Categorized | Reviews

David Ireland Remembered

Ireland making "dumbballs" with hand-tossed concrete

by Amy Trachtenberg

My first visit to 500 Capp Street came on a morning in 1988. Moored at the corner of 20th St, the front and north side of David’s house failed wonderfully in predicting the interior.  The monolithic battleship grey house was painted flat and scruffy. David, at six foot four, greeted me in his old timey, genteel, bashful “ho-ho-ho” manner and directed me up the interior staircase to the double salon.  He left me alone while attending to tea preparation downstairs with the invitation to “have a look.”
The pitch of David's visual linguistics was obvious in those first seismic minutes. A sudden break in the overcast gloom sent sheets of sunlight through east-facing windows: views to the Mission with slumping junkies through 100-year-old rippling glass. 
Pocked and stained, the burnished plaster skin of the twin rooms was sealed shiny as though by honey and sunlight. The greened blue geometry of the doorway and window frames could barely contain the sheen of the walls, warmly shellacked with multiple subtle hues and stories. Color sensations rippled right through me as cadmium-red objects played against the rust and tumble of contained studio sweepings, twisted wire, suspended and stained gauze standing their ground with a few black-and- white portraits peopling the landscape. Performing the oceanic and urbane, each piece could be seen singularly or as part of an ensemble. The at-once undone and preserved architecture and objects articulating a framework of gaps and revealed layers indigenous to a continent not yet named – immaculate with encrusted shorelines. Explored to the nth degree by David, this was a space both familiar and uncharted for me.
A log or two burning in the fireplace were the soundtrack till he made his way back upstairs with a silver tray of smoky Russian tea and pan forte. I’d landed in David’s fluency. A language of layering phenomena and labor, light as membrane, architecture as armature, animated by touch and temporality. Within a chromatic and memento mori materiality, he excavated and invented stories in 360 degrees. I was floating in an aquarium. Skating around a globe. Life inside was populated by objects that seemed to have just materialized on their own.
Interior of 500 Capp St.

In the decades that followed, we shared our crushes and passions for architecture and dance, displacement in distant lands, textiles and bones.  We traded postcards and books by Bachelard, Baudelaire, Broodthaers, Boetti, Matisse, Marquet, Diebenkorn and Cunningham, as well as cut-ups and photos of seashores. We discussed unmaking. While conceiving or stalled on new pieces or projects, David had a confidence in or dependence on being in the state of not knowing.  The early phases of our conversations were often via typed and hand-written letters and postcards.

August 10, 1989 David wrote:

"…I am working on some very strange objects which defy every ability that I can muster. The notion of them has fallen from the sky. And, it will take more than me to explain them. 
I am usually most comfortable or at least happy whatever that is, when I don’t know what I am doing. These will be ready  – for viewing in about two weeks and then some may go to NY. They are collage in the extra dimension…" D.I.
He was flying all over the place with commissioned work and shows in many cities and countries: Switzerland, Rome, New York, Washington, DC, joking that the delayed payoffs were finally coming to him as a late bloomer. David encouraged me to resist impatience as I juggled studio time with motherhood time. He showed up to exhibits and theater pieces and encouraged my own tendency to resist a singular categorization of art making. He modeled a distinct agility and sparseness, both in his work and life, while preaching the values of sweat equity and maintaining a low overhead. He lived life in the real and elemental world, and his letters usually included some form of weather report.
            12-30-88   500 Capp
“… It is raining big sheets now and I am staring out the window trying to decide how to start next year and how I might make it different??…”
David shared the difficulty of the art process and the need to cultivate one’s own internal critic. He balanced the zones of discomfort by maintaining his curiosity, open to what was new and next. Lavish is the feeling of time with David.
The author with Ireland in 2002.  Photo: Dennis Letbetter
500 Capp
Dear A,
“…I was thinking of you in N.Y. as I was looking at some splendid collages and wanted to share the vista with you. Now I can’t remember the artist. Maybe it was Warhol?
I have other crumbs of news and will save them for a face-off. Let us look at our Diary’s (sic) and see if next week is not possible. I have some wholes (sic) to fill in mixed with the usual distractions. ’89 is fast disappearing. What’s to do? Can we nail it out like a buffalo skin? — wind is violent. Bernal H must be like a tempest…
About the author:
San Francisco artist Amy Trachtenberg’s recent group exhibitions include: Dumbbell, David Ireland and his Circle at Anglim Gilbert Gallery, Found/Made at The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, The Possible at BAM/PFA and a solo show, From India to the Planet Mars, at Brian Gross Fine Art.  Her studio practice also includes public art projects, the most recent of which is Ecstatic Voyaginga ceramic tiled installation for a new BART Station opening in 2018. 

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