by Stephen Sachs
Now in New York City, the calm idyllic oceanfront of Wellfleet Harbor feels a universe away. One world slammed into another. From harmony to frenzy. The call of seagulls now sirens and car horns, the roar of waves now pounding jack hammers, the open clear horizon of ocean now vertical towers of cement and glass. The sky only visible between buildings. Like blinders on a horse.
Reviews for Bakersfield Mist wash in from Wellfleet like driftwood on the sand:
- “Absorbing.” – Boston Globe
- “Clever, witty and even poignant … a smart and insightful play not just about art and truth, but also about class differences … the dialogue swinging with wit and a zinging rhythm … the play is true to reality as it intelligently, yet subtly, examines class struggles, the aesthetics of art, the power of the privileged, the anger of the disadvantaged and the desire of all of us for self-worth.” – Cape Cod Times
- “Wild and witty … Lively and smart, new play packs as much punch as a Pollock .” – Cape Cod Today
On this muggy New York afternoon, I briskly dart and dodge my way down 53rd Street to 6th Avenue like a tardy school boy. I have only a brief moment today between meetings. The moment is now. I must make an urgent appointment. With two paintings.
I dash into the Museum of Modern Art. Up the stairs, to the 4th floor. Post-Modern Expressionism. Wind through the bee-comb of exhibits and galleries, weaving past tourists and art-gawkers with cameras. Turn a corner, enter the alcove I’m looking for … and there it is …
One: Number 31 (1950) by Jackson Pollock is an immense canvas dominating an entire wall. I slowly approach, holding my breath. It is the first Jackson Pollock I have seen since writing Bakersfield Mist. I am coming home, full circle.
In the play, art expert Lionel says a Pollock painting “rewires your retinas.” It’s true. I stare at the expansive monolithic delirium in front of me and my eyes go through a kind of molecular transformation. I see movement, explosions, mad slashes of color. The painting not only rewires your retina — it becomes your retina, is your retina.. Ever see a color photo of the human retina? The pulsating colored lines, the high-charged circuitry, the webbed network of electric current? That is a Pollock painting. The human retina on canvas, made visible.
Seeing the painting is like paying homage to an old friend. Pollock has lived in my imagination for three years. Seeing his work in books or online is no match for the visceral connection of his canvas in person. Like how a movie or TV show pales to the thrill and wonder of live theatre.
I lean my face close to the canvas. Examine the drips, splatters and blotches. Like Maude in the play, I am searching for a fingerprint.
Upstairs, on the 5th floor, the other painting waits. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso. It was when first seeing this painting as a boy that Lionel first heard the “Art Gods speak” to him. Changing him, and the world of art, forever.
One can not overstate the importance of this masterpiece by Picasso. Or how different it is from the Pollock. The master of one generation superseded by another. The Industrial Age exploded by the Atomic. Picasso is fleshy, primitive, tribal, animal-like. Distorted, frightening. The figures heavy and weighty. In the Pollock canvas, there are no human beings. It bypasses form to a realm beyond anything physical. It is light, airy, electric. You expect to hear the canvas hum like high-voltage wire. Alive.
Standing before these two paintings, I come full circle with my play. These two paintings, these two artists, in my imagination for so long, have meant so much to me and my play. Arriving now is like returning to old friends. As I approach, they see me coming. I hear them gently whisper to me, “Ah, yes … yes … here you are.”
Pray to the Art Gods. When they speak, listen. And give thanks.