“Avocado” by Pacita Abad
(6’x6’, oil on canvas with stitched mirrors, 2000)
[First published in MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION by Eileen R. Tabios, 2018)
Pacita Abad was born on Batanes, a small island in the South China Sea. Her 32-year painting career began when she left the Philippines in 1969 due to her student political activism against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, and traveled to the United States to study law. However, a few years after receiving a Master of Arts degree in Asian History from the University of San Francisco she switched careers to dedicate her life to art. She then studied painting at the Corcoran School of Art, Washington, D.C. and the Art Students League in New York City. Since that time, Pacita Abad never stopped being a gypsy artist and painted the globe while working on six different continents and traveling to more than 50 countries. During her career Pacita Abad created over 4,500 artworks and her paintings were exhibited in more than 200 museums and galleries around the world.
I was honored and blessed to receive permission from the estate of Pacita Abad (1946-2004) to feature her abstract assemblage, “Avocado” (2000), on the front cover to my book MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION (Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2018). My thanks to her estate executors Jack and Kristi Garrity. "Avocado" is the painting situated within the white and blue square border on my book's cover--see above.
The painting “Avocado” is a square (6’x6’) oil on canvas with mirrors stitched upon its surface. I was interested in featuring “Avocado” on the cover of my book because I consider a poem to be, among other things, a mirror to its reader(s). The poet begins a poem; the reader finishes it, and does so with their interpretation. The latter means the reader brings to the poem what ultimately will become (one of) its significance—in this sense do I consider the poem a “mirror” as the poem also becomes about or reflects back its reader. There are nine mirrors on the canvas—while their alignment (3 x 3) promotes the visual characteristic of harmony, it’s the plurality of the number that is significant to me for reflecting the idea that the same poem can generate different significances or reflections from different readers, or from more than one reading by the same reader.
I also chose “Avocado” to be on my book’s cover because I admired the painting’s presentation of the color pink. “Avocado” may be only the second time I’ve admired the use of pink in a painting (the first would be pink’s appearance in several of Philip Guston’s works). Color is a narrative and I admire what I deem to be the stubborn optimism and improbable rebellion of pink. The optimism is also affirmed, in my opinion, by the use of bright yellow in the painting.
My admiration for Pacita Abad’s “Avocado” may be best expressed through a poem. I present such a poem below, which also begins from taking its starting point from another mirror, John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror.” (This poem is from my “The Ashbery Riff-Offs” series wherein each poem begins with one or 1-2 lines from John Ashbery’s poem.) The sense of optimism I felt in Pacita Abad’s poem is also reflected in its title that references a smile—this fits, too, with my belief that making a poem or any artwork is, or can be, an act of optimism because it is, or can be, an act of Faith.
Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: Smile’s Identity
“Not-being-us” is all there is to look at
in the mirror, though no one can claim
with accuracy why a transgender clad
in an outfit of broken mirrors always
reflects the traffic as faces bathing in
tears. Marina Abramović lovingly but
starkly provided weeping portraits in her
eyes of dark glass staring back at those
willing (or compelled?) to reveal secrets:
“The Artist Is Present” (2010), perform
-ance, Museum of Modern Art, New
York. Still, another artist, Pacita Abad
offers an alternative path for the reflected
pilgrims willing to swallow pain in
order to release it. There is color, and
color is a narrative. With “Avocado”
(2000), mirrors stitched on canvas, its
nine mirrors cannot be ignored—they
are front, center, and frame. Yet their
shiny surfaces cannot distract the eye
from pink, a color that surely must be
associated with pure delight. The yellow
—sunlight, why not?—can only affirm
pink’s pleasure. To feel the caress of these
two colors before turning eyes to the mirror
is to elicit the image of yourself smiling.
For once, the smile will suffice. Your
breath expands to loosen the tightness
in your chest. You are “being” not “not-
being.” In more than one mirror, you
see yourself beginning to smile. Sunlight
collaborates with you. Smile! Yellow is
the color of the avocado’s interior seed.
Smile! Fossil evidence indicates avocado
species existed millions of years ago. To-
day it thrives as a sequential hermaphrodite.
If its existence—nay, popularity!—continues
despite switching sexes daily, so can you
internalize pain to birth anew. Be like
the avocado: see yourself, then accept!
Then see yourself again. Love. Smile!
Then see yourself again. Love. Smile!
Eileen Tabios loves books and has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2018 poetry collections include HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago, MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator, TANKA: Vol. 1, and ONE TWO THREE: Selected Hay(na)ku Poems which is a bilingual English-Spanish edition with translator Rebeka Lembo. Forthcoming is WITNESS IN A CONVEX MIRROR which will inaugurate Tinfish Press' "Pacific response to John Ashbery" as well as THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL: Selected Visual Poetry (2001-2019). She also invented the poetry form “hay(na)ku” whose 15-year anniversary in 2018 is celebrated at the San Francisco and Saint Helena Public Libraries. More information about her works is available at http://eileenrtabios.com.