Monday, June 28, 2010

Jennifer Starkweather: Spechome series

I am interested in using the map metaphorically to create a personal history that, although rendered from an actual physical location, takes on a shape of its own. I am interested in crossing the tenuous boundaries between what is real and what is imagined, what is felt and what is known and where the unreliability of memory encourages a range of interpretations and manipulations. I am curious how mark-making while depicting something concrete, shifts to a more intuitive realm, where I am able to act out my own diversions, dreams and memories.

Drawings become maps that tug at my memories, flashing miniature life histories before my eyes.

My work has varied from documenting wind currents that occur in specific and cherished locations to mapping the floor plans of houses that I have lived in. Presently I am interested in the idea of a “spec home” as an intuited place or moment that I have just not yet occupied. Working from memory in these drawings allows me to create, deviate from and imagine surfaces, landscapes, trees, objects and connections that are perceived and familiar. With the physical act of drawing dots, scratching lines, making smudges, and poking holes, I am able to create an annotated catalogue of my daydreams, memories and ruminations.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On Humility: Or Small Work

In Richmond, Virginia there once was a gallery named RAW for Richmond Artists Workshop that had an exhibition of many works entitled Small Art Goes directly to the Brain.

If one is lucky, Small Art goes directly to the heart. For this it must be humble and on a suitably modest scale - in this way some work can be crowned Great. (Golda Meir once said "don't be humble, you aren't that great.") To work with humility, one must acquire some of the practical virtues artist need: diligence, temperance, modesty, bravery, ardor, devotion and economy.

To work with humility it is better to strive for the communal if not the downright tribal; for wisdom in choices rather than cleverness; good humor in practice; and practice as daily habit. Phillip Guston famously said he went to work in his studio every single day because what if he did't and "that day the angel came"? Henry James once said, "We work in the dark, we give what we have, our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task." Doubt is humility after a long long apprenticeship.

Small works dance a clumsy tango with one's shadow. Huge works can ice skate over one's nerves, file under fingernails on a chalkboard - I can just hear the screeching.

If our work is so small and reticent that one doesn't enter the space of the painting, no mind - we just might be making work that enters straight into the viewer's chest. I am weary of art that tickles my forehead for an instant and is gone - I am looking for the kind that thrums in my chest and lodges there, in memory, like those souvenir phials of the air of Paris Duchamp proposed.

Proportion based on the lyric, not the epic - that is where the juice lives. Stirred, not shaken. Duchamp once said that art is the electricity that goes between the metal pole of the work of art and the viewer, and I don't need shock treatment. Art that is the size and resonance of a haiku, quiet and solid as the ground beneath one's feet - not art that wears a monocle and boxing gloves in hopes of knocking other art out of the room.

A discrete art, valiantly purified of the whole hotchpotch of artist's tricks and tics.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Importance of Being Louise Bourgeois

For thousands of postwar American women, Scout is a touchstone of childhood authenticity . . . We were all Scout once: unfiltered, free-ranging, with a physical confidence rooted in a prepubescent androgyny -- qualities inevitably poisoned by the idiotic affectations of adolescence. (When she senses the feminizing agenda her stuffy aunt has in store for her, Scout feels "the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in" on her.) Lee's magic . . . was in ventriloquizing the experiences of a 6-year-old in the voice of a grown woman, offering a bridge back to childhood. As a motherless child, Scout demonstrates how children treat life's curve balls as what happens, not what shouldn't happen, and adjust their expectations accordingly. She's unlike other girl characters, filmic or literary, of her age . . . What other girl character has Scout's open grace, her left hook, and the narrative to herself from beginning to end?

To be born female is indeed to feel "the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary" closing in on one. That Louise
Bourgeios was an escape artist of the penitentiary of her childhood, with a father who humiliated her attractiveness and her failure to be a male like her brother, is one of the great Houdini acts of the century.

Her groupings of monads huddling together yet not touching reminds me of the parable of Schopenhauer's porcupines, who close in on each other for warmth only to be repelled by the exact distance of their spines. that this spininess is a human condition of wanting warmth and intimacy only to experience our own and other's spininess is accurately portrayed in these groupings or small tribal crowds.

Everybody Used to Be Womanfish in Womanhouse.

From the lyrics to Rebby sharp's song Womanfish, as performed by the Orthotonics:

I remember when I was two inches long
Looking back in my pool of red
I didn't have no nose
No no no no nose
I just had gills in my head - I remember drinkin' the mama juice
I remeber drinkin' the mama
Juice I remember

Chorus: Because Everybody used to be Womanfish, everybody
Used to be Womanfish, everybody
Used to be WOMANFISH.

And I was thinkin' about my chemical makeup
I was so full of estrogen
I didn't know if I would be a
G-g-girl or a boy
But I was floating over and over,
Over and over, over
And over and I don't know what I saw through my lidless eyes
It may have been the moon and the skies.


It is a definite mystery to all but mature men what a woman's erotics comes from. I went to see a Louise Bourgeois exhibit in Philadelphia with two girlfriends and her marble carvings of grouped phalli made us all bubbly, (we almost giggled like schoolgirls) and when discussing what we liked about Louise Bourgeois in an art history class the male instructor Gerald Silk dismissed Bourgeois all but dismissed her achievement saying her work was too much like Gaston Lachaise and he brought up his sculpture titled Princess with its long neck turning into a phallus like creature, and I said it is not erotic like the rest of her work. There was a shared glance between Pat, Bernadette and myself trying to quell some rising laughter from the happiness we had experienced on seeing this show. It is true that Greeks and on up through the Renaissance marble is used to depict male nudes for its sensual surface - something about marble makes one want to run your hands over it.

The spiders have been much exhibited (exposed) and much ink spilled in their favor, and except for the cross cultural archetype of the spider woman goddess, they are for this writer the least interesting of her oeuvre in its entirety, so I would like to discuss her Red Rooms, as they fit into her theme of the womanhouse so well, as celebrated in the lyric above. I had seen the Red rooms at Peter Blum but it was not until the Guggenheim retrospective that I got them in a completely new way - I made the discovery that by peering through each of the slats between two doors serially around the installations, the reading is very different. It at once turns one into a voyeuristic child peering into the not quite closed door into a kind of keyhole vignette and the focus is as cinematic as one of Hitchcock's closeups. What was once as heimlich as looking into a jumble shop when one cranes one's neck into the wide space between the doors with the chain across the space becomes fraught and unheimlich like the child's phrase redrum in the Shining. Each space in the thin aperture as one moves around the outside circle becomes the zoetrope of a pixillated mystery like James' Turn of the Screw. One really does see with the kind of shiver of muted terror but happy awe of a small child. And that is a kind of achievement only available for those who have made this delightful discovery. there have been controversies over how much to read her childhood parables into her work, and possibly it gave Bourgeois too much license to have tantrums most of her adult life. But the dialectic of the heimlich?unheimlich is one familiar to any child who grew up with a haunted house.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

David Salle in his Youth


On 8 May 2010 the Mary Boone Gallery will open at its Chelsea location Some Pictures
from the 80s, an exhibition of paintings from the 1980s by DAVID SALLE that have been
borrowed from museums and private collections. In an essay for the fully-illustrated
catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, Klaus Kertess has written:

The late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed a growing reconciliation of the figure with the
planes of painting fostered by such artists as Jean Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente,
Eric Fischl, Anselm Kiefer (and several fellow German neo-Expressionists), Julian
Schnabel, and David Salle. With the exception of Basquiat and Salle, these artists
propelled their figures into unified grounds and space, ranging from the loosely mimetic
beaches, interiors, bullfighting rings et al that Fischl’s figures inhabit to the Surrealist-
inspired dream spaces Clemente’s figures waft through. Basquiat’s writerly figures and
words cling more precariously to modernist flatness looking back to late Picasso and
Twombly. His words are seen/read in the context of the figures and vice versa. Salle’s
figures, on the other hand, are seen in no context to the real world, only within the
context of the painted plane they inhabit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Frank's Wild Years

Sticky Sublime

Cary Smith's splats reminded me of the sublime moment when I found these in a Target Store.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Carrie Moyer: Athena, Artemis and Baba Yaga

Artemis: imagine for today the symbolic realm of the self contained, self reliant, full agency and power of the goddess who wants to think for herself, aim her bow, and whose arrows always hit their mark, and that she is the wild mirror of absolutely undomesticated intelligence to Zeus' other equally brilliant daughter, who would represent the father's other side, the symbolic of his law: Athena.

Baba Yaga: imagine for today the Slavic birth-death wild goddess riding in the sky in a mortar rowing with a pestle to grind nuts, grains and other spices for foods, and also pigments from minerals and shellfish and vegetation for dyes, paints and all the colors of the natural world. Her ways were fierce, and wild, and deep and penetrating and could also continuously grind a way what is extraneous, to lead one into the wildest cuisine or imagery, taste or vision.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Millennial Aphorisms

Aphorisms written between 1998 and the present day.

We wear our halos like lifesavers to float in this ocean.

Celebrities only have to be herded together to feel celebrated.

When a man falls in love, he takes all women for one. When a woman breaks with a man, she takes that man as all men.

Solipsism rebounds, the more others seem unreal, the less Real the self begins to feel.

The nuclear family is easy to atomize.

In the suburbs no one can hear you scream.

If virtue is indeed its own reward, better keep that little treasure close to your chest as everything is forgiven except for self-righteousness.

We would all be so free if others didn't take such liberties.

The one who will love you the best may be the one who at the first has the hardest time meeting your eyes.

Why is is the least interesting people who remember the most gripping past lives?

Psychometrics are psychomeretricious.

If I contain multitudes, they are depressingly the same person.

A lot of word art since the seventies can be summed up as walls of non-sequitorial text bytes.

Psychologically most men have a blind spot the shape of one of those 18th C. silhouettes of their mothers.

When someone breaks up with you suddenly and painfully there is an initial reaction of wanting to have your cake and crush it too.

The most profound impressions are the voluptuous, the eery, and the spacious. The eery and spacious together inspire awe; the voluptuous and spacious intimates the sublime; and the voluptuous and the eery falls into convulsive beauty.

Spontaneity later in life is achieved when impulsive and compulsive drives are deprived of any of their previous power.

If I have a Jungian shadow it was stitched on to me the way Wendy sewed back on Peter Pan's.

Gossip is pseudo-intimacy that comes at others' expense.

Making art that is increasingly more complicated looking actually baffles rather than inspires meditations on complexity.

Have people attracted to the plastic arts become plastic people, to reuse the old sixties phrase?

Enlightenment is the utopia of the monad.

The emotional when pushed show signs of passion; the sentimental only the exact locations of their buttons.

Religious leaders would probably prefer potential followers to approach with the expectation of being shaken, not stirred.

Pleasure needs glamour, joy spreads harmony.

Pleasure is in moments that are taken; Joy in moments that are given.

Too varnished a style makes our eyes glaze over.

Sense and Sensibility - a portrait of a daughter of the Enlightenment and a daughter of the Romantics who happen to be sisters.

Republicans trying to stir up the spectre of a class war should realize that not since the equally ancient war between the sexes have so many been dying to sleep with the enemy.

To be ambivalent is human, to be sure supine.

Infatuation and Pity are two emotions that cannot share the same room with the other.

Analysts find sex and aggression the hidden motivation for everything save their own choice of profession.

Most critics write critiques ghostwritten by the artists they are writing about. That wouldn't be so bad if most artists weren't making works ghostmodelled by what the critics are writing about.

On Charm

Charm is disarming, and if used conscientiously, can open the way to authentic moments for anyone, from the most elderly to the youngest and from any background and identity.

Flirtation once meant playing at being in love, in the anachronistic sense that making love meant a young man sitting beside a young lady as a suitor, and the rest was disarming ways of meeting and dancing with acquaintances whether of the evening or longstanding knowledge enough to evoke memories of grammar school.

In these disturbing times, it means coyly sexual under the guise of friendliness through subtle manipulations of length and meaningfulness of eye contact and a certain spin on how one touches the other at best, in order to better cement the camaraderie through a simultaneously gooey and arousing moment where both parties recognize they are mutually hot and can better focus on the possible benefits of networking (no one has time to spend with people too far afield from their field these days).

Seduction, once terribly strategic and as lengthy as Choderlos de Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons, was a dangerous and risky tightrope between either successful intrigue or death by duels or fatal illnesses contracted by a body and soul laid to waste by permanent and catastrophic heartbreak, or the near death of banishment in humiliation and shame from courtly society dealt with by a secretive coach ride into the night towards a foreign country or immediate imprisonment in a nunnery for life for the now unmarriagable young woman. All under a mask of charm never allowed to drop for a second.

There is no seduction nowadays where all the men are cowards and the women are easy; only bars and pickup lines for the Fast Food Nation, and hookups by phone or via the internet that may possibly become "relationships" if women follow the Rules book - relationships that could last weeks or even months, be pushed towards and into cohabitation by the first person who needs it first, eventually followed by a costly wedding that will increase either the bride's parents' debt load or the couples' by an extravagant amount in most current demographics.

Marriage between those of privilege is two viable salaries wedded to two very firm value systems who find they have much in common, including producing and launching one or two extraordinarily viable children. Or the very newly minted monied who pick the beauty queens of the coyly sexual type to make them the newly motherly bling queens to produce heirs and accessories to their big hearts' warm consumer desires.

Which leaves charm for finding true friendship and true love (and in the platonic world, that is willing to go the distance, there is no difference) and letting chemistry alchemize into magic - which turns the charm into mutual enchantment. In other words, a way of gazing at each other in a conversation that lasts a lifetime, and protects the little ones born into the magic circle when they leave it armed with the old world charm needed to negotiate and enliven the networking and internet engaged American urbanites, and the better to observe the mores and customs of any sub, counter and foreign culture they may find themselves in, qnd politely and confidently and above all intelligently let them work their magic on you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Alice Neel: Tough Love

Die Welt ist tief,
Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht,
Tief ist ihr Weh -,Lust - tiefer noch als
Weh spricht: Vergeh!
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit -, - will tiefe, tiefe

(Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900)

"Malraux, drunk with our age, can say about Cezanne: 'It is not the mountain he wants to realize but the picture.' All that Cezanne said and did was not enough to make Malraux understand what no earlier age could have failed to understand: that to Cezanne the realization of the picture necessarily involved the realization of the mountain. And whether we like it or not, notice it or not, notice it or not, the mountain is there to be realized. Man and the world are all that they ever were - their attractions are, in the end, irresistible; the painter will not hold against them long."

Randall Jarrell, from No Other Book: Selected Essays by Randall Jarrell

Robert Storr on Alice Neel: Neel "has often been compared to the collector of dead souls" in Gogol's short story.
I would argue that art today is made with much exercise and little vitality; Alice Neel is a collector of souls that are very much alive with their own, and Neel's vitality. No matter what kind of lumpen or just forming (children's) flesh the soul comes through with the accuracy of Nabokov's so beloved butterflies. Now we can say along with G. C. Lichtenberg that underneath each of these jokes there lies a problem. That Neel balances a vaudevillean humor with irony in its Greek and most tragic sense is indicative of the depth of Neel's absolute and impervious humanity. Calling down the sort of wrath of Mighty Aphrodite - that she was sexy, vital and erotic in life and in the touch of her paintbrush to canvas is never in question - this is the archaic way that she collected these souls as one man put it so assuredly in the documentary - tough love indeed for this mother of everyone. In the Greek Hera and Aphrodite blend she was doubtlessly born into by both Nature and Nurture. Following on the Aristotlean table of virtues and vices, she hit the golden mean in nearly all and was only a narcissist in the way that geniuses are narcissists.

Mira Schor on Alice Neel: "Alice Neel (1900-1984) began painting in the 1920s in a realist style influenced by expressionism and surrealism. In choosing to remain committed to figuration in the 1950s, Neel overtly disobeyed the dominant legislation of high modernism that, as Griselda Pollock states, "outlawed questions of the social, that is, all ideological baggage that presented art from saving itself from a capitalist system." Neel's artistic and personal trajectory was perhaps even more extralegal than that of her contemporaries Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler: she did not take the road of attaching herself to a famous abstract artist. Thus, though she lived a sexually adventurous life, she did so without the social benefits that such aan association would have offered. She had two children (two of them later in life and "out of wedlock"), maintained an activist in leftist politics, lived in Spanish Harlem rather than in the approved territory of the art world below Fourteenth Street, and committed herself to human subjects who often, especially early on, lived at the margins of established social
hierarchies - women, the poor, poets, artists, the elderly, people of color."

"Neel is as great a painter of abstract expressionist marks as de Kooning and Soutine, and I tend to look for those marks in her work, as much as I may read the expression or character of the subject." (From Mira Schor's essay Some Notes on women and Abstraction and a Curious Case History: Alice Neel as a Great Abstract Painter.)

This essay is dedicated to my mother and all my matrilineage; and Mira Schor, Rob Storr and Randall Jarrell.

The World is Deep and Deeper than Daylight May Reveal

My mother was a lot like Alice Neel in temperament, with her Serbian mother and Scotts-Irish father from Beech Fork, West Virginia, and she only encouraged me when I was bold, outspoken and talented in everything I endeavored. If I cried that meant I didn't get anything but humiliation - she studied Ancient History when she went to graduate school and her views like Alice Neel's, coming from a poor background, were archaic, exactly like Alice Neel's when she said humanity hasn't changed - "I read about the 15th century and it was exactly the same." Like Neel, she played tough times and hard knocks for entertainment and humor, something that is often misread here in Manhattan where people don't give you a New York second unless you talk bios and small talk, and she had a gift like Alice's for pushing buttons. And while she looked outwardly like a housewife she was quite belligerent just as Alex Katz said in the documentary [ ]/. So much so that I had a smile of recognition as he was saying it, remembering my mother and her encounters, and also the immediate impression in a show organized around the curatorial theme of the portrait, of Alice Neel's painting KOing Alex Katz's out of the room. (My problems with Alex Katz's work can be summed up as the same I had with Ellen Gilchrist's writing, which one critic summed up as "white people drinking white wine and whining."

The famous Cezanne painting shows me that early on Neel was what has now become known as a Cezannist, and that she successfully consumed and ate the father, in the sense that Randall Jarrell wrote of Picasso "- that if Picasso limited himself to one thing he would not be Picasso: he loves the world and wants to eat it."

"As I go about the world I see things (people; their looks and feelings and thoughts; the things their thoughts have made, and the things that neither they or their thoughts had anything to do with making: the whole range of the world)." Jarrell again. the documentary my husband and I watched the other night made by her son had her succinct and accurate summing up of the three things she looked for in her paintings; "I look for it first to be art you know, so actually dividing up the canvas is one of the most exciting things for me. Then I like it to not only look like the person, but to have their inner character as well. And then, I like it to express the zeitgeist." This reminds me of Linda Nochlin's writing on figurative painting and realism:

The art historian Linda Nochlin described modern art as splitting apart several elements that had been combined and integrated: the concerns with imagination, with natural reality, and with the material medium of the art work. In 1867, she says, Charles Blanc expressed the “traditional position in art” when he wrote: “Painting is the art of expressing all the conceptions of the soul by means of all the realities of nature, represented on a single surface in their forms and in their colors.” This integrated, premodernist mode could be compared to David Rapaport’s conception of the normal, adult Rorschach response process, in which perception of the stimulus characteristics of the blot (corresponding to the material medium), associations to memory images of real-world objects (corresponding to natural reality), and concept formation (corresponding to Blanc’s “conceptions of the soul”) work together to produce the normal perception of a recognizable three-dimensional object, without the subject’s ever being conscious of the integrated “cogwheeling” of these processes.

Once I got a fortune cookie at a place in Chinatown that read "a room full of pictures is a room full of thoughts." That it was the lunch after my speaking in front of my work in a show juried by Irving Sandler and Claudia Gould seemed like some kind of coincidence I couldn't overlook. I bought the book from Robert Miller accompanying an exhibition of Neel's art from the thirties and have just now read the essay by Wayne Kostenbaum from there, and looks like it gave us familiarly similar poetic take. In a sense, I have been writing this essay since making my first fresco at Skowhegan - a reinterpretation of her portrait of a doll that embodied a kind of melancholy in Cuba of that time. That so many people write so well, such moving and haunting and above all politically engaged essays about her work, is because she makes us want to eat the world again, and that is food for some of the best thoughts.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

John Mendelsohn

John Mendelsohn: Shimmer and Blur

When I went to John Mendelsohn's studio for the first time, I was immediately attuned to his paintings as coming from similar sources. He had enjoyed my relating Katia Santibanez's work and the grid to the Egyptian god of the Nile and abundance, and the first landscape architecture. Underlying all of his paintings is an interest in the very fount and source of things.

Tantra means "weave." The chakras, an ancient system of energy centers in and about our bodies, are as spools, providing yarn that forms the warp and woof of our consciousness, our "tapestry", so to speak. The chakras (belongingness, sensuality, empowerment, love, communication, clear thinking and seeing and spiritual connectivity) thread through our lives. Consciously woven into our existence, we weave a magic carpet with balance, integration, beauty, harmony and expansion for individuals, relationships and humanity.
The seven main body associations, the origin spools, for the chakras are: perineum, genital, solar plexis, heart, throat, brow and crown.

When I spoke with John on the phone, he said he didn't know that tantra means "weave" although he knows his history of textiles inside and out - we have corresponded about the origins of Op Art in the Optics of playing with the the weave, and Ikat has been another thorough investigation. He is also a contributor of articles to the Jung archives, so it would be appropriate here to quote Duchamp when asked if he was an alchemist - he replied "the only way to be an alchemist in these times is wIthout knowing it."

The only way to be a tantric artist in these days is without knowing it.

1) Fall, 6, 7, 8, acrylic and latex enamel on canvas, 51"x30", 2005

2) Shift 4, 5, 6, acrylic and latex enamel on canvas, 51"x33", 2004

3) Phase 4, 5, 6, acrylic and latex enamel on canvas, 49"x35", 2004

4) Fall 6, acrylic and latex enamel on canvas, 51 "x30", 2005

5) Frequency 2, acrylic and latex enamel on canvas, 49"x33 5/8 ", 2008

6) Frequency 4, acrylic and latex enamel on canvas, 49"x33 5/8 ", 2008

John's statement:

"These works have faith in art’s capacity
to embody a sense of our lives in material, abstract form."

In the Heart Thread

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lawrence Swan

Perambulations from a great long distance walker.

Lawrence Swan

Ink and bush drawings