Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pumpkinhead, oh pumpkinhead

Man I love Halloween. And I love Philadelphia. And I dare you not to love the kids that came to my door this year.

I couldn't really see what I was doing because I was busy giving out goodies and it was very dark but my pictures came out really well. Some of the kids got really excited about being photographed and struck poses. They held their tough stances long enough for my interminably slow camera to flash, then they broke out and turned completely sweet and shy when they asked to see the pictures. The little badasses kill me.

When I was little I thought Halloween was the one night a year when kids took over, when we could go from house to house threatening people into giving us candy. I thought we were ripping off the Man, man. But it's a fair exchange. It's worth way more than candy to see the costumes.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Being Declarative

I finished a new piece that I'm calling Declaration.

I'm very pleased with it. Here's a detail.

I've been doing text pieces for a while now, but something snapped into place in my head when I was working on this one. I'm going to keep doing these: they allow me to answer a lot of the questions I couldn't address in the large airbrushed pieces. I've always been interested in narrative structures: my big paintings use literary devices like plots and subplots, suspense, disguises and lies. (The lie strikes me as an essentially literary form- maybe the disguise is the pictorial representation of the lie. ) Anyways, my interest has always been quite squarely in the middle of the two- between the lie told and the face of the person telling it.

But people rarely get to that level with the big work. Part of the problem is of my own making. I'm so interested in using accessible, pleasurable visual forms that a certain kind of viewer assumes that what I'm saying must be as easily accessible as how I'm saying it. It's usually not. These text pieces don't let me hide what I'm thinking at all: I'm just saying it. And rather than writing it down, which has never worked for me, I can make the text include both pictorial and literary ideas. There's no point, for me, in having a rock hyrax say something if I can't draw a picture of a rock hyrax.

This piece is about the problem of being declarative. There are bigger images of it on my website here.

There's also an interesting, twisty snake of a little article that touches on the reasons I'm interested in using the kinds of visual pleasure that we associate with simple content here, but that's not why anyone should read it. It's a good article- enraging and redeeming in turns. It's about lip gloss, camp, and irony, and it makes a person glad to live in Philadelphia, where there's no question of "living" ones "life". Philadelphia is not a place that tolerates too many quotation marks. You can get beat up for looking too ironic.

Cleveland Coincidence

My virtual life is lagging about a week behind my real life. I've got things to say about yesterday and today, but I haven't finished writing about last weekend yet, much less last Wednesday. I'm not sure I'll ever catch up. I blame my processor.

I could just skip last weekend, but that would be depriving myself of the ability to relate one of the coolest coincidences ever to befall a woman with a blog.

Here's the story. I went to Cleveland to celebrate a friend's wedding. We had about three hours to kill before the party, so I decided we should visit the zoo. Visiting zoos in strange cities is one of my favorite things to do when I don't have time to see a museum. Two hours in a new museum would make me feel like I'd been ripped off- two hours in a new zoo is always a bonus.

So off we went, through the hinterlands of detour-ridden Cleveland to the zoo, which was so close to closing by the time we got there that the ticket takers ignored us. We raced in, wanting to see as much as we could in the 45 minutes before the place closed.

First thing we came upon?

Rock Hyraxes! My favorite animal.

Rock hyraxes, besides having the best faces ever, are related to elephants by way of the wooly mammoth.

They're fantastic.

If you don't believe me about their claims to mammoth relatives, you can read about that here.

Or you can just look at their badassed little tusks.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I went to see Gagosian talk to a bunch of Wharton School of Business students at Penn early this week. Or rather, I saw a big screen with a blurry image of Gagosian on it in a room with a bunch of Wharton business students. I was a little late so I was directed to the simulcast, which was a new and odd experience for me. A woman at the door gave me a little pink slip of paper and indicated in hushed tones that I was allowed to stand in the back, despite the fact that there were plenty of open seats. I stood for a few minutes, saw other people being granted the pink slips, and then took a chair on the other side of the room, crumpling my pink slip in my hand. I never did discover what those slips were supposed to be for, and I'm still not sure what the purpose of the simulcast is, except that like the pink slip, it incited a kind of rebellion.

Gagosian was being interviewed by a collector who had bought several pieces from him, and the two of them had a sort of bonhomie rapport that couldn't quite squeeze its way through the wires into the room with the simulcast. One or the other of them would make some dopey joke, and the whole audience in the room where the real talk was taking place would laugh, not because it was funny, but because they were right in front of them, so they laughed out of politeness, or in order to show sympathy with the powerful men in front of them or something. Not so in the simulcast room. Our laughs came later, when the collector guy's high pitched peals of monkeyfried laughter echoed weirdly through the microphone, or, occasionally, when Gagosian said something a little too disingenuous.

It was an interesting talk, but interesting in a way that made me want to watch the whole thing simulcast into my bedroom, which I would paint black for the occasion, wearing a pair of sweatpants I've worn for about a month, staring at the ceiling with Pink Floyd's The Wall playing on repeat. I had difficulty keeping my neck muscles stiff during the talk- my head kept drifting towards the desk. The highlight was when he said something along the lines of, "If a collector buys a piece of art because they love it and the value goes down they won't like looking at it as much."

Luckily, though, I was in the room with the simulcast. So when I flinched, so did other people in the room.

The talk struck me as the antidote to a poetry festival. Poetry festivals are full of people fighting for a lost cause. This should give them a lot in common with gallerists, who are engaged in the same battle. I think the difference might be that gallerists sometimes win, and winning big enough makes it possible to forget what the fight was for in the first place.

I'm not sure.

But I'd rather be here

This was the Dodge Poetry Festival.

And this was its snake.

I hope to be posting more soon: I have news about animal sightings, a new piece, stuff I want to say about upside-down world and lots of new pictures, but I'm a little behind. In the meantime, to cheer you up, here's the Ambien Cookbook.

Monday, October 02, 2006


My darling, may I introduce the shower?
It is warm, and you need not
Fear bears.

Okay, so I just got back from camping at the Dodge Poetry Festival. Which, it turns out, is where we all want to be. Take it from me, or if not, take it from Mark Doty, who referred to it as "this ineffable Brigadoon." He was standing on stage getting ready to read on the last day of the festival and after he said that he rolled the words around in his mouth to see if he'd gotten them right. "Yeah, it is." He said, considering, "because it reappears."

Mark Doty

The Dodge Poetry festival happens every two years, and there's no adequate way of explaining how wonderful it is except this: imagine that several thousand smart, very unpretentious people have trekked out to the middle of nowhere at 8 am to listen to a bunch of freaking geniuses who have spent their lives putting the best language they have behind their most hidden, funny, humble and transcendent thoughts.

And then imagine that every time you heard a poem that took your breath away, or made you want to cry, or made you laugh everyone else there got it, and clapped, or laughed, or gasped. And imagine it was organized by a gentle man who, when he wanted the audience to shut up and stop talking over the music said, "I'm going to be a little schoolmarmish for a minute here…Well, our next performer is coming up, and…I would ask you to do me a favor. And listen. It's not wallpaper." And then 1000 people did, and the music was great.

There was a feeling of being in love. With people who were smart enough to feel it too, and not in such a way that they were going to hug you or the tree next to them without an introduction. It was more that nobody honked when we were all trying to get out of the parking lot, and that people smiled shyly at each other and compared notes on the Black Bean Burgers.

I wasn't really a poetry freak before I went, but I am now. I bought a billion books. Taha Muhammed Ali's So What, Galway Kinnell's Book of Nightmares, Jorie Graham's Never, The Essential Rumi, Anne Waldman's Marriage: A Sentence and Billy Collins' Sailing Alone Around the Room. I've been reading that one today. I'm infatuated with Billy Collins' poetry since hearing him read yesterday.

I liked this one, which he said was written in response to that portentious genre of poems that use the occasion of the poet's birthday to look back on lost innocence.

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

You can listen to him here. I suggest "Night Club".

I was really looking forward to seeing Jorie Graham, whose Collected Poems I'd been reading for a while. I didn't know anything about her, but imagined someone who looked a lot like Terry Gross, for some reason, which was just totally off.

Terry Gross

Jorie Graham (accepting the Pulitzer Prize! Go Jorie!)

The pictures don't do the contrast justice. The woman was swathed in scarves, had big lion hair, arche boots and black pants with some kind of shiny things on them- sequins? Rivets? I couldn't tell, because I was dazzled by her. She was articulate in some completely foreign way that seemed like it should have been familiar- as if she had been possessed by some crazy Muse of Articulation that she'd run across in some cave or something. Her fingers wiggled around when she talked and she painted an amazing picture of tubercular Keats waiting for death, seeing the sun as a killer. She's incredibly compelling- she looks like she's just as alive as a person can be on the brink of death. She read Keats' Ode to Autumn in a way that made the air crackle.

On Saturday night Jorie Graham was set to read after Anne Waldman, whose name should be Wildman, or Wyledwymyn, or something, because she's about eighty times ballsier than any other poet alive. Anne Waldeman read poems from Marriage, a Sentence with great frenetic screeching and yelling and singing- imagine Lori Anderson crossed with Henry Rollins, Alan Ginsberg and Ethel Merman. Only louder. And a genius poet. Poor Jorie Graham came onstage after Anne's completely unfollowable act, pretended to collapse, hugged the guy who was doing the introductions and said, "Great organization, man...I'm just going to take all my clothes off." When the laughter died down she said, "No, gee...All I can do is depress the shit out of you... I'm going to read one of the great English Poets. A dead guy talking about death. It's the only way to defeat Anne."

She did pretty well, and was followed by Andrew Motion, Britan's Poet Laureate, who introduced himself as a dead English poet. He's great, too- and you can listen to him on the poetry archive site, which is an incredible resource. I've always loved listening to poets ten times better than just reading their work, and you can hear another great poet, Sekou Sundiata, online courtesy of Salon magazine. The Poetry Archive site has lots of other poetry recordings on line- it looks incredible, though it does focus mainly on Britan.

I think I'm also about to subscribe to Poetry magazine-Thom is sitting next to me DYING to read me something funny from the July/August issue, which has been kiling us all day. It's really funny. The first poet in the magazine, Dean Young, wrote a poem called "Sean Penn Anti-Ode" that starts

Must Sean Penn always look like he's squeezing
the last drops out of a sponge and the sponge
is his face? Even the back of his head grimaces.

Reading and hearing all this poetry in a compressed time period made me think that there's more emotional and intellectual range in poetry than there is in contemporary painting. I think it's about the pressure to be simple- contemporary art indulges a thirst for purity that seems limiting to me after being in this rich contradictory world of poems for a weekend. I'm going to think about this for a while, and I suspect it will change how I approach my work- if not externally, at least internally.

And yeah, I camped. It rained really hard and I lost a huge amount of sleep watching for bears, but we didn't get eaten or die of damp and I discovered a the secret that little kids know. Which is that toasted marshmallows are well worth sleeping outside in the rain for. As is the Dodge Poetry Festival. You guys. You have to go.