Clotheslines

My computer is back and whole after having received a hard drive transplant, and some fooling and fiddling. I should be eager and ready to produce a post, but I find I’m mostly befuddled. Partly, I suppose it’s a matter of us both — the computer and myself — needing to readjust. But it’s also that I’ve fallen in love with Melissa Zink, the artist I quoted in my last very short post.

Sadly, she died a year and a couple of months ago, so there will be no meeting the living, breathing artist, but she was prolific and there’s a lot to look at. She was also articulate, and so there’s a good bit to read. Her art centered on books and the experience of reading, and since I too love books, I’m especially eager to know her better.

But there are two problems. The first is that I don’t know her work well enough to write about it. Not yet anyway. The second is that I need permission to put up pictures of her work. And that may take some time. In the meantime, for anyone who’s curious, there’s a Melissa Zink Retrospective online that’s extensive and wonderful.

Melissa Zink Artist Statement

What we are looking for, whether in a gallery or a shop, is transportation to that remarkable state of mind which seems like a brief glimpse of Enlightenment. It is probably irrelevant how it is produced. The state of mind, I mean. Whether a Balinese tobacco container or a Rembrandt etching takes one’s breath away, what is crucial is to become breathless.

I started thinking about things that take my breath away, not necessarily art, though, from my point of view, they should inspire it. I thought of the sea; massive trees and seedlings; roses in the spring and bougainvilla on a San Francisco Victorian; old skin that’s like thin, white parchment; the smell of ripe peaches; french fries; the rattle and whistle of palm trees full of starlings. But what I stopped at — mostly because I have some slides and I don’t think I’ll ever come up with the right post for them if I don’t do it now — is clotheslines.

They’re history now, clotheslines are, since we’ve all gone to electric dryers. Not to say dryers aren’t interesting, spinning clothes have their own metaphorical power, I guess. But clotheslines are better.

Unless you’re very fortunate, there probably aren’t any clotheslines in your vicinity, so you’ll have to remember them, or imagine them. The shirts, dresses and pants still bear the impress of bodies, and the shapes shift as a soft wind fills each one, Sometimes there are stains, stretching, fading, tears and the patching up of them, that give us the details.

There are short stories, sometimes whole novels on clotheslines. White shirts tell us one thing, denim shirts another. Blue jeans and khaki pants are redolent of grease monkeys and farmers. Tee shirts flex their decaled chests and share their messages with anyone who will stop and look.

And then, of course, there’s the underwear. Boxers or undies, there’s usually something shy and small about underwear. It doesn’t move freely in the breezes that send the other clothes dancing. It looks mildly embarrassed, as if a public appearance wasn’t what it had in mind.

Clotheslines can be very beautiful. They’re enlivened by the wind and sun like ships at sea. In their careful arrangements we see the handiwork of women with bags of clothespins and baskets of cold damp cloth balanced on one hip on a lovely Monday morning (or any day of the week in these lax times). The sheets go up, the towels follow, the perfect cheerful clothes of families, telling stories she doesn’t know she’s sharing with everyone, anyone who will stop and look.

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One thought on “Clotheslines

  1. I don’t have a washing-machine or a dryer. Doesn’t anybody think about the environment, over there? Or are you all on solar energy? Anyway, clothes are much softer when they are dried in the wind, and the sun disinfects them. This means that you don’t have to poison the Earth with chemicals. I understand people having a washing-machine when they have a family. But dryers are not necessary in Summer, at the very least. Such waste!

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