Looking out my window this morning at the third snowstorm of more than 12 inches in three weeks here above the Croton Reservoir, I count myself down from the mild terror that I feel to consider the good parts: no high winds last night, the fence I repaired last week appears to be holding, the deep freeze won’t arrive until tomorrow night. Friends tell me on the phone "how beautiful" the snow must be, and for an answer to that observation, I turn to art.
The first feeling of snow is claustrophobia and the second is exposure, kind of like Hannah Wilke’s S.O.S. Starification. Breathing seems harder, the skin dried and vulnerable, the tasks to perform -- such as hauling the firewood in from the garage and shovelling (very slowly) a path to the road--picking at your being.
The second feeling is a universal despondency, looking out at the whiteout from what my neighbors call "heartbreak hill." Andrew Wyeth’s Snow Hill, in which his models do a dance of death to Wyeth himself around a maypole sums, up this vanity of the ego amidst the elements all too grimly. All is formlessness and white becomes the new and eternal black.
But soon, I shall be up and about, dealing with it, and the amazement of forms, precipitously arisen, over rocks, fences and branches will felicitate the critic within. All resembles Barry Le Va’s From the Rubble, white blocks, bumping against cubes and cones, as far as the eye can see. Should the sun ever come out again and the melting begin, I could allow myself the luxury, once more, of finding these challenging surroundings beautiful.
Then, the pure white will fade, the mud assert itself, the yellow creep in, as it has to the seminal Robert Ryman from 1966 called Twin, the one yellowing white canvas pasted atop another --not twins, of course, but more like partners in rot. There will be some permafrost and the wonder if this is has been the last storm of a hard winter. A hard winter, I say from my weak self to my weaker self? Think of Winslow Homer’s Soldier in the Snow, which made such an impact in Harper’s Weekly, after three years of bloody silver war, in 1864. All the howling winds and drifting blunderbusses of snow are nothing compared to the crack of the sniper’s rifle.
And, looking out my window, perhaps I’ll be able to see more than a large, fluffy, ominous white bullet. That would be Romare Bearden’s 1959 painting Snow Morning, the pinks of light, the peering out of street garbage and the coming smells, even, painted in phantasm. Oh, for the variety of the city, but I am a country mouse, now, slowly, in mind and body, scurrying about.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).