CARVINGS AND MARKS
(A studio visit with Oregon Coast artist Rick Bartow, 9/2007)
Step into Bartow Place,
cross the border
into an unknown nation
where language is made by colored marks
and cuts from carving knives.
In paint-dabbed shirt, the artist,
tall and shy, welcomes us
to his clearing in the woods,
a village of weathered buildings,
mounds of found and discarded objects,
road signs, baby shoes, Japanese inscriptions.
Everything here speaks:
Crow beak glints on tallest fir,
Totem figures lean down like mastheads.
Yellow guardian dog with keen eye misses nothing.
Spirits are lodged in a pile of red madrone boughs.
Invisible presences buzz and pick at visitors.
Housed in defunct trailer,
stacks of hand-made paper
whisper of global friendships.
Even the printing press wants to shout.
In the carving studio,
hooked tools line up for work.
Under green light, a clutter of figures:
Wooden torso twists, big teeth grind,
a woman’s face in resin,
her golden brow ancient and futuristic,
shares space with an amputee,
a winged mask crowned by bird,
a pail embraced by eel and salmon.
Under one roof, the wounded,
the grotesque and beautiful.
Day brims with sun, but in another room,
darkness dominates on paper and mask,
one eye covered by black hand,
the other turned from unseen terror.
The maker must follow the marks’ commands.
They morph into teeth, double rows under snout
around black oval of a dog’s mouth.
Working three drawings at once,
creation’s fire moves through an arm.
Neon colors and black marks,
“those little dictators,”
shape shift in frenetic dance,
pastel chalk shattering onto floor.
Erasures whiten charcoal,
face after face slides away,
layers of self bear, dog, human
come to light.
Marks and color as utterance
“cauterize the wounds and
consume darkness in the spirit.”
From staccato handwork
a golden eye, animal/ human, emerges,
beacon to dispell nightmares.
Mouth breaks into grin,
joy comes through.
(Italicized quotes by Rick Bartow, 1997)