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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 3, September 2014

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Charles D. Tarlton
San Francisco, California, USA


Three Painterly Tanka Prose

1. The Negation of Impulse

I decided to do only what I meant to do and not what other people did. When I could observe what others did I tried to remove that from my work. My work became a constant negation of impulse . . .

          —Jasper Johns

The first thing she did was coat the large canvas with a faint sort of gray all over (got by mixing a little black in the gesso). Then with a roller she laid broad overlapping X’s from corner to corner, first in red, then brown, then orange, and finally green mixed with black. A diaphanous layer of white put on with a foot-wide hand scraper and the canvas was ready for painting.

now go very slow
meticulously dribble
red up to a clot
with a black dot as center
setting the stage

so you just stand there
looking, and let your mind go
feel the whole idea
in your fingers, but hold it
till you just cannot resist

ideas of order
deeply felt in the layers
slow the strokes down
let your mind see a dream
let orange peek out freely

2. An Abstract Expression

My formats are square, but the grids never are absolutely square, they are rectangles a little bit off the square, making a sort of contradiction, a dissonance, though I didn’t set out to do it that way. When I cover the square surface with rectangles, it lightens the weight of the square, destroys its power.

          —Agnes Martin

The painter stood up close to the big canvas (taller than he was, though he was tall) and pressed a small thick nub of burnt sienna oil paint against the splatters and scratches with his thumb. In his other hand he held a two-inch angled sash paint brush dripping white enamel that he suddenly swung in a long arc, like a comet of thin white mist across the upper left quadrant of the painting. In a minute there were several long feathery white drips running down and around the dollop toward the floor.

show the line run on
to the end of the hard pull
what exactly light
means, how it does or doesn’t
bend, way out to the end

look under the paint
see there’s more paint under it
and more under that
until the painting comes up
in ten dimensions at once

there is no such thing
as a straight line, the closer
you get to the light
the more the bumps and fibers twist
away from plumb, roughly

3. Modernists

Symbolism is a difficult idea. I’m not a symbolist. In other words, these are painting experiences. I don’t decide in advance that I am going to paint a definite experience, but in the act of painting, it becomes a genuine experience for me.

          —Franz Kline

My uncle flew twenty-eight missions in a B-17 over Germany in WW II—he was the tail gunner. After the war he studied art on the GI Bill and then worked his whole life as a realistic painter of portraits. I remember him being shocked in art school in the ‘fifties that everyone was painting with the same kind of brushes you used to paint houses, and sometimes they spread swaths of paint with plaster trowels.

come up very close
to a Caillebotte cityscape
push your eye right in
and the first sensations
will be indistinct patterns

maybe abstraction’s
in the eye and not the hand
what Plato meant
when he said the Idea
underpins all this

but I enjoy it
running through the painted
surfaces, tripping
over, spilling colors
following the action

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