Prose Poems In Response to the Paintings

by Hadara Bar-Nadav

  1. The baby grows, redly at my center. The baby grows, and I whither. I play a human, a woman,
    a host. My baby plays parasite, blood sac, growth. We grow large, we take up space. We feast. Our eating is grand. I stuff two apples at a time in my mouth. Gala. Red Delicious. Ruby-lit. Lips gape like a suckling pig. 

    The green winds rise up to my eyes, funneling. I focus my gaze inward: two heartbeats. Apple of my apple-filled eye. I carry you inside my animal hide. You flourish, wonderish underneath my velvet cape draped in the shape of a mother. In this version of us, no one cries. 

    We play death, our death smile. We smile redly for a while. 

    I am makeup masked. Layered with resin and grease. Unguent, urgent, I labor hard in my half shell.  

    This will not end well.

    Bells, bells.

  2. I was wined and dined until I was split. Grew large as the moon. Milk, matter, dish. 

    I pulled on my crawling, my animal skin, a claw suit. My baby tucked in my hot, skin pouch, blanketed flap of fur and fat.

    We are not afraid. Girl holding girl. We hold our god. Wholly animal.

  3. The animals whirl, circusy bright. We are all animals here. Animal speech, heartbeat, flight.

    Two stories died, two moons. I carved their ache, craved their shape, carried them like children against my chest.

    We run, and we fall. Bleed into soil, salting the earth with our shadows.

  4. Beast of a girl, horned as all girls are. Demon-headed, begging for more. Sitting pretty in cream and grease. Girl draped in gold and military green.

    My legs were once severed at the hip. I was whited out, contained my own violence. 

    Then out of my body, a body formed. My flesh painted in. Legs with which I can walk or kick.

    Far-away eyes, moony, leak love. My arrow glistens at the tip, points to its star. 

  5. Someone turned me upside down, spun me from a hook. Here I dance by a punctured foot.
    Fresh in flowers, flesh-pink rose. The canvas weeps in blue light. Blurry corals aflame.

    It took twenty-five layers, twenty-five stories, to sculpt my face: resin, thorns, oil, lace.

     And don’t you think my horns become me? My torso eaten by my own deer heart. Fur grows like a virus, itch by itch. I glow in a gold bath on a sticky stage. Skull crowned in points and pain. 

  6. Do you see how I balance, unafraid, umbilical? Beautiful in death, the ram’s-head moon. Negligeed in ocean blur, draped in layers of gauze.

    All my wounds scar over, stitched with a bow. This one redly tied at my neck holds the thread of my spine to the threat of my skull. 

    Mother wants to carry me off in her golden boat, but I think I’ll descend where I am. Walk off this stage, this dripping frame. Walk away from fairy tales, mothers, myths.

    I’ll become something new, newly now in your eyes. We all shine and live with a little death inside.  

  7. Fish eye, woman’s eye, angels all. Beauty without skin. We pass through pink layers, through a tangle of tendons and veins, through the charcoal end of breath. From crying to its absence.

    What is inside this ocean of black. Black that is not black, that contains all color: umber, crust, blood, detritus. Image that draws us through: eye of the witness, eye of the canvas, eye of the concrete wall behind the frame as it burrows back, through the street and the city, cold air beyond the cloud’s mind. 

    Can a painting burn the iris, burn the brain? What dark do you carry there? What is her name? 

    Color singes the retinas and remains.  

Prose Statement in Response to Peregrine Honig’s Player

Hadara Bar-Nadav

I met Peregrine Honig in early November 2023 to tour her studio and discuss the paintings in her new show Player. My role was to write, to create and respond to her work, which I did via this statement and in a series of prose poems that correspond to each of the large paintings that are the centerpiece of her show.

My studio visit occurred during a time of great turmoil and crisis in the Middle East, and these events manifested in our consciousness and conversations as we talked about her show. We were two people trying to locate speech, trying to process the stories and images on the news and in the paintings, while considering our place as artists in the larger story of humanity.

How is creating art related to the story of humanity? I think about this quote by author and translator Paul Celan, that I have held dear as a writer:   

           Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language.

            In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack

            of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous

            speech. It went through. (Bremen Prize for Literature, 1958)

Art goes through—it persists, even in times of great loss. Creativity is a necessary counterbalance to destruction, and it reminds us that we are alive, sentient, capable of feeling, revelation, and change.

Honig’s Player is a group of seven large paintings and twelve smaller studies as well as an installation that she personally designed, down to the music, draped archways, lighting, and carpet. Viewers are enveloped in this show, enveloped by the large paintings hung at an angle, hovering as we gaze into their rapture. 

When we look at these magnetic paintings, we are sucked in as if viewing them through a kind of inverted volcano. We bore through layers of paint, bore through the crust of the canvas, into the concrete walls, and then into the city behind them, into the cold November air. We walk into their fire, and descend. 

These visceral and haunting paintings insist that “every layer is a player”: an essential part of the story. Each layer has a heart beat, a pulse, a presence. The paintings explore trauma, death, and rebirth, as well as beauty, creation, and perseverance. 

“Points and Thorns”—an image of a naked woman hanging by a single foot, her head transformed into a deer—is more than twenty-five paintings deep. Do viewers need to know that in an earlier incarnation two tigers were painted beneath the woman’s head? Can viewers somehow still feel that resonance, that presence, roaring through the paint? This show asks us to pause, to study its dazzling and animated layers, and in doing so honor each gesture. The layers unspool, the process of creation unspools, as the viewer is invited inside, to look and look again.   

In this universe are figures of women and babies, monstrous green masses dotted with eyes, and characters (or players) who don animal costumes and skull heads. These players appear to have chosen to wear these animal personas and engage with the beasts inside them. They are draped in black, orchid, bronze, green, carmine, and lush petals and pinks. They invite us to bathe in a sensory state with characters who are wounded, reborn, and reclaimed.  

Several of the paintings appear to be weeping. In speaking with Honig about this effect, I learned about different resins, the careful measuring of each drip (or tear), the science and magical alchemy of pigments. Their cost, preciousness, and limited availability. The arduous attempts to create a perfect bronze shade. The daily work, hour after hour, the blood and sleeplessness that are also layers in the story of this show.  

Can paintings weep? Can they verb? Or are they stuck in time, an afterimage, post-world? Player insists that art is active and alive. These paintings bristle with the history of their making. We can cry with them, dream, drink, and seethe. We can feel the vibration of each iteration roaring beneath.