The night is thick with heat and windless humidity. I am restless and stimulated, my body temperature rising in the dark room as I stare at and am consumed by an extraordinary Macri image: Drop Curtain. I have no idea what Macri intends by this image, his title notwithstanding, but I mean to write what it means to me because I cannot quench the fire in my bones until I do so. We don’t need to know what an artist “meant” in order to understand what the art means to us, and it’s a credit to Macri’s particular genius that his art is multifaceted and so deeply layered that one may burn through layers and not come to an end. There is such a ceaseless energy to his work controlled by an adroit handling of composition that viewers like myself see many seemingly contradictory things until they realize that contradictions form an integral part of Macri’s oeuvre. This may well account for the incredible tension in many of his pieces, a tension his admirers, I suspect, often feel themselves.
I step outside in the heavy night, imagining I hear thunder in the distance, hoping to see constellations of stars but do not. Well past midnight, even the fireflies have ceased flickering through the gardens. Sleep is not possible. Ideas heat my brain, as they always do when I expose myself to Macri’s art. Expose is the right word. So I return to my computer screen, ignore the title of Drop Curtain and leap into the fire. Heat attracted to heat, fire to fire. I say fire deliberately with full awareness of both its destructive and creative properties, with full awareness of its actual and metaphorical associations. I “enter” the image as the image “enters” me. Immersing myself in the destructive element in order to create meaning in this darkened room at night with no other light except the burning on the screen, I sense rather than see fierce fires and fiery presences.
I make associations with other Macri works, which seemingly have little to do with Drop Curtain but still reflect consistent aspects of his art. I respond to subtle temptations, desiring seduction and destruction; my heart and imagination simmer and smoke. I am immolated and yet alive. Both body and mind are stretched out on a hot anvil, feeling the heat, sizzling, but not physically harmed although molten in the forge and waiting for the pounding of the hammer, for the artist as blacksmith.
For some reason I recall the witches of Macbeth, stirring their brew, expecting Macbeth to appear on the scene:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Even if it is not a smoky forge, the metaphor is apt.
I don’t believe Macri is thinking of maleficence in this strange and wonderful image, although he might well be. If I stare long enough at the screen, I imagine that I can make out what appears to be a nebulous figure with outlines of head, chest, stomach, legs, perhaps quasi-demonic in nature, both welcoming and forbidding. Like the witches, however, Macri doesn’t determine what viewers think. He does understand what they may desire, consciously or otherwise, and is nothing if not the artist of unspoken desires. The witches incanting over their witchy brew know what burns in Macbeth’s heart, but they never put it there, for he approaches them aflame with his own particular frustrations and lust for power, just as we approach Macri’s art with our own fantasies and lusts of one kind or another.
Drop Curtain consists of vital, swirling lines; brilliant yellow and gold colouring; Fibonacci spirals in the smoke; deliberately imprecise detailing; hint of a womb in the centre; and an impression that something or someone of unspecified gender is coming out of primeval chaos to make itself known. My mind swirls with memories of a great mythological forge and Hephaestus creating a fine meshed, indestructible net to cast over his wife Aphrodite and her lover Ares caught in the act of flagrante delicto.
Fiery forge or boiling stew of feelings, the image also leads me to think of an invisible force field. In the dark room where I can see nothing except what Macri offers and what my fancies depict or project, I conceive a metaphor outlining the ultimate mystery, an allegory of poetic physics, if you will, a fundamental belief in the creative energy of eros in nature and the human imagination. The hammer pounds again and again and this viewer’s body is transformed by imaginary fires. I’d even say transfigured but that connotes a holiness I do not possess.
Oh, yes, I am aroused, as my appreciation of Macri’s art at times travels in directions that often surprise me but I know to be true. I am speaking of feelings even as my intellect tries to make sense of so deep and complex an image. In order to clarify what I feel and see, I go to other Macri images and portraits to seek confirmation and parallels; for example, to the stunning portrait of Orgone Box.
The title is borrowed from Wilhelm Reich’s theory of orgone, an etymological combination of orgasm and hormone, the vital creative, essential sexual force of the universe in which we all share, and the frustration of which leads to disease and misery. It matters not a whit if there is any scientific validity to this concept, even though Macri can be scientifically “true” when he needs to be. He possesses a great grasp of botanical and zoological facts that serve him well. In this image, though, Macri uses orgone poetically or metaphorically, just as many artists and writers have relied upon various Freudian or Jungian theories in their art for their poetic rather than scientific truths.
In some respects Drop Curtain is a fiery explosion of energy and potential reminiscent of Macri’s quiet and lovely image, Epizoochory: estivation. That erupting pod surrounded by brilliant yellow representing the force of the sun’s heat will scatter brown seeds to infiltrate and impregnate the natural world, once the period of rest, estivation, has passed. Indeed, if I place Epizoochory next to Drop Curtain, I see remarkable similarities in colouring, structure and intent by an artist adept at creating subtle images of layered or multiple sexualities.
I am more concerned at the moment with Orgone Box and my own preoccupations. Even though I sit in the dark, fixated by Macri’s fantastic light, I am ablaze with inner fire and write under the hot force of hammer. In some respects Orgone Box should be coupled, since coupling is intrinsic to Macri’s art, with another stirring portrait, Belt Apoptosis, the title of which points to the artist’s awareness of scientific facts, of the presence of dying in life to make way for new life, a process cells undergo with regularity. Along with a host of other admirers, I can recognize the cohesion and unity in his collective work, because one piece naturally, inevitably, leads to another. The very name of Drop Curtain refers to lifting the veil, to discovery and revelation, exposure, to costume and design and theatricality in Macri’s collective oeuvre.
Aside from the highly stylized make-up, variations of which are applied on several Macri portraits, and the head-piece, also present elsewhere, and the downward looking, austere gaze, typical of many of his faces, and his very fine sense of colour, I am struck by the mesh superimposed on the body like a net forged by Hephaestus. Perhaps the play of subdued flames shadows the skin, as if the figure is looking down at a prone acolyte on the anvil or altar, after the act of creation has occurred. Priestly perhaps, as some viewers have noted, also androgynous and contemplative, decidedly and wonderfully pagan to my mind, when placed next to Drop Curtain, the portrait of Orgone Box alerts me to erotic action and its aftermath.
Breathless and overtaken by his penetrating art, depleted and rejuvenated, having reached a point of sweet stasis after fierce compulsion, I wish reluctantly to end for it is late. I step outside again in the night hot and smoky as a forge, gripped by a realization orgasmic in intensity that I have apprehended Macri’s truth in Drop Curtain, as it applies to my own person, fantasies and feelings. And yes, I would submit willingly again and again to the hypnotic presence in the forge and come away remade by fire.
Kenneth Radu has published books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction, including The Cost of Living, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. His collection of stories A Private Performance and his first novel Distant Relations both received the Quebec Writers’ Federation Award for best English-language fiction. He is also the author of the novel Flesh and Blood (HarperCollins Canada), Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories, and Earthbound (DC Books Canada). He is currently working on a collection of new stories.