Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eight hours today. Added invertebrates. Only played "Star Witness" by Neko Case once.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Two small details from the House of Butter drawing.

The "nail in the skull" is a line from William Carlos William's book-long poem, Patterson. But see what I'm talking about? That drawing was filled with sentiments like that. Lighten up, Tibor.

Got up early today, stocked the pantry with groceries and then spent the rest of the morning watching Super Inframan. I vaguely recalling seeing this movie as a kid, at a drive-in I think. Thoroughly corny Chinese martial arts robot vs. monsters (men in rubber suits) movie. I don't remember much about the plot...eight or nine goofy monsters and the evil Princess Dragon Mom are awakened from their Ice Age slumber and they try to take over the world. Etc. It was bad but funny bad, very entertaining. My favorite monster in Super Inframan? All of them. (Don't forget to check out both pages.)

(Okay, I'm partial to Plant Monster.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

"[Fox Confessor Brings the Flood] is about losing your faith in every possible way... which seems to me the most American feeling there is these days, which breaks my heart."

--Neko Case, 2006, from EPK, a film to promote Fox Confessor

I've never been a big fan of--for lack of a better signifier--alt-country (or whatever you want to call it. Insurgent country if you will.) I've warmed to some of the Wilco catalog and I love Calexico (not sure they fit the requirements) but most of it puts me in a drooly stupor. I feel it's a genre that gives middle and upper class kids an excuse to grow shaggy beards and greasy hair, put on flannel shirts and trucker hats, drink PBR boilermakers and feel a hell of a lot more working man/blue collar than they actually are. (No, graphic design is not a blue collar job. Neither is web design. Sorry.)

I've also never been a big fan of strum-and-sing singer/songwriters. If it can be sung by one person playing one guitar, I have a hard time listening to it. (When I say "playing" I mean strumming, jangly open chords, not fingerpicking or playing riffs.) Music of this variety has potential, obviously, but I don't do particularly well with the pared down musical aesthetic like that. I like bands, tight units engaged in musical conversation; I want to hear instruments swell and intertwine and wrestle with each other and the vocalist. Even when these strum-and-sing songs are couched in larger arrangements, I can still hear that strummy guitar and that lone vocalist at the core of the song and it puts me off. It lacks atmosphere somehow.

I've had Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood on my iPod for at least a year now. I'd listened to it shuggingly a half-dozen times but enough that I could sketch out the melody and shape of the song when it came on the shuffle. Even though Neko has a bracing, clear voice like endless glass of ice water, she appeared to fit in the wide slice of the Venn diagram that included both alt-country AND strummy singer/song writers. I couldn't quite get past that. So I rarely sought Fox Confessor out.

Star Witness from FCBtF showed up on the shuffle a few days back and I gave it a few consecutive listens, vaguely remembering great harmony in the chorus, and really wanting to consume it. Now I can't stop listening to that song. I've listened to it about 40 times today. And when I'm not listening to it I'm humming the melody to myself repeatedly. It's a perfect song, utterly original and natural, the tussle of musicians that I love so much. Vaulted reverberating architecture, dark and woody strings, skipping beats and cymbal splashes hushed out with brushes. The lyrics are sweet and hard and tucked right into the meat of the music, part of the fabric rather than floating on top. Fuck. I can't stop. Today--around, oh, the 20th listening or so--Star Witness started to remind me of big, melancholy sound Calexico creates, particularly that flawless drumming, how it falls back when needed and lights fire under the band at just the right time. So I dig around on the internet this evening and discover that the drummer on Fox Confessor is John Convertino...the drummer from Calexico. Calexico co-founder Joey Burns also shows up on the album. It was also (mostly) recorded in Tuscon's Wave Lab studio, Calexico's usual studio. Now it all makes sense.

Star Witness is all up inside me like a first love. I'm still working on the rest of the album but Maybe Sparrow, Dirty Knife and A Widow's Toast are starting to creep into my consciousness in the same manner. There are a few clinkers on the album...That Teenage Feeling, John Saw That Number and The Needle Has Landed stand out as being maybe a little too self-conscious and fussy, overworked. They *sound* great but...mmm, something's not quite right. It seems like those songs were written around the meaning rather than allowing the meaning to rise naturally during the writing process. In other words, the strummy singer/songwriter got the upper hand.

Good album though. I recommend it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

TOP: detail, Queen of Ropes from an old drawing, House of Butter, completed on Christmas Day 2001.

BOTTOM: detail, Silas and the QoR. Same drawing.

Awful, awful, self-indulgent drawing. Some nice pen and ink and graphite work, graphic and crosshatched, hugely indebted to R. Crumb but it's the result of too much introspection and not enough editing. It was my last serious grapple with cartoony graphicness. Um, graphicocity. (I don't have an image of the full drawing, just scanned details. I gave the final piece to Leah and FK right before the move here because I couldn't stand to look at it anymore.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Exciting for me, boring for you. Studio panorama-o-rama!

I was in the studio all day but only worked for an hour or so. I broke down the big table from the dead guy next door and moved the desk from Hyejin's old studio in to my own studio. What a pain the in the ass that all was; I had to break down the table --manually, with a screwdriver, because I couldn't find the screwgun. (I smashed the legs apart with a hammer. Expeditious.) And then I had to move the desk on my own. I don't know much about you and the depth of your desk-moving savvy but I could've used an extra set of arms. (Studiomates are home for the holidays.) But the desk exchange opened up a few square feet of floor space and busting the big table apart left me with a big sheet of plywood for stretching large sheets of paper. (If I ever decide to work huge again.) (Unlikely.)

I also assembled a industrial shelving unit which, I discovered, isn't the same as a bookcase. So I had to improvise some things to keep the books from falling off the sides and through the wire mesh of the shelves.

While everything was being shifted about, I swept the whole studio. Got all of the staples, push pins, screws, scraps of WC paper, and last winter's mouse poop out from behind long-standing stuff. Filled the air with dust and rodent poo.

Just added some rendering to the final Charlie blob. Nothing much.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Okay. Title finalized: Tempera Chamber. The colors--the saturated orange, green and blue--remind me of colors that came in those plastic tempera bottles back in grade school. The stuff you slather on the paper so think that it became crinkly and curled. Though now that I think about it, maybe I'll call it the Sonnet Chamber. Who knows.

Eight hours in the studio today, seven hours of iShuffle. Every thing was good but nothing stood out. Switched to Marquee Moon by Television for the last hour. Been obsessed with that little circular guitar riff that runs under the lyrics of "See No Evil."

Merry Christmas, etc.

Christmas morning. I'm about to shower and head off to the studio. But two old drawings first...

TOP: I don't remember the title of this drawing. Part of the Plague Idiots series. I was looking at a lot of Northern Renaissance painters at this time. Van der Weyden in particular I think; those folds in the robe are pure VdW. The woman always vaguely reminded me of Carol from The Bob Newhart show.

BOTTOM: Again, I don't remember the title of this drawing. I don't think either had titles. I know I stole the facial expression of this character directly from Van der Weyden's Last Judgement (I think.)

I think Joe of Joe's Eats owns at least one of these.

Monday, December 24, 2007

by Roberta Smith

[I'd post a link but I'm sure the piece will be archived--and, hence, inaccessible--it a few weeks. She deals with just a few of the issues I find so irritating with the art world. But it's good to hear someone else say it.]

WHEN it comes to fashionably obtuse language, the art world is one of the leading offenders. Academic pretensions flash through like brush fire, without a drop of cold water splashed their way.

“Reference” and “privilege” are used relentlessly as verbs, as in “referencing late capitalism” or “privileging the male gaze.” Artists “imbricate” ideological subtexts into their images. Some may think such two-bit words reflect important shifts in thought about art, but they usually just betray an intellectual insecurity.

Referencing — rather than referring to — is probably here to stay. It has appeared in The New York Times 295 times since 1980 (including 6 transgressions by this writer). This year it was used 42 times, a record, nearly double last year’s 22. But privileging — instead of favoring — could still be deflected; it has been used only 34 times since 1980 in these pages (O.K., once by me).

Another lamentable creeping usage is not only pretentious, but it distorts and narrows what artists do. I refer to — rather than reference — the word practice, as in “Duchamp’s practice,” “Picasso’s studio practice” and worst of all, especially from the mouths of graduate students, “my practice.” Things were bad enough in the 1980s, when artists sometimes referred to their work as “production,” but at least that had a kind of grease-monkey grit to it.

The impetus behind practice may be to demystify the stereotype of the visionary or emotion-driven artist, and indeed it does. It turns the artist into an utterly conventional authority figure.

First off, there’s the implication that artists, like lawyers, doctors and dentists, need a license to practice. Of course it could be said that too many artists already feel the need for such a license: It’s called a master of fine arts. But artists don’t need licenses or certificates or permission to do their work. Their job description, if they have one, is to operate outside accepted limits.

Second is the implication that an artist, like a doctor, lawyer or dentist, is trained to fix some external problem. It depersonalizes the urgency of art making and gives it an aura of control, as if it is all planned out ahead of time. [This affect is epidemic in Chelsea--beebe.] Art rarely succeeds when it sets out to fix anything beyond the artist’s own, subjective needs. (Does Paul McCarthy covered in ketchup constitute a “practice”? Please.) If an artist’s work helps other people to fix things within themselves or, more broadly, in society, though, so much the better.

Finally, practice sanitizes a very messy process. It suggests that art making is a kind of white-collar activity whose practitioners don’t get their hands dirty, either physically or emotionally. It converts art into a hygienic desk job and signals a basic discomfort with the physical mess as well as the unknowable, irrational side of art making. It suggests that materials are not the point of art at all — when they are, on some level, the only point.

Artists turn whatever intangibles they use — including empty space, language or human interaction — into a kind of material. They mess with things, making them newly palpable and in the process opening our eyes. This point is made eloquently in the current Lawrence Weiner exhibition at the Whitney Museum, with its cryptic phrases flung across walls, and the staged interactions in Tino Sehgal’s debut show at the Marian Goodman gallery, where the atmosphere is charged by mere talk and a few choreographed poses. Both artists have wrestled mightily with language and space, structuring them in a way that makes them undeniably art.

Are they practice-ing? I don’t think so.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I think I'll call it "Chamber"...

One more post in relation to the last entry and the Kalevala. This drawing came directly out of an episode where a hero (Väinämöinen, I think) gets into a battle with wizards who enchant by singing. To avoid these enchantments, the hero stuff their mouths with pebbles.

Notice the piles of pebbles. Seem familiar? No sense in letting an idea or rendering technique die, right? Huh? Eh.
Contessa Leaves For Lunch.

Completed this drawing back in late 1998 or early 1999, my senior year in undergrad. After three straight years of working in a highly rendered academic style, I joyfully went in the other direction: cartoony, thick lines, graphic marks vs. smooth rendering. I remember purchasing the book Character Trademarks by John Mendenhall. An old memory came back to me while looking at this book: as a kid I used to flip page by page through the Indianapolis Yellow Pages looking for character trademarks to copy and draw out. The purchase of this book unlocked something in my brain and helped kick out a whole new body of graphic work over the next year or so; I became obsessed with line quality, exploring this idea of masculine lines (thick, angular) vs. feminine lines (thinner, curved), etc.

It was the first time I consciously mixed the autobiographical with the mythological. I managed to manhandle some autobiographical material into a shape that pleased me; I was also reading the Kalevala at the time and transposing a lot of the situations into the drawings. And, I think, it was the first time I was ever intoxicated by working and the potential that was so close.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

New drawing with some color applied. Sticking with the direction I noted as a mistake in a previous entry. What are you going to do, huh?

No title yet.

As promised, photos of the horrible new construction. These house are mansions for Queens and surely they're expensive as hell...but god they're ugly. They're on the same street as the big blue water tower in the previous post and face each other from opposite sides of the street. Maybe people in the area are numbed by ugliness somehow? Who knows. If you look in the background and margins of the photos, you can see the quiet, more representative styles of houses in the neighborhood.

I secretly imagine these houses are built by people who have moved here from former Soviet bloc countries and, to them, this aesthetic best represents taste, wealth and freedom to them (especially those copper doors.) (I have lots of imaginings like these. Most of them are wildly inaccurate.)

I was out in Kew Gardens yesterday getting The Cough looked at (bronchitis) and getting various fluids removed for testing. As I am chronically early, I spent about 30 minutes wandering around the neighborhood. I liked it. The usual crazy-ass non-gridded Queens streets--or I should say gridded streets interrupted by dozens of non-linear thoroughfares. It was a neighborhood of a lot of homes, bigger, older and multi-storied, each different from the other (clearly not a designed community like Sunnyside Gardens.) Some homes were in good repair, some not so much. Some had obviously been refitted with a "classy" updates and were encrusted with the kind of pseudo-Mediterranean architectural features peculiar to Queens: ostentatious front doors, chrome gates and banisters, stucco-covered gazebos in the backyards, Tudor-style houses encased in stucco, high-contrast brickwork driveways. There were also a fair number of (from the outside) well-maintained apartment buildings which I assumed were co-ops. (The photo of the house was (I thought) one of the better examples of the homes in the area. In the middle of one block there was a huge blue (assuming) water tower. This is fairly typical of the kind of anomalous stuff you discover in Queens.)

Back to the doctor to be de-blooded and de-urined, then off for another walk though the neighborhood. Heading in one direction for about eight blocks took me over a line of the LIRR and into a large park I'd never heard of: Forest Park. Apparently, it's about 600 acres of land with much of it wooded and accessed by foot path. (The link claims the park also has a golf course: joy!) I wasn't feeling too hot but I couldn't get pass up a chance to go for a hike. Once inside, it's hard to imagine you're in Queens. (Except for the constant hiss of tires on the nearby Jackie Robinson Pkwy.) Most of the paths bore signs of horses: shoe prints and deep divots in the soil, and dung. Lots and lots of dung. Parts of the path appeared to have been covered with asphalt (since crumbled off) and lit with oddly short black cast-iron street lamps (since vandalized into stubs.) Mostly oaks in the park but I did see one beech (my favorite) glowing away in the woods like a naked pewter ghost. Not that many birds: I spotted some kind of woodpecker and a robin and a coterie of mourning doves but that's it. I would like to visit the park in the spring when the landscape isn't a universal gray and brown.

I split from the park and walked back to the Kew Gardens/Union Turnpike stop through the neighborhood and caught some absolutely horrible new construction. (Will post images shortly.) Back on the train, off at Elmhurst to get a few things at Target and have lunch at Minangasli, an Indonesian restaurant I found through this blog, Eating in Translation. (I usually center my trips to unknown neighborhoods around a visit to a restaurant and this site is an excellent guide.) I got the beef stew. It came in a light tomato broth flavored with a hint of coconut milk and was extra delicious when I dumped in the rice (sprinkled with toasted garlic) and the green hot sauce. Ordered crispy chicken dumplings for an appetizer and washed down the meal with two glasses of hot tea. Then home to spend the afternoon picking through Netflix and watching the Thunderbirds.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Temptress. Uh....December 2002. Maybe? Part of the Plague Idiots drawings.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mmm. Bad photo of beginning of drawing. Think I've gone in the wrong direction....

I didn't go into the studio last night. I only got about 2 or 3 hours of sleep the night before which made White Plains that much more painful. Came home, made some dumpling soup and was in bed by 8 pm.

A drawing from the Plague Idiots series. Totally pinched from Cranach the Elder's Martyrdom of St. Catherine (I think.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

And it starts all over again. I'm kind of excited.

Sketch of the next idea. Ring of globular Popular Charlies surrounding/protecting something/someone.


Lousy day, windy as hell. Spent eight hours in the studio with a run to Home Depot with Teddy to pick up a shelving unit. Slogged through the remaining elements of the drawing. Done. Feels good. Finally getting the light buoyant feeling from working.

In the house all day yesterday except when I went out for a slice around 10pm. Plenty of homes in Astoria over-decorated for the holidays.

Old untitled drawing from 2001, part of the drawings I completed for the Married to the Sea exhibition at ARC Gallery. (Notice they misspelled Silas in the press release as "Dilas." Always professional, the ARC.)

As I mentioned in the last post, I was out of work at the time (this jpeg is dated 10/09/01); the company I worked for arranged conferences all over the country and--in the weeks after 9/11--no one was willing to travel. So business fell off precipitously and I was canned in less than a month of the attacks. (I knew it was coming and had started quietly packing my cube about a week after 9/11.) When the news finally came, I was both relieved and a bit shell-shocked. The job was complete ass but the money was comforting. So I was feeling both liberated and trapped at the same time, one burden traded for another. That's where the imagery came from. I was pretty unsubtle at the time. (Still am.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

An old drawing from late 2001. I set myself a goal of completing 100 drawings in 30 days--I was out of a job, laid off about 3 weeks after 9/11. So I didn't have much else to do at the time. I was working small, 4" x 6" or so, whipping out three a day for a bit.

The text comes from an email I received at the time. I am not sure what happened to this drawing. Someone might have bought it; if not, I probably threw it away.

Transfered about a dozen old journal entries from another site to this site. Stuff from 2004 in the months leading up to the move here and a few opaque entries from the first year in grad school. I tried to match the entries with images of work from approximately that time. Which lead me to dig through the archives of digital images I've got on this machine. Holy shit is there a lot of stuff. I think I'll post a few old images a day.

This fella here is Silas. I did a lot of drawings with him as the protagonist. (The evolution is as follows: Schlub > Silas > Popular Charlie. Seems I can't do anything without a central character.)

I was thinking about tossing Silas at this time. I was kind of annoyed by his cartoonishness and by the whole autobiographical nature of the work. I was also trying to create drawings that few very much like comic pages, panels with text. The first image comes from that failed panel-filled drawing. The second is a larger drawing that I built out of that small panel. I think this might be the last appearance of Silas--Spring 2002, I'm guessing. I thought this would be fitting end for him: to paint himself blue, leap into the sky and simply disappear. Of course, right around this time a proto-version of Charlie appeared. But I started on the Plague Idiot drawings right after this and left Charlie to ferment.

(I don't know what happened to this drawing; it might be packed up in the closet somewhere but I don't recall seeing it when I unearthed the old stuff over the summer.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

I'll be done tomorrow. I will leave that final speech balloon blank for a bit. The filler for that will come along with other drawings. There is a lot of shine coming off the orange head of Popular Charlie. It's something to do with the cadmium colors--yellow, red, orange--because no other color gets like that upon drying. I don't know if the effect is inherent to the watercolor recipe for the cadmiums or if constant exposure to air causes this effect. (I keep de-tube my watercolors into ice cube trays and re-wet them daily so they're constantly exposed to air...)

Went to P.S.1 today. It never fails to disappoint. However, the coffee and blondie in the cafe were good so it wasn't a total waste. Oh, the Tony Fitzpatrick room was great. (Of course, he's from Chicago.)

Shot about 20 minutes apart. Not quite from the studio roof: leaning out of the studio window. It gets dark too early to risk going up at sunset without getting caught by the super. Who would probably be cool with it but, you know...people. You never know.

I'll finish the drawing this weekend.

I can't say what these drawings are about, really. That Ape Machine stuff I mentioned a few weeks back, yes. Certainly they're about the act of drawing. I am feeling majestically liberated simply by not editing and allowing the work to just create itself. I understand how dumb and naive and, well, totally obvious that sounds but it's something I've never allowed before. I was forever trying to shoehorn the drawings into these sad little biographical narrative I'd concoct: oh, my broken heart! My potential life unlived! Now they're starting to feel whippish and alive, vital in a way that has little to do with my intentions. And I'm finding odd little outlets for the sheafs and piles and pounds of source material I've spent my life consuming.

Oh, fuck it. Too many words, too much abstraction and vague bullshittery. I'll just quote someone deader and yet hornier (but not by much) than I am, Henry Miller:

...this is what every...artist comes to learn--the process in which he is involved has to do with another dimension of life, that by identifying himself with this process he augments life. He divines that the great secret will never be apprehended but incorporated in his very substance. Through art, then, one finally established contact with reality: that is the great discovery. The world has not to be but in is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order... [emphasis Miller's]

Or something like that. It's all pretty tenuous and a lot of import lent to what are, in my case, overwrought Saturday morning cartoons. But this Miller is my default quote when I'm feeling hot about my work. Check back in six months. I'll probably be despondent again.

(And please note the gender specific tense of Miller--all of the he/his/him--because, as we ALL understand, only men can be great artists. Women can only be the wives of (and waitresses to) great artists. Right?)