Steve Winn of the SF Chronicle has written an interesting four-part series on graffiti.Graffiti is nothing but painting on walls or surfaces by scratching, scribbling on the surface. Graffiti can either be some form of art or writing as well. These are done to be viewed by everyone. It can even consist of huge paintings and these have been present since ancient days. Some example we can consider as markings in Egypt, Greece and Roman Empire unlike Crypto Code that has come into existence just recently. Yesterday’s article covered the “is it art?” question. He talks about the ancient origins of graffiti (Italian for “little scratching”) and its constant presence, just like the constant presence of corporate street advertising:

“Besieged, resilient and curiously resistant to stylistic changes, graffiti is an urban fixture, as solid and integral to the street scene, in some ways, as the utility poles, retaining walls and street signs it adorns. The battle to wipe it out is built on the vision of a city sublimely free of the snaky scrawl and pieces flung up on improbably high walls, a web that spans the city from border to border. That’s hard to imagine, in San Francisco. Without graffiti, we might not recognize the place. ”
rest of story here

I’ve been annoyed when graffiti showed up on my house, even when I agreed with the sentiments (“Bush Sucks”.) But I’ve missed it when I’ve been to cities or suburbs without it. The best kind of graffiti, in my book, is by the Billboard Liberation Front. But I always get a laugh from the wry and subversive commentary written in little black letters on bus shelter posters (on an ad for the drug of the month: “Better Living Through Chemistry.”) It leaps out at me as a reminder that I’m not the only one who sees most advertising as inscrutable messages from an alien world.

Today, in the second part of the series, Steve Winn writes about how graffiti shapes the public space. What about graffiti that appears on murals? What about sanctioned graffit murals? Winn quotes Laurie Lazer, co-director of the Luggage Store Gallery on Market Street, who recalls “two different occasions when outdoor graffiti art projects commissioned by one city agency were removed by another without advance notice.”

Image above is from the dungeon on Alcatraz, which was occupied from 1969 until June 11, 1971 by Indians of All Tribes, Inc. (Example of graffiti protected and preserved by the Park Service.)

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March 7,2005 (Monday) -Busy Weekend: cranes, spirals, bumblebees & artists
On Saturday morning I watched the Sheedy Crane guys move the Kirkham earthquake shacks from the outer Sunset to a temporary work site at the SF Zoo. It was spectacularly entertaining to watch as they wrapped each shack in a wood-and-chain girdle and then lifted it into the sky and swung it (in a very tight arc, avoiding other houses and power lines) onto the back of a very big truck. These guys worked with exceptional poise, good cheer, and efficiency, in spite of all the clueless spectators, who were standing all over the place. After I got home, I checked the Sheedy web site and noticed that they’re the guys who lifted the Emporium Dome, over at San Francisco Center. It occurred to me that this kind of work would require not only physical strength and an impressive amount of technical knowlege, but a real knack for creative problem-solving.

I wonder if any of them are also artists?

Saturday evening was the opening for the “Delicious” show at Studio Gallery on Polk street. It’s a small gallery and the place was packed – good thing the weather has been gorgeous all weekend, so the crowd could spill out onto the sidewalk. The show was hung salon-style and it worked well for these smaller pieces.

Sunday morning I wanted to go to the beach to see Jim Denevan create one of his large-scale beach drawings, but I had to head to the opposite end of the park, Kezar Stadium to be exact, to meet with Team Bumblebee (to start getting in shape for the Bay to Breakers.) It was actually hot in the city, with barely a hint of a breeze, and flat blue skies overhead… but the fog horns and ship horns were blowing most of the day, and I heard that the bridges and the East Bay were socked in. Late Sunday evening I googled “Denevan, spiral, Ocean Beach” to find news or blogger reports about how the beach drawing went, but couldn’t find anything – it may be online by the time you read this.

Here’s a photo (at right) from Denevan’s site, of a previous Ocean Beach spiral. This beach drawing is in conjunction with the “Big Deal & Blow Up” show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Sunday afternoon I hosted an artists meeting at my house… six of us are going to show here during the annual October Open Studios event, so we had to hash out who gets how much wall space, how to divide up the publicity chores, and so on. (More about this at a later date.)
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March 4, 2005 (Friday) – Sui Jianguo: Sleep of Reason
Yesterday I went to the Asian Art Museum to see “Sui Jianguo: Sleep of Reason.” It’s been there for awhile, although I just got to it. The show is up through April 24th. Sui Jianguo’s work was new to me, but he’s apparently one of the best-known sculptors in China today. The work is funny, colorful, well-crafted, and thought-provoking. The title is by guest curator Jeff Kelley, and refers to Goya’s famous etching “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”

Out in front of the museum is a giant, cherry red dinosaur, shaped like one of those little plastic toys you see in dime store bins. “Made In China” is stamped on the dino’s belly. Dinosaurs and Mao suits are recurring themes in Sui Jianguo’s work. In the main court of the museum (before entering the room where most of Sui Jianguo’s work is installed) are a couple of vaguely familiar sculptures… classical Greco-Roman and Renaissance figures, writhing around in … Mao suits!

Once you enter the main gallery, the first thing you notice is COLOR. Thousands of little brightly colored plastic dinosaurs cover a low platform in the center of the room. They swirl about in discrete herds, forming an abstract storm, and all marching toward the center, where the sleeping figure of Mao lies under a flowery blue blanket. More, larger dinosaurs line the walls of the room, along with multicolored, hollowed Mao suits. These multiple empty suits are all titled, “Legacy Mantle.”

The press release for this show says, “Sui Jianguo was born in 1956 in Shan Dong province, and currently lives in Beijing where he holds a position as a Professor at the Central Academy of Fine Art, and is Chair of the Sculpture Department. He has held solo exhibitions in Australia, India, Paris, and throughout China. He has also participated in group exhibitions in Osaka, Hiroshima, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, Lyon Biennale, and Korea.”
Link to SFGate story about the show, and interview with the artist by Jesse Hamlin. .
Traveling Exhibition of Sui Jianguo’s Sculpture Works, “Marx in China” and “Jesus in China”
Some of Jianguo’s older work at absolute Arts
Photo of Jainguo’s version of the Discus thrower

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March 3, 2005 (Thursday) – Geography and Culture by David Byrne
From David Byrne’s blog entry about a recent stint in San Francisco. He visited the shows at Yerba Buena Center (wrote an interesting review), played a gig at the Fillmore, and described some after-hours events as like, “entering a chaotic and somewhat sexy utopia.” He then went on to muse about the connections between geography and culture:

“Why do scenes like this develop here? Maybe there’s something in the weather, in the water, the light, the unstable land?

What is it about certain cities and places that fosters specific attitudes? Am I imagining this? Do people who move to LA from elsewhere lose a lot of that elsewhere and eventually end up making LA type work? Does creative attitude seep in through peer pressure and causal conversations? Or is it in the water, the light, the weather? Is there a Detroit sensibility? Memphis? New Orleans? (no doubt) Austin? (certainly) Nashville? London? Berlin? Dusseldorf? Vienna? (yes) Paris? Osaka? Melbourne? Bahia? (absolutely)

Does New York foster a hard as nails no nonsense attitude? Not exclusively, but maybe a little bit. Here creativity is a career, a serious business, something that can be achieved only by absolute focus- and sometimes by what seems like paradoxical means- silliness, sloppiness and studied anti-seriousness can all be serious pursuits.

Is it in the layers of historical happenstance that make up a city? The politics and local laws? The socio-ethnic mix? The evanescent weight of fame and glamour that weighs upon all of LA mixed with the influence of the Latin and Asian populations that are fenced off from that zone – that and the hazy light on skin might make certain kinds of work more appropriate. Yes? No? Maybe?

Maybe in some cases, but not all, this is a bit of a myth, a willful desire to give each place its own aura. But I think every myth at least stems from a kernel of truth…which might be as slight as the need for that myth to exist. The myth of urban character and sensibility exists because we want it to exist- in order to lend meaning and order to a sometimes senseless world.”
Rest of the story HERE

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March 2, 2005 (Wednesday) – “Delicious” group show at Studio Gallery

Proof that a good website works for an artist: a few weeks ago a gallery owner called me to ask if they could include some of my work in an upcoming show. Jennifer at Studio Gallery said she’d found my work on the web. Better yet, the work she was interested in showing was my “Sideshow” stuff. The opening is this weekend:

A show of culinary art
March 2nd – April 3rd, 2005
reception: Saturday, March 5th, 4 – 8 pm
Studio Gallery, 1718-A Polk Street (near Clay), San Francisco
(415) 931-3130

It’s a body of work that I never expected to have any commercial success, so I only work on it now and then, when I’m not painting commissions or my regular cityscapes and narrative series. With this work I feel free to indulge in experimentation (mainly with materials) and quirky subject matter. This work tends to be both darker and funnier. A lot of it is watercolor on paper and most of it has never been posted on my web site. But about two years ago I started collaborating with another artist, L. Maude Kirk on these “bean paintings” so I felt some responsibility to promote them.

I had started doing a series of Sunset Kitsch Icons (Doggie Diner, Laughing Sal) in acrylic on panel and I wanted something that would push them over the top. Maude does amazing work with beads on ostrich eggs so I asked her if she would consider doing some beadwork on my panels. At first she said no – she said it would cost too much, in time and materials. But I kept after her and eventually convinced her to try it with beans instead of beads. Considering the subject matter, beans are more appropriate anyway. The first several bean paintings have been portraits of Laughing Sal and the other animated figures at the Musee Mechanique (which used to be out at the Cliff House, but is now making yuks at Fisherman’s Wharf.)

We keep making field trips to the Musee for inspiration and to take photos. We take turns coming up with the idea and sketch for the image, and then we trade the panel back and forth several times, each of us painting and gluing things to the surface. Maude glues dried beans, lentils, corn, seeds and rice. I glue ink jet prints on watercolor paper. The images are from digital photos I’ve taken at the Musee. I completely cover the paper with acrylic paint and UV varnish, sometimes obliterating the photo, sometimes letting it show through. Occasionally one of us will paint over what the other has done, but we agreed at the beginning that we would allow each other complete freedom when it was our turn with the panel. The panel is done when neither of us can think of anything else to do to it. We’ve been talking about branching out into circus side show territory next.

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March 1, 2005 (Tuesday) – Lunchtime Browsing

When I first started stumbling around the internet, there was no web. Computer screens were black and white (or green and greener.) There were bulletin boards – remember those? You had to literally dial a separate phone number to reach each bulletin board server out there. This was pre-AOL. No graphics – everything was text-based. There were almost no women, and no artists. (There were a decent number of writers and book people.) It doesn’t seem like that long ago. I know this observation is a cliche, but the pace of change is astonishing.

I think the change has been mostly good. The wealth of art news and information has increased to the point where I no longer cruise the internet looking for any scrap of art news. Now I need to be selective, or I’ll never have time for painting. I often read blogs and other web sites during my lunch break. A lot of other people must do the same thing, because my site stats show a big increase in traffic between 9am and 2pm, Pacific (covers the lunch period as it rolls across the continent.)

If you’re looking for 15 minutes of interesting browsing during your lunch break, check these out:

Tyler Green at Arts Journal – still the best. Has a long list of intriguing bits in his just updated “Around the Blogosphere” feature.
Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof’s artblog never fails to deliver a view of the world as seen in and from Philadelphia.
ionarts – a blog about “Music, Art, Literature—the good stuff”, but they rarely let their hair down.
Modern Kicks, where, “it is the firm policy of this website that no one can have too much Dutch painting in their lives.”
And last but not least, there’s a new artist on the sidebar: Carol Es – a hardworking, curious visual/installation artist (and poet) from Los Angeles