Don’t Believe Them

After migrating this site to a new host because the old one (I won’t name names) couldn’t keep up with WordPress updates, I have one important thing to say: when they tell you that the process will take 24-48 hours, DON’T BELIEVE THEM!  24 – 48 days is more like it!

But happily we are back now and encourage you, if you are not already a subscriber, to please subscribe and enjoy not only today’s usual fare of art plus angst, but future angst as well.

During the period when the blog was out of commission, I saw some great shows, including Rented Island at the Whitney, the Mike Kelley retrospective at MoMA’s P.S.1, and the Magritte show at MoMa.  Plus, through the group critique process I’ve seen a lot of amazing work from my fellow students in my own program, and by T.A.ing for Richard Mehl in the Advertising Department of the undergraduate school, I’ve been bowled over by what freshmen, driven and sleepless but never giving up, can accomplish.

I used to think that looking at too much of other people’s art would unduly influence my own.  I don’t think so anymore.  My giant paper scroll and I are doing fine together (term review in five days and I am NOT panicked.  Repeat: NOT panicked).  I’m pretty sure that the series of self-portraits with snakes and/or toads (not both – that would be gross) is my own idea.

If you’re interested in seeing my art, or that which is being produced by my classmates, please come visit us during our open studios next week, or plan to attend the second-year MFA exhibition that opens January 18th at the SVA gallery on West 26th (reception on January 23rd from 6-8 p.m.)

One of the best ways that artists can make a community is to show their work together and see how ideas are shared or opposed.  And one of the best ways art lovers like you and me can join that community is to see art and talk about it.

Who have you seen recently?

Luckily…

Luckily, in one of those art miracles that you read about, I’ve had a total breakthrough and my art is on a new track that pleases and surprises me.  Ha.  Not.

My art is still a struggle every day.  And I work on it every day.  I go to the studio with my bagel and my iPad and look around to see what fires my imagination.  Is it time to draw the polka-dotted mug (again)?  Should I use the rubber rat?  Is it a charcoal day, or a pastel day, or a Sharpie day?

A Very Timid Beginning

A Very Timid Beginning

I look at the enormous roll of paper that winds around my studio (and miraculously hasn’t fallen down) and I am at least satisfied that I have filled it up to the first corner.  It is harder to put 27 drawings on one piece of paper than to do 27 different drawings.  They have to look right together.  Sometimes I want them to complement each other, and sometimes I want them to fight.  Sometimes I want to make it pretty, but lots of times I’m aiming for “eeew, gross!”.

Real Snakeskin, Fake Me

Real Snakeskin, Fake Me

I realize that I am drawing several narratives, starting at the far left and moving to the right. Besides the polka-dot mug and its various adventures, there are the small blue people who seem to be reacting in horror.  What is their story?  There are the self-portraits with snakes and rats.  Why do I have snakes and rats coming out of my mouth?  If I knew, I wouldn’t have to draw it.  I draw to find out.

There is a fairy tale starting, and I’m not sure where it’s going, but I like fairy tales (old, original fairy tales) because they so often combine the charming with the shocking.

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

I got the very good news on Halloween that my first choice thesis advisor, Stephen Maine, selected me back in the double-blind, three and a half twist process that the office uses to match us up.  It was while talking to him that I had the idea about the big paper to begin with, although clearly some subconscious giant origami still lingered.

More Pills, Please

Maybe when I’ve drawn all 30 feet of my paper I should fold it into a graceful paper swan. Now THAT would be a thesis project!

 

Horror Vacui

Graduate school rewards exploration.  That is, until it doesn’t.

Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders

Last week I handed in my thesis proposal, and during the process of writing, rewriting, rethinking, rewriting, self-doubt, and more rewriting, I realized that it is called a thesis project because it is meant to be a connected body of work.

What's For Dinner?

What’s For Dinner?

Which rules out the explorations I’ve been making: gouache paintings, suicidal paper dolls, murdered rag dolls, self-portraits, drawings of pill bottles, board games with snakes, and woodcuts.  In the past year I’ve been all over the place, and it’s been fun, in a wholly stressful way, but now I need to focus.

Murder Crib

Murder Crib

Step One: clean my studio.  This was either a desperately needed activity or an excellent form of procrastination.  I gave away rolls and rolls of colored paper (the raw material for future failed giant origami), several excellent pieces of studio furniture, including my favorite pink chair, primed panels, boxes of still-life props, and a gorgeous ten-foot slab of half-inch glass.  The Barbies I kept.

Step Two: hang cream-colored drawing paper, 42″ wide and 30 feet long, around three bare walls of my now empty-ish studio.

Terrifyingly Blank Paper

Terrifyingly Blank Paper

I’m going back to drawing.  Not on pads of paper, but all over my walls.  In public. I’m terrified about the mistakes that I’ll make, but I know it’s time that I face my art, my skill, and my talent and see if it’s enough.

And it just keeps going

And it just keeps going

I have one and a half semesters to go.  In no time, SVA is going to throw me out into a brutal art world (some people call this graduation) and I’d better be ready.  I have to replace my teachers’ evaluations with my own. I have to stand up for my art.

And I have to start now.  It’s that simple, and that difficult.

Making Paintings

Stuart Davis The Mellow Pad

Stuart Davis
The Mellow Pad

I’ve always had trouble making abstract art.  I admire the ability, but it’s difficult for me to overcome the delight I feel when I capture a likeness or represent what I see.  For me, abstraction isn’t easier than representation (the “my kid coulda done that” school of thought), it’s harder.

I love creating the illusion of space and depth on a two-dimensional plane.  Some abstract artists embrace the same challenge, and some work hard to avoid making any allusions to the natural world.

Jackson Pollock Number 8

Jackson Pollock
Number 8

In my second-year seminar class last week we read articles about Alfred Stieglitz, the ground-breaking New York Armory Show of 1913, and several of the artists working then. Not all artists are good writers (of course, not all writers are good painters), but Stuart Davis, a painter from that period explained abstraction in a way that makes the most sense to me.

Stuart Davis Swing Landscape

Stuart Davis
Swing Landscape

In his article, “Autobiography” (included in Diane Kelder’s collection Stuart Davis – Praeger Press, 1971), Davis discussed why he hated when viewers asked what his paintings were “about”.

“There is no simple answer to these pesky questions because in reality they are not questions about art at all.  They are in fact demands that what the artist feels and explicitly expresses in his work be translated into ideas that omit the very quality of emotion that is the sole reason for its being.”

He goes on, “In the first place let me say that the purpose of so-called “abstract” art is basically the same as all other art, and that it always has a subject matter.  In fact the difference between ‘abstract’ and ‘realistic’ art is precisely one of subject matter.  It would be more accurate to say that it is a difference of aspects of the same subject matter. The ‘abstract’ artist lives in the same world as everybody else and the subject matter available to him is the same.”

“…But the development of ‘abstract’ art has not been merely a matter of temperaments.  It is the reflection in art of that attitude of mind manifested in scientific materialism by which the world lives today.  Through science the whole concept of what reality is has been changed….  why should the artist be questioned for finding new realities in his subject matter?”

Stephen Maine HP12 - 0301

Stephen Maine
HP12 – 0301

Or perhaps in Hamlet’s words,

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy.”

 

My seminar class is taught by the wonderful abstract painter (and writer) Stephen Maine (www.stephenmaine.com). Here he is in an interview with Gorky’s Granddaughter discussing his paintings and his process.  If I could paint like he does, I might give up reality, too.

http://www.gorkysgranddaughter.com/2013/09/stephen-maine-august-2013.html

 

The Ubiquitous Celebrity of Lenin

The Propeller Group Monumental Bling

The Propeller Group
Monumental Bling

In a lovely example of synchronicity, I am suddenly surrounded by Vladimir Ilich Lenin.  When he was alive, being surrounded by him was rarely lovely, I believe.

First there are the readings for this week’s Seminar – about the Russian   Constructivists, Kasimir Malevich, and the government-directed art produced in Russia after the Revolution and World War I.

Lenin as Jay Gatsy

Lenin as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby

Secondly, as I was hopping the galleries this afternoon I ran into Lombard Freid Gallery at 518 West 19th Street (lombard-freid.com).  Their new show by The Propeller Group is titled Lived, Lives, Will Live! which is based on a quotation from Kim Il Sung (founding dictator of North Korea) who said, “Lenin lived.  Lenin lives. Lenin Will Live.”

The exhibition shows Lenin as he might be viewed today – wearing bling, trying on new hairdos a la Leonardo diCaprio, and riding high on the global spin machine. Everything old is new again.

Lenin as Jack Dawson in Titanic

Lenin as Jack Dawson in Titanic

Which leads me to synchronicity part 3: the fact that I am just finishing rereading one of my favorite books: Lenin’s Embalmers by Ilya Zbarsky and Samuel Hutchinson.  This is the fascinating story of the decades-long job of the Zbarsky family to preserve Lenin’s body so that it could remain on display to the public. Their own lives were dependent upon pleasing Stalin for years, and then ironically they had to preserve Stalin (and Mao) as well.  Lenin is still on view in the former Red Square in the former Leningrad, but Kruschev had Stalin removed in disgrace and buried in 1961.

Lenin's body on display almost 90 years after his death.

Lenin’s body on display almost 90 years after his death.

Imagine going to Graceland and being able to see Elvis displayed in a glass coffin. After the creepy frisson down your spine, it might be kind of cool, in a Walking Dead kind of way.

I recommend The Propeller Group exhibition.  It is a very clever take on publicity, fame, and the kind of celebrity that lives on after death.  (Think Marilyn, or Ho Chi Minh – whose body is also preserved).

If you can afford a team of scientists working around the clock, year after year, just think of the wonderful legacy you too can leave.

Open Season on Art

There is enough brilliant and exciting art in New York to fill every gallery from floor to ceiling.  Which is not the same thing as saying that all New York galleries are full of brilliant and exciting art.  They are not.

Mike Womack Observer Effect Installation View

Mike Womack
Observer Effect
Installation View

Saturday was a beautiful day, and several friends and I went gallery hopping in Chelsea.  We visited five or six galleries and saw bad paintings, bad videos, and bad sculpture.

Mike Womack Hypnosis Drawing #9 (Earliest Memory of Pain)

Mike Womack
Hypnosis Drawing #9 (Earliest Memory of Pain)

But we also saw Mike Womack’s exhibition Observer Effect at Ziehersmith (516 West 20th Street), which was truly stunning.  Mr. Womack has cast concrete around his own drawings so that only the edges of the paper remain to be seen by the viewer.  This is very provoking in the best possible way.  What might the drawings be about?  Why are they hidden?  Do they relate to the shapes in which they are encased?  Why would an artist make work and then make sure no one can see it?

Mike Womack Hypnosis Drawing #15 (Earliest Memory of Drawing)

Mike Womack
Hypnosis Drawing #15 (Earliest Memory of Drawing)

The concrete and wood forms remain wholly visible, and are interesting enough on their own to hold our attention.  One never forgets, however, that each one is also an art tomb.  That makes the crucifix-shaped installation even more poignant.  What vision died here?

Mike Womack Hypnosis Drawing #3 (Earliest Memory of My Mother)

Mike Womack
Hypnosis Drawing #3 (Earliest Memory of My Mother)

The press release for the show (read it on the way out, NOT the way in) gives a very specific description of the process through which Mr. Womack made his pieces, and why.  It’s quite compelling (and you can see it on the gallery website www.ziehersmith.com) but I think I prefer making up my own stories.  Go to this show and then let me know what you think.

Sol LeWitt Untitled (gouache)

Sol LeWitt
Untitled (gouache)

The other exhibition that grabbed me on Saturday was Sol LeWitt.  He is rapidly becoming one of my favorite dead artists.  Perhaps it’s because he’s ubiquitous, although that could work equally against him.  Right now there’s a huge LeWitt installation at Paula Cooper Gallery at 534 West 21st, and it’s very worth the walk to see LeWitt’s preliminary gouaches and the final enormous work to which they led (originally completed for the 1988 Venice Biennale).  You can admire his mastery of color, as I did, and then wish you lived in an apartment big enough to install his work, as I also did.

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing #564: Complex forms with color ink washes superimposed

Sol LeWitt
Wall Drawing #564: Complex forms with color ink washes superimposed

That would cost you $1.2 million, and rumor has it that’s just for the plans, not including the actual painting.

If the art in the galleries was always bad, I would stop going.  It is not.  There is always at least one magical piece, or one independently creative new artist who is worth seeing.  Just when I think I am out, they pull me back in.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Low Tide - Old Saybrook

Low Tide – Old Saybrook

I spent a large part of last week and the Labor Day weekend back in my Connecticut home town, relaxing a little before the start of the new school year.  It was wonderful to catch up with my family, to turn off my work email, and to do almost nothing productive. But I did stop in at my undergraduate art school, Lyme Academy, to view the current alumni and student exhibits, and I was struck both by the quality of the art and how different it is from what I see in New York.

Jack Broderick's La Boca

Jack Broderick’s
La Boca

Lyme Academy teaches the skills needed to produce representational and figurative art. At the School of Visual Arts where I’m getting my M.F.A., skills are rarely discussed, and aside from a few of us diehards the students are not producing representational work.  It’s all abstract, and conceptual, and performance, and video.

Alex Cox Untitled

Alex Cox
Untitled

When I’m in Old Lyme, my heart sings to see blue shadows cross nude figures and then climb up the wall.  When I’m in New York, I respond to pain and ugliness in art.  In Connecticut I will spend two or three hours drawing the random still life on the coffee table – emphasizing light and dark, perfecting the ovals that represent circles in perspective, and working very hard to achieve a likeness of my subject matter.  There is no such thing as too much time spent drawing the label on a Poland Springs bottle.

Andrea Anderson's Max Thompson Chevy

Andrea Anderson’s
Max Thompson Chevy

But in New York I draw with my left hand to achieve an unattractive immediacy. Everything is faster and uglier.

One of my New York pieces   with an unquotable title.  At 8 months old, it is due for urban renewal.

One of my New York pieces with an unprintable title. At 8 months old, it is due for urban renewal.

So after this weekend, I finally get it.  Rural coastal Connecticut is full of the seascapes and portraits that are made by artists who know in their bones that life hasn’t changed much in fifty years, and is unlikely to change much in the next fifty.  The tide will always take six hours to go out and another six to come in.  It is possible to paint on the beach for hours and not see more than a dozen people, at least once school starts.

Still low tide in Old Saybrook

Still low tide in Old Saybrook

But in New York, a 20-year-old building is considered old and ripe for tear-down. Walking people regularly race cabs at intersections because they’re in such a hurry. There are beggars on half of the corners I pass.  My realizations aren’t new or profound. You have just to look at Andrew Wyeth versus the Abstract Expressionists, or Edward Hopper lighthouses versus Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie.  Where we live and work greatly affects what we make.

I guess my question now is whether it’s possible to go beyond back-and-forth and actually integrate what’s happening in the various art worlds. There is pain in small-town New England, just as there is great beauty in the city.  But am I a good enough artist to show you?

 

 

 

 

Machines

The thing about machines versus technology is that machines are tools.  With technology, I’m the tool. (Still, when you need to hook up your new t.v. to your cable, satellite dish, game system, surround sound, AppleTV, and photo album, I’m the one to call.  Trust me, your old cables won’t work.)

Blog in Progress

Blog in Progress

I spent the summer playing with machines.  I took a letterpress class, in which I learned to typeset and use printing presses.  I made little books and lots of stationery. It was SO fun.  I got a knitting loom (good for afghans), and when that palled, I got a knitting machine (good for sweaters!).

VanderCook Printing Press in the SVA Print Shop

VanderCook Printing Press in the SVA Print Shop

My letterpress stationery says, "Words are for people who cannot draw."  It's meant to be ironic (stationery!), not insulting.

My letterpress stationery says, “Words are for people who cannot draw.” It’s meant to be ironic (stationery!), not insulting.

This knitting machine is completely manual.  And fast!

This knitting machine is completely manual. And fast!

I played with a manual typewriter and am still considering using it to type my Master’s thesis next year.  Why?  Because it requires skill, and typewritten documents show the weight of the hands that typed them.  Basically, they emboss the letters.  I love all of my Apple products, but they can’t emboss.  Why isn’t that in the commercials?

Manual typewriter from the 70s.  Courier font.  It does not get better than this.

Manual typewriter from the 70s. Courier font. It does not get better than this.

If a love of machines can be genetic, I’m pretty sure it runs in my family of engineers, wannabe engineers, shouldabeen engineers (like me), and teachers.  We all love tools.  I have an electric drill of which I’m particularly fond (doubles as a screwdriver) and a glue gun that comes in handy a little more often than one would expect.

I love all kinds of paper cutters – from scissors and hand-held die cuts to rolling blade cutters, mat cutters, cleaver cutters, and guillotine cutters.  I miss my power miter and table saws which still live in Connecticut because somehow they don’t quite fit into my apartment.  But I brought my sewing machine, which makes buttonholes!

The guillotine paper cutter can take hundreds of sheets at once and won't skew.

The guillotine paper cutter can take hundreds of sheets at once and won’t skew.

The first computer that my high school ever bought had its own room and was the size of a small bear.  A bear cub.  In order to program it, we had to write our code then type-punch it into paper tape which could be fed into the computer.  Some of those programs were pretty long, and one mistake ruined the tape.  Luckily I love to type.  And play the piano.  And do almost anything creative with my hands.

Maybe the reason I love machines better than current computers is because I understand how they work.  I mean, I can convert numbers into binary code, but I really have no idea how the computer reads binary or makes sense of it.  But give me an old-fashioned internal combustion engine and I can change the spark plugs, the air filter, the oil filter, and the brake fluid.  How do I know?  Because I used to do it all the time.  Nowadays I’m not sure that cars have any of those parts.  Fan belts?  I don’t know.  Everything is electronic.

What fun is that? (aside from power windows, power seats, and butt warmers).  I like to know how things work inside.  Except people.  Too gooey!

Take that, laser level!

Take that, laser level!

Art is full of tools – especially arcane hand tools.  Artists get to make stretcher bars, and weld sculptures, and cut glass.  We use staple guns and lost-wax casting and linen book-binding thread.  I don’t know why everyone isn’t an artist, but it’s okay if you’re not.  That just means more art (and more tools) for me.

Picasso Quiz

I was at MoMA yesterday with some out-of-town guests and every other New Yorker with his out-of town guests, when suddenly I found myself on a Picasso hunt.  It was right after I enjoyed a wonderful cheese-based lunch in the 5th floor cafe, which came right after I visited Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World and Balthus’ The Street while waiting for our table to be called.

I may have mentioned before that I get lost in museums.  You can hand me a map, but unless I walk around with my nose in it, using a highlighter, I’m still going to get lost. So it was that at last I found myself facing Picasso’s Three Musicians on one side of a doorway, and his Three Women at the Spring on the other side.

Three Musicians

Three Musicians

Three Women at the Spring

Three Women at the Spring

Most artists are lucky and talented if they can do one thing well.  My best thing is actually traditional sculpture, but it exacerbates arthritis in my right thumb to work in clay, so I mostly do my second best thing, which is draw.  Looking at Picasso’s two works I was stunned by his range and his bravery at trying new forms of expression.  The important thing to remember is that no matter how arrogant he seemed, he couldn’t know that these paintings would work while he was making them.  That’s the bravery part.  And his limitless imagination encouraged him to start new phases over and over again during his long life.

Girl Before a Mirror

Girl Before a Mirror

The next Picasso I found is one of my favorites (because of the color): Girl Before a Mirror.  Then quickly I ran into Seated Bather, one of the scariest.  I started to hunt Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, perhaps his most famous painting, but never did find it.  Remember: lost!

Seated Bather

Seated Bather

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

I used to say that I admired Picasso but wouldn’t want to live with most of his paintings. After yesterday I think I would like to live with all of his paintings.  I could admire the genius and forget the misogyny.  And I haven’t even mentioned Guernica.  It is one of my mantras that no one can make anyone else’s art.  It is too personal.  There will never be another Picasso.

Here’s the quiz.  Can you look at the five paintings shown here and tell in which order they were painted?  Answers are below, but don’t peek yet.

Don’t peek.

Don’t peek.

Don’t peek.

Okay:

1907     Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

1921     Three Musicians and Three Women at the Spring (the same year!)

1930     Seated Bather

1932     Girl Before a Mirror

Unless you already memorized these facts for a test, I bet you got them wrong.  I know I did.  What an amazing brain Picasso must have had to not only paint these pictures, but in this order.  He was ahead of his own time, and I think must still be ahead of mine as well.

 

Jack the Ripper: Artist?

Walter Sickert, The Camden Town Murder

Walter Sickert,
The Camden Town Murder

One of my favorite British painters is Walter Sickert, whose life spanned the period from the Impressionists to World War II.  The son and grandson of artists, as a young man he studied with James McNeill Whistler and learned to paint alla prima.  For the rest of his life he painted only what he could look at, or see in photos.  Later, one of his students was Lucian Freud.

Study for The Camden Town Affair

Study for The Camden Town Affair

I was a little surprised, ten years ago, when mystery writer Patricia Cornwell accused Sickert in her book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed.  After years of admiring his work in the British Art Center at Yale, it took me awhile to get my head around the idea.  Then out of the blue Steven Sheehan, one of my painting teachers, said that “artists have always known” that Sickert was the Ripper.

Rose Shoe

Rose Shoe

The evidence is circumstantial.  Sickert was one of the Camden Town Painters – Camden Town being the location of the Ripper’s murders.  As he travelled back and forth to France, murders seemed to follow in his wake.  And most importantly, he established a strong connection to the police so that he was often the first person they called when a Ripper victim was found.  He was allowed into the crime scenes to draw the victims before the scenes were examined or cleaned.

La Hollandaise

La Hollandaise

Whether or not Sickert was the actual Ripper or just obsessed with his crimes, he spent most of his life outside of conventional norms.  Would his paintings still be so well-known without the added frisson of murderous possibilities?  They are wonderful paintings, but most wonderful paintings are lost or forgotten 100 years later.

I have to admit that, based on nothing, I now think of Sickert as a murderer.  But does that indict all of us who are addicted to criminal trials, detective movies, and violent video games?  We may not be killers, but we enjoy the results of violent crime – perhaps too much.

Walter Sickert in 1911

Walter Sickert in 1911

I also have to admit that, when pushed, I try to access the blackest side of myself to put into my work.  We need light in order to see the dark, but it is the dark that fascinates us. So maybe Walter Sickert wasn’t a killer.  Maybe he was.  The possibility creates an edge of evil in paintings that might otherwise seem innocent.  Did having the soul of a killer improve his art?  If so, count me in.

I like happy books and happy music.  But I like brutal art.  And I’m working my way toward making my own art more sinister.