December 2009

composition in blue, called even in sunshine from the Perseverance of Stains series


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excavating space: 1, 2 & 3


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another exciting design


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new additions to the Pussy project, Droobling Fluoro Cock & Basquiat Head, writings of St. Rutland of Rutland St

A big shout out to Dee facer, you know it!


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Baltusz, c’est Spinoziste! Since, La luz es tiempo que se piensa – Paz; while these are excerpts from Guy Davenport’s A Balthus Notebook

Guy Davenport’s notebook is organised as a series of notes, some as short as a single line. In citing them, I have retained the numbers that appear at the top of each note as well as the page numbers below. I have added emphases, bigness and boldness.


We have yet to study in modern painting the choice of motif after the break between patron and artist in the early nineteenth century. Not even the portrait as a document or landscape as a sentiment for a room’s decoration survives this new context for the visual arts. This change was also a metamorphosis in taste. Malraux has his theory: that art became an absolute, that from Goya forward painting had only its own authority as a witness to proceed with, alienated in one sense (from church and palace) but liberated in another to its own destiny.

– Guy Davenport, A Balthus Notebook, The Ecco Press, New York, 1989, p. 20


Balthus has the immediacy of a naive painter. Picasso’s figures are all actors, wearers of masks, mediators, like Picasso himself, between reality and illusion. Pierrot, woman as artist’s model, the Ballet Russe, the commedia dell’arte dominate his entire oeuvre. Nowhere in Balthus does this theme of actor and theatre appear (though he has designed for the stage and was a friend of Artaud). There is great integrity in his resisting it. His tradition stands apart from that of Rouault, Braque, Picasso, Klee, Ensor, and others for whom acting has been a metaphor and art a stage.

Nor do we find in Balthus any overt enlistment of mythology, which has been so characteristic of his time. No Venuses, no Danaës among all those girls. Even his cats and gnomes do not derive from folklore or myth. He is not part of any renaissance. His work is an invention.

Each painting is an invention, not the application of a technique. Each painting holds an imaginary conversation with some other painter, The Window with Bonnard, The Farmyard with Cézanne, The Living Room with Courbet, The Dream with Chardin.

The Mountain (in which the girl in the foreground stretches with the feline inflection of Gregor Samsa’s sister at the end of “The Metamorphosis”) is a dialogue with the Courbet of Les rochers de Mouthiers and La falaise d’Étretat après l’orage.

– Ibid., p. 22

from 18

When Delacroix and Ingres painted odalisques, the harem constituted a critique of the body, its governance, the sources of power over it. An odalisque by Matisse is simply a model in a chair. From slave and wage slaves to Balthus is the distance between slavery and liberty.

– Ibid., p. 25

from 23

on Balthus’s The Passage:

A more wonderful way of seeing Proust’s theory of the redemption of time in triumphant proof I cannot imagine.

-Ibid., p. 32


One becomes inured to the hard truth that reality is a function of dreams, that things are perceived according to what they symbolise, which is what caused them to be selected in the first place from myriads of others, all competing for attention. Symbolism is the language of dreams (Zolla, 16).

– Ibid., p. 57

from 41

The grace of line in a Lascaux horse is not the horse, but something that has been abstracted from it.

– Ibid., p. 61

Cf. Balthus’s view that Matisse wanted to simplify painting, in all senses; and that Mondrian locked himself into a pattern of self-denial when he turned away from nature, and refused to allow guests at his studio to open the shutters.

from 49

The crux is this: that instead of asking the world not to threaten our solitude, our personal and solipsistic order, we should so behave ourselves as not to threaten the world’s order. This involves our understanding, and agreeing to, the world’s order, a process of complex immensity, but one in which culturally the arts have a great, mediating role.

In time, we will see Balthus as kin to Joyce on the one hand (our biological mandate civilized by a poetry of desire and its constraints), and to Proust on the other (the tragedy of time illuminated by the beauty and wonder of being alive).

– Ibid., pp. 70-71

from 56

Octavio Paz ends a poem [“La vista, el tacto“] dedicated to Balthus with “La luz es tiempo que se piensa” (“Light is time thinking about itself,” Eliot Weinberger translates; Paz, 95).

– Ibid., p. 78

from 61

Spectators smacked of the drunken, vicious dandies who watched boxing and cockfights in a morbid pursuit of excitement. Spectators were ignorant of sport, devoid of idealism, and avid merely to be amused.

– Ibid., p. 85

luz es tiempo

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a note on Stephen Barber’s endorsement of Clayton Eshleman’s translation of Artaud

Unlike poets in China, Iran, and Nigeria, I can still say anything I want to say (for a while at least). This is not only suspect freedom – it renders my situation absurd. I am like a maniac allowed to wander about screaming ‘fire’ in a theater of the deaf.

– Clayton Eshleman, on his An Alchemist With One Eye on Fire, 2008

– César Vallejo’s Poemas Humanos/Human poems are translated by Eshleman also


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upsettin’ N-set: towards a genealogy of exile, N-exile

It’s completely random and a WASTE of time. And that’s what makes it so fashionable.

– from here

– “A Letter to Queen Victoria: The Sundance Kid is Beautiful” by Robert Wilson and Christopher Knowles

Why butoh in New Zealand? because it was getting… it was getting upsetting… it was upsetting… it was upsetting… is it still upsetting? … is it still? … is it? … upsetting? … what upset? … upset what? … Stop screaming! … we are now happy.

What sort of connections are these: Antonin Artaud to Tatsumi Hijikata and Ankoku Butoh; Hijikata to Kuniichi Uno and Min Tanaka;

1) Uno to Deleuze and back again via the former’s translations of his and Guattari’s work (Guattari visits Japan, 1985; Uno visits Deleuze in France, early 1980s; Deleuze supervises Uno’s doctoral thesis: “Artaud et l’éspace des forces” and together Uno and Deleuze write: “Exposé d’une poétique rhizomatique,” 1982);

2)Min Tanaka to Michael Parmenter and Douglas Wright and Lemi Ponifasio (Mau – link); these three make the best theatre in New Zealand at the end of the century, influencing and leading practitioners who have assimilated the diachronic links and, to varying degrees, normalised the relationship back to butoh. Butoh workshops become de rigueur however sans rigueur. Our ecstasy is made on the image of eating chocolate. So, we are now happy.

Does Artaud suffocate under a long white cloud? At Mau at least the theatre retains a sense of activism and the radicalism of a community making work, without boundaries between living and working; however Mau resembles a despotism, having fallen into a profound enchantment under the spell of international high art. Lemi says, Why make work here? meaning New Zealand. We must be the best and to be the best we hold our work up against the best in the world. Being the best also appears to mean invoking the patriarchal rule, le nom du père; and sequestering oneself in a non-specified enemy territory (N-SET), an island on these islands, where one’s alterity can radicalise: the bush can get greener, denser, thicker; the activism can become guerrilla style. A Robinsonade can begin: which to the outside is nothing so much as Marlon Brando mumbling in a cave in the jungle, I am the king, while the perimeter is patrolled, and no longer by dance or movement and delimited by the edges of the stage or the discourse of theatre, but by men, and women, with uzis, or who would have guns if guns could be had.

National Scandal

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contre temps: entente

– Duane Michals, Balthus and Setsuko, 2000

Balthus could manage to get everyone else in trouble while keeping only himself above the fray, and he delighted in doing so.

– Nicholas Fox Weber, Balthus: A Biography, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1999, p. 5

Balthus’s paintings had made it clear that I was dealing with someone for whom power and control were paramount issues.

– Ibid., p. 9

While many aged painters are amazed or confounded by what they have done, for Balthus there were no surprises.

– Ibid., p. 12

The personages in these paintings are also like their creator: thoughtful, and seemingly wrapped in a cocoon of sensuousness – while at the same time exulting in their own wickedness and devoid of conscience.

– Ibid., p. 14

The young artist showed himself grieving and vulnerable, at a loss for action. It was both the first and the last time he would let the world see him quite so helpless.

– Ibid., p. 21

The naked woman struck me as a powerhouse who had been subjugated, even bludgeoned – which, I now believed, was how Balthus fantasized his ladies. The watchful cat seemed the ultimate observer: seeing all without giving away any of his sinister secrets. He, too, represented the man who had painted him.

– Ibid., p. 30

Whatever bewilderment he feigned in our conversations at the notion that his imagery was provocative, he probably cultivated it, assiduously, with an eye for attention.

– Ibid., p. 34

Nicholas Fox Weber with the force of dull repetition is trying to beat into my head what Balthus was really like: calculating and capricious as a cat or King of Cats. This is the painting on the cover.

– Balthus, Le Roi des Chats, 1935

In his memoir, Vanished Splendours, Balthus claims it was his friend Antonin Artaud who declared the painter his double. Mieke Bal in her monograph supports the claim, adding that there were others who assumed the same look, dandies, it could be said. On the contrary, according to Weber:

Balthus has created himself in the mode of his heroes. Obsessed, he has imitated their artistic style, restated their subject matter, and even fashioned his own appearance in an effort to become the people he has wanted to be.

In the 1930s his idol was Antonin Artaud; by the 1950s it had become Lord Byron. To varying degrees, he tried to transform himself into each of them. But although as a painter he has borrowed heavily from Poussin, Hogarth, Seurat, and others, his foremost artistic mentor has consistently been Piero della Francesca.

– Ibid., p. 17

Zizek put it something like, With fans like this, who needs detractors?

– Balthus, Nu au chat, 1948-50

Along with having these characteristics – consciencelessness, contrariness, being manipulative and attention-seeking – it seems Balthus was also as prone to hero-worship as a teen. Or a young girl. The point is not lost on Mieke Bal. With a La jeune fille, c’est lui gesture, against all common sense, she identifies Balthus with his subjects, erotically posed young girls, poised on the cusp of …, on the eve of the Fall. Which is to say that she feels compelled to reach a conclusion regarding his relationship (one he deigned to insist was not erotic) with ‘his’ young girls.

Balthus at eighteen, past anyway the age the age he thought the best, which was thirteen, fourteen, is beautiful and soft, but hardly the epicene. The weight of darkness in this photo is almost as remarkable as the subject.

All those children are self-portraits… In every child depicted, there is as much narcissism as celebration of beauty about to erupt.

– Mieke Bal, Balthus, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 2008, p. 141

And here it gets weird:

Because in those child’s drawings [the graphic narrative Mitsou], Balthus was not only the child who experienced love and loss; he was also the cat.

– Ibid. [my emphasis]

We are allowed to go through the looking-glass. But my aim in this post is not to condemn Nicholas Fox Weber for being somehow unreliable. Although I wish he wouldn’t bang on about the degree to which he clearly felt himself manipulated by Balthus. A kinder biographer might say charmed. Weber bludgeons the old man in quite the same manner as he claims the nude in La Chambre to have been. And then to make this a general attribute of the artist, as if to say, He was always as I find him now, visiting him at the beginning of my biography in the early 1990s. Therein lies a truth, however.

Balthus is depicted in his paintings and reading around the edges of Weber’s biography, and in other reports, for example, his own memoir, outside of time. Even in the hero-worship imputed to him, first there is Artaud, a contemporary, then Byron, then Piero:

“I’m always enchanted that one doesn’t know anything about Piero della Francesca, for example. One doesn’t even know when he was born.”

– Balthus, quoted in Weber, op. cit., p. 17

Balthus, Weber writes, painted Jane Cooley the way she did not look but the way she would look a quarter of a century later. Capricious? Perhaps. But also magic.

We know about the second childhood of the elderly and what Weber says about meeting Balthus in his eighties – despite the physical depredations wrought on him by time, his boyishness; he boasts that Rossinière is the biggest chalet in all Switzerland – might be said to turn on no more than this. Balthus himself says, however: The way to avoid second childhood is never to leave first childhood.

Even this returns to the artist, even this returns to the paintings: what Balthus admired in his Italian masters was suspension, the matte – time not stopped as if it were only a matter of clock-time, but suspended. As much as being about the nature of time, this is also a technical issue: how do Masaccio and Piero della Francesca achieve their effects? … such that they invoke all time. No longer a process, a procedure: ontological time.

– Balthus, Japonaise au miroir noir, 1967-76

This is the time in which the process occurs: a light that doesn’t change, painting in the morning, over many years… to paint as long as possible.

In response to the theory of doubles, again a matter for the looking-glass, this can be optative affiliation as much as flattery by imitation. Then, there are, as well, also the doubles. Too.


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