Cornell is an artist and individual who I cycle back to constantly, with chance crossings—an online image, an article, a citation—sending me down theCornell is an artist and individual who I cycle back to constantly, with chance crossings—an online image, an article, a citation—sending me down the rabbit hole of research jags. I find not only his unique art work fascinating, but his creative process and idiosyncratic approach to life endlessly generative and inspiring.
He's been on my mind the last few days, and this morning I pulled this copy back off my shelf, realizing after looking at the time stamp that I've now had it out from the library for nearly six years (I'll return it...someday). I dip in and out of this compendium fairly constantly and for a variety of reasons; sometimes as a stimulant and model for my own personal journal-keeping, sometimes to cross-reference his impressive network of friends and correspondents for my academic research, and other times just, to baldly appropriate a Vashti Bunyan lyric, "walk around in [the] mind" of one of the 20th century's most intriguing individuals.
Through his singular sensibility, the quotidian becomes exalted.
"So far uneventful but rest of day picked up that kind of richness in which a revelling in detail becomes such a feast of experience--" [Jan 24, 1947]...more
Full of fascinating insights and observations by the master cinematographer, and the images are endlessly gorgeous and evocative (not that I can imagiFull of fascinating insights and observations by the master cinematographer, and the images are endlessly gorgeous and evocative (not that I can imagine one could expect otherwise)....more
Biography is something I very rarely take up in my reading (I much prefer memoirs, or personal diaries and journals whenever possible), and it's evenBiography is something I very rarely take up in my reading (I much prefer memoirs, or personal diaries and journals whenever possible), and it's even more rare for me to actually read a biography all the way through, usually opting instead to read chapters or sections specific to my interests.
I had fully expected this to be more or less my experience with Utopia Parkway, currently the only biography available on the life of nonconformist artist Joseph Cornell, whose work I have become increasingly enchanted by over the last few months and have been studying in greater and greater detail. But I quickly became so engrossed in the specifics of Cornell's life that I ended up reading the whole thing, and it's probably the closest I've experienced to a "page turner" in a good while—I could hardly put it down.
Deborah Solomon definitely had her work cut out for her by taking on this subject. In the various accounts and analyses of Cornell's work and life I've read so far most seem to struggle with accounting for the complexity of Cornell's utter unconventionality—in some he comes off as a whimsical, almost child-like recluse under the domineering thumb of his "dear Mama," in some he comes off like a marginalized hermit willfully on the fringes of art and society, and yet other descriptions portray him as a creepy voyeur-type whose largely repressed sexual urges drive his work, which attempts to dominate the various female figures he held as his muses. As Solomon proves, Cornell was indeed all of these things, but also many more—all of these characterizations are like individual facets that change shape and color and even disappear with just the slightest change of perspective. Cornell emerges as an endless and endlessly baffling bundle of contradictions, and she does a remarkable job of accounting for many of them, which is often done by her adamance to contextualize both Cornell's life and the art that it inspired within larger social and artistic movements.
One review currently on this site found this book "kind of a downer, about a sad and very limited life," a description that rather took me aback, because as we find out through Utopia Parkway, Cornell's life can be described as such in only the most limited of ways—what is remarkable is how rich of a life he seemed capable of creating for himself, largely within the carefully controlled confines of his own home. But frankly, he managed to know just about everyone (from Duchamp to Breton to Toumanova to Sontag to Yoko Ono and just about anybody who's anybody in between). Which is ultimately what proves to be so inspiring: so many life stories of famous people and artists in particular seem to involve extensive travels, glittering parties, intense heartbreaks and ecstasies in equal alternating measure, all of the glamorous, easily romanticized trappings of what many of us like to consider "REAL living." Cornell points to possible alternatives, and how richness of the mind, creativity and great accomplishment can take other forms as well.
This probably isn't the ideal place to start one's explorations of Cornell's work (it's much more enriching when one at least has some idea of some of the work Solomon constantly alludes to), but an essential supplement for anybody who's already a fan....more
I haven't read every essay, but a kaleidoscopic-like glimpse into many different facets of Cornell's life and work. Jason Edwards's opening essay "ComI haven't read every essay, but a kaleidoscopic-like glimpse into many different facets of Cornell's life and work. Jason Edwards's opening essay "Coming Out as Cornellian" is the best piece of writing I'm aware of that articulates the special place Cornell holds in the queer imagination. ...more
A charming memoir of the author taking a vacation with his friend and mentor, the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant. In the early 1970's, however, TurkeyA charming memoir of the author taking a vacation with his friend and mentor, the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant. In the early 1970's, however, Turkey was not exactly an easily accessible location to visit (particularly the tiny, ancient coastal town that was their ultimate destination), especially for somebody nearly 90 years old, as Grant was at the time. The inevitable adventures (including lost luggage, language/communication problems, lack of accomodations, etc) demonstrate that though physically frail, Grant never lost his verve, curiosity or sense of fun (or his desire to create art—he resolutely sketches every day without fail). The memoir functions simultaneously as travelogue, a snapshot of a certain time and place, a portrait of an artist and a commemoration of a great friendship. Written as a diary, it is also interwoven with Roche's interviews with Grant about his early memories of the Bloomsbury group, his romantic relationships, his experiences as a conscientious objector during WWI, and his views on art. Primarily for fans (the book assumes some prior knowledge of Grant and the circles he moved in), but one gets to "know" Grant in a personal, intimate way that is never really gotten from historical accounts. ...more