The Reverie

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The Reverie; mixed media, cradled wood panel, 18 x 24 x 1.75 inches. More pictures here.

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A Sunday trip to the library morphs into a broken conversation with a shrugging security guard about a locked door –– “It’s summer hours,” she explains. “But you can still use the book return!” Hooray. So Oona and I wander the mall for awhile, waiting on mom to do some shopping. Almost instantly I find myself in Claire’s, where I get conned into buying a two-piece charm bracelet that reads BEST FRIENDS. “I’ll make my bed, daddy,” Oona lies, because that’s her currency instead of money. I shrug. I give in. BEST FRIENDS. Then we wander some more. Everyone looks like extras from a pirate movie; there are limps, eye patches, tattoos, blindness, crutches, more blindness, hips where hips don’t belong, brown and blue teeth, horizontal facial scars, missing fingers, invented hairstyles, ballooning outfits with stars on them. The psychic weight is crushing.

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Halfway through my morning shower, the water pressure falls by half and my entire world view reasserts itself, comes into focus: people are going to do what they are going to do. Certainly I can storm upstairs, half-soaped and fully crazed, and ask, Are we all done running water yet? Certainly right is right. But where does that kind of thinking get me? Right is never right. These days, ‘right’ is more of a shrug. The whole reason I get up first in the morning, long before anyone else, is to go around problems like this. And going around these things, I think, is the key. A guy comes into my office with some marked-up photocopy of a job that I’ve never seen and says, I don’t have any of the text or pictures for this, how long will it take to do? Certainly, How about never? feels about right. But then he’s going lose his nut, and sooner than later I’ll have my manager in my office, bursting at the hairline trying to manage something. So I say, Leave it with me, let me take a better look at it, I’m just having some computer issues right now, and I just have this other job to finish first, there’s this thing with this other person tomorrow, but I’ll get to it as soon as I can. And then I take a long lunch, and leave early, and the day after that I’m on holiday for a week.

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Listening to Naomi Klein on Democracy Now!, and the interlude music is some Ani DiFranco song, I might as well be in a dream where it’s 1999 and I’m sitting in front of a red velour curtain in some musty theatre in Winnipeg, and some girl with ripped jeans and dirty hair is explaining to me how wrong I am about everything, and how I really need to read the I Ching and get my teeth fixed.

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I need to start running again. For months this winter I trained for the Limestone 5K, all the way from only being able to run 90 seconds at a time to going the entire distance without pause. I ran every second day, without fail. I ran when there was no one else out there, often late at night, in the cold and the dark. And on the morning of April 30th, in freezing rain, I ran the race. Ta-dah. And then we went to Cuba for a week. And then: June. Goals have a way of deflating themselves.

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It’s the staff barbecue so I take the day off. I believe that work is meant to be work –– not a place to fulfill your dreams, not a place to make best friends, not a place where people know anything about you, not even a place to score free hotdogs. The ideal situation is to be the polite person at the end of the hall with a job description that coworkers don’t understand or care about. Also, if management wants to show me how much they care, then please spend that hotdog money on institutional improvements. How about clean bathrooms? How about coffee in the kitchen? How about air-conditioning? How many mission statements read like conspiracy theory. Anyway, excellence now!

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No real plan in the studio lately. I’d been set to move out –– briefly, there had been a person known to police in the studio next door –– and then the situation resolved itself, and it was if some kind of reset button had been pushed. So I’ve been painting large paintings, with a mind for icons and characters. All painting is therapy, and the works themselves just relics for the cult of beautiful but pointless posterity.

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People walking around downtown in two of three dimensions on a Friday night and I think, Is it Mental Health Week again? Forever? In Kingston, at least. A woman tells me that Jesus loves me. Another is swearing at her two chihuahuas. At least they’re on a leash. The people in front of the McDonalds look like the Apple Dumpling Gang on opioids. Purple gums, yellow fingers.

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It’s summer, I guess. Men walking around in shorts, white chicken leg embarrassment. The women on the cover of the magazines by the checkout have lustrous dark hair parted straight down the middle, their hairlines an inch above the eyebrow. People squinting at things. More humidity than heat. Oona has a final ‘play’ for her acting class; the teachers say the lines for the kids, then the kids repeat them. I guess that’s how we do things now.

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and i look in the mirror like i did something wrong (make collage not war)

Is the dignity of the thing in the effort behind it? This is certainly the message we tell ourselves, or at least the lesson we want our children to know. Because it’s a nice idea, an elevating ambition for what it means to be human. But I have my doubts.

I spend a lot of time making failures. They are everywhere, all around me, all the time (and this is only speaking to my personal art, or the art I make by hand, leaving aside entirely the issue of graphic design, which is a wholly different kind of poisonous cognitive dissonance). In my studio, I can step in any direction and pick up a failure and hold it in my hands. I can close my eyes and feel the failure in it, these tiny vibrations of best-before-ness, either idea or execution gone sour.

There is nothing ennobling about this feeling.

Art, like Nature, does not care about effort, about how hard you tried, about how much you believed. Whole artistic movements have been resigned to footnotes in the annals of po-faced, fart-sniffing fuckery (although, historically, this kind of purposeful rankness has always increased your chances of getting an arts grant). And when it comes down to individual works, there is no gold star for just using lots and lots of paint.

The only rational response to this is collage.

Collage lets you off the hook. It lets you have fun again. It is mad-scientist time. Collage is pure experimentation under (some) formal restrictions, like calling a meeting with a six year-old enforcing Robert’s Rules of Order. Every idea is entertained with the tacit understanding that it is probably shit. But the things that click will do so most obviously, in that quick way that makes you snort and smile.

Anyway: I’ve been doing a lot of collage lately. Here are three.

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don’t neglect winter chills / mixed media on masonite / 9 x 12 inches

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an escapist picture of the universe / mixed media on book board / 7 x 9.5 inches

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speaking in poems / mixed media on book board / 7 x 9 inches

oooooh!

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oooooh! / mixed media on cradled wood board / 8 x 10 inches / a painting from a comic panel (the single collage element, at the top of the painting, is from a print of that panel)

a dark and doomy day in the studio, doing a seemingly endless amount of packaging, plus one of those colds where you just blow your nose over and over and over again and one’s thoughts start to rattle. it is november, i guess. which makes me stare at the fat guys with the long hair who are still wearing shorts.

HELP

an original painting by darryl joel berger

HELP (speech to a crowd)

mixed media on masonite panel

14 x 12 inches

found paper, drawing in ink, mounted on board, integrated painting, collage, emulsion transfer, gesso wash, pencil and crayon, successive layers of varnish

I’m always drawn to the ruin of things, the way they degrade, and their ultimate endings. In the past this has manifested itself in my writing, which treats people like broken satellites, orbiting around bad planets, sparking and twitching toxic toward some final descent. But lately this idea of ruin has been making itself apparent in my visual work, my drawing and painting, so that I find myself purposely creating things that look neglected, half-finished, vandalized and ravaged by time. In other words, I’m making pictures with scars. Because what is a scar? It’s a signal of history, or experience. New things do not have this. New things are just shiny and stupid and boastful. In terms of my own sensibilities, I like the self-effacement of scarred things, the visual transparency or literalness of wrongness and mistake.