Places #3: John D


"Places" is a new feature where local artists show us the places around town that inspire them.

Guest post by Anna Caritj


Early Friday morning and the parking lot is nearly empty. Cars pass by, knotty exhaust pipes rattling against the close colored walls of McIntire Plaza. Men in business casual enter a nondescript doorway, a woman carries brown shopping bags down the sidewalk.

Here, with only parked cars and an abandoned backhoe for company, John D’earth feels at home. While there is nothing unique about this particular parking lot off Allied Lane, D’earth explains that this anonymity, this potential for anything—good or bad—is what makes the space beautiful: “I love to feel connected to the wide, anonymous world. And art is that. Art needs to be that. It’s a way to connect to the world and say something.”

But what is it exactly that D’earth connects to? The parking lot exists as a liminal space for all walks of life. It creates a universal vantage point and provides a look not only into the everyday life of mall shoppers and children going to day school. But it also joins the “typical” American life with its darker counterpart which, D’earth describes, is every bit as typical.

“The thing about parking lots is you have to watch yourself. I’m not a fighter or tough guy in any sense of the word, but I like being next to the world, seeing the world and putting myself in the way of chance and circumstance," he says. "I think we all just need to get with it a little more—with what’s happening in the world.

"[There is] a lot of craziness, lot of drunkenness, lot of violence. I make my peace with that because I see it as the human condition. People try to deny that. Entropy is normal. Health is not necessarily normal, especially mental and spiritual health. You really have to work for that. This world is fragile. All civilizations are fragile. I feel that fragility."

D’earth’s latest work, a four movement orchestral piece entitled Ephemera, which premiered in June, reflects the idea that even as entropy and illness endure, they still contribute a piece of beauty and grace to our lives. Based on poetry by his late brother, Paul Smyth, in Ephemera D’earth creates ebullient melodies that communicate with his brother’s prolific verse. While affliction inevitably persists throughout the piece, D’earth and Smyth together translate intrinsic tragedy into vibrant and teeming beauty, echoing the adage that with death also comes life.

"My brother was a very high art sort of person," says D’earth. "I never could figure out how to use his poetry in music during his own life. And then after he died, for some reason, I got it. I figured it out."

The parking lot, an anonymous unity of dark, impenetrable asphalt with neat white lines, suggests a place where dichotomies collide. It is where the enigmatic meets clarity, the dangerous meets the anodyne, and the disastrous becomes beautiful. These opposing forces either converge or clash, the tension echoing a jazz tone of dissonance as one walks the line between harmony and discord. In a world where “everybody is everybody,” as D’earth says, one must learn to embrace both chords.

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