The Life With a Hole in It
Philip Larkin, 1922-1985, British
All paintings in this post – The Liar – are the work of Francis Alÿs, Belgian born 1959, working in Mexico, 1991-94, mixed media. Whitney Museum of (North) American Art.
These paintings were created by the painter and by sign-painters who copied the artist’s work as though they were signs.
The artist is questioning the production and consumption of works of art and it is the artist who may be liars for this artist.
When I throw back my head and howl
People (women mostly) say
But you’ve always done what you want,
You always get your own way
– A perfectly vile and foul
Inversion of all that’s been.
What the old ratbags mean
Is I’ve never done what I don’t.
Francis Alÿs’ portraits represent to me the many men – and a half-handful of women – with whom I worked who, because of ambition or convention, allowed themselves to climb the corporate ladder
So the shit in the shuttered chateau
Who does his five hundred words
Then parts out the rest of the day
Between bathing and booze and birds
Is far off as ever, but so
Is that spectacled schoolteaching sod
(Six kids, and the wife in pod,
And her parents coming to stay) . . .
heedless of the state of emotional vacuity into which they allowed their mentors to push them. They did what they were told. They looked the way they imagined they should down to the expressions on their faces and cut of their suits. The men of the machine.
Life is an immobile, locked,
Three-handed struggle between
Your wants, the world’s for you, and (worse)
The unbeatable slow machine
That brings what you’ll get. Blocked,
They strain round a hollow stasis
Of havings-to, fear, faces.
Days sift down it constantly. Years.
They wielded a great deal of power over people and they became wealthy. They lied whenever it was necessary.
Unlike Philip Larkin, they did what they didn’t want to do until they learned to want to do it and learned the techniques to make others do it, too.
They were proud of this ‘discipline’ and of their ‘success’.
I survived. I read Philip Larkin: English master of the lyrical in-your-face, contradictory disquiet of the culture of some of his people. Not afraid of every-day subjects.
Appalling things which happened at work to me and to my colleagues I translated with patience and pleasure into textiles. To keep a part of my mind flexible and full of colour.
3 priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from the ceiling painting of the Abune Gebre Mikael Church in Quoraro, Tigre Ethiopia.
Needlework in wool on cotton scrim by the author of this post, 1984-1992.
It was an immense relief – the lifting of a depression of years – when I no longer had to deal with them.
They are, of course, still there, these men: the undemocratic power behind the thrones of our ‘democracies’ pushing our world into holes they have created and maintain with their accustomed discipline.