Friday, May 30, 2008


Years ago a friend turned me on to the poet Robert Duncan and we were able to meet him. And through his association with Duncan, I learned of Jess. There is a show of his work at Reed right now.

I went with a friend who said: “It’s so strange to see such an intimate, almost unambitious show. Everything has to look so perfect these days – so slick.” And if not slick, at least clever. It is true that nothing in this show really looks like product, but more like evidence of a life and its relationships.

And of course it’s a child of its time: the beat stance of the 1950s bled into the full-blown hippie groove, as evidenced in some of his book covers from the 60s. Touches of Art Nouveau, Mucha and Beardsley – can’t imagine anyone could escape that if you lived in San Francisco in 1967.

As far as collage goes, a lot of the show is a rough cut and I can think of much better artists working in the medium. And this medium is not any more held strictly within the confines of 20th century than photography or painting would be. What this exhibition really felt like was more a document of a tender time and life, like when Henri spoke of art as: “ - the trace of your being, the thing you leave behind.”

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Monothon PDX

Outside of high school, I’ve never really done much printmaking. Back then I made my own attempt at Warhol wallpaper by doing the Rolling Stones Hot Licks a zillion times. I still have one print and it might be the oldest piece of my own work I've kept.

But entering that print studio was like nothing I’ve ever encountered. Print Arts Northwest arranged for a diverse group of artists, some well versed in prints and some novices, to make a print for an event curated Pamela Morris, Monothon PDX. Immediately I saw large tables with full palettes of ink already laid out – the sight of the oozing color was reassuring. But the process was clearly not something to be mastered in an afternoon.

I suspected it might be something like that! It took me years to learn how to paint (still learning actually…) and printmaking is no different. Yes, you can come up with something interesting in an afternoon, but that afternoon laid out an intrigue rather than sealed a deal. It showed possibilities, glimmers only.

It was fun to see how others worked, all who had made monoprints before. Above you see Bryan Schellinger, who had a show at Quality Pictures last year. He skillfully whipped out beautiful color combos in no time. Brian Benjamin Taylor (below) used what looked like a cut-out, collage technique to make his images.

And then Marlana Stoddard-Hayes (below) made these elaborate images on the plate which transferred to the paper beautifully. Everyone made several prints except me. I just kept slathering on the ink and could have easily put 4 more hours into the single image... but I guess you’ve got to let go at some point. Tomorrow tonight is the preview party.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sidney Rowe 1957 - 2008

I don’t recall where I first saw Sidney Rowe’s paintings – maybe it was at PSU or Backspace. She also used to show with Augen. I was knocked out by the work and had her on the radio and then once Chambers opened, we gave her a show. She performed her work by spinning the painting, calling it 360 degrees. We could talk for hours – she was feisty and funny. All along she was fighting cancer, though sometimes it was in retreat. She passed away on the 17th of April.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

eruption of 1980

Looking for an old magazine, I came across a stash of old Willamette Weeks. I used to illustrate articles for the rag when Reed Darmon was the art director, especially music articles by Mark Sten. When I came across the above piece today, I had to wince – because today is the day the big one blew exactly 28 years ago. Barry Johnson is only anticipating it here because this was printed in April.

It’s particularly telling that Johnson refers to San Francisco and how it has an earthquake. But hey, they got nothing on us! Up until that time, some of us scare-d-cats were actually avoiding the inevitable move to the Bay Area because of the earthquake. Once the mountain blew, I just didn’t care anymore. Turns out Portland wasn’t so sleepy after all - and I liked making art around lava lake activity.

I remember hearing a big bomb. Just like that, it disturbed the peace in my house on NW Kearney. I walked outside and heard it before I saw it: the pitter pat of light grey ash hitting the lawn. Eventually it invaded the house, got into our sheets and lungs and eyes. I had to make a trip to SF soon after that and remarked in my diary how nice it would be just to get away from the ash.

The best part was the deserted streets. Only the buses went up and down Burnside and the streets belonged to the people, some of us wearing masks. I’ve posted this photograph by Rupert Jenkins before. It’s a group on Burnside waiting for the bus.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

John Brodie at Milepost 5

John Brodie had a room filled with large collages at Milepost 5, where we made this short video. I’ve always like his work – we showed some of his paintings at Lovelake in 2003. Even these collages, made with billboard bits, paint, Mylar and vinyl have a lot in common with the paintings back then. Of course collage takes time to arrange and rearrange, but they still seem spontaneous. Milepost 5 has invited about 30 artists and organizations to take over rooms and install all kinds of shows.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

poor artists and rich husbands

In 1988 I was freelancing for Christian Dior as a makeup artist, often putting in a week at Macy’s. This was the biggest Dior counter in the 48 states and a crazy house of business, not that far removed from the frenzy below, the 33rd Street subway station.

I had a returning client, an artist who showed all over the world (she still does). She’s got the huge, tremendous loft in Soho, acquired sometime in the late 70s, the whole nine yards. She kept telling me I had to marry a rich man. This was the way to get that art career. - Or at least be able to paint for life, she said, because your feet are not going to hold out forever in this job, while painting at night too. (She was right about that actually – I had surgery on both of my feet in the 90s – a common NYC retail thing).

So she arranged a party to which not only was I invited but also her rich single neighbor. He also had the fabulous loft in Soho, just waiting, as it turned out, for the right woman to waltz in and decorate it. For at least the party I was game enough.

I remember the night very well – I went to a Christopher Makos exhibition at Ronald Feldman right before the party. The show was photographs of Andy Warhol in drag - every single photograph. The photos are pretty famous actually. There was a long line winding outside the door onto the street, just to get in. After I left the place, I found a playing card of the King of Diamonds outside her loft’s door. I took this as some kind sign.

.... I could barely get through the dinner as this Frenchman she had in mind was so dull. Then a stranger walked in and I thought to myself, well now here is something interesting. Like a brat I left the party with the new guy and we went dancing at a nightclub called MK.

We still tried it though, the Frenchman and I, with a couple of dates later. Nothing happened and it never did when someone championed the marry-a-rich-man idea.

Once I moved into the computer age, I ran across my artist friend and could trace her well deserved success. She was always a great painter. She seems happy in marriage too - although come to think of it, she never talked about it.

- When I shared this story with a businessman recently, he asked me: "Did she tell the rich guy that ‘what you need to do is to marry an artist?’” I laughed, realizing how much my perception of “living with an artist” in the intervening 20 years had changed.

At one time and for a long time, I thought this was some sort of a wonderful thing for the person who has no art in their life, but would like to. Some people see art from a distance, something they enjoy, but they know they’re missing out on vital information. The artist in their lives supposedly provides this - makes museum trips more fun, decorates your house, adds all kinds of sweet touches.

As an artist you buy into this idea too, you think you have something to offer. And if you are uncomplicated enough, it comes off just like that - a smooth exchange where each can offer things the other doesn't have.

But I now know that artists are very, very complicated creatures. Interviews with artists have really opened my eyes in ways I never expected. Everyone has a got a story that most people don't know about, especially if they are making very singular work. That work doesn't come out of nowhere and often the people who make it are no walk on the beach. They are not here to brighten the world, liven up a party, decorate life or any of that.

Well, maybe they can do it at a dinner party. I guess they better be charming at openings. But once they are home or in the studio, life takes over.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

ways to be an artist

Years ago I wrote down a quote by Bill Ball of San Francisco's American Ballet Theater: Artists need to be working all of the time. That way the best work just gets tossed off.

In a perfect world, yes, we get to work all the time. Or rather, we produce work all the time. But I've come to realize that processes, over a lifetime, vary with the individual.

I wrote down that quote after going through a stretch of not making art, or least art that anyone would see. You can get panic attacks when the constant question is what are you doing now?

Tom Cramer once said to me: "You've got to know when to not make art." That makes so much sense to me. Some of us make art not by making it, but by thinking about it, or by just taking a long walk - maybe for months.

When you are young and don't paint for a month, you can feel all worried. And it's true that many artists do not survive after 35 or so - I mean their intensive art practice does not survive, or their aspirations. So I guess you better worry and always get back to work.

But I no longer feel that way. Just making objects for the gallery system doesn't cut it for me - though without them, many would grasp no real measurement of an artist. I think young artists also get confused because they want an interesting, courageous life and then find themselves stuck in a room, whether it’s making objects or teaching - and that often does not feel very courageous. Real life is much more interesting. I'm glad to have had both, but you can pay a price.

While putting together a punk art show in 1979, I received an immense amount of heat from my supposed peers. "Our art doesn’t belong in the gallery system, blah blah." I almost buckled and didn't go through with the proposal. It was Katherine Dunn who told me: “Don’t you see - you've got a responsibility as an artist. If you step down, you'll have done what so many women do in the face of men trying to tell them what they shouldn't do. You have to do this thing.”

I don’t think Katherine considers herself a big-time feminist, but it just so happened that it was a bunch of cool dudes telling me what I shouldn’t do. They were all my friends, so I couldn’t see a bigger picture. But the point is there are many ways to be an artist and it goes way beyond making work. She really clued me into that.

Fast forward to around 2001, when I was visiting NYC and ran into Leon Klayman. He told me about his book project called Who gave you permission? He asked various artists: did an individual provide some kind of lightbulb or turning point for you? And what was the story? Many of us have one, a crystallizing relationship or event. It might have been that moment for me.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

rock stars and art stars

So many new artists “challenging” the boundaries of paint and sculpture. My friend doesn’t trust it one iota. The challenge seems academic to her, especially when the challengers are teachers yet the pose is rock star.

This made me think about the art system and the difference between a rock star and an art star. While rock and roll is in a twilight similar to where jazz was in the 1970s, it still has a chance to be made by just about anyone. Meaning rock stars do not generally posses MFAs or come to the game with heavy theory. In fact quite a few are still art school, college and even high school dropouts. Rejection of institutions is part of the process in claiming authenticity.

But art stars embrace all of that. They’re inside and outside at once, not only earning grades but dishing them out, often on the theory and supposed practice of subversion. A good friend of mine in this particular wave once cut me off by stating: “It’s great that one wants to keep going to school. It’s great to get as much education as you can.”

Well, I agree, I’ve had fun in school. It’s good for the student and it’s good for the teacher. I am not so convinced that it’s been good for art though. And as to the viewer, they can take the “challenges” for sure. But some are really hollow in their pitch and punch.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Walter Robinson

Young girls who like to draw may find themselves drawing couple after couple in a lip-lock. I know I did – my early diaries are full of them. Was I looking at Harlequin Romances? Or just too ready for my own adventures?

So I found the images of Walter Robinson’s show of 80s Paintings at Metro Pictures just wonderful: one panting and passionate embrace after another, all rendered like a book cover. The video James Kalm made of his gallery visit is worth checking out. I think he’s right when he says that not only is Robinson way ahead of current painters circling in their search for some sort of authentic intimacy, he feels so much more real, fiery and unstudied. While the work explores a marketed approach to romance, it is still very Romantic. Charlie Finch wrote a good piece about it too.

Jim Neidhardt and Kerry Davis

Jim Neidhardt and Kerry Davis installed their latest work, Supermodel, at Blackfish Gallery. They offer their version of an art world supermodel in this interview.