Monday, July 27, 2009

a kept man

So many people recommended more Margaret Atwood, but when I returned to the library, her section was practically empty. And so my eye stumbled along the A section to Jami Attenberg, who wrote A Kept Man (she also has her own Youtube channel, which followed her book tour – neat idea).

An artist falls from a ladder into a six year coma. His wife sells off his paintings to support herself and him – as she navigates the art world, the medical system, the eventual deluxe nursing home, waiting for him to die. I stuck with the novel because little details regarding life with a genius rung rather true.

Much of her day is filled with the agendas of a creepy dealer and a creepy best friend of the coma-artist, who is also an artist and player. In fact none of the art people are likable all. They are seen as mercenary because they aid her in the sale of the husband’s paintings, which are worth more and more as time passes. The almost-widow suffers every time she has to sell a work, valued at 50 grand a pop – of which there are hundreds, poor girl.

Things take an interesting turn when she finds revealing photographs. The comatose was no angel. She remembers the questions and doubts and his “authoritive artist voice” answers. I did not have a lot of sympathy for her though because she had no identity, outside of coke whore, before she met him. Great, she cleaned up - but he didn’t. He was the artist who painted whores and strippers and then of course fucked them, ever so necessary to his art. Original story in the history of art!

In just about every novel about artists I have read, dealers are made out to be vulgar or dumb, but I have found this to rarely be the case in the real world. It leads me to believe that the writers did not know any – or just liked easy, cheap shots. Except of course for The “Genius,” which featured a dream-dealer, telling the hero what a privilege it was to work for him…but this is fiction, I must remember.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pammela Springfield on KBOO

Photo by Dmae Roberts
We’ve seen her all over town, at plenty of openings. She’s not the kind of person you forget.

Pammela Springfield opened a place called Cannibals awhile back, but I think it began to make a dent in the art world when it delivered work to the CAP Auction. That’s when I started walking into galleries and overheard conversations about that wild place on NW 21st and the woman who runs it. But I’ve known Pammela for years – maybe I met her when she hosted a party for the Ramones in ’77, maybe a little earlier.

She’s known for maintaining Keep ‘Em Flying on NW 21st, the oldest vintage clothing shop in Portland. I used to do windows for the shop before she ever owned it, back in 79 – 80. Keep ‘Em Flying has a long history of supporting artists – not just in dressing them, but in also hanging their work. There are artists who have moved on to bigger galleries but they got their start at KEF.

Cannibals has all work made out of something else, it’s all recycled. So as you can imagine it is heavy on the assemblage, but it has paintings too, hats and clothing, strange adventures in taxidermy, cards, toys and collages. I would not call it a gallery, but to call it a shop doesn’t feel quite right either. Pammela Springfield will be my guest this Tuesday on Art Focus.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Eunice Parsons on KBOO

A couple of Sundays ago I was out and about, sort of killing time and meandering. I thought I would check out the latest Eunice Parsons show at 12 x 16. I didn’t really expect the show to rock my world – it’s not like her work is new to me. But the show is completely elegant and invigorating.

After viewing the group show Matriarchs of Modernism at the Art Gym 5 years ago, I interviewed Parsons on KPSU (transcript here). Then when Wid Chambers and I opened Chambers the following year, she was our very first show (along with Paul Fujita).

I remember her telling me that in all of the years that she exhibited in Portland, she never could get the Oregonian to show up. I told her that I would try to change that. Eunice was turning 89 that year; it’s not like eternity stretched out before us. Within a couple of weeks, the O published a nice review by Victoria Blake which I cannot seem to find online (PORT wrote about the show too).

Now she’s having this full-on blitz of exhibitions – 12 x 16, the Hallie Ford Museum and a couple elsewhere in the state. This year Eunice Parsons turns 93 and she still manages so much vitality in her collage. She has a backlog of very juicy materials with probably some of the best paper in this town. Eunice will be my guest on Art Focus this coming Tuesday at KBOO.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cat's Eye

“I don’t want to go,” I said to Ben.
“You don’t have to,” he said. “Call it off. Come down to Mexico.”
“They’ve gone to all the trouble,” I said. “Listen, you know how hard it is to get a retrospective anywhere, if you’re female?”
“Why is it important?” he said. “You sell anyway.”
“I have to go,” I said. “It wouldn’t be right.” I was brought up to say please and thank you.
“Okay,” he said. “You know what you’re doing.” He gave me a hug.
I wish it were true.

And those are really the first words addressing this retrospective the woman artist is having in her home town in Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. They come in after 92 pages of childhood, girl friendships and games, poverty, a wayward family – all things which are familiar to me actually, art aside. And those kinds of tales probably cast a much wider net as regards readers. But I’ve been waiting for the moment when you just know that this girl Elaine will be an artist, though this story seems more about relationships, not art.

And why would it matter? Because to become an artist is one thing, to stay an artist is another and I want to know how she navigated it, especially back in Postwar days. I'm hoping I hear more about it. One thing I found accurate is her recount of loving small things, of liking bits of paper, tin foil, just simple objects that came her way as a child. As she ages, she wants things more. But Elaine expresses this not just as acquisitiveness or as girlish vanity, but more as an artist who collects and examines something for its own thingness.

As someone returning for a big show, she’s also not wild about discussing what it is to be a “woman artist.” When the local press come to talk about feminism, she’s not buying. But I don’t think I was either back in 1988, when this novel was published. This may be the ideal time to read this book too because I am heading to southern Oregon tomorrow - my childhood home, where the girls were, with its own complexities.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Michael Kenna on KBOO

Michael Kenna has a beautiful show of photographs called Recent Travels at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art. We talked about his work when he was in town. The interview will broadcast during Art Focus on Tuesday.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

posters and polaroids


For the past week I am acting as archivist, detective and photo editor for the film Alien Boy. It has been an adventure and a strange blast from the past as I am visiting some people I haven’t really seen in years. But they are the ones with the poster stashes and cool Polaroids from back in the day.

Like Mark Sten – he printed posters for gigs and has a great record of what happened here. Alien Boy will be able to draw from an archive that spans the birth of punk in this town plus the few years which followed, when James Chasse Jr. was active in the bands Possum Society and the Psychedelic Unknowns.

It was fun to go over the posters with Sten – as they flashed before my eyes, so did the memories of those nights. The scene was so small back then that I knew every band. The entire audience was made up of those kids; all we did was just change places from stage to floor and back again. In fact I wrote somewhere in my diary of 1980: Things are weird now, changing. We see all these people in the audience that we don’t know. I laughed when I read that.

Of course the most important Polaroid from the collection of Randy Moe is the one above, whom we knew as Jim Jim. But the other portraits are a fabulous treasure trove I would like to curate into an exhibition if I had the means. In some cases the photographs spawned posters and it would be fun to show them side by side – like a Polaroid of KT Kincaid (of the Neoboys) was the basis of a poster later made by Randy. There are several examples of this. And as we know, Randy Moe is no slouch of a draftsman.

What I enjoyed the most about the photographs as a collection was how intimate, lively and casual they are. Only a friend from the inner circle could capture such relaxed yet brutal, spontaneous honesty. Even when we are posing like crazy, it is real. There are no “Three Guys on a Stage” pictures. The few which are of a performance do not feel like it, not with their cut-off heads and the fabulous haircuts of the audience.