Writing on the wall

Visiting Still Standing, a carefully selected show of art by Hugh Timlin, is more like spending time in a sanctuary than a gallery. Charred wooden tombs and towers of smooth limestone are raised on pedestals as if they were models of monuments, staggered throughout the room like skipping stones. Timlin is also a poet and philosopher. A couple of his essays — about art, life and process — posted on the gallery walls are presented here. —Rebecca Mazzei


Primary Colors
by Hugh Timlin

The first time I noticed it was when Scott from Allied Interstate called to coerce me into paying my student loan. He spoke like a hot shot punk who just got his associate’s in business and figured that computer literacy and a cell phone exempted him from any sense of civility and respect for an elder. (He wasn’t using a cell phone, but I knew he had one.) He spoke with the unmistakable tone of someone wearing a teal shirt, black tie, chino pants and cordovan Florshiem penny loafers. Still naive enough to believe his outfit convinced me he was in the fast lane and that I would take his posturing as seriously as he did. People speaking through those color clothes never call back when you tell them the truth. Then Dwight Turner called. He was definitely rawhide-colored combed cotton single-needle tailored shirt with cordovan belt and chocolate slacks. He had a rich chocolate voice as well, occasionally spoken through a white or pale blue shirt. He called back. The most recent one was from Michigan Consolidated Gas Company. She was big ponderous breasts speaking out of a lavender cotton sweater with big red plastic earrings and a runny nose. “You have got to come in with pay stubs, utility bills, proof of dependents and whatever.” She said this with all the enthusiasm of a huge pink polyester nightgown heaving and exhaling “get off” after having sex. “How do I find out where the offices are?” “I’ll connect you with the switchboard.” She sniffed, with the tone of a black short skirt stretched too tight over her fat ass.

People talk through their clothes and in color. Gerald was at a meeting wearing the red flowered silk shirt his second wife, who died of cancer, made him. He was talking about how people had to stop thinking about their goddamn problems and get off their dead asses and get things done. Too much time on the pity pot just caused problems. I mentioned how some people suffer from serious depression and need help and how my friend Pearl hanged herself shortly after everybody said she just needed a swift kick in the ass. I mentioned how my friend Rick had shock treatments. He went swimming in Lake Michigan and never came out. Everything got real quiet and I mentioned that it seemed like Gerald was talking in red and I was talking in blue and somehow the truth of the discussion was woven into some shade of purple.


An Artist’s Statement
by Hugh Timlin

Years ago at the Somerset Invitational, a sculptor who looked younger than I came up to me and said he had wanted to meet me for a long time. That struck me as curious since I really didn’t think of myself as having been around a long time. At any rate, the next comment struck me as even more curious. He said that I must spend a lot of time planning my pieces. I told him that I rarely if ever even did a sketch for my work. I had a lot of stone pieces in that show and I have come to realize that people who don’t do stone think it’s scary and difficult to work with. Well it’s not. It’s the easiest way to make art. It’s just difficult to move. Which is one of the reasons most of my pieces are small and come apart in pieces. Big pieces of stone are real expensive while small pieces are available in rubble piles and demolition sites for the taking, in most instances. Well-planned? No. Well-conceived? Yes. Like a child of a passionate love affair might be said to be well-conceived. Neither accident nor intention.

Charlie Parker said, “Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.” I guess that could be said about the approach I take to my work as well. My work doesn’t really “mean” anything any more than music “means” anything. I don’t generally work from concept to object. Meaning is something I usually attribute after the fact, after I’ve had time to reflect on a piece. It’s the process, not just of the making but of the living that is important to me. If I were dropped in the middle of a swamp I’d be more likely to make a mud hut than import birch bark for a canoe. I tend to look around — to make something of what I’m in and more often than not these days that’s been heavier than mud.

Civilization couldn’t really depend on me to make Stonehenge. I’d never move anything that heavy, so far, just to measure the movement of celestial bodies. I’d be more likely to go to where the stones are, stand behind one, look up at the sky and realize that the sun and the stars are going to be in some relationship to the stone regardless of where the stone is or where I could ever hope to move it. I wasn’t in on Stonehenge but I did build a stone house on my farm. I built the house very close to the rock pile the previous owner made when he needed to clear a field to plant alfalfa. The view from the front windows is perfect (as many of the views are on my place) and it is enhanced even more by the recollection that such an arduous building project was made easier by building the house within a stone’s throw of the rock pile. OK, wheelbarrow’s proximity.

If this all seems to be an attempt to live expediently, that’s not the case. In pointing out simple realities one runs the risk of being considered a pain in the ass by those who believe they have a right to be in control of the known universe. One must be careful when pointing out that things like the pyramids are only impressive when their vastness is compared to our smallness. Picking up a crying child or feeding a dying leper can rank right up there on the scale of conscious human activity, I guess.

I think the most astounding thing I’ve ever done in my life was to father seven children. And even though, like my art, that’s as much a result of physical appetites and drives as it is altruism and love, it doesn’t diminish its importance or effect.

From one vantage point I can see that all nature wants to make compost. I’m part of this vast natural process to make food. In some small way I interject a level of consciousness into the process without clearly understanding its meaning or effect. Which allows me, if not to celebrate, at least to endure.


Hugh Timlin gives a lecture and poetry reading at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, July 29, at Ellen Kayrod Gallery inside the Hannan House, 4750 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-1300. Still Standing runs through Aug. 5.

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