Thursday, 20 April 2017

Fish out of Water

Red Fish, oil on canvas, Steven Rhude
Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city--
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

T. S. Eliot at his typewriterAsh on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.
There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.
Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.
In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: "What! are you here?"
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other--
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: "The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember."
And he: "I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.
There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives - unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation - not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us - a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot- 1955Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

The Little Gidding is the last of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. For a good biographical site on Eliot and some analysis of his poetry, go to the Academy of American Poet's website.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Two Studies, Beijing

Monoliths, Beijing, oil on masonite, 11" x 14", Steven Rhude

Landscape near Beijing, oil on masonite, 11" x 14", Steven Rhude

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Man in a Room

Man in a Room, oil on masonite, 11" x 14", Steven Rhude

He is a man in a room. There is no room with a view for this man, unless one considers the view the man has of those that observe him at work, which is generally all day long. The room is also his studio, his work place, except unlike other artists, for this man there is no solitude, just the experience of being on display. Thus, the man in the room has learned to tune out the observers. The man in the room must lose himself in the room to endure the confines of the room. In his mind he develops the pursuit of a narrative, yet the observer knows not the unspecified interests of the man in the room; knows not what he is thinking. The observer can only observe.

The observer knows not the man in the room's dreams, desires, and longings. The observer doesn't know  that, alone, the man in the room secretly ponders an experience he knows will never be fulfilled. It is more desirable than any other thing he can contemplate. It removes the monotony of measured time from his routine. The man in the room is an alchemist - he uses his powers to transmute raw jade into a substance of value. There is a sense for the man in the room that everyone's journey will and must change... eventually, even his own. We end as we have begun. With a man in a room.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


Colossus (Beijing), oil on masonite, 13" x 10", Steven Rhude

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Leviathan (Big Pants)

Leviathan (Beijing), oil on masonite, 12" x 13", Steven Rhude

 The China Central Television Headquarters was under construction when I visited Beijing. I removed the cranes for simplification. It was later on referred to as "Big Pants" by locals.

 "[CCTV is] a building that introduces new ways of conceptualising, liberating and realising structure that did not exist in China before, and of which I'm sure Chinese culture and Chinese architecture will benefit," he said. "It articulates the position and the situation of China." - Rem Koolhaas

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Forbidden City Tunnel

Forbidden City Tunnel, oil on panel, 8.5" x 9.5", Steven Rhude

"What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness? Parmenides posed this very question in the sixth century before Christ. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fine/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/nonbeing. One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative. We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple, except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness?"

Milan Kundera - The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Porcelain Painter

The Porcelain Painter, oil on panel, 13" x 12", Steven Rhude

 "Art has its origins in the gods and immortals. There is no one who has heard or seen them." - Xie He

I continue to harbour a private designation as to what is Art, and not a day goes by when I don't at some point ponder its mysterious equation. I've heard the implication that Art is everything and therefore Art is nothing, but that approach leaves me indifferent. There must be something to the idea that Art is a civilizing force - a symbolic language sprung from an immemorial past. Whatever it is, it continues to give me the chills when I do see it manifested in the flesh - before my very own eyes. Watching a woman paint vessels in Beijing with more skill than some art college graduates emerge with certainly got me thinking about her labour, and the beauty of her results. Day in and day out she paints, never the same way twice as one might imagine, but with an infinite variation of care applied to the volume of different shapes, cultural connotations, symbols, and motifs inherent in the vessel's design. This application constitutes her working day, and her working life.

Today, the art world seems preoccupied primarily with identity politics. “Today’s art world isn’t even contemptuous of old standards — it is wholly indifferent to them,” writes Sohrab Ahmari in this timely polemic, in which he writes passionately in defence of humane art and the critical standards once thought to be of supreme importance and permanence: “sincerity, formal rigour and cohesion, the quest for truth, the sacred and the transcendent.”

Looking back however, in China, once writing was established, painting then came to birth. With the two modes of expression apparent - painting diverged from that of writing. The object being that writing would convey the meaning of things, and painting would depict them. Essentially this provided order in a world threatened by chaos.

 Yet still we continue to struggle with what Art is, but less and less now do we concern ourselves with the mystery of the origins of Art, let alone with the 'standards of supreme importance and permanence.' Possibly though, we sometimes need to look outside the institution to locate it, like an isolated factory perhaps, producing porcelain pots destined for trade that may provide an unconventional route to the answer.

Steven Rhude , Wolfville NS