Thursday, December 13, 2012

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Carol nails it.

Carol Diehl's Art Vent is one of my regular reads and she nails it on this one.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gone Fishing

Obvious that I've dropped off the radar.   Things coming to a crashing thud.   More, I just don't care about "art" anymore.   This article that I ran across today encapsulates my feelings of sorts, Occupy Art.

The thing is, I will continue to make things but these things will not go out into the art world or market because frankly, I don't care to participate in a circus that degrades something that I hold as an important personal practice.   Since it will not be seen, it will not participate in a larger dialogue of art, the tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear the sound.   

And I am not saddened or upset about this as I once might have been.  Just another stage of life and life is too short to spend chasing dreams that revolve around being accepted and having work collected by people that I have nothing but disgust and contempt for, not that anyone is banging down the door by any means but...

My studio building was flooded by Sandy and closed for over three weeks, during the night of the storm I had a dream of the studio burning down and losing over 20 years of work.  I awoke after the dream and felt a relief to have it gone, done and over and then realized it was nothing but a dream.

There is something liberating and freeing in all of this.  The things I am making having nothing to do with art and the critical, historical values that played a part of my mindset and dialogue are in the dust heap also.  

I cannot explain the feeling that came over me this summer but it was final.  It might upset a few of my closer friends but I cannot and do not want to discuss art ever again.   Art is dead.

Monday, August 20, 2012

That dirty old bastard

 I love Picasso.   Not because he was a celebrity when I was a child, between Warhol and Picasso, the two…

I love Picasso’s late work, its abrasiveness, its brashness, its playfulness and in the end despite everything being so garish, it works, it works for me.   It excites me, it thrills me, it puzzles me, it sits on my mind.  

I am writing this in response to Mark at Henrimag and Paul from Paulcorio and the mysterious Anonymous who some of us know quite well not only because of his pertinent commentary but also because we’ve spent many nights and days talking about art and getting drunk both literally and figuratively.

I have a problem with Modernism and hence Post-Modernism.  To me they are interesting theories of cultural production and arts placement in culture at large.

The problem with Picasso or Miró for that matter is that they don’t fit into convenient categories of modernist art production, nor does Duchamp for that matter.   The American version of Modernism has Clem Greenberg’s shadow still haunting it, at least for someone of my age and generation, because we or I, was over-steeped in it from schooling.   The conceptual and minimal works that came out of it owe more than a passing debt to Clem, even if as reaction.   Not surprising too because painting as an “avant-garde” practice was pretty much exhausted by 1920 and the rest since, mining familiar territories.   

By 1920 cubism had morphed into synthetic cubism, Matisse had gone to Nice and began riffing on Cezanne and his own work, now that I think of it, the proto-Soviets were the ones who radicalized vision along with the Dutch.   By 1920 Malevich and Rodchenko had along with the De Stijl group of Mondrian et al had given the non-objective a face and their work in particular was one of revolutionary import, they were radicals who desired to shape and change culture through their art.  The French and I include Picasso and Miró in this, not so much, I mean what’s wrong with Café culture?

Listen I don’t want to delve into some deeper analysis but my feeling and my head tell me that what is dead, is not so much the avant-garde or modernism or post-modernism because they were never alive to begin with, they are nothing more than anthropomorphic descriptions of historical processes, made by man for man in an attempt to understand and come to grips with the working processes of other people coming to grips with themselves through their work within certain time frames that at once shaped and defined them and then they tried to break through those limitations, limitations put on by the expectations at large and the ones that they had imposed on themselves and of major importance but rarely discussed is the death of god and the poetic, what is dead is what was never alive, a theory or theories.

What the various artists had in common despite the incredible variety of visual expression was each artist was trying to come to grips with the ghost of art and the substrate in which it can be hung within.   The various stories or myths that each artist had, whether it was Duchamp and the fourth dimension and more and the eros that many rarely talk about but he hinted at consistently Rrose Sélavy, Mondrian’s Theosophy, the relationship between Constructivism and Russian Icon painting, Picasso with the history of art and Matisse with the arcadian joie de vivre.

Their art was an art born out of life, not naïve life (maybe at times) but also a love of art. 

Today’s art gymnastics, the kind that fills us with dread is the post-mortem, cynical market place driven drivel.  One, driven by an academy of dead wood and no better than the church in trying to force an ideal or idea of what it is without the love or poetry, two concepts too fuzzy and akin to ‘feeling.’

The problem with theory is that it takes place in words, don’t get me wrong I love words, look ma, I’m using them now but the best wordsmiths and the best painters artists etc know when they are having fun with their media in trying to expand the field of expression not for the accolades but because they or we are trying to find the best way to relay or transmit this weird feeling or idea that we have about the world to someone else.

We don’t make art to fit the academy or the school, October or Artforum, MoMA or the New Museum.   That is where art goes to die, stuffed and on the wall.   This was the point, by the great and greatly misunderstood Marcel Broodthaers.

Oh and Picasso, I’ll try to get back to him shortly as I started writing something but got sidetracked by life.   

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Art in the Age of Depression

I find it hard if not impossible to think about art in these difficult economic times.  The need to keep roof overhead and food on the table when one cannot find sustained work is taxing with the psychological and emotional toll being devastating.   

We live in an ever darkening time, one where our politics, our economics, our whole social fabric has fallen apart, where people don’t care to know or if they do, don’t.   Where unbridled greed and avarice rules, where the destruction of hope (is there any left?) is paramount and those in power play games while Rome burns.   A world which in twenty or thirty years will not look the same due to global warming and the resultant changes in food production will leave millions starving.   It’s too late.  Nothing can be done, the impact is imminent and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put it together again.  

I sometimes work near the U.N. and I see during my lunch break all the men and women walking back and forth with their briefs, sometimes in heavy conversation and debate with like other determining the fate or so they think of the world.  Meetings, meetings, meetings and nothing changes.  The world at large is run by sociopaths either in politics or business with but one purpose, to gain more power and we commoners, are nothing but fodder, too often in the way of their grand plans, our sole function is to support their state of affairs while they pay little or no tax and purchase either their goods or propaganda without question or protest.

Besides that physical fact is an art world that is irrelevant and an audience non-existent for what one has to say or more what I have to say.   One might as well wander into the wilderness and wail as the result would be the same.

I am and have always been as long as I can remember, even as a child barely able to put words in mouth been disturbed by these inequities and injustices, inequities and injustices perpetrated by none other than humanities hubris and vanity.  Vanitas Vanitatum.

Such as it is I am sometimes reminded despite such dark clouds of personal misfortune of the purpose and function of art, of late that has not occurred by actually seeing art but more in music and literature.   Solace comes in listening to Bach or in reading recently Maupassant’s “Pierre and Jean”, Jean Giono’s “Blue Boy” or now as I wade into Döblin’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz”. 

I find this country intolerable and fantasize about living in Europe, somewhere in the south of France would be nice and I don’t have any fantasy of it being without its own troubles or that the locals would be any different than here, small town minds with there ageless prejudices and distrust are everywhere from the hills of Afghanistan, to Provence to Pennsylvania, New York or the Upper West Side.   But being an outsider in a country where you are not from is somehow in my experience easier than being an outsider in ones own land, the alienation is at least justified there but here in ones own land and native tongue is unbearable.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The New York Media and the NYPD

Having been involved with several of the Occupy Wall Street protests I found that in today's New York Times, an article about the NYPD's over the top tactics in the afternoon, only to find the story when I got home had disappeared from the local New York Region page, you now have to find it buried within the City Room Blog and if you missed it, well tough luck because the NY Times doesn't deem it news worthy that the Police Department is a roque element denying the most basic and fundamental rights of assembly.

However the Guardian UK, finds it of merit and has put it on the front page.

Having been a resident of New York City for over 20 years as an adult and having grown up here as a child I have found the police department to be dangerous and not to be trusted.   What does it say about our society and our political system that allows such wanton disregard for basic civil rights?  

And if you aren't from New York or live here, check out the outstandingly racist profiling which occurs in the  Stop and Frisk program.    The country is lost as long as people stay silent, more importantly, our individual freedom, myth that it is, is being buried by an increasing totalitarian state of spying on our phone and internet communications all for the sake of protecting the few who have so much.   Too much in my opinion.

We are heading into a very dangerous time.   And now back to our regularly scheduled arts programming.

See you at the barricades.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Observations- art, culture? Society

An article in the NYTimes, once the paper of record, has an interesting article today about noise in bars and restaurants here in NYC, “Working or Playing Indoors, New Yorkers Face an Unabated Roar.”  To summarize, the article shows how music is manipulated via volume and beats per minute to control clientele and access the money within their wallets, more importantly though are the responses about the dislocation that some people feel in those settings, the loss of focus due to the noise levels, etc.  

What I find is that our television media works with the same kind of manipulation.  As someone who has given up a TV subscription but ends up seeing TV on rare occasions I am highly aware of how most Americans are frogs in a cooking pot of ever increasing temperature, the volume levels of commercials with the fast flashing of imagery and massive hype creates a subtle sense of anxiety.   Even commercials for shows that are reputedly dramas do this and beyond the commercials the flashing of quick cuts and scenes with fast graphics and special effects manifest a physiological and psychological drain.  If you don’t believe me, turn off your set for a week or two and then watch it.   Maybe it’s just my fifty years showing.   Research in how television works though has shown such, you can google it for yourself or read this article, “Why We Worry- The Psychological Effects of TV News.”    To me this part of the reason our culture has unraveled is that we live in the zombie apocalypse already, too many people are checked out and need the tv-meth to get by and I don’t believe in an over arching conspiracy as it seems to be a feed back loop that one has to make a conscious decision to kick the addiction.

What the result of this barrage is an uninformed and disinterested electorate that doesn’t have the physical or psychic energy to deal or face with ‘reality’ of the system or their manipulations.  More they have been sucked into a concept of America as land of the “I’ve got mine, good luck getting yours” as this anxiety makes it nearly impossible for people to actually communicate about things since they are in the dark, as it were.

This manipulation feeds into the art world at large also.    Is anyone really shocked that Jeffrey Deitch has made the moves he has made at MoCA with the firing of Paul Schimmel?   Deitch has always been about art as entertainment in the most banal and cynical of means.  All flash.  

Locally one cannot but express extreme disappointment of the lack of critical support by our own Brooklyn Museum.  Brooklyn most likely has more artists living and working in it than any other locale in the world and the Brooklyn Museum has such weak concepts as “GO”.    I know financing curatorial muscle is difficult but where there is a will there is a way and the Brooklyn Museum always manages to underwhelm.   Art to these organizations is a second thought.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In Response RETRO from Henrimag

- Full disclosure- Henrimag and its author provocateur is a friend of mine and he has written many nice things about my work and I have written for his blog on occasion too.

Our ancestors in part came to this land looking to start life anew and create a society that didn’t suffer the ills of old Europe, mine date in part to the earliest settlers in New York, Massachusetts and Virginia in the late 17th Century. How that actually played out was a different story as it always is with too much puritanical fever and the old testament in hand and practice.

I once was walking around dumbo over twenty years ago with an English friend who asked why we Americans destroyed our best architecture, my reply was that we were the stock of peasants who in their desire to create a new world jettisoned the past and did not want to look back and had even forgotten how to look back. The American mythos of this self made man with the chance to make a new fortune lost in translation the previous shared social values and structures that class distinctions forced upon him, the end result being to some extent our current predicament of rapacious greed in the face of societal decay.

Post war America or the United States to be less chauvinistic, came to bask in its glory as the promise of democracy with all the values we were taught in school, of course without being taught about the large bag of dirty laundry that helped create our empire. Finally we began to believe our own hype and press without being critical, less you be considered an enemy of the state for disagreeing, you’re either with us or against us. And like Narcissus we became overly enamored of our own reflection.

Nostalgia is a cultural condition of this lack of proper reflection and criticality, it is a reflection and desire to enter arcadia and our arcadia appears to be the modernist era and musically the 60’s, Amy Winehouse comes to mind. Visual nostalgia takes as its locus the modern era and bad post-modern theorists use criticality in the same pastiche in which they misinterpret or appropriate the image and function of such.

What marks Miró as a great painter is not only was he visually adept at orchestrating works that act like small chamber ensembles but that he was pushing the boundaries of what painting could be and achieve, he had in short, faith in the visual experience as a visceral tangible thing. He was willing to take risks, make bad works and explore his own personal thoughts and expressions. This also takes place within the time of Surrealism, which gave license (as if it were needed) to explore the sub and un conscious inner worlds of our being. This theory provided a framework for the subject matter to be addressed.

As Gerhard Richter has said and I’ve said it before, it isn’t how to paint it is what to paint. An artist has to perform an intricate dance between subject matter or content and then the visual aspects of creating a space that isn’t about the subject but is the embodiment of this.

Our current theory du jour is the leftover grab bag of post modern theory, which originally was not about cynicism but saw the philosophic cul de sac ahead as the previous mythos and theory was imploding in the immediate post war era and came to fore in the sixties. The so called work based on this misreading and misinterpretation of Lyotard et al is in itself a pastiche of the very theory it uses as its armature.

The real irony is that we are surrounded by too much work that is tedious in its cynicism and is based in part on too much reading of words, it accepts without understanding the complexities of what the death of the author means and substitutes ironic distance, it makes obvious pastiche of other forms without understanding the true meaning. It is a knowledge that has been taught but not understood and just a bad form of the very thing it tries to be. In short, it is about but not is. It is the current academy of thought. It is a bunch of illiterates who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk and I’m sure we’ve all had the unfortunate experience of someone incredibly well read but incredibly daft as to what is really going on around them.

Any good painting, maybe great painting is a paradox. I’ve always thought that Picasso’s run in with Velazquez’s Las Meninas were post modern of sorts or De Kooning too for that matter. Picasso does make a pastiche but it is done with, I will say it, a love of what he is seeking to own, destroy, to make new, to possess and to offer anew. What makes a distinction between a great painter and an also-ran is that the great painter loves what he is trying to destroy or possess, the under riding mythos of Picasso as Minotaur was his own and not some schooled lesson. It appears in all of his work from Les Demoiselles d'Avignon onwards. More importantly great art comes from artists who wrestle with themselves and their ambitions, demons, desires and inherent failures, paradoxes, contradictions and the like.

What marks this post modern art, the current art du jour is the fact that the true feelings that the artists have are missing (if they have any to begin with) and are all wrapped up in signs of the signifiers without being significant in and of themselves. This signification is what marks this work as academic and no different that the salon works of the French academy in the 19th century.

In the end when I go to my studio and wrestle with my own ideas and feelings the art du jour doesn’t even come to mind. It is creating the same experience that the greats have done before, that gets me excited, that makes me want to engage in such a futile exercise and finally to find my own inherent contradictions and complexities and to share them because art is a form of communication about everything and nothing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


50, a number marking time, 50 cycles of the earth rotating around the sun, a half century, half a life time (in theory) my great grandfather who I grew up with lived to 92 and my grandfather 86 on the other hand my fathers father died at the age of 52 before I was born.   50 more likely represents half a lifetime lived as an adult, maybe if one has been an adult at all.

The point of being a doppleganger was to write freely but then I would anyway under my own name.   I once was a dj for a radio station but I always wondered how many people were really listening and on the overnights I think I had at most 3 listeners, I jest, there were more but the point being why hide behind a moniker when the 4 people who read my rambles are friends who know me.

So without anymore mystery and without drum roll, D Richmond is one Dennis Bellone, D for Dennis and sometimes David in certain works of mine where I would provide narration on videos, Richmond for the city I was born in 50 years ago.  It’s that simple, the mask comes off and there you have it and I will continue to bang the drum or at least the occasional pot and pan.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Klaus Kinski

As a tradition I normally don't title my paintings except in private so I can remember what is what but Klaus Kinski is the title for this new work.   I somehow persist in trying to make ... I am not sure what to call it.

klaus kinski, oil on canvas, 6 by 5 feet

Saturday, June 23, 2012

fünfzig Jahre Freude

The Grand old age of a half century approaches.  "Fünfzig Jahre Freude" which in German translates to  50 years of joy, a title for a conceived art work that I am approaching that will encapsulate my art making activity to this point for the coming year and in which I hope to tie up various loose ends and ideas that have either occupied me outright or linger in the back of my mind.

From there?  I don't know.  But do stayed tuned as on the 26th of June the "great outing" will take place and the doppelgänger known as D Richmond will be revealed as I see little point in remaining anonymous.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Must be something in the air.... Related to my dystopian rant forwarded to me from a friend.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


There will be no essay on "Welt am Draht" or "The Perverts Guide to Cinema". Why bother to write when it has been said so well and more importantly I have nothing to add.

See the films and think for yourself.

I see the world as being determined in part by our language systems and games, not outside of us but as an extension of who we are or believe ourselves to be. This countries moral rot and decay is because nearly the entire population buys into a concept of capitalist reality that is morally reprehensible, both right and left from high unto low.

For over 30 years the American public at large has been fed an increasingly unhealthy diet of propaganda about capitalism and a false notion of democracy. This has led to a culture that was already adverse to self-reflection to go even deeper into mediocrity.

Both political parties represent opposite sides of the same corrupt coinage. The sheer number of people from both political spectrums who unwaveringly believe the tripe they are sold that I have met is staggering. More, the lack of inquisitiveness or desire to learn more or actually have their own experience of reality unmediated by the likes of the system, a system that desires this ignorance because it leaves the politic impotent and easily controlled is mind numbing.

Not that I believe I hold the keys to truth but I understand the complex mechanics of language, psychology, ones personal history and the life lived, that is, if one bothers to be in it.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

But this is nothing new, it is touched on in “World on a Wire”, “The Perverts Guide to Cinema”, “The Matrix”, “They Live” a ton of other serious films, trashy movies, literature, art, poetry and philosophy and ultimately the bible, “Let the Dead Bury the Dead (Luke 9:60).”

We live in a society, not culture but a society that privileges self-centered narcissism and ones personal needs or wants over all and you can see it in action every day from the smallest way that people act towards one another to the large social sphere. The greater good, be damned, the planet, be damned, those enslaved around the world, be damned.

If you’re not pissed off about what is happening in the world, you’re not paying attention.

If you’re sitting on your chair and not trying to change it in some way, even a small way that seems insignificant then you’re part of the problem.

I hope the silicon robots win over the carbon zombies, I wonder what kind of art they might make.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1979-1980 London Calling

I was at my friends house, we were two weird outcasts in a large suburban high school in upstate New York, the kind of high school that was a breeding school for future Greek Fraternity hazing of the worst kind, izod shirts with upturned collars and docksider shoes.  I had long hair that was an unruly mess and had, despite my small size a reputation of not to mess with, cause I was completely willing to get into it, or at least it seems in hindsight.  Nothing scares a much larger opponent than staring them in the face without backing down, they’re so use to timidity that to have someone stand up breaks their paradigm, not that I knew what paradigm was back then.

My friend pulled out this album with incredible excitement, “you have to listen to this.”  He drops it on the turntable and starts playing “London Calling”, the crashing guitars, the sheer aggression of the sound in comparison to the standard fare of our FM diet was…honestly, hard to grab onto.  I had a difficult time with music at that time, Fleetwood Mac, Bread, Rush, Journey and a ton of real dreck that I couldn’t identify with but I could understand the music saccharine as it was but here, hear was this noise.   But that noise seeped into me, that afternoon my friend laid down The Specials first album and then I understood.  This was music that was addressing my alienation and then in its unfolding filled me with a sense of direction, that direction, growing up in a conservative town with kids my same age so willingly desiring to fill their parents shoes, to follow without question what was given to them, given what felt, smelled and tasted like some horrible corruption of the self, a denial of the self and in its replacement was a self full of hollow aspirations.  Ideals that led to the Reagan era and hence to the shit we live in now.   I spent my high school years in a town that wasn’t that much different in values than Columbine, my saving grace was that my parents gave me when I was younger access to art, music and literature that I didn’t understand at the time but it was there, it was on the bookshelf, it was there if I wanted to seek it, questions were ok, my family life was hell but that, that other access that they gave me, made up for it in the long run, even in the short, in hindsight.

I appreciate that Painters Table and other blogs sometimes link to me but art is not made in a vacuum.  My approach to art, to life to everything, goes back to those days.  Those days wandering around NYC with my mom and sister in tow going here and there, there in ways not unlike De Kooning’s “Gotham News” as I said earlier in this blog, growing up after leaving the city on a farm with no indoor plumbing with my Grandfather who road his motorcycle at the age of 63 out to Mexico, a Grandfather with long white hair who always held court at dinner about politics, culture, more politics, science, art and architecture on that freezing farm house while his father, a former auto and aircraft engineer scowled in rage at the injustices he experienced in his life.

I wonder where this resistance to the status quo comes from, for me it may not appear so oblique (my sister however is of the 1%), my son, now 11, my son, who is bi-racial told me over a year ago that he felt Obama was elected to make sure black people wouldn’t protest over his policies, policies that have been detrimental to our democracy.  A man who made many promises of hope but then has amped up the national security state, has gone after whistle blowers with a vengeance not seen in any other administration and and and and I keep my politics to myself, his mother is very conservative despite the fact her father was one of the last socialists from the Caribbean.  My son comes out with that nugget.

Is it genetic and culture?  I think so.   In reading Paul Corio’s blog tonight after having dinner with him and Mr. Stone from HenriMag and with my background in animal behavior and science come to this conclusion, most human endeavors are based on a human need to be accepted, social recognition and sexual recognition from the opposite sex are of so much importance, more importance than we even acknowledge.   The Industrial Arts Complex doesn’t know where to turn but they want something “real” because they know they live in a world of navel gazing lies.   And then, then they have to have the nerve to say, you need to be an “outsider” to succeed, succeed at what?   They wouldn’t recognize an outsider if it were to slap them in the face because the complexity of the dialogue is beyond them.  Duchamp might have said the artist in the future will be underground, he or she would have to be as this artworld doesn’t have the nerve or gumption to look out beyond their narrow world view, it is not surprising, they’ve received everything from books and not from both books (I don’t want to devalue books and learning for truthiness) and the real world lived, they’ve never looked into the mirror and saw fear, the feelings of being a fraud, death and meaninglessness.  Only on that reflection of the true nature of ones meaning and being can there ever be a gasp and perhaps, perhaps if ones ego is strong enough to say No, does one struggle and say, I will make meaning.

And Jesus said, the meek shall inherit the earth, he failed to mention, that it would be six feet under.

And mea culpa for this nostalgia and rant, the year 50 beckons shortly, 50 that I wasn’t sure many years ago that I would make, 50 that makes me wonder for the future of my son, 50 that makes me wonder where are we going, 50 that makes me wonder, who the hell am I and have I done any good works worthy of my ambitions, hopes and aspirations.

Coming soon, Welt am Draht et al.  Perverts of the world unite.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Coming soon...

.. I hope. Have been struggling with an essay regarding digital this and that, in the interim... some viewing recommendations as I will be writing about Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Welt am Draht" known as "World on a Wire" and also the brilliant The Pervert's Guide to Cinema with the funny and illuminating Slavoj Zizek. I highly recommend you watch the Zizek clip to the end as you will have an enjoy a hearty laugh. You can find the full version of Welt am Draht on Youtube and hit the CC button for the english subtitles and bits and pieces of The Pervert's Guide

art comment...

Occupy Paul Corio

Monday, April 9, 2012


I had planned to go to the studio yesterday but instead got side tracked into working in sketchbooks; spending time cutting things out, gluing, arranging, painting, wondering, reading from time to time, eating, taking a nap and before I knew it, twas too late. I know when the time is right and more when it is wrong, wrong after a certain hour because haste becomes the subconscious driver, for me that is never good.

During the day, thoughts about recent conversations with a colleague about art and work, work in this case being on our art, not labor to earn a living, came to my mind. Why the distinction between labor and work? The confluence of several themes, not related to my art practice but dominant within the greater industrial arts complex came towards one another and when I ‘bounced’ out of bed this morning, they had met. Even without the first cup of coffee the confluence of these micro events was being built into an edifice and a structure, which I needed to get down on digital paper.

Now the occasional reader may ask, why do I bother to acknowledge this minutia, why not get to the heart of the matter? Well I write this more as a conversation with myself somewhat; conversational is of interest, not lecturing or brow beating. The minutia is a way of marking thought and place and the background is the soil of life lived practical experience, which has helped form and sometimes focus my thoughts.

This is in contrast to what will follow.

I’ve mentioned previously that I studied zoology with an interest in animal behavior, besides that though I minored in Philosophy and received a somewhat practical liberal arts degree. I’ve kept only a few text books from those college years: “Food Production and Its Consequences” by Philip E. L. Smith, “Population, Evolution and Birth Control” assembled by Garrett Hardin, “Invertebrate Zoology” by Robert D. Barnes, “Earth” by Frank Press and Raymond Siever and finally the one book that I still bring up in conversation and will do so now, “The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” by Karl Marx.

One of the hallmarks of today’s successful artist is that they actually don’t make anything, save for the occasional old fart like Terry Winters. I say old fart, as I am one too although not quite as “old”. It is common knowledge that Damien, Jeff and a litany of others never get their hands dirty. Hey neither did Donald Judd and even in the days of long old, works were fabricated by assistants and the master would come in to touch it up. But the level of involvement by artists in the conception, fabrication and production of their work has gotten to an all time high or low depending on your preferred nomenclature, it is as if, to actually physically interact with your ideas made material is retardataire.

I know for a fact of an artist who had a late mid career retrospective in France who exhibited more than a small handful of working drawings for sculptures and the actual sculptures, these sculptures along with the drawings were conceived, fabricated from low unto high by the assistant and the artist came in to later sign and back date the working drawings. This artist never chose materials, colors, size, anything! Wow, must be good to be the king, or queen in this case.

What does this have to do with good old Karl, well relax, I’m not going to go into some long winded theoretical monologue about capital, just a few quotes as food for thought.

From Estranged Labor

It is just in his work upon the objective world, therefore, that man really proves himself to be a species-being. This production is his active species-life. Through this production, nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of labor is, therefore, the objectification of man’s species-life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he sees himself in a world that he has created. In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labor tears from him his species-life, his real objectivity as a member of the species and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him.

(3) Man’s species-being, both nature and his spiritual species-property, into a being alien to him, into a means of his individual existence. It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect.

(4) An immediate consequence of the fact that man is estranged from the product of his labor, from his life activity, from his species-being, is the estrangement of man from man. When man confronts himself, he confronts the other man. What applies to a man’s relation to his work, to the product of his labor and to himself, also holds of a man’s relation to the other man, and to the other man’s labor and object of labor.

In fact, the proposition that man’s species-nature is estranged from him means that one man is estranged from the other, as each of them is from man’s essential nature.

The estrangement of man, and in fact every relationship in which man [stands] to himself, is realized and expressed only in the relationship in which a man stands to other men.

Hence within the relationship of estranged labor each man views the other in accordance with the standard and the relationship in which he finds himself as a worker.

||XXV| We took our departure from a fact of political economy – the estrangement of the worker and his production. We have formulated this fact in conceptual terms as estranged, alienated labor. We have analyzed this concept – hence analyzing merely a fact of political economy.

Let us now see, further, how the concept of estranged, alienated labor must express and present itself in real life.

If the product of labor is alien to me, if it confronts me as an alien power, to whom, then, does it belong?

To a being other than myself.

Who is this being?

All italics are in the original and the bold mine.

I knew an artist, a now well known artist, Hugo Boss winner and the like, before he became a hot tomato. We worked together, work as in labor, and I also worked with him on a few of his projects, I appeared in a video of his and performed in several of his performance works. He was complaining one day about how he felt constrained by his gallerists and was tired of making his “thing”, his brand. My thought upon hearing that was that he was estranged from his own practice, I knew he did not have a studio and was working only through ideas. Hey ideas are great, they are necessary and a lot of work suffers because it is thin on ideas. We have two extremes, work that is idea less and the other, all ideas and no praxis.

The studio practice for me has been an invaluable laboratory to conduct R & D. I get an idea into my head and make it in the studio into a tangible physical structure but along the way, as I work, as I struggle, as I play, other ideas form on seemingly their own accord, almost independent of me. I see how a material operates with another, a color against another, a form or picture in struggle and the work hints at me, sometimes yells at me, do this, do this!

In this dance and in the learning over the years about the physical nature and limits of my materials I have been transported to a place I could never have imagined being. That trip has been of utmost importance, it has allowed me to become aware of my potential. Only in the working within this physical realm could I have gotten there. Ideas lead to other ideas but if they just are of the mind they tend in my opinion to wither in potency. We do not live just in our heads but inhabit a body, in fact the head is just a part and extension of the body.

The body knows itself and comes into being by its interaction with the physical world, not just human to human contact but actually knowing and understanding the materials. A great chef knows the freshness of their food, if it isn’t fresh they know how to dress it the best way possible. A lot of great recipes and sauces were invented to mask the severe lack of freshness, more like rot and how did they arrive at this? By taking the time to interact with it, to play with it and with the accumulative life experience of the kitchen they know which spice or other thing will punch it up.

Food isn’t theoretical, it is real. We share food, we share our meals and we converse, sometimes over a good bottle of wine about the food and life. Food is a necessary staple but also a gift that we share as SOCIAL ANIMALS. And I dare say, art is a similar thing but now we are inundated with recipes for art and not the actual meal itself.

Another river that came into confluence was regarding young internet artists or artists who use the web and social networking as their meme. Upon reading some of what I would say are amateurish manifestos, more of the same cynicism and recipe art with the real goal being getting attention and being taken seriously was the constant theme of “Branding”.

The problem with Branding is that it circles the wagons and says this is it, this is our stand, this is mine. In fact there was this kind of generational ax to grind, as this is ours and you can’t touch or have it. No community meal there, no desire to share, no desire to give. Branding means coming up with a commodity and a tagline, branding is death incarnate, it is the death in the guise of individual expression that denies the social aspect of sharing and the ability, one would hope of personal evolution and hopefully larger social political engagement with the great ills we face. This is the great irony of the social network, the individual branding has shown a lot of the same unquestioning mindset, visual lack of appeal and more banal SAMENESS. Branding in their terms was said in complete seriousness and lack of irony. I’ve had it up to here with irony but branding in today’s culture needs a good solid whack down.

There is much to be thought about in regards to how the internet is changing our way of communicating to one another, it is as shattering as the printing press, but this was/is not it, just old conceptual ideas in new window dressing.

It was and is to my mind the continued infantilization of culture, more so here in the United States. Where else can the 40’s be the new 30’s? If that is so, the the 20’s are the new teens and interesting as adolescents are in their rebellion, most want to be loved.

Maybe more later, now it is time to go to the lab.

Friday, April 6, 2012


A lot is written about the market in regards to art and somewhat deservedly so, however, the market for art has been around since the Dutch Golden Age in various forms and guises. Previously to the artist being unmoored from the patronage of Church, Royalty or the Political elite, well you had the Church, Royalty and the elite supporting artists and those artists had to work within confines of subject matter and materials, a certain amount of lapis lazuli might be required, etc.

With the Dutch Republic came the artist out marketing his talents. If you were Vermeer you were a minor painter; Hals, Rembrandt and others painted the Burghers, the New Wealthy middle class and you had a beginning to what we now call genre painting, landscape, still life et al.

Come the French and the Industrial revolutions and traditional patronage is shattered. You have Courbet and Manet setting up their own exhibitions outside of the official salon (the original DIY?) and others, the Salons of the Impressionists, the Independents, etc. etc., all vying for attention and all hoping to sell their wares and make a living. Reading the accounts, letters and various journals, correspondence and fictional accounts from that time illustrates that it was not an easy time for artists if you were not officially sanctioned and deemed of import.

I touched briefly on this in current obsessions.

What distinguishes today’s market versus those of the not so distant past, is that there seems to be no valid cultural ambitions or artistic motivations that, at least for me, address the concerns of art as a vehicle of personal or cultural import.

We no longer have the shadow of movements, for better or worse. Me, I am ambivalent about movements, maybe even hostile. Ab Ex, Pop, Conceptualism, Minimalism, Body Politic, Earth Art, blah blah blah. Each one of those “movements” has some wonderful and amazing stuff and more than a fair amount of dreck.

Arts importance is gone, if it was really ever there to begin with, as far as the general public is concerned. Before the time of absolute visual gluttony, artists worked on a variety of levels. Painting of course but also doing what we now call design work for festivals, coronations, engineering, what ever was needed in regards to visual production.

The advent of the printing press and cheap forms of photographic reproduction with offset printing and then the growth through technology of film, television and now video cameras and cheap gear galore has completely “democratized” production.

But this democratization hasn’t raised standards, the ‘standards’ that were, dropped dramatically. Look at the amount of tumblr’s, youtube videos and the incredible variety of blogs (perhaps mine included) and then add to that the array of illiterate comments, especially in political blogs and you can see for yourself that we live with a lot of trite shit that looks, smells and voices the same. If I had a nickel for every young person I’ve met over the last ten years who was in marketing or branding, well I would be living on the coast of southern France.

But back to the Market…
When the last gasp of Post-Modern societal critique was exhausted in the 90’s so was the death of ‘movements.’ And with the death of movements, which for the most part are or were attempts to codify or “Brand” a certain way of thinking or visual style, the art world at large, the galleries, the museums and sadly to say a lot of artists were free to address what their prime concern was, MONEY.

Is it any wonder that we have so much tired, lame, poorly conceived and for the most part visual literature or illustration, if one can be so bold to call it “literature” more like some trashy beach read, bad visuals for poor uninformed thinking, exists?

The last bastion of this is the repeated ad nauseam “Institutional Critique”, because that is all they have left in their arsenal to prove their cultural worth, when at the end of the day, the art fairs, the biennials, the triennials, the documentas, etc. all they provide is the circus, just like the official salons of 19th century France.

As an artist, who, partial disclosure, was briefly active in that circus I say BOLLOCKS. Is it depressing at times? Certainly. Does it affect my studio practice? NO.

The point of art is to be art and what we have passing officially as art is nothing but window dressing, hence Meissonier, one of the most celebrated and financially successful artists of the 19th century, whither him now?

Same as it ever was.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wow - the Beginning

I’ve been looking at art since I was a little kid and drawing since I could hold a pencil. I drew voraciously everyday until 7th grade when a knife accident and the resultant surgeries left my hand in bandages and therapy for several months. Growing up as a kid I remember being taken to museums like the Met, MoMA and the Brooklyn Museum quite a bit. Mummies were a favorite and I drew all kinds of Egyptian motifs and made books about dinosaurs and all the things little boys like.

I was fortunate to see Picasso’s Guernica as a child at MoMA and remember vividly the impression it left upon me with the horse in agony, the mother holding child, the lamp and the Minotaur. But at that age I never gave a thought to becoming an artist, no, an archaeologist was what I wanted to be.

My route to becoming an artist was circuitous. I studied science intensively with an aim to becoming a zoologist specializing in animal behavior but this was the Reagan era with funding for research being dropped and I found myself disillusioned due to the rigid world view that my teachers had and my future prospects.

I dropped out of college and eventually decided to go back to school to study art. At the time I thought it would be a way to get an easy degree (slacker?) however, something funny happened along the way. I found much to my amazement that I could look at paintings, even the most abstract ones that artists made and by the brushwork tell who made them. Within two months of being in the program I absorbed into my memory a large quantity of information that amazed my fellow students.

More importantly I found my calling. As much as I loved science and still do, art gave my life something that hitherto had been missing, a sense of purpose and belonging that was missing and another family, the family of artists and art. In that way, art became a way for me to integrate into the world that I was alienated from and this is the work that led me to it.

In 1985 I was visiting NY after my first semester in art school.

De Kooning
Painting, 1948
Enamel and oil on canvas
42 5/8 by 56 1/8
MoMA Collection

I remember walking into the gallery and seeing this work, which was a sloppy mess (can you tell that I like sloppiness) with the streaks of enamel, the congealed surface in areas, the choc a bloc overlapping of form that hinted at so many possibilities.

As I looked at it a strange feeling overcame me that I had never experienced before. The best way to describe it was like a humming sound, of course there was no hum except in my head and body. I found myself absorbed into this thing, as if looking at it completed a circuit with the power suddenly now ON within me. But what was this me? I realized that the painting and I were one. I needed the painting and the painting needed me, that reality was not me isolated from the world or floating in this gallery amongst strangers, that reality was the moment of my conscious connection to the world and the world to myself. The concept of self magically evaporated as a fiction, self in the western way I had learned to believe in. My sense of self became this living circuit between my body interfacing with the world and my sensory experience of it operating as a looping system, both interfaces propositional and transitional.

It was at that moment that I realized now having been an “art student” for one semester that I had found meaning. The work was whispering and shouting and telling me Yes, Yes, Yes. The only thing that made any sense to do was to commit myself to being an artist, that I had to listen to this voice as it were and that I had to paint, that I had to wrestle with this strange new feeling, that was intoxicating, visceral and earth shaking, as far as I was concerned, it was the most important thing I could do with my life.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wow Paintings- or Paintings that make (made) me Wonder

Paul Corio in his blog No Hassle At The Castle has an ongoing series called “Paintings I Like” which I always find to be of interest. I enjoy seeing what other artists like as it gives an entrance way into their thinking and appreciation. With my recent blog post about motif, a constant concern of mine, I thought I would do the same. The reason for this is a similar one but also because sometimes stepping back and attempting to write about a work of art forces one to put, best as one can, the ineffable qualities of a work into a more tangible substrate of words, for better or worse.

In my analysis of the works presented I hope to answer to myself why motif is of vital concern and the approach the artist takes in applying paint to canvas (or as we will shortly find some other substance) leads to creating a work that I find important.

The criteria for this and future essays will be that the painting gives me a Wow moment. A moment of excitation that goes back to my post Conceit with the Paul Valéry quote, “A pleasure which sometimes goes so deep…..”

In short, paintings that say “yes”, that puzzle me, that trouble me, that have a place in my memory as to the first time I saw them, that echo in my studio or at least my minds eye and have left a lasting impression on me. So without further ado and hot air…

Sigmar Polke
Negative Value II, Mizar 1982
Oil, pigment of violets and red lead underpainting on canvas
260 by 200 cm, 102.36 by 78.74 inches
Raschdorf Collection

I first saw this painting at the Brooklyn Museum at the Sigmar Polke retrospective in 1992. This is part of a triptych and I would include all three but this is the only image I could find online….

Polke’s play between illusionism and reality in this painting is of interest. First there is no recognizable imagery and the color in itself is ambiguous. What gesture that exists, if one could call it that, is not in the traditional painterly terms that one or at least myself thinks about in creating space. The space that exists in this does not make the canvas plane, the proto-typical concern of a Greenbergian formalism in late 20th century the primary focus. In fact this surface plane is of no import, hence the illusionism. Polke has created a spatial infinite not unlike a Pollock classic drip.

What I remember being “Wowed” by was the fact that there was no traditional approach to design, motif, application, formal concerns or painterliness. It was like a giant mess wrought real.

The bands of violet do somewhat affirm the surface plane but are askew and haphazard and overlaying this are moments of drips, stains, blotches of material that physically sit atop the surface and in their presence on the plane as raw materiality are just that, material and real.

What Polke started in this painting for me was another way of thinking of color. Oil paint carries a historical weight and this despite the oil materials operates outside of that realm. I cannot say with certainty but from what I know of Polke’s oeuvre this might be the beginning or the door to his large scale paintings that used resin, varnishes and other materials not traditionally associated with painting. This material fracture forced me at least to rethink materials and color.

The imagery, if one can call it that and Polke certainly mined this particular non-image as image, breaks out of the conventions of abstraction. In this work, Stella doesn’t matter, nor does Johns or De Kooning; this works operates as if it exists in an alternate universe of the late 20th century painting dialectic.

It is weird, hallucinatory (as much of Polke’s work was) and of the fantastic, fantastic in the sense of being a phantasm. Polke showed me a door to getting out of the box of my painterly and artistic concerns, out of the Greenberg knot of formalism I had been steeped in thinking. Polke’s work is not one dimensional but multi-dimensional, his later works using imagery following the rabbit down the hole to another way of thinking, a way of thinking that allows mystery, confusion, dislocation and then affirmation into the world and the viewer. Polke allowed painting to breath again.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Another worthy one caught

As I mentioned earlier today I sometimes miss things and catch up later but here is another gem in my opinion; succinct, clear and important today in ways we have yet to imagine.

From arthistoryunstuffed please find Theodore Adorno and "Negative Dialectics."


I do read a host of other artist blogs, not every day and sometimes have to play catch up but this one by Carol Diehl is one I keep track of and rather belatedly caught this particular post Decisions, decisions.

Perhaps I'll add to this with some of my own thoughts on THE THING but Carol's comments on "Now" and "The Thing" were spot on, IMHO.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Motif

Thanks to Ann for her comment and the mention on Painters Table. I don’t write for such but it is nice to have the recognition, it is much akin to how we or I make art, you or I hope that someone connects to what we are saying and we can have a dialogue or at least a viewer who completes the circuit.

When I mentioned in one of my De Kooning posts about being part of the soup that voice helps. I remember as a younger lad, someone telling Baudelaire, if memory serves me, in a moment of crisis he wondered why should he write. The response was, someone out in the provinces who is all alone reads you and feels no longer alone.

I have a ton of graphic design magazines that I look over and I ran across a comment in an old, 1960ish design thing about an artist. Art is about commune, about the communal. We don’t live in a literal cave but sometimes a metaphorical one and we seek to say something that makes and allows us to connect, connect to a deeper feeling about our lives and our world as humans in a very basic and sometimes banal way. But that banality if I can call it that is very important.

On motif-
One of the things I remember reading many years ago in one of my Richter’s writings and I believe I mentioned it in one of my earlier blog postings was, it isn’t how to paint but what to paint.

A few of my fellows meet once every few months to argue and discuss art, a kind of informal salon. The most recent one involved a heated argument over the Renaissance and the concept of self. I was lucky enough to see the Caravaggio show in London some years ago and I wished I could paint with that kind of fervor and belief in a subject.

We don’t have that subject.

I recently finished Joseph Leo Koerner’s “The Reformation of the Image” and am now finishing Leo Steinberg’s “The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion”. These are two very important books in my opinion.

Art and the images they portray or don’t portray are important, in fact are of utmost importance in my opinion.

To make a painting means something. Watching the Richter film was akin to that. I was happy to hear that how he feels about his work, in process, is similar if not exactly like how I feel. Painting is a visual language that is independent but somewhat subscribed to verbal language. I am lucky in that I have a few artists who I can have the most seemingly hermetic conversations one could imagine having about the most arcane minutia one could imagine.

I made a conscious decision given when I was more active in the “art world” to make a kind of gestural abstraction, I still do. This was in the early 90’s. Not one that was related to David Reed or Stephen Ellis but one that was even more raw, disgusting and primeval. Arthur Danto remarked once upon seeing two of my works that they were like the paintings a cave man would make if he made abstract art. He said this in the pejorative and with David Reed by his side.

Mark making means something, the marks that we make add up to something and the image that these marks make are the first and primary form of access. These marks and the image they make are questioned by the viewers as to what is being said, what is being propositioned.

Trying to paint a figure in a perspective space knowing what I know about the history of images and the fact that perspective in itself is a cultural condition is about as relevant as painting a Barnett Newman or Agnes Martin. They are both non-starters.

I can and do appreciate, love and admire those works but the door is closed and I have to figure out as an image maker what is important to me. Not something that answers to the long or recent past, but something that answers to my own anxieties about making images and the necessity despite my usual desires to do so, to find a way that answers to my experience, that at the very least makes it the proposition to a door that I seek. To another way of thinking and seeing, one that maintains the mystery and Wow moment that says, well Wow frankly. One that surprises even me.

As for the great painting…. Well I am a sucker in trying to always make the great painting. For me, at the very least, what is the point?

With that said and trying to maintain a semblance of anonymity, here is one of my more recent works that I am happy with being naked.

By the way it is 6 feet by 5 feet for those who might want to know.

Thoughts on Gerhard Richter Painting

I saw the Gerhard Richter Painting movie the other day. It raised for me some issues. First let me say right off the bat that I think Richter is an important painter. I know some of my friends write him off as too cynical or too conceptual but I find having seen a lot of his paintings over the last 25 years that he is damn good and has to be reckoned with.

One thing I appreciated was how he talked about his process, albeit briefly with the director. How it, the paintings weren’t working and how creating is a private practice. I understand that. Once someone asked me if they could film me in my studio working and I turned them down. It isn’t like it is some sacred thing but it is a naked thing. Richter made a comment about how it was easier to expose oneself in the exhibition versus be raw in front of the camera.

The major thing I walked away from with a new appreciation was how he thinks about his making and the process. In many of these he starts out using old motifs or styles from his 70’s and 80’s abstractions and then slowly subsumes then under a density of the smear. It is the burying and destruction that is partially important but the process gives him the freedom to abandon motif into the act of making. In the process to discover something one could not plan for and the sudden accidental apparition beyond ones conscious control is an exciting moment, an intricate dance between artist and canvas.

He makes one comment early on in the film about how the paintings have their own demands. This I know all too well.

What it has made me struggle with is the concept of motif, my own motif’s that are belaboring me. I think that if I had the time and money it wouldn’t be so hard as I could work in the studio fulltime and not have to desperately seek income. I too, could make work after work with a freedom and abandon to explore and not worry about material costs or rent and where might that lead me? I try to do this anyway but too often the idea of making a “great painting” gets in the way.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mike Kelley

The first Mike Kelley piece I saw was “More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid” in 1989 at the Whitney Biennial. I didn’t like it or understand it. I felt a similar lack of comprehension the first time I came across Frank Stella’s Indian Birds.

Our upbringings could not be more different. I grew up in a family that was supportive of art, going to art museums as a young child with many art books and abstract paintings around the house, not to mention the fact that nearly all of our family friends were European designers and artists who constantly talked about politics, art and culture. Kelley grew up in a far more traditional American setting, one where art was not even an afterthought.

The handcrafted elements of Kelley’s work was completely foreign to me as a device for art making, the elements of kitsch in his work would be kitsch in my childhood home and was not allowed in. So I didn’t understand the blankets and stuffed toys by any stretch. How could this stuff be art?

By the time of Kelley’s mid-career retrospective at the Whitney I started to get it, his retrospective left a profound impression on me and I dragged many friends to see and discuss it. Because our backgrounds were so divergent I never felt the compulsion to use his material means to make my own work but what I got from Kelley was the questioning aspect of what art could be, to ask the difficult questions, to not be afraid and look into ones past or psychology whether culturally or personally and to not be afraid to be garish, bad and unlikable. Kelley’s work forced me to question my tasteful ideas about art and painting, tasteful ideas that were in my way and impeding my own development and that was the best education money cannot buy.

A little over ten years later my work was showcased with Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Bas Jan Ader, Gilbert & George along with Christian Boltanski in a show in Europe. For me at the time it was vindication that what I was doing was important and to be included with people whose work I admired and respected, especially as a relative unknown, gave me a confidence that is in this art world of ours hard to get.

Kelley’s death has left me with the same sadness that I felt when Martin Kippenberger died, the sadness of time passing before it should.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thoughts on Maurizio Cattelan

Upon entering the Rotunda floor and looking up at Cattelan’s work hanging from the ceiling I found myself with a feeling of amusement and thinking, this might not be so bad.

I made my way to the top and walked down and this feeling of amusement disappeared, replaced by nothing. Usually when one comes across contemporary work a feeling of either interest and joy or disgust and contempt occurs but literally I felt nothing.

So suffice to say, I will not write a screed against this exhibition as that would be validating it or giving it import that it has not earned.

I received in the post the other day “Other Criteria -Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art” by Leo Steinberg. The first essay “Contemporary Art and the Plight of its Public” dates from 1962 and is pertinent to my thoughts. To summarize, the essay addresses the shock of discomfort that one feels when confronted with an unfamiliar style and from there using his own, Steinberg's awakening to the value of Jasper Johns work, from discomfort to a more profound understanding of it he makes a case for new work. I highly recommend that you get this book, outstanding writing and essays that are still pertinent.

But what I find with Cattelan’s work is a feeling or lack, in direct contradiction with the essay mentioned.

The press release for Cattelan informs us, “Hailed simultaneously as a provcateur, prankster, and tragic poet of our times, Maurizio Cattelan has created some of the most unforgettable images in recent contemporary art.” oh if that were true.

So without further ado- my thoughts or questions

Do a series of jokes told en mass become a work of art?

Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?

Does the conglomeration make the new entity a whole?

Would these works stand up individually in situ?

Museum as circus- Barnum and Bailey

Art Povera or poverty art?

If this work were to go up in flames like Courbet’s Stonecutters in Dresden would it be missed?

Museum as reflection of petite bourgeoisie?

Art as funhouse, museum funhouse.

Cattelan, art spectacle as death?

Looking up from the floor it looks great but then wouldn’t anything hung in such a way?

I kept waiting for the sound of a snare drum after each punchline.

To view these in a traditional way of sculpture would be a mistake for there is no weight to them, the traditional thinking of mass and volume do not apply. The tableaus, as that is what they really are, are nothing more than physical representations of visual ideas that one could easily imagine seeing in a magazine, in fact I suspect the reproduction aspect is more important than the actual work itself.

This is an art made for the art industry and Cattelan plays his part perfectly to the crowd, the errant bad boy and despite the so called making fun of the art world, I don’t think you can have your cake and eat it too.

The Roberto Benigni of contemporary Italian Art.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thoughts on Abstraction or How Did I Get Here.

I don’t know about you but after I see work that gets me going, that says yes, I find I have to somehow tackle it in my studio or at the very least in sketchbooks. I have found though over the 27 years of being an ‘artist’, that my tastes are more far ranging than most of the artists I’ve come across.

Most artists "likes" I have found stick to the particulars of their own stylistic inclinations, if you paint in abstract gestural way then the tendency is to like that kind of work, if you like minimalistic work the same and if you like figural work, the tendency is to like only figural work, the figurists tend in my observations to be very conservative and orthodox in their tastes. This is not a hard and fast rule by any means, as I said, just an observation. Another oddity I’ve noticed over the years is that figural artists tend to be morning people and abstractionists, night people.

For myself however I can look at something very reductive like Ad Reinhardt and then jump to something opposite as Sigmar Polke, which is just what I did back in 92 when both shows were held concurrently, the first at MoMA and the later in Brooklyn. I went at least five times to both shows.

With Reinhardt I could look at the black paintings and actually see the subtleties between them, the slight variation of color, believe it or not would come through if you spent the necessary time to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness of the works. Also of interest was that some, despite the reductive motif worked better than others. This was really fascinating to me, that motif didn’t matter as it were, they were all the same damn painting upon initial contact but in taking the time to look the variations were different. How and why was this ‘thing’ working and not this one?

With Polke I was floored, having come out of my own reductive strategies in trying to figure out painting shortly after leaving school I had become a kind of post-minimalist but seeing the gregarious riffing on art and content that Polke did opened my eyes and allowed me to acknowledge my own voracious needs to eat more than was given on the table.

To this date I can look at Mondrian or Malevich and the artists I consider their descendants like Imi Knobel or other reducitivists like Reinhardt, Newman, Kelly, Palermo et al and feel really satisfied and satiated. At the very same time I can absorb De Kooning, Guston, or Polke, Richter, Oehlen, the occasional Schnabel or Salle and a host of others and feel the same. I can then look at Ingres or Bruegel, Giotto, Roman wall painting, Egyptian, etc and then walk away excited with anticipation to get into the studio. Alice Neel, Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz do it and Warhol, Lichtenstein, Johns, Rauschenberg and Rosenquist too. Duchamp’s “Étant donnés” in Philly always gets me.

This leaves me with the question, why does the motif seem inconsequential to me in these cases? Why is abstraction my preferred form of practice? Where do I go from here?

One thing I realized in writing these thoughts down was that, I’ll never find all the words, phrases, sentences, conceptualizations to incorporate it all into a unified theory, fun as it is to try. When I look at an artwork that works, that lives up to its claim to be Art the question is answered and rephrased as another question and that is what excites me to get into the studio.

to be continued...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


It was a pleasure to be linked to Painters-Table and have mentions by the generous Paul Corio and Henri Art Mag blog. From the Painters Table I bounced over to Tom Ferrara’s “A Way of Seeing” where I found some reassuring words. Mr. Ferrara was one of De Kooning's assistants for those of you who might not know.

As a painter I find my greatest reassurance looking at art, good art doesn’t make me want to drop my brushes, it makes me want to get into the studio as fast as possible. It’s the most pleasant infectious disease that says "Yes, do it, go for it!"

But then the real world as you leave the gallery or museum or the street where you see something by happenstance that moves you, kicks in and brings you back with a thundering crash to the ground. That is where other artists support, comments or sayings can be a touchstone back to that ineffable thing that you wrestle with trying to make present in the studio.

In my conversation with my friend who I am letting share a wall in my studio, we talked about this thing. Too much art that I see and it has always been the case, is about the thing they want to be but don’t become or be the thing.

What I found of particular interest in Tom Ferrara’s commentary about De Kooning was “more than anything he wanted to be surprised.”

I had a studio visit with an important museum director from Europe in the mid-90’s who waxed poetic about one half of the paintings I was making, calling me a genius but the other half he went ballistic over, saying “You cannot do this.” I tried to calmly tell him that I had to do both in the studio and that the paintings he loved I could do in my sleep and the ones he hated were challenging and exciting for me.

I might have blown it career wise at that time because a lot of artists responded favorably to that more accessible work and one even said it was suicide to pursue the other. But I couldn’t. I need to be surprised, intrigued and bewildered. If I were to make what I could make in my sleep and have a ‘career’ (maybe and only maybe) I would be nothing than a pricey cobbler filling orders and I need the freedom to make and explore what I find difficult and interesting, otherwise what’s the point?

Return to the Studio

I always find it hard the first few days getting back into the studio after seeing certain shows, you know the memorable ones, I felt this after seeing Palermo at the Hirschorn and now De Kooning at MoMA.

Sometimes it is easier to look at really old masters and keep it in check although it sure would be something to paint with the conviction of Carravaggio and I mean in the sense of having a belief in his subject matter, which for the most part was the Christian narrative.

When I wander in to the studio and am confronted with a blank canvas or more recent work of my own, the first thought usually is what the (insert your favorite expletive here)!

What does it mean to put brush to canvas? Why this thing called paint? What is this image or motif? Does this have any meaning? Should I have listened to my parents and gotten a real career? What the hell am I doing?

The first inclination is to wrestle with the thought of tackling what is on ones mind. I personally find that I have to destroy things; that I have to push it to ugly. This is my personal thing, not a prescription at all for anyone else. I have a very good artist friend who has his shit down before he goes to work. He works on it, adjusts it, wipes them out, destroys them and starts again but he doesn’t struggle with motif as I do because he has it down. I admire the ability to work like that, to think like that. Me? I just can’t although I have tried. For me when I start working with his kind of mindset I have to stop and get messy, wipe it out, stain it, defile it and then some because I just don’t have the faith and belief in images like that. But that said, he admires that I tackle my things without a safety net, we're like polar opposites who envy each others commitment and approach, not to mention each others final results.

That might sound like a strange thing. De Kooning was possibly the last of the “old fashioned painters.” Figure, ground, people, landscape. For visually voracious people like myself and my generation that might not be so easy, especially if your mind and brush somehow wander into abstraction or non-objectivity as your theme. And what exactly is this thing called a theme to begin with?

In a little over ten years from the beginnings of analytic cubism the various forms of visual vocabulary were defined for 20th century Modernism. You had Mondrian and de stijl, Malevich, Rodchenko, Kandinsky…. But a monochrome by Rodenchko is different than one by Blinky Palermo, not only in paint application and behind each one is the history of previous painting and what art means for that particular time and place, in short the cultural conditions are there to be discovered in the context of time and place.

At least that is how I see it and it makes it hard sometimes. Because what I am trying to do is somehow recognize these voices and work through them. Influence is such a dirty word now but it’s a necessary part of ones education and then trying to unify what seem like contradictory impulses, for De Kooning it was to paint like Ingres and Soutine. Ouch.

Anyway, found myself deciding to take a ‘failed’ canvas today, one that was buried in the rack and work on it. I was in a very sour mood, not wanting to talk or see anyone. A friend was working in my studio today, letting him work on his things in my space; I’m like that for some reason. Wasn’t too happy to see him but squeezed out a large clump of white, mixed it up and started to wipe out and then redraw this damn ugly mess. No intention, no idea, just rambling mess. Took out a few small primed canvases and started to paint on them, ugly paintings based on Styrofoam blocks from computers and tech gear lying around that I’ve kept for just this purpose. To play and let loose. I ended up making four of these small ones and then going back into the 5 foot by roughly 5 foot monstrosity relaxed. The small ones look like they could have been shown in Berlin about 25 years ago, garish and harsh, and the large one? Like some ugly African cubist mask but based on this Styrofoam packing bit floating in the middle field and the residue of the past incarnations of the painting providing my ambivalent ground.

By that time I was happy my friend was there and we started to talk our art lingo, laugh about silly ideas we had for work that despite how ‘silly’ they are we'll explore. Because that is what the studio is for me in a way, a research and development laboratory for deadly serious play and the final irony, if you can call it that is these things that I call ugly are what my friends call beautiful.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


So what does all of this mean, this quasi-formal analysis and the time taken to write it down? For me, it forces me to think about an activity of engaged viewing, of a kind of voyeurism that has a visceral physical effect that takes place beyond words. Finding these words nonetheless to somehow dance around the subject as close as possible, to somehow inhabit that optical experience through another sensory one, one that involves touch in scribbling it all down, one that uses the voice of language and mental gymnastics to come to grips with the“metaphysical hydra” as it were, allows me to retain and grasp the somewhat ineffable qualities and absorb them.

De Kooning’s work in some way mimics this function or one can think of it as a metaphor in this regard. De Kooning’s brush floats around the figures space and presence, implying the figures presence through the manipulation of paint effects much like I try to with words to describe this thing, this thing that makes me have little choice but to wrestle with it in the studio or here on the digital page.

I think this is the kind of feeling that only artists feel, a love and fascination of this thing that drives us to great lengths and sometimes profound depression or economic failure in an attempt to consume this thing or be part of it. It is to outsiders a strange and peculiar condition or profession.

I found myself getting depressed when I was looking at the 70’s paintings that really left a profound impression upon me. Works like Untitled XI owned by the Art Institute of Chicago from 1975 or Untitled from 1977 that is in my post De Kooning three cont, Untitled VIII from that same year owned by Bettina and Donald L. Bryant, Jr. and Untitled I from 77 too. But then I realized that De Kooning was in his early 70’s and I am not quite 50. I went back to the room to see where De Kooning was at my age and I felt more reassured. It perhaps is a mark of great ego to compare oneself to such a master but I do. I wrestle with Picasso, Matisse, De Kooning, Polke and a long list of artists and I firmly believe De Kooning’s statement that art is a big bowl of soup, you get to take some of it and if you are lucky you get to put something back in.

What is the point otherwise? Why do this activity without dealing with ones ancestors who move you? Why not attempt to live up to their commitment and dedication? Why not try at least to pick up the banner and carry it forth for future generations? I’ve been lucky to have some good and wise friends who have been supportive and understand my perverse dedication, who have mentioned names like Matisse and Picasso in written words about my own works. It is an achievement and recognition that helps me make it through the financial difficulties.

The past year was a financial disaster as many artists of my age who haven’t made it are finding a difficult time to find even occasional work. But seeing De Kooning and knowing his personal history of financial difficulties and personal problems and yet still forging ahead with a determination to do whatever he wanted to do despite the commercial pressures to maintain a certain style and not giving a damn about various artists or critics disgust with the Women paintings, etc was fortifying.

The stylelessness of De Kooning has often been mentioned; the same goes for Picasso, Matisse, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. I think it is necessary to always ask the question, to push the envelope and to see where one can go and most importantly allow oneself the freedom to investigate these ideas and personal visions that drive us. Damn the marketplace.

I decided this year to focus on the good parts of what it is to create art, to be an artist. I’m heading this year to my first half century and I could bemoan the professional frustrations with and of the art world. I most certainly will on this blog still bitch but more I want to spend my remaining years making art because I need to, because it is the one thing I am really good at and I really love.

Last week I was driving into New York City with my son, twenty minutes before as we stopped on the expressway I remarked at the colors of the sky as the sun was setting. The clouds were a beautiful creamy butter yellow against the blue sky and then as the minutes passed turned into a beautiful peach color in contrast to the darkening sky. As we drove over the Pulaski towards the Holland Tunnel the twilight was now fast upon us, the city skyline with the gray buildings just barely visible against the evening and the twinkling of the cities lights made the city look like the most wonderful jewel and I mean it was fantastic, it was so beautiful.

There is too much art made without love or feeling, made with a cultural cynicism and lack of humanity and there is a great market for it because today it is more advantageous to be hip with irony instead of being simply human.

Because at the end of the day, that is all there is, our humanity. I don’t believe in god or an afterlife. This is it. The universe will die and all of our achievements and grunts will be dust. I don’t find this to be depressing knowing this, knowing the futility. I find it invigorating that somehow we’ve managed to be self aware and can take pleasure in life, in having a need for beauty and to share through words or music or in my case painting, this wonder of life. That we exist is a marvel. So I will try to add to the soup and if I’m lucky I'll be allowed to.

Final Visit to de Kooning at MoMA

The 70's revisited
What’s great about the 70’s paintings at MoMA is that by this time the audience has been weeded out and you can actually see some work.

I have to revisit Two Figures in a Landscape owned by the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. This work is a damn ugly sloppy mess and I love it. The ground once again has these ghostly vestiges of images that are scrapped and sanded and the paint that remains or has been added is this goopy mess literally sliding down the canvas. The fleshy colored paint is puckered and sagging like a road smear of skin and the overall coloration is garish in local areas with sky blue against orange, a smudgy yellow white green, scumbled brown, olive green, bright yellow and then this flesh outlined in areas with orange. It probably was a seated woman splayed out on a lawn chair but that’s a guess or a couple in coitus. I found myself staring at this painting trying to take it all in simultaneously and then scanning over it, my eyes darting back and forth; repeat, wash and rinse. These works are carnal, paint as flesh.

I felt this way also looking at the following works, oh never mind they’re all Untitled with a number after it. It was all too easy to get sucked into looking at these pictures and looking and looking, they are inexhaustible.

The 80’s
It is hard to categorize this decade (maybe the entire oeuvre) save for the move away from the gooey safflower texture, possibly because a conservator told De Kooning about the inherent instability of his mixture (see Willem De Kooning The Artists Materials by Susan F. Lake) incidentally coinciding with a serious binge, not surprising. If I found out that 5 years of exceptional painting was potentially unstable I myself would become unstable.

Untitled V from 1980 is the beginning of drawing with the tapers knife, gone are the puckering and explosive brushwork, now bands of green close to a thalo mixed with what looks like paynes gray along with subtle shades of white, pale greens and somewhat hidden underpainting reveal a different spatial configuration. This is no longer the body rendered through paint as flesh but neither is it non-objective. This particular work for me is reminiscent of Gorky whose memory comes through in works that post-date this and for me seems to have a feeling of landscape and not because of the green but the spatial feel.

As we move to the final room we are confronted with Pirate from 1981. I remember vividly the first time I saw this painting and was thunderstruck. Again this density of effect pervades the painting, the red at the left having been sanded and scarred so that the yellow comes through and then overpainted with a wash of white, wow and then the thin blues lines again reminiscent of Gorky and then a smallish yellow patch of moving brushwork to the right of the billowing white and WOW once again.

With Pirate and Untitled III from 1981, the one to the left of Pirate if you managed to see the exhibit now have a frontality of shallow surface space that was hinted at by Untitled V from 1980.

By 1982 the works, Untitled V, XIII (all 1982) are shifting from this frontality to a more cubist space reminiscent of the black and white works from the late 40’s and even shadows of the biomorphic images of the mid 40’s such as Pink Angels only in these later works it is the space around these biomorphic shapes that are hinted at, implied not explicit. De Kooning at this time was 77 and alcoholism had taken a huge toll from the artist, along with the onset of mental deterioration. My great grandfather use to recycle the same stories when he sat at the dinner table, something I’ve noticed with elderly people, life is reflected on and relived, De Kooning it seems is doing the same.

Untitled II from 1983 has white shapes floating in a sea of an older underpainting of primaries, this particular one opens up a visual field in my eyes of Pollock and definitely runs over territory of the black and white paintings. We see more slippage as the year progresses, slippage in the painterly sense not age, the work Untitled V from 83 has a broad expanse of yellow surrounded by ribbons of primary colors. Untitled XIX evokes Gorky again with yellow forming the runs in the top third of the canvas.

1984 brings us to the rather sparse work of No Title to the left in the above photo. A painting which to my eye creates a space akin to a dancer moving slowly across the surface, not unlike the wispiness of what I imagine Duchamp’s bride wafting across the top of the large glass as she is stripped bare.

1985 gives us another No Title work with a really stripped down palette of blue and black, along with works like Rider, which is a very bizarre painting with hints of Gorky ruminating in the dutchman’s mind.

1986 and 87 bring us the final works which are cartoonie, to my eye it is obvious that old drawings of figures are the source for these works but the spatial qualities of each are unique and not unified. This is problematic for many in the art cognoscenti but it doesn’t bother me. Perhaps it is the influence of dementia but to my mind the idea floats that subconsciously as the knowledge comes of impending mental death become imminent, I would want to touch on several key ideas of importance that are varied and not hammer one point repeatedly, a sort of greatest visual ideas being touched upon. Pure conjecture on my part but these last works still confuse me and in a good way, they pervade my mental landscape and need to be dealt with. At the end of the day not many painters alive today despite their youth paint such oddities with this kind of import.

Minor Postscript
I spent up to a half hour on many paintings staring at them and letting them sink in, eyes locked to them and afterwards walked through the show again, doing the same and ended up with a headache from eyestrain. Not that I minded though.
So where do we go from here? More in the Final Postscript and thoughts on what De Kooning means to me, back to art and the purpose and function it has personally and to the larger cultural contexts along with a greatest hits of works that have meaning to me akin to Mr. Paul Corio’s Paintings I Like via his blog, No Hassle at the Castle and kudos to him for highlighting my thoughts.