012.1: Kelli Anne Noftle:: What We Make & What We’re Making: The First Coat & What We’re Making: Replication 012

Kelli Anne Noftle's beautiful series of prose-poems are concerned with, above all, art-making. The conceit behind her project, entitled the "Mitoki Poems", is her engagement with an otherwise unnamed visual artist's blog, whom Noftle frequented as a viewer, which included, above all, rants and ruminations on what it means to be a visual artist. Having a background in the visual arts, Noftle brings a certain amount of baggage to the table. Obviously painting, photography, sculpture, as well as other visual media have their affinities with poetry. Then (And by, "then," I mean before Pound) the problem was impression: how to facsimile reality through an artificial representation. Now, we have concept (that is the complexity of art-making in the vein of Jackson Pollock) with impression. I am not going to feign a degree in art criticism, but for the sake of brevity, this should do. Back to Kelli: we get both artistic impression and artistic conception in her wonderful series.

With this small venture, Noftle tries to solidify the artist's plight, in "making a thing" as she terms it. She is, without question, an artist, and a talented one at that. With backgrounds in visual arts, musical performance (meaning, she is in a fucking rock band!), and poetry, she makes art on all sorts of various subject matter. But here, she gives us a triptych that exhibits the plight of one who makes while reconciling the dilemma of that art-making. On an aside, the artist with the blog who inspired this series packed up and disappeared down the water-slide of obscurity, but Noftle's pieces are still uttering their swan song to us. If I want to understand Kelli in any way, I guess I just have to listen to her art as well as her, where she explains: "...as a child I'd taken a painting class and they wanted us to paint beautiful Virginia landscapes - blue ridge mountain type stuff - but I just wanted to see if I could render fire..." And "render fire" she does indeed. Cody Todd

What We Make

I started using white. I put it in every picture until all my apples looked like sallow onions. They say that white won’t enhance anything, just thins the intensity. Like boiling the salt out of water. Or scrambling an egg. You don’t like the runny part, do you? He would ask me, spreading his hands over my plate so that I couldn’t see the mess he wanted. No, you can have it. I always gave him my breakfast.

Someone told me you can fall into bad habits if you use white consistently. It’s an analgesic. When you want to lighten the sky, you dab the zinc into your blue. When you want to push a little pathway across the thicket, you blot ivory into your Payne’s Grey. It saves time. That’s why I started dumping all my pigments into a bucket of white. It was mostly just to save time. He liked to waste his—ordering the wrong dish or trying on pants he didn’t intend to buy. After he left, I had a lot of time. I kept storing it up because I wasn’t sure when I would run out of it again.

What We’re Making: The First Coat

I’ve heard true love will convince you, the way varnish makes a painting more believable. You dip your brush in clear liquid and coat the canvas until you’re staring at a work of art. It takes several layers to absorb a color’s brilliance. Of course, varnish protects from oxidation, which is why people find themselves with the same patina every year. I’ve personally never used the gloss. It hardens my brushes and I’m dissuaded by the results. Once, our teacher watched me paint a model sitting in front of a mirror. She said it was peculiar to dull the light with gobs of green and grey. The model settled into the chair like a stain. She stared at her reflection as if she’d found it in a dirty bottle—the kind that washes up on the beach with a letter twisted inside. People who fall in love don’t paint with mud. Where is your passion? Our teacher always asked. You give up and start to make a mess or realize the mess is whatever you’ve been making.

What We’re Making: Replication

No one believed I could do it. I wasn’t even sure myself. The trick is beginning from the outside and working your way toward the middle. The paint thickens as you approach the center, where the real trouble happens. When I was a kid I hated fireworks. Every July I hid under my bed with our cat and stuffed toilet paper in my ears. I became very sensitive to color and light, drawing portraits of my mother at the kitchen sink after she’d taken off all her makeup. Skin is impossible to paint because it’s translucent; there are too many layers. Everyone said I would do something great with the portraits, but all I could think of was how to draw fire. I wanted the canvas to burst open, burning their faces. Last night I colored my bedroom walls grey. When you mute one thing, you can see another more clearly. My mother eventually stopped wearing makeup. Sometimes her eyes were muddy. Sometimes they swelled like red coals under an ash heap, the paint so hot, I’d forget where to put it.