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Frances Middendorf

Posted 1/22/2012 7:15pm by Eugene Wyatt.

A bright moment on a cold and snowy Saturday at Greenmarket in Union Square was my visit to the National Arts Club to see an exhibition of paintings and etchings by J. W. Middendorf and his daughter Frances.

In New York you can go an exhibition at a museum during market hours, given competent market help which I am fortunate to have, or go to a play after you fold your tent for the day. The sheep don't care what you do there as long as you bring back enough money to feed them.

The temperature outside was just below freezing and I was dressed for it. But going up Park Avenue South to the Club located on Gramercy Park I did wonder if the doorman would let me in; I was, by all appearances, a street person who slept on subway grates to stay warm, with two pair of pants under my old and ragged Carhart insulated overalls and a two-sizes too big barn coat over my 3 shirts. Plus I had my clunky waterproof Muck books on, the ones I slog around the barnyard in, but the nice thing was that I didn't have to turn and jump over the puddles as the fashionably but ill shod New Yorkers did walking along the slushy avenue with expressions of furtive pain on their faces like they were being pelted by molten lava when they were touched by a floating snowflake, I splashed straight ahead—"Damn the torpedoes"—I was someone who walked on water.

At the red lights, to myself and to the imaginary doorman, I rehearsed in a droll and innocent manner, "I say old boy, is there a show of etchings here?" like I were William Powell playing the suave and tuxedoed Nick Charles in The Thin Man to whom no door is closed. 

It worked.  "Downstairs and to the right," I was told. "Will the artists be here?" I asked in passing.  The man at the door shrugged, "On a day like today..."  We smiled knowingly, even though we knew different things.  I was in.  Now where was Myrna Loy?

The mission of the National Arts Club is to stimulate, foster and promote public interest in the arts and educate the American people in the fine arts.

To enter the Club is to step back in time to a 19th century overstuffed elegance that Edith Wharton might have written about and to rub elbows with celebrated American artists who were members, Frederic Remington, Robert Henri and George Bellows to name but a few.

The first gallery was devoted to Frances and what impressed me were her watercolors; I had seen her drawings before after Cesare Pavese poems  but never had I seen her work in color. Very nice.

The second gallery featured her father's etchings of the circus and a favorite of mine was an etching of high trapeze aerialists, one caught up in the air, and upside down, but so composed with his arms at his sides. So trusting.

Delightful to see the works of father and daughter in the same gallery and at the same time.

Paintings and Etchings by Frances Middendorf and J. W. Middendorf at The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South NYC through January 28, 2012.

Posted 5/16/2010 8:47pm by Eugene Wyatt.

The Motive Force in Every Plot

Frances Middendorf shows drawings from Cesare Pavese poems now at the National Arts Club through May 24th. 

Below in Pensieri di Deola (Deola Thinking), the poet's description  is of the present, but he concerns us with the future, not only Deola's, but our own.  There is a moment of calm for her in the morning, her morning, and for us too in our morning as we wait with her when we're not looking for anyone.

America is too young yet to feel the melancholy that Europe knows;  but when you travel there, when you walk the streets, when you visit a cafe, you feel the forgotten times of what happened in that place you happen to be and this unknown—never to be known, only to be imagined—is best described as melancholy. It is sweet and it is human and it is rich and it is full like black tobacco smoke wafting from a worker's cigarette as he smiles and spills a little red wine on the zinc bar next to you.

The drawings capture this sense of the past gone, of a future where a past will go away and desert us forever.  Sad, well not really.  But let us stay in the present with the gray graphite on white Arches, two values shaded into one another. Drawing is immediate.  Drawings have a truth that paintings hide behind  their color; drawing not only grasps the moment of decision, it is that moment.  

Even though what we experience may be colorful, beautiful green trees for example, that which is beautiful of those green trees is colorless.  Color as lovely as it is, is an afterthought to the process of being and of knowing beauty, even though what we are, or  what we know, is considered beautiful. Color is what language talks about, it is not language, it is too complex. Drawing, like language, tells you what it is by telling you what it isn't.  The drawing mark  on paper is here not there, dark not light, scumbled not distinct, versos of these marks would say something different,

Frances Middendorf's drawings speak to us; they tell us about our world, they hint at its secrets (which is what we want, we don't want to be handed the answers), they are leading to our imagination and this is what we want of art and of life, permission.

The poems are lovely and the drawings are lovely. EW


Deola Thinking

Deola passes her mornings sitting in a cafe,
and nobody looks at her. Everyone’s rushing to work,
under a sun still fresh with the dawn. Even Deola
isn’t looking for anyone: she smokes serenely, breathing
the morning. In years past, she slept at this hour
to recover her strength: the throw on her bed
was black with the boot-prints of soldiers and workers,
the backbreaking clients. But now, on her own,
it’s different: the work’s more refined, and it’s easier.
Like the gentleman yesterday, who woke her up early,
kissed her, and took her (I’d stay awhile, dear,
in Turin with you, if I could) to the station
to tell him goodbye.
                              She’s dazed this morning, but fresh—
Deola likes being free, likes drinking her milk
and eating brioches. This morning she’s nearly a lady,
and if she looks at anyone now, it’s just to pass the time.
The girls at the house are still sleeping. The air stinks,
the madam goes out for a walk, it’s crazy to stay there.
To work the bars in the evening you have to look good;
at that house, by thirty, you’ve lost what little looks you had left.

Deola sits with her profile turned toward a mirror
and looks at herself in the cool of the glass: her face pale,
and not from the smoke; her brow a bit furrowed.
To survive at that house, you’d need a will
like Marí used to have (because, honey, these men
come here to get something they can’t get at home
from their wives or their lovers) and Marí used to work
tirelessly, full of good cheer and blessed with good health.
The people who pass the cafe aren’t distracting Deola—
she only works evenings, making slow conquests
to music, in her usual bar. She’ll make eyes.
at a client, or nudge his foot, while enjoying the band
that makes her seem like an actress doing a love scene
with a young millionaire. One client each evening
is enough to scrape by on. (Maybe that gentleman from last night
really will take me with him.) To be alone, if she wants,
in the morning. To sit in a café. To not look for anyone.

Cesare Pavese, translated by Geoffrey Brock