World of Wonders

If you are a lucky child, the world is full of magic. Or, better said, the world is magic. By lucky, I mean that you are loved and cared for. You’re safe. Except for the natural hazards of childhood, like the thugs and bullies you encounter in your neighborhood and at school (and whom you will have to deal with throughout the rest of your life), you are not afraid of the world. You have not known hunger, or had to flee from war. If you are fortunate, you don’t have to endure being torn away from your parents at the southern border of a police state and thrown into a detention camp. You’re a lucky child, even when you don’t get along with your parents, or with your brothers and sisters. You have a home at least, and they are part of it, like it or not.

By magic, I mean that even if you are a lucky child, it’s necessary, now and then, to escape from Life, to enter into the lives of strangers. Fairy tales allow you to do this. So do movies.

Three of the most magical places in the little town of my childhood were the Rialto, the Grove and the Crocker, a trinity of theaters as holy as the other trinity of home, school and playground. I don’t know when the love of films expanded to include an admiration for façades and marquees, but the discovery of the Hollywood was as decisive as it was unexpected.

Hollywood Theater 3 – Monoprint – 11 x 15 inches

Imagine walking down a street in a rainstorm, in late November, in an unfamiliar city. You are on your way to your sister’s home for dinner, minding your own business in the racket of buses and car horns. You dance around puddles and pedestrians, trying to keep warm and dry, and suddenly you behold what looks like a Neo-Baroque cathedral in Mexico City. But it’s not a church; it’s a theater, and you are not in Mexico, but in Portland, Oregon. In an instant, fifty years evaporate into the rain and you become ten years old again, fascinated by the promise of a magical world behind the ticket seller’s booth.

In spite of the promise of a warm house and good food, I shivered under the awning of a furniture store and made these two preliminary sketches:

Hollywood Theatre Sketch – Pencil/paper – 7 x 10 inches

Later that evening, I returned, wearing a heavier coat, and spent an hour drawing in more detail:

Hollywood Theater 2 – Pencil/paper – 7 x 10 inches

During the months after these sketches, I created a series of monoprints of theaters, which I’ll share with you in future posts. Meanwhile, you might like to know that the Hollywood opened its doors during the summer of 1926, and for the last ninety years, it has been a landmark on Sandy Boulevard on the East side of Portland. The surrounding district was named Hollywood in honor of the theater.

Hollywood Theater 1 – Monoprint – 11 x 15 inches

You can visit the Hollywood and see wonderful films, but not The Museum of Love, nor The War of All Against All, nor any of the other titles on the marquee, because those films don’t exist. Except for Texas Medicine, which comes from a line in Bob Dylan’s song, Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, I made up all the titles.

Are there any words more enchanting than those that traditionally begin stories: “Once upon a time…”? Not for me. Stories on the screen offer a world of wonders. Inside a theater we share a collective dream with the rest of the audience. Films offer us adventures in the of the lives of other people, their laughter, anguish, joy, desperation, fear, happiness, their loneliness and their grief. In a theater, it’s possible to open up our selves to other worlds, to live comedies and tragedies that, for a short time, can become our own.

3 thoughts to “World of Wonders”

  1. The painting and accompanying words evoke for me, which I also get from your other creations, the sense of wandering souls, of wispy captures of other realities, of tears in the fabric of space-time, contrasted against an imagined perfection. Your works create for me an introspective tension. Sweet!

  2. Very nice JM!!! I too responded to the line from Bob’s song about Texas Medicine ;
    “….Texas medicine and railroad gin; like a
    fool I mixed ’em”. I did tap into the magic of Texas medicine a long time ago to glaze a ceramic piece and it ended up in the Oakland Museum. Thought that was such a cool choice for the marquee! Great artwork and love your writing.

  3. This story has great immediacy, not just because of the memories we perhaps share with the artist: theaters, movies, schoolyard bullies, family, a sense of magic, our own versions of these experiences. It’s that it is cleverly told in the second person. We feel the rain, the puddles, the sense of discovery in seeing the Hollywood theater for the first time, because we are told we are there. “If you are a lucky child, the world is full of magic.” “You dance around puddles and pedestrians, trying to keep warm and dry.” And a key word in developing that immediacy is “Imagine,” grammatically, an imperative and in its meaning, exactly what happens when we go to the movies. We suspend disbelief and imagine. Imperatives, if you stop to think about it, are unlike most sentences. They are not subject to a truth test the way a simple statement is. To the command, “Imagine” you can’t ask “is it true or false?” the way you can ask of a declarative sentence whether it is or isn’t true: “it’s not a church, it’s a theater.” Well, is it or isn’t it? You can theoretically ask that question, whereas with the imperative “Imagine” you can’t ask whether it is true or not. It’s a command. It grabs you by the lapels, and says, “Imagine.”
    Well, my point is that the story has immediacy, and the use of the second person direct address is partially responsible for that immanence. So too is the imperative, “Imagine.” But, you know, I tend to get caught up in words. The immediacy of the story is also, and probably mostly due to the drawings and the finished works. They are beautiful and instructive to see how a piece of art grows from initial perception, and transcription in the form of drawing into a finished work of art.
    There is lots to talk about here in terms of art, monotypes (what are monotypes?), movies, imagination, inventing titles to movies we’ve never seen, and never will, the “World of Wonders” we all live in, the relationship of these works to others like the “Del Oro” and “Lives that Women Lead.” There’s lots to talk about (and maybe I talk too much), but Jayne and I had one of your cinema monotypes, “The Esquire” I say had, only because we gifted it to our son and daughter in law (Jake and Lisa), when we asked them if there was anything in the art work in our house that they liked and would like to have for themselves. Well, Miguel, if you keep track of your children, your paintings, you should know that “The Esquire” is in the good hands of our son and daughter in law, who appreciate the World of Wonders it suggests every time they see it.

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