Got an email the other day from Dell’Artisan Joan Schirle titled “Bird of the Inner Eye.”
It began simply, “Here’s a press release about the Morris Graves reading coming up… the what and the why… Please share! Thanks, Joan”
I thought I’d do my part and “share,” but realized this morning I was already late in doing so. Last night (Thursday) they had the first of three readings of the work-in-progress, but you have a couple more chances to catch the pre-show show: at the Black Faun Gallery in Eureka Saturday, Nov. 17, and next weekend on Sunday, Nov. 25, at the Arcata Playhouse, with both shows starting at 7 p.m. Call Dell’Arte at (707) 668-5663 or email email@example.com for details.
Before I get around to “the what and the why,” a little about why I have more than a passing interest in Joan’s reading.
It was a long, long time ago when I actually spoke with Morris Graves on the phone. (To be more precise, it was late in the year 2000.) The museum that bears his name was about to have a retrospective of his work and as the arts and culture writer for the North Coast Journal, I wanted to write something about the show, and about Morris. Someone gave me his phone number and boldly, I called it. To my surprise, the man who everyone told me was a hermit and would not speak with anyone, answered his phone.
We didn’t talk long, he said his health was not good and he just wasn’t feeling up to it, and asked if I could talk to his assistant, Robert, instead. He assured me that Robert knew him well and would be able to answer all my questions about the show.
Perhaps I should have been more persistent, but I let him go, and missed my chance to talk more with him about art and get to know him better. Robert Yarber was a good guide to Graves’ work and the piece that came out of our talk, “The Nature of Beauty,” essentially a guided tour of the show, was satisfactory. But I never got to talk with Morris again — he died in May 2001, not long after the retrospective.
Fast forward to 2013. A package came to the Journal offices containing a new book, Morris Graves: Selected Letters, and it gave me another opportunity to discuss Humboldt’s most famous artist. The letters cover much of his life, and the piece, “On the Lake,” is a biography with a focus on how he ended up living in seclusion outside of Loleta, and his life here.
The masterful theatre artiste Joan Schirle is drawing on the Selected Letters to tell a different story, from a different part of Morris’ life, when he was a conscientious objector, and a painter of birds and much more. I’ll let the folks at Dell’Arte explain…
DELL’ARTE INTERNATIONAL PRESENTS Bird of the Inner Eye
Dell’Arte International (DAI) presents Bird of the Inner Eye, a series of readings from the letters of painter Morris Graves (1910 – 2001). The three readings are at Dell’Arte’s Carlo Theatre (Nov. 15), Eureka’s Black Faun Gallery (Nov. 17), and the Arcata Playhouse (Nov. 25). All performances are at 7 PM, with admission by donation.
Dell’Arte’s Joan Schirle conducts the readings, sourced from Graves’ letters and archives, with a cast of Dell’Arte Company members and local actors. This “theatre of place” event includes dance improvisations by choreographer and DAI faculty member Laura Muñoz.
“I became fascinated by Graves as a resistor,” said Schirle. “During WWII he spent 11 months in the stockade at Camp Roberts, California, for refusing to join the Army. He resisted not only war, he resisted the degradation of our planet and the deadening of our senses to beauty. Through painting he communicated his anguish over the loss of our humanity as we plunder the earth. He inspires me to ask myself as an artist, how I can best take part in resistance using the gifts I have?”
Some of Graves’ most powerful paintings came out of his experience as a conscientious objector. Many works of that early 40’s period use birds as symbols, including Bird of the Inner Eye, Falcon of the Inner Eye, and Little-Known Bird of the Inner Eye (1941) in NY’s Museum of Modern Art. Though symbolic, his paintings were nonetheless based on intensive observation and love of the natural world.
“I want to say with paint that the creation is infinitely, infinitely more than meets the eye, that a bird is vastly more than a miracle of life and form—that an eagle is not an eagle but a God-gesture and a power, and that he is not detached and in the sky but in our souls. And I want to say with paint that my tranquil night-lake here is not a lake but a reflection of a great tranquil backpool within the human soul—and that we see the outer reflection, and by it can bring the inner eye into focus within our soul…”– Morris Graves, writing in 1943, three months after the army discharged him as ‘unfit.’
Graves spent the last 36 years of his life in Humboldt County, at the home he designed and had built near Loleta, known as “The Lake.” Earlier this year the Morris Graves Foundation awarded Schirle a 3-week residency at The Lake, where she had access to his studio, his gardens, his papers, books, and many of the objects he had collected over a lifetime. During the coming year she will be developing a chamber opera on Graves with composer Gina Leishman. “He was a such a dramatic character… His writings reveal ongoing struggles balancing fame with his need for privacy, between his desire to live simply and a love of creating gorgeous, luxurious surroundings,” said Schirle. “His writings are passionate, as well as full of humor– he was something of a trickster. There is lively correspondence not just with his male lovers but with some amazing women who supported his work and his vision. His writing cries out to be set to music.”
Though Graves’ paintings– mostly of birds, animals, and nature– are famous throughout the world, his writing is lesser known. The letters in Bird of the Inner Eye are taken from “Selected Letters of Morris Graves,” edited by Vicki Halper and Lawrence Fong (2013). Schirle has also taken material from interviews with Graves’ contemporaries.
“. . . these letters are gems – conveying verve and passion and trains of thought possibly more complex than we tweeting twits of the 21st century can ever hope to express or even comprehend.” — Bellingham Herald
“A page-turner, capturing the rich and raw inner life of a sensitive, deeply serious artist who lacked a layer of skin and yet had a toughness to forge a life in art.” –City Living
To learn about Graves’ challenges in building his Humboldt home, see writer Bob Doran’s 2013 article in the Northcoast Journal, “On The Lake.”
Bird of the Inner Eye runs Thursday Nov. 15 at Dell’Arte’s Carlo Theatre, Saturday Nov. 17 at Eureka’s Black Faun Gallery and Sunday Nov. 25 at the Arcata Playhouse. All performances are at 7 PM.
Admission is pay what you can: $5 – $10
For further information on tickets for Black Faun Gallery and The Playhouse, email firstname.lastname@example.org