Counterfeit Commonality

1. Wonder and Awe

2. Doubt

3. Forsakenness; retreat to self.

Karl Jaspers talked at me about this.

Monday, December 28, 2009

More Holla. Less Daze.

Xmas with a small portion of the family. I wanted to shoot some of my father's guns but constant freezing rain prevented the redneck reconnection ceremony.

For pop: One bottle of Butterscotch Schnapps
For mama: One handmade bag, one pot of poinsettias.
For big sissy and man of matrimony: One grocery gift card
Plus hugs and kisses for all.

I grew up in that one house for 18 years and then one or two more. It looks smaller every time I return. There were eight of us in it for so many years.

Pictures of people I haven't met: My little sister's husband and his family. My older brother's twins. Scattered Americans just playing our role.

Pictures of a past of which I have so little idea.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I've not been to Space Gallery a lot in my years here. It's a very nice space for art nestled in the cultural district Downtown. They've showcased a generously wide selection of disciplines.

I think the show there now is the best I've seen so far. It's a collection of works contributed by artists whom are also gallery workers in the city. Those people you see there, they're usually making their own work, too.

And it's good. A happy proportion of it. Quite good.

I went twice; once for the first opening and then again this past first Friday for the Gallery Crawl. It still felt good. Andy Warhol's weight bench still felt pretty boring. Scorched rugs no longer meant a good indication of STD, they mean pretty clever and nicely executed portrait shots.

It was a good mix of media and ideas. But all of them pretty neat and clean. Where's the mess? It was spilling out of Chris Beauregard's sound piece. It was one of the best in the show by far. It was also on two mixed media pieces neatly framed on a wall.

But mess does not equal success. I can't believe I just said that. Strike that. Mess does not guarantee a competent mess. But the collages and the sounds were competent messes. They both invited chance and metamorphoses into the doors and then cut off their fat and flung it out the window. To the street with you, excess. Like dressing a kill. Why keep useless shit? I guess that's how I relate to works like this. No plan. Just a primer.

But some of the other pieces I liked I could never stomach actually doing. Nicole Rosato's cut maps are nice. It seems like a schtick at first because they're portrait busts of figures created by carefully cutting the tangled lines of colored road maps. All veiny. But they're small and lovely and seem like they talk about place and identity. What good is something if it doesn't teeter on the edge of failure? Especially corny failure. She presents well and it doesn't feel like she has settled on this manifestation of her ideas.

Around the partition was a piece that also went with a geographic feel. It was a construction set low on top of which was a sculpted material made of some sort of muslin or light cloth shaped into the terrain of the land into which Pittsburgh's three rivers gouge and converge. But all clean white with twinkling lights and glowing as though the industrial revolution never touched us. Or maybe as though the landscape were bleached and bruised instead of blackened.

There was filler, too.

There was a figurative painting I liked, too. Kate somebody. It looked like something that would crash and burn like the fodder we painters have to slog through in undergrad and for years after as we learn to push paint around looking for that homunculus or graphic or other. But this one was strong. Kind of like a meal at which Munch and Soutine were talking and then some obscure Neo Expressionist from 1983 listening in had too much wine and got courage and tried to touch their boy parts. How else should we talk about the cycle?

There's also a swing with twenty five or thirty feet of chain arcing up in suspended motion in the corner. It's old and weathered-looking which can be a death mark but not always. I admit I fell for it because it reminds me of Richard Hughes. I fell for him at the last Carnegie International. Simple things in front of us that somehow, when arranged, confront us with the entanglement of the human condition, our impending rot, unsettling weirdness.

The swing didn't get that far, but it's a nice form. It vacillates in that wimpy way lacking the impeccable craftsmanship of Richard Hughes but also not willing to (forgive me) swing to the other side and be dangerous mess. It looks fun to goers and therefore gets attention but the most shallow kind most of the time unfortunately.

Beauregard's amplifier on a pedestal with distorting filters fed through it was presented as it was. No fussing really. And what for? Those gutteral sounds churning out of it were like blood-soaked velvet. Who fucking cares about the vessel? The attention to the presentational vessel is evident in it's understatement. It helps to make the piece matter; it's oozing quality just needed a framework off of which to reverberate.

Those collage pieces are great. So lovingly eviscerated over and over again. They had a rare candor to them. Remember that shit? No one does. It comes up sometimes but it's called mysteriousness or naivety by most and sincerity by others. I miss it too often.

Other things that night were alright. It was the first time in a while I'd had a big bloody burger from Tessarro's. I've been sliding back organically toward a more vegetarian diet. But I don't care about eschewing meat. I like the way blood tastes but it's heavy in the stomach anymore.

Plus Rob and Jen are good company. Jen is amiable and easy to please and Rob is grouchy. I love them both.

Yorke Youth Ponders the Ecosystem

Thom Yorke is Dennis Mitchell in Disney's Dennis and Mr. Wilson Save the Polar Ice Caps. Begins May 8th in theaters everywhere.

Monday, December 7, 2009

You Can't Take it With You, and Leaving it at the Crossover Will be Humiliating

Unblurred on Penn Avenue is always a crap shoot. Most of the time just crap. No A's for effort. Here and there some of it manages something memorable.

But it isn't as though Shadyside or Downtown gallery spaces capture an audience in any meaningful way either. I know so many people that live here and bemoan the apathy and dullness. They're the same ones that settle in and talk love on this town and it's football heroes and the grit that's really just industrial waste and Penndot fuck ups and not character.

But I love people here. Gems end up anywhere. Gems for anyone.

The Unblurred art walk on Penn Ave is usually a grim reminder that people need to be shaken up and that I should just go. No one wants it. But I'm happy enough for anyone that gets enough out of what's here. When personal dissatisfaction outweighs compassion you're just a prick.

I've been contributing to my friend's space at the corner of Penn and Millvale in Garfield. Carolyn Wenning. Her space was the first at which I showed work here in Pittsburgh some years ago. She's a firecracker. She looks like a cuter gay Nancy Spero. Her work is much more somber than her personality. Something of somnambulant wandering. Lacquered blurry photos on heavy wooden panels sometimes with piles and slashes of thick tar and paint surrounding it. Like a little glowing tv monitor just freshly unearthed.

Her friend Derek Sober contributed to our last show. I thought his telephone and actual little tv monitors were someone else I showed with a while back. They were interesting for a little bit, the novelty of old timey phones with tiny screens built in that talked at you about loss and yearning. But kind of corny.

Only two or three doors up is Modern Formations. My friend Jen owns and operates that one. It's been an area mainstay and frankly one of the best galleries in the city. She's been ready to throw in the towel a number of times but stuck with it.

Her show this month is two fellows. One of them won a show at her annual Salon in which he garnered enough votes for the pieces he submitted. Heavy lacquer again. Something seems to not work with lacquer. It's too easy and lazy to me most of the time. It just lays on a candy shell for some false dimension both visually and conceptually. But I liked what he had in the show. Collage cityscapes. Kind of poppy a la local superhero Burton Morriss but minus the shitty aspect. Grimy Pittsburgh instead of Morriss's tidy boring soft jazz version of Pop Art. Corporate coffee house rubbish whereas this guy's are more like elevated local coffee house.

They had somewhat mysterious words plugged into a number of them, too. That usually falls flat, but it had a little something to it here. I like the one that said "Mable" coming from a thought bubble of what looks like the last moments of a drowning girl. It's sad and funny and not a little confounding. Actually I recall the girl in water looking despondent but seeing the photo of the piece again it seems she's a pilot in the dome of a single engine craft. Pining for her lover? Still sad and funny. A little dreamy, too.

There's something about isolation in vastness that appeals to me. Being obviously obliterated by elements instead of swallowed by routine. That's why I made the Elephant Island series. Not everyone sees death as part of their destiny. What a shame.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Quoting The Sphere

Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooo it's rolling agin. Goin sumwheres. A little of what a lot adds up to.

The best laid plans of mice and men. That's the subtext of everything I try to make. The plan is shit save for the tiniest kernel that was or was not recognized as the impetus behind all the absurdity that might yield something.

Premise: Today everything I've got here is pathetic and misguided and worthless and I can't believe allthe goddamnn time i've sunk inot this lay me down now and sleepe forever/.

Premise: Today it's got something and I feel fine.

Outcome: Unknown event entry.

bedwetters. Chop chop chop. You gys are great, Haha! Fucking but who brought candles? and all the little noises too

Test if it's good Mmmmmm. mmm.

go back to spin class asshole; dares

Part of you gives ineveery time. Wow, isnt that going somewhere?(car sounds, sort of)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Old Men Drinking

I've known Rob since I was finishing undergrad at EUP and he was starting graduate studies. I've realized recently that he's like a more adventurous version of my dad.

He makes abstract oil paintings. Together we're old men at the trendy bars getting idiot drunk sometimes and venting about painting all the time. No one likes us. Not even us I suspect, but not always. A girl talked to us last time. I got tipsy and riled up and ended up ranting too loud with a stiff finger toward her face about the absurdity of talent. Sorry about that.

Rob does better than I do. His work is a little more accessible for an audience I think and sometimes he laments how that must be a bad thing. He landed a deal with a company thats building a hotel here in Pittsburgh. They commissioned twenty paintings, each four feet square. It's fun to hear about some of the requests. Less pink, for instance. What the fuck are you on about? Luckily he has a go-between. She's an artist that isn't making work but rather brokering deals like the one with Rob. Good for her I say. We need her.

The demand and volume has changed Rob's process. And thus, his images and surface too. I went to his studio to look at them. Chunkier and clunkier than in the past. It's a transition I'd wanted to see him make. He says his work deals with forces in the universe not commonly pondered but that super nerd physicists study and quarrel over. Mountains too and the unseen strata and the physical presence and girth of landmass.

We get along pretty great. We can talk about this dog's life we've gone for until the cows come home. I suppose it's fair to say that we're old fashioned. But some of that is good. It cultivates sincerity instead of shallow incoherent theory. I think I say some things that help him, and I steal his color ideas and his discipline for layering a lot, too.

He also has a solo show down in Alabama coming up. So his plate is pretty full.

Lovers in California

I'm just back from California. I like to fly. It's very introspective for me. Flying is a very childish and pathetic act of rebellion. That makes it touching.

I was in Santa Barbara for the wedding of two beloved friends. Stepping out of the plane onto the tarmac of Santa Barbara's tiny airport I could immediately feel how different the air was. The groom-to-be retrieved me and we went to lunch. Then he dropped me downtown to pick up some things while he ran his own errands. "Be careful" he warned me as he pulled to the curb to drop me in the shopping area "they're all under 18." But no one out there gave me a second look. It's yuppie sprawl. Two minutes out of the car I saw a man stacking up tupperware containers. They each held a snake. Yes, that's about right for the experience I had in the shopping excursion. Pretty carefree and somewhat mindless brats prancing around.

The wedding and it's surrounding activities took place in a campground nestled in a canyon right by the ocean. It's striking, but what it may lack in our eastern coast haze it makes up for in the scent of money.

The first night I was dumbstruck by the sky. It was littered with stars, constellations I'd only ever really heard of were suddenly there.

I didn't sleep much. Up at 5 on the first morning I went for a walk with a book. No one else was out. Desperate for water I walked a little dazed into one of the restroom buildings and saw an informational on the wall about mountain lion encounters. Turning the corner I jumped as a man with furry man boobs was brushing his teeth over the sink. I turned and left without looking back.
Everything was so dry. On the flight in I studied a huge brown fan shape cascaded down a mountain side. That's where a fire blazed recently, I was told. I went up a slope off of the trail through two trees. Up in the dry grass I came across some bones. Fairly sizable ones. It was a little alarming. I sat up further on the hill as the sun rose over the adjacent peak and read. Then I realized I had made myself a pretty easy target for the lions. Then I went to breakfast.

There were friends there whom I love, but most of the trip was much like my life here in Pittsburgh. Feeling pretty alienated and separate. It let up here and there. It's all my fault.

Wildlife I saw: A small snake, two lizards, llamas, an adorable donkey, goats, hawks, herons, gulls, and dolphins.

The ceremony was a simple and sincere Jewish one. It took place on a flat grassy plateau that looked back through the canyon to the ocean at dusk. I was taken aback by how beautiful and touching it was. I feel humbled and grateful. Like how you feel in love.

I made damn sure to book window seats for all four flights. The views were spellbinding. Coming home from San Francisco at dusk over the expanse of the midwest felt like I'd never been to this planet. After nightfall little clusters of electric lights looked a little like this:

But much better.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do you take thee, in dullness and violence?

The connection between Cormac McCarthy and Joel and Ethan Coen is already recognized. The brothers are obviously fans of McCarthy's writing. They try to make very similar work in mood; dark, absurd, malevolent. And, of course, they've adapted his work into film. I just finished Outer Dark, a novel published in 1968. All these artists seems to be asking: what kind of God could there be, how can we not be anything short of abandoned?

I think the key difference is that the Coen brothers take full advantage of abusing their characters relentlessly. They are coldly brow-beaten with a smirk and a condescending shake of the head. McCarthy's isn't exactly always a compassionate or empathetic vantage point either, but his is a presentation still more stark and aching with the pathetic human stain precisely because it is bereft of any clear bias. All judgement has been brushed aside in order to examine the plight of humans. And his prose constructs a painfully gorgeous landscape in which his characters struggle and flounder.

It howled execretion upon the dim camarine world of its nativity wail on wail while he lay there gibbering with palsied jawhasps, his hands putting back the night like some witless paraclete beleaguered with all limbo's clamor.

The imagery falls over itself, turning and folding again and again.

I like the Coen brothers' work. It's just a different medium and they squeeze the storytelling in finding their voice. Maybe the characters are simply dumb animals or violent animals too much of the time. Maybe I am just dismayed to hear about us described as such.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Crumble and Spit

I wasn't sure if Maurice Sendak were still with us. He co-produced Spike Jonzes' film adaptation of his book Where the Wild Things Are.

I only realized how I felt about it about three quarters through. I felt very ill at ease and puzzled and at odds with the timing. Just like childhood in other words. Kind of sick in my stomach but mesmerized and frustrated. That's how it was perfect. No gimmicky crap or wooden child actor lines. Just vessels trying to keep their contents from making them fucking nauseated. So utterly whittled down. No hokey magic or filler.

Some Jungian sort of play. That difficult force of creation more demanding in some than others running amuck, essential but so needy and difficult and high and low. So loyal, holding you to the highest degree of expectation and esteem. That thing that forces you to do it better, do it again, obsess and seek. That thing that blessedly wrings out all the hollowness and is simultaneously a curse to control.

I had been waiting for it. I thought I would be able to escape into it. Sweet and easy to deal with. Not really. I'm thankful for that. Maybe I'm just really vulnerable right now. And this and that and hopandskip an d throw up a little and doncha wanna feel it in yer bones? Someone's always falling out of the goddamn boat.

It's stealing season. Bring me fruits on a tray, on celluloid, on rotting pages or howling gibberish across Liberty Avenue. Just STOMP OFF THE FUCKING ICE IF YOU'RE COMING IN.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Found in the Road, Days later Dead

I've been reading and re-reading a book of letters written by Rainer Maria Rilke. In 1907 he went to Paris for a time (among other places) and wrote letters to his wife nearly every day.

These were compiled specifically for this publication because he talks at length about Cezanne. He also writes of Van Gogh and Rodin, but the insight surges strongest from his shared thoughts on the former. Apparently, the painter was a significant influence for Rilke's work. And Cezanne was a serious, devoted and strange man. Strange to most, I suppose. A stern and ridiculed personage. Children actually harassed him. They actually threw rocks at him. This is noteworthy to anyone nostalgic for a supposedly bygone era where great art was recognized and respected. There is always a generation of children ready to hurl stones.

Rilke went to a local pavillion day after day and spent a great deal of time with the Cezannes on display. This was nearly a year to the day after the old man died. The understanding of painting he displays in his writings to his wife is profound. Does anyone not involved with the brush and filth look at work like this? It was inspiring to know that an audience of such sincerity and brilliance could be there. So that it's not all stage tricks and vacillating between bloodthirsty devotion and flabby doubt.

The manner in which he corresponds with his wife makes me desire to hear them have a conversation. He writes of Cezzane attaining the sensitivity and discipline of a saint. Having done so one could possibly approach everything with love. Rilke exposes himself as one whom loves without celebrating himself for it. Birthing the ability to love and then cheaply touting it robs it of meaning.

And then there's Cezanne. He is compared to a dog more than once. Haggard, faithful. He was found unconscious in the road after getting caught in a rainstorm while he worked. He was dead some days later. He himself reportedly neglected to show up to his mother's funeral because he was "with the motiff." But that's just sensationalism, really. What he did, the manner in which he conducted his life around his work is in the work itself.

It's exciting to read about the relationship between two poets. I don't know if Cezanne were aware of Rilke or his work, but I've come back to Cezanne through an initial connection to Rilke. From there I look again at Matisse and Picasso, George Condo and Laura Owens. The rippling out of thought and creative acts. Pleas for sense linking one generation to the next. There is a disturbing level of numbness to the past among my peers.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

She was my Rushmore

I know what had to be, but some days I miss someone to the point of sickness.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

We Out N'at.

Story time:

The Brew House has a sordid history. It started as a squatter's paradise. For some it remained just that thirty years down the road. The squatters were threatened with being thrown out long ago, but (Adam and Eve, pay attention to this part) they dawned some innovation and responsibility and won the rights to the building and the right to stay there.
The Hienz Foundation endowed the BH Association with funding for public programming like the Black Sheep Puppet Festival for a good while. Strife erupted, of course, among personalities and egos, but a sense of common purpose was thinly maintained. Good and not so good people came and went, music and events, art and endurance.

Brew House membership entailed volunteer hours (10 to 12 a month) so as to endure the troubled waters, maintain the building, keep the mission of public service vital, and stave off the highly financed, hungry and envious eyes of developers who sought to reign down upon these generations of degenerates and squatters with expulsion. Compromise was later mulled over with any development group that could work with the BH to see commercial space co-exist with the living and working spaces of dozens of artists.

Year 2000: The building is being brought up to code (albeit slowly). Members come and go. Sometimes grudgingly. Sometimes involuntarily. There are detractors and there are contributors. Just as in any group effort. By now the Southside of Pittsburgh has run it's cycle of decades of neglect by the city. It's been bottled, neglected and aged well enough so that yuppies start to see the DIY efforts of many innovators as quaint and hip. Developers buy up cheap lots. How is the U.S. different than 16th century England again? Please, do remind me. No property, fuck off.

At any rate, September 2009 rolls up and presents the the BH with a letter of eviction from the head of the head of the head of Pittsburgh housing. "It don't go no higher" as some downtrodden BH members put it. Two weeks and you're out. We opted to scramble to complete the list of small code violations whilst the contractors whom the BH Association had already hired to finish the wiring and sprinklers were doing just that.

And to no apparent avail. After the final inspection by a small army of officials we were patted on the head for effort and told to get out. So, one more move for my studio in Pittsburgh. I picked up a moving truck at 7 am, finished moving my necessary belongings to the new space by 4 pm, drank, and was set up and ready to work in two days time.

So... what's noteworthy here? A lot of uncomfortable coincidences surround this event, not the least of which is the fact that it corresponded perfectly with the G20 Summit. Yuck. But, I honestly doubt that it had much to do with that. In the thick of things there were wildly mixed messages from people in the know: From "It is absolutely hopeless. Move out now." To "You'll be fine. We're in great shape and there is strong hope!" But I've seen a number of BH longtime members move out very recently. Others would be conveniently gone for professional reasons.

After final analysis we suddenly have hope again. The head of the head of the head himself is supposed to be in the building today. Well, how convenient. This smells like a slash and burn operation now. A ruse. But there is no more 'we' anymore. I'm done. I care infinitely more about making good work than serving the community through most any association. Besides, once you pry up the floorboards you find that that wonderland has the same bedraggled crew turning the wheels as most other organizations. Big promises.

Pulling up anchors in Pittsburgh is a big priority. Sure, your problems follow you, but they tend to fester and take root more firmly in certain places.

So, I'm realigning. I'm renewing the open invitation for risk and chance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Benji in my Olive Bread

The thing about the history of invention is that everyone involved themselves with material things in front of them. It's the experience of physically interacting with some thing while abstractly considering your relationship to it. I have to have something there affecting me somehow. Then I change it. Then I change it again.

What's confounding is that human relationships are universally predicated on that same phenomenon. You have to deal with someone else's physical presence while calculating abstractly any exchange that goes on. It's like an AC DC flow. Few people end up telling the truth because you seldom exact significant change.

But honesty is paramount to good art. You can't hide anything if it's going to turn out. Otherwise it's flabby and inchoate. Your relationship with what you're making or doing can't afford to suffer from lazy dishonesty.

Setting up to see this act through counts for a lot. A crucible is always needed. I've had to relocate mine six times in the four years I've been living in Pittsburgh. Now it will be a seventh time this weekend.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Best of Show: Hines Ward

The season's turning always affects my blood. Everything is just different, it just flows differently overnight. Part of that is arguably allergies. But Autumn is injected into me like nothing else.

The Open House at my studio building came and went. It was fine, nicely received and attended. Hot House came and went, too. My piece, "Paternity Suit", was badly lit and equally badly displayed. Oh, well. Space was limited, blah blah blah. I loved that it was displayed next to a BBQ grill from Giant Eagle that was also being auctioned off. The grill sat up on its own pedestal looking like some old Jeff Koons sculpture. Not far away was a football autographed by Hines Ward. Who can compete with this shit?

People dressed up for Hot House. It was a lot of fun to see. Jodpuhrs and booty shorts on boys. Great drag, great DJ's, scant but free booze. Forget food. I was still waiting in line to get on the elevator when the free food vanished upstairs. The main hall looked a little too much like upscale senior prom, but with a great DJ booth. Next year: Bare-knuckle boxing in a section of the main hall drawn off in chalk on the floor boards.

But all that hoopla is over. For now. Painting returns as is seasonally its nature to do so. Under the auspices of Autumn all the imagery I've stored up is reinvigorated. Struggling awkwardly and nearly fruitlessly over the summer months always builds to this.

I'm turning 30 on Wednesday. Ninth day of the ninth month of the year 2009. I've decided not to let my birthday slip by this year. Not like it has in the past few years. I want loved ones around. I want to be a little self-serving. I don't feel at all like I'm saying goodbye to a golden decade. Fuck all of that. I'm better than I have ever been.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paternity Suit

Pittsburgh's HotHouse is this Saturday the 29th. A few weeks ago I was asked to submit a piece for the art auction portion. It's a somewhat strange event. A "tableau of civic engagement." I can buy that. It's a kind of fundraiser for community projects. Especially The Sprout Fund.

But that's not really what I want to talk about. The theme for the pieces in the art auction was centered around inspiration from the work of Joseph Cornell. I know the basics about Cornell. Definitely one of the more confounding 20th century artists to gain prominence. A very intensely private sort of work; smallish constructions containing objects and (often) astrology images oriented just so.

I happened upon a book about Cornell while killing time before having to work my day job. While I perused it and read some passages I realized that I had missed a mandatory meeting for my department scheduled for exactly right then. Well, I hate being late for anything. Let alone mandatory meets. The embarrassment (and slight disappointment in myself) sent me inward enough to set about building something I really am rather proud of for this auction. I think going inward is the right step for identifying with Cornell's ideas.

Initially I never imagined myself getting so involved. At least not emotionally. I have to start simple. Cornell's little containers seemed simple enough. Here's an old rather deep panel with linen stretched over it and primed which I built six or seven years ago. I actually painted out the image. So I turned it around and started there, a little cove. Each added thing had to be necessary on various levels.

It soon became apparent to me that this piece was begging to be about private machinations surrounding the process of painting. It's sculptural, but, without using any new paint, I knew it had to be a corporeal kind of structure that was a painting. It also became apparent that I had to limit my materials to things I've had in my studio for however long and never really used. Bits and pieces infused with my process and private world. Oriented just so.

I became consumed by it. I had made semi-sculptural assemblages previous to this, but years later I've come to realize how important it is to utilize my mark making. It's been very important in the last four years. I shied away from it in student days because it didn't feel serious. Now it's broadened in very meaningful way. It's a funny and sad thing. Marks are pregnant with the human condition, with pathos and desperation. I've incorporated text in this case as well. It's just more mark making organized to communicate differently.

But from the beginning keeping it simple was the main objective. No goddamn clutter. No smoke and mirrors. It swelled and shrank and writhed in a bizarre gestation in front of me. And I think I love it.

It's titled "Paternity Suit" which is kind of a pun. The piece looks a little like a suit that someone has stepped out of from behind to go use the toilet or eat some granola. It's disjointed with a little elegance and not a little gross. I don't know how else to describe myself. It's also very sincere. Maybe I'll see some drastic shortcomings down the road, but it's opened up avenues for me. Every piece should have that return.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pride, Power and Punch Lines

J'Lea and I went to the Richard Avedon show at the ICP. Getting there from the MOMA was not the hop, skip, and jump it normally would be, though.
We swam through a crowd attending the Dominican Pride Parade surging down the Avenue of the Americas. It was pretty intense. Dudes in the street flexing shirtless for very enthusiastic girls in the crowd. Dancers on makeshift floats. Pumping music, much cheering.
It went right by the door of the ICP. I actually loved looking at the show inside with the cheering crowd and obscenely loud beats. The upbeat fashion photos received new life.

It was a creepy coincidence that a dozen or so of a specific series of Avedon's photos were there while Ensor showed at the MOMA nearby. J'Lea tells me that in Avedon's series in which a model poses with a skeleton the boney fellow has been speculated to be a stand-in for Avedon himself. This is when he was well aware of being ill and probably had mortality on his mind. Ensor depicts a lot of skeletons, too. Both he and Avedon have a penchant for images that are powerful despite (or maybe because of) their overt absurdity. Ensor particularly reads like a timeless joke with the resonance of a Proverb. It seems like the skeletons (especially in pieces like "Two Skeletons Fighting Over a Pickled Herring" or "Skeleton Drawing Fine Pranks") act as a slightly self-deprecating stand-in for him as well. Morbid and ridiculous. What an efficient way to sum up living.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Personal Land-Speed Record

This weekend trotted out of the gate with (I believe) Pittsburgh's first Visionary Arts Festival. It was loosely described to me some weeks ago as a blanket term for a gaggle of artists whose work could fit into a sense of mysticism. Ok, ok, but then... what?

Pittsburgh is the kind of town where an arts fest is still a reason to set up tents in a scenic area and make visual jumbleaya. It makes for little cultural impact, but it's relaxed. Very. It's a way to get people together and have something for tourist mags to write about. And some decent artists get attention, too.

And this is certainly no claim that no good work makes its way into the mix. It just has more of a County Fair feeling to it than an Art Basil one.
Maybe it's for this reason that the quantity of nude suggestive images of women felt right. Only, instead of tossing darts at targets or pennies into glasses to win posters of Pamela Anderson's tits you are meant to experience the works as art in a tent.
Mike Buddhai has been known to get lusty at times. Some newer images feature his cute-enough-to-puke animals and vampires screen printed over the nether regions of TNA magazine starlets.

Someone else was also experimenting with incorporating gratuitous images of loose women into multi-media pieces. Quite at home next to such lasciviousness was, of course, Cornell-esque little pieces cut into old texts about the seven deadly sins. Although, I don't think "Anger" was among the list of sins as the title to one of pieces would have us believe.

Then there was some electronic stuff. Some kids scribbling on giant paper. Some pretty digital prints. Some horrendous painting.

The standouts for me were Carly and Vanessa German. Carly's work I'd seen very little of. We're acquaintances, but the occasional fist pound revealed little to me as to how profound her private little world of image making has become. That's exactly what it is, too; a very private little world. That's only part of the reason it absolutely smacks of Alice Neel. In a very good way. The paintings there were all self-portraits and obviously done from life. Just very spare and honest and genuine. Not the most accomplished technically, but really the most straightforward impressive thing I've seen done in paint from someone in Pittsburgh in a long while. The nudity in her watercolors is so erotic, too. She paints herself from behind on all fours with both orifices deftly and clearly represented. Nearby are the water pots used to keep the brushes fresh. Nothing else is there. They're stark and so natural and off-putting simultaneously.
Thrown in among the paintings were boxes of ancient rotting fruit paired against her own body represented in paint. The connection doesn't seem emphasized, and Carly dresses like Keith Haring; very colorful, like someone you pay to entertain children, but rotting bananas next to nudes vibes in a specific way for better or for worse. She's so odd but sincere in her searching. That's rare for Pittsburgh. That honesty and private restlessness.

Vanessa German makes rather intense African-influenced pieces. Many are painted dolls with things like shells and bullets and bones incorporated. Sounds like a disaster, but it works. They're really engaging.

From the Visionary Arts Fest in Pittsburgh I went to New York for the remainder of the weekend. From trot to land-speed record. It's astounding. The Moldy Peaches sing that New York City is a graveyard. I love them, but I disagree.
Rob got the idea of going in order to see the Francis Bacon special exhibition at the Metropolitan. That was our first stop. I've long been at task to see what was so worthwhile about Bacon. I'd had very limited access to any of his work in person. The 65 paintings at the Met didn't produce any immediate response. Some were impactful, had an unfolding beyond flashy grotesquery and surface treatment.

I like that he squeezed the work down to the point of hit or miss. He trashed a lot of work we'll never see. I like his thoughts on the nature of removing the intellectual barriers between paint and viewer, but he's not a strong painter. He can compose really, really well. I think of David Hockney drinking too much and forgetting how to paint.

Some of it produced that "raw emotion grafted onto the nervous system" he talks about. I felt nauseous in front of one. When he paints his companion George Dryer it feels so much less sensational, grounded by the reality of human tragedy instead of some abstracted diatribe about how crappy life is.

Seeing that rhino skin-like surface on several of the paintings was really something, too. Bacon is easy to sensationalize. He's accessible, he was an alcoholic, and his filthy studio will always be emphasized. The Met put out displays of some of his actual magazine clippings, drawings, and photos spattered in filth. Nice touch.

James Ensor at the MOMA, though; that is something. I'd only been lightly familiar with his work. The Carnegie here in Pittsburgh has a great piece out on display. Seeing dozens more made him one of the most meaningful artists for me. It was one of the best exhibitions I've ever seen. Succinct to the point of being truncated. That's because his variety, dedication, and craftsmanship is rock solid across the board. I imagine a show twice the size would still fail to do justice to his output.

Whereas Bacon's handling of paint gets its power strictly from its earnestness, Ensor seduces you with one brushstroke, a few pencil lines. His genuine relationship to his materials alone would have carried him far.

But he LIVED his work. That made the difference. It's so truly strange and unapologetic. Some of it could be brilliant work coming out of a studio yesterday, and he worked 100 years ago. That's part of how he's like Goya; ahead of his time. Their drawings are similar, but Ensor's tragic human parody has more humor. Good Christ, the paint! He was a virtuouso, a wag, and a painter with more sincerity than most of my generation can muster.

Some pieces looked like Turner without all the austerity. I prefer it that way. Some looked like Vermeer with softened intensity.

While at the Met I made sure to visit some of my other favorites. The Howard Hodgkin and the late Philip Gustons. Ensor still won out over them for now.