Category Archives: Critique

ART Basil King Basil King MIRAGE film Critique Exhibitions Green Man Martha King Memoir (Outside Inside) museums News Poetry Prose Readings Writing

The YEAR 2015

Just got (unrequested) a look back at 2015 from Facebook, hitting not much of much interest. Thus am prodded to do my own.

February – Baz reads at the Dia Foundation with the wonderfully multi-talented multi-named Pam Dick (Mina, Gregoire, et al) in celebration of the 2014 publication of his The Spoken Word/The Painted Hand. Marsh Hawk Press.  Available at SPD and elsewhere. (Probably even ABE’s for the pennysavers.)

 Basil King’s … mashups of art, culture, and lived experience, both minute and momentous challenge the reader out of conventional notions of art history, by a continuous attention to detail. . . .” — Kevin Killian

April – At the AWP meeting in Minneapolis. Martha speaks in a panel discussion, organized by Martha, about the influence of Black Mountain today, with C.S. Giscombe, Burt Kimmelman, Lee Ann Brown, and Vincent Katz. Later a terrific reading by Baz and C.S. Giscome and a larger group reading also including Sam Truit, Kim Lyons, Burt Kimmelman, and more, at James and Mary Laurie Booksellers

AprilIn conjunction with AWP, “Basil King: MIRAGE” a film by Nicole Peyrafitte and Miles Joris-Peyrafitte is screened at the Walker Art Center.

May – Baz is 80 years old.

June – New York premier of selections from George Quasha’s monumental Poetry Is project at Anthology Film Archives includes Quasha’s interview with Baz.

June– Martha returns to poetry with work in Bone Bouquet, 6.1. Still available:   So too is Bone Bouquet 6.2 just out this fall. One way to reassure oneself that the era of adventurous magazine publishing is far from over is to check out this magazine.

November – Martha’s memoir Outside Inside – that is 50 pages of it, expertly excerpted and condensed by Brigid Hughes, is featured in issue 22 of A Public Space magazine.With photos of the long ago that seem fresh.  Issue 22 –print or digital—can be ordered here:

December  short podcasts of Baz reading the following poems – and one personal recollection of TV in the early 1950s. Go here!

Basil’s Lifeboat   (1 minute 23 seconds)

Inside Delacroix’s Garden (2 minutes 14 seconds)

The Butterfly and the Rat (2 minutes 32 seconds)

Looking for the Green Man (3 minutes 53 seconds)

Highway Obstacle (4 minutes 11 seconds)

Channeling 3 – (4 minutes 18 seconds)

The Americans – The Immigrants   (6 minutes, 48 seconds)

Grey – complete (14 minutes 27 seconds)

Working in TV – from an interview (2 minutes 46 seconds)

AND MUCH TO COME IN 2016, including BASIL KING ART at the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center, Asheville, N.C., opening SEPTEMBER 2.

Bone Bouquet, Spring 2015
Bone Bouquet, Spring 2015
Martha King reading . Photo by Sarah Kaplan.
Martha King reading in Minneapolis . Photo by Sarah Kaplan.
Baz reading at the Dia Foundation9
Baz reading at the Dia Foundation. Photo by Garth Davidson.
At the Walker Museum, April 2015
At the Walker Museum, April 2015
ART Basil King Critique Exhibitions Martha King Memoir (Outside Inside) News Poetry Prose Prose Pros series Readings Writing

NEWS: Events, Publications, and a Show — November 2014

November 6 at 6:30.   Basil will read from his new book, The Spoken Word/The Painted Hand (Marsh Hawk Press, 20l4*) and his old friend Hettie Jones will read some of her not-yet published short fictions.  They are both being presented by Prose Pros at Side Walk Café, Avenue A @ 6th Street. (Free, donations requested.)

Front cover of King's The Spoken Word/The Painted Hand
Front cover of King’s The Spoken Word/The Painted Hand


November 16 at 3:00Martha King and Basil King will read from new work published in Local Knowledge, Fall 2014, a biannual literary magazine featuring art, photographs, poetry, and prose of many kinds and variations. Basil is represented by “Basil’s Lifeboat” from his “Learning to Draw” series. Martha appears twice: in a note on dead cats and in “It Starts to Drizzle,” a history of her zine Giants Play Well in the Drizzle. Gala magazine launch & reading at Swift Hibernian, 34 East 4th Street, between Bowery and Lafayette.(Free, purchase of magazine requested.)

Martha King with her copy of Local Knowledge, fall 2014
Martha King with her copy of Local Knowledge, fall 2014


November 20, 21, 22, and 23.  Three evening performances at 7:30 and one final matinee at 3:00.   Basil will be the Narrator in “Black Mountain Songs” – a program of music by seven young composers, inspired by artists associated with Black Mountain College.  The Brooklyn Youth Chorus sings. Part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual NEXT WAVE festival. Tickets sell out quickly. If you want to attend, please connect with BAM.

A painting by Basil King (from his “Looking for the Green Man” series) will be in the BAM lobby exhibition until January 2015.

*There will be a reading and book launch for Marsh Hawk Press’s full fall list in December.




Critique Martha King Prose

Perils of Archiving, Part 2

Found: Notes on Gentility  (date unknown)

I’ve never understood women in expensive restaurants who whip out lipsticks to remake their faces right at the table. Inspections in the compact mirror.  Baring teeth to check for crumbs of lipstick or food. A dab. A fingernail.  Powder over the nose. I don’t use makeup; I suppose I might, but I’d never do that.

from Getty Images
from Getty Images

And yet I use language that offends even my family.  After flushing the toilet three times I’m slamming out of the door to say: “The turd that would not say goodbye.”  Daughter Hetty who should be used to me by now says, “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

I was hurt. I thought what I said was funny, and besides I was, truly, frustrated, and besides why not say anything I want? Anything with the capacity to derail, defrock,vent hostility, expose discontinuity, especially anything to make someone laugh?  No?

ART Basil King Critique Exhibitions Green Man Martha King Prose Writing

Old files! Fielding Dawson on Basil King

Cleaning closet and old files, and here emerges a pamphlet with text on Basil’s art by Fielding Dawson, written twenty-five years ago. The pamphlet accompanied  “Paintings from the Cards,” an exhibition of Basil King’s work at Steve Clay’s first New York City shop, Granary Books, 636 Broadway—September 21-October 20, 1989.

There were eleven paintings in the show, all oil on canvas, all done between 1985 and 89, and none captured by digital photographs. There are slides. And the paintings themselves are in storage at Crozier Newark.

Twenty-five years ago, Fielding (and Basil) attributed his angle of vision to a birth accident – as once again we’re doing in re Baz’s spinal-fluid gap (aka salt water ocean) in his right brain – and the amazing overgrowth of  his left brain.

Good to know that today’s neuroscientists have debunked the old left brain/right brain dichotomy. (Left being intuitive, inventive, open to the subconscious and Right being bookkeeper, analyst, grammarian, mathematician.) Instead it’s rosy grey all over with many ways and means to cross talk.

None of that is as interesting as the insight Fielding had on Baz’s paintings which holds up years after Fee left us.  AND in language with punctuation that uncannily captures Fee’s unique vocal presence. It’s as if Fee himself emerged out of that old filing cabinet.  Scroll down for Fee’s essay!

Baz in his studio. Just behind is one of his  "Looking for the Green Man"  paintings, 2012.
Baz in his studio. Just behind is one of his “Looking for the Green Man” paintings, 2012.


Looking for the Green Man,  80"x 54: mixed media on canvas, Basil King, 2010
Another “Looking for the Green Man,” 80″x 54″ mixed media on canvas, Basil King, 2010


New work  18" x 24" mixed media on Stonehenge paper, Basil King,  2013
From the “Windows” series – 18″ x 24″ mixed media on Stonehenge paper, c Basil King, 2013


On Basil King’s Paintings   –   Fielding Dawson

Early work, in an artist’s life, is predictive.

Later, mature work, is reflective, in particular if it’s original.

It is in retrospect we see first clues to the genius of Pollock in that first, small self portrait…more of the same, but as none other, of Mozart, in his first symphony, written at eight, which we hear throughout the piano concertos and in the final work of work, the unfinished Requiem.

And once in a while we’re lucky to have a mature and original artist whose most recent work reflects not only the entire body of his work, but himself as well.  I’ve known Basil since we met at Black Mountain, 1951 or so, so these words are from experience, as well as ideas.

His work is meant to be seen before it is judged, just like Van Gogh’s. Or Soutine. Look at it, see what you see. This work speaks its own story because it’s involved with style.  The way paint is applied is the style of his visions (not true of dozens of painters, from Hals to Rothko: where paint is the medium toward impact).  Basil’s figures are painted on, they do not emerge through. He’s an illustrator after appearances, illustrating what he wants but we might not want, to see.  This work reflects his point of view his way:  he’s the artist, not the apologist.

The responsibility of seeing art is also in the viewer, and here—perhaps as always—to forget Rembrandt and look at Rembrandt’s work, see what you see, if we forget about who painted these paintings, and concentrate on the work, a good understanding is possible.

These odd diffuse presences, on their flat netherworld surfaces: classical shades near the River Styx, silent in their infinite, in part Surreal elongations and distortions—bodies unlike familiar bodies, heads unlike familiar heads, faces and expressions unlike oh ANYTHING as we know it!   For in our Western world it all becomes subjective, while pretty still lifes and landscape posters from the Met and the Louvre, like advertising not an inherent part of our lives, but like Impressionism in clever hands, are preferred, attractive and recognizable, these even beautiful images we imagine are part, perhaps denied, but part of our lives, in an inner, romantic way.  Beauty as inner experience, preferred and enjoyable we wish—WISH! DREAM it to be imbued in us which thereby we pray it becomes REAL, and we do pray.  A subjective prayer toward what the media and the cultured art world have assumed is proper, and nice.

We don’t know how brainwashed we are until we see original work like this, that reaches in, grabs hold, and gives our senses a good rattle.

No matter what we do with it, art was, is and will never be any one way.  It is the one experience of humankind where all the rules can be broken and it will survive, healthy and of its own, intact. And, like nature, it reflects the artist by casting in its reflective way light on aspects of a potential sphere of action many are not aware of, or are aren’t sure…if all things are taken into consideration—brushstroke, size of canvas—all things (his awareness of the edge of the canvas), open all the doors (all his colors appear mixed no use of the primaries), and the artist—with an interested onlooker only an elbow away—will see the inevitable image or composition that is beyond his control but is yet a great part of his life, which so few artists admit:  this other face, or image—identity, that so few painters confront but is such a part of the dynamo…in his concoction where behind his eyes a blend results in a visual transfer of identity to emerge complete with a point of view not unlike, if we put aside Stevenson’s theatrical lab work, born all over again:  Mister Hyde the artist.

Who might regard these paintings as the result of a collective Eyes Closed effort, a stylized pictorial range of human shapes and configurations ignored, if not avoided, but which are with us still and in great numbers there, in Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, so near Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in the blood of Agent Orange children painted through, not from, right through Ethan Allen interiors: through the false color of color television: on opaque backgrounds, foreground image-figures, cartoons, alive by a will greater than their own.

The artist possessor of that will discovered of recent (how old is Basil, fifty-four?), and in conversation in his studio this summer, said that after lifelong upper back problems—causing a slight difference in posture—he saw yet one more in an endless chain of doctors who, with his hands on Basil’s back, asked, had Basil been born in Caesarian birth?  Yes.  Well, this medical gentleman said, he had been lifted out at the wrong angle, causing the spine…on the first day in the world, of the man who painted these paintings.

Fielding Dawson,well-known for his superb short stories, novels and memoirs, is an artist as well, whose collages and drawings have been widely published.




ART Critique Exhibitions Martha King

Jasper Johns at MOMA


Jasper Johns. Untitled. 2013. Ink on plastic. 27 1/2 × 36" (69.9 × 91.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift from a private collection. © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph: Jerry Thompson
Jasper Johns. Untitled. 2013. Ink on plastic. 27 1/2 × 36″ (69.9 × 91.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift from a private collection. © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph: Jerry Thompson

First, take your time.

A large painting hangs dead center in the first room of this exhibit.  Dimensions aren’t given on the wall sign, but the press kit lists 67” x 96”.  This painting is central and all the other works dance in variating attendance on it, playing off and playing with it. It’s a stopper. Not just the deaths head in the upper middle, but as you look, the two women, the haunted magician, the grimacing masks, the wings, the eggs, the northern shivering lake — and these are what I saw in just a few minutes in just one visit, and just in the central middle top of the great “Regrets” 2013.

Take your time.  Johns paints what we don’t see – exactly what Barry Schwabsky once said to Basil King about Basil’s work.

When we arrived a serious young man was seated on the bench facing this painting, writing rapidly in a small notebook.

Johns has the authority to demand his viewers take the time.  The one-hit wowser, illuminating or titillating, is somewhere else at MOMA.  In here, grays in quietly manic variety, via quietly grey inks, water colors, pencils, chalks, charcoals, here color gets a quick laugh, but there is always more.  Blotches, scratches, hatching.  Delicate precision lines and wide swatches of splash. Paper. Plastic. Canvas.

Neckties • villages • aerial views of suburb landscapes • windows • rooftops • Swift changes of proportion • huge chairs and a bed • tiny dark boxes • glinting mirrors.

One needs time to unpack it like a really great poem. And Johns packs it in, going over and over ways to never repeat.

In some versions the visitors’ faces are shielded; they sit opposite the man who sits with hands in front of his face. Sometimes these doubles disappear completely into the material, both always and never abstract.  Sometimes there is only the man on the bed.  Lucien Freud. Is he mocked by Francis Bacon? Is he competing with Jasper Johns? Is Jasper Johns outdoing him? Is this an art-world palindrome: paintings and etchings springing from the crumpled remains of a print of a 1964 photograph taken by British photographer John Deakin, and retrieved from Bacon’s studio floor, then enshrined in its torn up form in a photograph that appeared in Christie’s auction catalog?  This mangled print is on display here, meaning, I’m guessing, that Johns bought it from the auction, after all its travels.  Breaking, crumpling, dividing, varying.

How many ways can an artist mine a single image?   The answer is not here; the work goes on, Johns’ work and ours. We will need to come back again and look again. Call and response – a change and a change again.  How many times can someone sign with an unchanging rubber stamp? Is it mocking or reaffirming? Or is it simply the joy of the stamp’s calligraphy?

Someone once defined art as something that has to be looked at again and again, because it can deliver something else, something more, over time.  This is very opposite of propaganda or illustration, standing as they do exactly in the moment.

When we left, the serious young man was sitting opposite the ultimate painting, still writing rapidly in his small notebook.

JASPER JOHNS, Regrets.  2013. Watercolor, charcoal, and pastel on paper, 31 ½” x 46 7/8”  (80 x 119 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Promised gift of Marie-Josee and Hanry R. Kravis. ©Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph: Jerry Thompson.
JASPER JOHNS, Regrets. 2013. Watercolor, charcoal, and pastel on paper, 31 ½” x 46 7/8” (80 x 119 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Marie-Josee and Hanry R. Kravis. ©Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph: Jerry Thompson.

The exhibition is up until September 1.  There is time to visit again. As noted on the captions some of these works have been promised as gifts to the museum. So they are promised to be around again.



ART Critique Exhibitions Martha King

Japanese Sex Art

© The British Museum, reproduced with permission
© The British Museum, reproduced with permission

 “Shhh  Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese Art”  is on view at the British Museum, London, until Jauary 5, 2014.

Shunga actually means “spring pictures.”  Many pictures from the floating world, another lovely meaning  we all recognize…floating.

According to the catalog, shunga was never censored formally but was suppressed from 1870 on as Japan sought to “modernize” which was apparently taken to mean conform to western morality. Only in the last twenty years has it been okay once again to exhibit and publish.

© The British Museum, reproduced with permission
© The British Museum, reproduced with permission

Western porno looks so limited in comparison! Not to mention so often aesthetically unpleasant.

These works range freely from political criticism, to  literature, theatre, to red-light district enhancements, to a need for newly married men and women to realize what can be explored.  There’s  humor. Parody. Jokes (as in the art at the top…where there is no cock except on the bedspread).  A good deal of political comment, for which context is provided. Sensuality supreme.  And titillation of course, who could look at some of these images without a tingle?  But never isolated titillation. These are loving images, meant to stir joy. Created in a culture without morally enforced divisions between “art” and “pornography.” A wonderfully releasing wow. This was clear to all the museum visitors. I saw no embarrassed or flustered faces and the show was crowded with a grand mix of generations, races, genders. We were enjoying ourselves, which meant spending time at very close range, for these are small scale works with many finely rendered details.

At that small scale, we were presented with ebullient exaggeration—we’re looking at men with dongs the size of fireplugs, women with cunts as big as dinner plates–not to mention lascivious octopuses, mischievous enablers, beautifully rendered bedding and bed clothing. I, for one, have never seen female genitalia represented with such enthusiastic sensitivity.

I usually quail at exhibitions with lengthy captions mounted alongside …they can seem nearly as brutal as those pre-recorded lectures that cue viewers to click for an art history lesson at pre-selected sites. But because the information was so germane to the context, because the context was both alluring and unfamiliar, it was seamless to read the texts while looking at the art.

By the way, the British Museum acquired its first shunga prints in 1865. Today the George Witt Collection is considered one of the best anywhere outside Japan. I expect one could ask to see some examples after this show is no longer on

© The British Museum, reproduced with permission
© The British Museum, reproduced with permission



ART Basil King Critique Martha King Poetry

“Gilles” surrounded by Lust, Intrigue, and Mockery


Basil meets Gilles
Basil meets Gilles

Basil has loved Watteau as long as he can remember — so in 20013 a trip to Paris meant a chance to see “Gilles”  in the Louvre. Two huge impediments: Who knew one needs to reserve tickets online weeks ahead of time. The lines, even in early November, were staggering. Second, Baz walks slowly these days and uses a cane for balance.  He can cover distances, but it takes time and energy. Happily his cane provided us easy entrance, as the French are extremely considerate of disability. But then we found the direct route to the painting in the Louvre’s enormous hollow square was blocked by renovations. To see “Gilles” meant a tour  through French painting from  the 15h century on. On. And still further on. Not that we didn’t see some thrilling works enroute.

Of course Basil is currently writing more about this painting, more about its androgyny, its mystery.

But here is an excerpt from what he wrote in 1997: 

Watteau painted “Gilles” surrounded by Lust, Intrigue, and Mockery.  Gilles stands with his hands by his sides. His feet are on the ground. He wears a satin coat with pockets and his satin pants are above his ankles. His shoes have satin bows and he wears a hat. He is, maybe, a young man. His eyes look slightly downward from his slightly elevated stance. He is conscious of being looked at. He is used to it, and he looks back. Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, the head will not be as heavy as it is today. Maybe tomorrow his shoulders will raise his arms and the palms will cover his eyes and it will be dark and everything that is known will be forgotten. Gilles stands in satin, surrounded by Lust, Intrigue, and Mockery. The word comes already clothed. Like apples, the word is three-dimensional. Like apples, it has its abiding seed.

Do you ask how many angels dance on the head of a pin? Do you know what a secret is? Do you have an auger? Do you collect feathers? Have you ever made a pillow? Have you ever seen a face in a pillow?  Do you smile?  Do you make faces in the mirror? Do you narrate? Do you sing for your supper? Do you deviate? Do you say you understand things you don’t? Do you?  Do you?  Do you eat good?

©Basil King

—from The Complete Miniatures, Basil King, with 12 pencil drawings by Basil King, London: Stop Press, 1997.   For information contact Malcolm Wiseman, 263 Nether Street, Finchley, London N3 1PD


ART Basil King Basil King MIRAGE film Critique Martha King News Poetry Prose Readings

Our UK Tour–VEG BOX aka Free Range

October 10, 2013:  A train from London to Canterbury where Elaine Randall and Ian Rose met us, stashed our heavy bags in their car, and took us over (in the rain) to The Good Shed –a marvelous combo of farmer’s market and locavore food restaurant. Also possessing good parking, a rarity in Canterbury.

At Veg Bpx, Elaine Randall and Ian Rose (Ian Brinton, right background
At Veg Bpx, Elaine Randall and Ian Rose (Ian Brinton, right background) before the performance began

We had daunting directions to our reading that night at The Veg Box, aka Free Range.  Something about walking through parking lots to the back fire escape.  So I thought NYC with a ladder-like set of very steep narrow iron steps. How in the hell will Baz get his gamy leg up?

Turned out to be normal enough, just metal and concrete. “Fireproof.” And about six steps in all.

There we met Sam Bailey…who very shyly asked if we’d mind his opening the evening with some piano playing by him.  We are guests. Of course we said yes. But had sinking feelings. What music would he play?   He’d already done yeoman’s service running back & forth to his apartment for the right cables and computer attachments to make showing the Basil King film possible.

Our doubts justified?  Not at all!   Give a listen:

We were surprised too how many people showed up:  some were BMC fans (Ian Brinton, e.g.) but many others crowded in.  From Kent University, Christ Church University, University College. Townspeople too.  From their attention and the questions asked, the audience was full of readers.  Per David Herd, who heads modern literature at Kent, this is one place where multiple streams can gather.  We need such in New York City!

Baz at the Veg Box
Baz at the Veg Box
Martha King at Veg Box, answering questions
Martha at Veg Box, answering questions