Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I likes what I likes

A huge part of the development of my current body of work has been a process of stripping away layers of affectation that got stuck to my art as I learned to present myself as a sophisticated person. Part of appearing sophisticated was embodied, it seemed to me, by restraining or negating the visual pleasures that I had always had, and that everybody else had had (at least before they got an art education). The result of all this stripping away is that I make art that I'm pretty sure I would have liked as a kid and that I still like as an adult. I may be wrong about everyone else having the same taste for bright colors that I had right out of the womb, but I tell you what, I sure did.

I liked bright colors and funk, which is another taste that I secretly feel that all people have to make an effort to overcome. People who don't like funk had better have a good excuse, if you ask me (which they don't). Anyways, I found this video clip today. I loved this thing when I was five, and I love it now. I think a version of this, drawn by Marcel Dzama and colored by me, would be about the best art ever. The soundtrack would stay, of course.

In other news, my Senior Seminar students gave their artist's talks today, and I'm so proud of them. They were smart and honest and brave and engaged- awesome. They're having a show soon, and will be sending out invitations any minute now, so if you get one, go!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Today is Saint George's Day. I have a fascination with Saint George that is nothing to do with religion or any person named George- it's all about the bones of that dragon laying at his feet. Saint George is a great saint for the irreligious. The catholic church desanctified him a while ago, which makes him, to my mind, the Saint of Suspension of Disbelief. He was sainted for killing a dragon, and there are lots of other reasons to like Saint George For instance, after cutting the dragon up a little bit in the shape of a cross, he put the princess' girdle around its head and took it into the town, docile as a puppy dog.

That's where I stop liking the story. He killed the dragon after that, which seems unfair (although it had been chewing up children for years) and everybody got baptised all over the place, yadda yadda yadda.

But he seems also to be the saint of gardening, wrestlers and pilgrims. I weeded my garden this morning, so I've got the pilgrimage and the wrestling left. I am going to spend the rest of the day thinking about what dragon I'm going to kill next. I haven't painted any snakes lately, although I did a huge series of them for several years, but I'm thinking I may do something about Saint George's dragon and disbelief. I love the idea of killing a fiction.

I'm cutting paper for another huge piece today, and I'll eventually get what I've been up to posted on the website. I finished the small painting, decided that I CAN paint small but it irritates me beyond belief, and I've done some nice drawings and a decent watercolor that's got me thinking I should do more of them with the time I don't have.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Equal and opposite reaction

Today I started work on a tiny, tiny piece. I'm cutting all kinds of miniature stencils and trying to figure out if I can stand working small. If it aint one thing it's another.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

It's up!

On Friday I (or rather, the crack team of wunderkids at the airport) installed the piece in terminal F at the Philadelphia airport. It's called Exotic Narrative, and it will be up until September.

It turns out that it is great to show work at an airport: a HUGE number of people see your work. I knew this, but I didn't know it. It was overwhelming: it was a river of people. You don't notice it when you're in it, rushing to catch a plane or waiting with other people for your flight. The Director of exhibitions told me that 330,000 people come through the airport every month. When you are standing still in a busy corridor of terminal F and you unroll a large painting on the floor behind a line of stanchions, people talk to you about it. Constantly. They talk to each other about it, they make faces they think no one can see, they mutter behind their breath, they stop and watch you hang like you are an animal in the zoo. It's cool. We installed all day: from about 9 to about 4, and I'd say someone stopped and talked to us every ten minutes.

"Is that airbrush?"
"Did you make that? Really? You made that. That's good."
"How did you make that? That's nice. I like that. "
"Look honey, that's pretty- I like that."
"Oooh, that's beaoooteeful."
"Will you do my kid's room? My little girl would like that. She likes pink."
"Can I take a picture?"
"Is that a story?"
"What is that? That's good, it looks nice."

"Miss, miss, miss." (This from the professional harasser who was hawking Frequent Flyer Miles at a mostly oblivious crowd.)
"You the artist?"
"You have the most artistic hands I've ever seen."

He went back to harassing people: "I got frequent flyer miles, I'm giving em away, ten minutes only, oops, too late, you missed em, you sir! Do you have frequent flyer miles? I do, and I want to give them to you....Miss!"
" You have a lot of talent."
"I wasted mine a long time ago."
Now, I'd been watching this guy keep his spirits up for a good six hour shift of yelling at people who were ignoring him in a hallway, and I'd been listening to his patter, which was pretty stinking funny, all day long. So I was sure he was not without talent, but I couldn't figure out how to say that to him, so I just shoved out another cliche: "Never too late."
"You're right", he said, apparently satisfied, "Never too late, that's true. Never too late."

A red headed lady asked me if I was the artist. "So you made this?"
"Where else do you make these?"
"Anywhere anyone wants me to show them. I make them in my studio, but people put them up wherever."
"So you just make them?"
"Do you ever sell them?"
"Not really- they're pretty big. Sometimes I sell the small ones."
"So you just make them?"
"Huh." She wandered off, completely mystified.

Two very nice ladies wanted to know if they could take pictures. Several billion guys in airport jackets (baggage handlers?) said nice things, and almost all of them were funny. A guy on a cart drove up beside us. "This is very nice. Very good, don't you think?" We all nodded.
"I especially like that monkey I did." He said, then drove away as we all laughed.

Ursula, a lovely woman who is one of the installation team, told me that they always get a lot of comments about the art that they put up. The worst, she said was when they were taking down an exhibition about the Phillies and putting up a collection of antique ladies' hats. Everyone was sad about the Phillies going down, but one man said he liked the hats."Those are nice. I like those. I like those a lot."
"Really?" She said. He didn't seem the type.
"Oh yeah. Those must have been some fine women wearing those hats."

I'm really hoping to get some neat email responses to the piece. It meant a lot to me that people who aren't the typical contemporary art audience like the work. It was also great to talk to Leah, the director of the program, and Ursula, who had interesting things to say about the way I've translated my theories about beauty into this piece about fights between squirrels and monkeys and badgers. I left the airport feeling like I might be like a good pop artist: there are people who can't see what I'm doing with the content because they dismiss the pop forms, but the vast majority of viewers in a truly public space do see at least part of what I'm up to, and they like looking at it.

I don't think I'm a snob, but I think I had it in me to be one at some point years ago when I decided to make art using visual forms that scared me. There should have been no good reason that I was afraid to use bright colors, big scary snakes, and cartoons, but there was a time when I was afraid of alienating the kind of viewers who liked their art at a distance from the kinds of images that everyone understands. Deciding to attack those forms, to attack the side of myself that had learned what to avoid in order to make smart looking art, was the best decision I've ever made. It felt good right away to make work that I would have liked before I learned what I was supposed to like, and to try to push my intellectual content into forms that were visually rich and accessible. So now, ten years later, when I've been living with that for a while, it's gratifying to see that it's worked, to some extent, and it makes me extra grateful to the fine art people who are ballsy enough to get behind my work without patronizing it.

Tonight I'm going to watch, on Leah Douglas and Clint Takeda's recommendation, Pompoko, a movie with a cast that is almost entirely raccoons.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Images of the final piece

I finally put together and posted images of the completed piece for the airport. It's called Exotic Narrative, and it's online here. The image is large, so you may have to wait for it to load, and I'd avoid it if you have a slow modem. You should also know that this is also a working image: I'm getting the piece professionally photographed, but this version is crudely sewn together from several images in photoshop. I'm installing on Friday, and I'll try to take photos of the whole piece once it's up.

Putting work in an airport is fun. It's a little frightening in theory, but the Philadelphia Airport Exhibitions Initiative is great, and the prospect of having such a large piece in a place where so many people can see it is tremendously exciting. The exhibitions program staff assure me that I'll get lots of wacky email from people who were stuck in the airport with nothing to do but look at my work. And actually, what artist does NOT wish for a totally guilt-free opportunity to trap people into looking at their art? It seems pretty ideal to me. A friend of mine has a piece at the airport this month too, and she recently had occasion to fly out of the terminal where her work is: she said she was walking around in front of the piece holding the cover of a book that shows her work, hoping someone would notice, but no one did.

I'm so excited to see it all together-when I look at the images of each section that I put together in Photoshop all I can tell is that I have no idea what it will be like to see the whole thing stretched out in one big line.