse in the fourth issue of my gay magazine, No Apologies that next spring. I also delivered a paper with video excerpts from the TV series for the Modern Language Association conference in Chicago in December 1985.

During this time I didn’t know Dawn as an artist, but rather as a film enthusiast, who later became Professor Silverman’s intro to film teaching assistant. Sometimes Dawn would roll part of that day’s film before or after class and we’d gasp at the long, establishing, tracking shots or how Technicolor made the wine in the dinner glasses a deep, glowing, cranberry-juice red. Dawn wrote me in 2014 that: ‘those teachers, those films and those readings…helped shape me into a person who “reads” the world.’

We also talked about the joys and tribulations of our past, romantic relationships and both of us quoted Eartha Kitt as we joked we ‘want(ed) a man with a big, big, big, big … yacht’ (from ‘Where is My Man’ by Bruce Vilanch with Fred Zarr and Jacques Morali from the album I Love Men, 1984). She was one of my three friends at Brown, and the only one with whom I maintained contact immediately after graduation.

I drove up to see her at the University of Albany in early September 1986, her first week of classes as a grad student and my first week as a high school writing teacher in rural Massachusetts in my new, five-speed, manual-transmission Subaru, which unfortunately, I was still learning how to shift properly. Her landlady let me in with a wink, not realizing I was gay and I would be sleeping on the floor — alone.

Appropriately enough we went to see the Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School that weekend at the student union. Since I wasn’t so confident driving my new car, we drove around in Dawn’s late ’50s or early ’60s ‘boat’, which made people swerve out of her way if she floated just to the right or to the left in her lane. We had a good weekend, but then we both became immersed in our new worlds: Dawn at SUNY Albany’s Graduate Art Program and me, teaching writing. We exchanged letters a few times. I sent Dawn a Christmas (1986) card with a deer amorously locking its horns with a coat rack. Unfortunately, I was too poor, disorganized and a bad typist to make photocopies or carbon copies of what I sent her. I can only guess at what I wrote from Dawn’s response. Her letter, dated January 14, 1987, was handwritten in black biro on thin, yellow, translucent, unlined paper with one word in almost every other line partially obscured by a woolley, black cloud.

A line from Dawn Clements’ letter to Bryan Monte, 17 January 1987

In my letter I had probably described my Thanksgiving weekend with my family in Cleveland, which distressed me so much I literally dislocated my right arm in my sleep. I was seen by an casualty doctor, who put my arm back into its socket and then into a sling. Unfortunately, as a result, my mother had to ride with me back to Massachusetts to help with the stick shift. In addition, just after Christmas, I broke up with my partner of two-and-a-half years.

Dawn shared news of her family holiday get together. She reported that one of her parents had just had a health scare. For the first time, she realized her parents weren’t ‘indestructible’. To underline this thought, she copied out an eight-line passage from Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, which her parents had given her for Christmas, in which Proust recounts his first realization of his parents’ mortality.

She then mentioned one brother about to fly down to Australia for a job and another brother, who had announced he would be married four days later because he wanted his Australia-bound brother to be his best man. With an artist’s eye, Dawn then describes, in almost the same style as her later interior drawings, the ’60s-style, split-level, suburban home ‘with original furnishings’, where the ceremony took place. She mentions the ‘sunken living room’, with ‘a glassed-in fireplace … (where) ‘a … blue-flame “log” blazed.’ flanked by ‘two sofas next to each other’ and an extremely long ‘coffee table’.

Then Dawn mentions the Albany sights she’d discovered after my visit: ‘a U-haul truck suspended above a skyscraper’ and 21st US President’s Chester A. Arthur’s monumental gravesite statue. I must have also asked in my letter if she had met any interesting and unusual people. She had and wrote they were ‘kind, supportive and extremely talented’. She ended her letter asking about me and suggesting we meet ‘in Boston sometime.’

We never met in Boston. Unfortunately, I lost touch with Dawn due to a very bad winter, which ended with two blizzards in April that made roads impassable for days followed by a two-week heat wave the next month during which I lay on the floor of my attic apartment next to a fan and a pitcher filled with ice water. In addition, I had not met any friendly people in Massachusetts with whom I could share and develop my writing. By June, I had decided to return to California.

I did not come in contact again with Dawn, or her work for 26 years. During this time I moved back to San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, worked for an insurance company by day, and taught English and creative writing by night. Then I emigrated to the Netherlands, where I taught English, communication and computers at private schools and at a university, got a Masters in education, and taught English language and culture at a Dutch polytechnic. I also met my current partner. (Dawn told me later that she, at about the same time, had come across the copies of No Apologies I had given her at Brown).

When Winfred and I returned to the Netherlands, I tried to find Dawn’s e-mail or telephone number to get in touch. Unfortunately, her e-mail address wasn’t quite the same as her name. Fortunately, by late January or early February 2014, I had found her via LinkedIn. Dawn was happy to resume contact and she wrote that she thought it was ‘an honour’ that Saatchi had placed her work at the beginning of the exhibition. I wrote Dawn about my David Sedaris interview, which I would publish in my new magazine, Amsterdam Quarterly the next month. Dawn wrote back the same day about her recent exhibition at the ‘Bell Gallery at Brown alongside (work by) alumni Paul Ramirez Jonas and Kelly Tribe.’ In e-mails later that month, we got caught up on 26 years in two or three pages.

Dawn wrote about her graduation from SUNY Albany and teaching art from community colleges to Skidmore from the late ‘80s to the early ‘90s. Then came her ‘Cinderella moment’ when Flash Art wrote about her NYC Drawing Center show ‘and I was invited to show my work in the Venice Biennale in 1993.’ She wrote that her first years in NYC were hard. She ‘painted murals and dressed mannequins … drew the first pencil sketches for the Victoria’s Secret’s angels wings!!’, and made ‘backdrops and scenery’. However, even with shows and fellowships in the US, the UK, Belgium and Italy, she confessed, ‘I need to teach to pay my rent’.

She continued in this missive to comment on the ‘great sets, great clothes, great color’ in North by Northwest which I happened to be watching as I wrote her my email response. She also talked about her love of Sirk’s use of colour, excess, and camera work in Written on the Wind in which:

‘… Robert Stack … flies Lauren Bacall from New York to Miami Beach to try to impress her … opens a door to … (a) hotel suite, … walks her into the bedroom, … with a ‘closet FULL of clothes …,’ and a dresser drawer ‘filled with silk underwear. Such wild and extreme melodrama.’

Dawn and I could always connect through film and I could see how its language, especially the travelling and establishing shots where everything is equally in focus and its use of melodramatic storytelling, had greatly influenced her own drawings.

We emailed and skyped each other in the months leading up to my visit to New York later in early July 2014. Dawn collected me the afternoon of 6 July as we’d agreed and we drove to her studio, which was in a long, former warehouse on a street, which ended at the East River. Her studio was large a rectangular space, longer than it was wide. I remember there were books, canvases, drawing supplies and an upright piano. I also remember the studio had a window, which looked out onto a canal. Just as Dawn mentioned this to me, a tugboat outside suddenly blew its steam whistle, which made me jump out of my chair. There were also two long drawings tacked up on opposite walls. One was actually two pieces according to my journal: ‘a ropey charcoal studio set and on the other wall, a curly-haired movie star, who I couldn’t identify and which I forgot to ask about.’ (The next morning, Dawn informed me this ‘movie star’ was Sylvia Sidney, who was part of a new watercolour work).

We sat down and had white wine and matzo crackers as we talked about our lives, teaching, writing and art. I gave her a tote bag from the Royal Academy of Art and some postcards, which Winfred and I had purchased a few weeks before.

Dawn gave me some maple sugar candies and a copy of Fence magazine from 2010. She said ‘it was only magazine that had her work in it that she could give me.’ I filled her in on the first part of my holiday in England. This included classes at the Birmingham Quaker Centre and a few days in Cumbria to visit friends with whom we walked around and photographed each other at Castlerigg Stone Circle and had lunch on Lake Windermere.

After getting caught up in her studio, we drove around scouting places for the AQ 2014 Yearbook reading that January. We visited Pete’s Candy Store, the Perogi Gallery and a few Dumbo bookstores. (The event was held at the Anne Frank Center). Then we had a roast chicken and sausage dinner at the Vinegar Hill House restaurant. Afterwards, Dawn drove me back to my hotel near Penn Station, where miraculously, we found a parking space, so she came up to my room for a few minutes. There I asked her opinion on two different background colours for the AQ 2014 Yearbook (sand v camel) and I gave her a copy of the AQ 2013 Yearbook along with a William Morris birded wallpaper blank book so she’d start keeping a journal.

From that time, Dawn and I emailed and skyped with each other, on and off every other month or so when either of us had time in our busy schedules On 5 Oct 2014, Dawn sent me a PDF of a clear glass vase holding long, greenish flowers It was part of her ‘Chrysanthemums’, 2014, watercolour that would later be part of the installation she was drawing for her Bates College show in January 2015, when she would also start teaching at Brown. Her busy autumn schedule would include helping move her mother, ‘little visiting artists jobs … that (will) help me pay the rent,’ and graduate student critiques work ‘at the Maryland Institute College of Art.’ Dawn was so busy she even apologized that her 16 January 2015 Bates opening would prevent her from attending AQ’s 2014 Yearbook reading just two days before.

Buried under work, Dawn apologized repeatedly for not answering my e-mails for weeks or sometimes even months. However, this hard work did finally deliver some results. On 20 March 2015, she wrote she’d gotten a ‘full-time position at RISD’, happy it would give her financial and health benefits. She decided to commute up to Providence from Brooklyn to teach there. I had written Dawn about trying to get together in NY in May or June, but she said she couldn’t. She had an opening in Hudson, NY around 1 June and a possible two month residency. I wrote her back congratulating her on her RISD job and told her about my recent memoir about Thom Gunn in AQ12. In July 2015, I told her to ‘take care of herself,’ reassuring her that ‘We’ll get together when things settle down for you.’

Due to her hectic schedule, however, I didn’t hear from Dawn again until March 2016. She apologized for not corresponding for a while, but indicated she had ‘been … consumed and exhausted by her very extensive schedule….’ She sent an e-mail from a train on her way to work at the Yale where she worked as a ‘critic’ in the MFA programme. She mentioned studio visits, conversations, critiques and ‘admissions interviews.’ She admitted it was a bit much — RISD plus Yale and even Cranbook Academy near Detroit — but said she ‘enjoyed engaging in mature conversations with young artists.’ She ended her email apologizing again for her late reply and hoped I was well.

I thanked Dawn and advised her to take time every now and then to ‘pause, breathe and enjoy. Draw something on a scrap of paper as you did on that train ride in Europe that lead to your first big project. Just as then, the pieces will put themselves together later.’

Just two months later, however, Dawn’s life took an unexpected and unfortunate turn. On 29 April 2016, she wrote she had cancer. She also mentioned how ‘kind and helpful’ her mother had been caring for her in hospital. She described Bellevue as an ‘enormous factory of a hospital,’. She wrote ‘the medical show’ had ‘more colour than Amherst, Massachusetts’. Perhaps Dawn was putting a brave face on things by looking outward, because in the next paragraph she wrote ‘there’s more in store.’ In addition, she thanked me for the Morris bird blank book I’d given her in July 2014 and reported:

…. it has been helpful to write,…. I thought of … what you told me to do in this book, and now, at long last, … I will start to write….

I responded the next day with my regrets about her diagnosis. I told Dawn to ‘get plenty of rest, take your medication, don’t move around too much … (and) Keep in touch where you’re feeling up to it.’ To try to take her mind off her illness, I mentioned Winfred and I had just recently bought a miniature dachshund pup called Rex, who was ‘two hands big’ when we brought him home, and was now ‘an armload and still growing’.

On 11 June 2016, I emailed Dawn asking how she was. I also mentioned it was so unusually warm in June, that, for the first time, I’d had to run a portable air conditioning unit in my flat. She wrote back the next day saying that she was ill, had just had her first round of chemo and couldn’t write much. I was sorry to hear that she had been in hospital and hoped she would soon complete her treatments. I attached three, small photos of Rex she could view on her phone with my message.

I sent Dawn another e-mail in August, but I don’t have record of having been in touch with her again until 18 November when, according to my journal, I saw her green light on my Skype panel, for the first time in months, so I decided to call her. Dawn answered right away. I asked if she was in her Brooklyn studio, since it was already dark outside the window. She told me that she was in Rome at the American Academy on a two-month fellowship. I asked her how she was doing. She told me the cancer had returned. I couldn’t say anything except, ‘I’m sorry, I’m very sorry.’ Dawn told me she was expecting another call in the next five minutes, so we kept it short. Dawn returned my skype call on the 21st. I wrote in my journal that Dawn looked a little bit better this time. She didn’t have a hat on (so I could see she still had her beautiful, blonde hair) and the dark circles around her eyes were almost gone. We talked a little about my annual AQ yearbook print production schedule, and she told me more about her health.

I asked Dawn if she’d been enjoying her stay in Rome, including the sights and the food. I mentioned the cool, ancient, underground villas with their wall murals and she said she’d been near there and that Italian food was wonderful. I asked if she was working on anything new, but she didn’t give anything away. She said her mother was coming for Thanksgiving and that they were going to see the Vatican together. I told her to make sure that one of them was in a wheelchair, so then they wouldn’t have to wait in long lines to see things. I asked if she’d like an ARC of the AQ 2016 Yearbook, and she said yes. I sent her a copy and a box of German chocolates wrapped in Dutch Sinterklaas paper.

On 20 December Dawn wrote she found ‘a happy surprise’ in her AAR mailbox. She thought the chocolates were delicious and ate the whole box in one evening. She asked about my health and said she was starting her second round of a new drug which had sometimes given her ‘heart attack symptoms.’ when walking, so she had to ‘stop and wait and go VERY slowly.’ Despite her health, however, she said her stay had been ‘very productive.’

I responded that I was very happy the box of chocolates had helped her stay up all night and create. ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,’ (William Blake) I reminded her. I also told her about the time my legs suddenly stopped working once on the Leidseplein (and I’d neglected to wear my leg braces per my doctor’s instructions). It took me a quarter hour to slowly, walk crab-like, the last 25 metres into a Central Station-bound tram.

We skyped a few days later and I told her about my pillbox, which I drybrushed in Photoshop to illustrate my poem ‘The Rattle’ that would appear in AQ18 that spring. She directed her camera down quickly to show several opened foil medicine holders on a burlap background on a table, which she was drawing and which would later become part of ‘Three Tables in Rome’ (the table farthest to the right), watercolour, 2017.

The next time we corresponded was on 15 February. Dawn wrote that her reply would ‘be brief’ because she would be going to teach at RISD for a few days and that was worried about her ‘stamina’ and hoped her time at RISD would ‘be healing.’ She added that RISD had given her twice as many TA’s and that her health was ‘mixed, but hopeful’, since she was trying to get treatment with a new drug. She also mentioned she had joined a support group. Dawn thanked me for sending her photos of Rex in various outfits and poses: ‘GQ Rex’, wearing a new hand-knitted winter jacket; ‘après-ski Rex’ wearing the jacket on a leash in the snow; ‘GQ Rex’ reclining on a leather sofa displaying his family jewels; and ‘Cheshire Cat Rex’ with a ball, with large, white teeth painted on it, in his mouth.

On 1 April, I sent a bouquet of mixed flowers to the opening of her Tables and Pills and Things show at the Pierogi Gallery on Suffolk Street in Manhattan. She wrote me back on 3 April thanking me for the flowers with photos of them in a vase in her flat. On 23 June, I sent Dawn a postcard of Gerrit Rietveld’s, Harrenstein Bedroom, 1926, while waiting for the monthly AQ writers’ group to begin. I wrote that I’d recently attended the press showing of the Edward Krasinki retrospective at the Amsterdam Stedelijk. I wrote that the show had just been at the Tate Liverpool and ‘they could have kept it there. This guy’s signature move is to put blue electric tape on the wall at 1.6 meters’… (and sometimes through other’s artwork) ‘to break it into two planes — a sort of minimalist constructivism.’ Stealing a line from Bill Sherwood’s film Part Glances, I continued: ‘There’s more art in one square inch of your panoramic interiors than in this entire show!’

Dawn contacted me later that month. She was at Yaddo in a room with a large window that looked out onto a dense wood. She asked me if she should continue to apply to programmes, and if she should mention her illness. I advised her to keep applying, to not mention her illness, to take her drugs with her and to arrange transport to nearby hospitals for treatments, if necessary. She reported ‘no real progression of her disease’ which was good news.

In later emails we joked about and discussed what she could draw at Yaddo. I suggested a reflection of the window in front of her with a scene from Rear Window on the TV or PC, or from the window, have a view of the iconic, criminals’ lair in North by Northwest, or draw a picture of the project she working on and have its reflection and that of the room behind it in the big window with or without herself at the table.

Dawn listed three drawings she might attempt. The first in ‘black ink’ … ‘of objects on a table with the woods in the background.’ The second in colour, she’d ‘do at night.’ to take advantage of the big window’s mirror effect. She’d ‘split the image between (the) directly observed table top and the mirror image of the table top.’ The last would be in a ‘limited black palette and vermillion Sumi inks.’ with ‘surface graphics of the objects. No shadows.’

In late September, I travelled to the Communal Studies Association conference in Zoar, Ohio, where I would read a paper. Just before I left, however, I sent Dawn a Sophia Loren biography, which included photos of Loren as a young woman with friends and handwritten correspondence in Italian. On 15 October 2017, she thanked me for the book ‘chock-full of information!!!!’ and said she was ‘inspired by my energy and spirit.’ She referred to her Yaddo experience as ‘tremendously productive.’ Unfortunately, she wrote her cancer therapy ‘wasn’t working’ … and that she was ‘quite depressed, but pressing on all the same.’ She added she was ‘crazy busy now with teaching,’ but was looking forward to ‘mid-December’ when she would have a two-month holiday to work on her art. She ended her letter with ‘you inspire me’ and her love. Around the beginning of December, I posted Dawn an ARC of the AQ 2017 Yearbook.

I wrote Dawn again just after Christmas. I mentioned switching on the holidays lights to chase away the winter blues, and that I could call her whenever she wanted to talk. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear from Dawn again until 11 February 2018 when she emailed her health ‘had taken a serious turn from the worse.’ She had just begun a new drug trial and was on painkillers, so it was sometimes difficult for her to ‘do anything.’ Despite her situation, however, she expressed concern for me and hoped I was ‘feeling better than … last December.’ Six weeks later on 24 March she wrote with good news after I had telephoned and left a message. Her ‘cancer makers were down,’ and she was off ‘the pain killers.’

On 22 June, I wrote her with my US itinerary for October/November, so we could try to meet. I mentioned the Wayne Thiebaud cakes postcard I’d sent her from his European retrospective at the Museum Voorlinden in The Hague with a link to my review in AQ22. Dawn emailed a week later saying it was ‘pretty awful’ that Thiebaud and some of his paintings (there were three or four empty spaces on the walls) didn’t make it for his show’s opening. She had recently sent out a group email stating how she was doing because she didn’t have time to write everyone separately. In her next missive, she confided ‘between you and me, I am losing some hope.’ The trial drug had stopped working and then ‘the rate of growth was dramatic.’

She also wrote that she had gone to Angels in America on Broadway. ‘It may seem strange to attend … in the midst of all this bad health news, but it was great and I’m glad I went … with a very good friend, Judy.’ Dawn reported that after she left the theatre, she ‘sobbed. … glad to express … my extreme sadness.’ She then wrote that she ‘had started of book of drawings’ and wanted to do ‘at least a page per day.’ She ended her email with news that she’d been invited to MacDowell from Sept. 5 to Oct. 15, and hoped she would ‘be well enough to go.’

I told Dawn I would have a lot to share with her when I saw her in New York. I would have just visited my paternal grandmother’s father’s village in Banco, Trentino, Italy the month previously. In the meantime, I would try to post another box of inspirational chocolates to her at MacDowell.

There were a few mails in between, mostly with regard to making an appointment to meet in Manhattan. On 9 August, Dawn let me know she had received the chocolates.

On 25 October 2018, Judy brought Dawn to meet with me in an Italian café in Koreatown near Herald Square. During our meeting, Dawn told me that her doctor had begun to discuss hospice care and said he hadn’t given her longer than the end of the next month to live. From my experience with at least a two dozen people with AIDS (including two partners), I knew what to talk about at a last meeting — the weather, college, hobbies or music, a pleasant mix of the present and the past, but not the future, and certainly nothing about drugs or treatments.

I had also brought two gag gifts — faux Delfts blauw teabag and spoon caddies in the shape of a teapot and a wooden shoe respectively. These made Dawn giggle and laugh as she carefully extracted them from their protective cardboard and blue-and-white wrapping paper. I hoped it made her forget, at least for a few moments, the gravity of her situation. I showed her the earliest pre-production copy of the Amsterdam Quarterly 2018 Yearbook. She said she especially liked Peter E. Murphy’s ‘Open’ photo on the back cover, which showed a valve with the word ‘OPEN’ stamped on it, rusted shut. I told her I would send her an ARC as soon as they were ready.

I also showed Dawn my photo book of my paternal Italian-America grandmother’s family’s village, including the church font where my great-grandfather, one great-uncle and one great aunt were baptised, and the location of their flat, with its view of apple orchards and the Dolomites. When I returned from the toilet, I noticed Dawn taking photos with her phone of the pre-production copy. She said she had done that so she’d ‘have something to read later.’ Dawn also noticed a picture of Rex on my phone, sitting on a dark blue pillow and she asked for a copy, which I emailed to her that evening.

Saying goodbye to Dawn for the last time was not only emotionally, but physically draining. As I rolled to the Herald Square taxi stand with her, I suddenly discovered the last three fingers of my right hand wouldn’t work, so I had to work hard to propel myself with just my thumb and index finger on that hand. I said a last goodbye to Dawn and gave her a hug.

Whilst on the road in the US, I sent her a postcard of the 1954 Kalamazoo Gal, sitting on the hood of a blue and white Chevrolet Bel Air, with news of my readings, which I hoped would make her laugh. As promised, on 4 December, I posted the AQ 2018 Yearbook ARC with a box of chocolates. The next day, however, I received the news Dawn had passed.

There’s a saying in Dutch, Wie schrijft, blijft — S/he who writes, remains (forever). I hope that also applies to artists, and that Dawn knew what an indelible mark she had left in my heart, in the art world, and on paper. AQ

AQ24 – Media

Ladislav R. Hanka – The Honeybee Scriptures

Ladislav R. Hanka
The Honeybee Scriptures

Ladislav R. Hanka is an artist dwelling among the Great Lakes of North America. His artwork examines themes of life, death and regeneration – nature as the crucible in which man finds a reflection of his own life and meaning. Most recently this work has involved close collaboration with honeybees and placing his drawings and etchings into living beehives. This contribution to Amsterdam Quarterly is largely excerpted from a book currently being prepared for publication and entitled The Honeybee Scriptures.

I am an artist and keeper of bees — two venerable vocations whose roots extend back to the Neolithic Age and into a time when the roles of artist and shaman were essentially interchangeable. The several etchings you see here, encrusted with amber-hued beeswax, are made in the time-honoured way, much as Rembrandt recorded the Dutch landscape on copper plates in the 17th century. They are made by hand and rely upon extensive fieldwork before being completed in studio. These works often take on a second life, when I insert them into a living beehive, where bees take over and continue the now collaborative creative process.

Bees will eventually cover everything in wax or even capped honey — or conversely, they may take a dislike to the intrusion, in which case swarms of little critics will start chewing up my precious artwork. I must therefore continually monitor the hive in order to reclaim my work when I deem it to be completed.

Entering the hive to check on developments is not as dramatic as you may think. Generally I can dip my hands into the living, swirling bug soup unmolested and inspect my art as well as the larval bees and honey stores, while the bees go calmly about their business. There are, however, days when bees soon become agitated and then the interspecies communication is direct. If you are wilful enough to ignore guard bees bouncing off your forehead, you deserve to be stung – and yes, I do get stung.

Ladislav R. Hanka, Cottonwood Trinity Enfolded in Living Amber Honeybees, © 2017, etching with drypoint and beeswax added by honeybees in a living hive. Collection of Kalamazoo Nature Center, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA.

Still, the collaboration has been well worth any discomfort I may suffer. These wondrous, little beasties have rewarded my efforts richly, adding their accretions of wax in the exquisite ways with which Mother Nature has equipped them. I find their additions to be as inevitably elegant as the endless variety of gently curving veils of honeycomb you’ll find hanging from the domed ceilings within a bee tree. But why am I so taken with all this to stay with it for years? That is harder to say and requires reaching more for evocation and metaphor than relying upon direct answers. Perhaps a story is the best way to enter that unstable ground.

Ladislav R. Hanka, Dragonfly Draped in Honeycomb, etching with drypoint and beeswax added by honeybees in a living hive, © 2018.

The scene is of an old woman, home alone and watching TV, when they announce a contest for the most beautiful tree in all the land. This gets her attention, for she has a grand old pear tree in the garden — her companion from childhood. Like herself, the tree is growing old and withering away, but clearly a contender. History and character are there in spades, etched into every knobby crook and knotted, gnarly joint. She takes a picture, sends it in and wins the contest. Happy as a clam, she hangs the prize up on the tree for all to see. A year goes by and they run the popular contest again, so she catches a ride into town for the award ceremonies.

The popular Czech comedian, Jaroslav Dušek, hosted that show and as he tells it, the previous year’s winner came up on stage and cryptically handed him a wine bottle. ‘Well now, dear Auntie,’ he asked her in his best stage voice, ‘what have we here?’ And she told him. without equivalent stagecraft, that her pear tree won the prize last year, and then soon after, began to noticeably green up, sprouting new leaves and even branches. But, that’s not all.

When spring arrived, her tree blossomed as never before and hosted absolutely remarkable numbers of bees. The ensuing fruit too, was bountiful and then received a full summer’s sun. Well, that dear old pear tree hadn’t born any fruit in years. As she watched those pears ripen to a full rich flavour, she knew she was witnessing a miracle.

And that bottle she handed off on stage? Well, that sweet little old lady had picked, mashed and fermented the pears herself and then carefully distilled the wine in the time-honoured way of her ancestors. She’d produced a powerful clear brandy — the very essence of all that is delectable about a pear at its late summer peak — and proof positive, that the dear old tree appreciated being noticed.

Ladislav R. Hanka, Dragonfly Embellished with Veils of Living Amber, etching with drypoint and beeswax added by honeybees in a living hive, © 2018.

Well, my friends, I have drawn enough old trees, meditated in their shade and listened to them tell me their stories, that I know the truth about trees when I hear it. All the many creatures, with whom we share God’s green earth, wither away with neglect, or conversely, come to life and blossom when bathed in loving attention — me, thee, trees and bees included.

This is why I draw trees, mushrooms, minnows and spiders, and why I also talk to my bees. I urinate in the bee-yard to be sure they know my smell and they reward my attentions by working on my etchings with a sensitivity that speaks of knowing my intentions.

Bees do seem to know a lot and they clearly have a relationship with their keeper. Folklore is rich with anecdote about this. As recently as 2007, a Scottish newspaper commented upon an elderly beekeeper’s funeral near Edinburgh — that his bees swarmed and followed the hearse right into the churchyard. Attending their master’s funeral is a phenomenon that is often mentioned in the folklore of beekeeping. In my own maternal Czech tongue, there’s a separate word for death, when used for animals as opposed to people — except when bees die. Then we use the human expression for passing.

There is something special about bees and it goes way back — back before the word itself was even written. It may not sound like good science, but it is good myth, as well as truth writ large — the kind of truth with roots that run deep enough to sustain us in hard times. This is, of course, the very point of art — at least any art that hopes to feed our souls tomorrow, and next year as well. Such art must contain a generous spectrum of experience — from the mythic to the spiritual, the technical and serious, to the downright laughable.

And so I indulge in creating scripture, drawings and etchings — which are then annotated, redacted, and embellished by honeybees. I have also seen fit to tell my stories, not so much as definitive statements of truth, handed down from on-high, but in ways which I hope will open the doors of perception a crack and allow others entry, to observe the artist at play — as a fly on the studio wall. Storytelling has a way of going off on tangents that are indeed telling — that inadvertently allow something more to slip out. One’s nagging doubts and questionable motivations come out, alongside admissions of living with contradiction in an imperfect world — one in which we rarely live up to our own beliefs and standards. With some luck, even the big questions, so boldly sincere, we know not how they escaped our notice, will see the light of day — the ones that force us to look at the unexamined.

Opening a hive is good for clarifying the order of things — for getting out of one’s head and abstraction and back to the present — fully conscious. One’s attention assumes a crystalline clarity, when focused upon the sound of tens of thousands of buzzing insects, each with a venom-laden stinger just inches away. They get increasingly agitated as I reach in and pull out their winter stores. I read the ledger of their lives in frame after frame of brood and honey in order to manage the hive, but it’s not without its limits. There comes a point when they’ve had enough of my intrusions. They tend to let one know, but we do need to be attentive. Since I generally wear little more than light summer clothing, I really do need to be sensitive to their communication, or suffer the consequences.

Anna Ill Marovich, Lad with his girls, photograph, © 2017.

Bees are my subject here as well as my collaborators and medium. Honeybees are, of course, in trouble and anybody who has not been living under a rock should be getting nervous about that and the source of their own food in the very near term. The artwork being immersed in hives is a culmination of thirty years of work as a printmaker and informed by my decades as a naturalist, zoologist, and environmentalist — even as a monitor of nuclear power plants and as a chemist synthesizing pesticides. I have at times worked for the evil empire, taken its money and eaten the food from its fields. Of course, when you get close to it, this evil empire becomes much more nuanced and composed of many disturbingly normal and limited people with complexes of mixed motives as well as needs and fiduciary responsibilities that lead to questionable choices made under the usual clouds of obscuring conflicted interests. How dreadfully ordinary.

Honeybees, however, are far from ordinary. They have not only entered my artwork, but gotten under my skin and into my blood. There is nothing quite like settling down in the grass after a day of tending bees, next to a hive and popping a beer. Going off into mid-summer reverie, I enter dreamtime as the workaday world recedes into mere background noise. The hum and the smell of a hive permeating my immediate environment is positively intoxicating, as bees alight on my skin, sniff around and fly off again — just doing what bees do. Such are the timeless, primordial pleasures that life can offer, when a stolen moment, shared with bees, telescopes into a glimpse of eternity.

There is an undeniable intelligence at work in a beehive. Working with bees you learn to respect that and indeed care about these endearing creatures and the folklore that has arisen around their tending and care. Esoteric traditions speak of an Akashic Record in which all things from all times are recorded and accessible to those who’ve earned the right of entry. Among the many works of art being harvested from my beehives, there are several fanciful entries into that very book of records, opened to pages featuring decomposers and pollinators. Elsewhere bugs and bushes will be seen intruding at the edges of untended fields, while under the surface, the roots of agricultural row crops are being infiltrated by beetles, snakes and Sassafras rhizomes. A book of books … perhaps a Scriptum Apium melliferum, or indeed the Honeybee Scriptures.

Ladislav R. Hanka, Fields Going Wild and Embalmed by Honeybees, etching with drypoint and beeswax added by honeybees in a living hive, © 2018. Collection of Midwest Museum of American Art, Elkhart, Indiana, USA.

In the great cycle of being, creation and decomposition are but two sides of one coin recorded in this Librum aeternum on verso and recto sides of the same sheet. Bees pollinate and plants reconfigure the molecules of air, soil and water, which soil fungi then again pry loose from the dead and release back into the system. Of course, bees are in trouble and bee trees are increasingly rare. Crops are now threatened by a paucity of pollinators. Even the once resilient decomposing side of the cycle is weakened by pernicious pollutants which, having no obvious chinks in their armour, are not easily broken down. All the earth is an interdependent system of connected vessels — much like the lava in one volcano, which recedes into the depths of the earth in response to the lava in another volcano hundreds of miles away swelling up into the cone and flowing up over the lip and down its fiery slopes.

Ladislav R Hanka, The Book of Decomposers Ornamented by Honeybees, etching with drypoint and beeswax added by honeybees in a living hive, © 2017.

I’d like to do something about all of that, but I am neither scientist nor politician. I am an artist and a beekeeper — member of two ancient, esoteric brotherhoods whose roots reach back into the mists of time and down to the very bedrock of civilization — among the first professions. Seventeen thousand years ago, a colleague artist working in the Spanish Cave of the Spider clearly depicted a person collecting honey from a bee-tree. Our interactions with honeybees thus appear to rival those with dogs, pigeons and horses as the earliest domestication of animals. As conservators of ancestral knowledge, entrusted to be carriers of the culture, there is an added burden placed upon us to bear witness.

Ladislav R Hanka, Decomposers Embalmed by Honeybees, etching with drypoint and beeswax added by honeybees in a living hive, Ladislav R. Hanka, © 2017.

In both of these callings, as artist and as keeper of the bees, I am entering primordial, mysterious worlds that are at once alluring and potentially dangerous. But come walk with me to the studio and over to the bee yards. We’ll have a closer look. It’s no secret to beekeepers that our bees respond differently to our presence than to that of invading strangers. They know far more than you might think.

The brain of a bee is admittedly minuscule, but a hive can easily contain 50,000 inhabitants — which is equal to the population of a modest-sized town with schools, clinics, delinquents, police, sewage treatment plants and manufacturing. Bees clearly learn from experience and communicate within the hive what they have learned. But does that extend to actually being interested in me and my artwork? The additions they make do seem to have a compositional sense to them – framing devices of sorts – embellishments, but somehow appropriate. Bees appear to understand what the two-dimensional drawings and etchings I give them actually represent. I once even witnessed a queen respond to an engraved image of a bee several times her size — as if it were a living competitor. She tried to kill that depiction of a bee just as she would a strange queen trespassing in her hive — with a sting to the abdomen. To the biologist still dwelling deep within my bones, that sounds far-fetched, yet I cannot deny what I witnessed. Every bee-keeper has such stories to tell. Hunters, farmers and fishermen — much the same. Every dog owner knows their pet responds to them with intelligence and compassion. We are not so separable, you and I — we tool users and reflective beings — from the world we inhabit.

Ladislav R Hanka, Night-flying Pollinators Embalmed by Honeybees, etching with drypoint and beeswax added by honeybees in a living hive, © 2018

My artwork extends to a fascination with bee trees — large, dominant trees with prominent features, in whose bark a mere fissure or knothole can lead to a complete world of domed chambers deep within, where legions of bees guard their golden trove of honey. And then there are the parasites living inside the hive and pollination and the healing properties of honey and on and on it goes — one thing leading to the next — cycles without beginning, endpoint or resolution.

The beauty inhering in these works of art is, of course, based in the usual uses of line and composition to make some sort of elusive and nuanced statement, but beyond that is the synergistic effect that collaboration introduces to the process. We seem predisposed to being charmed by beautiful surprises more than by our own clever manipulations. I find that I typically approach the hive in anticipation of what the girls will have done this time – the smile that sneaks in unannounced when I open the hive.

What we are beholding here is nothing less than the elegance of form following function at the very level of biology, as the veils of honeycomb come down the fronts of my etchings and occlude some of my preciously composed works of art. Oftentimes those little pin-head sized brains of the cute fuzzy little bugs seem to comprehend composition and design and follow my lead as if they were colouring within the lines or picking up the motion I have begun and continuing with that rhythm in the media of wax, propolis and honey.

Ladislav R. Hanka, Queen bee stinging the depiction of a much larger bee, photograph, © 2018.

Perhaps it is indeed the realization of a morphogenic field – of an artwork whose time has come and which desires to become manifest through the intelligence of the hive or perhaps all hives and all queens as one. Consciousness – perhaps it is indivisible — an omnipresent and universal attribute inhering in all material. Imagine that – and be consequential in your imaginings!

Other times the bees will begin to chew the paper away – get good purchase on an exposed edge and keep at it — all my efforts quickly going back to undifferentiated cellulose and tossed out with the dead. Then again, those remaining chewed edges can also be breathtakingly elegant as all nature ultimately is. Form and function. Evolution. Chance and necessity. Survival of the fittest – but not just the old red of tooth and claw saw, but also the elegant solution – like mathematical equations. It is so because it must be — cannot be otherwise. The destruction of a volcano or a flood is breathtaking even within its violence and destruction. The ruthless efficiency of large cats — a dragonfly darting out to catch a honeybee which it carefully holds away from its body as it delicately munches it down to the stinger and tosses it away — all much the same.

Ultimately, we learn to care about that, to which we direct our attention. What is love, if not the capacity for inclusion and learning to care about that which is not just an extension of one’s ego? And art too, is typically directed outward to that which we behold of the world around – much more so than being a mere mirror, held up to our own precious, egoic delusions. What after all, does a Bach Sonata mean? Hard to say, but it seems to stay relevant over centuries while the issues of the day change with vertiginous frequency. Music is a primarily human concern, rather than something that has utility in the service of other ends. It has intrinsic value. We feel better for having meaningful music enter our lives, but it’s very hard to say how or why that should be. Good art works that way. And like rust, it never sleeps. AQ