Burnt Sienna Eyes

Photo by Jeanne Rice "One look into those burnt sienna eyes/Quickly forgetting all the others' lies/Trying my best to glance at my feet/Running away from their radiant heat.

"Soaring and taking me to the highest skies/See a kaleidoscope when I glance in your eyes/Deep brown that presents many colors/Red, blue, green, yellow and others."

• A kaleidoscope is an instrument containing loose bits of colored material;

• Brown is any color between red and yellow in hue, of medium to low lightness, and of moderate to low saturation.

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—Jayson Blair

Ka-lei-do-scope in Brown Eyes

M. Scott Verzi likes to draw the same pretty girl over and over. Cascading down the walls at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, "Love and Memories" paints the same beauty with come-hither eyes peeking out from behind decoupaged roots and blossoms. He adorns his love with butterflies and gilded dandelions, like one of our own local favorites, Daniel DuPlessis. Unlike DuPlessis he eschews jewel tones and violets, painting his love in honey and gold and the same burnt sienna disgraced former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair lauded, as seen on The Smoking Gun, in several very terrible, college-era poems.

Verzi isn't terrible at all; he's very in touch with his feminine side, as seen in all those butterflies and magnolia petals, as seen in the precision of his graceful, well-drawn ink flows, and as seen in his tiny, elegant script in which he writes poesies much better than Blair's, like "The earth and sky, the day and night are melted in her depth of blue." Verzi, it is clear, is very much in love.

Oh, but what if I were to tell you M. Scott Verzi is in fact a woman? And that her series "Life Cycle of a Girl" is a series of self-portraits, one after another and yet one more? Then you'd just think M. Scott Verzi was pretty vain, no? I mean, that's her own sky-melting depth of blue she's alking' 'bout! My goodness, we like ourselves!

* * *

As a person who has written several poems, just as bad as Blair's, about, among other things, what good pork chops I make and "finding, like Diana, my own dark beauty"—vomit now!—I can say with authority that it is a rite (and right) of the young to linger and ponder on just how fine one is, how lovely and kick-ass, and—may I say?—hot. Isn't that why public schools instituted all those self-esteem assemblies in the late '80s? So we could paint ourselves clothed in butterflies, our great sloe eyes and graceful noses and lily-petal cheeks letting the viewer know that, darn it, the life-cycle of a girl is a delightful, magic-filled, butterfly-encrusted thing! She's a pretty princess! She enjoys being a girl!

* * *

One might get a good giggle out of such a seemingly immodest self-regard, but, well, why not? Paint what you know! Feel pretty? Good for you. Don't we all prefer women with confidence, who think well of themselves, who enjoy themselves and walk tall?

Is there such a thing as an unvain artist (or writer)? Didn't Frida Kahlo have great regard for herself beneath her mustache and her crowns of thorns? Painting oneself as monstrous is equally as vain as painting oneself as a beautiful sprite—it blows up one's importance, one's place at the center of the universe, whether for evil or for good. It might invert beauty to ugliness, but by making oneself monstrous, one declares one's alienation from the sameness of the rest of the world's pretty sheep. And couldn't Kahlo have used a school-assembly group hug?

Verzi's The Summer Beauty and Making the Time evoke yet another of my truly terrible poems: a poem, in fact, about how hot I am in the summer, and how you have to make hay while the sun still shines. (Come on, I was 19.) The two are small panels with just a hand silhouette, covered with pods and sprouting bulbs and her tiny botanical-manuscript script. Simultaneous Overgrowth is a three-quarter profile (the most flattering for people like us) of pouty lips and soft cheeks glossed over with golden twigs or thorns. Only occasionally does Verzi's anatomy fall flat—an awkward shoulder here, an ill-bent torso there. Usually, her drawing is as lovely as she is.

When she has exhausted herself and begun looking without, she'll have something more to say. She'll stop focusing on herself (and her pork chops) and start focusing on the rest of the universe. Until then, the navel-gazing is a necessary step of individuation, of becoming a grown-up, and she will some day regret it like I regret those poems. It's navel-gazing that's as pretty as it is universal, even if it's ultimately unilluminating.

M. Scott Verzi shows "Love And Memories" at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton, (714) 738-6595. Open Wed.-Sun., Noon-4 P.M. $2-$5; Children 12 and under, free. Thru June 29.

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