WHEN WE WITH RILKE
SCULPTURES AND PAINTINGS OF THINGS AS THEY ARE
Max Roemer's new body of work is titled “When We With Rilke - Sculptures and Paintings of Things As They Are.” The works refer to Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926), the German-Austrian poet of the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. Rilke lived wandering between Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and France, where he worked with the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Influenced by visual arts he developed the so-called “Dinggedicht” (Thing Poem), in e.g. “The Panther” or “The Roman Fountain”, which capture an object or being not as metaphor but in its physical essence, or in Zen language as “things as they are”. In the 1920s he wrote his Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpeus. This culmination of his poetry overcame the limits of the outwardly focused Ding-Gedicht and the mysticism of his early Book of Hours in a new myth of the modern human condition. The central image is that of angels, which stand for both abstract ideas and the power of poetic vision. They invoke praise and celebration in the face of despair. In his new sculptures and paintings Roemer shows us Orpheus and angels, artists’ portraits and fools. His homage to Rilke puts his works in the tradition of Romanticism and Modernism: They question art’s role in our secularized world of industry and technology, our “world of made”.
MY FRIEND RILKE
Why Rilke? It’s that Rilkean feeling: Rilke and I feel a real kinship. To celebrate life in the spirit of art. Let me explain what I mean by explaining what I don’t mean: It’s more than an influence. Influences for me are crafty things that go into style and technique, such as Guston’s pink, Twombly’s graphite calligraphy, Miro’s stick figures, and Dubuffet’s Art Brut. They are influences. It’s more than informing my work. What’s informing my work is art history and art theory, Klee’s Blauer Reiter, Kandinsky “About the Spiritual in Art”, poetics, Wallace Steven’s “Necessary Angel”, idea stuff, even when it demands there’d be “no ideas but in things”, imagist, and ancient Taoist poetics of “things as they are”, heady stuff. That informs my work. It’s more than inspiring my work. My inspiration comes from life and the lives of others, people who live deliberately, with intent, in unison with nature, with mountains, with the sea, and in disregard of the opinion of others. Chuang Tsu, laughing monks, and other necessary angels of the earth, beach bums, Dave McCoy, the list goes on. They are inspirations. And it’s more than shaping me and my work. What’s shaping me is my environment, my abode and circumstance, the very concrete, the tree trunk, the immediate and unmediated stuff of life lived daily, the yard, Swamis, the fields, family and loved ones. I was looking for an expert on angels and fools. And I found Rilke. I figured these are subjects of the shadowlands, of the dual realms, so a poet should know, maybe only a poet, only a fool. His subjects were who called me to him first. He speaks of angels a lot. From his early Book of Hours to his Duino Elegies. And then there are the beggars, too, and the blind, and other outsiders and outcasts, like the fool. Inner figures all. It might seem archaic, all these angels and ancient myths, references and allusions to medieval times. It’s not. It’s universal. It’s a quest to preserve or regain the spiritual realm that got under the wheels of the industrial revolution. It’s Romantic, and never old -- ask any Neo-Romantic. They are universal, those angels and fools. Turns out it’s not just subjects. It goes back further. It’s the treatment of material turned subjects. “Begin with the possibilities of the material”, says Robert Rauschenberg. For the poet, that’s language, words, sounds, sentences. For the sculptor it is plaster, clay or wood or stone or any other found material and shape. For the painter paint. Their treatment is more than process, craft and technique. It’s informed by mindset, by how to approach aesthetic problems. Be it the European artistry that lets one thing stand for another, the metaphors and symbols of language, exploring and endlessly expressing ideas, ideals and feelings; or the marble made to look like the cloth; or the paint manipulated to reproduce what we see. Or be it the deliberate lack of artistry, often libeled “primitivism”, focusing on the “aura” and “authenticity” of the material, unmediated, immediate, as in Rilke’s “Dinggedichte” or thing poems, or Wallace Stevens’ imagist poems or Chinese poetry; focusing on paint itself, or shapes found in nature. The key is to see. Not to reproduce or represent. But to focus and see. This transcends materials and art forms. Rilke learned this skill of perceptive observation, this art of attention, from Rodin, the sculptor inciting the poet. The purest and most purified tradition of just seeing is the Zen practice of just sitting: To see things as they are. Turns out that’s a Koan, an impossibility like one hand clapping. I see. Things are. Turns out it’s not just treatment. It’s the journey and the destination that the treatment underwent: from the inward focused subjectivity of the early work and its unsatisfied quest for spirituality and unsatisfying sentimentality; to the outward focus on the material world in the material of language, found in the Dinggedichte of his middle period, and the impossibility to eliminate the subject, to remove the ego and to resolve its inner conflicts and struggles in pure language; the same failed attempt to remove the ego, out of which Chinese poetry has made the oldest continuous poetic tradition in the world; to finally the resolution of inner and outer worlds and conflicts in his final cycles of the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. 'Hiersein ist herrlich' ('Being here is glorious'), he asserts in the seventh Elegy. The imagination marries the inner and outer worlds, spiritual and material, life and death. The angels, both beautiful and terrifying, heavenly and utterly earthly, necessary angels of earth help transform his art not to triumph over life, as so fervently hoped for until then, but to celebrate life. To celebrate life in the spirit of art. And wherever we celebrate life, we play. Every celebration is play, every game and ritual and festival. And whenever we play we do so out of an overabundance of life. Pure play, nothing less. Turns out it’s the very reason for art that I share with Rilke and that makes for real kinship: to celebrate life. In spite of it all. PS: But wait, there is more. While all this makes for plenty of kinship, it might also be personal, making it real: the German thing, the shared tradition, language, culture, as far away in place and time as they may seem, a century ago, a continent away. And maybe it’s this vita that I also share with him, the identity as a nomad and outsider, albeit in pleasant climes, he in Italy and Switzerland, and I in California. And yet and yet - lest we forget: Rilke don’t surf.