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Lightening over Madrid

5.31        yes yes yes
Last night was fun in that we had a dramatic thunder and lightening storm for many hours.  I kept my glass door open to the little balcony and a big towel on the floor so I could enjoy the energy of it all.   So much fun, lying in the semi-dark. This morning was almost a little chilly.  One could have worn a pull-over but not really.  I took a walk in a new (for me) section of Madrid a few major avenues over from my normal routes as I was going to another important museum which the internet Miss Informed of it being open on Monday…   The Academy.    The avenue it is on is so grand and noble that I am glad I was forced into seeing the city. The buildings along it, and on other smaller circular squares nearby are so wonderfully and childishly imaginative that you cannot stop smiling upon coming upon them.  The day was perfect as the sky was dark and low but the a strong fill light was coming in under the heavy cover.  This made everything seen, seen at its best.  The buildings have facades which contour with the public space they face. Some curved beautifully or wedged or sometimes forming a series of curved shapes one after the other.  The real joy is the over the top sense of grandiosity and power.  When are they from?…  The 1920’s or so?  They are designed like a kid let loose in a soda fountain and allowed to pile on all the ingredients gravity could bear.  Huge, and I mean huge, chariots pulled by sets of four horses, riding on top of huge gold orbs that are resting on wedding cake columns and presenting angels, winged naked woman, puti two stories high, parapets medieval or more English ornate gothic flamboyance, etc, etc…  So many of them and so crazy with grandeur.   I guess a lot of them are banks or other government facilities. There seems to be no over riding style that I can name, only how many things can one pile up to the point right before falling over. Very very charming, at least to me.

The morning was a  battle between rain and sun with sun sparkling showers, dark pouring moments,  and glistening cobbles.  I took shelter under a long, long canopy of fully mature sycamores that went on for blocks interspersed with public fountains, statues, etc.  These trees in late May are so deeply green and the barks so alive with the multitudes of grays and and browns and yellows.  They so transmute the light into healthy air, nutrition for themselves, and a deep psychic peace for the creatures that move through and under them.  A zone of  green aura’d air and light.   Then the rain took the day, or I should say, the hour, as now it is quite hot and sunny,  and I went into the modern museum again.

They have a wonderful collection of French poetry/artist books and seem to specialize in surrealism and cubism.  There are also rooms of  Spanish contemporaries we know so much less of.  God, I wish I could be hired to patrol museums and give tickets, if not jail sentences, to curators.  They need to be policed!!  Don’t they know the unpleasantness of threesomes in bed?   Perhaps they are from another more prudent age.  I mean, does every room of paintings have to be  overwhelmed with audio from either audio sculptures (I prefer the ball game) or sound tracks from early surrealist films dvd’d onto white walls in the wrong ratios in broad daylight.   Think of Miro with Tristan blaring and you get the picture. That in itself should be a 4,000 euro fine.  But, I have fun complaining, as actually the museum is wonderful and full of spaciously presented things and the crowd of  all nations, a respectful and fun to look at joy.  None of that DIN which dominates the Modern in NY.  Guards who actually ask people to speak more quietly, can you believe that… and they do.

I have learned so much about painting this trip…  so much… from all periods…   but always the same thing:  there are those that show and then there are those that are… I have put my money on the ares….

Well I am back in my hotel room taking a rest.  I know people here are waiting for night time as so many walk and talk the entire night through till dawn hits the sky.  I had heard about it, but so nice to experience.   Well, tomorrow at 8pm is my first show.

Love,  Nick

I share Nathaniel’s amazement and amusement at the outsized grandiosity of the ornamentation decorating – if that’s what one can consider things so huge – the buildings in the center of Madrid.  Rather wacky, but strangely, despite the melange of styles piled on top of each other on such a scale, enjoyable and fun.  Makes you smile.  They in their fashion seem to have been doing “post-modern” about a hundred and more years ago.

May 31  a PS to yesterday

Dear Folks,

I finally (the fifth night of being here) fell asleep through the night.  It was the same in Rotterdam, four almost sleepless nights before I was able to move the arms of my clock into a relatively synchronous position.  This morning I have awoken at 7am.  The internet which seems to go off about 10pm every night has not yet gone on… at least the hotel guest connection.  (Ahh, I see it now goes on at 8am)   I notice that across the street from me there are some working offices, and at least there, people seem to work till 10pm and then, I imagine go home or out for diner.  There are so many cafes here…  tables spread out onto wide sidewalks and plazas everywhere and many, many of the city streets given over to pedestrians.  Most of them seem full all day long.  Are people just waiting for the night?   It seems that way. (Please excuse my complete out sidedness of all this).

Upon waking at seven (finally the streets are quiet…  the vampire tradition of running for cover with the first dawn of the sun seems quite real here) I wanted to say a sentence or two more about the work I saw at the Reina Sofia, the modern art museum I spoke of yesterday.   Oddly enough, their collection of early 20th century art was most touching to me in their coverage of the Paris scene and people who painted or wrote poetry there, and especially those whose social relationship seemed to be painting/poetry.  As I mentioned, their collection displayed of little books of poetry illustrated by painters was so moving.  Of course, we in SF are so fortunate to have experienced this often at our Legion of Honor.

But besides this there is a very nice room of Miro and other mixed rooms of Picabia and Schwitters etc.  They have many rooms completely full with paintings by Dali.  There are one or two that are really excellent and truly successful as “dream” landscape.  These seem in the spirit of Yves Tanguey.  One,  I liked so much, but I cannot remember the name of,  from the early 30’s….  perhaps when the internet goes on I can find it.  It is kind of painting that inspired Kate Sage (the wife of  Tanguey…excuse my early morning memory and spelling skills)…    a large abstract shape, rising into a gorgeously painted sky of the strangest of mixed colors.  The perspective goes way, way back to some blue mountains with some populace and in the semi-foreground before the large shape is the most subtle depiction of a small rock on the smooth surface of the earth its  most touchingly subtle shadow. This one painting for me made it with two other whole rooms of more showy works which again where “showing (off)” rather than being.  It is interesting that paradoxically, to genuinely include yourself you have to be completely absent (I mean so that there is space to see all there is including self) and to include the self by including the self it pop all potential for depth and transmutation.  I know these things maybe self-evident, but it is the main theme I am experiencing in seeing all these glorious paintings here in Madrid.

I am ashamed to say that I did not check out the two or three floors of contemporary work….    black and white photos of spray painted grave stones and other such politically poignant knee jerking.  I know this is not good on my part as in Cinema…  if one never saw any experimental film but only knew the more classic cannon, I would say one was missing something very vital (overwhelmed of course by hideous works in those areas).    Well enough of me, me, me for the moment…  I guess being here alone and without my Bolex has put my excess energy into writing these emails.  Perhaps in the future I should travel with my camera and not my macbook.

Love to you,  Nath


6.01  rolling on

dear friends and lovers….    The film curator from the Reina Sofia came to the show and seemed blown away and tonight the curator from the Madrid Cinematheque will come…  so maybe there is a chance of return…      show was DEEPLY appreciated by the audience. I only wish the projection was a little better…   book selling really well and talk of a Spanish translation…  went to the Academy museum yesterday and saw more Goya….     this place is just too much for painting…   no time to write as I have to bathe and meet someone in the lobby here at the hotel.

love to you  from the hot blue days of spain  n.

more of you can take it… be well

Dear Friends,

Today I went to the Thyssen Museum here. They seemed to have started collecting in the 1980’s and have spent more money than the entire populace of the USA just on paintings.  I wonder who their buyer was. Now, finally, I am truly humbled.  Just when I thought I was getting some sense of what Madrid had to offer in terms of painting, I go to this museum opposite the Prado and come upon more paintings than I ever seen in my life.  From Duccio, Piero della Francesca, Memling, Breugles (real ones)  etc. through all the Dutch painters we know so well, there must be 6 Jacob von R’s, to the entire 19th and 20th century of French painting, including pre-Paris van Goghs and gorgeous impressionists, through to the Americans of Gorky, Rothko, Pollack,  even Clifford Still, boxes by Cornell, great box-like collages by Schwitters, and amazing  Hopper of a sail boat passing a sea-gulled sand bar off Wellfleet to all the Russian avant-gardists, to the cubists (and I must step gladly on my own tongue to say they have some Gris to make Picasso kneel) and Mondrian and great Klee’s on and on and on and on…..   three floors, all wall painted a salmon pink (you truly do start to go mad), room after room after room after room after room and this not one of my usual exaggerations.  I think more paintings than exist in NYC all together, just in this one place which sits in the shadow of the Prado….  I mean one would have to spend two weeks here to take it in without sublime-rectangle-syndrome causing an unmovable scar from the psyche.

What is so sweet here, which have not mentioned at all are the school groups touring all the museums of have been to.  So often one sees 20 or so 4 or 5 years olds sitting on the floor, raising their hands and being coached on by the most loving for female teachers.  It is so touching you could cry.  And then, of course, their are the adolescents going crazy with lack of concentration, but the woman who lecture to them are so alive and humorous and intelligent.  I saw a group get won over to a Rothko and Mondrian by one these super loving guides to beauty.  The small kids, though, are to die for.  I have only seen this in France, but here there seems to be more love in the whole thing, rather than learning the manners of vanity.  Oh well…..   the Spanish seem to have true sense of the value of culture.Tonight is my second show.  There will be a TV interview of a half  hour or less before hand for the government public station that will be broadcast next week.  And what is amusing, an interview before that from the right wing newspaper and then tomorrow from the left wing paper.  I have been told by most hosts that it is better for the arts in Spain when the right wing is in charge because they do not meddle with the arts. (I am prepared to talk of the nobility of montage).   When the left gets in they begin to tell the arts organizations what to do, ie. show more Swedish films as we have many tourists from there…. they are obviously better capitalists. ( I am prepared to speak to them of the lack of hierarchy in my montage). So if I have enough energy for all this, I hope to do a good job.   And I hope I can improve the projection a little.  I will also see how many more books I can sell…  I may hit thirty here in Madrid alone (and there is more talk of a Spanish translation).  And as I mentioned the curators from the Reina Sofia and Madrid Cinematheque will be present…  the former deeply loved the work last night).

The day is crisp and clear.  I do not know if I can look at another painting.  The street and many many promenades are quite walkable and there is a place to sit down and have something every 20 feet, so  survival is possible. Tomorrow at four I fly to A Coruna and then train to Santiago..  and have three shows.

Love to you (before I drop),  Nathaniel

Juan Gris greets Nathaniel

[More letters to follow.]

I hope these little informal glimpses into the sensibility of an artist like Nathaniel are as delightful and informative to some readers as they are to me.    As his friend it has of course a different caste for me, but I think his spirit, which is lovely, spills out clearly from these words, and I am happy he agreed to let me put them here.

Nathaniel in Rembrandt Laughing, 1987Nathaniel’s feet and miso soup



  1. I wandered over to your website after “liking” one of your NYT comments, the one that connects capitalism to the rise of social-networking media… and look what I found, these wonderful, touching letters from Madrid… with photos of the wonders of previous centuries. And now I’ve heard of your friend, Nathaniel Dorsky, and will try to find his films. Where can they be seen? Here in New York, perhaps at the Anthology Film Archive (true, says Google). The internet shows its mettle.

    • Unfortunately it’s rather difficult to see Nathaniel’s films – on 16mm, no DVDs, and he rightfully demands a good projector, etc. Anthology might be a place, though of late his films sometimes show at the NY Film Festival in the artsy quarter. He has a new one about done and I imagine it might show in the autumn. For another filmmaker, just moving to the Big A now (from Iowa City) see this on Leighton Pierce, another filmmaker I think is truly working at the highest level in his own realm. He is going to be heading Pratt’s media dept so perhaps away from the absurd obscurity of Iowa, you’ll hear more of him. Or see his installation work at MoMA. I hope.. Also check out
      best jon

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