“Altered States & Provocations – A Lost, Pre-war Blog”



Note: this is a pre-war blog written at the end of last year and just recently unearthed. A slice of time experienced not so long ago – thought it worth posting.


Speed, immobility and provocation…
I began this quite some time ago, with events, sensations and thoughts piling up as the days turned to weeks to months since the last posting.

News first: OMICRON speeds around the globe presenting entirely predictable unknowns. Through tragedy I familiarize myself with the Greek alphabet.

Escalation towards a grand collapse has its roots, if one peels back the layers, in decades of wrong-headed decisions made and destructive paths taken. In a grand swivel of immorality, historical lessons are forgotten, deep and ancient powers of human commonality and community are brushed aside in the hubristic, aquisitive thirst for private satiation and power. Reap what has been sown, chickens come home to roost, what goes around comes around, etc. Common sayings embedded in the human vocabulary speak of what we witness now, if we are willing to bear witness.

There, that’s said. Now with that muffled roar ever constant in the background despite all efforts to suppress, let’s return to earlier thoughts and jottings about art.

I’m out there on Instagram now as @szofrand, with a small account of new pieces and growing numbers of followed/following artists. Somehow I discovered this seduction of connectivity in the face of an ever-increasing sense isolation. A pleasurable way to share art, all things considered. I continue to sign in and sign out of the web version, resisting the app with its distraction of too much chatter and the allure of continual crumbs of contact – not to mention the dangers of the insidious inner workings of Facebook or whatever Zukerberg calls it.

Is [the] speed [of Instagram] appropriate for the urgency of this moment; the brevity of compressed communication punctuated by emojis a good thing? I wonder.

Putting my news and exhibitions webpage in order, I was stunned to realize how long this abnormal life has been going on… how many in absentia exhibits and video openings, with omitted events postings slipping through cracks of accident and pandemic. In what altered states I now live.

Meanwhile they’re all crowding at the door – artists dead and alive, personal friends, revered greats, astonishing (awesome?) unknowns. All colleagues, all clamoring for attention, acknowledgement, presentation! The impulse to share is overpowering, as if I were teaching a course, as if I had a mission to offer truths; not just my own humble assertions but the voices of an entire chorus of the enlightened, driven, possessed! How can I do it all? Impossible. Yet the sense of urgency overwhelms, insists.

First there was this: happening one day upon Leonard Cohen in 1964 –
profoundly jarring, provocative, inflammatory – no one talks like this anymore! He did himself (and us?) a disservice by propping up his words with music. Maybe in the end the pure word proved too difficult to sustain or the music too hard to resist. On the other hand, there was a performance aspect to his talk – maybe that was after all the sustaining factor. Link to that talk HERE.

New art acquaintances on Instagram trigger new musings in a vacuum. I fixate on a photo of newly arrived blank canvases turned to the wall in Sharon Butler‘s studio – no stretching and priming…  me, I just brush coats of acrylic gesso onto paper like a house painter. The urge to work takes precedence over slower prepping.

Looking at images of works at the Painting Center I realize the obvious – so many of these NYC artists are painters painting – moderate in scale, oil on canvas – voicing clear dialog with the medium.


I glance at my boxes of oil tubes on a shelf, at the bulky package of folded linen on another shelf, at long-ago gessoed cotton duck panels recently unrolled, resting in full view and for now nothing more than paperweights atop my most recent acrylic on paper pieces.

In the decades of dancing with paint I have cozied up to drawing and then alternatively, to color. A dedicated dialog with hand and process has sometimes precluded full submersion into pure painting, whatever that means. With drawing came narrative, until I became in the end, fatigued with narration and severed that element from the torso of my art. Now there is a new type of narrative, one of context rather than content – more tolerable, but in the end somewhat distracting, maybe beside the point.

Another issue – the dialog/dispute between hand and eye – or between medium and intent. The hand insists, the medium persists, effectively insinuating itself into process, whiting out any “vision” of the mind’s eye. Although that too persists, in echoes …longingly.


To return to current works of others, I also see much play – textural, monochromatic work going on out there as well, sometimes with refuse, sometimes with remnants, embracing the seduction of cheap materials, flaunting that delicious divinity of contradiction; presenting in its stead a harmony of orchestrated, easy discord. A warning sign?

So is there a Neo Arte Povera? The young post-WWII artists like Antonio Tàpies, Alberto Burri, leading to the 1960’s Arte Povera artists like Jannis Kounellis (also here) come to mind and I rush to look them up, remembering and verifying their powerful works as I course through sites and images online.

Next time: the Casualists and Neo Casualists; Thomas Nowzkowski, Sharon Butler, et.al.

Ending now with a bit of music – out of the past but very much alive: Kazakhstan….

….and some questions:

Will this become THE NEW GREAT DYING OUT? I voiced the phrase silently without being conscious of its prehistoric context.

What will the behavior be of our utterly flawed homosapien species in the face of such dire threat? So far, not so good. Will Europe really get serious? Will the US ever do the right thing? What about here in Vermont and in tiny Montpelier? Stay tuned for the next episode in madness.


– Diane Sophrin (12.15.21)
  Montpelier, Vermont





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