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.