I’ve spilled lots of ink about moths in the last year–how much I love drawing them, how beautiful and destructive they are, yadda, yadda, yadda. . . It seems I just can’t leave the fuckers alone. Like birds, they are one of those creatures that call to me. Like birds, there are thousands upon thousands of species. And like birds, some of our oldest and most arcane folklore surround these mysterious apparitions.
When I was a kid, I remember being somewhat afraid of the big ones–the real furry fuckers with the frightening faces. It took me a long time to realize they meant me no harm. My parents would chase after them franticly with a rolled up magazine because they ate cloth My mother feared for her lace tablecloths– a favorite of your bigger moths. When I got a little older, I’d be fascinated by their patterns and try to draw the byzantine-marbled moth wings when I’d find a dead one on the window sill.
I remember the first time I encountered a shimmering emerald luna moth in the moonlight. Few things are as visually intoxicating; their flight a shining tango of winter-green in the dark.
They, moths, symbolize things for me that are hard to articulate. I’m not sure there are words that convey the mixture of elation, wonder, terror, curiosity and hopefulness I feel when I am lucky enough to witness a mad dervish of them, swarming around a streetlight.
There is a lovely collage of moth wings by Jean DuBuffet which I’ve always loved and spent a lot of time with. To love this piece is to hate DuBuffet a little bit for pulling the wings off of the moths. It is an image cobbled together with pain and cruelty, driven by the selfish ruthlessness of art itself.
This is the 15th in this new body of work: Nickel History: The Nation of Heat. The second half of that title is from a song by the great Joe Pug–the last lines of this song go through me like an icicle:
There’s a Straw-Hatted man
rowing away from the shore. . .
He says; “It’s a shame they don’t
let you have Slaves anymore. . .
I’m the ugliest man that you’ll ever meet. . .
I come from the Nation of Heat”
Joe was generous of spirit enough to let me quote the title of this great song in my title for this chapter of Nickel History
and I am immensely grateful for this.
Implicit in this remarkable song is the disquieting notion that we’ve not changed much as Americans. The atavistic need to conquer and be better than everyone else in the world, still binds us to our ugly history, furies and desires.
What I want to say with these little pictures seems to change definition while I make them. I love and hate America with equal alacrity, sometimes at the same moment. I think our leaders are full of shit. Our art is moribund theory-based dog-shit aimed at the marketplace. And our media honestly want us to give a fuck about three over-produced walking tit-jobs
Who the fuck are we?
This is what Joe’s song asks of us, and it resonates with me.
In the last few years, I’ve taken a few road trips across our country and I rather enjoy it. I take great solace in our landscape. Desert, mountains, farmland, swamps, coastline, you name it. The American landscape is worth every song or story ever written about it. I love places like the Badlands where the landscape seems to almost wear their history; as if the land, the dirt and stone and sky and trees, themselves, have a memory. There are hot sulphur springs in Montana, where steam dances from the ground and it seems almost a missive–a thought passed between worlds and peoples. I love the West; the hard, ruined, faces of graded mountains, the rolling clouds of dust appearing like airborne squalls.
It is humbling to think that we, the Americans, are allowed to people this place.
We are able to enjoy its beauty and birds and wild grasses and thermal clouds.
In my more cynical moments (fewer and fewer lately), I think it is wasted on us. And then I realize it’s not. I see people pulled over just looking at the sky, letting the breezes, the smells and the warmth of the air work its palliative magic. One of the most magical things I remember from a road trip was seeing a tough bush in the high desert covered in pinkish leaves. They seemed out of place on this scraggily tough plant. A moment later, I knew why. . .when the pink moths all took flight.