TEXT BY: ROBERT BLOCK
I knew a couple once. Jim and Barbara. Jim is gone now. I still see
Barbara in the neighborhood.
They would come in for lunch on occasion, and we would speak of many
things. Both of them probably old hippies with big degrees and academia
Lovely people, golden really.
Jim once said to me (likely after I came in from outside having had to sweep the sidewalk for the litter left by the local winos) he said, “If the Buddha is to be revered for extinguishing desire by giving up material possession and comfort, then might not the wino deserve some kind of respect for also giving up worldly possession and comfort for all but one thing—Drink? Does this not bring them closer to the Buddha than you or I?”
I realize how difficult and bizarre this notion is. I ponder this notion yet.
Couple o' Saturdays ago, I was hoofin' it through Union Square to the Q train for a hang with the onspring in Brooklyn. First from the corner of my eye and then grabbed by the brainthroat, my attention was called hither by a small garden of painting.
On that cold morning, the Art was warm and bright.
Spent half an hour there, easy. His name is Mark. We spoke of many things.
He asked if I'd care to see his process. “Only take a minute,” he said.
On to the back of a cheap unfinished wooden wine box, he squeezed out some squiggles of paint from tubes—maybe 4 or 5 colors. Then he proceeded to mush it and smush it with his fingers. As promised,
he worked quickly. In something less than two minutes, he said “There.”
Immediately did I see the work as real and good and a mambo
line of other adjectives one might apply to a transcendent blossom of
At day's end, upon returning from Brooklyn by the same path,
the box came home with me. I stare into it often.
I did not interview Mark Roggemann nor will I. We talk and he tells
me things about himself which I would not repeat to you. I'm not a
gossip. All the biography I need is in the paintings and if I can't find it
there, the rest is irrelevant.
I can say this about him; he seems to have given up the possessions
and the comfort because all there is is painting. I do not confuse this
life with devotion.
Devotion might be the extreme discipline that comes with intellectual conquest of the behaviors that distract you from your objective. That's great—wish I had some.
Mark is not that. His is not a life of devotion. His is a life of Art. He has become the painting (verb) and the painting (noun). He is more than Artist. He is Art.
That is a mouthful, I know. But I believe it.
If you are looking for a book to keep in the bathroom to open any page/quick reading, may I recommend "Butler's Lives of the Saints." What a hoot! Why do I bring this up? There were those people in the early centuries of the Christian era who, it seems, were eligible for beatification because of the deprivation, we are told by Mr. Butler, some endured at their own hand. Weird stuff. There was a guy who lived atop a 50-foot column for much of his life. Another who lived in a cave and rolled in thorns. Some lived solitary lives in the wilderness when banishment was the harshest of sentences one convicted might receive. And, let's remember, the Buddha was eatin' dirt for a while there. These "life style choices" earned them something like awe in the eyes of their contemporaries.
Mark doesn't do that crazy kind of stuff. If he sells a piece, he eats real food. He has a warm coat and hat. He does essentially sleep in the park. Indeed, he lives there. When he wakes, he paints. He forages for things upon which to paint, and goes to art supply stores for paint. He is genial, conversant, and I would say, charming. He is without artifice or pretense. So rare among us humans.
I am now and forever fortunate for having encountered him.
The acquaintance of an old soul such as this enriches my life, and I am grateful.
Let us now look at the pictures.......