A Day In the Life of Two Artists
The Art of Yvonne Jacquette and Rudy Burckhardt
by Vincent Katz
"Lichen Tree", 1996
The mailman arrives, his car radio playing loud pop music, and Rudy continues talking.
A stone fireplace's wooden mantel supports a painting on black slate, a romantic-looking card from Yvonne and Rudy's son Tom in Venice, one of an abbey cloister, an unsigned etching of a lakefront, Rembrandt's Lucretia, another etching, of a Japanese samurai-type man with a camera around his neck signed "TB," a monster's head, a hawk feather, another etching, and a vase of dried flowers.
A red wagon supports a large wooden box with trays of pastels. Yvonne grabs the black handle and maneuvers it. Then she peels saran wrap off a pallet of dark paints.
On the three sections of her moveable studio wall are three large panels of a new work, a painting of night scenes in Minneapolis. It is a commission for the First Bank of Minneapolis West. The panels are about 5 X 6 feet and each has a different view of the city from a high vantage point. When seen together the three panels do not make up one continuous view and yet they make a continuous whole. The rhythms of nightlights, reflections off water and windows, even the building forms, which do not fit from panel to panel, combine to make one "view."
"Three Night Views of Minneapolis II (Center
Rudy is mobile now. Yvonne is accommodating. "This reminds me of 'Autumn Expansion,'" she says (a mural she did in Bangor, Maine). Yvonne's fingernails are bright fluorescent colors of pink and purple, both on each nail. "Kathy Porter came over from Vinal Haven to do them," she proudly explains.
Yvonne's studio is a large barn with high windows and a sliding door to give light. A few active wasp nests on the rafters, rough hewn beams. Rudy's studio is behind the wall Yvonne is painting on. There, one finds Rudy's paintings of forest scenes close-up, nudes in country interiors listening to the radio or reading. A droll but somehow slightly ominous bunch of bananas keeps cropping up.
Yvonne puts on a tape of Roland Kirk. She says she usually likes to listen to music when she paints and prefers tapes to radio because there are no interruptions.
"You'll find my method very different," Rudy says, as we leave the barn and start walking down the smooth, firm dirt road.
He's right. His first venture is a search for currants by the side of the road. We talk of the detrimental effects of currants on pines and he recalls currants in his garden in Switzerland. Yesterday he made some syrup from choke cherries.
"It was a lot of work and you didn't get very much," he says, "but you know those are the pleasures that make life enjoyable."
"Three Night Views of Minneapolis II (Left Panel)", 1984
painting by Yvonne Jacquette
"Yesterday I was picking blackberries and I felt I was doing what I was meant to do.
You know? Those moments of maybe half-an-hour--and you can't make them come--where you're doing something and you feel happy and you wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
We enter the woods on the other side of the road where a farmhouse used to be--"See the elm stump?"--and come to a patch of blackberries. As we fill the plastic container that Rudy's brought, we chat.
"Picking berries is something you feel is right to do--it's not like killing animals or something."
"It's not even like picking flowers."
"Yeah, someone said flowers scream when you break them. Kropotkin said all the animals really help each other--it's not like the jungle. The jungle is a pretty boring idea anyway."
We leave the container in the grass and proceed down a road into the forest. The "road" is covered with pine needles and has a patch of bunch berries down its middle.
"I prefer a hazy light to paint in. There's too much contrast today between light and dark. I can't get that in paint."
We reach Rudy's cache, an easel, painting supplies and a 2 X 2 1/2 foot painting under a large, plastic sheet. A tiny toad scurries away, too fast or smart to be caught.
"Three Night Views of Minneapolis II (Right
"Sometimes you just leave it to chance."
He tells an anecdote about DeKooning, saying he did a lot of it on "fate" though he means to say "faith." "I guess it's the same." Or Alex Katz painting a painting in Skowhegan years ago of Rudy, his first wife Edith, and their son Jacob. The painting was leaning on a bush, half in sun, half in darkness. "How can you see what you're doing?" Rudy asked. "I don't want to see what I'm doing," was the reply.
Rudy's painting is of some trees, their trunks mostly, against a forest floor, with a green background far away in the upper quarter of the picture. Dead branches crisscross the scene, some tilted, some on the ground. In the hazy light, Rudy says, it looks sort of like a battlefield.
Rudy changes from adding dark patches of bark to the standing trees to filling in green bunchberry leaves at the bottom of the painting. It is strange to see the painting directly in front of, and encompassed by, its subject. It's a bit like the Magritte of the painting of the window in front of the window.
Down at the lake, Rudy meditates. By the water, a beautiful black butterfly with white stripes flexes its wings as if moist, the first time, on a pebble an inch from the water.
Rudy will be teaching two days every two weeks this fall at the University of Pennsylvania.
"It'll be nice to get out of New York. As you get older you get to realize what you really want. You don't want to go to loud bars and strain anymore."
Rudy's also working on a new film, a sort-of collage involving scenes of nude women vacuuming, washing dishes, etc. but also shots of a country fair in Maine. "The model will do almost anything I ask at this point," Rudy explains. "I pay her a lot, and that helps."
At the house--the same pretty butterfly--It's four past two. Time for some lunch. Yvonne turns off the "afternoon concert"--Strauss--and puts on a Billie Holiday tape:
"You ought to go now,
because I like you too much."
And a certain world that has become a part of art.
August heat; night hail; mute freshness
Moon stormclouds, purple, Turneresque
Delight Rudy; done in, still dressed
Sleeps Yvonne, in bed sleeps Jacob
Time passes; white moon-soaked mist
Solitary outdoors, book indoors
Dear careless moonlight, dear dead words
I know them near, feebly I drowse
My mouth hardens at your approach
Of happiness not reached and reached
Sleeping hunched upstairs, Tom-baby
Year old, when he despairs, rages.
After lunch--sourdough bread from Freedom Baker, Freedom Me., fresh basil, cheese and Rudy's blackberry fruit salad, Yvonne smiles and says, "I'm going to see if I can find the bloodmeal." (for the tomatoes).
Rudy relaxes with a book.
"There ain't a man that's man enough
to make me cry."
Later, Rudy goes to pick up his lawnmower, which was being repaired. Yvonne and I go for a swim. We swim across the pond and back.
The shadows are getting long already. Although warm in the sun, the air is cool, a reminder that this day that seems to last forever in its light, can't. Shade creeps along the petunias in front of the porch, deep pink and red-and-white ones. My father came over here at night to chop a huge hornet's nest, the size of a basketball, into a bucket of water. I remember Edwin on the dark lawn with a flashlight. Only the poplars seem in motion. The maples barely sway. Singing of crickets.
Yvonne has gotten quite a bit painted. And although the image looks very interesting at this immediate stage--everything drawn in in a flat grayish brown with some highlights, reds, greens, yellows--the painting is far from finished. She is gone (for the bloodmeals one guesses) and her brushes lie unused, paint still on them, on a large moveable platform made by Tom.
What is the point of the aerial view? You can look at it and say, Oh, that's an aerial view, but there must be more than that. There must be a reason this artist has become obsessed with this view of the world.
To me, a view from a plane, especially at evening or night, is very romantic. The pretty way the lights glow and all those lives. It's a distant view, removed, and yet it includes an intimacy of looking into people's backyards.
Back, she paints. A park springs up near a river, setting the buildings it surrounds into 3-dimensional space. What of action? Mostly in cars. But then one is looking at the view. It's not really aerial this time. It's more from a high building, hotel room or office, say. So one is in the action, the viewer, seeing these nightscapes, becomes part of what is happening, from the very special perspective. But you're not usually part of the picture. Here, the specific view involves you in the momentum of the painting.
It's funny how the pieces of one's life collect over the years. They don't tell you anything, finally. Edwin used to live here. There's a special feeling in that.
But his book on the shelf here is a work, next to other works.
Work by Rudy Burckhardt courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.