In the dream, a turquoise dog with a curved horn for a snout walks quietly up to me. A magenta dog joins us. Then there are skunks the size of horses with flowers as tails. I had this dream a decade ago, but I remember it because it's one of the few times I dreamed surreal instead of the more obvious missed-plane, lost-wallet, wrong-boyfriend anxiety dreams.
In his artist statement, Jim Woodring (2010 Stranger Genius Award winner for literature) said that the 10 drawings that make up The Pig Went Down to the Harbor at Sunset and Wept are the things of his dreams and "each picture I draw is an attempt to answer one question and ask another at the same time."
(I've always wondered how visual artists dream differently than writers than musicians than dancers. What comes first, the dreamed imagery or the waking drawings? Do the drawings inspire a wilder dream imagery or vice versa?)
Woodring used an oversize dip ink pen for the series of large-scale drawings commissioned by the Frye. The four-foot-long wood pen with a 16-inch steel nib is displayed in a case nearby. "Oh my, that is big," I thought as I inspected it.
The large drawings were outlined in graphite and then filled in with black ink—the giant pen dipped in a vase used as an inkwell. Woodring didn't touch up or fill in anything after. Nor are there any erasures of the graphite, to allow insight into the process. Giant ink splotches dot the borders in a few of the pieces. The work is hung on the wall gallery style, but the size of the pen meant that it was created from above. (Maybe next time it should be displayed on low tables to preserve the perspective.)
The question Woodring answers while asking another revolves around the presence—but more so the absence—of the pig in the work's title. The shapes in the illustrations are organic, amorphous, corporeal. The drawings march around the walls left to right in numerical order. Naturally, one follows this order and expects a story to unfold. Having been told there is a pig and a harbor and a sunset and weeping, the mind is desperate to place all of these elements and confirm there is a beginning, middle, and end.
The pig shows up in The Pig Went Down to the Harbor at Sunset and Wept #2, poking its head out from the base of what looks like Botticelli's Birth of Venus clamshell. It's hard to tell whether the pig just rode in on a comet or is about to blast off from Earth. But by #3, everything is disassembled, the pig is nowhere to be found and—if you're willing to meet the artist on his terms—it's best to abandon your innate, unshakable desire for all of it to be moving neatly toward resolution.
Continuing, #4 smacks so much of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights that I want to attach some kind of art historical through line to the project. Look at the drawings heavy-lidded and the show becomes a Rorschach test. I see a giant ball sack, I see ornate wallpaper patterns and keyholes, I see labia and eyeballs, I see tonsils and waves, and I see how everything seethes and surges against each other, fighting for a spot on the white space.
By #6, the pig has completely disappeared (I think?), and for all my efforts to let the little swine go, I can't. Is it pig parts and not the whole pig making the trip? Are those tonsils in #5? Do pigs even have tonsils? I take a few more steps back and notice there's as much white space as there is inked.
We know the pig went to the harbor at sunset and wept. I keep wondering whether it stayed or left.