Wednesday, March 26, 2008

confidence crushers

In a previous post we were discussing confidence crushers.

I once directed a gallery in a beautiful building. The super of this building seemed nice and accommodating at first. You need a mail slot? You got one. Yes, we will build a wall there, no problem.

Then one day as I was painting the walls, he made a comment on my “painting outfit.” I sluffed it off, just like I was trained to do. Then another day he came up and tried to touch whatever I was wearing and I flinched away. Sort of a natural reaction at this point.

The opening of the gallery had gone so well, a true success. Still, the next day, when I had to arrange a phone line, I had to ask this super when he might be there in the building, as Qwest had dealt with him many times before.

"Yes, you should be there at some point. Sitting in a certain position. I could put you in the right position -- maybe we can try a few out."

You can be the Director of an establishment and still be treated like a whore. It would get to the point that he rarely looked into my eyes, but elsewhere.

Mind, then there would be a time when he would briskly breeze into the gallery and talk only business, just the facts - and so the sexual remarks, coming at another time and sometimes out of nowhere, can take you unaware. Being nice didn't help. Or being just plain businesslike. Ignoring didn't help - red lights look oddly green to those who want to see it that way.

These kinds of things can take a big bite out of confidence, and a sense of real victory. It is very difficult to feel like you are truly moving forward, even when you know how good the game is going. I actually ended up crying one night about it .... someone reading this now may think that it’s no big deal... but it wasn’t the first time. It was too much like being a peon salesgirl in New York City, powerless save for the beauty people were happy to interpret as the best and speediest currency.

- But I was now nearly 50 and running the show. I didn’t really have the time to personally bring this man into the 20th century, but that is just what I had to do. The main reason I am thinking about this now is the current fallout with Elliot Spitzer and how the adage was quoted: “the most powerful people in the world are old white men and beautiful young women.” For me, it took time and distance. Not only am I no longer at that job, but neither is he.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

new targets

The Targets traffic in more than one side of my own life. It’s not just a social statement or an aesthetic proposal. It leans upon my own personal baggage and presentation and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Beauty, style and substance, what women want, what they’re told to want and what, in the end, we get. Again, this is not all a negative exposé. Liz with her gems has done all right, still alive and kicking. And as to Jane Fonda, she’s such an All American Girl. They are both remarkable human beings.

The piece below features a California artist I enjoy, Joe Goode, who made some great stairs. Some in the art world will of course recognize them, yet they still might not recognize a major megastar of the 20th century, Jean Harlow.

Friday, March 21, 2008

who can stop you?

I heard from someone who used to be in the same online journaling community as me, saying it was wrong of me to state that someone's art was "shitty" (this was a few years ago). She thought I was talking about her work, though I never mentioned any names.

What stayed with me the most was when she said that she stopped painting for a long time after the comment. It made me think, eventually, about just what can make us stop doing what we love doing.

The question I pose is - who can stop you? And why should you let them? It’s amazing, the power we hand over to others, while they may be completely oblivious to our acts anyway.

In the public pursuit of art making, it's not for the weak or timid. If you seek approval - to have everyone love you - you are going to have a rough ride! Because even if you become very "good" at what you do, not everyone will agree. Art is subjective. People have very strident opinions about it. (Perhaps I came through it trial by fire, because my first public foray into an art “career,” if that’s what you want to call it, were the punk collages, fanzines and posters. I had a fan base of about five back then.)

Many of us go into the creative act thinking well, we've made a poem and it's good. But sorry to say, this does not make us a poet. A really great poet applies their life to it. The great poems are no accident, or the thing they did last year when there was time or "inspiration." Writing a couple of good poems did not make me a poet. Even at 51, I am still finding out on a daily basis just how much art is asking of me.

The notion of quitting made me pause because I, too, from time to time, would or could not paint. Perhaps I told myself it was about economics but maybe that was not really true. Perhaps that stroke of the ego was not received at a critical time.

And there is that cyclical thing - everyone has them - you make work by not making it. Maybe you have to go out and make money (instead of art, damnit!) or you’re sick. Maybe you just need to think. But what someone does or does not say about your work should never stop you.

This also made me consider what I might to say to several fellows who told me what I couldn’t or shouldn’t do and why I listened to them. Because yes, I listened to them and while they have probably forgotten all about it, my own reaction hurt me. Of course this is really a subject for another post, but when someone says they love you and your work is cool but but but - well, it’s really damaging….

- But is it their fault I took the turns I did? Whoever made them right anyway?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Modernism, the gallery

James Hayward

While in San Francisco, I was able to spend some time in what is the Holy Grail of art galleries for me, Modernism. This is a gallery that sings its own song, plays by its own rules. They have one of the strongest visions of any gallery in the States.

That vision might not be for everyone. After all, it’s not called Modernism for nothing. But I am trying to think of even one show I did not like in the 28 years I’ve been going to this gallery. Can’t think of one.

Glen Baxter
And again, when I was there for their last opening, there wasn’t one work I didn’t like. They had three rooms filled with art: a solo show by Mark Stock, a group show of West Coast Abstraction and then a back room filled with high-end glories like a painting by Mel Ramos.

Mark Stock

When I visited San Francisco in 1980 to check out the Goodman Building, which would house my first solo show, I came across a poster on Market Street: Modernism Presents the Russian Avant Garde. Wherever I was going, I forgot. I made a u-turn and found what would become my holy grail.

It’s rare to find a gallery which gives a home to both history and contemporary art, and does it so flawlessly. They’ve shown Hannah Hoch and R. Crumb, Kasmir Malevich and John Register. Plus they make the best catalogues I’ve ever seen: Martin Muller personally loaded me up with enough art propaganda to lust over for several months of late night reading.

A few years ago he also opened Modernism West, an exhibition space located within Foreign Cinema in the Mission. I checked out that space too – once again, a couple of rows of drop-dead gorgeous works - not one weak placement. It was like bang, bang, bang. The minds reels at the possibilities.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Torrey and Jack at Live Worms

Last night I went to Live Worms on Grant to check out the shows of Torrey Nommesen and Jack Perkins. Torrey gave an amusing and revealing account in this video about mixed media, conceptual art vs. “Art with a capital A.”

Jack, also known as Fast, Cheap and Easy Graphics, is the famous bartender at Vesuvio’s who has written a few books too. He was more interested in a smoke than talking to me about his photographs, but I did get a couple of minutes with him.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Studio Visit with Pierre Merkl III

It was at the Inter-Dada Festival of 1984 in San Francisco where I first met Pierre Merkl. He’s a man of many talents and interests; so many that we decided to just focus on painting in a studio visit for this video. I couldn’t resist including his 1961 Chrysler New Yorker in the interview - he gave me a ride on my very last night in this city before I moved to New York in 1986. He still has the car! Pierre exhibits with Newmark.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Barbara Takenaga at Gregory Lind

Last summer Barbara Takenaga was one of the artists I interviewed on my podcast. So when I got an email from her, saying she was showing in San Francisco at Gregory Lind while I would be down there, I was excited. We were able to meet for a few minutes at the start of the opening of what appeared to be pretty much a sold out show. Every piece was remarkable. Here’s the short interview.

Friday, March 7, 2008

backstory on a great painting

In a previous post I wrote about someone I knew who had some really great ideas for paintings. As we became close I heard about them often throughout any given night. After awhile, I began to think of his brilliant ideas as maybe a bit of a curse because before he ever executed one, he was off espousing the glories of another.

I admit I had my doubts about him ever doing any of it. He seemed to like his morning croissants and elegant evening libations much more than newsprint and turpentine. None of that would matter if I saw him actually draw every now and then, but I never saw it. And the drawing bit meant something to me because what he was talking about, the kind of projects he wanted to do, asked for fierce drawings skills.

He had a studio. Plenty of light. A bunch of canvases and stretcher bars, but none the right size! And so I never saw him paint a damn thing in the time I knew him. This was over 20 years ago.

Then recently I found on the Internet a painting of his – of a subject matter he had often detailed. It was just incredible to see it after all these years – the guy finally got around to painting it! And it looked really good. It was in a San Franciscan gallery. I just had to check it out.

The gallery person did not know the back-story at all on this work; I ventured to say a bit but anything would be just the tip of a very complex iceberg. It was a beautifully executed painting.

Then later last night I met up with a really good friend from back in the day. When I told him about that painting – for it really did make an impression on me – he told me that his friend had painted it! He has a friend whose skills and chops are indeed fierce, who paints all the time, and yeah, he’s the one who actually made it. He was paid to do it and then let someone else sign their name.

“Well, gee,” I said, stunned – though I guess I should not have been. “I thought that painting was really a masterpiece.”

“You think so?” My old friend asked. “I’ll tell him.”

What a strange art world we live in.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

they're wrong

Just a short note to say that they are wrong, what they say about San Francisco.
They say it is changed, lost, gone, straight, rich, impossible to live there. It may be more expensive, but I think it is still possible. Just depends how much you want it, how much you are willing to work for it.

People often come to Portland because it is easy. They can be a barista and have a band at night. And as much as hipsters of all ages say they want "diversity," if it really was the priority, they would not be there.
I am not saying that ease is wrong! But I am not wild about hearing the City wrote off like that.
"Impossible." Bullshit. The beauty here sears my eyeballs.
The old buildings are still here. The sleaze in the tenderloin is still here - almost heartening to see it. The racket outside. The weirdoes are still here. They didn't whitewash it all away. And nothing, nothing can erase the light unique to this town, which feels right now like a balm.

I had a great time in Ashland, hanging with the town's two greatest artists. The elections results seeped in as we drank at Martino's, with someone venturing to say that: "I think Hillary just might get the nomination" - and not like she was something to be burned at the stake. Maybe I can do a studio visit with Matthew Picton on the way back.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

studio visit with Steven LaRose

I write from a cheap motel in Ashland, Oregon. I grew up in this neck of the woods. My grandparents lived in Ashland, while I lived out on a dirt road called Dark Hollow, kind of in the middle of nowhere (at least it used to be). It’s nice to see the sunny skies again.

Through the Blogger Show, I met a lot of artists who keep blogs. Steven LaRose was one of them – painter of considerable skills who just had a show at Kristi Engle Gallery in LA. We made a short video about some of those works and others in a brief studio visit here.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

David Levinthal presents Jesus

Interesting show up at Augen Gallery: both David Levinthal And Jim Riswold take on Jesus. This is the first time I met David Levinthal, who was a really nice guy and generous with this short interview. His polaroids of the Stations of the Cross especially were like Baroque paintings. Just beautiful.