Sunday, December 30, 2007

resisting paint

I had a back-and-forth, restless time in becoming a painter. While loving color and pigment, I still resisted its dominance, spending most of my time making fanzines, windows and works with found objects. Looking at gorgeous painting was a double-edged sword, too, because really great painting can humiliate as well as inspire.

Monday, 25 January 1985
I study a lot of painting now and it looks so difficult. Yesterday Luke and I were at the De Young Museum. I spied the Robert Henri. This work, plus a few others, I stared at a long time.
- Then at night I was reading about Moholy-Nagy. Feininger wrote his wife: “All this talk about mechanics, light and motion and throwing the Old Painting away. Poor Klee is worried.” Frustrated Klee might have been, but he probably wasn’t that worried. Klee was such a master. Still, I feel for Moholy’s idea. There’s a part of me that hates the idea of painting, a framed thing on the wall to go oooo and ahhh over.”

It’s odd to read this now, after all these years and all this painting. But maybe that is why I have never framed anything – and still have, to this day, a complex relationship to paint. The past few years I thought it was all about money, but maybe it’s something else.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

the practice

Roberta Smith has an interesting article up on the words of the art world. The word practice is one I’ve had some trouble with, so I was glad to read what she had to say about it.

I’m with her: I don’t practice art. I live it and not just when I am in my studio. In fact, the studio really just gets the tail-end, a summation/execution of an ongoing activity, and one without end.

The word practice does give what an artist does this sense of authority and academic absolution, as she points out. I think that’s another reason I’ve become uncomfortable with it. It doesn’t describe at all what an artist is doing. Art is not something you do in your studio. It is not something I worked on yesterday afternoon from 2 to 6pm.

Perhaps my old neighbor said it best. We grew up together but I hadn’t seen her in years, decades. She had the great wisdom to define what I became better than I could. She was a nuclear physicist too! But she said: “When I leave my job, it’s over. But you are always an artist.”

Recently I had the word in this piece of fiction I am writing and it felt a little odd, without really knowing why - until I read Roberta Smith. The story takes place in the underground art scene of 25 years ago and that word wasn’t tossed around like that then. It did not feel authentic and now I know why. It’s a term I have adopted like just about everyone else, but I’m done now.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

scenes from a movie

I did not see It’s a Wonderful Life until I was a working woman in my 30s in New York City. I was actually a little shocked at the story and initially vaguely disappointed. Why? Because it seemed tragic that George Bailey never got out of Dodge to be the architect he wanted to be. While most cheered the superdad and heroic businessman, I related to the frustrated artist.

He’s got dreams, visions and they're never going to happen. Yet no one seems to care about those, but more about whatever he can do for them that day or year.

By now certain scenes are emblazoned into my mind. That pivotal moment at the train station when he is told that his brother has married – the slightly out of focus lens pans around him as his dreams come crashing down. You can read it all in his eyes. It is a terrible, awesome moment.

People get offended if you look at the film in this way. They see it as a sweet family movie. If you are not seeing the pain George feels when he sweeps away those architectural models, then you are missing a key ingredient in this film. It is this which leads him to the bridge to contemplate suicide, not just the lack of money.

Most of my favorite scenes are truly that – just set design. The streets in snow, the starry sky from which Clarence comes, the honky-tonk Pottersville at night, the pharmacy, the architectural models swept away in his breakdown, the crashed car, the graveyard, the savings and loan, the raven – and most of all, the bridge where he contemplates taking his life.

Someday I want to make a body of work around it; I don’t know whether it will be photomontage or painting. Of course photography is more to the point, but a limited palette in paint is actually interesting, and so is architecture.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bing Crosby/ Richard Hamilton

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, 1967

Last night I watched White Christmas. Ever since I studied with Luigi, a master of jazz dance in New York City who also danced in this movie, I see the film with a special interest. I always look for my dance mentor.

But it’s been ten years since I danced with Luigi everyday. After all that viewing, the film took on various other meanings and I started looking at Holiday Inn as well. What really hit me last night was Bing.

I saw the moment of the famous Richard Hamilton piece (of which there are several versions). Bing has his hat and jacket on, he’s about ready to leave. There are those downcast eyes and the subtle smile. And I saw in that moment the Hamiltons I stared at repeatedly during my years in London in the 70s. The only thing I could compare the experience to would be seeing a still of Marilyn or Jackie in its original context after seeing a lot of Warhol.

“You finally got Bing,” said my film freak friend. Actually I have read that Bing was the first hip white person in America and I’m not even sure what all that means. I know he was the number one superstar of the late 30s and early 40s.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

the hunger

A friend of mine has been working more in teaching, involved with her art peers, a longtime dream. She told me, however, that she finds herself editing her life more and more. She mentioned selling shoes to someone the other day and they looked at her with a very measured skipped beat, as though she was divulging her leprosy.

Odd too, because at least in theory, we are often poised to take an interest in social issues, in the working class and even life of the streets - there's a great respect for art about life's dirty experiences. Just don't have any! Or if you do, don't talk about it. I know a little bit about this - when I told people how I was a maid at Portland's very own Hilton Hotel, you could almost feel the squirm. Yeah, that's right, cleaning 16 toilets a day. Imagine artists doing that.

Since my friend has had some times at the school of hard knocks, she's not all that interested in making art about them. No need to go there for street cred, that’s for sure. The elevated vision, a heroic vision, a pitch for beauty - is one that she fought tooth and nail for, just to get a glimpse at.

- Not to say that she’s not concerned about hunger, jail, suicide, domestic violence, alcohol abuse; maybe indeed a little too familiar. So much so that some of the trafficking in said territory by her art peers often looks a lot like, well, tourists. They did not grow up with it. It’s not a part of their interior view.

That still doesn’t bug her, as long as they don’t put their let’s-starve adoption on her or judge her work by that particular hunger. Some actually see fluff in beauty, can you believe that? In her case, the surface has a complex substance. Perhaps they believe it is predictable somehow, or a white man’s game. Wrong. It is possibly the game of those who did not grow up with food in the house.

I’m not saying that those of us who grew up hungry will never make art about it. But I do think it’s no accident that we like champagne (not PBR) and want to make beautiful things.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

his breakdown

I am still speeding along with Eugene Witla, who, after his breakthrough has a breakdown. His health, both physical and mental, is falling apart. He cracks under the pressure to be a genius.

And what mends him? Work. Regular labor in the salt mines, you might say. By watching and working with the masses, he slowly comes back to his senses. He decides to sketch one day and his working class mates are deeply impressed. He’s an artist! Slowly Eugene comes back to some idea of his old self by being back with the world, not just the art world.

Of course Dreiser doesn’t write it out quite like that. The journey is one thick book filled with innuendoes. But I recognize this bit of the journey because I, too, have sometimes cracked under the specialized, beautiful, elite but be-damned-pressure of the glorious art world. And I also I know what it is like for someone to stare at whatever I was drawing, while we’re on the time clock and muse gee, you really are an artist. What the hell are you doing here?

From there, Eugene is back on his way. He climbs a mean streak of one art director job after another, until he is running a publishing house – a huge empire, moneyed, full of beautiful and talented women, the best wines and country houses, the fast lane and fast cars.

His wife misses her artist though. She thinks he will someday return to making those big paintings which made everyone think he was a genius, instead of the very clever ad man he’s become. She brings it up, says she is saving money so he can go back to being an artist.

But Eugene wants nothing to do with that. He says the starving was just not all that interesting to him! - I think it’s more than that. The pressure to make brilliant art under big expectations and with no money was bigger than any advertising house.

Friday, December 14, 2007


I attended a holiday studio sale where I met an artist who does portraits, mostly self-portraits. He is also a damn good illustrator, with a style a little reminiscent of the 1930s and 40s (not a bad thing in my book). He also had some constructions around which were sources of aggravation to his teacher, he said, and were torn apart at his critiques. He stopped going in that direction.

I wonder about things like that. I wonder because there’s no guarantee about who’s “right.” His Prof said “That’s over” – that style or medium (maybe both), but is that really true? Couldn't it be more a matter of working on something until you make it your own? Why would, say, painting and drawing not be “over,” still be valid, but not assemblage?

No doubt the things screamed “Ed and Nancy” all over them, but so what? No one starts at XYZ. You start at the beginning and it looks like what came before it.

When I hear things like that, of artists abandoning entire practices based on a class, it startles me. Prejudices get projected. In my own time, I have had very confident, authoritive verdicts assailed my way, only to find out that however certain they were - they were wrong!

If a teacher is free and clear of their own issues, or can at least put them aside, great. If they are steamrolling down the luxurious highway of art making, with perceived kudos at the finish line, they should be able to afford generosity. But when they attack entire mediums and styles, it’s like withholding love. It’s easy to forget that all quality is held in conditions; nothing is without context. What else are we not seeing because it does not meet current fashion and prescribed methods?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

subjective vs objective

Joseph Cornell has a retrospective in SF right now and so I have been reading about him here and there. He seems to be the favorite collage artist, if people tempt to name one. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of his work. While living in San Francisco in the 80s, I saw a nice Cornell box show at Acme Art, run by Richard Polsky.

Then of course there are the fine works at the MOMA. They almost startled me when I first saw them - because I had studied them so much in books and there they were finally. I saw them in winter and to this day, I associate Cornell with the cold. - And the white: perhaps the show to really blow me away was a collection of works all in white by him at Pace. This must have been around 1990 – every work was almost nothing but crackled white paint – pretty impressive.

However. Since then I have come across a million – yes, it seems like a million – artists who use a bird in a box as a launch-pad. It’s very tempting to use an ethereal night-sky in a collage (I’m as guilty as anyone), but much more difficult to make it your own. Of course Joseph Cornell doesn’t own the sky – in fact maybe Max Ernst (below), a more sweeping, exhaustive artist, beat him to it – but it is the challenge of any collage artist to make the methods and materials and images their own. It must speak to his great talent and ownership of imagery, for what I see way too often is that many artists haven’t bothered to do that.

Perhaps I would not be so aware of the million artists if it were not for the Internet. You might think you know one or two (or ten!) artists who think like Cornell, till you get online. For me this exposure has somehow weakened his punch a bit.

It made me think just how easy (or not) it is to copy someone. If you have all the basic ingredients, it’s not that difficult. The proof is out there unfortunately. And this is just another reason why I always keep going back to John Heartfield. Try copying him – it ain’t easy.

The only people who are up to those skills (of shooting their own pictures, resizing, airbrushing, etc) are using a computer - and are probably working on fashion or vodka ads. Technically the work is very unique. It is also peerless in terms of risk.

Years ago I had a fun discussion with a mastermind about subjective vs objective art. At this time, I knew a lot of creative people who stated they preferred a political art. They had a rampant repulsion towards things spiritual, you might say, a reaction against the prevailing new ageism of California at that time. I contended to the mastermind that subjective artists could make some really good art.

“Yes, good art,” he conceded. “But not the greatest art. That’s left for objective artists.” He meant artists like Malevich or Mondrian - and probably Joseph Cornell. - I could not have brought up the inimitable work of Heartfield then, for many reasons. Masterminds need to be always right! But like I said, in retrospect, I think his inimitable qualities speak for themselves.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Claude Zervas

Artdish turned me on to this blog, Hairtonic. If you need Miami, this is it. Great commentary. (Great artist too.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

contest winner

To my question Where are You, we have a winner. All the way from Carbondale, Illusion I received some great mail art from a very famous mail artist, Richard Canard. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

his breakthrough

So much for having no curiosity, or not caring about a story, etc. I have now reached the stage in the novel in which Eugene Witla, the “Genius,” has an art dealer over to see his work. Over the past few years he’s scrapped by as an illustrator, but has slowly built up a body of work – 26 oil paintings.

There are all these negatives in front of him: it will cost way too much, even if the dealer likes it at all. And it is unlikely that they will like it, they are already overbooked and overcommitted, etc., etc.

We all, to some degree, know this moment of holding your breath and taking on what looks like a bleak situation. But you’re an artist and you live on dreams and so, you have no choice.

And then comes this gorgeous flood of encouragement, that the work is singular, that there’s nothing quite like it, that you have a great future. “…I will call them to the attention of those who know. I will speak to those who buy. It is an honor, I assure you, to do this. For you are an artist in every sense of the word – I might say a great artist.”

The waters are parting. Eugene can hardly hear it, can hardly believe it. In plain fashion, he can only manage to say yes, he thought they might be good. But his new wife feels and expresses enough for both of them. Tears welled to her eyes as the dealer catches them. By this time I was crying too.

thank you

How nice it was this morning to see that both PORT and Dangerous chunky had featured my exhibition along with Michael Brophy's. It is an honor just to be there on the same webpages.

Check out the install shots Carolyn Zick has up at Flicker.

I hope my aim of perfection within imperfection is clear. Like growing a forest - 44 trees of the same species in the same year, no two alike. But what I really grew was the landscape. Tonight is the preview, if you are downtown.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

the "Genius"

In my search to read about women artists in fiction, I was reminded about The "Genius" by Theodore Dreiser and decided to read it again. The reason being that the story is littered with women artists, people the main protagonist – the “Genius” – either befriends or beds.

I think the quotation marks around the word are craftily used, because he’s a small town youth like just about any other when we first meet him. He’s got a long way to go when he arrives in New York. But he has a very handy way of using people to get what he wants and in this regard, the book is spot-on. The language of Dreiser was always spare, too, cut with a knife.

Dreiser knows his women too, though they are depressingly expressed as over the hill, having missed their chances by so much parental protection, coddled, unfulfilled. Still, they are the ones who give Eugene most of his knowledge about the ways of the world, where to go in NYC, who is who and what is what. He even thinks that his real education came from a woman artist (over the hill at thirty, but totally essential otherwise), not the Chicago Art Institute.

- I fully expected to be completely engrossed again, like I was last time I read it - I remember loving Dreiser - but maybe I know this story a little too well by now. And I don't mean as fiction!

I must have been in love with young men like him once (er, more than once - ?). It's odd how the type was once so attractive to me and now I am strangely not curious as to how the story will turn out. But it is sort of like an assignment and I will not bail.

Everyone is crazy about Eugene, all the girls are wild for him. He's got everyone snowed. He goes through one after another without a thought to who gets affected. They are all to be used and to feed his appetite, which is painted as naive. But I think the book is very accurate in how he ultimately comes off as a narcissist - without of course the need for any analysis, because what else would an artist be...?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

the inevitable truth

Bruce Guenther was the moderator at the Avant Blog panel the other night. At one point he observed that some blogs were the personal view, developed out of the feminist-journaling tradition. This thread was not expanded upon but I’ve thought about it ever since.

Basically, this tradition comprises of saying things to yourself that you cannot say elsewhere. And we are not just talking snarking or bitching here! Some of it is art dreams, goals, visions, invalidated responses. It’s like you finally have your delayed response – next day, next year - or twenty years later. I’ve got 136 notebooks full of ‘em.

Many are filled with conversations, a record of what was said. But much more of it is a record of what was not said. I am blown away at how much can stay inevitably on the back burner, rumbling.

In a way, art is like this. If you keep track of it all, the interests and ideas, they resurface time and time again and will force themselves out eventually. One artist in an interview had said that she was not wild at how students wanted to rush to “a conclusion.” I agree that there is no need to rush - without the dramas and twists and turns, life would be dull.

But it is amazing to me how many truths were inevitable and you couldn’t beat them out of me if you tried. And lord knows some tried. Some things that you want to do are not about want at all – they are like inherit factors in your DNA. This is not just about content either; it goes for aesthetics too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

those spiritual aims

We were recently talking about how we can carry on with our work without big loans and trust funds, and in turn, the various ways by which people measure our “commitment.”

One thing m. said on a recent visit here to PDX which still RINGS in my ears... was something to the effect of: if you're an artist, you can't stop it. You have no choice, it's what you do.

And this is 100% true. Whatever the circumstance, no matter how much or little the money, the space, the materials, art will get made. It might not get shown. It might not get discussed, reviewed. It may never “matter’ to those who importantly opine. It might be some tiny bit of transformed paper you carry around in your pocket. But it gets made. And this, to use a new phrase, is what separates the adults from the kids.

Not about this year – I am talking about a lifetime. Because it is not that difficult to have a good idea this year and have the will to make it happen. Time has, however, a funny way to weeding out the force of the will.

I remember this especially because the person who told me that I should screw the banks and my landlord and that none of it mattered next to art making, the person who lambasted my spiritual aims since I still had a day job and no, could not quit it to just paint for several years, well: he went bankrupt. Just thought I would finish out that story.

There is, however, some indication that he will revive, like the phoenix. But he found out that even great “spiritual aims” can falter when the trust fund dries up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

richter scale

The show was delivered (44 paintings!).

The card was mailed.

A catalogue was made (mucho thanks to Prudence Roberts and William Stanton).

Phew! Maybe I can get back to writing now.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sophie Taeuber Arp

Not that I haven’t read this article before – by many others. I think the best was done by Greg Allen at the Times. It’s kind of pathetic to read about singular painters when discussing this, like “They always have the Frida Kahlo up” etc. - as if any singular painter can transform 5% into 50.

How credit, attribution and influence were achieved has everything to do with it. Here’s an example of a couple of my favorite artists and how my own views began to change:

For years I thought Jean Arp was the superior artist to Sophie Taeuber Arp. Mind, he had double her lifetime and didn’t begin to get into the Venice Biennale and such until he was much older, but age was not the only advantage…

It’s only been the last few years that I saw how he got a lot of his ideas, subject matter and yes, even style, from her. The whole “like nature” schtick he got from her. And he knew it, he wrote about it. He was devastated when she died – he didn’t make any art for over five years - for more than one reason. She was not just his love; she was a pipeline.

I think you can put Sophie Taeuber Arp up there, no question, as a great artist but impossible to really gauge. She died young, but also lived in a time when the way she got to influence the history of art was rooted in how she influenced a male artist.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

it's that time of year again

So what that I have money? So what that you are poor. I don’t care about money. Screw your landlord – screw the banks – what does that matter in light of your art making?”

This argument came years ago from a colorful character who wanted me to quit my job and get into major debt for art. He ridiculed my “spiritual aims” and seriousness when I did not.

Something he didn’t know was that I did not even have the rent yet for that month - but that would be just a petty detail, non?

The words I vividly recall as I still think that in varying degrees, the art world is made of the haves. Oh, the have-nots are still there alright. They get to watch. And their life of stress certainly gives them plenty of fodder for subject matter and a driving determination. And yeah sure, there are always exceptions.

But there are nonetheless many cuts that a have-not has a really tough time making. It takes money; an ongoing cash flow at that, not just a whole paycheck every now and then - to make cut after cut and get an art career.

What is a matter of course can seem like out-and-out glamour to the artist who does not do Miami. That’s the question one can get every year. Even when I say that I have an exhibition in December, the head is still cocked in question, as if one can easily do both. Never mind that December can be a bit of stressful time, holidays and all, a bit of a burden for anyone with stressed means.

I am not saying I am broke. Feeling pretty lucky actually. Just remembering, that’s all.

Friday, November 16, 2007

my favorite art teacher

After Steven wrote something about which teachers may have made a lasting impact, I tried to think of the art teacher in my life who did.

It wasn’t the teachers who told me what I could not do – and there was a few. It was the one who told me what I could do: my high school art teacher, Grace Henson.

I was almost going to say that art had nothing to do with it, because she provided a safe harbor in place that did not have so many. Her art room at Phoenix High School (in Phoenix, Oregon, population 4,378) was this oasis in the middle of a desert.

- But of course art had everything to do with it. I made my first photomontages in her class; I never stopped making them. And it was here that my art pal Ross Sutherland made cool silk-screens – I still have his Hindenberg Zeppelin, exploding at Lakehurst, white on black paper.

We kept in touch. She had a cool shop in Ashland for a spell. When I first moved back here, I would see her at the Portland Art Museum, where she was a docent. Now she lives in Hillsboro and will have a studio at the Sequoia Gallery and Studios, a city-supported project.

the sister

Since it has come up, I may as well tell the story of the sister. Because after growing up an only child, I feel lucky to now have one.

My mother has many, many secrets in her life (which spread into mine) but that is not only a topic for another post, but perhaps another cathartic diary altogether. But one evening when I was 30, having not even lived in NYC a full year yet, she calls me up and tells me I have a half sister. She had had a child in secret before I ever came around and now that child had found her.

It was not easy news but none of that was due to the reality of a sister per se, but more about being lied to repeatedly and in such a way that makes you consistently feel you matter nada. But I was very ready to embrace Debra, who had already found her birth father, another sister, yet had not really connected with any of them.

The news also sent me on interesting trails as to how I connected with women for awhile too, because I was working as a makeup artist in a high-powered salon on Madison Avenue at the time. I told nearly every woman who got into my chair what had happened to me. And their stories were amazing. So many women had distant aunts who gave away children, or had terrible backstreet abortions. The 50s: women had the pointy bras, man, they had the fuck-me gear, but not much else to cope with it….

She looked just like my mother. So much so, I figured I never had! I wondered what indeed my own father must have looked like (I have never met him; do not know who he is). The same resilient smile, the same knees… the very same breasts. She slept with me in my studio apartment and when I woke up, I felt about five, for that was when mom was 33. I felt like she was sleeping next to me.

- Till she opened her mouth, of course! Because Debra was and is razor-sharp, a feminist, an analyst and a shrink. She’s got ideas about every single thing and great verbal abilities.

She and her husband came to my wedding out here in Oregon and it was only then that she met her uncle and such, as our mother would never break that news. But I relished in outing the situation and we all had so much fun during those few days.

It was Debra who took me aside one day during all of that time and sort of shook me:
“You did not leave New York and all of your friends and all of that money to work at Saks here. You are going to live as an artist – finally! It’s what you were meant to do and what you absolutely must do. And he is going to help you, believe it or not. That’s it and there is no other way.”

I am simplifying it here, putting a saga of a novel into 420 words, but she has been good to me and straight with me (kind of a rare quality). Just through writing this out, I know that I am going down there, whether southern California adores my paintings or not.

opening tomorrow at Crussell Fine Arts

Crussell Fine Arts Presents
A Group Show at the Crussell Fine Arts Studio / Gallery
November 17 – December 8, 2007
Opening Reception Saturday November 17, 6 – 10pm
By appointment after November 17th
Group show: Stephen Anderson, Jim Caron, Yaya Chow, Greg Damron, Carlos Diniz, Julie Easton, Pamela Grau Twena, Frank O. Gehry, Fran├žoise Issaly, Eva Lake, David Michael Lee, Mark Leysen, Dana Lovell, Christina Ponce, Matthew J. Price, Jason Ramos, Danica Ristow, baby smith and Guy White plus experimental music by Kebe Fox.

Gallery Location:
Crussell Fine Arts
Batavia Palms Business Center
2324 North Batavia Suite 105, Orange, CA 92865
I am hoping that people will love my work down there because I have a big road trip fantasy in mind. Hauling my little paintings into the backseat and off I go, to see Steven Larose first in Ashland, then to see a bunch of crazy artists in the Bay Area and then on down to So. Cal.
I even have half-sister down there, about a half hour away from this gallery. We met the first time when we were in our 30s. I have never visited her down there, but I was not a driver til just recently. So I am hoping the stars align and that it will soon be time...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the questionnaire

The other night I was out with a friend and someone we just met, upon hearing that I was an artist, asked: “Where did you go to school?”

My friend and I almost screamed. She knew my New York Story, in which every friggin person I met (at art parties in NYC) asked the following 3 questions:

1) Where did you go to school?
2) Who is your dealer?
3) Where is your studio?

Looking back on my New York Story, I know there are at least two valid reasons for the questions, the first one being that I was 29 when I first arrived – a reasonable age to be perhaps a freshly processed MFA. Fair enough.

But when I looked at this new acquaintance, graying hair and beard, I wondered why this experience, perhaps decades old, would be the one to commiserate over, as an initial query. I thought the actual work might be more the launch pad. He said that he liked to high five his old buddies if they went to his school, something to that effect.

Lately I’ve been in discussions with an ex-New Yorker over this questionnaire and she came up with another good reason for it, one that made sense to me:

It’s easy to say “I’m an artist.” I met a shitload of them in San Francisco in my 20s in the 1980s…. I did not see the work or receive invitations to events, but I was told they were artists. I actually made a few wrong moves back then, asking some people to participate in events because they told me they were artists and I took them at their word. Dumb, I know.

And I also hear some observe these days that: “Everyone in Portland is an artist.”

So my friend says that what those New Yorkers wanted, in their questionnaire, is something which separates the men from the boys, to use an antiquated phrase. You better believe you must be seriously busting your ass if you are paying for a studio and got yourself a dealer, etc.

Right? ......

I used to think the questionnaire was all about placement, sort of a social placement, and nothing about the work. I still think it is weird how little “the work” means, but the placement is more complex than what I initially thought.

Even recently I met someone who referred to every artist in an academic way, though he may not have considered it such. So-n-so was the student of so-n-so at blah blah and so on. I mean everyone was described within this context - which quite frankly didn't tell me a lot. But then later on when I brought up the academic mill, he said: “Oh, I don’t think it matters at all, where one went to school, or if they did at all.”

I wonder how he would then describe artists?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

the prime mover

I asked a writer who works in publishing if they knew of any good novels about women artists. Two, he said: Leonora Carrington and Dorothea Tanning. He loved them both.

Well, just to clarify: biographies and autobiographies aren’t fiction. I think it is an important distinction, because women write all kinds of fiction and write it very well – some of it is the best – but how “our heroine” functions is often a far cry from how the hero does.

At present I am just looking for the creative woman in fiction - the sensitive, selfish visionary and well, Genius. As Ayn Rand might call, the Prime Mover.

Even someone in the publishing field couldn’t come up with anything.

Carrington I have not read, but I remember Birthday by Tanning very well. She has a fine way with words and I totally enjoyed it, but it might just as well be called My Life with Max Ernst. It was a Romance. - Maybe Carrington wrote that story too.

The story goes: Ernst tells Tanning that she is the creator of (the painting) Birthday, a marvelous thing. That’s the last I recall of her achievements in this narrative, while I don’t need to remind you of the output of Max Ernst. One big important painting (with tits flashing no less) is not enough. And I do not mean in the actual oeuvre, but the writing of it - how it plays out. Did she really go there? I just don’t recall it.

But who cared about that anyway? Everyone wanted to know about life with Max and that’s what we got.

Friday, November 9, 2007

where are you

I always enjoyed Conde Nast Traveler's Where are you? contest, even though I rarely figured out where I was. These collages have a bit of that going on - sometimes the sculptures are in places significant in their own right. Sometimes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

talk is cheap

Pretty Lady writes of friends who entertain notions of buying her work, love to talk about it and then never do. This reminds me of a couple I knew in New York.

We were all pals before they got married. I always loved them both. He was an entertainment lawyer, who did very well. He liked to remind us that he could have done much better had he gone into corporate law, but the diatribes only went so far as they went from better to better apartment, hitting the Grammys and the Cannes Film Festival along the way.

First it was Little Italy. Then a couple of delicious flats in Greenwich Village. I recall the last one I ever saw them in – a back yard (!), an old stone lane - probably Barrow Street or the like.

They got into the “we want one of your paintings” mode and I offered to give them one - in all sincerity, too, because they meant a lot to me. But oh no, they must buy one. I felt a little funny about it at the time because I had this feeling it might not be a straight business deal. And for the record, it really is not all that much fun bringing out all your offspring, for someone to ooo and ahhh and comment upon, like going over the kids at the orphanage… will one find a home?

Well, they just couldn’t decide between two particular works. So I said: “Take them home and you can figure it out once they are with you.”

Life moved faster for those in the faster lane. As they moved here and there, I never did see my paintings once on their wall. Oh, probably all the busyness of moving – you know, it is distracting! And then came the babies, two adorable daughters.

I tried my best to keep a relationship with them. If she called for lunch, I would say “What time?” but I was stood up a lot. An incredible lot. So busy no doubt!

Then one night they called me from Raoul’s on Prince Street: “Oh, we were thinking about our dear friend and how much fun it would be to see you - and could you come down?”

I said give me a half hour (I lived on west 56th.) But by the time I got there, in my 14 dollar cab ride, they were gone. When I called them, they acted like their time was what had counted.

And then I said: “I want my paintings back.”

Blank silence at first on the phone. They didn’t get it. What had they to do with anything?

And sure enough, as the woman angrily handed me my paintings back in the darkness of that night, they were scratched. I have never mended them either and still have them both.

Luckily I have never had friends like that in Portland. Portland is weird in many ways – as regards relationships and what people might expect. But one thing we don’t seem to do here is dangle rotten carrots in front of each other faces. Just about anyone who ever said they wanted my work, got it, in one way or another - with very little talk, because talk is cheap.

(They live in the burbs now.)

Monday, November 5, 2007

in denial

Just about every artist of-a-certain-age has had to deny themselves all kinds of things to keep at it – money, homes, children, glamour. The suffering bit may hold interest at first, but eventually loses its charm.

Save, I hate to venture – for a certain mythic rendition of the woman artist – who, if consistently pitched as stoic, alone, unglamorous and unpainted, may indeed finally be seen as truly serious. Even tough.

There was a particular pavilion at Venice which housed some fairly playful installation work inside. I found the craft a little shoddy, but perhaps that doesn’t always matter. People were exploring and having fun in there.

Outside the pavilion was a bastion of propaganda of all sorts, of which I greedily partook – leaflets, badges, posters. Some of the press confirmed that the artist was certainly a hit with young people. They liked her unpredictability and she was rightfully proud of that.

But another thing the writing stressed, like a pitch to unbelievers, was how hard working she was. How alone she was in her cold studio, from dusk to dawn. How unadorned her face was, how shorn her hair, how deadpan her voice. While making work quite playful, we were to understand that she was not. And in this, of course we were to read the depth of her commitment.

The longer this pitch went on, the more my impatience grew. Is this what it takes to be perceived as a serious woman artist? It’s like Here Comes Success but God forbid you enjoy it!

Yeah, I know, someone is about to tell me how spiritually meaningful it is to live a life of denial.

It reminded me of how Agnes Martin is pitched - and I am not so sure I wish to be aligned with a vision of dying in a hard twin bed, after such an influential game at the top. While her contemporary Ellsworth ran with the wolves in living color, she chose grey in a distant white room. Her choices I do not condemn, but if they are uniformly seen as an emblem of appropriate success, I am wondering why.

Even recently a local critic wrote to the effect of Martin’s “…tough, makeup-free serigraph grids…” What makes them tough? The no makeup bit? The fact that she didn’t wear any? Or does “makeup” refer to color? And is color not tough?

- Or is she tough because she denied herself many, many things in life? OK, she did not go to the disco. Is that what makes her tough? And is that necessary? – the model of the washed-out woman living in elevated retrench comes up so often (and right in the here and now) that I feel the need to ask those questions.

No one doubts the aim and sincerity of Brice Marden, MOMA retros and all, as he floats from one well-appointed studio to another (didn’t the Times say there were four, a couple of fabulous ones in Greece?). And they are all probably handily well-stocked with great wine. No one is expecting him to deny himself, as a way to prove worth, depth, talent.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

James Kalm video

So I learned about James Kalm today. He's posting all kinds of art videos on Youtube and this one is from the opening last night. The painting right behind Bill Gusky , as he is talking, is mine. I think they (John, Stephanie and Chris) made a good choice, hanging my work next to his. This is probably as close as I am going to get to that show, so thanks James!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

do it yourself

How nice it was to see that picture of a Lovelake window in Carolyn Zick’s site. I learned so much in that green room and met so many great people there.

Since the learning curve was vertical, it’s not like it was all easy times. But I when I saw that particular image posted on Carolyn’s site – of the very first show - those times were not what I recalled.

(exhibtion: Randy Moe)

It’s about expectation vs. outcome. I had so little. Lovelake was a bridge out of the dark ages, when I made work but thought just making it might be enough. It isn’t.

Even in the making of this small green room, I faced so much questioning and opposition. People hated the name or the building or the color green. No wonder so many people don’t do things! I mean that seriously.

(exhibition: Darren Orange)

But then it all melted away within 3 hours, the night I opened. People liked. People even bought. The best thing was the ongoing conversation about art that it brought me.

Maybe what I cherish most is the bridge itself, what that means, which sort of goes back to the theme of Carolyn’s writing. Nothing beats coming out of nowhere, when no one even knows your name or cares. When you surprise others, what you really do is surprise yourself.

(exhibition: Cecilia Hallinan)

Those dark ages were the closest thing I had to a midlife crisis and it coincided with the advent of 9/11. The whole country went through this erratic reshuffling of the cards and so I placed a small, seemingly insignificant bet. I will always remember Tom Cramer telling me: “Change your life? Change your mind.”

the invalid voice

I fantasize about going to NYC at the last minute to see the Blogger Show. Maybe it is no big deal but some of life’s more interesting exploits hinged on what was initially no big deal. I hear the rumble.

As someone who saw a lot of work alone, without input or fanfare, I have mixed feelings about all art opinion and art writing. Art Forum didn't necessarily make me feel a part of anything and the same goes for art blogs.

I suspect many artists feel the same, including most of the artists who write one.

The very thing so many detest about blogs – that they are an “invalid” voice – is exactly what I like about them. A huge measure of human touch and all the vulnerabilities that go along with it, warts and all - the best art critics have that going for them too.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

looking for targets

Lately I’ve been thinking about the target, and collecting them. My love for them was once large, when I started with small ones in collage and went into big ones, which were colored not all that differently from how I paint today. I don’t even have photographs of the big ones, which all belong to someone else now, and wish I did. Perhaps I am just not done with them.

Sure, you can talk about Jasper Johns; Vale of Research used to say the same name to me in the 80s, taunting me. But I’m not worried. We get to have our obsessions. I mean does Malevich and Albers own the square? Certainly not. Plus just recently I saw the work of Julian Dashper online (see above). The critic said something like he’s “…driven the final stake into the corpse of painting…” Argh. Must we?

I have fond memories of going into the San Francisco Gun Exchange, being the only female in the store. The fellows would trip over themselves helping me and never charge me for any of the targets I took away.

A far cry from today! I went into several stores, finding not only lackluster targets but lackluster service. Gee, what a difference 25 years makes! The guys were like yeah, well, we only have a few and they’re over there. Help yerself....

It’s odd how the small the choice was – there used to be such an array. After all, this is gun country. You might not know it from hip PDX, but this state has plenty of people polishing their ammo out there. The trip out to G.I. Joe's was especially enlightening. I ended up out in strip mall hell.

For me, it did not always have to be a circle. It’s the shape within a shape within a shape. Perhaps the fascination started at the Ashland Rifle Range, up beyond Lithia Park. Ross Sutherland and I would go up there and nick the already fired through targets and many were of the human form.

Friday, October 26, 2007

size matters

If you were see these, would you rather have them small and all in the original, or big and blown up?

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Since I started Lulu with you, it seems only right to wrap it up here too. Well, that narrator (named Mia) who was the frustrated artist, she hangs up that hat - she quits art. Like I said here before, she suspects that she has no Talent.

So she decides to write the book and it’s all such an easy transition.

Hanging up your hat – the “disappearance” – we’ve been sorting that out here, we can believe it. There’s so much keeping us from making art, let alone the Art Career.

The biggest veracity comes in the one or two moments when Mia feels complete envy - bordering on sorrow, to see her new friend Lulu gain a flush of emerging-artist-fame. Lulu was a Wall Streeter who takes a brush to canvas and well, the rest is history. She’s So Talented.

That’s around the time the narrator suspects that she is not.

But this is also where the book is, au contraire to what Gagosian says, absolutely nothing like the real art world. For is Talent all it takes to make it as an artist in New York? I am not sure it is even the main ingredient.

I wanted to shake this Mia and say to her Good God, woman, wake up and kick some ass. Who cares about your lack of talent? It’s about hard work, work and then more work. I can’t think of many artists, 25 years into their career, who wake up with the tools in their hands, all “inspired” and oozing with “Talent.” No, I think a lot of it is more like ok…to the studio… after my 6th cup of coffee….

(PS... oh but the story ends on a happy note because she gets the guy in the end...)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

a re-emergence

We were talking of how an artist, once fairly well known in their community, could fall off the planet. But I think it is possible to disappear and "re-emerge" - time and time again in fact. I Know I've done it and I am not the only one.

There was one man in particular who had disappeared and it shocked me. He was so forceful, had so much presence and personal power. I had even met people in SF, who when I talked about him, would say: "You are not the first person to talk to me about him. That guy changes lives."

He was an art dealer and he inspired in many ways. But he was also, I found out, an aspiring artist. Once we got close, his ideas were all he talked about.

But it was all talk and so often I wanted to say to him - "Well just fucking do it!" and this was way before the Nike ads.

My mom had told me that you shouldn't talk about your art ideas, that it drains them and then, they might not happen. I think she's right about that...

He had one idea in particular which he described in great detail; I loved it, but also felt it must take pretty good skills, and I had never really seen him make anything.

So anyway, I used to joke with my girlfriend about it. Like his famous stretcher bars he would rattle on about - how they had to be just so - finding the right studio - he had a million reasons to NOT paint! - I always thought that if I ever ran into him, maybe I would finally have the nerve (or just brazen sense of humor) to rib him about it. "Hey, did you ever find the stretchers that you needed?"

Well, when I got into Google, I tried to find him. And what was odd was how much, how completely, he had fallen off the face of the earth. This man who had once been the talk of the town - for his vision, his opinions and his ability to make things happen. And for also, no doubt, his volatile relationships. Gone. All I could find was one exhibition history of an artist who had him on there as a curator of some show in the 80s. It just blew my mind.

And it saddened me a little too, because he had so much fire.

Well, guess what? I finally found him. He just showed in a San Francisco group show - a painting of this idea he had rehashed so many times! ...So he finally made (and shown) one after all.


In a search for some particular letters, I found a few from a male artist, a painter, I knew in SF in the 80s.

His work was almost like cartoons... black lines, bright, flat colors, figurative, strange poses... but he probably had more in common with Max Beckmann (certainly not a bad thing).

Anyway, in one of the letters, he says "It's interesting that we are more in communication now that you are in New York than when you lived here. I wonder why that is..?"

I wonder if I ever told him why. Doubtful.

When we first met, he wanted to draw me. From the start, he wanted me naked, but I did not do that. But I liked being over at his house because he was a real character and a painter and because he had a great art book library. We had some marvelous conversations about art.

He had mentioned that he was house-sitting a gorgeous flat off Grant Avenue - North Beach. North Beach was always my favorite area and I visited several times a week the entire time I lived in that town. So of course I visited him.

He'd been drinking (nothing strange about that per se) and eventually lunged at me, with big, open mouth - really aggressively. I hate those kind of kisses anyway, which assume you are something to be sucked up and violently swallowed, but I really hate them as any kind of initial introduction. And I had never shown any of that kind of interest to this crusty old pirate of an artist.

Then he calls the next day and says: "Uh, what happened last night?" He doesn't remember. I would call that very convenient - mouth wide open with the eyes wide shut!

He then goes on to say I am making a big deal over nothing, to which I said: "Maybe I can talk to your wife about that. I wonder what kind of deal she thinks it is?" That shut him up.

So, yeah, maybe the distance of 3000 miles would let us really talk about art and art making, instead of being pounced on. I could never be alone with him after that, whether he didn't "remember" it or not.

I googled him - to no avail. It's amazing how many people, really creative people, disappearred.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Both Lulu Meets God and Spending have a first person narration provided by a woman artist. Both of these artists are figurative painters and maybe even a little defensive about it. Characters abound (in especially Lulu) who are snobs about installation or performance or conceptual work and turn their noses up at painting. Especially figurative painting.

I can't help but notice, though, that figurative painting is very successful in these stories, sort of a "gotcha" moment...

And the road to masterpieces is slowly, finely detailed - the moments of observation, the translation, the pensive brush to the canvas, the method of a recording not photographic.

I did not think about it one way or another when I read Spending – Mary Gordon did a spectacular job of plugging into the artist’s mindset, especially the act of observation and drawing. But after reading another novel in which the artist draws representationally, I am wondering if indeed the road to abstraction (or collage, performance, video, installation, maybe anything else) is a difficult for the non-artist to bridge, to write about.

Any of these practices can be every bit the intense spiritual journey that figurative painting can be.

….I thought I was going to write about everyday ongoing struggles of feeling dissed, the gallery system, ceaseless distracting love affairs, yadda yadda yadda….

That's all there, but I also ended up writing a lot about art, about big shows and small, private works, and more than anything, the spiritual embrace necessary for at least this protagonist to cross over into a body of work which will matter.

I wonder if it is easier for the regular reader (whoever that is) to read about figurative art, to “get it” - ? Is it too big a leap to carry them to other mediums, other styles, and still maintain the vision? The translation is just easier. Perhaps the tone is too serious here, but writing a cynical work which makes fun of everything or is just lightly bitchy is not interesting to me. They are boring to read too.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

more on the Blogger Show

How marvelous that the Blogger Show is picking up steam.

Edward Winckleman posted a thoughtful bit about artists who write. And then the New York Times mentioned the hosting gallery, Digging Pitt, in their travel section. Hurrah!

The photomontage above is what I sent to Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

again, the spectator

During the summer I researched novels on the art world, especially the genre of chick lit, which I then recounted here. But one book must be fairly popular, as it was not available (at the library) until just a couple of days ago. It fact it is so popular that the film rights have been sold.

I haven't finished Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, but from the start I was impatient, bored and disappointed. The reviews have said that this is a great story for those who want to know about the art world, but it is mostly made of snippets barely held together by hollow characters - explanations of auctions, primary and secondary art markets....zzzzzzz.

What was missing? The passion.

The narrator is a gallerina, whose main virture is that she actually smiles (and most gallerinas don't, you see).

Oh, and she's a struggling, very private artist - even her boss doesn't know she's one and she's worked there five years. She suspects she has no talent.

Well, I know what it's like to not tell everyone, especially those in your day job. So many questions, suggestions, judgments, dreams explored and then dashed. But those dreams are still inside.

I am sadly not curious as to what happens to this girl, who is in awe over some male artist (again) - she turns him into the interesting part of the story. He enters the gallery and the story, makes the sweeping statements, which she narrates from the sidelines with her sweet, persistent smile.

It's painted as a virtue, to hide yourself and be all humble, but I can say with absolute confidence that it is not all that interesting letting someone else always walk the walk.

Yet the quotes on the book jacket confirm its authenticity. Richard Prince says he wishes he wrote it. Larry Gagosian says the story is very accurate, the art world is just like that. Whose art world?

But even if it was, even if I was the cog in the art world machine, the interior world is still reeling.

The story of a tremendously successful woman artist I may or may not be able to tell. I am not Cindy - I don't know that life. But to express a love of art and a life lived for it - is far more accurate that a perspective of the constant spectator. Move over! That's what she should be saying. Move all the way over.

The tenor of the novel only changes when the narrator tells us about a painting. She walks us through it and through this story, she finally gains some humanity. The novelist is indeed a collector – so she must love art (although sometimes, you gotta wonder). That’s what needs to come through.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Charles Schultz

I can't believe what a ruckus there has been over the recent biography on Charles Schultz. People seem to be shocked that he is written as depressed, highly sensitive and often full of melancholy.

I can't imagine him any other way, whatever smiles he gave for the camera. How could anyone so consistently provide such a human picture of a vulnerable kid, someone so affected by everyone and thing around him? You could dream that up once or twice, but to pursue it so successfully for three decades, and build an empire around it, is something else.

He wrote and drew about a deep internal sadness. How could he not live it.....?

The NY Times has an op-ed on how we might like our artists to be suffering, like no one could make stuff like that and be normal. I don't know - I do see "normal" people make art all the time. I mean people who are not maniacs, depressed, crazy or on the verge of suicide.

BUT... I see as many who are! And often the better their art, the more highly singular it is, the more singular the individual.

The work is coming from this unknown place. This place no one goes to but the artist.
So, you go to that place to make your work. Like a tunnel. Or maybe indeed it is a bright heaven, who knows. But you go alone and then you come back here, and you're supposed to fit right in. Be all socialized and good to go. But it doesn't work out quite that way. Making great work is not necessarily the same as living "the good life," no matter what success.

Turns out Charles Schultz was just like Charlie Brown, in love with a red-headed girl who rejected him. I am not surprised.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Judd Montage, etc.

While making photomontages, I've still concentrated on showing paintings. Maybe next year I can shift it a bit, and show these Judd Montages.

Speaking of collage, there is a reception for James Archer at the First Unitarian Church downtown today, 2-4pm. It's called Collage. I have known Archer as a curator; he's turned me on to a lot of artists.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

for the Blogger Show

For the month of November I have art scattered to the winds, to the four corners of this country. Well – just about: Southern California with Jeffrey Crussell, Pittsburgh and NYC with Digging Pitt’s Blogger Show. But having never been to any of the actual spaces, I don’t have a visual image or emotional take on what it all means. Just know that I had to paint overtime to make it happen, so that there was still plenty left for a show at Augen in December.

Over the past two months, I made five pieces taking off from 60s/80s and Orchid. Three went to California and the above diptych is going to New York. On the wall there you see a sphere by Matthew Haggett.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Herbert Bayer (and an old collage technique)

Scraptorium wrote about hauling in a new, abundant (and cheap!) stash of magazines – I know the feeling, one of the best feelings for a collage artist. The future all lies out ahead. One of the most luxurious times is just reading all the stuff before you cut it up. I am not sure if other collage artists do this, but for me it is essential.

Scraptorium’s stash held Fortune – one of the best designed magazines of the 40s and 50s. I especially loved all the sleeves designed by Herbert Bayer.

I met Herbert Bayer once, at a show he had in SF in the 80s. He had been a student at the Bauhaus, under Kandinsky, Gropius and Moholy-Nagy. His name might not be all that famous, but when you see his work, you know you’ve seen it before. Some say that outside of a few outstanding montages, he was merely a proponent of “Good Design.” This, however, is no small achievement.

The Lonely Metropolitan (above) is one of my favorite photomontages. I wrote a poem based on the collage and when I used to read it at readings, I would pass the image around.

Anyway, the course of notes at Scrapatorium refer to coating collages with something as a means of archiving them. This reminded me of something I used to do, although a little different, and I wonder of anyone is doing this now:

In high school, the first photomontages I ever made, we laminated them with a laminating machine... sort of like ironing on a shiny coat….

Then... I put those collages under water, soaked them and the lamination separated from the paper with the images on it! So I had see-through photomontages which I then adhered to a window - like stained-glass but with photographic images instead. I recall very well one that had early pictures of Lucille Ball with flaming red hair. I also recall that this technique only worked with fairly sturdy paper, nothing too vulnerable.

Eventually I removed these collages from the high school art room windows and glued them on my index card boxes for my debate class, which was not a great use of them, but my card boxes looked like no one else’s.

Has anyone done this lately? Or seen it done? The only time I ever did that was back then, early 70s.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Not every contemporary artist is a fiend for art history. It’s still a surprise to me, because I’m often happier with, say, the Romans and the Greeks than with my contemporaries, but many artists are much more interested in what their peers are doing.

Venice, more than any other place I’ve been, merged the very old with the shiny new extremely well. Maybe this is why I felt so sustained, even validated, as a living artist there.

And because time stands still there, all times seamlessly and strangely united, it really was the perfect place to host that Artempo – Where Time Becomes Art exhibition. The name alone might raise curiosity. Well, when I left the show, I was still curious. Through it all, I kept either saying: “This is incredible, this is incredible” or “I’m not quite sure what we’re looking at…. is this a part of the show?....”

I knew from the moment I walked in that I had never, ever seen anything quite like it – and yet it is the kind of show which sort of exists in your imagination, if you are a modern, living artist who loves the old, the dark, the secret artifact.

Because it was a like set design, inviting you to sit down, it was endless. I could have stayed a long time and not have seen it all, because I wasn’t even sure if half the things I noticed where part of the show or not. The lighting was so dim, it seemed the curators cared more about you feeling it than seeing it, which I liked. Someone clearly understood that seeing doesn’t necessarily equate with feeling.

You started questioning everything around you. The hanging tapestries designed by Fortuny seemed heavy not just in physical matter, but also in possible narration. What was meant as “art” and what just happened to be there? Everything looked like it had always been there, like maybe for centuries, including the Duchamp, the many Lucio Fontanas, the Marlene Dumas, the Bellmer and Yves Klein. (More photographs available here - just click on Palazzo Fortuny.)

Carolyn Zick and JL mentioned they were interested in the topic of a previous post, which was an attempt to clarify a transition from the spectator who creates quietly to someone who, well, is no longer such a spectator (or a quiet one, how about that). I have struggled ever since to define where I was headed, but unfortunately the longer I am back in my studio, in the States, in this time and place, some of it fades away. It is almost a tragic thing to lose, because it was so real (even if only in my head) and I think that Artempo show had as much to do with it as the Biennale. Because time stood still. Ego and identity was still there, but changed somehow.

But from this new distance, growing more everyday, old issues re-emerge... and maybe that was all just a momentary outburst of confidence. Yes, I’m an artist, just like all those in Venice (dead or alive). Do they wake up, sometimes – many times – in doubt? I’ll bet they do, but that is not what I saw.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

the Venice Biennale

If you really want in-depth info and images of the Biennale, blow by blow, nothing provides it as the blog of Contessanally. I discovered the blog via Anaba and it was as good a resource for preparing to see that show as anything I had read in the regular art rags.

I read in Art in America that the exhibition was “heavy in painting and in Americans,” but to this American west coast painter, it did not feel like that at all. Too bad I don’t have many Venice Biennales to compare it to, but I saw so much variety that it was not just a breath of fresh air – it was like a hurricane.

And I didn’t really expect that. Don’t know what I expected but I recall – I think it was Jeff Jahn – who said that biennials are designed to raise a certain amount of ire and disagreement. I felt the same; can’t say I ever saw one I didn’t say “but” to. That all changed in Venice.

- I’m willing to believe that location helps! But it’s not just that town; it is also the way they have built those pavilions over time, special places for very particular art goings-on. I loved the approaches, the venues, the graphics, the drying, fading gardens, the room upon room of immense visual bombardment. The seamless marriage of old and the very new is what this place did better than any place I have ever been.

It was that general bombardment-feeling which overwhelmed me most, and when Patrick Rock, of Rocksbox, asked me about various artists and pavilions, I was embarrassed at how general my impressions were, and how inarticulate I was. Of course it might have been jetlag… I stumbled into his incredible space on Interstate hours after coming home, completely sleep deprived... and he asked me: “Who represented the United States?”


As to painting (and so many other things), what I found interesting was the way spaces were used. A lot of works stretched into installation, like the works by Odili Donald Odita above. It was cool to see what this artist did, because previously I have only been able to view work in a magazine or online, but I have been interested in this artist for years now. Yes. Yes.

The circular works by Guillermo Kuitca of Argentina were absolutely wonderful. Every piece was singular and had different approaches. This was also some really great painting presented in an expansive way. (My photo is not the best; check out the post by Contessanally.) These works by Riyas Komu of India below stretched out in one long line and again, did not feel like merely a room full of paintings.

There were of course entire rooms of painting, hung in a style we’re more accustomed to - like Elizabeth Murray, Richter, Kelly and Ryman. It was all good to see, but none of it was very surprising, save maybe Richter, who never fails to amaze me. From a distance, the work looked all brown and maybe uneventful, but up close, watch out. A lot has been written about the work of Sophie Calle there and it’s all true – you felt like you walked into a very private moment and in a church or a home, not a gallery. I also liked the British Pavilion with Tracey Emin...

The room of Jason Rhoades (above) was one of the best, hands down. We were not supposed to take any pics, but my mate sneaked one in before the numerous guards took notice.

There were works out of doors near the pavilions and all over town. This installation above by Morrinho Project of Brazil looked great from a distance. It did not hold up as well once you got close, but then neither do most shanty towns.

The work of El Anatsui of Ghana is almost beyond description. It’s all made of found materials but glitters like a Gustave Klimt. (The Fortuny Museum also had a huge work draped across their entrance. More on that mind blowing exhibition Artempo at that museum later. Jen Graves called it “the Best Art Show Ever” – I think she’s right.)

Many rooms benefited from the practice of montage: I saw whole walls collaged, as in Paulo Kapela in the African Pavilion above. Below is an overview of Emily Prince’s montage of drawings called American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis not the Afghanis).

There were even more traditional, small photomontages (below) of a political slant with Adolph Hitler, Stalin, et al, which were oddly comforting, even soothing to see. I believe that they are by Zoran Naskovski of Belgrade.

There was a ton of video. I am not one to spend a lot of time in front of a screen when time itself is so short, but there was one piece in particular which really struck me – called Democracy. The Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli created a character named Patricia Hill who was running for president. She was played by Sharon Stone.

Could one have a better birthday than spending all day at the Venice Biennale, and then power-drink through Harry’s Bar?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

past affairs

While I was gone, the Affair at Jupiter Hotel happened. Sarah Henderson posted photographs at PORT here. In the past years, I shot personalities and still have them online - here are the Affairs of 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Giannetto Bravi at Comune di Como

The most beautiful town, Venice aside, was Como for us. No wonder George Clooney, who is like a local god there, moved to that town. It has endless winding streets full of booty, reminding me a bit of Aix. They have old, incredibly inexpensive shops (especially hardware stores), but they also have all the D & G and Versace, etc.

I was also very, very lucky to happen across this great collage exhibition by Giannetto Bravi. It’s like the show was made for me.

You walk into this old church. Architecturally things are pretty rough, unembellished. All the pieces are hung tightly together, uniform in their pastel frames of candy colors - pink, mint green and yellow. What’s held inside is all the greatest hits of art history, one particular image repeated flawlessly in a grid.

As I toured around I gleefully identified works out loud, like a child names off the signs on the highway: old masters of all sorts but also Modernists - Italian Futurists, Surrealists, Post-war. The artist also presented works in groups – portraits altogether, or still lifes or landscapes.

Occasionally I would go back to the table, manned by a quiet gentleman, searching for something I could read. Nothing was in English, though there was indeed plenty of propaganda available.

It was only as we were walking out of the show that I saw this banner, very large in size at the door. I then realized that the man in the custodian outfit, the artist, was also the man at the desk. There he was, carrying a group of Klimts. And I so returned.

And as it is with artists, even though we could barely communicate, we had things to say and share. When I told him that the postcard collages reminded me of Gilbert and George and their own efforts in the same area, he said: “Yes, I have used them too.” I’ll bet he has! He had to have known that I was loving what he was doing and he gave me not only a cool, large pamphlet but then this BIG, JUICY book which is a work of art in its own right. Half of it is printed upside down.

Unfortunately it has been difficult to grasp all that he is doing because very little is translated. Google tells me he has been in mail art shows, but if you try to have them translate a page, it is chaos. I understand that his work is "The Collage of Master" and that he claims to be the Collage Curator, looking after the Gallery of Galleries, helping collectors decorate their walls with whatever works of art they wish.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Somewhere in my old diary at Lovelake I wrote about art history and museums being sustenance for the living artist who has a nonexistent art career. Art making, she has. Art career, that’s another thing. And as the dream of one recedes further and further into dark, depressing Netherlands, aided and abetted by survival jobs and distracting love affairs, you don’t go to openings so much anymore. You make your stuff on the side and drink in dead artists at places like the Met.

They can’t hurt you. I don’t know if Matthew Collings was talking about this very specific hurt that contemporary art provides in It Hurts, but maybe it plays a part. You’re not in comparison and competition with dead artists as you are with the living (though it did seem that some of the painter fellows of my youth in the 80s surely were. An example is Julian Schnabel, who definitely chased Goya and it was all documented very seriously on film. It is almost laughable in retrospect.)

This isn’t to stay that I completely stopped looking at contemporary art in NYC after awhile, but mostly it was just “the best” I looked at – like openings of Richter or Basquiat, Gilbert and George, this type of thing. My real contemporaries though, the hungry bunch, I could not keep up with them. Until I came back to Portland, Oregon.

But that idea of seeing only “the best” was not much of an option, and so I toured First Thursday like everyone else. I’ll never forget my first one, over ten years ago. I went out with an old friend, who liked many things (she’s not an artist – maybe that helps). Meanwhile, I hated nearly everything. I thought about it later, because whether I was “right” or “wrong,” I could see that my friend was having a much better time. The situation said more about me than what we were actually looking at. I think it’s really easy to hate everything when you are dissatisfied with your own shit.

Well, it’s been over ten years. And nowhere could I have seen the changes within so clearly as when I was at the Venice Biennale. No doubt it helped that I had been researching towards that day. But the real research was climbing my way into a daily studio practice and also forging an ongoing dialogue with living artists. I use the word climbing because I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “following your heart,” blah blah and other romantic notions.

While the Biennale was this immense spectacle, I did not feel like merely a spectator. This felt like a huge difference to how I’ve experienced plenty of other biennials and big shows of living artists. I could blame the curator but the show itself is only part of the story. The Biennale wasn’t the only time I got to see contemporary art either, or have conversations with living artists over there. Everyone was very generous. It was way beyond expectation. More later.

Friday, September 7, 2007

beyond the black thing

In 1978 I made a fanzine called Beyond the Black Thing. The Black Thing may be familiar to those who have read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine D’Engle. To me, the Black Thing was like Wilhelm Reich’s Emotional Plague or another word for fascism. I have been thinking about her, about the book and the fanzine the last few days and had been preparing a post on the contents of the fanzine….. and now she has passed on. She was not wild about being thought of as a children’s book author. I discovered only now that she was pigeon-holed as a Christian, too. Well, I read her when I was way out of childhood and very far away from any typical Christianity.