Morro Bay, 1995, further north of where the soon-to-be-fully-contained fire is at the moment. Bottom photo was taken by a friend of mine who also did the driving throughout our care-free road trip along the coast line. As you can see, she caught me in the perfect Kodak moment tilting the famous Morro rock.
Images were photographed with a single-use, most probably water resistant camera I used a lot in those days, and casually handed over for processing at local Target. Back then I didn’t think much of my creative inclinations, in fact I thought of them as the source of all my troubles and in most part I treated them accordingly.
Many years later in 2012, I decided to pamper my creativity with a high-end film scanner (rented), and discovered the negatives in progressed decay. Lines, scratches and uneven colors, they hinted at everything that happens only once.
Now, in December 2017, as California finds itself in flames again, I dug up the photos and gave them the suitable “vintage postcard” edit, then messed them up a bit, to near the creative disaster. Why, it’s a play, to be slightly off balance so your foot no choice lands forward. Well I was thinking of California I know, the foreign land always felt like a well worn pair, appreciating every minute I spent, submerged in the air of adventurousness and experimentation the land so eagerly, and effortlessly permits.
September 1996, Los Angeles, north east San Fernando Valley, mildly Mexican* neighborhood. The flat expanse with wide, uncrowded streets evenly lit by dry desert sun.
The place I rented, a garage of a little house, a loft-like mini shelter for me and my canine friend Sophia, stood next to a rectangle swimming pool the landlady tirelessly cleaned. Separated by sort-of lawn was a main house, with two rooms for rent, both occupied.
The other end of mi mini casa was a neighbor’s yard, where serious mariachi parties took place thankfully not too often, complete with a set of super woofer speakers you’d find in night clubs. How I knew? I snuck a peek tiptoed over a sloppy stack of cinder blocks stood between me and the fiesta.
So, the place I rented. In one of the rooms in the main house, the one adjacent to the Mariachi’s, lived a petite lady, a tipsy intellectual. Told me she was a wine taster trained in France, in the kitchen we shared, in a stained XL tee, a stemmed glass in her hand, held as if she was standing under a chandelier.
Then suddenly one day she had a boyfriend. I recognized him from the 711 corner across the street, hanging with alert eyes, in business transactions, the back alley type of deal. From there things progressed rapidly and it was not long before I found him in our kitchen, a new resident in the honeymoon phase. Soon after I took refuge in a living room at my friend’s nearby.
My friend, he lived on the Avenue Quiet only a few blocks from the Villa Mariachi, with his ailing wife and a lady who was there to help her out. Their generosity to welcome me in along with a rather large, wise but energetic dog into a full house is worth a mention, but it didn’t end there. He, a sculptor in hiatus, offered me the full use of his studio.
“You are an artist”, I wasn’t that convinced but he proclaimed anyways. “Artist makes art.”
That was the only string attached to the offer.
All his sculptures were made from wood, abstract with true substance. Used to exhibit, said he, did well for a long time. Something held me back from asking what changed all that.
The studio was originally, again, a garage. No light entered from the California sun but I could feel the heat. Tables, tools, wood scraps. Works half done, paused. All sat still gathering dust.
I was not certain of my ability to carve or to sustain my interest. Where is my fiesta? Besides, it was sunny outside. As I began to gather dust myself, a book, its title, caught my eye.
“Abstraction in Nature”
The three words made all the sense in the world. I knew exactly what they meant but had no idea until then it was something to write a book about. It was enough to get me started though.
Carve, sand, buffer. Shapes began to appear. As if there were ideas floating about waiting to be caught by the next available human.
I spent about a month and a half at the Sculptor’s, before moving over the hill to Hollywood, the place I so missed all the while I lived in the Valley. The milder sun and some fiestas, but most notably, walks on Sunset with ever proud Sophia strutting past girls in 7 inch heels working the Boulevard. Strangely though, now in 2017, I get just as excited google-earthing the Valley, if not more.
The things I absorbed in the Sculptor’s studio seemed to have gone dormant for a long while after that but looking back, I think, maybe that wasn’t so. You see, those things never really quit on you.
In fact, I have reasons to believe they had gone ahead and nurtured themselves while waiting, years of waiting, of dropping hints, nudging with intrigues, for this human and her next available moment.
I finished total of 8 pieces during my stay at the Sculptor’s, and got 3 more on pause. For this post I photographed four of them arranged with masterpieces made by someone else.
Lastly, I wrote this as a tribute, to my sculptor friend who’s passing I learned only several days ago, and to ‘Abstraction in Nature’ who definitely never quits, crystallizes into elements large and minuscule everything there is to life: the feast, the knife, and the whole enchilada.
*In considering the current – as of March 2017 – trend of Mex bashing in U.S., I’d like to add:
“Colors” of the characters are intentionally unmentioned (hint: there are 4 in the post). I went to Angeles with no prior knowledge of Mexican culture, or how Chicanos (or Japanese for that matter) are positioned in the society. Mariachi blast landed on a blank canvas. Growing up in Japan I did not face discrimination based on color, nor do I have a strong inclination toward seeking my identity through the culture I was raised in, and that is where I am coming from, just an observer of the – our – human condition.
Here’s a joke. Don’t feel offended.
goes to see a doctor.
He tells him:
“When I touch my body with my finger, it hurts.
When I touch my head, it hurts,
my legs, it hurts,
my belly, my hand, it hurts.”
The doctor examines him then tells him:
“Your body’s fine
but your finger’s broken!”
– Abbas Kiarostami, Taste of Cherry (1997)
I decided December will be a movie month. I’m gonna watch as many Kiarostami films. Maybe not all though, save some for later, ‘cause no more coming from the maestro.
Photos are from my trip to Sado, early August 2003. Shot, with a single use camera I got in a hurry at a kiosk somewhere, from the last ferry boat of the day, my way back to Tokyo. On the isle time passed like a deep sea current, with the kind of depth that does not weigh. I watched for a long time the fading silhouettes, its picturesque rocks and the dark sea widening between us.
Yesterday I closed my eyes and consumed a semi dried persimmon from the island. Sugar in the fruit spoke to me in Sado, and the characters I met there came to life again: silver-scaled sushi fishes in clear teal sea that gets cold at 3pm sharp, a crane with black and red design who had to nearly brush this tourist’s windshield, a coffee at the goldmine that came with a surprise gold flake floating.
Then I thought of the film, words between a man and his third passenger, the depth that doesn’t bind. And the director who passed last July, the way he used time as his medium, and the subtext that does not force meaning.
(The persimmon in question is sold under the name “Anpo”. Melty on the inside, look for the ones from the island.)