Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 19, 2008

Heart of Ardor

Filed under: art,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 10:47 pm

“Heart of Ardor” is a book of paintings by Daniel Marlin, an old friend who lives in Berkeley. Grouped by theme, they are prefaced by comments by Daniel, who is also an accomplished poet and Yiddishist. For example, the section on Rockaway paintings is introduced as follows by Daniel, who grew up in this narrow peninsula jutting off of the borough of Queens:

As a sixteen-year-old New York City Parks Department beach cleaner, I used to ride past the boardwalk early summer mornings on the back of a garbage truck. The elderly people who gathered on the boardwalk near seasonal hotels and rooming houses were of my grandparents’ generation and did not attract my attention. In the late 70s and early 80s two new interests—drawing strangers in public places and the Yiddish language and its diminishing world of speakers began to connect me to those boardwalk bench sitters, conversationalists, and snoozers.

His fascination with the Yiddish milieu inspired the work above, titled “Warsaw and the Boardwalk“. Many of Daniel’s paintings are close observations of a New York that is rapidly disappearing under the impact of big money and the homogenization that goes with it, especially in Manhattan. Daniel’s deep interest in the immigrant world that made New York the memorable place it once was will be shared by anybody who loves to wander about gazing at the sights of New York’s less glamorous but all the more enchanting neighborhoods that have not “benefited” from gentrification. In this respect, Daniel is a kindred spirit of Ben Katchor, another artist who has sought to keep memories of the Jewish immigrant past alive. The following is an illustration from Katchor’s “The Rosenbach Company”, a musical about Jewish book dealers in the 19th century Philadelphia!

Although Daniel has been an activist for about as long as I have been, he states, “I rarely make consciously political art.” He made an exception for a “mail-art” exhibit in Japan that is a product of invitations sent out on the Internet and other locales. In 2005 he co-organized a “mail-art” event inviting submissions on the theme of Article Nine, the pacifist clause of the Japanese Constitution which is now under serious threat of being undermined. Here was his one of his contributions to the exhibit that can be viewed in its entirety here.

Despite Daniel’s reluctance to do “agit-prop”, there is no question about his class loyalties, which is to the working people. For many years, Daniel has been painting sewing machines and the people who work for living at them. Although most people associate them with the sweatshops of today that largely employ Latinos and Asian women, there was a time when they were used by immigrant Jews such as the women who died tragically in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster of 1911. Daniel introduces this section of his book thusly:

The sewing machine, first mass-produced in the late nineteenth century, found its way into private homes and soon became part of modern labor history. My grandparents’ generation of Eastern European immigrants organized the sweatshops they worked in.

Today dangerous and exploitative sewing factories abound in the globalized economy, from El Salvador to China. The sewing machine, though, can also be a means of self-sufficiency. I have seen tailors at work at machines in their doorways in mountain towns in Colombia, and in the vast marketplace of its coastal city Barranquilla.

I have never operated a sewing machine, but am fascinated by their practical elegance and power. I cannot explain why I paint angels sewing in the night sky.

Here is a work in that series, “Seamstress Angel”.

“Heart of Ardor” can be ordered through Paypal for $50, including postage and handling.

1 Comment »

  1. […] as another collection that I reviewed in 2008 called “Heart of Ardor” that I reviewed here.  You can now purchase that book as well, now that Dan has entered the brave new world of […]

    Pingback by Isaiah at the Wall « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — August 1, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

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