Counterfeit Commonality

1. Wonder and Awe

2. Doubt

3. Forsakenness; retreat to self.

Karl Jaspers talked at me about this.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Staggering around doing the best we can.

Xmas came in like a lonesome coma. I languished in the resulting miasma most of the day. Out of bed, sure, but joined at the hip with a bottle of red wine and no bath; one doesn't really leave bed like this.

Back to Herzog for me. I opted to look into one of his earlier films, The Land of Silence and Darkness from 1971. He presents a number of German citizens who are all in various stages of being struck both blind and deaf. Some went deaf and then blind later in life, one after the other. Some were born into deafness to be followed by the loss of sight or vice versa. We follow a woman whom had taken a violent spill down some stairs as a child. The blow swiftly robbed her of sight and secluded her to her bed. Without warning her hearing began quickly to sputter and fail as well.

She communicates using a system developed over time via the palm of the hand. It's known as the tactile alphabet. Throughout the film she steadfastly displays a will of iron and unending energy. She slowly but emphatically employs the tactile alphabet in greeting old friends and new acquaintances alike.

Herzog shows us how each of these various people deals with the truncated sense of the world in which they find themselves. It ranges savagely from devout hope and will to lost animalistic ruin. A lot of that outcome, it seems, is a result of how loved ones and civilization in general reacted to the needs of the deaf-blind. If there was despair on the part of the disabled coupled with an unwillingness or inability of others to develop tactile communication and, therefore, stimulation then many of the deaf-blind in the cases presented became arrested in a solitary world perhaps fairly likened to autism. Locked away and drifting ever further beyond reach.

And as for those born under the veil of these two missing faculties it seems hopeless altogether. One woman training two young boys on the tactile alphabet admits severe limitations in her progress. A basic grasp of tactile communication doesn't necessarily mean that any abstract concepts are developed or understood. Communicating such ideas, it seems, is futile.

One of these boys lingers in Herzog's lens for prolonged periods. His movements and behavior are nearly indiscernible from what one could only liken to mental retardation. But nothing beyond the basic input of sight and sought is physiologically wrong with his brain. It's atrophy in regular development is the result of an impossible roadblock that forces his will into scattered offshoots. It is a state of being into which we have no insight.

What haunts me is the fragility of human powers of comprehension. Take away two of our main sensory inputs and I fear it is a very slippery slope to becoming a mindless animal.

One man was born blind. Up the age of 35 he retained his hearing, but that failed too. He had learned braille, but, astoundingly, that concept atrophied. He drifted out into the deep recesses of his mind and sought out the company of animals. He slept in a stable for years. His mother continued to care for him through all of this, but she fell short of seeking out proper care to ensure a line of communication should remain intact between the outside world and her son.

In some of the final shots of the film this middle aged man is introduced to the woman Herzog has focused on throughout. Communication is attempted, but fails of course. The man's polite reserved actions look like a faraway parody of social grace, a shadow of learned behavior. He rises from the benches where his mother (dressed like a widow and hidden behind large sunglasses) sits with the central woman and her guide.

As they chatter away about his state he wanders aimlessly behind in the grass. Completely on his own.

Herzog has something of a tendency to get surprisingly emotional in some of his earlier work. At least, in this film in particular.

Jackson Wyeth Davis III

I couldn't muster much interest in The Ecstasy of The Sculptor Stiener. Admittedly, I didn't know anything going into it, and it turns out to be a film about a ski flyer. Beautiful footage of jumps, but Swiss athlete Stiener isn't terribly interesting to me. I thought he was literally going to be a sculptor. I was a lot more interested in the workshop were he carved his overweight skis. Planks of wood. Multitude of chisels all hanging neatly overhead. Good stuff.

I like workshops. I always need one. Growing up wandering around my pop's workshop was invaluable. He kept everything. Now I do, too. Our ideas of usefulness are vastly different. He was set up for years in the first floor of an old renovated barn about fifty yards from our house in Pennsylvania. He was therefore my Jackson Pollack and my Andrew Wyeth. One whom I loathe and one whom I love. Don't worry, Dad. I love all of you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Xmas

There are a couple of days until xmas comes around again. I'm drinking borrowed wine.

But I'm not miserable despite the expectations of some. I've spent the day writing cards to some family and watching two films: Chaplin and The Wonder Boys. The link? Robert Downey Jr. of course.

What a phenom. I hadn't seen Chaplin in quite a few years. It's hurried along in some ways. The manner in which films were made during Chaplin's rise is a fascinating start to an ubiquitous industry. Downey honors Chaplin in performance and complexity. It seems he was not garrulous offscreen, either. Quarrelsome, devout to the point of stubborn, and absolutely a workaholic.


It's xmas, I'm out of Pittsburgh, but if and when I need to visit and cannot afford to (and I almost never can) I elect to watch Wonder Boys. It is set in my former modest city of former glory. They were smart enough to film it there, too. It honors the place so well. The rooms, the light, the cramped misery of architecture, the suffocating feeling of clumsy inward terror... All of that adds up to charm. The film gets it and makes me miss it. Sewickly and Braddock are both mentioned. These two neighborhoods could't be more diametrically opposed.

It isn't to say that Wonder Boys is so close to my heart because of any of that, though. It's a fantastic film on its own merit. Michael Douglas, Rob Downey Jr., Rip Torn, Frances McDormand; this cast is marvelous.

Chaplin makes me wish I were a performer. Wonder Boy makes me wish I were a writer. But my ability to write is just a performance, my desire to perform not worth writing about.

Anyway, I miss you in your own way, Pittsburgh. Your cheap drinks. Your choked lungs. Your insulated sense of the world...

Friday, November 26, 2010

The dreams of daytime workers are different. They feel more urgent. I've recently been switched over to the day shift at my workplace. I'm up at five or six in the morning and I'm not home again until five or six in the evening.

Readjusting the sleep schedule has made for less, lighter sleep, and, thus, more vivid dreams. I rarely remember dreams at all. But I've had very strong CSI superhero-themed dark stories populating my hours just on the other side of awake. Last night it was a story about Superman (sans the S swathed across his manly chest) being duped into death and regenerated in the form of growth-accelerated fetuses. These were all lined up in neat square boxes full of some manure concoction. At the evil genius' whim a new Superman could be birthed. Once incepted he would unknowingly perform whatever unseemly tasks his creator desired.

I am fully infected by nerd. I now breath the fluids of fantasy in my subconscious whereas previously my rarely recalled dreams were merely banal scenes of living. But under the hot breath of an unseen and malicious force. Anxious dreams, dreams of powerlessness and non-agency. I am now someone more willing to take the reins of his agency. Even in the good possibility that agency itself is a feeble illusion. It's worth the risk.

There, there

It's a seemingly inconsolable double helix away from which I cannot flee; the intertwining of brutal fact and the poetry of need. Werner Herzog does this to me. I always lose just enough of how much he manages to fling me into panic-stricken and emotionally raw territory that when it happens again, it is terrifying.

I watched another one of his films the other night, Encounters at the End of the World. Based on his usual completely unromantic motivations he travels to a compound in Antarctica. Ernest Shackleton's original ramshackle hut is still there preserved. Herzog's eye is always trained on brutality of fact. He shows us all the banality and the everyday unremarkable manners of people. Scientists and all manner of drifters are interviewed. Like the rest of us they're all beautiful losers. But not with disrespect, not with the youtube era's ubiquitous self-mocking and inability to pony up the courage to take our absurdity seriously.
I suppose that's Herzog's woven beauty. His unemotional presentation, his bias, when it does come through, is plain and direct often delivered in his own soft, unforgiving tenor. He tells me that whether or not it's going to be ok is irrelevant. He tells me that the world is so thoroughly logical, that benevolence doesn't seem to naturally bloom from logic. Benevolence isn't real, it's a tactic of sacrifice in the game of survival. If we proceed with the flimsy notion of compassion then we won't be reflections of the natural world, we'll survive. We can stave off the inevitable nothingness, which is to say that we can eschew the anxious coma it would induce to consider it at length and without distraction. Go to work. Eat something.

Herzog manages some really strange things. There's an unassuming shot of the sea bed under the ice that made me feel with absolute certainty that God is simply not there. He makes no bones about his view of the pitiless universe, nature's overriding cruelty. I suppose we're all trying to find a way to deal with that undeniable fact. Pick one. Go to work. Eat something.

I want more than anything to feel as though meaning is present. I suppose I mean that I want whatever I'm doing to not feel completely futile. Doesn't some echo of goodness carry to outward points? Doesn't it fade and die at some points and get picked up and pushed on at others? Isn't that what I've found and done all along? At least, where I'm not mired by the pseudo-agony of the specter of death.

I'm still not there. I never was, and I don't know what you're talking about.

I'm doing some audio exploring. It's more like I'm taking the sensibility of paint and trying to make some audio that feels like how paint can feel. Like I've never known anything and how blissful such a reprieve as this can be. I never knew, so I'm not reprehensible by any authority.

And He was 80 Years Old

I'm catching up on films. It's late. I just finished Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. In a synopsis teaser I glanced over before viewing it they mentioned that the director was 80 years old at the time of filming. Such fine actors. Such a grim story. It doesn't bode well for advancing in age. Nothing really does anymore. I'm just going to stay childlike, thanks. Not childish, mind you, but childlike.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All You Need is What You Need

Sure bets, true sutures, and other horse shit. That's what I wanted to title a one-man show in Pittsburgh before I skipped town. Dreams can come true. It can be inflicted on you.

"One other thing I've noticed about you; you find unabashed cruelty very funny." Elise Goldstein

I hear all. Very selectively.

I get an erection when somebody warns me that I could get fired.

So, I'm letting myself get mean. Or go mean, anyway. It's not as if we're not inherently capable. I've waited long, and now I have an ability to switch as soon as I like from infinite patience to sociopathic selfishness. Waiting is luxury. This fortune told me a few months ago that genius is infinite patience. Fuck that. Waiting quietly just makes everyone think you somehow know what's coming. Patience, my friend; to be read: I dunno.

Not that there isn't genius in bottom dwelling humility. Aha.

I forgo brushing my teeth too often lately.

I Want to Drink Like Edith Piaf

Some part of me deeply suspects that the real me is a reckless, all-but-useless megalomaniac. Prone to fits of ego one minute, groveling and self-loathing the next. Hitting turbulent lows has gotten me everywhere. That's just part of who I am. I can't pretend to be different. Or, when I do I come off as a detached sociopath.

Wait wait wait... I always forget. Fuck. Walking that rope of arrogance versus aggression. Let us try to discuss the difference between these two. For my purposes, arrogance has always been a sign of insecurity made functional by way of self-induced ignorance. If you close your eyes nothing goes away as much as it just recedes to the dark wings for a minute. Aggression; it's recklessness before you can think. That's a lot more valuable.

A survey asked me recently how important it was that their programming and funding be put toward individual growth of artists. Also, is it a bad situation, this seeming inability for arts institutions to take risks? First question: Very Important. Second one: Yes.

But is any of that applicable? What does it mean anymore? I don't know that I'm speaking the same language. No programming or institution has ever felt like home, like it personally got me anywhere. Some of them buy me time. I think that's as good as it gets. A step above hopeless, which counts for everything.

I can't wait for Xmas this year. It's the first one in all of my life in which I will not be at the house in which I grew up, not with my parents. Do I want to be away from them? No. I like watching the holidays denuded of their flimsy meaning. Skeletons teaching me to want food.

Friday, November 5, 2010


There are always experiences coming to claim your social composure and irreverently bend your will. These will inspire and teach you.

It's really just whether you're willing to lose yourself momentarily to something overwhelming. I get that in museums sometimes, almost never at galleries, more often than I can describe or to which I'd like to admit in a nondescript moment of seemingly banal living.

Elise is encouraging me toward the world of kink. It makes sense. I like my pleasure caught up with pain.

I was hurled into a test of endurance and a loss of composure recently. The ride on my bicycle to work takes me about eight miles south of my apartment. I had agreed yesterday to meet a friend at a coffee shop six or seven miles further south after work. So, after a night of insomnia and then a nine hour workday I headed south into heretofore unexplored terrain on my bicycle. South of the loop in Chicago is Pilsen, and then it gives way to the meatpacking district, open spaces, bad roads, some strange malevolence like cinder in the air at times. Then, you eventually cut east and get into Hyde Park. More upscale and student-based. Then the darkness overhead I had seen blowing in culminated in what was just the beginning of nasty weather. It began to hail and rain on me.

And honestly, I don't mind. Riding in the rain isn't really that bad. At this point I wasn't far from my destination anyway. The right amount of dampness had gotten into my clothes and set into place a chill that wouldn't subside for the rest of the night.

Meeting strangers is a mixed bag, I admit, but always worth it. I talked with a young lady for a little over an hour when she left abruptly to go and have dinner. It left me feeling somewhat stymied as to what kind of impression I must have made. But I put less and less of my time and energy into such speculations.

So, I suited up and pushed eastward toward the lakefront in order to take the trail north. The temperature had plummeted and the rain continued. Again, no complaints. I was looking forward to seeing the lake at night this far south. When I reached the shore and began to head north along the trail the wind revealed it's undiluted force on my person. It descended relentlessly like new gravity, like a nightmare torpor. Every inch was earned.

The choppy water to my right was beautiful. The moonlight caught the froth of each spastic crest and sent it glowing across the deep cerulean and violet-green plane of endless eastward water. The wind crushed me. It sent a fine spit of freezing water over me from the surface of the lake. My jaw fell into a rhythm of set determination and slack concentration. I knew I wanted every second of this. The opposition, the unending and unfeeling force. Alone and flailing just above hopelessness is a good place to go.

I was in the habit of taking long walks in blizzards when I was young, and I did it a number of times in my twenties. It's a liberation borne of realizing your limits. It teaches you about yourself with what I can only describe as perfect will. This is as opposed to the polluted (albeit very fascinating) will of other people who set out deliberately to teach you. It had been far, far too long since I'd set myself up to be torn apart by perfect will.

Something sizable was trotting along the trail ahead of me on four legs. We were squeezed together into a narrow strip of grass and trees between the city looming up on the left and the massive lake spitting and heaving on the right, a wild dog of some sort with black and green gleaming voids of eyes staring at me as we approached one another. As the distance closed the scenario's threat suddenly grabbed me and I had a moment of panic. This thing was eyeing me with pitiless holes, the pounding wind screaming in my ears had weakened my body, I really was at a point of helplessness and a dozen miles from home. And this thing was ready to set upon me with a will of raw focus not softened or made diffident by human consciousness. The tension peaked as we veered slightly away from one another and passed with defensive glares of mutual panic. It was a pact formed in the humiliation of the forces at work around us.

Such is the unsullied perfection of animal attack. Your pompous will and supposed superiority distilled from elevated levels of consciousness mean nothing in the face of the will of animals.

Onward the trail took me along the water's curving shore, up small inclines and through dejected clusters of naked shivering trees. Ghoulish isn't the right word. It was just a throbbing, lugubrious landscape of complete indifference. That small whimper that comes with physical fight for breath began quietly. I couldn't help but think of McCarthy's The Road. The seeming pointlessness of continuing. Small hopes can mean everything, and I knew that I had a warm shelter up north.

But being there, only there and completely of that moment meant everything to me. There was no desire to go west into downtown where the buildings would divert the wind and I could be among other people. None.

As I made a few mile's headway the waves began to pound upward teen or fifteen feet in the air beside me where concrete inlets gave the water a flimsy wall against which to rail. The winding trail provided small moments of reprieve from the wind. As I peaked a small hill the violent air would slam into me renewed and rob me of breath for few seconds. Once when this happened it threw my head back and slightly to the right. Out over the bay a thousand gleaming white buoyes tethered to one another in a beach inlet were bodies in my wild eyes carried up and down in the heaving bay. My horror was real. It was absolutely beautiful and horrifying.

And this brought me to remember with new vividness the impetus of all my creative drive: I have little to no use for beauty devoid of conflict. One of my favorite authors on art talks at length about visual pleasure and how there is no shame or limitation in it's pursuit. But I like my pleasure caught up with pain.

The little whimper had by now bloomed into an earnest stifled yelp, just another lost noise in the cacophonous world around me. Ohio Beach is a cement tomb on the bay, but the spray frothed over it's edge, water protruded upward in pulsing monoliths like tongues of seizing titans and fell upon the concrete land. And still the wind railed in my contorted face, against my wasted frame bent ludicrously over the handlebars in aching locomotion. And on we go. Or not.

The path narrowed and arced around the lakeside wall of the science museum. Constructed entirely of an embankment of glass and metal, it afforded me a view into calm caves and still water in a large display enclosure. My slack and stupid face stared into that surreal and synthetic quiet. My throat involuntarily bellowed out useless jumbles of vowels and consonants from a shapeless mouth as the city skyline exploded around the bend full of beads of light and shadowy congruence. Before I could process that shift of presence twelve feet of dark lake water slithered almost soundlessly straight up into the air against the wall to my right and fell back into the blackness. It fell with perfect grace. As though it were teaching me.

Four miles from home I finally cut to the west through a tunnel beneath Lake Short Drive. It failed to cast out the wind. Emerging into the downtown area in my state was akin to staggering out of bar into the daylight. The context underlined my relinquishment of affected grace. Wanderers there looked oblivious.

Still, the wind found me at points. I couldn't help but think of the furies. Every opposition encountered is generated from my own doing, not quite karmic, not quite Catholic guilt. Eventually I arrived home closer to the verge of collapse than I've been in some time.

I had forgotten that Elise and Jason were entertaining a guest. So, it was not without some awkwardness that I staggered half crazed into the warm, calm room quietly aglow with conversation. I felt like I had returned from a vision quest. I offered my frozen, wet and numb hand to our visitor and then went to my room to try and struggle out of clinging clothes. Elise kicked into Jewish Mother mode. She listened patiently to my nearly incomprehensible and feeble outbursts about the preceding hour while she warmed her buckwheat pillow in the microwave. This she draped around my neck. I deposited my ruined form into my handy shut-in pants and a dry sweater. I nestled hunched and dumb under a blanket in the living room. The conversation went on with my added presence like a nearly comatose hysteric. If that's possible.

I don't know that my 20's went without enough recklessness. I certainly don't feel regret, but my remembrance is tempered with a new understanding that my growth is largely stagnant without opposition, without forces all too eager to tell me how my love can always be expanded and somehow simultaneously focused.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Won't Really Paint Again Until Something Perverse Happens

Luc Tuymans

Something delicious and perverse needs to goad me. Otherwise genuine painting will remain out of reach. I just don't think it can happen. Or, at least, it will be a different kind of imagery and treatment than I want to communicate my life's findings. I think that means that I don't want to bore anyone, least of all myself.

Conversations with my friend Elise are hard. She's smarter than me any day of the week. Compound that with her hunger for meaning and her voracious appetite for self-knowledge and you have a very formidable artist. Not all, not even many of the conversations are difficult. But I know she can tell that I'm floating in a dense ether right now, and she's demanding that I come out. So, we're talking about God. Or god. About our relationship to meaning and sex and how we want to die elegantly.

At any rate, she and I both know that I need to get laid. Something is building.

As I advance in age I find it more subtle, the line between thinking you're getting dumber and realizing that you're becoming more refined in your needs and how to meet them. So, patience for certain barriers becomes less. By 'refined' I do not mean calm. Those two are too readily associated. I mean efficient, and I need to efficiently streamline my need to have and absorb and process carnal human experiences. It's more than getting action. I know where that can get me, and contact means a lot to me and my work in so many of it's various implications.

Elise says that my logic is opaque. That's true, in a way, but I suspect that it's also too inchoate. It always has been. The way I feel, I've always been terrified of falling too short in transmuting that to some form of expression. It's all limited, and I do realize more and more that my internal experience isn't unique, so what's my deal? Folks, it's always a matter of security. I'm also terrified to face the possibility that I'm worthless. Then, it's into the river.

I can see through the you you've constructed to the one you're protecting. I love them, but I know it's too much to ask that I get to interact directly. How often do we really get that in a lifetime? Nearly never. Maybe definitely never. Is that the drive to have children, to be directly in contact with someone (albeit something largely unformed) before they slip away forever?

Art is an externalized security filter to me. Risky, serious, worthwhile art, that is.

Tuymans took my Composure

Luc Tuymans

My friend Rob, I've mentioned, he and I have challenged one another to become a monk in regard to our painting. I'm more spiritual, he's more... monkish. At any rate, he's been berating me for a little while for having missed the Luc Tuymans show he traveled to New York to see. Well, Tuymans is here at my local MCA in Chicago, so I sauntered down there relishing the fact that Rob's Pittsburgh will never bring a contemporary painter of such caliber. Ever. Ha ha. Eat that, Rob.

I've not been entirely sure what I thought of Tuymans, but I developed something of a crush and fascination a good while back. My affections used to be reserved for his younger counterpart, Wilhelm Sasnal. Counterpart? At least, so many critics and writers want them paired.
I knew I'd get something significant out of the show, but really I felt overwhelmed in front of more than one of the pieces. I can pinpoint four of them that felt like a punch in the stomach. True, I'd been a bit starved of really impactfull painting, but that wasn't the only thing at play. Tuymans really shows you something. It is somewhat hit or miss, but the consistent level of ruthless focus for the most part is more than a little boggling.

It's a consistency in each individual piece, too. His is a focus I can't overemphasize. It doesn't happen in so much young work I see.
And therein lies a struggle I've encountered lately: I've decided that part of my beef with Francis Bacon is that his is imagery and handling that is declarative rather than exploratory. That's how it presents.

But now I see that in Tuymans done with more of an idea of collective human responsibility. His tone is not leaden with Frankie's fact, but it soars and penetrates in a way that an idea can subvert what you thought you had a firmer grasp on in regards to the world's basic function. Bacon just preaches his nihilistic arrogance. He isn't conflicted, just inflated.

Francis Bacon

Luc Tuymans

Tuymans' process is all readily available right there in front of you. He's usually beginning on unstretched linen. You can often see the penciled square around the perimeter of the finished stretched work. Sometimes the pencil sketching comes through on the image surface, too. And then there is a deliberateness and efficiency of paint and mark that happens which could easily fail and read like ADHD or lack of commitment, but his focus comes through and gives the picture this unsettling growl-in-a-void kind of feel. It goes. Not all of them did it for me, some more readily than others, but when it goes it glowers at you.

Luc Tuymans

Thursday, July 8, 2010


What's news? A relocation to Chicago has found me 12 pounds lighter, more tan, more resilient, and pining for some of Pittsburgh's hills.

I've been a resident of Chicago for a month now. One single move by car with a small Uhaul trailer. Most of everything I brought was work and studio related. I'd say a good ninety six percent. Ridiculous. It drove home the realization of my arranging and rearranging my life in order to accommodate making things for the past fifteen years.

C'mon man and rain down on me

My first night here I moved all of my belongs up to our third floor apartment in Roscoe Village. Elise and I had beers. I was out of sorts but elated. I had no bed yet so I (happily) nestled into Elise's couch (think of a burlesque house where Sesame and Bourbon intersect and you can see this couch). The windows were open right over my head and between three and four in the morning a sudden and torrential downpour broke out. Violent and ferocious on the tree limbs just outside.
It was lovely. I love summer storms. Then a shock went through my body as I realized I'd left my much beloved bicycle, Ettiene, out on the second floor deck. Fucking hell.

I sprang out of couch, threw on the filthy shorts I'd worn during the drive and clambered outside to retrieve him. A waterfall of freezing water coming off of the sloped third story roof nearly sent me into shock. I scooped up Ettiene and turned to run back up the stairs only to find that the door had shut and locked behind me. I was outside in a torrential downpour in nothing but a pair of shorts with no keys or phone. Elise did eventually hear my pleas and let me back inside. Ettiene went into the bathtub for the night. Shivering and feeling like I was swimming through a dream I toweled off and went back to sleep.

Missing: 12 pounds of boy-man

So, I think all the time biking the eight miles to and from work would have made me more tan by now if I were still dimensional enough to cast a shadow. I've shed weight but I'm making a conscious effort to up my intake at meals.

Hell Raiser Bun Bun

Thrifting and vintage shopping in Chicago is incredible. It's a goldmine. My favorite find by far as of yet is a ten inch ceramic rabbit whom I'm fairly certain has absorbed the bubonic plague. I saw it on a shelf with other castoffs at a Village Discount. From a distance it grabbed me and when I got close and picked him up for a good look I almost vomited. So, I knew I had to have him.

Lost Twin

Elise and I are of the same blood. I adore her and I love living with she and her boy Jason. Elise is a performance and installation artist. Our work springs from the same place but manifests completely different. She moms me. It's good, I need it. I get her laughing. It's good, she needs it.

Move, Goddammit

The paint is just moving again. The newest chamber is the smallest I've yet had, but quite adequate. Putting up one of the larger paintings is akin to being trapped in a small room with a large unpredictable animal. We're pinned together in a much more urgent way. Proximity is my latest element of emphasis. The music waves over me like a good massage in a small room, too.

The room already feels rich with cultivation and fermentation. The work and I, we coerce one another into behaviors very intensely very quickly in a small well-lit space.

New Enablers

We live almost directly above two key locations: A bar and a thrift store. We finally met one of the bartenders recently. Amiable, and forthcoming. Now he remembers me and it seems like we'll get along well enough. There's an older photo booth in the bar. Good way to get actual photo documentation of how much money I will drink in the next year. I think the bartender will react alright when I inevitably misbehave in the future.

A History of Bad Rock

The bartender, John, has revealed to us that our apartment is the former residence of one Fall Out Boy. Ok.


Elise and I have been shopping for a dog. We need a mammal around. Cats are preferred by me, but Jason is allergic. We test walked a little guy named Gandolf from a local shelter, but he's strangely detached. Actually, he behaves a little like a cat. Another heavy hitter was a French Bulldog puppy we were going to call Bruce (after Mr. Wayne) but he's too expensive. And he'll probably shit on the floor.

The Vinyl Say

I ponied up the cash, bought a record player. It's a very charming thing from a local vintage shop. Talking down the price didn't require much effort. I even got a free Ray Charles record with it. So whenever I can I will very slowly and with heavy consideration collect some vinyl. Lady Holiday is here already, and some $.99 records that seem like decent finds. Elise is also very enthusiastic about this avenue.

Tenderly Burn What is Left of Me

So far, so good. I'm not sure how I fit in here but I feel settled. Everyone still thinks I'm strange. Even Elise, but we're siblings. Paint is moving more, but I remain skeptical that I'll find gallery support.
I've been reading an autobiography of William Segal. He was a boy born in Macon, Georgia long ago. A great athlete growing up, and then a great publishing entreprenuer. Best known for Gentry. From the fifties through the nineties of the last century he studied mainly Zen meditation, painted, and pursued the work and company of such esoterics as G.I. Gurdjieff. A smart, somewhat brash and very compassionate man. It's been a life that was meant to fall into my realm of consciousness at the right juncture.

There is much concentration on a state of no-thing related heavily, of course, to Zen Buddhist meditation. There was one very beautiful phrase someone uttered to him, the state one reaches in meditation when one "is breathed" rather than breathing. This is a oneness, a path to the connectivity of being to the real world of no-thing.

He speaks beautifully and right on the mark about how I feel about paintings's connection to oneness, to a level of consciousness and love beyond intellectualization.

But really, the jury is still out on my feelings about Chicago. I've not been out much. People seem to make communication a low priority. At a year's mark, or even ten months, I'll be very attune as to whether a longer stay is appropriate.

Chicago's an Asshole

Yep. This is another month later. Parking tickets like a motherfucker. Ok. Only two, but they add up to $110 I don't have.
No matter how much one tells one's self that one will inevitably eat shit for months when one moves to a new city one cannot help but despair some in between mouthfuls of shit. Mmmmhmm.
It's mostly financial I suppose. And it won't kill me to have to eschew bourbon for a while. That part is easy, but couple that with being quite alone working for shit money, being completely uninterested in romantic entanglement, etcetera, blah, blah, blah, whine.

First arrival brought a heavy dose of William Segal and therefore Gurdjieff's teachings into my life. All of that is processing, but I feel numb and feverish and exhausted and in a malaise of sorts.

I'm making a broader range of work. I like it and it's emotionally messy, and what's more I don't care who doesn't respond. Not as much as I used to. It springs from a place of sincerity I cannot fake in my haggard state. So fuck 'em. Chicago's filthy lesson. I know how to keep it all close to the chest and be colder than anyone. Reading peoples' insecurities coming through their actions and words is like braille to a blind man for me. You don't think I see but I do.


I'm dredging my character to test my aggressiveness again. It's a survival tactic. It's crude and cruel at times right now, but it falls back into a graceful assertiveness after the airing out. I even yelled "TURN SIGNAL, MOTHERFUCKER!!!" into a cab driver's window today in heavy traffic. It felt goooood.

I'm 30 and I belong to no one and I belong nowhere.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Vanity Now! Rapist Clowns!

Ryan Sigesmund and Kate Hagerty are two good friends. They're an adorable couple who are both photographers. They were good enough to come by the cave and document newer work for me before I vacate Pittsburgh for Chicago.

It was a fun exercise in casual documentation of documentation of presentation of cave activities. Ryan photographed paintings and multimedia pieces from his tripod. Kate roamed taking photos of the yeast and fermenting materials I've collected, the tools in various states of rot and wear, and me in various states of wear and rot. We all love to tell jokes:

Kate: Heh heh...

Brett: What?

Kate: A little boy in a chef's hat is playing on the sidewalk when a clown in a pickup truck pulls up and parks beside him. "Hey, there, kid. Get in and I'll give you a ride." The boy innocently consents and they drive in silence for a minute before the clown asks him "Do you know what a pedophile is?" The boy scrunches up his face in boyish concentration and says "No."
They drive on and after another minute the clown asks "Do you know what fellatio is?" Again, after a moment the boys says "No."

Another minute passes and clown again turns to the boy and asks "Do you know what anal rape is?" and the boys says "No, and listen, I think you're confused. I'm not really a chef."

Brett and Kate: HA ha haha!

Ryan: I think I missed something.

We ate bagels with cream cheese and young coconut and french press coffee. We got wired.

People like Ryan and Kate keep me alive.

I've always been able to admit that there is something of a performer in me. Even with my visual work. I think my body is in there all the time. Sure, that means I chew on mortality a lot, but I recognize something else body oriented, too. It feels more like the manifestations of our ability to discuss our thing-ness and whether this has cogent agency or identity with anything nonphysical. Or if there is no nonphysical all we do is really just another emphasis of absurdity. You don't get away from absurdity. You just don't. But how do you cope with it?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Your Flesh is my Vittles

I halped ma frend make a film. I wuz good he say. I eat my work mate.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Through a lens. Now oblong, now backward.

Transformation is key. It happens regardless of our pathetic wills, but it can be harnessed, shaped and influenced at least. Or so it seems. Thus we have things like "identities" and art. Physical manifestations leave some nice trails to follow, some crude documentation of the flux to which we are beholden.

I went over the handlebars recently. Dumb and perfect. The best experiences are usually humbling. Otherwise we're just riding on empty air thinking nonsense about being untouchable. So I'm transformed and reevaluated through the lens of some permanent scarring. I haven't been able to get the taste of dirty asphalt and ground teeth out of my mouth.

Someday someone is going to cut me in half. Some kind of transformation is always ready to break you down. I like Chuck Palahnuk's book "Invisible Monsters." Mostly at any rate. It plays heavily on the themes of enduring an event from which you cannot recover and the unreliable flimsiness of appearance. The main character (spoiler alert here, if anyone reads) turns out to have shot herself in the face. It took off her jaw. Who you are to yourself transmutates out of its stiff predecessor in key ways after such trauma. People whom realign in the wake are profound in a way I've long admired.

The solo show for which I was gearing up has been cancelled. Or, rather, I cancelled it. The space isn't right, the work needs more fermenting. And I want more of it. It's refreshing to work in the studio without two layers and a parka for a half hour at a time.

This was a good piece I saw at Space Gallery:

I like its timing. Gravity is, of course, a major player. But is it on or off? Is this the moment when this figure perishes and is transformed forever? Earth and body become one again. It's also as though the duality of the movement (up and down) manages to suggest an outward release of something like a spirit from the body's suddenly dead vessel. Blood in the soil, ashes in the wind.

Veruca la'Piranha is a friend of mine. She performs at drag shows that have been going on at The Blue Moon. It's an impressive affair. Themed, with edgy and creatively repurposed clothing and accessories, great music and performance. It can even get dangerous and messy. Objects get broken on stage and various fluids spray the crowd at times. Money is thrown. Gay and straight alike people the small room. It riles up the spirit in a way probably something like what punk rock used to do.

Veruca was assaulted recently. In my neighborhood not more than a block from where I live, no less. Her daily conceptual transformations are cross referenced now with unforeseeable physical transformations. It's made me livid, to think of people harming and aggressing. But I know that Veruca will transform outward from this, too. Realigned.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Frosty spoon, babies, maggots, Truman Capote, ceramic Adam and Eve, shark grave,

The tail end of my week off from my day job. It was Holden Caufield attempts a bacchanal. Or some such thing. Drinking makes me sharp the next day. It's a lucid focus, but I'm not purporting some devotion to a drunken master style of art making. It's a method. Nothing more.

The aviary on the North Side of Pittsburgh is pretty impressive. The first birds you see are goofy-looking eagles and macaws. Then penguins. They've been slaughtered by superstitious folk in countries into which they've been imported because they were thought to be trolls. True or false?

I went there with Ange and her kid, Sophie. It was great. I was hazy and jubilant.

Gina and her kids were there, too. Her kids seem to like me more than Sophie. I think I freak her out.

The aviary folk were feeding maggots to some of the birds in the large tropical room. Musty and pulsing with airborne fluid like a giant mouth.

From there to great coffee and Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms. It's an early novel of his and it's quite good. Some passages flow like honey and gold.

Over to The Society for Contemporary Craft. It's tucked away in the Strip District near the golden-domed church. A ceramic show. Eden imagery. Some of it really knocked me down.

A long walk up Smallman to Butler, up Butler past some teenage hecklers and into the Allegheny graveyard. My first wander around the grounds. What a sight! The overcast and merciless light was perfect. And, like an audible fart in a French cinema, the infamous JAWS gravestone:

I got a little lost for a while but I certainly didn't care. Will Oldham in the ears, sharp, cold light, wriggling trees desperate for the sky, and coagulated earth. Lose me. Ideas came on like the stickiness of gracefully delivered but shockingly bad news.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I'm Almost Human

I've accrued some paid time off hours for my day job. Enough that I scheduled a week for myself. It coincided quite nicely with a gorgeous turn in the weather.

It's remarkable having my day for me. There is little sleep. I don't want a minute wasted. Mostly this time is to set out the final surge for my first solo show opening in May.

I think the work is strong, but I'm forever remiss to grant myself any room for congratulations. There should be more. More depth, more scope and focus. And less. Less fuss, less guided-ness.

The city is breathing a sigh of relief in the weather's reprieve. I walk the dogs. I drink a lot of coffee and get back on my bicycle for longer rides. The studio work goes, but it's studied and slow. It's the opposite of feeling sure but somehow knowing.

I like having some visitors, too. Heather White came over today. We ate some breakfast and poked around in each other's studios. She's a behemoth of energy and mental organization. We both like personal debris and beloved garbage. I feel at times as though I'm her slow-witted cousin who never went to school. Or something like that. But talking with her is a really nice reminder that need takes precedence over procedure in our art making.

Good things lately:

Matthew Collings' latest Diary column in Modern Painters

The Goya etchings in the special exhibition at the Carnegie. The Fragonards and Daumiers and Hogarths look stiff and dated compared to his. So much conviction and power. Some kind of haunting.

Gooey brie on apples.


New pair of jodhpurs. New belt, too.

Some glimpses of something with power in some parts of some of the new work.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Heaving in the Mind

My friend Jamie makes art about our failures as humans in the form of culture. I think he means that culture is always incomplete. It services us for so long depending on various factors, but ultimately it fails in its timeless and universal scope. I think that's what he's saying in a lot of ways.

We've shown together numerous times. Our work takes pretty different forms. But some of the impetus is quite similar. I think of failure a lot. Not my own in some small-scale quasi tragedy, but as human experience en masse. Always just falling short of what meaning there could be and some calling it the unfathomable and building a religion while others call it impatience on our part and scoff at anxiety.

Jamie Adams "Battle Popes" 2007 multi-plate woodcut

In my own small way I'm always making work about being overwhelmed. Anxiety comes into it as a big theme. The acceptance of mortality is really important to me. I find that grace occurs when we submit to that realization not with passivity but with the attitude that strings of inevitability engage our senses endlessly.

Lately I've realized that my images center around trauma not in a direct way, but in a way perhaps more horrible when fed through memory over and over again. Leonardo Da Vinci said that painting moves in the mind. I find that to be more and more true the more I get involved with painting. That's how I mean to paint. I think that's a huge part of its power. It moves in the mind immediately and simultaneously it unfolds endlessly as though one could get the feel of a novel at a glance and yet find undulations of engagement on a visceral level over long periods of time too. Good painting says something when it makes its noise. More people could make good paintings if they concentrated on just that simple notion: How do I make it good?

So, my figures are patchy. Every mark is really toiled over on the surfaces so they're taking a long, long time to make. That's rather fine with me. I can't abide painting forms. I don't really know why outside of knowing that I can't abide the arrogance of purely perceptual inclinations presented as facts. Not from me anyway. Previous abstract work was a brash and floundering attempt at building forms of doom. These figures come from the same place, but I feel I have worked into a more sophisticated focus in the mark making and color. The doom has a better idea of itself anymore.

It all adds up to these floating collections of bruises. It feels successful sometimes in that way where it moves like the memory of flesh in my mind. Heaving or breathing shallow, twisting, immovable but falling apart. Moving with love and the consequences of mortality. It has little to do with culture outside of self-awareness. It's certainly a reaction to culture, but not one that's significantly different than someone reflecting on where they were, say, in 1110 A.D. And I'm a product of my time. That's what I meant by inevitability in some ways.

Living is the widening circle to death. There is nothing worth living for, as the process bows to the result. Everything is worth dying for.

Friday, February 12, 2010


It cannot but too often seem as though it's look here, look here, LOOK HERE GODDAMMMITT. Either that or crouching low and keeping your entrails tucked away. For what? And when?

For some, sometimes called 'that', slippery initiative that supposedly transcends our skin and pulse. To a quick place of no time? Hmmm... been chewed on for millennia. No assurance now, nor soon, nor later. So faith it is. But logic beats that with a stick every day. No? Not every day? One begets the other, perhaps?

And why always perhaps? Someone explain to me the meaningful difference between rot and fermentation. The latter is great, but it's turning point can only be divined by trial and error. And then mostly through the latter again.

We're snowed in here in rickety Pittsburgh. I've got a blood blister the size of a dime on my left hand. The kerosene heater pop gave me over xmas actually does some good in a studio that is essentially just a wooden building with no heat. From the outside it looks to one as though they may be in luck if they're seeking lawn and garden equipment in clean order. But the inside drops down ten feet more and it's actually a turn of the century horse stable naked and creaking and abiding the new absurdity of one animal over others long dead. One more while blackened roof beams look on.

Filth and ferment and turnover and some guise for transcendence. Not escape, mind you, but realignment of things to accommodate deeper living. Deeper than what? Deeper than what a pokey academic mind can follow in books. Not dull, but not exactly leaving a good trail to follow either. Kerosene+turpentine+lead+cobalt+or-a few hundred thousand steps et viola! A few seconds distilled.

A shaman, an alchemist, and an astronomer walk into a barn and the astronomer reveals a handful of semen with a pathetic look while the other two laugh for different reasons.