Thomas Chimes, The Per Contra Interview with Miriam N. Kotzin - Part 1
MK: You’ve discussed your dreams in a number of previous interviews. Do you think your dreams influence your current work? If so, how?
TC: Yes, they do because my current work has to do with a consciousness of entropy. In my dreams now there’s a constant shifting from one scene to another, with no structured plot. I feel as though I’m searching for a place, but I don’t know what it is. So the dreams are the essence of entropy, with their disorder that comes through indecision and searching.
In my most recent phase of work, I write the word entropy on each painting. When I started this series, I wrote out the entire word, and then I started abbreviating. I wrote “ntrop.” Then I shortened it even further to “n t p.” When you read “n t p” aloud letter by letter, it echoes the whole word “entropy,” while embodying the concept of entropy itself because several letters have vanished.
I’ve given thought to how entropy works in the universe. All the matter was compressed—enormous weight, then came the explosion. Something begins small, and it grows to its appropriate maximum size. But as a result of entropy, it breaks down. It returns to the all-pervasive condition of the original soup, i.e., chaos, from which everything comes.
In a way, entropy creates a cycle. I think of it as analogous to what Joyce did with Finnegan’s Wake. The last words of the novel would be perfect iambic pentameter except for the final word. The final words are: “A way a lone a last a loved a long the.” And that one little word at the end, “the,” seems to break the rhythm, to be unfinished. But what “the” does is to send us to the beginning of the novel, where the first word is “riverrun.” What we’ve been given is the connection of the end to the beginning, in a cycle. We finish the novel, but its structure invites us, almost forces us to begin reading it again.
All this to say, yes, my dreams do influence my current work, and I’m working in smaller paintings now, three inch squares.
"NtroP" - Click Picture for Larger Version
MK: Do you keep a dream diary?
TC: No. I kept one only during the 1970’s when I was dealing with a depression. I feel at this point, as I have for at least ten years, that I don’t need to keep one because I’m so familiar with the way my mind works, even my unconscious mind when I’m dreaming. (That self-knowledge might be typical of elderly people.)
My dreams, as I mentioned, are an exploration or manifestation of entropy at work. In my dreams I’m always asking someone how to get someplace. They’re about the attempt to discover what’s really going on with me as an artist in relation to nature. It’s the question about—and the quest for—the goal. Nonetheless, the dreams illustrate entropy because revelation is incomplete.
MK: When and why did you start writing poetry?
TC: I began writing poetry in the early fifties. At that time, I was traveling in Europe and not painting. The first thing I tried to write was in Paris, and I wrote something down, something about a musical instrument, and it was an initiation into writing poetry.
Since then, whenever I was unable to work in the studio, I’d write things down—even on the bus. When I was painting, however, I didn’t write poetry.
My first complete poem was two stanzas, three lines each. It’s the first of a series of three poems, in the opening pages of my book.
"We move like half made commas
to the east,
today, tomorrow, long past yesterday.
An illicit figment of moonbeams
and white chrysanthemums
leads us onward."
My poetry is very close to my feelings, and in some ways it’s the history of my life. The opening poems in the book have the imagery of the suggestive, of the imagination, of what is elusive. The last poems in the book have imagery that’s quite different, and they express a sense of closure.
MK: What relationship do you see between your poetry and your painting/sculpture?
TC: I used one of my poems on the invitation to the Bodley Gallery Opening.
1963, from the Collection of Dawn Chimes, in Thomas Chimes: Adventures in Pataphysics by Michael R. Taylor, Philadelphia: 2007, p.33.:
"I have forged this lilystick
from the purest gold and
slighted the gesture of forty
days spent feeling the flower
for its coolness yet knowing
the secret would always remain.
What a waste of time. Still
my heart will tremble when Her
name is mentioned. Time, of
whose time? All a senseless,
useless gesture beating lilacs
to the ground."
Another long poem is written on one of my crucifixion paintings. It’s a large canvas, and compared with the straight shapes in the crucifixion that’s in the Museum of Modern Art, it’s almost wavy. The shapes and colors of the painting relate to the poem, which is written on the canvas.
"To still the echo of birds
in bleak reveries,
racing like cripples
to the waters edge,
sitting on a keg
of blue dragons,
leaves of heart
make a black shadow
on the wall.
And the great flag falls
in the open sea,
while stars make love
to a canopy."