In Arseny Tarkovsky’s poem “Зеркало (Mirror)”, he appoints himself a guardian of timelessness and immortality. He counsels his reader not to fear death. He cleaves his fate to the saddle, the journey. There are another half-dozen word-images in there that I’m still turning about in my head. Good art does that to a person.
The poem is one of dozens my father sent me earlier this year. I’ve been slowly rereading them and typing out my favorites on a Smith-Corona portable. After I finish typing, I look up photos of the poet and make a quick sketch. I only have a couple poems left to type. Then I will assemble them and some art——maybe the portraits, maybe something else——into a book and print off twenty or thirty, then forget all about it.
Tarkovsky’s son, Andrey, made a movie called Mirror in 1975, that features his father reading poems. It’s been a few years since I saw it, so I don’t recall whether he reads “Mirror” in it or not. The first time I saw that movie, I was way too young. It was on at the house of my parents’ friends——fellow Soviet immigrants——and it made not a bit of sense to me. When I watched it in my forties, it felt completely straightforward and simple, though there’s no traditional narrative, but rather an associative visual dream-logic. Art can be amazing like that; it’ll wait patiently for you to be ready to receive it.
Its job is to show you to yourself, but you have to live through some shit before you’re able to recognize yourself in it. I had that experience with Moby Dick at thirty-three. I was going through a divorce at the time, so the profound feeling of failure in the story felt intimately familiar. Had I read that book as a high-school homework assignment, as so many kids in America did, I likely would’ve found it unbearably boring and unrelatable to my reality.
In my first three decades of drawing, I regularly made self-portraits. More often than not, it was just because I needed a human face to draw and nobody else’s was at hand, or I was too shy to ask. I admired the great self-portraitists——Rembrandt, Dürer, Hals, Schiele, Freud, Neel, et al——but never believed I was penetrating my own soul by staring at the fat pimpled mug in the reflection. I used to tell people there was only sawdust inside that head. The eyes and ears were first-class, but they were just tools to channel sounds and images through. I didn’t believe that I added much to what passed through me. Thought my job was just to stay the fuck out of the way, so the messages could be conveyed clearly.
Now, I know I’m definitely contributing something to the pictures and books I make. Not sure if it’s good or bad, but it’s not exactly an objective relay of what I take in. I’m still a ways off from Tarkovsky’s deathlessness and grandeur, but I’ve taken a couple steps away from the kitchen sink.