LOVE LETTERS: I will cover you with love when next I see you ...

Miller White Fine Arts
Oct 21, 2020 8:52PM

On August 15, 1846, Gustave Flaubert wrote to his lover, Louise Colet: “I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me, and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports... When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them.”

This is a story about love. It evolved over myriad scenarios, and there also came a time when I would question whether or not to pursue it. The conflict was whether I could be real about love or not. The intervening events were useful in determining that I could indeed be real, because that was the most important thing of all.The above passage. This one, I saved, from an ordinary mass emailing following the purchase of a now-forgotten item I once shopped for. You know, how Google just “knows” what you really want out of life and establishes a secret trajectory that will get you there, whether you “know” it, or not. I rarely even acknowledge these unsolicited emailings, let alone ponder content for a series of months. But, this one, I did. It hit me directly in my marrow, and turned me right on. The above passage. The one that forced me to think consequentially about love — the physical expression of love — as a issue of confrontation. That’s how this began.

"Game of Love" by Jane Eccles, Oil/Canvas, 24x24. Jane, who is currently powering through her eighth decade, was the first to respond to the directive. After reading the it, her hand reached out for the volume of love letters titled "My Faraway One," thousands that passed between Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe.... sometimes three per day.

What claimed my attention was the obvious ardor of Flaubert’s language, coupled with an odd menacing tone that I was initially unable to flesh out. The circumstances present in my personal life, now and at that time I first read it, don’t differ from what Flaubert was describing on behalf of his fortunate lover’s future pleasure. My own marriage is an extraordinary pleasure trip, nine ways to Sunday! What confounded me was the subtle - dare I utter it - predatory nature of Flaubert’s intention, as if Colet had no choice regarding her participation in any part of her lover’s fantasy of love. I have to admit, the whole process became mixed; first one agenda, then another — both valid and relevant, in my opinion — but how to integrate both into a single concept? Isn’t this precisely the conundrum that love, in all its maddening and glorious forms, manifests? I find that integration is possible, but also — strangely — relieved that it doesn’t come without an ideological challenge. To wit, I realized that while Flaubert was describing a future sensational physical encounter of love with Colet, I could not be certain that she was actually receptive to it in the way that her lover clearly desired. Stumped and fixed, without Colet’s response, I remained unsure of her consent. Taken at face value, the letter described only her husband’s passion; to believe that she shared equally in this pursuit was at best, glib, and at worst, in service of a future encounter that might be ill-advised. In other words, in the absence of clear consent between two people — even between committed partners in love — sexual behavior can be viewed, ultimately, as predatory. In the cultural cacophony that is the Me-Too movement, I felt that such a stone unturned was a highly relevant issue. This is how it began.

Given a sensuously pithy letter and my own socio-political reaction to it, I organized the Miller White 2019 summer invitational around the expression of physical love, with creative encouragement from Flaubert. The artists were guided only by the letter itself, with my own inquiry into consent left out of the directive. That was my imperative alone, not theirs. Instead, I

asked them to simply approach the directive in such a way that would add a dose of rigor to their individual concepts of the act of loving.

"Celestial Kiss" by Deborah Forman, Digital Print/Aluminum, 24x36. E an image from Rockwell Kent's gorgeous Art Deco ceiling mural at the Cape Cinema in Dennis Village, MA, Deborah weighed in on the eroticism of the directive, with elegance and depth.

For me, as a curator, hashing out my ideas and values is not only meaningful, its also part of the fun. I want to be more than a tinkerer; I want to find the exceptions to my rules, break free of self-imposed trivialities and raise the potency of the underlying narrative. As with all of my invitationals, I wanted to find a way to go “all the way.” In other words, further than the visual component of the show, the artist statement proved the means; the temperature was raised by adding the language of love, not beneath the image but rather in service of it. This became prudent upon the realization that some acts of love will never occur. The loved one may be deceased, otherwise unavailable, somehow incapable of or indisposed to mutual affection. What happens when we love someone to whom we are unable to express physical intimacy? Literally, how would one profess the utter magnitude of their ardor in the absence of a clearly defined statement? That’s how it evolved.

"His Last Act" by Susan Danton, Acrylic/Mixed Media/Music, 12x12. My husband's brother ended his life during the early production of this show. He walked into the woods at the edge of his farm with a gun. In the midst of crushing grief, I wanted to cancel the show. I was encouraged by my artists not to. Later, I had a dream that Jeff wanted to say goodbye to his wife, Lenita, whom he adored. The image and music that appeared evolved into the most honest piece I've ever done. For me, love became a literal act of transcendence. ("Can't Help Falling in Love" by Kina Grannis served as the musical accompaniment.

We are also endeavoring to be supportive of the emotional health of our communities, especially during a time when the prevailing cultural ethos is difficult to navigate. Its an incredibly vulnerable show, with the artists at their most fragile. Never to imply they are weak in character or creative process, rather the fragility that is exposed is weighed against how very close they will let the viewer get. This doesn’t happen without strenuous effort and only the bravest will heed that call; that level of confrontation is just not popular in a global culture that is more comfortable expressing emotion in the cloud! We don’t “know” anything about love; we can only offer insights, which then may be useful to others. We do this visually first, and then we add dimension with our words. In one of the most opaque industries on the planet, I think it is refreshing that we actually “open our mouths” and say something, even if we are really shooting from the hip! Opening up a dialogue: this is the power of arts and culture!

"Too Much of this Leads to That" by James Wolf, Watercolor Collage/Paper, 70x40. I asked each artist to provide a love letter, in lieu of a traditional artist statement, to be posted alongside their piece. Jamie's love letter, to his wife Laura, read simply, "Everyone I fucked in my dreams can't add up to you." I just love that.

Love — in all forms — is macrocosmic; it is a matter of ultimate human concern. Indeed, the images that comprise this show are at once “pleasure,” per usual; what exalts them is that the artists went all the way by underscoring their love with personal statements of love, not about it. Thus, lukewarm became strategically incendiary. This is not love as an afterthought, rather it is more a line in the sand. After eight years as a gallerist with close to forty shows under my belt, I have yet to see as honest an inquiry into as unpopular a topic as this one, this foray into the expression of physical love.

"Contigo" by Richard Neal, Oil/Enamel/Canvas, 16x20. The title is the Spanish word for "with you." Richard drives his formidable intelligence on an extremely raw edge, and I couldn't wait to see what he brought to the show, and I was never more pleased. This piece, and many others in the show, informed me that these are "real" folk with whom I work. This was not an easy directive, and yet, over and over again, I watched vulnerability morph into staggering displays of honesty and strength. And here you have an example of just that.

Neither trivial nor child’s play, expressing love behooves us to reach higher and dig deeper. Never a contest, love is a dance in which leader and follower are interchangeable roles, neither of which is superior to the other and both of which are essential to the awesome task of creating the ideal of love we all need, not merely to survive but to thrive amid life’s challenges to that ideal. If we are not prepared to assume both and go all the way — to make us and others feel safe in love — we should exit the stage. Making love is work. Spiritually strenuous work that is often thankless and undignified, but never, ever lacking in importance.

"The Wait" by Pooja Campbell, Oil/Canvas, 48x36. Pooja is from India. She explained to me that women in India are traditionally depicted in a cover of jewels. In her work, she purposely departs from that tradition to portray women in what can only be described as pure nakedness, whereby the figure becomes the very jewel we seek. Again, honesty is the very treasure we seek, in love.

Are we all saying something important? Perhaps. Then again, it is possible that nothing important was said, only that saying it was. Finally, I just know there is another person out there who is more valuable to you than all the gold, silver or diamonds in the world. Find that person and tell them how much you care for their presence in your life.That is real life and that is the real magic of love.

"Stripped" by Laura Lee Flanagan, Digital Print/Aluminum, 24x36. The narrative here is ... that's right, only the viewer may fill in the blanks. Laura Lee is untouchable in her quest for the honest image. he one that hits home.

In the final summation, Artscope Magazine selected Love Letters for their cover and feature story in the September/October 2019 issue. Why? Because love is life; without a liberal experience of it along the lifespan, we humans would cease to exist. And, most importantly, how we express love determines the true value of the gift we exchange with the myriad souls along our path. Conscious, daring and abiding love.

"Falling into Love" by Teresa Baksa, Charcoal/Pastel/Paper, 48x36. Pan-dimensional ecstasy, a gift that keeps on giving ...

Susan Reid Danton, Miller White Fine Arts, August 16, 2019

Cover image for this article is "Wedding Rose" by Laura Fantini, Colored Pencil/Paper ... Exquisite and precise, deep and courageous ... that is Laura in art, life and love.

Miller White Fine Arts