Friday, December 26, 2008

her pop autobiography

She produces autobiographical art -- art which is about herself.

This is one of the first lines you come across at Tracey Emin’s website. Two things come to my mind: that she’s not alone - everyone does. Every artist makes work about themselves. But secondly, most women are kind of shamed for looking at themselves and getting all personal, whereas she’s been able to glorify it. I commend her.

She had the British Pavilion at Venice last year. I wrote in my diary: The work itself is rather disappointing but I find her really interesting. Some may think it’s weird to make your personal story the constant link in what you create, but any attractive woman has this saga as the platform for everything she does and how she is perceived. It’s all within her biology, what she looks like, how fuckable she is and who she is doing it with. The moment you think it’s not you find out you are wrong - and it’s coming from females too. Once I started looking at her this way, she seemed rather important to me.

The personal saga of a woman’s life as it traverses their art seems like this unavoidable bill of fare by now – from Dumas to Peyton or Sherman or Kahlo. But of course it is no different than what the guys have been doing all along. After all, someone gets to tell the story. Everyone I Ever Slept With – the famous work of Emin’s - isn’t that exactly what Matisse painted throughout his career? One prostitute (er, "Nude") after another?

Perhaps the autobiographical slant in art means more to me lately because I’ve been thinking of Peyton and Dumas, who are getting a lot of press for their shows. I enjoyed both the videos James Kalm put up very much. The course of the conversation in the blogosphere around the work is the same as it ever was: is it any good? The Quality of the Work rag. Mind, men have painted their families and their women and their babies for centuries but rave on.

In my photomontage, I've had conversations about the personal. I made works about looking for love, about very specifically looking for a husband, about being poor, about being crazy. And I think I could venture wherever I pleased because I rarely showed it and therefore, no discourse on bad, good, Quality, whatever.

Painting, though, that was different. The rare exceptions were 60s/80s, which played on YSL and Marimekko and The Italian. And it was The Italian of Take Off that Richard Speer chose to write about - because he could connect to the Pop autobiography. I think for some women, they get so sick of being the object that it’s the last thing they really want to face, but lately it occurred to me that Speer may have said something very valuable for me there.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

sign of the times

This article in the New York Times - reporting a French Master of the Universe committing suicide, perhaps illustrates the big shift in the lives of the Haves. It took me back to a time – was it only ten months ago? – when the divide was so clear and so sharp that I could hardly say a word to the rich when they sat right next to me.

I was in San Francisco, a city of chance meetings with the beautiful and the transient. I sat in a downtown French bistro, a likely place for a single woman to have her meal at the bar. Next to me sat a Frenchman and we began some light talk.

He was a hedge fund guy. He tried to tell me that his business was just like being an artist and he was creative like me. I said to him: “Well why aren’t you making a living at art then, all things being equal? If it was all the same, then you could try to be an artist. But you don’t really know if you’re an artist or not.” He laughed and conceded that this was true. He didn’t know if he could be one. Sounds weird to recall this, but Baby you can have a lot of shit when you’re a hedge fund manager, but hands off my uniform! You got your jets and many homes and expensive women and now you’re telling me you get to be an artist too? Greedy boy.

But of course I didn’t say that. After he stopped laughing he told me he lived in Soho. “A cliché, I guess” he said. “Yes but you enjoy your life,” I feebly returned. It might not have even been true anyway. Neither of us could look at each other at this point.

During that entire trip to SF the contrast between the classes kept rearing its ugly head. The beauty of SF could only gloss over so much. I got the feeling it was the have-not masses who join all those pot clubs (medical marijuana) so well advertised in all the weekly rags. Ten months later, I wonder how that French hedge fund manager is doing today. Things are getting kind of hungry over here but at least we’re still artists and maybe they're a little less likely to say that they are too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

stuck in the snow

Stuck in the snow. At least there are the neccesary supplies on hand - pasta and wine and coffee, a fully stocked paint and collage studio. But still it feels like little can get done. Just thinking instead.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Toedtemeier Tribute on KBOO

Listen to the archived interview

This coming Thursday KBOO will host a remembrance of Terry Toedtemeier. My guests will be his widow and fellow curator, Prudence Roberts, Jane Beebe of PDX Contemporary Art and John Laursen, who co-authored Wild Beauty with Terry.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Terry and Prudence

Just yesterday while I was at KBOO with MK Guth, I announced that Terry Toedtemeier would be my guest next week, all cheery. Once I got home I found this was not to be. His widow Prudence Roberts, whom I snapped with him (above) at the first party of Chambers in 2005, will help me create a tribute show instead. Everyone has their story about this incredible man.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Adam Sorensen at PDX

At PDX Contemporary Art is Adam Sorensen’s False Fjords. There’s been plenty written about this show that you can find online, but none of it captures the color - brilliance like this video we made yesterday. I just loved this show.

MK Guth on KBOO

On Thursday December 11th at 10:30AM I will interview MK Guth on Art Focus on KBOO. Her exhibition is a part of the APEX series at the Portland Art Museum, curated by Jennifer Gately. Ties of Protection and Safe Keeping was at the 2008 Whitney Biennial and is also touring the country. If KBOO archives this interview, I’ll post the link here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Joan of Arc

One of my favorite paintings at the Met is Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien Lepage. It is the kind of painting you can truly look at forever. So imagine my happiness at coming across it in an issue of Art Instructor from the 1940s. What Art Instructor typically featured was a color repro of a masterpiece on the cover and then many tiny repros inside, which the teacher would cut up and then distribute in class. Of course these repros don’t begin to tell you about the immense detail in these paintings, but it’s particularly true for this one. The piece is so dense with spots of paint, it’s absolutely incredible.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Katherine Ace on KBOO

Link to the online interview.

On Thursday December 4th at 10:30AM I will interview Katherine Ace on Art Focus at KBOO. Her exhibition Creation Chaos opens at Froelick Gallery that same day. Ace is known for creating fabulous still lifes. I used to think it was all done with paint- but was then able to visit her studio this summer and saw that she collages a lot of her elements in. Quite a feat.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Andrea Schwartz-Feit at Butters Gallery

Andrea Schwartz-Feit has a new show up at Butters. She makes beautiful grids with encaustic paint – some are representational and some are not. She talks about this show, all based on Genesis, in this video.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mary Josephson + Heart of the City

Mary Josephson just completed a public art project for the city of Stockton called Heart of the City. I visited her new studio in Linnton which looks out over the industrial Willamette several times over the course of making this huge mural. The mural focuses on life in the big valley and has inlayed glass mosaics as well. She tells us about the whole process of making public works from start to finish in this video.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


The only curators who have seen my targets in the flesh are men, older men and maybe demographics don’t matter - but the one thing they’ve both said is that they might be better if the women were not known - more anonymous.

Famous women have surely already been done by Hamilton, Warhol, Cornell and so on - that territory didn’t look like it was going to dry up anytime soon. Storm Tharp travels that down that road too and we talked a bit about it in his interview. If you’ve got any input on it one way or another, I’d be curious.

“I don’t want to see her,” said one man who obviously hated Liza Minnelli. But must we like her personally? And if we don’t like her, is this a bad thing? I recall that Jackie O was really unpopular for awhile too. All throughout my childhood she graced the covers of the National Enquirer, surely to rot in hell because she remarried a rich, greasy foreigner.

The fact that these women were known and had worked hard at putting themselves in the public’s eye was part of their hold over me. I’m not saying that anonymous women can’t be interesting but their story is then more up to us.

It reminded me of the model’s role: look good and be quiet. Even I was a little put off when I heard Linda Evangelista talk in Unzipped. Great model, maybe the greatest, tarnished in a second. The collage below is actually not quite anonymous for me. She’s made by a good painter, Wayne Thiebaud, crammed into a Judd box.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

back home for keeps

Still slowly working on my Joe is Home Now series. Next year I'm showing photomontages and maybe we'll show some of them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

the self-appointed

About once a year I write a post in defense of the blog. That’s because about ten times a year I am in the crossfire, casual or not, about the worthlessness of blogs. So here goes again. My yearly crap-shoot: I have a friend who refers to a couple of artist-art-bloggers as “The Self-Appointed.” While I may have plenty to say about them as artists or writers, the fact that they have appointed themselves means nada to me.

Could this be generational? He’s not the only friend of my generation who has a problem with blogs and sometimes just with websites, period. But not all of us can wait for someone else to appoint us! Not all of us go through the usual system of grades and graduation, awards, reviews, approvals and promotions successfully.

Also, there’s a few “positions” which do not involve permission and submission. They ask for invention and self application. - Isn’t that what the punks did and all these “DIY” exploits which followed? Appoint themselves? Stop waiting? No one else was going to press our records and open a club for us; at least that’s how it was here in P-Town. We weren’t asking for anything that already existed, we weren’t taking away from someone’s audience. It was a new audience altogether, baking a new pie.

I used to think that the Internet was a new pie too, not cutting in on anyone’s action really. But now so much is up for grabs - the decline of the newspaper is but one example – it’s like this rumble between the traditionally-placed and the self-appointed. I see it in the anger of those who were quite fine, thank you, with the old system. And so they dismiss the threat. Most of us aren’t appointing anything. We’re just not waiting, that’s all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

you're not original

Recently Roberta Smith wrote of two shows she saw back to back. She observed that both the artists owed just a little too much to Gerhard Richter. Two Coats of Paint made note of it here, where some comments insisted that there was plenty of room to work in paintings which look like blurry black and white photography; plenty of originality to go around.

But I was actually a little happy to see her call them on it. Because I think it’s the kind of thing that many artists are called on if somehow the work is not of the moment or of the trend. Or if you need to poke holes because the artist is not in your comfort zone.

I had a recent excursion into “You’re not really original here” land - but guess what was on the walls while the curator is telling me this? Paintings that owed a shitload to Gerhard Richter. In this case they were color and the artist was from behind the Iron Curtain and he even claimed in his glossy catalogue that if indeed there was any artist he could relate to, it was Richter.

Well hell yes. And it was celebrated, a fact to enjoy, not a thing to dismiss into the Land of You’re Not Original.

The curator looked over my Targets and Women photomontages. You could you tell he was interested because the ten minutes he said he would give me turned into almost an hour, but he hemmed and hawed because well, Laurie Simmons (see above) does work like this.

Laurie Simmons? We are both women. And we’ve used images of women in pop culture in our work. Beginning and end of the story. Oh, but he would have to “defend,” he said and “explain” this work. I almost turned to the work on the walls and said “So how to do you defend that?” but I didn’t.

He produced a color postcard from when he showed Laurie Simmons. A color photograph of two ceramic female legs spread, coming out of a ceramic globe. Cool photograph but can you tell me how she has done it all already?

What is weird about this is when I shared the story with another woman who makes photomontages with women, she said that the same thing was said to her! “Your work looks like Laurie Simmons.” She then told me that she didn’t really think about it at the time because, well, she doesn’t think about Simmons one way or another. Actually neither do I.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Audrey Flack

It is time for me to return Art Talk to the library. There are so many interviews that I wished to quote in here or comment upon; Hartigan wasn’t really the best but obviously it was the timeliest…

-Save to observe that out of all the artists interviewed in this book, you might say that Eva Hesse “won.” Some of the artists in the book, we don’t even know who they are anymore (or at least I didn’t). You look at the work and think “why this?” Their work dosen't hold up very well - whereas many, many artists today have Eva Hesse lurking somewhere in their bones if not out front and center.

The interview to really speak to me was Audrey Flack’s – because she touched on a topic we had covered here – that of beauty and aesthetics, of pretty and of ugly.

Flack went way against the tide in painting realist in the 1950s - she was a forerunner of photorealism. That wasn’t easy – her Prof at Yale was Joseph Albers, who wanted her to make some version of “square” paintings. Eventually she refused any critique of her work from him at all and he respected her decision by not requiring her to take his courses.

She was also a rebel because when the Photorealism term was finally coined (as by Ivan Karp), it was associated with a cool, unemotional, technical approach - supposedly “masculine”- and this wasn’t her thing at all. She painted vibrant and intensely crying Madonnas and her mother’s vanity dresser, things which clearly had an intimate, very personal feel and content. Even when she painted cars and motorcycles, she did not paint them with the typical Photorealist detachment, nor wish to.

She was also painting realist works of the Kennedy assassination by 1964, all based on the photograph - way ahead of the curve. But as you can guess by now she is not this big feature in art history.

Previously here and here we talked about still life. It’s on my mind again as soon Katherine Ace will have a show at Froelick and we’re going to talk about it on KBOO. Audrey Flack discusses in Art Talk how her still lifes were seen in the 1960s, how the mere beauty of them could not be accepted. She referred to a big review she received in the Times about Jolie Madame (above):

…. (it) set up the pattern for interpretations. “Audrey Flack’s painting Jolie Madame is a wholly satisfying painting ‘in drag.’ It is gorgeous, decadent, opulent and jeweled. It is vulgar and risky: a gorgeous comment on the artificiality and absurdity of the good life. This painting is one of the most beautiful-ugly paintings I have ever seen." We should reexamine the current attitudes towards the concept of beauty and ugliness. I think we have been brainwashed into believing that beauty is a bad word and ugly is a terrific word. Cool is desirable while feeling and emotion are put down.

Not long ago Jacqueline Ehlis told me how dangerous beauty was, that people were afraid of it. I think there is something to this statement. What is interesting to me is that this interview with Flack took place in the 1970s, referring to the 60s, but is completely related to ones I have with all kinds of artists today.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Storm Tharp on KBOO

Tomorrow I am going to begin an era of some hosting on KBOO’s Art Focus and my first guest is Storm Tharp. He currently has a show up at PDX. Art Focus is on Thursdays at 10:30AM.

You can listen online to the archived interview here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grace Hartigan

Grace Hartigan has passed away – right at a time when I am reading Art Talk: Conversations with 15 Women Artists by Cindy Nemser. She’s in there.

Even in this book, written by a feminist in the 1970s, the first sentence to describe Hartigan is “blond, beautiful and vivacious.” No wonder she spends a considerable amount of energy throughout the entire interview assuring us that being a woman painter in the art world machts nichts to her.

Nonetheless he son bitterly opposed her painting. He went to his father at age twelve and never saw her again (or at least not by the time of the interview). She chose art over everything else - something many women artists were not really doing as they worked to support their genius mates. She had no trust-fund, no room for romantic notions about living as an artist. No wonder she had no mercy and cut no one, herself included, any slack.

CN:…you had a very sensuous stroke…
Hartigan: You’re saying that because I’m a woman.
CN: No, not at all.
Hartigan: I don’t know that there is any more sensuous a touch than Rothko’s for instance.

They bat the ball like that quite a bit. She lived during the Georgia O’Keeffe fallout, when women painters of any lushness at all had sexual predilections attached to their work as a matter of course. But who is really on Hartigan’s mind? Goya, Velasquez. And of course she was a great admirer of Francis Bacon.

She disappearred when the 60s became defined by Pop and she was first female Ab Ex artist to be thoroughly exorcised by John Canaday at the New York Times. But when the chroniclers were coming to her later, ready to write her story and make sure she is a part of history, that she has her retrospectives and all, she said she didn’t want to think of herself in that way. “I just think about the next painting.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

the evil union helped some artists

Reading about the evil of unions and the UAW has me thinking about how my husband, a member of UAW, was the silent partner in so much of what I did. Without him, there would have never been a radio show or podcast which exposed all of those artists and which helped facilitate dreams.

I have never received health insurance for any gallery I have worked in. It was UAW. People in the middle and upper classes, those in the snooty art world, may think that UAW are way beneath them, but without that union, they would not have had those shows. Hell we did not even have a gallery phone or gallery computer for a long time – my husband helped in so many ways. And that computer manifested so many press releases with those artists' names on them - hundreds in this town, a union member helped make that happen.

What I see is that people seem to feel very disconnected to what is happening now to the American worker. They think it has nothing to do with them. But they're wrong. If it wasn't for the union worker getting more wages and benefits, the nonunion people would not get them either. And that goes for all the benefits that white collars enjoy too. They brought up the standard of living for everyone.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stephen Hayes at Elizabeth Leach

Yesterday I interviewed Stephen Hayes about his latest exhibition at Elizabeth Leach. He has some interesting things to say about landscape and about crossing over into images more reliant on paint as opposed to what he actually sees in nature. He’s also got some input about aesthetics, a definition of beauty and as he says, “moving past what you know to find out what you don’t know.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Minus Space

Douglas Melini, Endlessly, 2008

I believe it was through the blog of Joanne Mattera that I found out about Minus Space. They have a project space in Brooklyn and a kickass website. And then recently James Kalm posted a great video of a visit to an exhibition Minus Space curated for PS1.

Get to the end of the video where Matthew Deleget (one of the founders) talks about the goals of Minus Space and why there was a need for it. They show and share work from all over the world. Some think of reductive work, minimalist and colorfield work, pattern and abstraction as some kind of one-note wonder which hit its stride in the 60s and had no more to say. The curator insists that new kinds of work are being made now all of the time by all ages in all kinds of mediums and in ways that we haven't seen before. I absolutely agree and am excited about the project.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Laura Ross Paul at Froelick

What an amazing day and night. In the afternoon I interviewed Laura Ross Paul for this video about her new show (which opens tomorrow) at the Froelick Gallery. Called Northwestopia, the show looks at living in this part of the world, using the figure in landscape. Laura has a very interesting process and technique. What I enjoyed most of all was the investigation into color theory towards the end of the video.

And then the night just got better and better. Along with most of this country, I cried and then went out to dance in the streets. Yelling Yes! Yes! Yes! into the air, Edward barked joyously as the cars passing by honked like crazy.

About two weeks ago I had an incredible dream: Obama was somehow related to my husband’s family and we all got together for dinner. His home was very warm, horizontal and inviting and there were members of his family there from the old country. Then suddenly he had won. I was thinking: Gee, we’ll be able to come over for Christmas and was all excited about being at his house for the holidays. When I woke up, I thought oh my God I love this man. He’s got to win. But I could hardly tell a soul of the dream because the past had been so disappointing and this dream was particularly emotional.

My neighbor wanted the other party. Next time I see him, I think I will just smile and give him Reagan’s mantra from 1984: “It’s morning in America.” Because that’s what it feels like to me.

Monday, November 3, 2008

life is life

For about a month I’ve been working on a new painting. I am not sure what to think of it. Perhaps it will not be new enough for me, different enough, but I need to start somewhere after a fairly long hiatus from the last show. It feels good to be down in the basement, even if it is just a basement, on my own with loud music and broad bands of color.

But does the world need them? Fuck no. Paintings are very unnecessary. In this respect I feel oh so differently to the stance I took in the 80s. I thought art was so necessary, that art was life. But now I am more inclined to agree more with Virginia, an artist I knew back then, who recently said here that she used to think that art was life but now she thought that life was life.

And what is funny about this statement is that my life is more about art than it ever was – I make it, show it, write about it, record, video and interview it. Art. I know it best. But the sun no longer rises and sets on it in that idealistic, almost spiritual way it did when I was in my late 20s.

In a way I am bothered by this. Perhaps we expect some kind of spiritual resolution as we age. You want to believe more, not less and when that turns out to not be the case, it’s disappointing. Art was your church. But then your church became a business.

However, when I look at the paintings, especially the new one, I see that the spiritualism is there. No longer words or ideals per se, the painting itself is the artifact of all I read and I thought but no longer really consider on a day to day basis. I just paint it, that’s all. You might say it’s a practice as opposed to a doctrine.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sherrie Wolf at the Art Gym

As part of Homage, a group show of reenactments at the Marylhurst Art Gym, Sherrie Wolf is exhibiting her version of Gustave Courbet’s “The Painter’s Studio.” I saw this ambitious work yesterday and we made a video around it. This artist is known for her interest in art history and for painting still lifes in particular. The reception at the Art Gym is tomorrow. Wolf is also showing at the Laura Russo Gallery this month.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ben Killen Rosenberg at PSU

The only work of Ben Killen Rosenberg I had seen previously to his current show was a large group of self portraits. He used to work as an illustrator and those pieces were quite impressive. So I was curious to see “Thank You for Having Me” at the MK Gallery at PSU which opened on the 23rd. Ben created 54 paintings based on the visitors of PSU’s Monday Night Lecture Series. Our video is here. Related article in the Vanguard here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Elizabeth Peyton

I love the work of Elizabeth Peyton, who has a show up at the New Museum. There’s a review in the Times by Roberta Smith. You can also check out the James Kalm Report, which I highly recommend.

The video contains statements by the curator who has worked closely with Peyton for years. She stridently insists that Peyton is a “hybrid” between painting and conceptual art and that her biggest influence is Warhol. I’m not quite sure what to think of it, as I believe that a lot of painting is and has been conceptual. It’s not something which started in the 20th century. I also can’t think of one living artist who isn’t hourly under the sway of Andy Warhol.

It’s funny how an interest in pretty rockstars needs to be dressed up, justified and historicized. I know I wasn’t the only young girl who drew made-up glamorous faces. All my boys looked like girls - which is probably why the high school portraits I made of David Bowie were the most recognizable, since he was blurring those lines anyway.

One time Randy Moe, Portland portrait artist extraordinaire, asked me why his work was a big deal (at least to me). After a long harangue, I said, look, do you know Elizabeth Peyton? He didn’t. There’s a lot of similarity - the difference being that Moe paints his friends, artists and rockers of P-town, whereas Peyton paints artists and rockers of the world. (Here is his portrait of the artist Tom Cramer and one of James Chasse Jr.).

Maybe the adamant stance is necessary when the artist is a woman painting pretty people. One thing I found interesting is how even though Peyton is adding lipstick and eyeliner to all her subjects (like Liam and Noel Gallagher and Jarvis Cocker), she is dressed down herself. In interviews I found of her on Youtube and elsewhere, she is casual, undone and unpainted, perhaps taking no chances lest you confuse her as an object and not look at the objects that she makes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bruce Conkle at Rocksbox

Bruce Conkle has a show called Friendlier Fire at Rocksbox. We made a video, which includes some of his Alpenhorn soundtrack. The show has something for all the senses - it even smells like fire.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pretty Ugly by Jim Neidhardt and Kerry Davis

Jim Neidhardt and Kerry Davis did their best to convince me that their show at 12 x 16, Pretty Ugly, is about aesthetics in popular culture. What objects are pretty and what are ugly and how do we react to them? They divided color palettes and rooms into ugly and pretty as a point of departure.

Something they observed in this video was how we often find “ugly” more interesting, deeper, more provocative intellectually. The artists observed how people want to go deeper with ugly – whereas “pretty” was often trivialized, written off as thin and one dimensional. If something is pretty, no big deal.

And guess which gender is attached to which? Much of the show was amusing, but the observation in this video that “If you pit Pretty against Ugly, Ugly always wins,” gave me pause for thought. I know some pretty women making pretty art. It can make for a double dip of doubt.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

a pretty personality

In a previous post, another blogger asks how much the personality of the artist influences the work. This question came to me right at a time when I was wondering just what was at the core of my own current painting. I had just interviewed Mark Smith, who stated that he was once told that he had almost too much facility with paint - and so clarity of intent became paramount with him. Aesthetics were not a big part of our conversation, save to say that he does “curate” his color choices out of the found fabric from the bins. And it’s not just the “pretty” which grabs his attention. Sometimes he likes the repulsive, he said, something he can reinterpret or salvage.

But as I return to painting from a hiatus following the Richter Scale, I’ve found that meaning, intent, theory, concepts and all the rest of it takes a big back seat. Can’t say exactly why this is but perhaps it has something to do with just the need for survival. If paint is to survive for me in these lean times, it has to come down to essential brass tacks. There’s not enough money, time or kudos to hang it all on anything else. I just wanted to find my way back to paint, wrapping the territory up in color and light and figure out the manifesto later.

Of course that is tough because not everyone has the same idea about “beauty” and in fact some people really hate it. Some in the art world find beauty circumspect and thin. Art serves community, agendas and ideas and just about everyone is “challenging” something. Maybe this was the question the blogger was asking – can an artist just serve (or rather, serve up) their personality?

So today was a perfect day to check out “Pretty Ugly” at 12 x 16. Kerry Davis and Jim Neidhardt have put together an exhibition which addresses the pretty and the ugly, all comprised of found objects. (I’ll have a video of it up soon.) The artists said that many people liked the ugly over the pretty, or at least found those objects more interesting. I couldn’t help noticing, too, how rooted in gender the dividing line was: the color pink ruled the roost of the pretty room. No doubt the show meant to be much more about aesthetics than gender, but then again a word like “pretty” is kind of loaded.

Maybe that is why the title for Mary Heilmann's show was so great, almost provocative: "Some Pretty Colors." Like how dare that be enough. But it surely is.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mary Heilmann

I love the work of Mary Heilmann and am sad that I am nowhere near her recent exhibitions. Check out her story by Dorothy Spears at the Times and the lovely slideshow. And my favorite video of James Kalm so far has got to be his report of Heilmann’s show at Zwirner and Wirth.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wild Beauty at the Portland Art Museum

Today I visited Wild Beauty at the Portland Art Museum. These photographs of the Columbia River Gorge start in the 1800s when the Gorge still looked as Lewis and Clark must have seen it and as the Indians had seen it for thousands of years. The ending date for the exhibition is in the 1950s when work along the Columbia was finished. The dams had been built as had the Great Highway and the railroad and things were never the same.

Right across the street from the museum is the Oregon Historical Society, where I’ve been volunteering a bit as a transcriber for their Oral History Project. My latest project is a transcription of the story of Harry Heising, a pioneer who worked on the building of Celilo Falls - so part of this exhibition seems to narrate Mr. Heising’s life. He tells of great beauty but also of frozen winters when nearly everyone starved, of people who took the law into their own hands. He recalls seeing, as a child, wild horses running by the hundreds like thunder to drink at a river, sometimes drinking till they died. Heising also survived the Great Depression and like so many Oregonians, left his land to work at the shipyards in Portland during the Second War.

The photograph on the website does not begin to capture the expanse and range of this show. It is almost exhaustive and even surprising, which I think is quite a feat for historical landscape photography. The curator Terry Toadtemeier (who along with John Laursen has a book out on the show) gave an amusing account of how he had very little to read, when it came to photography out of the Pacific Northwest, when he began his work on this subject in the 1970s. This exhibition is possible because of his focus over the decades.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gregory Grenon at Laura Russo

More than one person here in Portland has given me their own ideas on why Gregory Grenon paints women and what they mean. So I thought I would ask the artist himself during the installation of his current show at Laura Russo.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Studio Visit with Matthew Haggett

Matthew Haggett, who is represented by Butters Gallery, has a new studio. He showed it off during the Portland Art Open this weekend. Matthew makes dense and colorful pattern paintings using computer-generated vinyl stencils, encaustic and paint. As a sideline, he makes wall spheres for Blik - they call the pieces “wall graphics for the commitment phobic” (more info here and here). We went over his process and the gorgeous results in this short video.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ann Shiogi at 12 x 16

Yesterday I visited with Ann Shiogi at her show at 12 x 16. We both used to show at Alysia Duckler and it had been awhile since I had seen her work. The paintings are thick and cake-like, plus she had these rubbings from Old Town up. Here’s the video.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ethan Jackson at NAAU

Yesterday I visited Orbis Viridis Obscurus by Ethan Jackson at the New American Art Union. What a gorgeous show. Ethan also has exhibitions up right now at Gallery Homeland and 1313 West Burnside Studios.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Michael Knutson at Blackfish

Michael Knutson has a beautiful show up at Blackfish Gallery right now. This is the kind of show that makes me glad I’m using video these days instead of just audio. We did short interview yesterday.

Also check out this new fabulous interview with Michael on Geoform.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Actually, I'm Gertrude Stein

“There is not much future in men being friends with great women although it can be pleasant enough before it gets better or worse, and there is usually even less future with truly ambitious women writers.” – A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

When Hemingway writes of Gertrude Stein, he sounds like he’s finally getting a word in edgewise and has to do it through a memoir. Approaching the end of A Moveable Feast was almost painful, as I relished every page, but a commentary on that book is perhaps best left for another time….

The election depresses me. When I visit other art blogs and read casual or not so casual political pitching, I don’t like it, so I’ve kept my mouth shut. But everyday the news seems to be worse and worse, especially as regards to how women are playing on this field.

For distraction and comparison, I check out Mad Men and Perry Mason. In an AMC promotional video (courtesy TV Squad), the cast and creators of Mad Men tell us that all women (and their men) of the early 60s saw women as either Jackie or Marilyn. You wanted to be either one or the other, this was the sum total of your aspirations.

Then a cute poll was shelled out: Who do you want to be?

- I am Jackie.
- I am Marilyn
- Actually, I’m Gertrude Stein.

And shitdamn, if Gertrude Stein isn’t hands-down winning! It was the best news I had this morning. Turns out we really don’t want to be the Whore or the Madonna but a great writer and tastemaker. Maybe not a great looker, but that’s who we want to be. And a woman to give Hemingway a hard time.

As of September 2, 10:20AM:
For the women: are you a Jackie or a Marilyn?
Actually, I'm Gertrude Stein

Monday, August 25, 2008

Diane Jacobs at Disjecta

On Saturday night I went over to Disjecta and made a short video with Diane Jacobs about her new exhibition, “The Writing’s on the Wall.” This show was scheduled for the Portland Art Center and Disjecta stepped in to give the artist their new space. The space also looked great on their inaugural show - I found a video about it here (Dogmandave is quite the reporter). Plus here are some photos from Jacobs' opening night at OPENWIDEpdx.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

tough cuts

Awhile ago I recounted how someone in the mid-80s told me that I was perhaps as good as Hannah Höch, but that I’d never make it as a collage artist. She might have been on our minds because this conversation occurred in San Francisco and Modernism had just mounted a Höch show. Instead of dwelling on hot I was, to just be in the same universe as Hannah Höch, I went down the other path, dressing myself up as a painter and retreating from showing montages.

Of course there could be a lot of hand-wringing over this, but then again, it doesn’t hurt to pose the question: just who was Hannah Höch in 1985? How was she perceived? And the answer is she was not the same as how we look at her now.

Recently I checked out the Photomontages of Hannah Höch, published by the Walker Art Center in 1997. This book has given me a perspective on her life and work that is both inspiring and a bit depressing.

When I first discovered Dada in the 70s, I read everything I could find. There wasn’t much on Höch at all, no monographs that I could find. And so I bought my books on Heartfield and became the resident expert on him. I’d say that I still love him best today, but then again, it’s not like I had all this choice. You can’t like what you don’t know.

For years Höch was only known within a certain context: the Dada years. She was even called “the Good Girl” by Hans Richter, a dismissive remark if there ever was one, especially if you compare the work of the two artists. He made nice abstract films, while Cut with Kitchen Knife is just the tip of the iceberg on the tough cuts Hannah Höch achieved over a lifetime of art-making.

And that’s the real deal: emphasis on a lifetime. I knew she was working into old age only because she was listed in Femail Art, produced by Anna Banana in 1978. Her address was listed in the back pages, along with Yoko Ono’s (and my own). As soon as Femail Art came out, I was writing these illustrious women. I wrote the letter to Höch all in German, which I had studied in school. The letter was returned with something like Abgestorben stamped all over it. I was just a little late – she was dead.

“I’m sick and tired of Dada,” Höch said in an interview in 1976. “Slowly it’s becoming played out. Everything else that has developed goes unnoticed.”

- She’s talking about her own work decades after that movement, when she continued to invent photomontage. She combined it with paint, she referred to the history of art, she took on feminist concerns in ways no one did. She was also working in embroidery, fashion and what we call craft. She had access to fashion patterns, strange mechanical, factory patterns and used them all. The woman was all over the place and way ahead of her time, but she was still called The Good Girl. It was right there in her obit in 1978.

Not that she didn’t undermine her own career. She showed only painting for years, thinking either no one will value her collages (this sounds familiar) or because they can get her into big trouble. She stayed in Berlin while the rest of the world either moved or perished. And works were also often undated and unsigned, with the artist uncertain or wrong about their origin - which doesn’t exactly tell us that she thought it all mattered. She was quietly working in a place where she just hoped no one would find her. The switching of gears after the Second War was not that easy.

Still, her confidence in her diversity of materials is obvious. Cut with a Kitchen Knife is the big image to get thrown into every modern art history class, but why is it the only one in a career which fruitfully expands over six decades? This book makes the point that while the fellows received more play and credit, they pretty much wrote their signature song in their career launch. Not so with Hannah Höch, who raced through themes and materials right into the 1960s, looking very sage and Mod at the same time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

the meaning of life

There is none – so discovers Philip, our art school drop-out in Of Human Bondage.

A colorful poet tells him that the meaning of life can be found in a richly woven Persian carpet. Someday he will see it, promises the poet, if he’s paying attention. Philip takes the carpet with him to wherever he moves. One day as he looks into the pattern, he sees his own story: one bungled attempt at life after another, often repeated endlessly and without reason – save of course that it is, that it exists. This is all we can hope for, a meaningless pattern. There is no difference between success and failure. You just weave a pattern and then you’re done.

There is nothing to feel extremely bad about, which was an immense revelation to someone who has lived without love as he moved on this earth with his ridiculed club foot. His lack of direction, his obsession for a woman who’d rather hook than love him, his worship of artists who become only dilettantes at best, none of it matters. The realization is a watershed moment and the passage is so well written, you are at least a temporary convert once you’ve read through it.

Could it be true? That none of it matters? Initially this seems to annihilate the laws of karma, which of course tell me that every damn thing matters, that every action has a responsibility. Sometimes it’s overbearing. When every action matters, you can easily feel like shit about them all. When you find something to feel flawlessly good about, in a matter of minutes it can be crushed. So this idea of meaninglessness sounded really comforting.

In our chosen field (and the one which Philip abandons), we lay on the meaning over-time. Empty rooms and black paintings, soaked in meaning. To talk about how something looks, even though it is called visual art, is just perfunctory. If you can make what you think is “beautiful” but which you can also debate, analyze and write ten pages about, you’ve hit the jackpot. But if I personally stopped thinking about it for a day (or much longer), it’s almost like a vacation. “Meaning” has sometimes performed like one sonorous, continuous artist statement.

This embrace of the nonsensical still has a huge measure of optimism: we do it anyway. I shared my dilemma with the person who gave me the book. She told me that she, too, had a weight on her shoulders as she filled out forms and pitched for free money and for exhibitions and all the things a living artist does as they navigate the art world. Truly, all this for work maybe great or maybe not, for a few interesting ideas and not a lot of money and some bitchy people?

“- And then I realized,” she said, “That I needed to remember why I want to do this and why I am an artist. I had to get back to the real thing - not the peers, not the here and now, not the politics.” And for her, what this could mean, handily, was a book on Rothko. That’s what she grabbed first. From there she touched on the catalogue of the Sienese painters that the Met produced. We had seen that exhibition together several times in 1988. While I may find the middle of life, just as Somerset Maugham implied, absolutely meaningless sometimes, I never find that kind of work meaningless at all. It was like food or sustenance. It had that same reality.

I could hardly stand to finish this book, to let go of it. It is also entertaining to read what various online reviewers have to say. The young feel it has a happy ending, but those who read it again later in life said that happiness is not the point.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nick Blosser at PDX

The current exhibition at PDX Contemporary Art is a group of small landscapes by Nick Blosser. Called Off Road, most of the exhibition is comprised of works with egg tempura. They have that glow unique to that medium. I personally enjoy Arthur Dove, Milton Avery and Charles Burchfield immensely and can see bits of all of those artists in what Nick is doing. We made a video about the show.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

studio visit with Lauren Mantecon

I first met Lauren Mantecon 12 years ago when I was still living in New York, visiting Portland on vacation. She was just out of grad school and showing with Mark Woolley. She also had a studio in 333 and kindly gave me my first one person show in P-town right in 333. About a year ago she moved to the Bay Area – gorgeous Sausalito to be exact – where she has a nice studio in the Industrial Center Building. She makes both figurative and abstract works and yesterday we had a studio visit and made this short video.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

what is talent?

"There is nothing so terrible as the pursuit of art by those who have no talent." – W. Somerset Maugham.

Hearing of my search for women artists in literature, a friend gave me Of Human Bondage. I was fairly certain that I had read it before, yet could remember none of it. In the story, a young man named Philip tries many things and one of them is art school in Paris. Here he meets a woman (named Fanny Price, which is also the name of a major Jane Austen heroine) who has “no talent” but nonetheless literally starves for her art - until she can take no more, and commits suicide. The haunting image of her suffering and sacrifice never leaves Philip.

Outside of a coming of age story, the theme is rather evasive. One subject however that the book revisits is that of “talent.” It’s quite clear that Somerset Maugham thinks a lot of us are wasting our time on creative endeavors. Second rate is just not good enough and the world is way too full of it.

But exactly what talent is, that’s never fully explained. - For a lot of these characters can draw OK. They can render. They talk about art and philosophy all day and night long. It’s all enough to fuel them in youth, but true brilliance is another thing. The fact that it all takes place in Paris does not save their efforts, or make them any better. One of the professors makes a grave impression when he tells Philip: “Get out while you can. It’s not enough to be just alright, there’s not enough reward for that.” What he is basically doing is trying to save Philip from a life of romantic mediocrity.

It’s interesting to be reading this book now, in a time and place where there is so much drawing and yes, I’ll say it: a hell of a lot of it is mediocre. That’s not to say they can’t draw. But just as the novel implies - that’s not enough. Talent is a word I’ve personally learned to distrust, because some people think it can replace hard work. But whatever that mystery word means, I don’t see it in enough of the drawing. And I know drawing is fun, in and of itself.

When Philip decides to quit art school, it’s not played as a tragedy. He has to make a go of something, he must earn his way and having grown up with a club foot and no parents, he’s got very little room for rose colored glasses. But he never forgets the artist’s way. He is always grateful for the two years he spent in Paris.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

being stalked

We interrupt this art blog to talk about something which happens to many women – and even some men: being stalked. Today the NYTimes has an article about a woman who has come forward, albeit anonymously, to tell her story of being stalked: In his Sight. Over the years an ex-lover fucks with her head and her life. It’s still not over.

The police say it is a fairly common occurrence. It sure doesn’t feel like that when it happens. I’ve been stalked twice. One man in particular came back to haunt me more than once over the decades. He’s in Portland, Oregon. He’s probably reading this. I actually winced hard when I made the decision to move back there. But the blessing of his situation, if you can even call it that, is that he has stalked other women and so the police paid attention when he came after me again.

And initially it wasn’t even the police. There’s a volunteer unit, made up largely of women (who have probably all been stalked or know victims), who track the complaints. It was one of these women who followed up on my case and made some kind of deal about it - because the asshole has hurt other women. He is to be believed.

And to think of it: all because I was once nice to this person. He appeared to be a talented and alienated poet when I met him and I encouraged him. Big, big mistake. The strange stupid turns we can naively take which then produce entire notebooks full of ideas on how to fuck and execute us, phone calls at odd hours to home and work. The guys at my job didn’t take the threats seriously until they started answering the calls. Then my God, the outrage, the unfairness of it all - surely something will be done? Welcome to being stalked.

Years ago my life in San Francisco - which consisted gloriously, for the most part, of beauty, youth and joy - was almost completely destroyed by a jilted lover: calls at all hours and to my pals as well, to strangers vaguely associated with me, to workmates. At every party, in the library, in the bus, in a bar. A bombardment of mail, the doorbell buzzing at 3AM and most of all – lies - to my friends or anyone who would listen, a kind of character assassination and almost of a personality which could no longer sleep. It did not end until I left San Francisco.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sketch Tuesdays at 111 Minna

I am back in San Francisco for awhile. Last night I checked out Sketch Tuesdays at 111 Minna. Brad K. Alder curates about 20 artists into this monthly event. They come from all styles and backgrounds. The work is made right there on the spot and then sold for very reasonable prices. It was also a very loud event but I think you can still hear most of what was said in this video. I talked to the curator (above) and some of the artists.

On the way down here I stopped in Ashland and visited Steven LaRose. I met his daughter and wife and famous cat and dog too. It was all good.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Brian Borrello at Pulliam-Deffenbaugh

Yesterday I caught up with Brian Borrello at his show at Pulliam-Deffenbaugh and we made this short video. The show is called Ars Brevis, Vita Longa – Art is short, life is long. The works are made with ink, charcoal and motor oil, plus he has some sculptures in this show. Brian is known for public art works as well and thematically there’s crossover in everything he does.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Holly Andres at Quality Pictures

Yesterday Holly Andres and I made a short video about her current show. She is showing photographs at Quality Pictures. The entire work, called Sparrow Lane, feels like a document of installation too because every part of the picture is made by the artist – plus there’s a cool green wall as you turn the corner, filled with mementos and images with a smaller, more intimate view.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

John and Jacqueline

As a way to sharpen oral history skills, I thought I would volunteer at the Oregon Historical Society, which has projects in that line. I would have liked to interview subjects, but funding is closed for those efforts. Still, there are hundreds of hours of interviews left to transcribe. The director gave me what appeared to be a special project to work on.

Often the interviews entail many hours on one person, done over time – and are not just about a single life but an entire community and a place. Sometimes the stories these people tell are very interesting but as you can imagine, some of it carries on a bit. And because they are so long, perhaps several people will transcribe a single interview. There may not be that sense of a complete whole for those who transcribe.

What he gave me instead was a 20 minute interview with John and Jacqueline Kennedy in 1960, when they were passing through Oregon and he was a senator, running for president.

It was so cool to hear those voices you know through this old tape! Right away I recognized the little girl inflections of Jackie, who coos and murmurs her words as much as she speaks them. The interviewer asked her about her "philosophy" on parenting, her hobbies and teased her that she read 17th and 18th century European history. Jack defended her admirably though. Still, it was a moment in time not dissimilar to "Mad Men" on TV - 1960. Here's a woman who was a journalist and a photographer (that's how she met Jack), but the journalist asks her what kind of lunch she prepares for him.

What is interesting in this line of work is that you can really compare the speech patterns. And right off the bat, I have to say that Jackie is incredibly measured next to Jack, careful and very well spoken. No grammatical errors at all. All her boarding school shines through. But with JFK, he's a mess. He is not any better than the man we have in the oval office now. But I think more people are like him than her anyway - most of us do not speak so mindfully at all and we make a mess of language.

Another glaringly obvious fact is that he's such a politician. Give him a question and he's off and running. As of this interview, it's all about the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa. Pretty interesting actually. Still, it's such a marked contrast to what they ask Jackie, or even allow her to say.

Something else - a little odd and I was almost startled when the director gave me this interview: last year I got a big booty of all kinds of things at this garage sale across the street. One of the things I bought (for 2 bucks!) was an old suitcase filled with nothing but old newspapers all centered around the assassination. Seriously, I have all the issues of the Oregonian, the Oregon Journal and the Portland Reporter dating November 23, 24 and 25th of 1962. I was just going through them last week because I am going to exchange them for some magazines to collage with at this one old magazine shop. Kinda weird coincidence.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

spiffs of teaching

Earlier this week I had a conversation with an artist well established in his career. What he told me about going to art school in his era (which must have been the 60s or early 70s) took me for a surprise:

So many of the guys were all revved about teaching. I couldn’t understand it because I couldn’t wait to get out and make art, but these guys told me it was all about making it with young girls. ‘Yeah, they look up to you and are so into you and every year there’s a new crop.’”

He told me it was common knowledge back then that part of the spiffs of teaching art was getting into the pants (or at least the gooning adoration) of students they had no intention of taking seriously as artists. If anything, the subtle (or maybe not so subtle) message was that the student was the object and the objects she made were beside the point.

This reminded me of Joanne Mattera’s recent post on institutionalized gender bias in the art world. I had a hard time letting go of this very candid revelation because it hit home in my own times at school. The fact is I definitely had teachers who had agendas (never plainly spoken) which made it all the easier to drop out, though I never thought of it at the time. If what this artist told me was a common back-story, no wonder my art history Prof, who I mentioned here before, had the easy gall to ask me to get naked when he took photographs back in 1976. It was probably not the first time he ventured the question and maybe he previously had fruitful results.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Victor Maldonado at Froelick

It must have been a show or two ago where I noticed that Victor Maldonado was moving into the monochrome. His current show Social Studies at Froelick Gallery combines it with his fascination for consumer culture, glitter and formal concerns about painting. We talked the most about his Flood Escalade (detail below), which is probably the most successful piece in the show. It’s very tactile. If you see the video in “high quality,” you can get a gist of the hand of the artist.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

summer cutting and pasting

Mostly I have been working on paper. Ann Margaret is a good match with John Chamberlain, especially as she went through a terrible crash (and got sewn together after a man stole an airplane to get her to a doctor).

St. Audrey.

Rita with Nicholas de Stael.

Carroll Baker, who played a part in Giant.
I have painted some but in ways I usually do not, just to test the waters and see if I still like my methods best. So far I say yes, but it's good to check out other sides every now and then.