One of the things I like best about the work of Fairfield Porter is his sense of everydayness. Stuff on a table after a meal is as fine a subject for a masterpiece as face of a 16th century princess.
Porter was part of a New York crowd that included a number of poets who devoted their work to the everydayness of life: Jimmy Schuyler, Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery among others less known. O’Hara’s most famous poem places a compellingly sad moment in the context of the humdrum pleasures of N.Y. C. It’s about the death of Billie Holiday.
The Day Lady Died
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.
Porter’s New York crowd included many New York avant garde painters such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.
Elaine de Kooning painted a marvelous portrait of Porter:
Bruce MacEvoy has a wonderful essay on Porter right here.
Qi Baishi, the Chinese artist who painted Seven Men in Dragon Mountain, was born in 1864 and died in 1957. His reputation acknowledges a commitment painting so focused that he was unencumbered by the momentous political affairs during the time he lived–such as the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the creation of the Republic of China, and Two World Wars.
The seven men of the title are said to be the seven poets who were part of the poetry group established by Wang Zhong Yan, who was a poet and a friend of Qi Baishi.
The painter expressed his central aesthetic idea in the following words:
The excellence of a painting lies in its being alike, yet unlike. Too much likeness flatters the vulgar taste; too much unlikeness deceives the world.
And one can see in the painting the likenesses of fir trees and the strangeness of the mountains, which retreat like growing gray clouds of potatoes or like steel coils unraveling as they stand further away.