Discover more from HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS Documentary
A FEW POST-PREMIERE NOTES
'HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS' launches with a pretty classy shindig | sept20.2023
By DOUGLAS JOHN IMBROGNO | I know I am dating myself by using the word ‘shindig’ in the headline above. Yet the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word in this way: ‘A large, lively party, especially one celebrating something.” That well describes the buzzy premiere of “HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS: The Artistic Life of Robert Singleton” on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, at the Clay Center in West Virginia’s capital city of Charleston, W.Va. Almost 300 people showed up for the world premiere of this AmpMediaProject hour-long documentary, whose subject is the notable art and notable life of 85-year-old painter Robert Singleton.
The hall that leads to the Clay Center stage looks out upon the monolithic sculpture “Hallelujah” by Albert Paley, which divided the city’s populace upon its 2009 unveiling. (Here are 9 ways to look at it.) | thestoryisthething.com photography
THE EVENING BEGAN WITH A RECEPTION in the Juliet Art Gallery, where “The Gathering” currently hangs, one of Robert’s signature, large-format cloud and horizon line paintings. The work is part of the Clay Center's permanent collection and is on view in the current exhibit “The Possible Dream," highlighting the center's 20th anniversary. The work was purchased out of the Clay Center's 2019 Invitational exhibition "and demonstrates our commitment to supporting Appalachian artists," says Elizabeth Simmons, Curator of Art & Engagement. Robert grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, but moved onto a mountaintop in the highlands of eastern West Virginia in 1978 and built a grand house. At age 85, he continues to paint onward. That is, except for a momentous 20-year-hiatus surveyed in the film, when he utterly stopped creating after too many deaths in his life led him to put away his brushes. As he says in the documentary: “I frankly feel that I was waiting for my time. And then I'll be done … But it didn't happen that way.”
The documentarians (do I really get to call myself that?!?) flank the Singleton work “The Gathering” in the Clay Center’s Juliet Gallery this past Sunday. (At left) Bobby Lee Messer and Douglas John Imbrogno.
YOU’LL HAVE TO SEE THE DOCUMENTARY to learn what happened next — an epic, inspiring, and creative turnaround after a death-haunted series of losses. If you missed the premiere, free subscribe to this site and newsletter for word of future screenings (see below for some upcoming ones). Yet here is an excerpt from a just-published review of ‘HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS” by John W. Miller at his “Moundsville’ website, smartly titled “The Horizons of West Virginia Artist Robert Singleton”:
The big theme of West Virginia artist Robert Singleton’s work is the space that is in between dualities. Life and death. Yin and yang. Male and female. Earth and sky.
That’s why he’s loved painting skies and clouds, and horizon lines, ever since he had an epiphany on a car trip through Kansas decades ago.
In Kansas, he saw “a line that was the division between sky and the wide-open prairie; uncluttered space, empty space with this hard, crisp line intersecting. It was the essence of being alone. Nothing man made, just me, the sky, that line and the earth below. ”
It’s a beautiful film because it’s about a man who makes soulful, thoughtful art, but it’s also an ode to a life that has been beautiful in its reckoning with deep pain and suffering. And in capturing those in between spaces, Singleton tells us something about where we are. The in between is where crisis, death and rebirth, happen. And it matters that Singleton long ago chose a hilltop in West Virginia to live and paint in. This is a state where complexity and crisis wrestle every day with love and beauty .. | READ ON
I encourage you to subscribe to John W. Miller’s website, Moundsville.org, which itself grew out of a PBS-broadcast documentary by David Bernabo and John about a classic American town.
A PREMIERE NOTEBOOK
Below is a musical roundup of scenes and happening from the ‘HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS’ premiere, from the opening reception to the main stage screening and the rich Q-and-A with Robert and the filmmakers which followed the film.
SPEAKING IT, WRITING IT
Since so much of the documentary’s arc details how Robert’s world-class art arose out of a background of trauma and loss, and how he has kept what I call his ‘still jovial heart’ beating and his creativity alive through it all, it was no surprise that someone asked about trauma in the post-screening Q-and-A. Annabel Park, a dear friend of Robert’s, caught the moment while recording the evening’s conversations.
CLICK TO VIEW | Video courtesy of Annabel Park
IT’S A DONKEY THING
I WAS SEVERELY DISAPPOINTED that there was no mention from anyone after the premiere that the film briefly stars two classy Appalachian donkeys. (I told you the donkeys needed more screen time, Bobby Lee!) In fact, these are not just any mountain burros wandering up the lane during Jan and Neil Gillies’ performance of the song “Heroes and Sheroes.” This is a mother-and-daughter duo of donkeys. (How cool is that, Oscar nominating committee for Best Documentary of 2023?!?) Neil helpfully provides readers of this newsletter a guide to differentiating one’s donkeys: “The dark one is Pico (the daughter) and the grey is Pippin (the mom).”
If you have not done so already, free subscribe to this newsletter for news of other ‘HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS’ screenings. Here is what we’re working on:
SATURDAY, OCT 14, 7 p.m. and SUNDAY, Oct. 15, 3 p.m.: Screening at Gradient Projects in Thomas. W.Va. NOTE: These are limited-seating shows and tickets ($15) will go on sale online and also be available in Thomas shortly.
OTHER VENUES: We’re working up a screening in Lost River, W.Va., on Veterans Day weekend (Saturday, Nov. 11 and Sunday, Nov. 12). We continue to seek a venue in Washington, D.C., so suggestions, contacts and connections are welcome. If we were to dream big, we’d love to float ‘HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS’ up to New York, New York (sung in Frank Sinatra’s voice). That is especially so since Robert had gallery representation for years at the Vorpal Gallery in Soho and didn’t sell his … well, soul to get it. Or more to the point — and this is an in-joke for those who saw the film and paid attention to the New York section: “And we didn’t get into the Jacuzzi …”
Frank has a few words for you about the city so fine they named it twice.
West Virginia's newest online feature publication, TheRealWV, has posted a very nice full-on review and description of the premiere and post-screening panel this past Sunday of "HOUSE IN THE CLOUDS." Writer Autumn Shelton describes the documentary as "a beautiful mix of gut-wrenching heartbreak and serene moments of breaking through the clouds." Thanks to her and editor Matthew Young (who wrote the first preview of the film) — for their coverage.
PS: I shall now — except for post-documentary promotion —be returning to my writer’s garret to work on these non-projected things called ‘books.’ That’s not even to mention essays, poems, diatribes, screeds, encomiums, panegyrics, laudations, Homeric paens and — since the fate of the Republic is up for grabs in 2024 — op-eds. If interested in my post-documentarian writings, free subscribe to: thestoryisthething.substack.com