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Renormalization. “The Day We Met.”

There’s this word “renormalization” used in quantum mechanics, or in black hole physics, to describe a situation where the values of your state vectors are rushing off towards singularities and infinities and paradoxes and you — you “renormalize” your coordinate system — like by changing your x-axis to a (1/x)-axis, and then the laws can go back to normal behavior.

Which is a roundabout way of saying Sylvia and I got our 2nd vax shots at the Santa Clara Country fairground exhibit hall, and now…

We went for a hike in Nisene Marks Park near Santa Cruz, where I’ve hardly ever been, and we happened on this very enchanting little glade by a stream. That — dare I say gnarly? — root snaking across the sandy bank: I worship it.

With my novel Juicy Ghosts pretty much done, even the late-breaking corrections done, I need something else to do with myself, so it’s back to painting.


“Rendezvous” acrylic on canvas, February, 2021, 28” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting. For more info see my Paintings page.

In this prehistoric rendezvous, we see a dino, I call her Elsa, about to meet up with a cretaceous croc. It amuses me the way she’s kind of looking in the wrong direction. I started this one by trying to paint that Nisene Marks glade, then I copied a dino from James Gurney’s great Dinotopia: The World Beneath.

Jumping around a little now. We hit the Calder / Picasso show at the De Young Museum in SF just the other day. Love that museum building.

And Picasso — untouchable. So great. Once he turns on his cubistic renormalization circuit and sets his muscle motion into play the result often looks somehow inevitable. Like—of course the thin vertical yellow rectangle! But I know I’d never think of it.

In the 30s, he did a lot of small “portraits” of women. I always have to laugh a little, imagining the woman seeing the image. “Aw that’s sweet, you made me look so pretty.” But of course he was usually painting a woman he lived with, and she would by then have “gotten it” about cubism, about showing all the views at once, jumping out of the representation and into the higher math, not that it’s mathy at all, more a matter of renormalization, whatever the fuck that means. The one above is called “Woman Seated in Red Armchair.” The hair kills me, and the octahedral head.

I already knew about this one painting in the show — I forget its title — but that eye-nose-mouth blob is famous. Jasper Johns, I think, copied it in a painting. And I myself copied it in a painting I did in 2015

“Tree of Life” oil on canvas, February, 2015, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting. For more info see my Paintings page.

I painted these bad ladies while pre-visualizing a scene in my novel Million Mile Road Trip. For the tree, I started out by putting a lot of paint and gel medium in the top half of the canvas and finger painting with it.

And for the critters, I forget what their species is called — I forget a lot of stuff these days, but, hey, it’s all online somewhere, up there in Rudy’s Lifebox on the cloud, so why break the flow — for the critters I used that Picasso head. I remember making a lot of pencil drawings of it, trying to speed myself up and get it deep into my mind.

On the Skystar Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park, right outside the DeYoung museum. Photo by Sylvia.

Nice clear cool weather this week. The low evening sun slanting through one of our yuccas. To me, the sun illuminating a plant like that always feels like a metaphor for the Cosmic Mind, the One, the White Light, the Absolute who is beaming the rays of vitality through every part of our body at every moment. The Light is, you understand, at a 4D remove from us, up thar in heavenly hyperspace.

Another post-vax outing…North Beach. So nice to be out and about. We spent a couple of nights at the Washington Square Inn in SF, which had no on-site staff, and you phoned in to get a “room key” app which mostly didn’t work, so you had to phone again and again or, if you were lucky, you might find the housekeeper, who had (hallelujah) an actual metal key to the lock on our door.

But never mind! Awesome crab-cake ‘burgers’ at Original Joe’s there. An amazing Small Batch Gelato place. Whiskey-shredded-kumquat gelato? Sure! And never forget Stella Pastry and of course the eternal Greco Cafe and the hoary and fabled Trieste.

We got together with V. Vale and Marian Wallace. They live, like, a block from City Lights books, where Vale himself worked years ago in his pre-RE/Search days. Marian took this photo.

Vale didn’t want to take his mask off, probably a wise move. I’m always happy I get to hang out with Vale and Marian— when we arrived in the SF Bay Area in 1986, RE/Search was near their peak of hipness and acclaim, and I really admired the successive issues. Vale has this great Andy Warhol quality, very flat and enthused and wide-eyed, but also worldly and been-around. Marian is an charming, lovely person, and a great film maker.

Vale was reminiscing about his times with Ferlinghetti — who was much in our minds as he’d just died.  A few days later, Vale actually set his memories to music and posted the song on BandCamp. Kind of great. I remember back in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1962, how my friend Niles Schoening and I were into Coney Island of the Mind. “Somewhere during eternity some guys show up…”  We staged our idea of a happening in our front yard, throwing some paint on masonite and recording Niles reading a couple of the poems.

Niles is dead, too, as is our dear old friend Henry Vaughan from Lynchburg, Virginia, as of this week.  Henry and his wife Diana both gone now.  In 1983, I wrote a story called “Monument to the Third International,” which is to some extent, modeled on my impressions of those two. Such characters. Here’s a link to the story in my online Complete Stories.  Our friends are dropping like flies.  We’re lucky to still be around…

Moving on, a week or two later we drove across the GG Bridge for the first time in god knows how long, and we check out the Marin Headlands, including Fort Baker, a tight right turn just north of the bridge leaving SF.

A luxe resort occupies some of the old wooden Fort Baker buildings and you can get a decent meal on their porch. A huge public pier hulks near the base of the bridge, with non-luxe locals fishing and crabbing. Someone had lost control of a raw chicken leg they’d used as bait, and the gulls were heavily into it. Cannibalistic? No worse than Donald Dick eating a turkey. And, hell we eat our fellow mammals all the time.

Always something artistic about a rusty dumpster with graffiti.

And the mandatory pan shot of the Bay Bridge and Our Fair City. My Adobe Lightroom Classic 2021 edition has this nice slider called “Dehaze,” and that’s exactly what it did for me on this one.

If seagulls weren’t so damn ubiquitous, they’d be respected as the transcendentally lovely beings they are.

I also love taking photos of these mooring things. Love their shape, which is, I assume deeply functional, as they always look this way. Kind of a Picasso look to them too. And the rust. One of Rudy Jr.’s favorite courses when he majored in chemical engineering at UC Berkeley was called “Corrosion.” More variants of it than we laypersons know.

Beautiful Sylvia at Rodeo Beach out on the Pacific side of the Headlands.

We stopped at the tip-ass end of the Headlands, it’s called Point Bonita. Dig the aplomb of this raven. With the Sutro Tower fondue fork in the way back.

The long and winding road that leads back homeward.

Sinister psychic seaward tug of the vast Pacific when you X this bridge.

The whole enchilada.

A few more North Beach shots. Here’s the Cafe Jacqueline on Grant Ave, and dig it, the bright sun is projecting a reflection of the gilded store name onto the sidewalk. And that same faithful sun is casting a shadow of the letters onto the wall inside the window. Sign, reflection, shadow— and the Cafe herself. What is reality? The whole enchiladada.

Vale lives near here, by the fabled Hungry I and the Beat Museum. I’ve gone in the museum a couple of times, just out of loyalty to good ole Jack K. The last time I went it they had the actual Hudson car that was used to film the movie of On the Road a couple of years ago. As the remorseless decades of time roll by, fewer and fewer people care about this.

And here, modernista, an ad for Rudy Jr’s Monkeybrains, Inc, on a wall on Columbus Ave in North Beach! Yah, mon.

Beeple and The Day We Met

“The Day We Met” (Version 1) acrylic on canvas, March, 2021, 20” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting. For more info see my Paintings page.

By way of explaining this painting, I’m going to pile on some text.

Earlier this week the artist Beeple sold a large image file containing an assemblage or collage or array of 5,000 of his digitally created images, some of them (as Beeple freely admits — he’s an odd, ebulliant, geekish character, worth seeing online) are  better than others, but technically they’re all highly proficient, and some are striking and maybe more than that.

The individual images are about 3000  pixels wide and high, taking up about 6 megabytes as a file. The omnibus file image of all 5,000 of them is, I would suppose, about 210,000 pixels wide, and as a file it would occupy about 3 gigabytes.  (Geekin’ on it here.)

Many of the images are cartoony renderings of punk takes on social scenes, often involving well-know cartoon critters. Others are more realistic. He builds 3D models of his images in virtual reality and in a sense takes photos of them with very high-end imaging programs. He makes one a day and calls the series Everydays.


Beeple’s image “Dead,” Copyright (C) Beeple 2020.

You can see the more recent ones in hi resolution on the beeple-collect site.  And you can download them at hi-res! (They download in a weird format called WEBP, but you can load this file into your Paint program and save it on your machine in the familiar JPG format.) It’s worth spending some time browsing the Beeple Collect site to get an idea of what’s going on—it’s wild. Beeple also sells prints-plus-codes of his individual images.  as well as that giant omnibus one.

Beeple doesn’t sell the rights to reproduce his works, he just sells a nicely framed animated image of the print — with “THIS IS MOTHER-FUCKING REAL ASS SHIT” printed on the back (you gotta love this guy check out this interview) , and on the front is a computer QR code that contains a long semi-random string of a couple of hundred numbers that is a tag on this one particular copy of the file as being unique and thereby what they’re calling non-fungible, which is an odd old word that means something like one-of-a-kind, or unique.

The kicker is that some pinhead (or sly investor) paid $69M for the new big catalog image, and what they bought is, basically, a couple of hundred random numbers that make up the tag code for the omnibus image. Those numbers are what’s called a blockchain code. Let me repeat that anyone who wants can look at or download Beeple’s images for free. That code number is the only thing that a buyer owns. Plus the frame with the animated image and the QR code image and that reassuring corporate message I mentioned above.

Mind-boggling in its seeming idiocy, but yet, if there’s a craze for these things, then someone else might buy your code number for more than you paid.

The classic ad-twist aspect of this is that a digital image file precisely is fungible. That’s what digital fucking means.  You can copy it as many times as you like. It’s the opposite of unique. And tacking on some random numbers in a QR symbol and saying, ah, now this work is non-fungible, a unique icon for the ages…this is complete bullshit. It’s like saying fake maple syrup based on some fenugreek spice ingredient has “genuine maple flavor.”

Of course if it’s a painting like I’m  making by hand, then as an object it is unique. Non-fungible. A physical object like none other.

When I started this painting, I thought It could somehow represent a “non-fungible” tag.  I’d paint a messy, Monet-style background, somewhat pointillist, and overlay that with some hard Kandinsky type abstraction with lines and triangles, and the background would be the artwork (which for purposes of my paitning might be thought of as a fungible dibital image) and the Kandinsky part would be the blockchain code to make the work as a whole non-fungible.

But as I was painting, the background started looking like springtime to me, and instead of overpainting it with Kandinsky blockchain abstractions, I began overlaying it with little critters, like I’m always putting into my SF novels.

And then for an incomprehensible reverse joke I thought I’d call the painting Fungible Spring. Instead of saying a digital image is unique (non-fungible) when it isn’t, I’m making a painting that is unique and in the title just claiming that it’s generic and undifferentiated (fungible). Just for laughs.

At the meta level, Fungible Spring as a title would also be making the point that each spring of my lifetime feels unique, but yet there’s always another spring coming and in many ways the different springs are quite similar from year to year, and from person to person, and from epoch to epoch, the archetype of Spring endlessly reoccuring—with rain, new plants, growing love, and a sense of renewal.

Plus I have my birthday every spring on March 22, and that’s fungible in the sense that I get pretty many birhtdays, but non-fungible in the sense that each birthday is a little different, and before too long there won’t be any more of them for me, because I’ll be dead.

So I worked on the painting for about twenty hours, mostly not thinking or reasoning about anything, but just doing the shapes and the shades and the dabs and the balance.  And I got to like the painting a lot, and I didn’t want to give it a stupid name that’s a joke about something I don’t care about.

The little critters don’t look like blockchain code at all, nor do they look like actual animals—I put a lot of effort to making them look fucked-up and unnatural, that old Dutch painter hell thing, but really I was thinking of them as more like thought forms, or personifications of tiny flashes of emotion.  But one of the critters, near the bottom, looked like a green worm or snake. And I started thinking this one ought to be meeting a partner worm or snake. A mate.

Sylvia and I met on a charter bus from Swarthmore College to Washington DC on March 21, 1964, the day before my 18th birthday, and this month I’ll be 75, and it’ll be 57 years since I met Sylvia. Because I happened to sit down next to her on that bus. She was pretty, and alert, and I hadn’t met her before. But I wanted to. And now we have three children and five grandchildren.

I’m feeling kind of sentimental about all this. My birth month.  I just finished my painting this afternoon, working in our back yard as usual. It started raining when I was almost done — spring rain, very fungible — and I had to hurry and paint really fast, and I got wet, but I got it all done, putting in an orange snake or worm to be meeting the green one, and there’s no knowing who’s who, but there they are meeting, and they’re “us.”

And that’s why I’m calling the painting The Day We Met.

As it happened, two weeks later, after my birthday, I kept thinking that the painting was a little muddy. It didn’t pop hard enough. So I sharpened it up and found a nice shade of green for the background.

“The Day We Met” (Version 2) acrylic on canvas, April, 2021, 20” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

And somene bought it the day after I posted the new version!

6 Responses to “Renormalization. “The Day We Met.””

  1. paradoctor Says:

    Escher made cubism work, in “Another World”, where we see the dove statue from above, the side, and below; but to make it work he gave it realist perspective in each view.

  2. christopher b shay Says:

    Rudy, “The Day We Met” is great!

  3. geebot Says:

    beautiful, ol’ man! <3

  4. John D Says:

    Love it, Rudy. Thanks for the perspective. And happy birthmonth!

  5. Failrate Says:

    Well, here’s to more of them years, Herr Doktor.
    I love that you cannot help but put little squiggle creatures in your paintings.
    Did you and Sylvia ever collaborate on a quilt?
    Give you some pinking shears, googly eyes, and reams of hyperdelic garish fabric and let you loose for a while.

  6. Nathaniel Hellerstein Says:

    Belatedly written on the 23rd:
    Happy birthday! Any many more.
    75 is a good number; three quarters of a century. You were born on 1946, at the start of the nuclear era; you outlived the Cold War, yay! And you’ve made good inroads into the 21st century. Ain’t these times skiffy? You’ve had to invent new forms of SF just to stay ahead of the techno-gnarl. You rock, Rudy.

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