Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm asking my students to make drawings based on maps, and in the process of researching images to show them online I came across some amazing stuff. Like this blog post about old caricature maps, which has these wonderful images, among many...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fight/ Flight

I just finished this piece, which I see as the second in a series I started with Pull, the last piece I did in this vein.

This one is called Fight/Flight, and you can see large images of it on my website.

There are lots of funny things on this piece, particularly this whole subplot featuring a megalomaniac ladybug who disses a bunch of poetry spouting guppies. The plot is circular: the lady bug flies across the center of the piece, meets various bugs who tell her about the art world, goes in to a crazy rant, reaches a peak of confidence, gets eaten by a frog, and resurfaces to fly again...

Here is part of the conversation about the art world.

The thing about having an edge is an allusion to an experience I had in Chelsea once. I was visiting New York from Florida, and a curator who liked my work sent me to see a famous gallerist, who told me, in what I truly remember as a Transylvanian accent, that I was doomed to failure because "here in New York we like our work with an edge. We like it to cut like a knife. "

The ladybug gets more and more worked up then goes in to an egotistical little song:

If you can't read that rant, the ladybug sings, "I am the cure for what ails you, the modern con-dition! Queeen of the kittycat, protector of puppies! Saving ass-thetics from the ignrnt guppies!"

The guppies, however, are very wise. They are quoting a favorite poem of mine, Danse Russe, by William Carlos Williams. The fish give credit where credit is due and then continue quoting the poem along the bottom of the piece.
Danse Russe

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,--
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
again the yellow drawn shades,--
Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

The guppies say the lines of the poem along the bottom of the piece until the last line, when they are interrupted.

The frog attempts to eat the ladybug, but she lives to fly across the painting and begin again.

The piece is also bracketed by two more pieces of text. This text, in the upper right, is talking about the swan and the otter. "They were both so ambitious, so fond. Raised as brothers, they had developed wildly different adaptations in order to survive. The swan garnered orderly adoration, the otter's critical teeth longed for the new. What could be done but fight?"

In the upper right quadrant of the painting there's a little island where the inhabitants have built a tower from which they are launching a zeppelin.

Drawing otter fur makes me want to rename my blog.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pull and The Victorian Mojo Explained

I just got a new piece posted on my website- it's called Pull, and I'm quite happy with it. You can see it better by clicking the link above and going to the details, but I thought it was worth a blog post to write down some of the text in the image that's hard to see on the web.

A friend of mine who is a genius artist asked me what all the swans in my work were about recently, and I answered without any hesitation, "Beauty."
"Yeah, they're the thing we're supposed to think is beautiful," she said, "they're like the stand-in for beauty."
"For me," I said, "they're like chaotic, unrestrained beauty- visceral, like it or not, popular beauty."
And then I'm pretty sure she said, "They are beautiful, but they're goona eatcha."
I may just hope she said that.

Because that's what I'm interested in lately. I'm interested in the way that art constructs an elite around ideas of aesthetic difference, and the ways that commonplace beauty gets excluded from that dialogue. There's a lot of stuff about that in this piece.

The main text along the top of the piece says, "Placing my trust in the..."

...ruthless advance of spring."

The word advance looks like this:

My grandfather worked in oil fields, and I was thinking of old wooden oil rigs. There's some tiny text above the rig that says, "Flowers every year regardless of my bad attitude."

Speaking of which, this spring I went to my high school reunion and had a really wonderful time. I went to a great high school and was stunned to see that several of my classmates do seem to have gone on to run the world. Lovely people. Great education. But in true bad attitude fashion, I have bitten the hand that fed me and given a cockroach on this piece my high school sweater.

Along the left side of the piece there are a few big text sections. There is a floating woman saying, "Our ideals have stolen the wrong weaknesses."

When I was drawing that text I was thinking about how idealistically we have turned away from our weaknesses for aesthetic pleasures. Artists can be dumb about which kids of beauty they will admit to- we like our beauty separate from commercial culture. That's idealistic, but in reacting against exploitable images I think we've reacted against common experiences- we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I think we need to be able to look at swans, sunsets and each other without feeling like we're being freaking ironic. I kept thinking about that idea here:

The text in the lake says, "Has art abandoned us, left us distrustful of any vision of what we love, afraid that beauty in all but the most virtuously strict, stripped down, distant form is somehow shameful, stupid or crass?"

People ask me a lot about the Victorian thing I'm doing. It's partly about the way that I think we construct art world beauty now- I think that the prissiness that we have as a culture about acceptable forms of high culture aesthetics is very similar to the kind of prissiness that Victorian men had about women. There's a way in which I totally understand the Victorian male vision of sexuality. It's as if they think they are very logical, very serious, very smart, very known, and very dreary. So they organize and collect and categorize everything. They dress in black. And they think that sexuality and love is totally mysterious and out of control, so the women in that era are both caged and decorated- their clothes and position in society embody a fear of and longing for the other that is all about controlling the uncontrollable nature of desire. They cage it, decorate it, and demean it- make it seperate from power or any meaningful negotiation in society while making sure that they revere it in its pure form- Victorian men were all about the cult of the mother, and virtues were female...I think  we do that with aesthetics, at least in high art.

We like disembodied beauty, and if we talk about aesthetic beauty that we can all access directly, there's an urge to either make sure it's radically logical, disembodied from normal visual experience and placed into a conceptual framework or, if it does reference something that's not radically distant from the average citizen's visual experience, to somehow demean it. I was once told (no kidding) by a hilariously accented dealer that "we in New York like our art with an edge..." I think sometimes that edge is the knife that cuts between the classes- there's a lot about class that explains why it is utterly sophisticated to make something that does not open itself up to common experience at all..

Sometimes I think that abstraction was a perfect American art movement, because it let us take our proto-Victorian impulses out on beauty- we could strip it of all attachment to politics, to mortality, to ourselves and each other and make it pure. I love abstraction- some of my best friends- but I also am interested in how truly radical it is to draw the figure these days. It's absurd. Art people often think that I must be stupid because I draw people's bodies. It's as if looking at each other has become a symbol of ignorance. That's what I mean about our ideals stealing the wrong weaknesses, too.

We are afraid of embodied beauty- we're afraid of beauty that is tied to people, to things that we can lose....Going to Rome, being steeped in all that Donatello and the baroque made me feel that. It's much easier to be a fat aging American in front of a Rothko than it is in front of that statue of Danae.

Our art of the last half century seems to me to be an art emphatically NOT of the body. Not the body, the story, the place, the family- it's an art of the mind, serious, logical, cerebral, dressed in black...I want to make the other art.

I want a lot of things. In the left hand corner there's a little self portrait in a flower petal boat. Underneath it along the whole bottom of the piece it says, "As if aesthetics..."

were a boat

we could float the whole thing on...

towing back what we gave away too easily."

There are also, in case that's all too obscure, some editorial bugs.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Google art project

I have another piece to post and another one under way, but I'm not sure when I'll get them blogged. (Can that be a word? Let's say yes.) I'm very busy lately, but I miss writing and I hope to get back to it this summer. I have visions of blog posts about amazing exhibits I will see in New York and Philadelphia and Baltimore...But in the meantime, here's some amazing stuff I've seen online. Think of this as the art blogger's version of that new couch to 5K training app... this is the art I can see from my couch. Someday I will blog from Paris.

On Saturday one of my figure drawing buddies told me that google has been going to museums and photographing everything in sight in extremely high resolution. It's set up like google street view, he said, so you can take a virtual walk around the Hermitage without going to Moscow. It's an amazing concept, and it sounds even more incredible if you watch the guy who came up with the idea talk about it on the TED talks site. You can watch the talk online or just go straight to googleartproject.com. I've just started exploring the site and although it's not the virtual paradise I thought it would be, it is some kind of virtual paradise. The problem is that it's someone else's virtual paradise. It's an enormous undertaking, and there are a huge number of really weird curatorial choices being made as the google art project people try to decide what to focus on, so what you get is a very quirky selection of masterpieces from amazing museums.

The street view thing is also pretty funny. I'm starting to really love the unintentional effects of the enthusiasm for 360 degree views of spaces. When I was little I thought the real point of those driving games was to try to take an off road shortcut, and now that I'm older I feel the same way about 360 degree gallery views. I love that we can zoom in to the ceilings of galleries now. In the google art project's MOMA site there are some really odd effects when you try to get out of the rooms they've finished in to the ones they're not done with. In one of them you see a painting that's been blurred out next to a security guard whose head has been blurred out. It's kind of awesome, in a "this is so postmodern someone will surely make this an art project but actually it's only interesting for about three minutes" kind of way...

I've been looking at the Tate's site, though in the interest of efficiency I'm crabbily ignoring the whole walkthough aspect and just pulling down though the menu of available images. I'm finding some really amazing stuff. I'm loving the Tudor portraiture ( Who knew? Everyone but me?) and Ford Maddox Ford's Take Your Son, Sir kills me every time. I also love The Cholmondeley Ladies although there's really nothing intelligent to say about that piece that is as succinct and to the point as the elegant brevity of "WTF?!?!" If you don't feel that way just looking at the piece, read the viewing notes to the right of the image...

There's also a really great example of what the technology can do in the Chris Ofili piece called No Woman No Cry on the Tate's site. I like Chris Ofili, but this piece as always looked pretty idiotic to me. Of course I've only seen it in reproduction, and it turns out that a piece like this is just what you need google art project for. It looks like nothing until you zoom in really far, then try the option to view the paintings with the lights off. Not idiotic. Genius. Who knew? The Tate. Now who knows? The internet. Good going google.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Doubt, part 2

In the last post I mentioned that I made two pieces based on the same piece: they also have the same title: Doubt. This one is an etching that I made at Slugfest Printmaking Workshop with the help of my mom, Margie Simpson, and her lovely partner Tom Drucker.

Here's a detail:

I'm quite happy with this piece, and I'm excited to get to work on a new print. Jim Stroud at Center Street Studios has offered to work with me on another etching- I feel very lucky to have such a plethora of fantastic printmakers around me, especially because I have yet to meet a group of artists I like more.

It's my theory that printmakers are generally down to earth, funny and well socialized because they work in groups in the most insanely humbling medium on earth. It takes a sterling character to work in a process where your weeks worth of work can disappear because you lost track of time. Printmaking is good for the character. Painting, or drawing however- sitting in a room alone for long periods of time doing something that could but probably won't pay off really well...Perhaps we painters and draw-ers should be congratulated if we restrain our megalomania and paranoia for 90 minute stretches at a time...Or we should do printmaking on a regular basis, as a medicinal gesture akin to getting 15 minutes of sun exposure per day.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Doubt, part 1

I just finished a couple new pieces based on the same idea. I started a drawing, then went to Austin and made an an etching based on the idea I'd started, then I came home and finished the drawing. I really love the etching and will post images of that soon, but in the meantime here's the drawing. I've posted small images here but larger details are on the website.

It's a real mix of drawing and painting, as you can see in these details. I've taken to taking a paintbrush to the ink that's in my pens every now and then, as well as drawing on top of watercolors like I always do.

The text above says, "However comforting, faith is a far more lethal sword than" followed by a little arrow that points to the central word doubt. There's also a naked dad figure on the left edge of the drawing that you can probably see better in the big images on the website.

That text is right above this image.

I've painted lemmings before, but I realized as I was drawing these that I somehow picked up the idea that lemmings were pretty much the same as guinea pigs with tails. I looked them up this time, after I'd drawn them, and it turns out I'm pretty much right.

Whenever I use lemmings I think about the horrible story of lemmings and the turntable. I'm not sure everyone knows this story, but I never mean them as a simple symbol of mass suicide because of the story. If you don't know, here's the deal, copied from Wikipedia.

The myth of lemming "mass suicide" is long-standing and has been popularized by a number of factors...[among the most] influential was the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness, which won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature, in which staged footage was shown with lemmings jumping into certain death after faked scenes of mass migration. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary, Cruel Camera, found that the lemmings used for White Wilderness were flown from Hudson Bay to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where they did not jump off the cliff, but were in fact launched off the cliff using a turntable.
Insane! Turns out that White Wilderness won an academy award, too!

I love stories of fake things that become myths. I like Arthur Evans and Knossos and the Snake Goddess at the Boston MFA and Robert Graves and the fact that people invented the cyclops because of mammoth skeletons.

But back to Doubt. Here's the last detail.

The text says, "I know so little but this."