Category: Blog

January 2005

Friday night was the member’s party for SFMOMA’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration. Plus the opening of the SECA awards show. I met some friends downtown after they got off work and we hung out at Stacy’s and Mel’s until the lower-level members were allowed in the door. Outside, it was quite festive. Inside, it was too crowded for my taste, but the mob was mostly confined to the lobby. It reminded me of when I used to go backpacking in Yosemite or King’s Canyon… the valley is hot, and jammed with people, but as soon as you start climbing, the air cools, the crowds thin, and it gets much quieter. Upstairs at SFMOMA, surprisingly few people were looking at the art. I spent a little time in the room that holds Jackson Pollock’s “Guardians of the Secret”, flanked by a couple of Philip Guston paintings: “White Painting I” on the left and “The Tormenters” on the right.

Travelling is a great experience for each and every one from children to adults. We will become so thrilled when we think of it. Travelling will educate us with many things like the climate changes, famous things about the place, history of the place, etc.… As we love travelling, we will be enthusiastic to know about the places. Likewise, trading also develops an interest in it among the traders when they yield profits at least once. To know more about trading, just click Crypto VIP Club.

These paintings are really growing on me. I’ve been coming back here, since SFMOMA reorganized the permanent collection, and I’ve become very fond of them. Before this encounter, I never liked any of Guston’s work and only a few early Pollocks. But I think I may be finding a way into their other work through these three paintings. (More about the SECA show in a day or two.)
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January 21, 2005 (Friday)

All day Thursday I worked on this painting, and I think it’s just about done. It’s a good description of my state of mind these days… heavy clouds lifting, light on the horizon (but sun is setting.) Anyway, I’m still trying to decide whether to paint in the power lines or not. Unfortunately this is not one of those times where you can just say, “What the heck, paint it – if you don’t like it, paint over it.” No, in this case, if I screw up the lines, or just don’t like the way they look, it would mean practically repainting the entire thing. Hence my hesitation. So, I’ll just set it to the side and work on one of the other paintings that are in progress. Sooner or later I’ll know which way to go with this one.

Tonight is the member’s party for SFMOMA’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration. Plus the opening of the SECA Awards show. Depending on how the painting is going, I might go downtown for that.

I got an email from local artist David Holmes about the SF International Art Expo, which I’m sharing with his permission:

Just wanted to say great job for your blog review of the SFIAE. It’s nice to hear an artist’s perspective.

I too was at the show Friday. Two of my pieces were on display at the Larry Evans booth. I agree that the show had some nice work, but overall it felt a bit half-hearted. One point worth mentioning is that fewer people attended the opening night gala because it was the same night as Michael Tilson Thomas’s big birthday bash. That apparently was the social event of the season, and siphoned off many of the art lovers and well-to-do.

I have one small correction for your review: The Sandow Birk painting was titled “The mocking of Jesus”, not Christ. I believe that makes a big difference though, since it’s meant to be a joke on the name of the wheelchair victim.

In other news, I went to New York in December for my first show there, at the DFN Gallery. It was a lot of fun, and I got a good response to my new painting “Broadway Hustle” (see attached). It is my biggest painting to date, 80″ x 32″.

My next scheduled show is in LA at the Keller Green Gallery (April-May). I’m trying to finish a new painting in time.

Keep up the good work!

David Holmes

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January 20, 2005 (Thursday)

For some reason, I couldn’t get online yesterday morning, and had to leave early, so I’m posting both Wed. & Thurs. entries now.

Today I’ll be in the studio painting all day. This means I turn the phone off, don’t answer the door, don’t turn on the computer. This is partly because I didn’t get to paint yesterday and I’m trying to make up that time. But mostly it’s because I have a constant sense of urgency about not “wasting” whatever time I have left. Last March I started a “reverse calendar” to remind myself of life’s brevity. I marked off a canvas with a grid of tiny boxes, each one representing one day, with enough “days” to last 20 years, which is about how long the insurance company thinks I’ll live. Each day, I paint in a box. The act of painting that box forces me to think about the best use of my time and/or energy… about what’s really important. Here’s what it looks like so far:

Hope you spend time on what’s important to you today, and I’ll be back tomorrow.

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January 19, 2005 (Wednesday)

Got two new paintings started, got a gallery that wants to see my work (taking a few pieces down today,) and suddenly people are buying my paintings… things are definitely looking up.

I have to leave the house today before the sun gets up (way before I’m usually moving) and go pick up some paintings from a coffee shop venue, take them to the gallery venue, and then take some paintings out of storage over to the coffee shop. Then I have to go see a guy about making a packing crate for shipping a painting back east. All on public transportation. So who knows when I’ll get back to the studio, but I’ll probably be too tired to paint. So I’ll paint twice as long tomorrow.

’till then, remember this:

“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

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January 18, 2005 (Tuesday)
Rupert Garcia (painter, printmaker):

“I went to San Francisco to become ‘an artiste’. I say it that way because that’s the image I had. You’re supposed to make drawings, somehow get discovered, have a show, and become rich and famous. Well, that was certainly a myth. I went to San Francisco, and I became a dishwasher at a restaurant in the Mission District. My roommates were going to San Francisco State. They had money to do that. I didn’t have any money whatsoever, so going to school was out of the question. I made drawings in our apartment, and I had no idea what you’re supposed to do to get representation. I didn’t even know you’re supposed to get representation. I just thought you go to San Francisco and things fall from the sky. I wound up joining the air force to get a job. I spent four years in the military, a year in Southeast Asia, and got out in May of ’66. When I got to San Francisco State, the anti war movement was developing, and no one knew I was a vet from the Vietnam war. I kept my mouth shut. When the strike occurred we had a big meeting with faculty and students to discuss what we could do to support the strike, which was going on as we were meeting. Posters seemed to be the answer for us. If the strike hadn’t occurred, I would not have made silkscreens. I stopped making easel paintings, because it didn’t feel connected to what was happening on and off campus. I became a full-time screen printer.”

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January 17, 2005 (Monday)
On Friday I spent about 5 hours at the San Francisco International Art Exposition. There didn’t seem to be as many art viewers as last year, but it maybe it’s just me. If the numbers are actually down, it might have something to do with the fact that some of the advertising (for instance, the ad in Gallery Guide) did NOT list the location of this show. Also, I noticed that when we entered the Ft. Mason complex, there were signs for the big print show, the book sale, and other events, but no banners or signs for the art expo, which was located in a building way, way in the back (not visible from the entrance or parking lot.) If I had been an out-of-towner, it seems unlikely that I would have found my way there. Luckily I live here, assumed it was the same building as last year, and knew how to get there.

Other than attendance, my general impressions of the show, as a whole:

Way more representational work, and I know I said that last year, but it seems to be increasing each year, which probably makes Kenneth Baker very unhappy (here’s his review of the show.)
I’m noticing a trend in figure painting toward fleshy nudes, choppily painted with square brushes, creating a pixilated effect, and I’m tired of it already.
Glossy color photos on the business cards are out – letter press business cards are in.
I didn’t notice too many out-and-out bad paintings, but there were too many third-rate Dali, Picasso, Warhol, and Toulouse-Lautrec prints.
What was the deal with that strange booth full of “antiquities” (terracotta stuff from archeological digs?)
I don’t usually see a lot of artists attending this show, but I did notice Guy Diehl, Chester Arnold, and Brian Goggin strolling the aisles.
There were a significant number of craft-like items, made from buttons, bows, embroidery, textile arts, painted furniture and the like (see button portrait below.)
Name/materials connections were popular. For instance, the Forum Gallery’s David Mach used matches to make animal head sculptures (“Golden Rhino” above right) and the Maxwell Davidson Gallery’s Darren Lago used Legos to make “paintings” (Mondrian series below.).

The local galleries looked great – Charles Campbell, Hackett Freedman, Catherine Clark, Paul Thiebaud, and Edith Caldwell collectively had an impressive collection of work by Bay Area artists from 1950 to 2004. That alone was worth the price of admission. (Photo of Charles Campbell booth at left and Edith Caldwell at right – click on either to see bigger image.)

Catherine Clark had a huge new painting by Chester Arnold – a self portrait of the artist working in his studio. It reminded me of the self-portrait series he did about a year ago, a wall full of tiny little jewels, each painting no bigger than 3″ square. I wanted to buy one of them, but had no money then, and no sign of any on the horizon. Remembering those paintings now, and feeling a little better funded these days, I asked the gallery staff if any of those little portraits were left, but no such luck.

Catherine Clark was also showing a Lisa Kokin portrait of a man and woman made from buttons and dental floss. (Photo at left – click for larger image.)
Julie Baker Fine Art, from Grass Valley, CA had some of the most amazing encaustics I’ve ever seen. Matt Duffin uses mostly black encaustic wax on a white board, with a modified scratchboard technique to make funny, eerie images. (Photo at right.)

Renee Bott (at left) from Paulson Press, in Berkeley, CA showed Chris Ballantyne’s prints (far left) as well as work by John Cage, Richard Diebenkorn, Judy Pfaff, Pat Steir, and Wayne Thiebaud Trillium Press was here, too. These places allow the artist to just do the drawing and they handle the technical and craft aspects of the printing.
Koplin Del Rio gallery from, West Hollywood, CA had a Sandow Birk painting, “The Mocking of Christ” (image at left.) He’s still working on his big Divine Comedy series, but took time out to for this painting. A traveling exhibition of Birk’s Divine Comedy will begin its run at the San Jose Museum of Art later this year.

Tim lowly is another Koplin Del Rio artist, a painter with dark, repressed tone that reminds me a bit of Andrew Wyeth. (Images at left, below Birk.)a
Steve Albert (also Koplin Del Rio) painted a beautiful refrigerator interior that looked like stained glass (image at right.)

There was actually lots more to write about and pictures to show, but it’s late, I’m tired and I want to start painting early tomorrow, so that’s all you’re getting for now.
ADDENDUM: Excellent coverage and photos of this event by Alan Bamberger at

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January 14, 2005 (Friday)
It’s sunny today and I should be painting, but I’m heading over to Ft. Mason to see the SF International Art Expo, which is a puffed up name for a collection of galleries that mostly hail from San Francisco (23), New York (13), and Chicago (5). There are 19 other US galleries. The “International” refers to the 3 galleries from Seoul, 1 from Berlin, and 1 from Calgary. But whatever they call it, I usually have a great time – lots of art, mostly West Coast and Pacific Rim influences, all in one place. Report on Monday.

Meanwhile here are a couple of thoughts for the weekend:

A couple of days ago I heard SF Opera conductor Donald Runnicles say that one of the reasons they had “Marriage of Figaro” on the upcoming schedule is that the musicians needed a regular dose of Mozart. He described it as being “like taking your car in for a tune up.”

I’ve been thinking of Plato’s cave for the last year. And Saramago’s cave. But it occurred to me yesterday, when the sun returned after a long absence, that we can’t look directly at the light. At least not while we inhabit these bodies. It would be physically harmful and cause blindness. The best we can do is focus on reflected light. And I’m wondering…. are reflections all that different from shadows?
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January 13, 2005 (Thursday)
Varnish Gallery was the site of the Laughing Squid party last night. (left – the Doggy Diner heads and art cars parked in front of the gallery.) I ran into a lot of people I know because so many artists host at the Squid. (photos below- yours truly with Bern Rauch, Phil Deal and Pam Heyda — I bumped into Betsy and Jerry from Little Fluffy Clouds on the way in, but didn’t get a good photo of them.) All the big squids and some of burning man was there.

This is a terrific gallery space. It’s a little old brick building on an alley behind SFMOMA – looks like it might have been a firehouse or garage at one time. It has a full bar, lots of seating, big skylights that look out on the taller buildings all around it. It was kinda trippy looking up through the skylights into the office windows of skyscrapers, with people still working … guys in lab coats and silver cowboy hats handed out magnetic flashing light party favors… good food & drink, good music, good conversation, free t-shirts, plus great art – what more could a person want?

The gallery is currently showing new work by Laurenn McCubbin. The opening reception is tomorrow (Friday the 14th) with a reading by Michelle Tea from her book, “Rent Girl,” which McCubbin illustrated. I noticed the book in the window of the Cartoon Art Museum as I was walking to the party. McCubbin’s work is installed in the ground floor main gallery, and the second floor balcony/loft holds work by a selection of other artists. Sculpture is all over the place, and it’s the focus of the gallery, but I tend to notice only the paintings when I’m here. I’ve noticed a high percentage of female artists here, and most of the work is representational, in the comix, graphic, illustration mode. More photos of the party below.
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<– left, above – yours truly with Bern Rauch and Phil Deal; left, below – Phil Deal and Pam Heyda

January 12, 2005 (Wednesday)

There’s an interesting and unique show at the California Historical Society now. “Poetry and its Arts” is a collaboration between the California Historical Society and the Poetry Center at SF State. The show is about collaborations between visual artists, musicians, and poets in San Francisco. There are over a 100 works of art jammed into this space, and as you might expect, many of them are text-rich. The paintings, drawings, photos and prints are hung within inches of each other, plus there are wordy wall-tags squeezed in between them. When I first started looking, I was having trouble telling the difference between the historical annotations, the translations of imbedded poetry, and the art. It was making me a little anxious, so I finally said the heck with it, and just ignored everything but the paintings. After the first go-round, I was able to go through again and check out some of the text, photos, posters, and book art. There are a couple of installations as well, including a messy room full of tapes and papers called “Collective Memory.” Besides the original art, there are posters and photos of cultural events from the 50’s and 60’s. You could spend a good long time here, if you planned to look at everything. Only three bucks admission – includes comfy chairs to sit in when your feet get tired. “Poetry and its Arts” will be up until April 16, 2005 (and it’s across the street from the Cartoon Art Museum.)

“Poetry and its Arts”
December 11, 2004 – April 16, 2005.
at the Poetry Center at the California Historical Society
678 Mission Street, San Francisco, California
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January 11, 2005 (Tuesday)

I finally finished that commission, and got started on a couple of my own paintings, so I’m feeling pretty chipper in spite of the continuing rain (extra lights help.) I managed to slip out during a short break in the deluge to attend a local artists’ meeting. Benny Shaboy, the publisher of studioNOTES and Art Opportunities Monthly was giving a lecture on “Finding and Winning Art Opportunities.” It was all good information, but nothing I hadn’t heard before. It occurred to me that this kind of advice, along with advice on “How to get into a gallery” and “How to make a living as an artist,” is similar to information on how to lose weight… we keep listening to new versions of the same old advice because we keep hoping there will be some easy magic step that make it happen.
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January 10, 2005 (Monday)
Judy Chicago (painter):

“When I was in graduate school, Billy Al Bengston came to teach. I used to follow him around, much to his amusement, and I really learned from him about what it means to be a serious artist. I went to his studio and I saw the seriousness with which he approached his work and the integrity: nothing else is important except art. Making money didn’t figure in at all. Being takens seriously as an artist was what it was all about. He taught me the “something is going to happen” philosophy. How do you live when you don’t have a steady job? Well, something’s going to happen. And if something didn’t happen, you were really up shit’s creek. You had to pay your rent.”
From book, “State of the Arts, California Artists Talk About Their Work,” by Barbara Isenberg, ©2000, William Morrow, ISBN 0-380-81072-7

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January 7, 2005 (Friday)
Continuing the train of thought from yesterday… as Marja-Leena Rathje and others have said, “Artists have embraced the internet as a tool that helps them create, promote, and sell their work.” Well, sort of. I look around at the community of artists here in the backyard of the dot-com phenomenon, and it seems to me that a minority of (visual) artists are even computer literate, never mind the internet. Of course, that could be an age thing. Most of the painters I’m friends with are in their 40s to 60s. Most of the artists who are using the internet effectively are in their 20s. But there are plenty of exceptions, and the internet helps me find them.

It also helps me recognize those aspects of the collective unconscious that show up in my work. For instance, my recent short rumination on “death in art” was a harbinger of my next series of paintings, and I would be tempted to blame it on recent events in my personal life, but then I see that Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof have done a few entries on Goth and the Grotesque in art shows they’ve seen (“Both confront death and horror, and they both have room for spiritual agendas.”) And artists like Mark Barry have written (regarding the recent tsunami) “how events creep into our thoughts and have a permanent effect on us in every way, from here on.”

I know there’s a connection between these things. The nature of that connection is hard to put into words but easy to put into painting. If only I didn’t have these other paintings to finish first. Now that I think about it, that could be the main advantage of verbal/written language: it’s quicker.

Which is where the blogosphere shines – it’s quick. In the last few days I’ve learned about Franklin Einspruch’s Drawing Project, Todd Gibson’s subway wrapping proposal, Charles T. Downey’s reflections on a 17th century artist/poet (These lying pigments facing you,with every charm brush can supply,set up false premises of color to lead astray the unwary eye; Here, against ghastly tolls of time, bland flattery has staked a claim, defying the power of passing years to wipe out memory and name.),Rachael B’s thoughts on “People Got hurt,” and Chris at Zeke’s Art-Not listings (thanks, Chris).

… which as Mark said, creeps into my thoughts and will have a permanent affect on my perceptions and renditions of the universe.

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January 6, 2005 (Thursday)
The art news I get from other bloggers may be personal, quirky, prejudiced or even inaccurate, but it’s always timely, usually interesting, and sometimes educational. I realized recently that I hardly look at the art magazines that arrive in my mailbox anymore. One quick flip-through to look at the pictures, and I’m usually done. So I’ve decided to let my art magazine subscriptions lapse. Except for “Modern Painters.” Even they seem to be going down the tubes, but I still have hopes that their good writing about PAINTING (you think? maybe?) will return. I certainly don’t need the print journals to keep up on who’s showing where, or what the show was like – the web is way out in front on that one. It seems like the print journals would have an advantage if they offered thoughtful, well researched articles, copiously illustrated. In the meantime, they have almost nothing to offer me.

Actually, I’m finding that some non-art publications (like Believer and Shambhala Sun) are running interesting art stories now and then. So it looks like it’s back to browsing bookstore magazine racks, looking for the occasional good story, whatever journal it happens to run in.

Jesse Hamlin of the SF Chronicle wrote a story yesterday about an art collector whose “hobby” is collecting work that can’t be sold. Steve Oliver, chairman of the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, has commissioned seventeen site-specific works from artists like Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Andy Goldsworthy, Ursula Von Rydingsvard and Martin Puryear. The works are installed on his 100-acre ranch north of San Francisco. Cool story – read it here.

Speaking of art collectors, Tyler Green uncovered a new collector-blogger, Misti Hickling from Seattle. Here’s hoping she lasts longer than Paige West. I added Misti Hickling to my sidebar, which in case you hadn’t noticed, gets updated at least weekly. So, take a look now and then, eh?

One of the new features in the sidebar is a calendar of SF Visual Arts events. Miguel Sánchez mentioned that, “just looking at these lists makes me woozy from thinking of the effort involved.” Thanks, but it’s really not a big deal to copy and paste press blurbs from the gallery and museum sites I visit anyway, and putting them all in a single document makes it easier for me to keep track of the shows I want to see, so… I thought I’d share. It’s in no way a comprehensive list of everything there is to see in San Francisco.

More tomorrow about what I get from other bloggers (and for anyone who’s interested: sadly, no, I’m still not done with that painting.)

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January 5, 2005 (Wednesday)
I can’t believe I’m still working on this same (big commission) painting, but I think I can finish it tomorrow, if my arm holds out. Just a few more details to clean up. For inspiration and encouragement, I have another painting, just barely started, sitting next to me on the other easel in the studio. It’s a subject I really want to paint, and it’s at the fun stage. So far, I’ve only painted a loose line image – haven’t even done the transparent orange ground yet. It sits there, beckoning to me…. but I’m going to need a day or two of rest before getting back to it. My right arm is really getting wrecked – now the elbow is aching. Maybe I can start the underpainting for the next canvas with my left arm/hand. Years ago I read somewhere that writing and drawing with the non-dominant hand created additional neural pathways in the brain (why, exactly, that’s a good thing, I forget.) Anyway, just for the hell of it, I started to practice drawing and writing with my left hand on a regular basis. It’s an interesting process, and I could see real improvement after a while, but it’s not good enough for finished work.

OK, back to work…
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January 4, 2005 (Tuesday)
Last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle ran a pink pages feature, called “2005 Critics Choices Forecast,” to report on “what looks good” on the local arts scene in the coming year. This included three film columns, two music columns, and one column each for dance, theater, architecture, and “pop culture.” Not a single word on on visual arts. So, in an attempt to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, here’s my 2005 San Francisco Arts Prevision.

January 2005
Fraenkel Gallery:
“Irving Penn” Opens January 6 – through February 12.

Varnish Gallery:
“Rent Girl” illustrations and other art by Laurenn McCubbin, January 11 to January 29.
Reading by Michelle Tea (author of “Rent Girl”)at the opening on Friday, January 14th, 2005

Ft. Mason:
San Francisco International Art Exposition from January 14 – 17.
Featuring more than 100 international galleries representing more than 2,000 artists, the usual eclectic collection of modern and contemporary artwork.
also at this same time & place:
“Prints San Francisco 2005” from January 14 to 16.

Asian Art Museum:
“Sui Jianguo: The Sleep of Reason” from January 14 to April 24.
An exhibition of about a dozen large-scale works by one of the best-known sculptors in China today, Sui Jianguo. A highlight of the exhibition will be a large red sculpture of a dinosaur (I heard a rumor that this will be installed out in front of the museum?)

Newmark Gallery:
“Dutch Masters Now” opens January 18th
Four exceptional Dutch abstract artists – Hans Vanhorck (1952,) Sjer Jacobs (1963,) Paula Evers (1942,) and Theo den Boon (1944).

SF Arts Commission Gallery:
“Reflecting Buddha: Images by Contemporary Photographers” from January 19 – January 29.

Legion of Honor:
“Bonjour Monsieur Courbet!” from January 22 to April 3.
The Bruyas Collection of 19th-century French Realism from the Musée Fabre, Montpellier. Master-works by Courbet, Corot, Delacroix, Gericault, Millet, and Rousseau.

Cartoon Art Museum:
“Small Press Spotlight featuring Garret Izumi” from January 22 to April 16.
Garret Izumi has been self-publishing since the early 1990s. His work includes photography books, comics and letterpress books. Each book has focused on varying themes ranging from memories to suburbia to life in the nuclear age. In 1994, Izumi received the Xeric Grant to self-publish Strip Down. Izumi’s latest book, Three Grey Women, is a letterpress accordion-style book. Three Grey Women is the retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Perseus and Medusa. The story explores sight and vision and how our world is defined by what we see.

February 2005
San Jose Museum of Art:
“Girl Power!” from February 5 to June 5.
Bay Area artist Laurie Long, investigates the construction of female identity, and the implications of female performance within societal codes—in a lighthearted and easily accessible manner. This exhibition will feature work from a number of series including, Becoming Nancy Drew in which she physically transformed herself into the famous girl sleuth from children’s literature and placed herself in photographic tableaux based on engravings from the books; Dating Surveillance Project, where Long wore a coat rigged with a concealed miniature video camera and microphone to record her dates; and The Secret History of Goddess Sites, which documents places in Europe where female deities were worshipped.

“Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective” from February 12 to June 5.
A 40 year retrospective of San Francisco resident painter Robert Bechtle. A photorealist, Bechtle painted streetscapes, family scenes, portraits of cars, many scenes of residential SF life.

also at SFMOMA:
“Jeremy Blake: Winchester” from February 19 to August 14.
The Winchester Mystery House, in San Jose, is the inspiration for Jeremy Blake’s suite of digital animations, “The Winchester Trilogy.” Employing handpainted imagery, film footage, vector graphics, and sound in a process the artist calls “timebased painting,” Blake offers an empathetic experience of Winchester’s madness. Representational images morph into kinetic inkblots and back again. Traditional modes of storytelling are questioned, as are the relationships between reality and simulation. Shown together for the first time, Winchester (2002), 1906 (2003), and Century 21 (2004) are presented as a triptych in three adjacent projections.

Asian Art Museum:
“The Kingdom of Siam: The Art of Central Thailand 1350–1800” from February 18 to May 8.
Classical art from Thailand, features 87 rare works from collections in Thailand, Europe, and the United States. Includes stone and bronze Buddha images, sculptures of Hindu deities, figural and decorative wood carvings, temple furnishings, illuminated manuscripts, jewelry, and textiles. Among the highlights are gold ceremonial objects from a temple crypt sealed in 1424, a full-sized temple pediment, a 12-foot-tall preaching throne, and sections of royally commissioned temple doors with inlaid mother of pearl.

Southern Exposure:
“5th Annual Monster Drawing Rally” on February 18th from 6-10:30 pm
A live drawing and fundraising event featuring over 100 artists

March 2005
Legion of Honor:
21st Annual “Bouquets to Art ” from March 8 to March 11.
Features the work of more than one hundred noted Bay Area florists and designers. Each participant selects a work of art from the Legion of Honor in advance, and creates a floral tribute to that painting or sculpture.

Cantor Center at Stanford:
“Guardian of the Flame: Art of Sri Lanka” from March 2 to June 12
First major exhibition in the United States to present the entire history of Sri Lankan art, from the Anuradhapura Period (269 BC–993 AD), up to the conquest of the Kingdom of Kandy by the British in 1815. In addition to fine images from the classical period of Sri Lankan civilization (400–1235), Guardian of the Flame highlights the artistic achievements of the Kandyan period (1597–1815) with superb masterpieces, dispelling the popular belief that no great sculpture was produced in Sri Lanka after the fall of Polonnaruva in 1235.

April 2005
Oakland Museum:
“Plant Portraits: California Legacy of A.R. Valentien” from April 9 to August 14.
In 1908, artist Albert R. Valentien was commissioned to paint a series of California wildflowers. For the next 10 years the project became his life’s passion as he traveled throughout the state. While not trained as a botanist, Valentien created remarkably accurate and detailed illustrations, which also convey a striking freshness and spontaneity. The exhibition features approximately 80 works selected from the more than 1,000 watercolors Valentien completed.

also at the Oakland Museum:
“Sculpture by Bruce Beasley: A 45-Year Retrospective” from April 16 to July 31.
Retrospective of work by Oakland artist Bruce Beasley. The exhibition, covering more than four decades of his abstract sculpture, includes approximately 75 works in cast iron and aluminum, cast acrylic, cast and fabricated bronze and stainless steel. A tableau of the artist’s studio, with examples of his collection of animal skulls and other source material, is also on display.

May 2005
SF Contemporary Jewish Museum:
Invitational show “Scents of Purpose” from May 04 to Sept 05. Artists interpret the spice box. This exhibit will be at the current, interim, building on Steuart Street The new building, by Daniel Libeskind, which has been under construction for four years, is still in progress at the site across from Yerba Buena Gardens.

Hunter’s Point Artists Studios:
“Spring Open Studios” May 7th and 8th (weekend)
Annual group show at the old Navy base, which has housed artists’ studios for many years. A huge housing project is going to be built there and it starts this year.

June 2005
Sunset Artists Society:
“Hall Of Flowers Show” June 4th and 5th (weekend)
Annual group show in Golden Gate Park, at the SF County Fair building next to Strybing Botanical Gardens.

July & August:
Some galleries shut down, others hold “Staff Picks” group shows, and some do “Introductions” shows. Good time to do some aimless browsing.

September 2005:
Cantor Center at Stanford:
“Revolutionary Tides: The Art of the Political Poster 1789-1989” from Sept. 14 to Dec. 31.
Posters from New Deal America, the Soviet Union of Stalin’s Five-Year Plans, China’s Cultural Revolution, the protest movements of the 1960s, and Ayatollah Khomeni’s Iran. The exhibition features work by world renowned graphic artists such as John Heartfield, Gustav Klutsis, Xanti Schawinsky, and Norman Rockwell and includes art ranging from works by the Italian Futurist Sesto Canegallo to a pair of Andy Warhol’s 1970s silkscreened portraits of communist leader Mao Tse-Tung. The exhibition is organized into three broad areas—Figures, Numbers, and Symbols—each of which surveys a particular graphic convention, iconographic element, or theme.

October 2005:
San Francisco:
SF Open Studios – An all-month-long, city-wide art event. Artists open their studios on the weekends and a giant group show is held at the SomArts Gallery.

M.H. de Young Museum:
The museum finally reopens on October 15th in a new $202 million building designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. First show: “Daughter of Re: Hatshepsut, King of Egypt” from October 15, 2005 to February 5, 2006.
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January 3, 2005 (Monday)

Hey! One year (plus) of blogging and I’m still alive. Actually, I started this thing in Oct. 2003, but the first few months I was groping in the dark, and only posting once or twice a week, so I’m not counting that time. It’s been more fun than I’d anticipated, and useful too, in terms of exercising the part of my brain that was getting dusty and creaky from lack of use.

So, I’m planning to keep at it, posting 4 to 6 times a week about things I’m working on, shows I’ve seen, art issues that come to mind. And interviews, more interviews! Those were a blast, and I have have lots of ideas for interviews I’d like to do.

This blog has replaced the journal writing that I used to do in sketchbooks and notepads. But the blog is not as personal as the sketchbooks. I seem to be self-censoring, for obvious reasons, but maybe I can loosen up a little bit – I’ll try.

I’m disappointed that I’m still wrangling this thing with an HTML editor (GoLive.) I was hoping I’d be posting in PHP by now, or at least using some kind of blogging software. I’ve tried Blogger, Movable Type, Squarespace, Bloxsom, iBlog, and a few other programs, leaving nascent test blogs scattered all over the virtual landscape. For a variety of technical reasons, none of them worked for me. Next week I’ll be seeing some of the Laughing Squids – maybe they’ll have some advice for me.

Painting in 2004 was about hiding out from the Trickster. I didn’t paint any figures this year (except for one incognito self-portrait.) But that’s about to change. 2005 is going to be about Space,Time, and Humanity, personified. It’s a relationship story. The planning and photography are almost done and the painting commences any day now. It will take most of the year to paint, and I have no idea where to exhibit it… which is another project for my spare time this year: get on the stick about finding another gallery.

And that’s as close as I’ll ever get to New Year’s resolutions.

Mark Grim

A few days ago, I mentioned Mark Grim’s show at the Soularch Gallery. I finally got a chance to interview him yesterday. We met at the Corner Cup coffee shop, and were already talking before I dug out my tape recorder. We finished the interview down at his studio, a few blocks from the ocean, in the outer Sunset district.

ALC – So, you were saying something about floating images and color fields…

MG – Yeah, I’m challenging myself here, because if I say I do this, then I’ll try to find ways I don’t do it … I’m not a purist in any way. Color field painting is still a viable way to approach painting, or at least start the process rolling. But when I do use images, they’re separate from one another on a field, and they’re not recognizable – they’re abstract signs. A lot of what I do is subconscious, but it seems to flirt with the idea of images coming into being.

ALC – What do you mean by the phrase, “abstract signs?”

MG – Well, they’re like things that are real, but the “sign” part of it has to do with being seen as connections to our visual references in the world. For instance, in one of my paintings I did a kind of a proscenium or stage-like form, and I needed a shape on the stage. I had a palette knife and I liked the way the blade, when turned at an angle, had an interesting shape so I copped that shape. So it’s a sign that’s both abstract and flirts with things around me. I still think that you can draw on your environment to make paintings that are both visually cognitive as well as abstract.

My early work was based on what I really saw, and I admire people who do that, but I found that for me, temperamentally, I kept wanting to “mess it up”, experiment with this or that… So I realized, in a sense, I was… I hate to use the word “abstraction” because it sounds like nothing’s there, but I’m more interested in modes of building pictures. When I use the word abstraction, it sounds so empty. It doesn’t give people an idea. The way I’ve started to see it is that painting can be more inclusive of different styles and approaches, rather than exclusive.

ALC – Do you see abstract art as exclusive?

MG – No. I see the term “abstract” as exclusive. It doesn’t really encompass what I’m interested in. It doesn’t really tell people anything about what you do. It almost sounds adversarial in terms of realism, and I don’t buy that. To me, all the kinds of mark making, building surface, creating light, comes from my experience of painting realistically. Yet, I’m interested in applying that to other things. Taking all of those ways of creating surface, form and depth and explore with it, from the subconscious. But still with a rigorous kind of training so that you don’t just do whatever the hell you want, but that it’s based on looking at what the materials are doing… what if I put this color over that, what if I scumbled this, or dry brushed over that… what kind of relationships am I going to start to set up… then stand back and consider the options… bringing all these painterly attacks to a more personal, exploratory kind of painting.

I paint fast, but I’m a slow digester, so that’s why I work on a lot of things at one time. I keep rotating them. I can’t always see it while I’m working – I need to get some distance on it. It’s interesting to me, to tinker with it until it gets lop-sided and weird and then, if you work on it long enough, it comes back to a kind of universal familiarity. It doesn’t always work and very often I repaint things. But the best way for me to work, so that I get out of my head, is to keep working on a lot of things. I need to keep working, otherwise… When I was younger, I used to freeze, and I would go through these periods when I couldn’t work.

For a long time, when I was younger, I didn’t really trust my intuition. I was really a formalist. I tried to learn, for years, how the Dutch painters did it. Here are a couple of pieces from about 30 years ago, when I was just trying to pare it down to the bare essentials (still life at right, and head at upper right.)

ALC – Don’t you think that’s appropriate for a young painter?

MG – It is… but at the same time, it came out of my lack of trust in what I had to say, and in always being critical about learning it right. I think I could have benefitted from letting go a little bit more. For a long time I was bogged down, feeling I had to learn how Cezanne did it, I had to learn how Matisse did it. It was so hard… you know, you look at the great painters and you feel like a minnow. So now, I’m in a place where I have the balance… I have this knowlege I can bring to bear on image-building. It’s like you have to earn your right to express yourself, in that way by learning all this stuff ahead of time, and sort of forgetting it as you paint. But it’s still all there – the awareness of depth, light, tone, the weight of color… all that formal stuff we all have to learn. You have to be honest with yourself and express yourself, and I wasn’t able to do that until 15 or 20 years ago. I read this quote by Al Held and he was talking about trying to make paintings that were both subjective and objective. He wanted the subjectivity of Pollock and the objectivity of Mondrian. He said, “If it’s going to be shit, I’m going to dot the i and cross the t.” And I thought, OK, if you’re going to do something, go for it, no matter what anybody says.

ALC – So what finally inspired you, convinced you, or gave you permission to go ahead and express yourself?

MG – I think I just reached a point where I was getting older. I knew I had to do it. I don’t know what it was… I think it was around the time I moved in with Carol, and that helped stabilize me. My early work was very no-nonsense, nothing romantic or ornamental – just what needs to be there. For me, there was a lot of wrestling with certain emotional issues around making art. When I was kid, I could draw, and it was such a huge part of my life. My father and I had a difficult relationship and the only way I could be accepted by him was to be special in that way. And then when I got older I wanted to shed that idea of associating making art with needing acceptance. I thought that if I did a terrible painting that I was terrible. So that’s why I didn’t trust myself to let go. But I was in therapy for a while, and dealt with it and finally one day I realized, “hey – I’m doing this for myself.” This is just what I do.

ALC – Do you know anyone else who paints the way you do now, with that mixture of the real and abstract?

MG – Yes, there’s Thomas Nozkowski – he was a big influence on me. I had the good fortune to meet him at a show in New York. We had a good talk. Gary Stephan and Jonathan Lasker are also big influences. They’re all New Yorkers… and they all influenced me with this idea of merging abstraction and recognizable images.

(Peter Schjeldahl wrote about Gary Stephan: “Stephan practices what Clement Greenberg called, apropos abstract paintings with suggestive elements, “homeless representation.” Another epithet comes to mind, Marianne Moore’s definition of poetry: “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.”)

MG – I like some of David Salle’s things, but I’m not so much into the recognizable image. You know, I think it’s just temperament – we don’t know why we do these things… Jasper Johns once said he wanted to find out what was impossible not to do. He wanted to do only what he had no choice but to do. So then art becomes a process of therapy or a spiritual pursuit. Like Nozkowski said, at a lecture he gave at CCAC (a couple of days after a show he had at Stephen Witrz Gallery) … he said he was walking with his son in the woods and saw some apples that had cracked open from freezing. They had this marvelous white jagged flesh sticking up through the red – it was a remarkable image and he actually used it one of his paintings. so he said to his son, “look at this!” But his son said, “that’s alright, Dad, but look at that sunset!” Different people are turned on by different things… I’ve noticed with my stuff, that the things that are more tonal, more Dutch-based, with more recognizable atmospheres and that sort of thing, people gravitate to. But I’m convinced that it’s largely because of the visual cues that I give them. It’s part of my nature to find out what people want and then subvert it – maybe it’s a bit of the Trickster in me..

For instance, take this piece… it’s more tonal, it’s a more 17th century palette and I think there’s certain serenity in that. A lot of my pieces are a little more raucous. The one in particular that everyone is drawn to is at the gallery – it’s called the “The Frequency of Light” (a triptych of paper on board, image at left, lower painting ) and it’s full of atmospherics. They also seem to like this one over here called, “Sweet Twist” (below, right.) You’ve got these warm tones coming through, and these segues to all the stuff behind and in front of… it’s kind of a mixture of Cezanne and the Dutch painters. It’s really a traditional painting – I mean, it’s figure/ground. I sort of flattened it out, on purpose, but it’s just this thing on an atmospheric ground. So I guess what I’m saying is, it’s OK that people like it, but now, do I want to make 40 more of them? So I experiment with things that have more to do with surface and flatness. I like experimenting with wet-into-wet candy-colored paint, and mixing it up with a little bit of trompe l’oeil with meticulous glazes, and then globby modeling paste… I’m always conscious of figure/ground, I use rhymed forms, I use a sort of code I’ve made up… but it’s all improvisational.

This one, called “Karaoke For Experts” was a real turning point for me. It’s small painting, but it really meant something to me at the time. This form on the upper left was a linear drawing – it didn’t have the modulation of form or color. Then I started to see possibilities for telling quasi-narratives in abstract. In other words, you see this form floating on a field of stripes. this drawing had both spacial recession and it was flat, at the same time, because of the overlapping lines. Then I flipped a copy of it horizontally and hid the bulk of it behind some of the stripes. So, it’s not a story-telling kind of narrative, but it does say something about how I use these elements like characters in a play.

ALC – What can you tell me about these two? (image at right, upper paintings)

MG – I was working on this (on the left) as an underpainting and I liked the way it felt, so I stopped, and after a while I realized it was finished. The one on the right is called “Winter’s Edge” – it’s two panels. Sometimes I think about the two panels as foils to each other.

ALC – How do you work with these multi-panel pieces?

MG – Well, it depends. They develop in different ways. Sometimes I have the idea of doing a multi-panel piece and I’ll rotate the panels democratically as I work on them. Then other times I’ll do one panel and then think, “This is nice, but it seems like part of of a bigger whole.” This one is an interesting example. This inset was done first and then I saw possibilities for it being part of a bigger composition, so (shows me the back) it kind of grew organically… I added the other panels and then had to re-work the first panel because the relationships had changed.

ALC – What does color mean to you?

MG – Well, it’s a component. One of the things about painting now, is that color has fallen out of favor. A lot of the art magazines devalue it these days. It’s a fashion thing. Obviously I like color, but it’s just an aspect of my work. I do like “sweet and sour” color combinations. I don’t mind of a painting’s little bit over the top, a little out there, in terms of saturation, as long as it works, as long as it’s cohesive.

I question why it always has to be about beauty. In northern California, there’s a huge emphasis on beauty, because of the wealth here. It comes from the French school, mostly. Germanic painting, for example, which is like reading Tolstoy or something, is about the horrors and trials of hard life. It’s not accepted here because people are so full of their beauty… but it’s OK to do things that ungainly and strange. Pull it back from the brink and try to make something of it. My motto is, “Clash the particles, then go in and edit it the debris.”

ALC – What are you working on now?

MG – Well, here are some things in progress… I’ve been doing these little ones, This is “Klaatu Barada Nicto” (lower right.) It’s from the movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” This one is called “Colonial Life” (upper right) and it reminded me of this odd little head thing, but it isn’t really that. This reminded me of a scarf, but it isn’t really a scarf. The light is naturalistic, around the form with warm and cool buildup… but what is it? So again, it’s giving people clues, but then taking it away. Can’t it be about the mystery of things? Does everything have to be so literal all the time? Can’t painting be a parallel to the mystery of life, the mystery of existence? Can you try to shoot for that? Is it worth trying to put on canvas?

Mark Grim is planning on getting a web site, but in the meantime you can reach him by phone (415)665-6352, or email him or visit the Soularch Gallery at 4033A Judah @ 46th Ave, San Francisco. (see below)

November 30, 2004 (Tuesday)
“Real Symbols for Virtual People”
paintings by Mark Grim
at Soularch Gallery
4033-A Judah @ 46th Ave.
Mon – Fri: 10am-5pm
Sat: 12-5pm

This little gallery is in my neighborhood, in fact I walk by it on my way to the beach. It’s one of those narrow, old-fashioned, little store front places with a window in the front and back. This one is between a Thai restaurant and a dog-washing outfit. It’s actually an architect’s office, but the office space only takes up the back third of the space, so the architect has kindly converted the front to a gallery.

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I first met Mark Grim a few months ago when he came to one of my shows. He said he painted in acrylics and he had studied with Robert Bechtle, although he wasn’t doing representational work any more. This show at Soularch was the first time I’d seen his work. Mark’s a fun painter to talk with, so I asked him if I could do an interview with him sometime, and I think we’re going to do that next month. Here’s a review of his previous show in this space.

Mark’s work is painterly, and very appealing (to my realist eyes.) It’s absolutely abstract, but I keep getting the sensation that I’m seeing something representational out of the corner of my eye… but then, when I focus on that area, whatever it was vanishes. I took a lot of photos, which I’ll post with the interview – (see top of page.)

Sachiko Nakamura Memorial Celebration

Saturday, Nov. 20, 2004
(Send in your stories and photos about Sachi’s memorial, to be posted in this space – email to Anna at

Saturday, November 20, 2004 –
A few hundred members of the San Francisco Bay Area artist community gathered to celebrate the life of Sachiko Nakamura: avant-garde dancer, choreographer, theater group founder, teacher and student of the performing arts. At her memorial celebration, everyone entering Project Artaud Theater was handed a piece of bubble wrap. At various times during the films, the snapping, crackling sound of audience participation drowned out the sound track.

An altar was set up in the theater lobby, and a gallery space next to the lobby held paintings of Sachi. Musicians Eth-Noh-Tec (Robert Kikuchi & Nancy Wang) and then Phil Deal performed on a small stage in gallery area for about 45 minutes before Phil, playing his bamboo flute, led everyone into the theater.

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The emcee, Avotcja let everyone know that this was not a funeral but a celebration of a life. She had us all shout “SHACHIKO NAKAMURA” three times to invoke Sachi’s spirit. Then the films began.

Benji Young did a great job finding, editing, and compiling the sequence of films from Sachi’s career. There was an hour’s worth of clips, including some of her very early works. As one person told me afterwards, “It’s hard to remember now, but people were much more conservative then (the 60’s.) Her work from that time still seems edgy, but it must have seemed completely insane to some people at the time.”
Fans of Sachi’s work, familiar with her jokes and favorite lines, still laughed in all the right places. Like the scene where Sachi, recounting the times she went to Japanese movies as a kid, imitates Toshiro Mifune as a samurai – snarling, stomping, scratching, and then addressing the audience, she says, “This is how we learn Japanese.”

Lydia Tanji, one of Sachi’s favorite costume designers said,”Sachi was, in essence, an avant-garde vaudevillian. I loved designing for Sach. She was always open to anything that caught her eye or ear, and her conceptual process was more sophisticated and intellectual than her comedic choreography let on.”

A Rough Timeline of Paint

A Rough Timeline of Paint, compiled from sources too numerous to mention:

30,000-10,000 B/C: Painting on mud and rock cave walls. Animal fat mixed with black and yellow manganese, red and yellow ocher and red clay with bone and charcoal soot black. A hollow reed was used to blow the pigment on the walls, and fingers were used to manipulate the pigment.

5000 – 3000 B/C: Painting on papyrus, wood, and stone. Potash glass frit was made with copper. This was a solid cyan pigment that could be mixed with wax, sandracca (sandarac), egg, casein or mastic, a color in direct competition with India’s indigo.

2700 B/C: Walls and paintings are done in either wax and ammonia, wax and mastic or lime fresco.

1500 B/C: Paint making as an art became quite widely established in Crete and Greece with the Egyptians passing their skills to the Romans.

1000 B/C: Development of paints and varnishes based on the gum of the acacia tree (better known today as gum arabic) had been developed.

500 B/C: Wax painting was common through out the civilized world. Umbers, ochers and blacks were readily obtainable. For bright blue, red, yellow and green, semi-precious stones (lapis lazuli, cinnabar, orpiment and malachite) had to be obtained. China was using alcohol based paint (lacquer.) It was the major medium from the Far East Coast to Mesopotamia. New colours were also discovered – the first was ‘Egyptian Blue’; ‘Naples Yellow’ also dates from around 500 BC.

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200 A/D: Vitruvius describes production of white lead and verdigris

547 A/D: Mosaics are incorporated in buildings, deep greens, gold, vermilion, blue’s with cobalt and lapis, whites of tin, blacks of iron and manganese. Greek and Byzantine changing from Late Antiquity to Early Middle Ages.

700 A/D: Egg tempera and gold leaf on illuminated manuscripts or wood panels.

1200 A/D: England was protecting wood with oil paint – this is the first noted use of linseed oil.

1400 A/D: Paintings were on leather and wood.

1500 A/D: Oil and tempera were combined on canvas. Easier ways were discovered to extract the intense warm blue of lapis lazuli (ultramarine). Cobalt blue glass offered a brilliant sky blue, though this had to be scattered on wet paint or varnish to get the full effect. Pigments like ‘Dutch Pink’ and ‘Crimson Lake’ derived from certain berries and tree barks, were discovered in the New World. Cochineal red (Carmine) was also discovered, produced by the Aztecs. Indigo was obtainable from dye works. The principal source of manmade white lead was Venice.

1600’s: The Dutch greatly increased availability of white lead. All white lead paints included chalk in their undercoats, reserving purer white lead for finish coats. Later in the century, ‘vermilion’, a manmade type of cinnabar, was developed, as was ‘King’s Yellow’, a manmade type of orpiment.

1700’s: The discovery of Prussian Blue provided a much needed intense deep blue, readily available after 1724. There was still no pigment resembling Spectrum Yellow and consequently no brilliant green other than that produced from arsenic. In 1778, a much less poisonous green was invented, ‘Scheele’s Green’. A break-through came in 1781 with Turner’s Patent Yellow, though this still required varnish to preserve the colour.

1818: Discovery of water-resistant Chrome Yellow. Heating it produced ‘Chinese Red’ – the basis of Pillar Box Red. Mixtures of Prussian Blue and Chrome Yellow produced the well-known ‘Brunswick Greens’. ‘Cerulean’, an aquamarine blue, and Gmelin’s manmade ultramarine were discovered between 1821 and 1840, as was Alazarin Crimson.

1829 – Cadmium colors were introduced in oil paints.

1840 – Oil paints became available in lead tubes. Boar hair and red sable brushes and pre-stretched canvases and paint in tubes were now pre-made and available in art stores throughout Paris.

1856 – The first real synthetic dye was discovered by Henry Perkins – it was a violet.

1870 – Using cast-iron paint mills and zinc-based pigments, industrialists produced the first washable paint marketed as ‘Charlton White’. They also produced emulsions based on similar formulae, marketed as ‘oil bound distempers’.

1880 – The new paints were readily available in tins, in a wide range of colours, and came to be exported all over the World.

1900 – Synthetic (acrylic) paints were born in Germany.

1946 – Acrylic paints were made by Sam Golden (at Bocour, in New York) for Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Roy Lichtenstein and other professional artists.

1955 – The first commercially available water-based acrylic paint was developed by Liquitex (“liquid texture”). Encaustic revival was led by Jasper Johns.

1970 – First machine for testing lightfastness of paint was developed. Oil paint in stick form became commercially available.

Anything I should add? Email it to me.

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December 14, 2004 (Tuesday)
While poking around in one of the local used book stores, I found an uncorrected galley proof of an interesting new book – “In Passionate Pursuit” by art historian Alessandra Comini(published by George Braziller, 2004, ISBN 0-8076-1523-4.)
It’s a slim book, 219 pages, with just a few, low quality, black and white photos. The author began life as a refugee from Franco’s Spain, then Mussolini’s Italy, landing in Texas for her school years, but traveling the world during her college years and ever since, as a musician and an art scholar. She’s had an adventurous and art-filled life, but the most interesting part of the book is very beginning, when she writes about discovering Egon Schiele’sAustrian prison cell. Schiele spent three and a half weeks there in 1912 for painting “immoral” works. But while he was there, he did another 13 watercolors and copious pencil sketches. He drew himself, his cell, and the hall outside his damp basement quarters. In 1963, when Ms. Comini sneaked into the Neulengbach courthouse and then downstairs to the old prison, it was not the Egon Schiele Museum. In fact, the basement was being used to store government papers, and firewood. She was easily able to recognize Schiele’s cell because she was so familiar with his work from this period. Apparently the place hadn’t changed much. About ten years later, she published a book (Schiele In Prison) about Schiele’s prison diary and paintings, and finally ten years after that, in 1983, Neulengbach turned the cell into a little museum. The photo reproductions in my copy were pretty poor, but here’s a scan of page 21 from Comini’s “In Passionate Pursuit”, showing a couple of Schiele’s sketches and the corresponding photos:

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December 13, 2004 (Monday)

It’s the dark time of the year. The days are short and the new moon was the night before last. It’s harder to paint this time of year. But it’s a good time for conjuring new projects. And finishing or burning the old ones…. maybe a little fresh air and sunshine would help.
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December 10, 2004 (Friday)
A few days ago, I mentioned Mark Grim’s show at the Soularch Gallery. I finally got a chance to interview him yesterday. We met at the Corner Cup coffee shop, and were already talking before I dug out my tape recorder. We finished the interview down at his studio, a few blocks from the ocean, in the outer Sunset district. I put the full interview on its own page, because it was too big for this page (at least on dial-up.) A few quotes are below, the rest is here.

I see the term “abstract” as exclusive. It doesn’t really encompass what I’m interested in. It doesn’t really tell people anything about what you do. It almost sounds adversarial in terms of realism, and I don’t buy that. To me, all the kinds of mark-making, building surface, creating light, comes from my experience of painting realistically. Yet, I’m interested in applying that to other things. Taking all of those ways of creating surface, form and depth and explore with it, from the subconscious.

One of the things about painting now, is that color has fallen out of favor. A lot of the art magazines devalue it these days. It’s a fashion thing. Obviously I like color, but it’s just an aspect of my work. I do like “sweet and sour” color combinations. I don’t mind if a painting’s little bit over the top, a little out there, in terms of saturation, as long as it works, as long as it’s cohesive.

I question why it always has to be about beauty. In northern California, there’s a huge emphasis on beauty, because of the wealth here. It comes from the French school, mostly. Germanic painting, for example, which is like reading Tolstoy or something, is about the horrors and trials of hard life. It’s not accepted here because people are so full of their beauty… but I think it’s OK to do things that are ungainly and strange. Pull it back from the brink and try to make something of it. My motto is, “Clash the particles, then go in and edit the debris.”
San Francisco painter, Mark Grim – full interview HERE

December 9, 2004 (Thursday)
A friend of mine, an abstract painter, told me I should see the John McCormick show at the Elins Eagles-smith Gallery. So I did. The work is nice, it’s good, but it doesn’t excite me all that much. Lots of very attractive landscapes in warm, glowing colors. Very painterly – actually, this work is more abstract than you’d realize from the reproductions. They’re obviously imaginary landscapes, but inspired by the local (SF Bay area) scenery. A few of them (including this one at left – “Lands End”, 36″ x 36″) had some odd little collage elements along the bottom of the canvas. I was having trouble making sense of these, until the gallery owner said that they were pages from a book on rivers & water flow. Which is interesting but doesn’t seem to contribute anything to the image visually. While looking up info on the artist, I came across a fun web site that documents tours of artists studios(including John McCormick’s studio.)
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December 8, 2004 (Wednesday)
I headed downtown yesterday, in the break between rainstorms, to the Cartoon Art Museum to see “Contemporary Literary Comics: Selections from McSweeney’s #13”. It’s a group show which “showcases 25 of the most progressive and provocative talents in modern comics.” The show is up through May 22, 2005, and I highly recommend it, especially if you like works on paper, ink drawing, and of course, comics. I’m not sure which came first, here – the show or the book. They’re both terrific, and each stands on its own, but I consider myself lucky to live near enough to visit the exhibit before, during and after reading the book.

Most of the art in the exhibit is reproduced in the book, plus the book is a work of art in itself. The first thing I noticed on entering the gallery was a few big panels by Chris Ware(guest editor for this issue of McSweeny’s.) With his teeny, tiny (hand-drawn) text, I was wondering how this work could possibly be reduced to a size small enough to publish in the 6.5″ x 9.5″ book pages. I got the answer later in the museum bookstore: they published these panels on papers the size of the Sunday funnies, then folded them make jacket cover for the book. Tucked inside was two little chapbooks – “King-Cat” by John Porcellinoand “Girls Against Pain” by Ronald J. Rege, Jr. This could be considered gilding the lily, as the book is the one of the most beautifully designed and crafted books I’ve seen. The gilded binding, the illustrated covers, the comic design end papers with book plate; the smooth thick pages; the sharp, high quality color reproduction…. OK, OK, I like books and this is a beauty, but back to the exhibit…

I’m always impressed by the talent of the cartoonists at this museum. And I’m talking about control of the materials (mostly ink, pencil, watercolor.) When reading the strips in published form, I tend to focus primarily on the story, but when I’m standing in front of the originals, it’s the line and the wash that grab my attention. This the work of people who have put in many, many hours/days/years at their craft and the results are awe-inspiring. And then I think, besides the drawing, they have to come up with a decent story!

This museum always has some historical works to give a little context to the current show. The book covers some of this territory as well. 264 pages… almost all of them illustrations! I give up – I’m have to go make a cup of tea and start reading this….
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December 7, 2004 (Tuesday)
This argument has legs.
The magazine, “Physics Today,” ran a little story about the Hockney-inspired debate over optics in early art.

Walter Liedtke, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, says”for the vast majority of art history, it’s a footnote. These questions are irrelevant, trivial, for art historians.” Moreover, he adds, the optics claims “depend on very narrow measurements. It all seems so unnecessary. By the time an artist had it all set up, he could have knocked it off freehand. [The optics claims] underestimate the skill of the artists.” Referring to a 1420s painting by Robert Campin, for which Hockney and Falco claim optical aids were used in painting latticework on the back of a bench, he adds, “Why don’t they step back and think, Why is the bench there anyway? An artist would say it makes a framing device for an important head. Can’t people just appreciate the painting?”
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December 6, 2004 (Monday)
Death in Art
How do other artists portray death? I’ve been thinking about this lately, as I prepare for my next series of paintings (working title, “Lady in Red.”) Since death is not a physical object, but a state of being, or transition, it can present a challenge to visual artists.

(Image at left: detail of “The Triumph of Death” by Peter Brueghel, 1562; image at right, above: “Cancelled Mask” by Robert Arneson, 1992)

As I’ve been looking at paintings, prints, photos and sculpture, I’ve noticed that a very high percentage of work, especially Western art, deals with death indirectly, by focusing on the circumstances that result in death (crucifixion, war, illness or murder – for instance, Goya’s “Disasters of War” – image at right.) Or the artist focuses on the literal image of the corpse and/or mourners.

In “The Dutch Funeral”(1872, at right) Petrus van der Velden uses strong contrast of black and white and the huddling of figures against an inhospitable environment to emphasize the sense of drama, loss and helplessness against the inevitability of death.

Betty La Duke’s “Long Night’s Journey” (1973, below left) is an image of cremated remains entering the Ganges River, which is already flowing with other souls.

Romaine Brooks, in “Sorrow of Rebirth” (1930, right)also focuses on the the soul after death (and before rebirth.)

Images of heaven, hell, or restless ghosts are another popular way to indirectly depict death. And then there are a few cultures that personify death (the grim reaper, dancing skeletons, or the dark aspects of various gods.)

“Kali” by Anna L. Conti (1996, left); “Death and the Peasant” by Romaine Brooks, (1930, right); Dora Carrington’s, “letter drawing” (1917, below)

Some artists make death the primary focus of their work.

“Me, My Bones, and My Roses,” (2001, left) by Anita Rodriguez, who says:

“Someone who is afraid of death will also be afraid of life. My paintings are about life. My characters are very much alive. They are dancing, making love, driving around in their lowriders, eating, getting married. The image of death in these settings makes the life I paint more pungent, poignant, more precious.”
From the show catalog 2002, Roswell Museum and Art Center

Symbolic hints that death is in the vicinity have included skulls, vultures, owls, crows, tombs, ships, concentric circles, shells, empty bowls, or caves.

“The Swimmer”(1991, left) by John Register, who wrote, after years of struggling with cancer, “Blake did a painting of what you were to see when you died. This is something that interests me. The ocean is the primordial ooze from which we ascended. For my version of the death experience I have man returning to the ocean ooze and heading towards the beautiful light.” from the book, “John Register, Persistent Observer,” by Barnaby Conrad III ©1998, San Jose Museum of Art, ISBN 0-942627-50-4

More subtle references to death are images of fall or winter (Charles Burchfield’s “Sunlight in Forest” at left and “Springtime in the Pool” at right), cut flowers, and cyclical images that give equal weight to death and rebirth (such as concentric circles, wheels, and fertile women.) Death has also been equated with time, fate, and sex.

Kathe Kollwitz’s, “Death and Woman” (1910, left)

Masami Teraoka’s “Geisha and AIDS Nightmare” (1990, right)

Contemporary allusions to death still tend to focus on war and disease. Besides the war du jour, AIDS and cancer treatment have been showing up as vehicles for artists to deal with mortality. (At left: Robert Arneson’s “Chemo I”,1992.)

Local culture provides a visual language which the artist can use as a a starting point, but I tend to think that the artist’s personal experience with death will force them to search out and use the visual language that best suits their purpose. Are they preoccupied with the agent of death, with the moment of transition, or with what happens afterwards?

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December 4, 2004 (Weekend)
On November 29th, while waiting for the bus, a sticker on a lamp-post caught my eye – it said, “buy toasty, fun, affordable art online!” I came home and looked it up… and surprise – it’s a guy I know, Steve Dehlinger. So I asked him about his new art promotion…
(art work by Steve Dehlinger)
ALC: I just saw one of your art toaster stickers, and took a look at the site – and it looks like a great marketing plan….What inspired you to do this?

SD: I felt like I was not getting my foot in many art gallery doors, and when I did, they weren’t as professional as I imagined. Perhaps they were either too new as a gallery or are a “lower tier” gallery compared with the big names downtown.  Showing with Sunset Artists has been good, but the show sales vary widely. Open Studios, though, has been a shining example of consistent sales growth year after year. This pattern led me to realize that my best bet may be selling straight to the public. So, I decided, in September, to create a catchy, easy-to-remember web address like , since my name may be hard to remember the correct spelling of at  I wanted to make it a simple to maintain storefront for my paintings and imprinted promotional items. The idea was an affordable art store online with price categories to fit different budgets. I also chose to publicize it cheaply such as with stickers used in a “guerilla/underground” style by putting them up where people naturally paused and looked around in their normal lives in The City; and free or cheap ads in local papers and online.
Oh, and wearing the logo everywhere I go !

ALC: How long have you been using this new marketing plan?

SD: I’ve just started ramping up during November 2004. Stickers now, with ads coming over the next several months.

ALC: Is it working?

SD: I’ve heard from a few people that they’ve seen the visual promos (stickers,shirts) and like the logos/catch-phrase: “Buy toasty, fun, affordable art online!”

ALC: Would you advise other artists to try this, or do you think it works better with certain kinds of work and not others?

SD: It does depend on an artist’s style or media, but varying the approach slightly and fitting the style of promotion to the artist’s persona and image should make it viable for most artists, I think. I’m using a Paypal “click and buy now” type of setup that is simple HTML that I feel comfortable maintaining from anywhere, but others may prefer to sell original art in their studios and may only sell prints/posters this way. Others may setup a more complex storefront. I have seen many artists use Ebay to sell their own work, while others use online galleries to sell for them. It all depends on the technology they prefer to use or maintain. I don’t see a high percentage of bidding happening on Ebay, so I decided to not pursue that space early on. Since domains are so cheap to register these days and there are a large number of free or cheap web hosts available, my method made sense for me to try right now.

ALC: Good luck – the timing is certainly right (holiday shopping, etc.)

SD: Thanks, I’ll keep you posted after the ads are all out  for  and a bit of time has passed.

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December 3, 2004 (Friday)

Yesterday I received this email from a photographer I know:

Hey Y’all, can you believe the audacity of this snake of a soul praying on us foolish, gullible, brain dead artists?

I would love to sell them SOMETHING.


——– Original Message ——–
From: “nicole fraser” <>
Date: Thu, December 02, 2004 12:46 am
To: ……………











YALLA  FREE Internet Number inside Egypt : 0777 4444
Visit YALLA Site

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December 2, 2004 (Thursday)
The November issue of local magazine, “7×7 SF” has an article called, “Art Addicts Anonymous – Four Urban Collectors Confess Their Compulsion for Canvas,” written by Chloe Harris with photos by Chris Mitchell.

“The Modernist,” Yuri Psinakis, has nearly 200 pieces in his SoMa loft.

“Psinakis’ quest for personally meaningful art has resulted in an avant-garde collection of intrepid works. Vintage pieces, like a Japanese painting, picked up at a flea market, cohabit with an easily recognizable Yositomo Nara. Opposite a hanging sculpture made of oxidized computer monitors, an enormous sketch of a woman masturbating dominates the living room wall.”
From the November issue of 7x7SF

“The Romantic,” Lisa Mummert, is filling her China Basin loft with commissions (a mural and a portrait) and big graphical works by David DeRosa and Shepard Fairey.

“Great art does amazing things for the social atmosphere of a person’s home, “Mummert says. It stimulates the mind.”
From the November issue of 7x7SF

“The Rebel,” Lee Gregory, has been collecting since junior high, and has filled her Lone Mountain apartment with an eclectic mix of well-known and unknown artists.

“She only buys ‘what talks too me’ – like a vibrant red cross composed entirely of red glitter by Marin native Micol Hebron, and a toilet paper roll made of rationed toothpaste tubes by Cuban artist Rene Francisco Rodriguez.”
From the November issue of 7x7SF

“The Hipster,” Steve Brindmore, calls himself “an art pack rat” and a compulsive collector of emerging art.

“A black and white John Meyer diptych shares wall space with works on paper by Jim Gaylord, and the more serious art – such as a Cravaggio-inspired painting by Odd Nerdrum – seems strangely at home next to a $25 collage , which Brindmore spotted on the walls of Boogaloos while having breakfast.”
From the November issue of 7x7SF

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December 1, 2004 (Wednesday)
J.T. Kirkland at Thinking About Art runs short essays from artists – mine is today. Kirkland asked me to write about “community” and what it means in my art. He’s still accepting submissions – click here if you’re an artist and you’re interested in participating.

From DC Art News, an open letter from artist and art critic J. W. Mahoney about Art-O-Matic (an unjuried art event similar to San Francisco’s Open Studios.):

What final virtue exists in a circus like Art-o-matic? Art is made in order to make concrete the deep abstraction that is the self. Each artist here, regardless of the depths of their relation to the discourse of art history, has a story and a unique identity that emerges on these walls. In enormous vulnerability. To be able to stand alongside the occasionally talentless courage, manic generosity, and raw eccentricity of my fellow artists is a real honor. Because what art is about isn’t safe.”

Iconoduel discusses death as a career move for artists (example Ed Paschke):

On the positive side, I suppose it’s an ultimate sign of relevance when news outlets use your death as an opportunity to speculate coldly on its material benefits. Ed, you’ve arrived: transcending death in the late-capitalist mode.

“Committed abstractionists are finding themselves irresistibly drawn to the figure,” according to Deidre Stein Greben at ARTnews Online :

Philip Guston began by working in his rough, cartoonish style in the evenings, while continuing in his abstract mode by day, according to art historian Martin Hentschel. …

Less known is that Dan Flavin, who never actually abandoned abstraction, indulged a passion for the Hudson River School, painting and drawing landscapes and sailing pictures while making his neon sculptures. …

Today, deciding to paint figuratively or abstractly, artists and curators agree, is no longer considered a problem. ‘My own sense is that it is now a false distinction,’ says Robert Rosenblum, a professor at New York University and a curator at the Guggenheim. Rosenblum singles out Gerhard Richter, an artist who has oscillated between realism and abstraction since the mid-1980s, as having made that abundantly clear. ‘The issue is why paint at allversus whether what you paint is representational or not,’ adds Ferguson. ‘If you are going to paint, paint what you want.’ “

Sachiko Nakamura

My good friend Sachi died a week ago, here in my home. She was a creative, life-generating force in this community, and a good friend to (literally) hundreds of people. I was lucky she agreed to spend her last ten days with me. Eight of those days were an almost continuous party, with live music, poetry readings, laughter and and unbelievable amount of food.

Sachiko’s art form was performance, but she was a boundary-crosser in the finest tradition of the trickster. She had her fingers in so many pies, that I don’t think there’s a single one of us who knows about them all. I know she was involved in the civil rights movement in the 60’s and met Malcolm X. She was an inspirational feminist at San Jose State in the early 70’s, and was active in the Peace movement. She combined elements of Japanese Noh, Butoh, and American solo performance theater to come up with her own art form – Asian American Dance Theater. She founded theater groups, taught dance classes, danced the hula, played the ukulele, practiced Chinese brush painting, taught grade school music classes and college level drama classes, and was a proud, active member of San Francisco’s first (and longest running) artist live-work collective, Project Artaud. There will be more Sachi stories at her memorial celebration, 1pm – 4pm on Saturday, November 20, 2004 at Project Artaud Theater.

Some of the characteristics of foreign exchange market that are main are:

  • Membership for exchanges: The below list of securities platforms have membership classified as:
  1. Specialists: These are the people who make the market for stocks as well as control the book where limit is mentioned. They also do the posting of the bidding and ask prices.
  2. Commission Brokers: The people who work in the firm who are also members of the exchange are known as commission brokers. The work of these people is buying and selling the shares of that firm’s clients they work for.
  3. Floor Brokers: Commission brokers and floor brokers have one thing in common, that is, both buy and sell shares. But one difference they have is that commission brokers are the employees of that company whereas, floor brokers work independently and provide assistance to commission brokers when they are very busy.
  4. Registered Traders: Buying and selling of shares is done by registered traders who are members who do so for their personal account. Liquidity is offered by them. Qprofit System is a software for buying and selling in forex market.

Driving force behind the new deYoung Museum

Carol Lloyd wrote about the driving force behind the new deYoung Museum building – San Francisco citizen, Dede Wilsey.The museum is most commonly known as de Young. This is museum for fine arts which is situated in Gate Park which is in San Francisco. This is one among the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco and the other one is Legion of Honor. It is named after its founder, M. H. de Young. Crypto Code also was named after cryptocurrency. The project has been financed with $165 million of private donations. She asks the question, “Does the public lose anything when public institutions become wholly dependent on private donors?” and museum director Harry Parker answers that an institution needs both:

“When you get a balance, you have the good qualities of both,” he says. “Private funding tends to be opportunistic and entrepreneurial; public funding is more cautious and stable. But public money is slow as molasses.”

Lloyd also tells us a little more about the Gerhard Richter mural (mentioned earlier in this space):

When Wilsey gave the money for Wilsey Court, the vaulted-ceilinged central gathering place at the de Young, she wanted to also donate the art that would adorn the enormous wall. “If I gave the art, I could make sure it wouldn’t be too ugly,” she explains. In the end, she chose to commission a piece by Gerhard Richter, an artist whose more traditional work appeals to her but whose more challenging pieces remain, well, challenging. “We really hit it off,” recalls Wilsey of her trip to Cologne to visit the celebrated artist. “It’s mostly black and white, but there was some color, and I love color. My favorite colors are pink and green. I said, ‘I see lavender, and I see green.'” The painting, which is based on blown-up images of atoms, reminded her of the large pearls she was wearing. “And he said, ‘It’s a self-portrait.’ And I said, ‘OK. I’ll buy the thing.'”

Lloyd’s full story is entertaining and informative – read it at SFGate

– – –

The cool project I mentioned yesterday? I’m interviewing Open Studios artists. I’ll pick artists from around the city, most of whom I’ve never met (I’ll let you know when I’m interviewing friends) and I’ll attempt to choose artists of different styles, but I’m focusing on painting. I wish I’d thought of this earlier, so I could have gotten a head start on it – ideally, I would post the interview the week before the individual artist has the open studio event. But I may not be able to get any completed before this coming weekend. Next year I’ll be more organized. I’m contacting artists now, and I’ll let you know more soon.
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September 28, 2004 (Tuesday)
I started this blog almost one year ago, on October 4, 2003. It’s been a successful experiment for me. It’s kept me writing every day, and thinking more in words (not at the expense of thinking in pictures, but in addition to thinking in pictures.) I wonder though, what do you the reader get out of it? Here’s your chance to weigh in, anonymously, with your opinion about this blog (and others.) This online survey was constructed by a small group of art bloggers in an effort to find out what art blog readers are looking for, and if we’re providing it. It’s not particularly personal, and it only takes a few minutes: CLICK HERE for Art Blog Survey
The survey will be online through October 11, 2004. I’ll post a few of the more interesting findings when the survey is complete. For more info go to: Todd Gibson at From the Floor.
In response to Rachel’s question, I’m going to pass on choosing the “best” painterly excerpt from a work of fiction. Instead, I’ll quote a couple of works that have been making painting images in my head for many months now. I’m planning on looking for models as soon as Open Studios is over and starting the paintings in November:

“Now what, Lady?”
“I’m leaving you with the Red Sparrow. You’re in good hands. Goodbye, Belane, it’s been fun.”
“Yeah . . .”
And there I was with that gigantic glowing bird. It stood there.
This can’t be true, I thought. This isn’t the way it is supposed to happen. No, this isn’t the way it is supposed to happen.
Then, as I watched, the Sparrow slowly opened its beak. A huge void appeared. And within the beak was a vast yellow vortex, more dynamic than the sun, unbelievable.
This isn’t the way it happens, I thought again.
The beak opened wide, the Sparrow’s head moved closer and the blaze and the blare of yellow swept over and enveloped me.
-the last few lines of Charles Bukowski’s “Pulp”

I looked up and there it was
among the green branches of the pitchpines –
thick bird,
a ruffle of fire trailing over the shoulders and down the back –
color of copper, iron, bronze –
lighting up the dark branches of the pine.
What misery to be afraid of death.
What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.
When I made a little sound
it looked at me, then it looked past me.
Then it rose, the wings enormous and opulent,
and, as I said, wreathed in fire.
– Mary Oliver’s “I Looked up”

And finally, I finished that painting that has been giving me so much trouble for the last two months. Took it down to Almac this morning:

Don Felton of Almac Camera , doing what he does best.
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September 27, 2004 (Monday)
I saw Cosi fan tutte this weekend, at the San Francisco Opera. It was a beautiful, funny, thoroughly engaging performance. It reminded me of a Marx Brother’s movie, with better music. The stage setting was a Mediterranean resort town around the time of the first world war. It was Claudia Mahnke’s resemblance, as Dorabella, to a young Lucille Ball, that first made me think of the Marx Brothers. Frederica von Stade stole the show as the scheming maid, Despina. This role is usually played as a young airhead, but von Stade’s Despina is a crafty, mature woman who knows more than she lets on.

Alexandra Deshorties, as Dorabella’s sister Fiordiligi, did a terrific job with her aria, Come Scoglio, in spite of the fact that her dress had ripped open in the back, from waist to neck. She kept her composure and managed to move about the stage without turning, and without losing the dress entirely. She was off stage for only a few minutes before the next scene – the hilarious mock-death of the soldiers. The two sisters came out with Red Cross aprons over their dresses, which allowed the audience to forget about Deshorties’ costume and focus on von Stade’s performance as the wacky military doctor with a wild electric revival procedure which brings the men back to life.

The orchestra was small, but sufficient, and I was close enough to watch the bass players line up some little red candies along the sheet music stand. Then, during a lull in their section, they would lean forward, pop a piece in their mouth, and chew furiously. One of the viola players seemed to be having a problem with his bow, and the string players next to him examined it, with one of them exchanging hers for his. Before the second act, I could see down the stairs under the stage, to the hallway that the orchestra uses. The conductor, Michael Gielen (who also played harpsichord during the performance) stood down there waiting for his entrance cue, reading a typical employee bulletin board which was papered with a mix of official notices and ragged clippings.

It got me to thinking about how so much of the art world is a parallel working-class universe. The general public has no clue how much they have in common with artists.
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September 25, 2004 (Weekend)
I’m still struggling with that painting that was giving me trouble on Tuesday. It has to be finished this weekend if I’m going to enter it in the Open Studios show. I got some advice from a friend, painter Dale Erickson. He helped me see a few things I was missing, so here’s hoping… I can certainly empathize with Elise Tomlinson’s feeling of being a half hour from disaster.

D.C. apparently has an event similar to our Open Studios. It’s a city-wide, unjuried art event, called “Art-O-Matic.” Lenny Campello at DC Art News defends the event this way:

“I am also rather sick and tired of the way (because of its size, energy and open attitude towards hanging any and all artwork as long as the artist is willing to help run the show) that it gets bashed by some in the lamestream media, the alternative media and even the BLOGosphere… they miss the key ingredient that the event adds to our cultural tapestry: an incredible amount of artistic energy and a vast amount of attention to the visual arts. Anytime that you get over 1,000 artists to organize something of this magnitude, the footprint and its impact will be vast.”
rest of the post here

And what about the impact of artists working in art supply stores? (Thursday’s entry.) Rachael Balduffington worked in an art store, too. She’s wondering if the experience changed our work. In my case, not really. I did experiment with materials quite a bit, but eventually went back to my main thing: acrylic on canvas, representational style. She also mentioned the attitude so prevalent in art store staff in urban areas. Small town art stores tend to have a friendlier vibe. Why is that? I don’t know, but it’s one of the reasons I buy most of my supplies by mail.

Carolyn Zick at Studio Notebook has been visiting San Francisco. She didn’t mention any art supply stores, but she checked out SFMOMA, Yerba Buena Center, and the Shooting Gallery. At City Lights bookstore she picked up some local art publications and quotes Ann Hatch of the Capp Street Project:

“And the museums are really sort of hollow places….in the Bay Area it just seems we have these massive, beautiful buildings and these multi-million dollar budgets and its not working for the full spectrum of people. It’s kind of a self-aggrandizing club of folks that go to museums. It needs to be much more inviting to kids, and has to be more meaningful for them.”

On the other hand, Charles Downey at ionarts reports on a lecture by New Yorker art writer, Peter Schjeldahl. (Marja-Leena Rathje points to this post as well.) Schjeldahl disagrees with Ann Hatch’s idea of making the museums more inviting for kids:

“One of Schjeldahl’s major points on the topic he chose (“What Art Is For Now”) was that the snob appeal of art is one of the “underestimated engines of culture,” that for now he has “no desire to swell the size of the tent” of those who love art. In his view, there is no reason to bring art to the masses. Those who want it will find it, and “if somebody doesn’t want art, bully for them.” However, as Schjeldahl also noted, the audience for art worldwide may be larger now than it ever has been, and the art market is a booming business. ”
Read the full report here – highly recommended.

September 24, 2004 (Friday)
A week or so ago, a reporter from MSNBC called to interview me about eBay and art fraud. We had an interesting talk and then I immediately forgot about it. Besides finishing the paintings and otherwise getting ready for a show in three weeks, I’ve been spending every free moment helping a seriously ill friend. A few days ago, there was a huge spike in traffic to my web site. At first I thought it was related to the Open Studios catalog listing, but the weird part was, most of the hits were from google searches of the phrase, “artist anna conti.” Eventually it dawned on me that a news story somewhere must have used that phrase. I found the story (eBay fights its toughest legal battle – Tiffany lawsuit puts ‘hands off’ approach to the test) and reporter Bob Sullivan got it all right. I’m definitely rooting for Tiffany to succeed where so many others have tried and failed – to make eBay take more responsibility for the Black Market they promote and profit from. See Also: MSNBC’s section on “Online Auctions – Fads, Scams, and Temptations.” And reader Monica Lopetegui pointed me to a new online sales site that avoids some of the eBay problems:

September 23, 2004 (Thursday)
The New York Times ran a story yesterday about artists working in an art supply store.
I used to work in an art store, too. It was a little like this one. Staffed by artists, it was a big place, with an inconceivable number of weird, hard to find items. Unfortunately it was often hard to find the normal everyday items in the chaos of this place. Each department was supervised (ruled) by an artist with a specialty in that field. They each had an idiosyncratic organizational scheme and supervisory style. As you wandered from drawing to painting to sculpting to crafts, it felt like you were crossing international boundaries. The management attempted to place employees in the department where they had the most knowlege – I was in the painting department. This was a pretty good deal as an employee. We got free samples from the product reps, got to try out the new product lines before they hit the shelves, and spent a lot of time standing around talking to people about painting. I’m less sure if it was good deal for customers. We didn’t know diddly about sales. Sometimes a beginning hobby painter would come in and ask something like, “What’s better, acrylic or oils?” Depending on who they were talking to, they might get an anti-acrylic diatribe, a lecture on the history of painting, or an eye-rolling bum’s rush toward the watercolors. We did, however, know the product – if someone asked about the difference between Cad Red and Pyrrole Red, they’d get an accurate (if not always coherent) answer. Eventually the downside of working retail got to me – the crazy, cranky customers who would roll into view, pulling box cars full of entitlement, screech and hiss for a while, then chug away, leaving us in a cloud of hot steam.

September 22, 2004 (Wednesday)
The 29th annual San Francisco Open Studios catalog is out. It’s FREE! You can pick it up at cafes, bookstores and museum shops throughout the Bay Area or at the ArtSpan gallery at 934 Brannan Street, SF. (It’s also available for $5 via mail – to order, call 415-861-9838 or e-mail It’s a big, tabloid-size (10″ x 14″) glossy paper, full color beauty. Approximately 900 artists will hold studio shows during this event; about 600 of them are in the catalog, and about 500 have a piece at the Artspan gallery. There’s a huge range of artists in this event, from people who just picked up a brush last year to artists who are nationally known. I’ll be showing with some friends at Ft. Mason, on the third weekend (Oct. 16th and 17th.)

Here are some interesting stats from page 11 of the catalog:

California’s rank in number of arts-related businesses, among 50 U.S. states: 1st.
California’s rank in per-capita arts spending, among 50 U.S. states: 50th.
San Francisco’s rank in per-capita support to the non-profit arts, among U.S. cities: 1st.
Percent increase in the number of works in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s collection over the past decade: 100 percent.
Percent by which the California Arts Council’s budget was decreased in 2004: 94 percent.
Amount in state funding now budgeted to the council: $1 million.
Estimated amount nonprofit arts add to the California economy annually: $5.4 billion.
Amount nonprofit arts generate in state and local taxes: $300 million.
Percent change in revenue generated from nonprofit art taxes since 1994: +279 percent.
Minimum number of California jobs supported by nonprofit arts: 160,000.
Percent change in arts and cultural organization worker income since 1994: +89 percent.
Percent change in arts and cultural organization admissions and on-site sales since 1994: +141 percent.
September 21, 2004 (Tuesday)

Proof of an unquiet mind? This painting is taking way longer than usual. The weird transition from cool to warm light is giving me problems. It’s one of those cases where how it really looked is too strange to be believable. So I keep toning it down, then feeling disappointed in the result, jack it up again. It’s starting to feel like a hamster wheel. I worked straight through the evening and didn’t make it to the art event. If I can’t finish it tomorrow, I’m putting it aside and grabbing one of the other canvases – something I can finish this week. This makes mush of my brain… at least the part that’s responsible for language… so, nothing too interesting to say today (sorry.)

September 20, 2004 (Monday)
This is the last week to finish up my paintings, etc before Open Studios month. I have an appointment at Almac next week and then need to work on the other aspects of the show. Tonight is the big artists shin-dig down at Pier 28, so as soon as I get this stuff uploaded, I have to buckle down and get enough painting done to justify taking the evening off.

I was talking to a painter who showed this past weekend at the Marin Art Festival – he said there were about 120 booths and only 16 of them were painting. The rest were crafts. He came to the same conclusion I came to several years ago – forget those outdoor festivals – they’re not the place to sell original paintings, unless the paintings are small, cheap, and cute.

I went to the Cliff House reopening recently – lots of work still to do, but it’s looking good. They reinstalled those ceramic ladies in the stairwell area (see left.) Great views, good food, but not much art… some old photos, reproduction posters, and original swimsuits from Sutro Baths:

September 18, 2004 (weekend)
I saw this street art on a construction barricade on Post Street, near Grant:

At “Thinking about Art” J.T. Kirkland gave space to artist James W. Bailey for a very, very long essay about… well, mostly about the state of the contemporary art world. I don’t usually read 3,500-word blog entries, but this one held my interest all the way through.

Here’s a quote from James W. Bailey:
“The modern art system is one with a historic parallel. Being from Mississippi, I know all about the share-cropping system. My mother who holds every educational degree under the sun was raised on a sharecropping plantation. What exists today in the art world, especially in this country, is an art version of the post-Civil War Mississippi Delta plantation. The plantation owners are the so-called leading art museums. The plantation foremen are the museum curators. The sharecroppers are the emerging artists. What you have to do as an artist sharecropper, and as a human being, to elevate your self through the plantation system to artistic independence, to that coveted position of celebrated international artist superstar, is almost unspeakable. Selling out doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The results for this country are horrible. The average American is absolutely alienated from contemporary art. They are alienated because they have been treated with contempt by the modern art establishment. The thinking that prevails in New York is that the average American is a cultural idiot who is too unsophisticated to understand the secret language of modern art. Therefore, considering how stupid they are, it would be an incredible waste of our valuable time and resources to share our wealth of secret knowledge with them to help them understand what they don’t know and will never appreciate.”
– – James W. Bailey – full text here

September 17, 2004 (Friday)

A conversation with artists David Holmes (above left) and Larry Morace (above right) at the Newmark Gallery on Wednesday, September 15, 2004. (David and Larry are standing in front of one of Larry’s night scenes.)

Gallery owner, Mark Wladika (in red shirt at right) introduced these two very different photo-based painters, by noting that as he watches gallery visitors review work by these two artists, he is struck by the fact that most people express a strong preference for one or the other, but only the rare “elite viewer” appreciates them both.

Recently someone asked me if I made a distinction (on my “About Realism” page) between photo-based realists and observational realists. I would add self-generated realism to that mix, but the answer is no, I think those kinds of categories are interesting for artists and art academics to chew over, but not particularly useful for viewers in enjoying the art. David and Larry both paint from photographs while another Newmark Gallery artist, Mary Proenza paints from observation. David and Larry’s work is more different from each other than either of them are different from Mary. I guess by Mark’s standards I’d be considered an elite viewer, because I like the work of all three of them.

What follows is my effort (with pencil and notepad) to record as much as possible of the rather freewheeling conversation:

DH – I’ll start out by saying what I like about Larry’s work. I’m somewhat jealous of Larry’s expressionist, emotional style. I like the sense of space in his work… let me show you (he shows us a print of Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day” – at left.) I painted an homage to Caillebotte’s “Paris” in this painting (“Mission Street” ©2002, Acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 36″, see below right.) I tried to create that same sense of space, muted colors…

LM – When I paint, it’s an unconscious process, but David has to think.

DH – The danger (with my style) is in getting stale – sometimes I need to get away from it.

LM – When I was very young I saw Caillebotte’s ” Paris” at the Chicago Art Institute. It was one of the first quality works of art I remember seeing. I was very nearsighted as a child and literally saw the world as a blurry place. I was initially attracted to impressionist paintings – they seemed completely realistic to me. But when I tried to paint like that, with those little brushes, I just got lost in small areas of the painting. It was discouraging. Then one day I saw how Bischoff used these huge brushes… I tried it and it was a real breakthrough for me. I work the whole canvas at once. That’s why it’s hard for me to paint a work larger than I can reach.

DH – Does your eyesight still affect the way you paint?

LM – Well, I don’t have an excuse anymore (pointing to his glasses.)

DH – Do you wear them when you paint?

LM – Sometimes… depends… first I look for overall shape, then I tighten up. When it starts getting tighter, I have to stop because it feels like I’m losing the unity of the piece.

LM – This painting of yours, David, is my favorite (“Mission Street”, see above right.) I like the way you backed off on the colors and focused on the tonality. And this subtlety in the background trees… they’re really abstract shapes. Every painter is an abstract artist – it’s just a matter of levels – of when you make the decision to stop – of when you have enough information.

LM – I like this painting of yours, too (“Say Hey Willie”, © 2003 Acrylic on canvas, 20″ x 16″, at left.) You’ve been able to add detail without losing gesture. You can see these little stories taking place between the people. My style means a loss of that narrative detail.

DH – How do you work, what is your process? You said earlier that you have more than one painting in progress…

LM – Yes, I do… I try to find a rhythm. Sometimes I work upside down. I start with an image the way a jazz musician starts with a melody and then I improvise from there. Each session has its own mood. That’s why sometimes I paint the same image over and over – to work on different moods. Sometimes I have to set a piece aside and let it percolate for awhile. What’s your process?

DH – I work on a single piece until it’s done, starting with larger brushes and gradually using smaller ones. When I get to the three-hair brush, I know I’m almost done. I take my own photos, using a digital camera, and work from those photos. I like the city, and I’m especially drawn to signage, maybe because of my background in graphic design – I love the text. Sometimes people ask me why bother to paint it, when you have the photograph, but it’s about the process…

LM – Chuck Close showed the limitations of photography when he did those huge hyper-realistic heads with so much tiny detail. I work from photos, too. I used to use slides, and purposely blur them, but now I use a digital camera and get the same effect. I just edit differently (than David.) I like to work upside down to trick the mind into not recognizing objects. Mostly I’m going for the illusion of space. I learned a lot from Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park Series.”

Question from audience: Which is better – abstraction or realism?

DH – Realism (joking.)

LM – You just need to do whatever your nervous system dictates. There’s bad realism and there’s a whole lot of bad abstract art. Arnheim helped me with that – he said you could take a slide of the most perfect neo-classicist, say someone like David, and if you blurred it until the objects were unrecognizable, you would still be able to see the abstract beauty of the piece.

DH – Gerhard Richter blew me away with his range from most realistic to most abstract.

LM – And another artist with a large range is David Hockney… and of course the first was Picasso. I love seeing this kind of schizophrenic painter. I like more styles now than I used to.

DH – I was conservative as a kid and didn’t like Picasso, but I grew to understand him in art school and now I think he was a genius. You need context to really appreciate art.

LM – It’s more personal and visceral for me.

Question for David – What can you tell me about your painting surfaces?

DH – I just started painting seriously two years ago, and I started with canvas, but now I’m working on panel. It’s smoother. I like it for the greater control it gives me. Right now I’m working on a door (sanded and gessoed.) It’s a big painting with 40 people, 18 identifiable faces… you can go to my website to see a preview of this work.

Question for Larry – When you say you paint the same thing over again, did you mean literally on the same canvas?

LM – Sometimes. Like say, if this piece here (“City Canyon”, ©2003, 24″ x 30″, Oil/Canvas, at left) was still in my studio, I might grab it one day and starting painting over it. Again. My work is getting more abstract over time. I want less and less in an image.

Question for both artists – I’m curious about your use of color – what can you tell me about that?

LM – People always ask me about that… the night scenes are definitely about color, but I try to draw first. Drawing is the most important to me. Color is like the sirens, and they will lead me to the rocks rather quickly, so I need to draw and get a good composition first.

DH – My colors are muted, due to the fact that I mostly do cityscapes, so black and white and brown are my most dominant colors.

Question for both artists – What about details? How do you decide what to keep?

DH – There are certain key elements in each painting that I have to get right because I know people will focus on them. If I get those right, if I can convince the viewer there, then I can let other parts slide, so to speak.

LM – I do the same thing – focus on a few elements that need to be convincing in order to sell the idea to the viewer.
September 16, 2004 (Thursday)
More thoughts about explaining images…

Years ago, I used to work in a flatter and more symbolic style. (At left, “Digging”, ©1995, 24″ x 30″, acrylic) I didn’t explain these images. Sometimes people would ask what the painting meant, and I would usually ask them what they thought. I got some fascinating explanations. I might comment on what I was thinking while I was painting the piece, but usually the viewer’s interpretation was close enough, and even if it wasn’t, it’s fine with me if the viewer has a different experience with the painting than I do.

Later, after I had begun painting more “realistically” (right and left: “Cold Potato”, “Hot Potato”, both ©2002, 10″x10″, acrylic) I began to get even more questions about “what it means.” I don’t always know why I choose certain images, but the pressure to come up with some kind of explanation can be intense.

Then last year I did a complex narrative series about the Trickster. – (left: “Through the Veil”, ©2003, 24″ x24″, acrylic) – I went all-out with the explanations. Spent almost as much time explaining as I did painting. It was less than satisfying. The percentage of people who are befuddled and want explanations remained about the same. And the folks who like to figure it out for themselves wanted to argue with me, because they felt that their ideas about the images were more correct. And you know what? They’re right.

A painting, like a person, can reveal different aspects to different people. My relationship with a piece of my own work usually ends after I have finished making it. The painting is then free to go out and have a completely different relationship with someone else.
September 15, 2004 (Wednesday)
Several years ago I wandered into the Contemporary Realist Gallery (now Hackett-Freedman) and saw some paintings that have haunted me ever since. They were by a guy I’d never heard of: Robert Schwartz. No one I talked to had heard of him either, so I dragged a few friends to his (rare) shows. In between shows, every once in a while, I’d get up the nerve to ask the gallery if I could see one of his paintings from the back room (they always obliged.) I had just started to work in gouache at that time, and his work had the the small scale, the intense colors and the narration of the gouache Persian miniatures at the Asian Museum. But Schwartz used perspective and contemporary scenes & symbols. It was exciting to see contemporary painting in gouache. The craftsmanship was the best I’d ever seen, and the narratives were so compelling it was difficult to leave one and move on to the other.

The San Jose Museum of Art has put together a retrospective of Robert Schwartz’s work, and boy, have they got a great show catalog! (“Dream Games” – photo above, left.) It’s 10″ x 10″, 200 pages, lots of illustrations, and due to the small scale of his work, many of the reproductions are the same size as the original, if not larger! The painting used on the cover, “Painted On A Leaf”, is about four times larger than the original.

I loved the show at SJMA, and I’ll be back to see it again. But one thing about it annoyed me – the wordy wall tags, full of conjecture and bullshit about what the paintings mean. In one case, they went so far as to hang a photo of Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” right next to Schwartz’s “Serenade(II).” They did the same thing in the catalog. Then they proceeded to write a page and a half of stuff like this:

“To compare Schwartz’s “Serenade(II)” with Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” begs the question of why Smithson’s act is considered laudable yet the men digging the trench are engaged in an obviously ridiculous activity. While perhaps poking fun at earthwork, Schwartz asks a larger question: Is the production of art itself, an inherently impractical endeavor (specifically his own mind-bendingly painstaking work), ultimately absurd and possibly meaningless? Or should we understand the spiral of “Serenade(II)”, despite it’s apparent outrageousness…” and on, and on, and on. page 79, “Dream Games”

The artist is dead. He didn’t leave any written explanations about the “hidden” meanings in his paintings. So can we all just give it a rest, and let the viewers figure things out for themselves? Please? Or, at the very least, make the explanations available to those who want things figured out for them, but don’t shove the explanations into the field of vision for everyone who sees the painting.

The artist’s obit in the March 2001 “Art in America”:

“Robert Schwartz, 52, painter, died of heart failure on Dec. 5, in San Francisco. Known for refined, diminutive figurative works that are sometimes linked to Magic Realism, the Chicago-born artist studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and showed at Richard Gray Gallery before moving to California in the late 1960s. There, he had numerous solo exhibitions at Hackett-Freedman Gallery. His most recent New York exhibition was at Forum Gallery in 1995; a survey of his work was presented at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum last year”

Page 167 of the catalog – one of his last paintings, “Would That I Didn’t Know, ” Oil on Panel, 11.5″ x 11.5″

More Schwartz images at artnet.

September 14, 2004 (Tuesday)
I’m trying to catch up on two weeks of reading – blogs, books, news…
Tyler Green at MAN had another great interview with Michael Auping, chief curator at the MOMA Fort Worth. He talked about installing the permanent collection in a big new space, and how he used that freedom. Auping also made a good point about temporary exhibitions vs the permanent collection:

Temporary loan exhibitions bring a lot of people into the building, and that is a positive development. Temporary exhibitions come and go, and people like them because they’re more akin to entertainment; more and more people require the next new thing. … But there is also something to be said for visiting old friends, reconnecting with certain works that have fascinated you, maybe since childhood. You get a very different group of people who come to see the collection — they’re people I would like to have a dialogue with, more than the person who says, ‘Wow, did you see that Kiefer show? Do you know Kiefer, he’s that German guy.’
rest of the interview here

It got me thinking about the de Young, still under construction but looking good. It’s going to be a big new space and it’ll be exciting to see what they do with it. In the current issue of ARTnews, Kenneth Baker says that the de Young has “commissioned three major site-specific works: a continuous crack in the stone surrounding the building, by Andy Goldsworthy; a subterranean light installation, by James Turrell; and a mural by Gerhard Richter.”

Roberta at artblog wrote about one of my favorite topics – “Looking and Seeing.” She showed examples of photos taken by two people of the same subject, at the same time – obviously seeing different things. A couple of my friends (photog John Wall and painter Pam Heyda) just returned from a trip to the southwest and both posted photos on their web sites (John here, Pam here) – same places, same times, same views – seeing different things.

Charles at ionarts mentions the new Brassaï book. My husband just picked up a similar monograph. It was remaindered for $25 at CWLPB (I haven’t had a chance to really study it yet – Bullfinch Press, 2000, 308 illustrations, 10″ x 12″.) It looks great: Paris after dark, dock workers, prostitutes, artists, landscapes, still-life, peeling paint, graffiti, plus sculptures and drawings. The man obviously loved life and loved to see.
September 12, 2004 (Sunday)
OK, I’m back. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. My friend is very ill, but doing a little better. Other friends are stepping in to help out, so I can get back to painting. I have another show coming up in less than three weeks and still have a lot of work to do.

Even though I’ve always considered art a necessity, rather than a luxury, I didn’t paint, look at art, or think about art for most of the past two weeks. A few days ago I was standing on a corner waiting for a bus, feeling sad and dark. The bus was taking a long time. In the store window behind me I saw a Ray Charles CD, “Genius Loves Company.” I forked over my last fifteen bucks and took it home to load into iTunes (surprise – there’s a little Quicktime movie on the disk – interviews with Ray Charles.)

What is it about songs of sorrow and misery, when they’re done so beautifully, so artfully, that they feel like a good massage after a hard day’s work? This album was the perfect balm for me. “Sinners Prayer” with RC, BB King, and Billy Preston is flawless. The guitar, piano and organ ebb and flow like a single, living, breathing entity. Now, that’s art.

September 1, 2004 (Wednesday evening)
Sorry, but my posting here is going to be a bit sketchy for the next couple of weeks – I’m spending most of my time helping a friend in need.

Luckily, I got this item from another friend:

Hey Anna, I was reading in your journal about “new models for art
patrons.” This puts me in mind of what Elisabeth Sunday does. She’s a
photographer (see , and specifically, to see how she handles it) who
has different levels and classes of patronage. This has worked for her for
many years. She has, I believe, a gift for self-promotion.
– from Heather Robinson

Working Artist’s Journal

August 31, 2004 (Tuesday)
A couple of things I was wondering about …

1. In those crowded blockbuster museum shows? The ones where you can’t see the art unless you’re over 5″9″? Why don’t they just put in bleachers, or something like it? Sort of like the tiered seating in front of the lion’s cage during feeding time at the zoo. Everyone could see the painting, and those of us who were so inclined, could sit on the top row, for as long as we wanted, chin in hand, and get lost in the art.

2. There have to be some new models for art patrons; some new ideas about how it could work. We have to quit thinking along the lines of popes and kings and start thinking about modern economics. What would happen if artists started selling shares in their output? Say, for the sake of argument, that you need $12,000 per year to cover art supplies, food and rent ($1000 per month.) Assuming you can produce at least one work per month, you could sell shares at $1000 each and the patron would receive one work of art for each $1000 invested. There are different ways to thrash out the details, but shouldn’t something like this help everyone flourish? Maybe even galleries could purchase shares and then sell the work for whatever the market would bear. How could an artist advertise something like this? Would it work?

And finally… one of the best art quotes I’ve read in a long time:
“Art is murder. Drawing is target practice.”

A business is permitted to operate for making a profit without any interference from the government is called Profit system. In every business, the people will expect for the profits. This is one of the products of the capitalist ideology.

Profit sharing is nothing but sharing the profit of the company to the employees by giving bonuses, incentives and performance based increment in salary. It is based on some rules also. That is, the company and the employee will have a predetermined plan that the profit will be split up into both with some decent ratio. Therefore, they both yield the profit of the business. In the United States, the employee’s profit sharing amount will be contributed to the retirement plan. We can see the reviews from the people about profit system by clicking HB Swiss.

– Joseph Barbaccia at Thinking about Art

August 30, 2004 (Monday)
This weekend I saw William Hall’s first solo show. He’s a friend, former student, and one of the hardest working artists I’ve ever met. His drawing skills have always been excellent, but for the last couple of years, he’s been practicing painting techniques. All of the pieces in this show were portraits of his pre-school students (his pay-the-rent job.)

About half the portraits were pastel or conte crayon on paper and the rest were oil, acrylic or mixed media on canvas board. The mixed media pieces (including the one at left, behind the artist) were given a rough coat of gesso, and underpainting in quin gold, and then a mixture of acrylic and Caran d’Ache water-soluble crayons. The final effect is much looser than these photos would suggest (click on detail at right.)

Unlike Helnwein or Hockney, William does not use projection, printed canvas, or camera obscura.
He takes photographs of his subjects and draws up. He has spent so many hours drawing that he can quickly and effortlessly render a likeness in pencil. Now he’s experimenting with other materials. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’ll be working on in a couple more years. (Sorry, but most of this work was framed under glass, so it was difficult to get photos without reflections.)

August 27, 2004 (Friday)

Continuing yesterday’s theme (artists drawing from life) …

JT Kirkland at the blog, “Thinking about art” wrote about taking up drawing. He posted examples of his progress as he practiced, practiced, practiced, and he made amazing progress. But then, “after a couple of weeks I lost interest. I yearned to work with color and materials in a more free manner.” So he asks, “If a person lacks the ability to draw well, can he/she still be an artist? Must a person have classic training to be a good artist?”

It depends on your definition of “a good artist.” My answer would be that drawing forces you to spend quality time in direct observation, which helps you to see better, and see differently. If you’re a visual artist of any kind, that would seem like a worthwhile goal.

Audrey Flack wrote in “Art and Soul”: “When I’m working from a photograph, a transparency, or direct observation, I am always amazed at how much more I see as the painting progresses. After I think I have completely perceived a particular area, something else reveals itself. As the work continues, the level of awareness deepens. The process takes its own time. I have come to accept that time and not fight it. I know that when I begin my work, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never observe as much on the first day as I will on the last. Like life, the development will not be rushed, nor will there be full realization before completion.”

Here’s what a few other people had to say about drawing:

“Drawing is not form, it is a way of seeing form.”
– Edgar Degas

“Drawing is the most important thing.”
– Antonio Giacometti

“For me, drawing is the great discipline of art.”
– Alice Neel

“The man who has something very definite to say and tries to force the medium to say it will learn how to draw.”
– Robert Henri

(Previous four quotes from “Artist to Artist – Inspiration & Advice from Artists Past & Present” compiled by Clint Brown.)

August 26, 2004 (Thursday)
Here we go again… Sarah Boxer of the New York Times reports that “a fresh clash has surfaced over the painter David Hockney’s three-year-old theory that early Renaissance painters used cameralike devices to paint with perfect perspective.”

The way I first heard about this debate in 2001, it sounded like David Hockney was saying that Ingres, van Eyck, and other realist artists were tracing rather than drawing. This annoyed me. I figured Hockney can’t draw, so he doesn’t believe anyone else can either. I knew from experience that obsessively drawing every day enabled me to “eyeball” with photographic precision before I was 20. When I started spending more time painting than drawing, the drawing skill faded. Increased practice brings it back. I know other artists who can render perfectly without optical devices. It didn’t seem to be such a mystery to me.

But the more I read Hockey’s own words, the closer I came to his way of thinking about the subject. Not that I completely agree with him, but I think he’s right when he says that the introduction of optical devices changed the way we see. The fixed point of view of the photographic image is dominant in our culture (outside of fine art) and is accepted unquestioningly as “realistic” by most people. But it’s no more real than the multiple points of view in cubism, the moving point of view in Japanese scrolls, or the symbolic point of view in ancient art.

In December 2001, Sarah Boxer reported (again, in the NYT) on a symposium arranged by the New York Institute for the Humanities called “Art and Optics: Toward an Evaluation of David Hockney’s New Theories Regarding Opticality in Western Painting of the Past 600 Years.” It was apparently a rip-roaring debate, with no resolution. Art historians brought up the examples of Michelangelo and Raphael, who had no need for optics. Susan Sontag said that to claim there were no great painters before optical devices is like saying there were no great lovers before Viagra. Linda Nochlin brought out a dress she was wearing when she sat for her portrait by Philip Pearlstein, and said, “This is what I call scientific evidence.” Chuck Close joked that the symposium should have been called “Look Back in Ingres,” said he had learned that “some scientists are just as annoying as some art historians.”

This time the debate is centered around the chandelier in van Eyck’s 1434 painting “Portrait of Arnolfini and His Wife.” Hockney thinks the chandelier is too perfect and that van Eyck must have used optics. The scientists (Stork and Criminisi) say that the chandelier is flawed. So they hired a realist painter (Nicholas Williams) to eyeball a replica chandelier and render it as accurately as possible. The Williams chandelier was not perfect, but more accurate than the van Eyck chandelier. The scientists conclusion: a real master of realism can paint without real accuracy, but realistic-looking structures can be painted merely by eye, without the help of optical tools of any sort.

OK, so now the scientists have “proven” what artists have known for centuries. But so what? Optics are just a tool, and tools don’t make the art. So why are so many people so worked up about which artists used which tools?

August 25, 2004 (Wednesday)
Gottfried Helnwein, “The Child”, at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

Yesterday morning I went over to the Legion of Honor to see the Gottfried Helnweinshow, “The Child”. After all the build-up and warnings about the darkness of his work, I was surprised at the beauty and humor I found there. There are some superficial similarities between Helnwein and Gerhard Richter, but while Richter is the better painter technically, Helnwein (more of a conceptual artist) has more heart. In both cases, they’re telling us the world sucks. But Helnwein also sees the good, the beautiful, and the possibilities for redemption.

This show is a mini-retrospective, with work spanning the last 35 years but focusing on one of his recurring themes: the child. There are colored pencil drawings, watercolors, mixed media paintings, and photographs. In some cases the preparatory photos for a painting are hung next to the painting. One watercolor of Hitler holding the hands of two little girls includes a bar of soap within the frame.

There are three madonna and child images, including his galley’s gift to the museum, Helnwein’s 1998 painting Epiphany II , “Adoration of the Shepherds.”

In this version, the shepherds are represented by Nazi youth. In “Adoration of the Magi”, the wise men are SS officers. In “American Madonna”, the child is pointing accusingly at a couple of cops. These large mixed media paintings appear to be photographic montages, printed on canvas, and then painted over. The Legion has placed the Helnwein show in galleries 1 and 2, which means the viewer walks past several 16th century madonna and child paintings to get there. If you didn’t notice them on the way in, you will on the way out. This is Raffaellino dei Capponi’s “Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Angels”, 1502.

Helnwein is represented in San Francisco by Modernism Gallery, and they will be holding a one-man show of his new work from November 4 to December 2004.
Kenneth Baker’s review of this show
Carolyne Zinko’s review of this show
Link to Helnwein’s demonic Mickeys and Donalds

August 24, 2004 (Tuesday)
I went to visit a friend in the hospital recently and was stunned to see an original John Arbuckle on the wall in her room. Real art in the hospital rooms? I was tempted to sneak around the rest of the ward seeing what was in the other rooms.

Robert Rauschenberg rode out hurricane Charley in his home on the Gulf Coast barrier island of Captiva. His concrete home-studio, built on 35-foot pilings, sprung leaks, but survived the 145-mph winds. Artwork lining the 120-foot-long concrete-floored studio was not moved and not damaged by the storm. A helicopter flew in the next morning to evacuate the 78-year old Rauschenberg, who is in a wheelchair and partly paralyzed by two strokes.The artist initially resisted leaving. He was flown to Fort Myers for a temporary stay during storm cleanup.

Thanks to ionarts for the link to Bush and Kerry positions on the arts (Friday, 08-20-04) at ArtsBlogging. My take – in both campaigns, the arts are barely on the radar. Bottom line – no real difference between these guys (in arts terms.)

Terry Teachout wrote about Hitchcock’s movie “Rope” and the paintings on the wall in the movie apartment. He recognized a Milton Avery, did a little digging and wondered:

“So how on earth did a Milton Avery find its way into the decor of Rope, along with a half-dozen other paintings that looked equally plausible? The Hitchcocks were interested in art, mainly by modern painters such as the Mexican David Alfaro Siqueiros and the Cuban Fidelio Ponce León. In later years, they purchased works by Raoul Dufy, Maurice de Vlaminck, Maurice Utrillo, Georges Rouault, Chaïm Soutine, Albert Gleizes, Milton Avery, Pierre Soulages, Auguste Rodin, Georges Braque’s “birds series” and Paul Klee, who he called once his favorite painter. Could it be that Alfred Hitchcock used his own art collection in Rope?” full post here

Terry Teachout also asked people to mention movies that show real paintings. So, here’s one of my favorites… I hesitate… because it has been the source of merciless teasing from my friends. Of course, I’ve made them all sit through it with me, multiple times. The movie is the 1959 version of “Dog of Flanders” with David Ladd, Donald Crisp, Theodore Bikel, and Monique Ahrens. It’s basically “Old Yeller” with art. But the art makes the difference.The young artist, Nello keeps trying to sneak into Rombouts Cathedral to see Rubens’ “Descent From the Cross,” (see image at top of this post) which the movie viewer keeps getting glimpses of, and finally at the end (along with Nello) we get a real look at the whole painting. Against all odds, the kid wants to be an artist, and it’s a dog story too. What’s not to like?

This just in – Chris at Zeke’s gallery sent me a great link to a site that lists art in the movies: Art Historian’s Guide to the Movies.

August 23, 2004 (Monday)
The open studio photo show this weekend went very well – plenty of visitors and Dave made enough to buy a new camera. The day ended with several of us sitting around a table talking about art, images, etc. Someone mentioned Walter Benjamin’s essay. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” I vaguely remembered hearing about it, but had never read it, so I downloaded it (it’s free online at many sites.) It was pointed out to me that I would benefit from reading it, in light of my recent troubles with eBay. I’ll be reading it later this week.

Earlier in the day I was talking with someone about rendering trees in paint and film. We spent some time looking at Rudy Burkhardt’s Maine catalogue. He’s primarily known as an urban photographer, but he made some amazing paintings of the deep forest. Take a look – the guy knew his subject, don’t you think?

Elsewhere on the web, I highly recommend a trip to “From the Floor” to read an extended piece about a visit to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, an earthwork sculpture at the edge of Great Salt Lake, Utah:
Thursday, August 12 – On the Way to Spiral Jetty (Prolog and links)
Monday August 16 – Back from Spiral Jetty (Current stats)
Tuesday, August 17 – Drive to the Jetty(Getting there requires a commitment.)
Wednesday, August 18 – Industrial Wasteland (The closest neighbors to the spiral Jetty are the decaying traces of industrial activity.)
Thursday, August 19 – Walking the Jetty (Up close and personal.)
Friday, August 20 – Perspective (About seeing the Spiral Jetty in the landscape vs a photo.)

August 19, 2004 (Friday)
The members’ magazine of the Asian Art Museum, “treAsures,” came in the mail yesterday – it has an interesting article on “Fakes, Copies, and Question Marks,” which is the subject of an upcoming show. The author, Donna Strahan, describes fakes as being made with the intention to deceive. Copies are made to represent the originals in situations where the originals cannot be exhibited. Imitations are cheap copies made for sale (gift shop items.) The story describes (with photos) four pairs of similar items and then presents the question, “Which is the fake?” They’ll be presenting about 35 objects (ceramic and bronze vessels and sculptures, paintings, and lacquer ware) drawn primarily from the museum’s own collection (!) The show will describe forensic tests used to determine authenticity, and explain the process the curators and conservation department use to examine art objects.

Thanks to Franklin at for pointing to this fabulous comic strip about the art world – comic by Peter Bagge, titled, “Real Art – Mr. Grumpy goes to an Art Museum and Comes Out Belaboring the Obvious.”

I discovered a new (to me) art blog by F. Lennox Campello, called DC Art News. He has a couple of funny posts about “galleryphobia” and “print rack magnetism.”

I spent a big part of yesterday helping my husband Dave hang his show (open house, hereSaturday 12-6) in the halls that usually serve has a holding area for my finished paintings. So I’ll be busy the next few days, and won’t be posting again until Monday.

August 18, 2004 (Thursday)
A few days ago I was doing some gallery hopping with friends (artists) David Steinhardtand Marie Ferrebouf. We stopped in at the Hackett Freedman gallery to see the summer still life show. I may have said this before in this space, but it bears repeating – the Hackett Freedman is a class “A”, great place to see and buy art. Besides the fact that they have a significant collection of art, the staff is friendly and helpful to everyone. We ended up hanging out there for about an hour. While we were there, the gallery was constantly busy with a flow of out-of-town and local collectors, tourists, and other artists. The glass doors to the back office were open and we stuck our heads in when we noticed some Guy Diehl paintings on the back wall.

Then I spotted a Robert Schwartz gouache on the floor, so I found a chair and settled in for a good long stare. Hackett Freedman staffer Francis reminded me that the San Jose Museum of Art is hosting a retrospective titled “Dream Games: the Art of Robert Schwartz”, from Sept. 4, 2004 to Jan. 23, 2004. They’ll also be printing a 220-page, fully illustrated catalogue that will include essays by Susan Landauer and guest essayist Barry Schwabsky. This is must-see show if you’re interested in narrative painting, magical realism, gouache and oil technique. His work is rarely exhibited and I believe this is only the second retrospective since his death. Bring your reading glasses (or a magnifying glass.)

When I looked up from my 20 minute immersion in the world of Robert Schwartz, I saw that David was talking painting technique with Guy Deihl himself. I had another look at that wonderful little Louise Nevelson sculpture (the one that looks like a sheila-na-gig) and then we had to tear ourselves away because the parking meter was already expired by 30 minutes.

We were talking in the car about artist blogs, journals, etc. and David mentioned that he was thinking of starting one to document his progress with a difficult and complex mural commission he’s been working on. He just got the blog launched last night, with postdated entries back to the beginning of the project. He’s calling it “Dailies” and I think you should all go over there and take a look at it. Click on “Take the Tour” to start at the beginning. His descriptions give you a hint of the arduous and complex nature of this job. Since he was on a roll, at the computer, he also started another blog, called “Diary” to record his “nightly doodles and drawings.”

August 17, 2004 (Wednesday)
I just heard that Dick Blick Art Materials has purchased the Art Store retail chain. That’s good news for me – I’ve been ordering from Dick Blick since the 60’s, and there’s a branch of the Art Store here in San Francisco (on Van Ness Avenue) which I guess will turn into a Dick Blick store in the next few months. But I’ll probably keep getting most of my supplies by mail. When I first moved here I thought, with all the big art supply stores in town (Flax, Pearl, Utrecht, University, Amsterdam, Douglas & Sturgess, et al…) I’ll never have to order my stuff by mail again. But it didn’t work out that way. These big art supply stores are good for wandering around, browsing, looking at and handing the newest art stuff.. If, however, you just want to resupply with the particular paint, brushes, and canvas that you always use, frustration awaits you. They (all of them) are inevitably out of stock for some of the items you wanted, which means repeat visits or going all over town to get everything you need. Try that a few times and resupplying by mail starts to look pretty good.

Speaking of art supplies and equipment, Carolyn Zick has a great slide projector story at Dangerous Chunky. I have seven Kodak Carousel Transvue 140 slide trays in the basement, but the projector died years ago. Wonder if the slide trays are becoming more valuable or less so? I’ve been coveting a digital projector for some time now, so maybe I should just get rid of the slide trays in any case.

And speaking of corporate mergers, did you hear that Ebay bought 25% of Craigslist? It’s a sad, sad, day…..

August 16, 2004 (Tuesday)
Regarding a Washington DC proposal to form an institute of contemporary art, drawing from the city’s best collectors… Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes isn’t too crazy about the idea:

“The art world is global, more so now than ever, and (this) idea is based on a narrow, artificial, regionalist construct. When the art world is becoming more interconnected, when group shows at even medium-sized institutions are filled with loans from two or three continents, why would we want something that is so internal, narrow and exclusionary? Why would DC collectors (and others) want their works seen only next to other DC-owned work?”

On the other hand, Erik at Eriks Rants and Recipes feels differently:

“…my basic point is that while the contemporary art world is global and completely interconnected, there is no reason to encourage that trend. I am more interested in what local collectors are looking at than what Saatchi finds compelling. A show of what lives in local collections is a fascinating measure of the community (and note that I am not implying any sort of sophistication index, I am simply curious: we might find that Chicago collectors prefer secondary colors, we might find that Portlanders favor figurative drawings, who knows? I would like to, as it helps flesh out a portrait of the community).”

Personally, I don’t see why it has to be one or the other. Yes, the art world is more global now. It’s fun, interesting and educational to see how universal art trends ricochet from one continent to another. But why can’t a little regionalism exist here and there at the same time? And why is regionalism so often disparaged? Regional art speaks more directly to a community.

Many works of art can be easily placed in either the regional or global context. Isn’t it the job of the curator to pick the pieces? Who’s to say they couldn’t get loans from collectors outside the area if they need to build a particular kind of show? A show from a single collector’s stash can be pretty interesting – it depends on the collector.

The bottom line is, if a group of people want to put together a space to show art, it’s a good thing.

August 15, 2004 (Monday)
I stopped in at the John Pence Gallery on Saturday, and caught the last day of the Peter Van Dyck show. He’s a young painter and this has the look of an MFA graduate show. There’s a little bit of everything – paintings and drawings, some landscapes, some figurative work, some still life, and a couple of self portraits. It’s all well done, and attractive. The still life compositions of tools in a workshop were most interesting. The tools are clean, carefully arranged, and have the air of a classic flowers-and-crystal still life. The incongruous subject matter is a little bit funny and refreshing.

Elsewhere in the gallery, I noticed with surprise that Jim McVicker is now showing at JP (he’s been with Hackett-Freedman for years.) JP had three of McVicker’s classic still life paintings on display, as well as a few small landscapes. The JP gallery is huge, and after spending quite a bit of time wandering in and out of rooms full of work by many young talented realists, displaying a range of bravura technique (plus Randall Sexton’s manic splashes) it was a relief to find myself back in front of McVicker’s “Still Life with Orchids”, “Still Life with Lilies”, and “Still Life with Sunflowers.” His work has a very calm, comfortable, stillness.
(Lots of pictures at the links)

August 14, 2004 (Weekend)
I got an email from one of the founders of the Stuckist movement almost immediately after posting my regrettably jokey post on Thursday. He said that the Stuckist Manifesto is a catalyst, not a dogma. If someone connects with the spirit of the Stuckists, they nominate themselves as Stuckists – they aren’t appointed. With his permission, here’s his letter:

Hi Anna

I would not say incoherent. Far from it – though you do quote something which is uncharacteristically more arcane, I guess, but not so incoherent. Fear of failure stops much creativity and growth. That point is addressed and I know it has given strength and inspiration to some people – not such a bad thing.

Futility of striving is an idea introduced into the text by my good friend Billy Childish and derives from his Buddhist studies. We all want what we haven’t got, so we are never here with ourselves. Our inclination is always ‘out there’ and that is where it stays. The more that energy and desire is contained within, the more whole we are in the now with what we are doing. That at least is how I interpret that sentiment. Not such a bad thing either.

I started the Stuckists with Billy and 11 other selected artists. When more people round the world responded we decided we would give Stuckism away – and said they could found their own independent group, rather as anyone can call themselves an Impressionist. We have no control or monitoring of these groups – it’s up to them. Some are active, dedicated and enterprising. Others are dormant. I don’t know what a ‘chapter’ is in the US, but if it’s something which is part of a centralised organisation, then we don’t have chapters.

Stuckism was started and is stlll run by artists without any consistent commercial or institutional backing. It has reached across the world with no resources apart from daring and ingenuity.

I think it is worth taking more seriously.

Best wishes
Charles Thomson
Co-founder, Stuckists

Stuckism International Gallery,
3 Charlotte Road, Hoxton, London EC2A 3DH.
Tel: 020 7613 0988
Web site:
There are over 80 Stuckist groups and 6 Centres worldwide.
Stuckism: it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

August 13, 2004 (Friday)
For most of my life, most of my days, and most of my waking hours, I have been thinking about art in some form or another. This obsession has become more pronounced over the past ten years. It’s hard for me to imagine a life without art.

Most of the people I talk to are at least somewhat informed about , if not enthusiastically involved in the art world. But every now and then I hear folks say that “many people have difficulty understanding visual arts, particularly contemporary art.” They say the situation is especially bad away from the coasts. Can this be true? Is it really that bad? Rachael at Honest Art Talk has felt that a vast majority of people don’t care about art, and she thinks it has to do with lack of education. Over at the Cassandra PagesMarja-Leena and others are discussing this and comparing the U.S to Europe.

All of the European advantages that were mentioned at Cassandra are present here in San Francisco: Plenty of art exhibits – some are expensive, some are free. All the museums have free days. Many community art organizations and lots of public art on display and being made. I’m not sure how much art is offered in the public schools, but plenty of after-school programs focus on art – I’ve taught at some of them. Whenever children come up to talk to me at public art demos, I always ask them what kind of art they’re taking in school. They usually have enthusiastic things to say and no one has ever said, “nothing.” There’s a high school for the arts, and several art colleges here in town. No doubt, art is seen as a commodity in the gallery district. But it’s also seen as culture in places like the Chinese Cultural Center, the Italian Museum, the Mexican Museum, the Mission Cultural Center, Precita Eyes Mural Center, the Jewish Museum, the Women’s Building, the Performing Arts Library & Museum, and other places. At events like my library talk last month, many people came up to talk to me afterwards and tell me about their own art experiences, as Sunday painters, or enthusiastic viewers. The same thing happens whenever I paint in a public place.

The situation just doesn’t seem so dire from here. Am I looking through rose-tinted glasses, or is San Francisco an exception, or is there just an excessive amount of pessimism out there?

August 12, 2004 (Thursday)

Ever hear of the Stuckists?

It’s a reactionary British art movement that claims to be “Against conceptualism, hedonism and the cult of the ego-artist.” I read about them a few years ago. I thought it was joke. They seemed too incoherent to be for real. Not that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for their position, at least what I can understand of their position. They’re pro-painting – that much, at least, is obvious. The Stuckism Manifesto is here.

Today I read an interesting interview titled, “Stuckist in New York City: An Interview with Narrative Painter Terry Marks.” The artist says, about Stuckism:

“In England, art is funded by the government more than it is here. Stuckist artists there banded together to oppose Serota [at the Tate Modern], the government, and Saatchi touting a supposedly avant-garde strain of conceptual art, which is not actually avant-garde any more. It was cutting edge in the ‘60s with Fluxus, including some interesting work by Yoko Ono among others. It was new then, but now it’s part of the establishment. That happens here too, since art galleries are in business to make money, and they believe that only certain kinds of art are fashionable and will sell.

Stuckism is not about being stuck in the past but about taking a different fork in the road. It’s been called Re-modernism in the Stuckist Manifesto, and takes the stand that Modernism started off well, but took a wrong turn and disappeared into pure idea like a puff of smoke. So we’re going back to take the untravelled fork-in-the-road to pursue art-making that’s more concrete and accessible to more people, and find out where that leads us.”

Sounded intriguing, so I went back to the Stuckist web site to take another look. But I found the same old stuff, like this gem:

The ego-artist’s constant striving for public recognition results in a constant fear of failure. The Stuckist risks failure wilfully and mindfully by daring to transmute his/her ideas through the realms of painting. Whereas the ego-artist’s fear of failure inevitably brings about an underlying self-loathing, the failures that the Stuckist encounters engage him/her in a deepening process which leads to the understanding of the futility of all striving. The Stuckist doesn’t strive — which is to avoid who and where you are — the Stuckist engages with the moment.

So I thought, maybe it’s a cultural thing – I’ll check with my local chapter and see what the artists here have to say. Lo and behold, the contact person for the San Francisco chapter of the Stuckists is silk-screen rock poster god, Frank Kozik?! So I emailed him. His response? He said Stuckism is “some odd British deal that I was asked to join and I did so as a whim.” As for what the local chapter was up to, he said, “I dont believe they actually do anything.”

August 11, 2004 (Wednesday)

Where do you get your ideas?

“Vision is always ahead of execution – and it should be. Vision, Uncertainty, and Knowledge of Materials are inevitabilities that all artists must acknowledge and learn from: vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue. Imagination is in control when you begin making an object. But as the piece grows, technique and craft take over, and imagination becomes a less useful tool. A piece grows by becoming specific.”
— David Bayles & Ted Orland, “Art & Fear”, Capra Press, 1993

It all starts with the vision. But where does the vision come from? I’ve heard it described as whisperings of the muse, messages from the divine, possession by the duende, static from the subconscious, or simply madness. I don’t know where my ideas come from, but I know how to cultivate them. I’m still struggling with the execution part of the equation. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to adequately convey a vision to another human being. Meanwhile, the ideas keep coming.

The hypnoidal state (the period between sleeping and waking, similar to the hypnagogic state or period between wakefulness and sleep) produces the most and best ideas. It’s possible to extend this state, either by spending more time in bed, or spending more time alone.

It is of course precisely in such episodes of mental traveling that writers are known to do good work, sometimes even their best, solving formal problems, getting advice from Beyond, having hypnagogic adventures that with luck can be recovered later on.
–Thomas Pynchon, “Nearer, My Couch, to Thee,” New York Times Book Review, June 6, 1993

In mid-18th-century London, Dr Johnson, who had nothing to be ashamed of as far as literary output goes, is to be found lacerating himself for his sluggardly habits. “O Lord, enable me … in redeeming the time I have spent in Sloth,” he wrote in his journals at the age of 29. Twenty years later, things haven’t improved, and he resolves “to rise early. Not later than six if I can.” The following year, having failed to rise at six, he adapts his resolution: “I purpose to rise at eight because though I shall not yet rise early it will be much earlier than I now rise, for I often lye till two.”
–Tom Hodgkinson, “How to be Idle”, Hamish Hamilton, 2004

Being more of a morning person, I tend not to lie in bed for long, once the sun comes up. But I keep a notebook and pencil by the bed for capturing the ideas and solutions that start driving by as soon as I open my eyes. The more productive time, however, is the time alone in the studio. Assuming there are no visitors and no phone calls, it’s easy to drift in and out of that nonlinear state that resembles meditation or dreaming.

According to neuroscientists Denis Pare and Rodolfo Llinas, the brain’s simultaneous 40 Hz ‘neural oscillations’, which are associated with consciousness, also occur during REM sleep. Given this, Pare and Llinas were led to the conclusion that the only difference between our dreaming and waking states is that in waking states, the “closed system that generates oscillatory states” is modulated by incoming stimuli from the outside world. In other words, what we call “waking state” is really an REM dream state, with a sensory topping.
–Gary Lachman, “Waking Sleep”, Fortean Times

This period of easy access to the subconscious (or muse, duende, etc.) doesn’t just produce visions of new projects, it helps direct and refine projects that are already under way. With my sketchbook and camera, I collect visual components. In reading and conversation, I collect conceptual elements. They all get tossed into the studio cauldron and, in a process that’s still a mystery to me, some good ideas appear. Which, as Bayles and Orland mentioned (at the beginning of this post) is just the beginning of the work of art.

August 10, 2004 (Tuesday)
My Favorite Art Books – I have a few hundred art books on my shelves, and I look at some of them every day. So I thought that maybe on days when I couldn’t think of anything else to write, I’d tell you about one or two. I’ll archive the entries on the “Art Book” page.

I’m starting off with a couple of books by Lewis Hyde that aren’t, strictly speaking, art books. They’re actually kinda hard to classify, which means you never know where you’ll find them in the book store. I keep them with my art books because I keep reading them over and over again for inspiration and philosophical guidance on living the artist’s life. The two books are:

The Gift – Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property
by Lewis Hyde, 1979 Vintage Books

Trickster Makes This World – Mischief, Myth, and Art
by Lewis Hyde, 1998 North Point Press

A few years ago Margaret Atwood wrote a terrific review of these books for the LA Times and luckily it’s still online (here.) A couple of excerpts:

“The artist belongs primarily to the gift economy; without that element of creation which arrives uncommanded and cannot be bought, the work is unlikely to be alive. The Gift is the best book I know of for the aspiring young, for talented but unacknowledged creators, or even for those who have achieved material success and are worried that this means they’ve sold out. It gets at the core of their dilemma: how to maintain yourself alive in the world of money, when the essential part of what you do cannot be bought or sold.

Hyde reminds us that the wall between the artist and that American favourite son, the con-artist, can be a thin one indeed; that craft and crafty rub shoulders; and that the words artifice, artifact, articulation and art all come from the same ancient root, a word meaning to join, to fit, and to make. If it’s a seamless whole you want, pray to Apollo, who sets the limits within which such a work can exist. Tricksters, however, stand where the door swings open on its hinges and the horizon expands: they operate where things are joined together, and thus can also come apart.”
By Margaret Atwood. Copyright © O.W. Toad Ltd. (full text here)

Lewis Hyde starts with the premise that a work of art is a gift and not a commodity, and goes on to explain the uneasy nature of the artist’s position in a marketplace economy. He leads the reader slowly and carefully to his surprising conclusion that “gift exchange and the market need not be wholly separate spheres.”

With “Trickster”, Lewis Hyde uses mythological trickster figures like Hermes, Eshu, Krishna, Coyote, Raven, and Loki, as well as historical and contemporary figures like Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, Picasso, Duchamp, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Mappelthorpe, John Cage to illustrate the value and necessity of trickster spirit (the “artus worker”) in any culture.

I highly recommend both of these books to anyone involved in the arts.

August 9, 2004 (Monday)
I was interested in this conversation between a curator (Chris at Zeke’s Gallery) and an art critic (Michel Hellman) – they discussed thematically unifying a body of work or a group show; the role of an art critic; how a critic decides which show to write about; and more. Some excerpts:

Michel: Well you know it is one thing to look at shows while being interested in art and just going browsing through the galleries and another thing actually having to find enough material to write a coherent article in a certain amount of words.

Chris: What is it then specifically with a generic exhibition that would make it easier for you to review, assuming the quality of the art is up to par?

Michel: A theme. I told you I like figurative art. I like cartoon art. But, if there was some kind of theme behind it then it would give me a way to approach it, an easier way. Because if I was write a review about this exhibit that you have up here I would write about the artist, biographical things, but there’s only so much that you can write about when the artist doesn’t have a history. Three pages is pretty long for an article. If it were a show with a theme about people using cartoons, or something like that, then it would be a lot easier to write an article about it.

Chris: Okay, then working on that line, what are the things that would make it almost impossible for you to write a review? Assuming the art is good.

Michel: Abstract art, it could be good art, an artist can be completely sincere about doing it, but if they are just putting abstract paintings that aren’t really related in some way in a gallery, then what do you write about? Oh this is nice, but why? And it’s all very subjective.

Chris: To me, art exhibitions are taking what you can get out of them. It’s the job of the gallery or the curator, to say to the reviewer “okay, you want a thematically unified set of work?” Give me 5 minutes and I can link these paintings here in a very linear fashion.

The complete interview is here.

I looked around the web, trying to find a review by Michel Hellman but, as Chris mentioned at the start of his interview, “being able to read everything that M. Hellman writes for them while on line is sketchy at best.” I couldn’t find anything in English. Even so, I was curious about the process and prejudices of an art critic. What most surprised me was how often M. Hellman seemed to prove the cliches about art critics. He depends on curators to present him with a theme, otherwise he has a hard time finding his way into the art. He doesn’t really understand abstract work, so he has a hard time reviewing it. At least he admits it (K. Baker of the SF Chronicle has the opposite problem – he doesn’t understand representational work, so he limits his comments to snide remarks whenever he’s stuck reviewing it.) The best part was near the end when M. Hellman said he wanted to be an artist at some point in the future:

Michel: I want to try to do art myself. That’s one of the goals I don’t want to be a full time art critic, well maybe, we’ll see what happens, but I like keeping it part time and keeping my options open.

August 7, 2004 (Saturday)
Art as commodity… in the news:

Which pictures sell?
by Michael Kesterton at the Globe and Mail

After many years of observing auction rooms, Georgina Adam, art market editor of The Art Newspaper has developed an uncanny knack of predicting which paintings will sell well and which won’t, writes Sarah Jane Checkland in The Sunday Telegraph. Some notes:

  • Paintings of women and children outstrip those of men — and the younger and more attractive the better.
  • Pets increase selling power, especially if they look cute.
  • Although “frontal nudes” do well, “back bottoms” often don’t. The principle applies to animals as well as humans.
  • Buyers tend to shun religious images, tear-stained widows, sick children and dead animals.
  • Pictures of toffs (ed: British slang for members of the upper classes) are preferable to images of humble toilers.
  • The presence of a body of water can be a major selling point, but only if it is calm.

Thomas Kinkade touches up his business legacy
by David Lazarus at the SF Chronicle

He hasn’t sold an original painting since 1997. Instead, prints of Kinkade paintings are sold in limited editions, their value enhanced for collectors by actual brushstrokes applied by a Kinkade-certified “master highlighter.”

“Some of the most important thinkers in the art world are now writing seriously about Norman Rockwell,” observed Vallance, curator of the Cal State show. “It’s only a short skip to Thomas Kinkade.”
more here, if you can stand it

The Art of Buying Art
By Barry Caine, the Alameda Times-Star

In May, Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe” fetched $104 million at auction. Not bad for an original investment of $30,000. Granted, the owner’s descendants had to wait five decades for the windfall. Patience is a necessity in the art game. You had better have plenty if you want to invest in art, especially at the low end, meaning between $1,000 and $5,000.

Most experts say it will take a decade for your purchase to appreciate in value. And even then there are no guarantees. “A work of art doesn’t get better with age or worse in terms of artistic value,” says Harvey Jones, senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum of California. “It just comes in and out of fashion. “I don’t think age adds much to the quality of the thing. If it was good once, it’s still good, which should be encouraging to investors. But you have to sometimes wait 100 years.”

At least that’s a reason to keep on living.

Like the economy, the art market is on the upswing, the Wall Street Journal reports. New galleries are opening. Regional auction houses are developing a secondary market for lesser-known artists whose works sell for less than $5,000. Sales of works at that price level have increased.

If you are tempted to try your hand at the art mart, here are a few tips and insights to give you an edge and, possibly, land you a Picasso, albeit a small one.

Opinions vary, so don’t expect a consensus beyond: Do your homework, and buy what you like.

“…then live with it,” Jones says. “And don’t worry about investment potential. If you develop a good eye, your estate will probably benefit. Pay as much as you are able to get the best thing you like. And be prepared to keep it for a very long time.”

For more on “doing your homework,” read the full story here.

Going Overboard for Art
by Barry O’Brien at the Advertiser

For some, cruising the high seas means food and relaxation, but there is a growing trend for some who rate the on-board art auctions the most important incentive to cruising.

A Florida company, Fine Art Wholesalers, sold in excess of 500,000 pieces of art and memorabilia last year on some of the world’s major shipping lines, including the Pacific Princess on the Australian run. Auctions are planned for Pacific Sky out of Brisbane and newcomer Pacific Sun out of Sydney.

Onboard Art Director Frank Markram: “People are specifically coming on board to buy art because we have incredible prices for them. As one of the largest art dealers in the world, the company has phenomenal buying power. We can walk up to an up-and-coming artist and say ‘We’ll take everything we can see’.
more here..

August 6, 2004 (Friday)
Here’s an excellent summary (by Sylvia White) of what it’s like to live with an artist:

Living with an artist isn’t easy, particularly if you are the significant other. So, after living with and working with artists for over 20 years I’ve put together a few suggestions for you to share with your partners. One of the first things most non-artists have a hard time understanding is the concept of addiction and how it is related to art making. Most artists I know go through classic symptoms of withdrawal when deprived of their work environment for too long. They get grouchy, irritable, may suffer from physical complaints such as headaches, body aches and often times find themselves depressed for no reason. These symptoms miraculously disappear when they are given the opportunity to work again

The concept of “working” was a hard one for me to understand. Often times I’d go into my husband’s studio and see him sitting on the couch with the television on or listening to the radio…staring at his paintings. I’d been at my office all day, talking on the phone or busy with clients. This was not my idea of “work.” It wasn’t until I really understood the process of making a painting that I realized how much of the work is in just looking…thinking…imagining what it would be like to do this or that. Mental activity that to the lay person looks like relaxation. I could accept the fact that slathering paint around was work…but, sitting and staring, that was hard for me. What I came to learn was that the “looking,” is the hardest part.

Contrary to the common stereotype of artists as slackers, artists are incredibly industrious and hard working. In most cases, regardless of what they do for a living, they are working on their obsession 24/7. Acknowledging this, can help tremendously in understanding an important aspect of an artists’ character…and saving a relationship.

excerpts from “If You Are Addicted” by Sylvia White – the full essay is HERE.

I asked a few friends (artists and those partnered with artists) to tell me a few of the main characteristics of life with an artist and here are the anonymous replies:

– The best part is being in a creative environment – it’s invigorating, inspiring.

– All the dish towels end up ruined with paint.

– Now and then, say at the dinner table, they stare off into space and you know they’re making art in their head.

– You have to deal with clutter – lots of stuff around related to the creative process – not just art materials but lots of “intriguing found objects.”

– It can get lonely because of the amount of solitude the artist needs.

– They need a lot of alone time, so you better get a hobby yourself.

– When (the artist) tries to cook dinner, they are easily distracted (or wander off into the studio) and things get burned.

– When they don’t work as much as they need, they get insomnia.

– When they aren’t painting they get cranky.

– When they aren’t making art it’s hell on everyone.

– I used to think the worst part was lack of steady income, but you get used to it.

– There are financial strains from funneling the available money into art projects instead of home, vacation, or other joint ventures.

August 5, 2004, (Thursday)
I’ve never really understood boredom. And people who use boredom as an excuse for bad behavior really irritate me (as in, “There’s nothing to do around here, so we need a teen center, other wise we’ll just get into trouble.”) For as far back as I can remember, maybe around age four, I have had the sense that there are more things to explore, stuff to learn, and projects to complete, than there is time to do it all. You know the common saying that people who complain about boredom are boring?

Well, a parallel saying is people who complain about life being meaningless aren’t living a meaningful life. I thought of this when I read the August column by Jeanette Winterson, who wrote one of my favorite art books, “Art Objects.” She says,

“People who complain that life is meaningless, are not prepared to find meaning for themselves – they expect it to be automatically present. Nothing of value is automatic or inevitable – it has to be dug out, coaxed, sought, and when found, celebrated. It may be that creative people understand this, because for us, working at the problem of meaningless, is in itself, meaning.”

Later she talks about going to see an opera and says,

“Great plays can withstand all kinds of interpretations – just as music can. The challenge and pleasure for us as an audience is in re-visiting the places that we think are familiar, and finding that they are changed. When that happens, we change too.”

Which partly explains the appeal of painting “realistic” images of the places around me – my neighborhood, this city, the things that are utterly familiar to me. I try to inject a personal view of the scene or object, while still remaining within the bounds of “realism.” It seems to be working, as I often get comments from viewers that after seeing my painting of something familiar, they’ve never seen it quite the same way since.

August 4, 2004 (Wednesday)
Thank you, Tyler Green, for giving me a simple exercise and blog entry:

My 10 favorite artists, with a one-word summary of what I like best about each artist.:

1.) Alice Neel. Painting.

2.) Charles Burchfield. Synesthesia.

3.) Agnes Pelton. Transmission.

4.) Edward Hopper. Focus.

5.) Robert Schwartz. Craft.

6.) Paula Rego. Story.

7.) James Doolin. Animation.

8.) Vija Celmins. Iconography.

9.) Robert Arneson. Californian.

10.) John Register. Persistence.

August 3, 2004 (Tuesday)
I was inspired by the entries yesterday at Iconodual and Artblognet. They seemed to be related, and I was intending to write something for today about imagery, icons, and the consequences of suppressing sensory experiences… but I painted until afternoon, then went out and got involved in various adventures, getting home unexpectedly late… and my brain is too fried for coherent thought right now, so you’ll have to make do with some visuals instead. At left: Monday’s Sunset at the Camera Obscura. The Cliff House is still under renovation. It’s supposedly re-opening this month but it sure doesn’t look possible to me. Meanwhile, the Musee Mechanique is still at Pier 45 and here’s a shot of the carnival machine, taken yesterday:

August 2, 2004 (Monday)
It’s August, which means the fog will soon end and we’ll be having the best weather of the year. Many of the galleries are closed for this month, so it’s time to get out and see something new… look in some of those group shows at little out of the way places that are trying harder. I’ll be writing about these three places later this month:

1. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA)- “Beautiful Losers” (not that this is a small space, but it’s a group show and work by young artists) I stopped in here briefly last week and didn’t have time to give it my full attention. But I liked what I saw. Initial impressions: lots of painting and drawing, some installations, some video, vibrant, witty, original work. Great use of the space. Will check it out again in a couple of weeks.
Great photos of the show at SFArt Openings and at this site.

2. Newmark Gallery – “Cityscapes” by Larry Morace, David Holmes, Mary Proenza, Paul Madonna. Haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds like a good show – will let you know.

3. Steele Gallery – “Favorite Things” by Gordon Smedt, Tina Lauren Vietmeier, Kazaan Viverios. I keep hearing about this new gallery – time to see it for myself.

Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist, Kay Weber.

Kay (rhymes with eye) Weber’s Open Studio was last weekend.He was born in Hamburg which is in Germany. He finished his graduation in Fine Arts where he got Master’s Degree from the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg. He also got a Master Degree in Education from University of Hamburg. In his career as an artist for about 10 years he came up with a dialog drawings which was cooperative type of art which he did live. In Bitcoin Trader you can trade live as well. I didn’t get a chance to interview him before his weekend, but I was so impressed with his work, I wanted to include him in this series. I first saw his work at a “Selections” show a few years ago, and I’d seen a few more pieces here and there over the years. He works with paper and thin sheets of metal, cutting out the negative spaces in original and symbolic narrative scenes. Sometimes he layers different colored papers with sheets of plexi between, to highlight the layers of meaning in the story. His studio is in the Tenderloin, where he lives and works as Art Director for the Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club.

A: When did you first come here to San Francisco?

K: About ten years ago, from Germany.

A: Were you doing the same kind of work then?

K: No, very different. I did more experimental drawing and performance. My drawing was much more academic and intellectual. Now my work is more narrative and figurative, more personal. It combines mythology and storytelling with my interest in travel and different cultures. I try to visualize old stories.

A: Are your stories associated with Germany?

K: Some of them, others are not. They are basically from all over the world, or what we find here in the Bay Area. Living here brings the outside world to me. I don’t have to do so many travels. There are so many aspects of different societies here, and the museums and galleries are excellent. It’s really a great resource to be exposed to so many cultures – I love that part. Plus I go once in a while to South America and to Europe, and I see other things as well.

A: When did you start working with the cut paper and cut metal designs?

K: It was about 1992… I traveled a lot at that time, and I didn’t want to carry all my art stuff with me. So one day, I took the little papers that were bookmarks in my travel books, started to make sketches on it, and used the cuticle scissors in my travel set to make little cuts in it. Over time, I got folded papers, and they became larger and larger until some are now very large.

A: Where did you first learn about this technique?

K: It’s a very ancient technique, and has been around in many cultures for centuries. That’s what makes it so fascinating. and it’s not very popular nowadays. As a kid, my musical books were full of little silhouettes. At the end of the nineteenth century, people would sit around in the evening, cutting silhouettes of nature studies – it was a popular form of entertainment in the German and French culture. So, I did see a lot of it when I was growing up. But also in Mexico, Japan, China – they all have it.

A: Are you familiar with Kara Walker’s work?

K: Yeah, yeah, I love her work, it’s wonderful. It’s amazing. She had, just a year or two ago, a great show in Munich. It’s very powerful imagery.

A: Do you sketch your images in pencil first, before cutting?

K: The little ones I don’t sketch, I just cut. But the larger pieces, with the intricate compositions, I sketch it out, because you have to know exactly where the positive and negative space will be. That’s very important. So I do the concept as a drawing and then the detail evolves with the process of cutting. I may change the little things, the smaller details while I’m doing it. It’s drawing with scissors.

A: This red and white one, the largest one here, what do you call it?

K: That is “Hel, Goddess of Death,” and she is basically a figure from the Scandinavian or Norwegian mythology. Many names come from her, like Helsinki, Helsingborg… she takes care of the souls of the dead. She takes them under the ocean in overturned cauldrons and when they are ready to be reincarnated she turns the cauldrons and the souls rise to the surface. It’s the dark aspect of the Mother Goddess. Kali Ma is in there, with the necklace, and Freya, Pele… all over the world we have the same pattern of goddesses, and so I took parts of different ones, like the border from the Day of the Dead and put them in the whole, but the original idea came from the Vikings.

A: This kind of symbolism is important to you… (K: yes) Is it important for the viewer, in understanding this piece?

K: Not necessarily, but it plays a big role in reading it, if you want to understand the background. You see the four elements (fire, water, earth and air) and you get a feel of the pre-christian background, but it’s not necessary to know that to enjoy it as a beautiful hand-made object. I think people should enjoy art as it is, and if they have questions, it’s great to be approached and asked. Then it becomes interesting for me, as well.

A: Do people see things in your work that you didn’t realize was there?

K: Yeah, sometimes. It’s always a nice exchange. That’s what’s good about the shows and the Open Studios.

A: Are these works, especially the bigger ones, cut from a single sheet of paper?

K: Yes, all the pieces are single pieces of paper. They are not collages. Sometimes they are layered, but each layer is a single sheet of paper.

A: What makes a successful work of art for you?

K: It’s hard to say, but… if it really engages people, and they are looking longer… if it can stand on its own, reaching out without my explanation, that’s a successful piece for me.

A: Is this your primary focus, or do you do some other work?

S: Afternoons, I am the Fine Art Director at the Boys and Girls Club, and I teach art to youth.

A: Are these art “jobs” on a continuum with making your own work, or are they very separate things for you?

S: It’s different aspects of the same thing. We educate youth about art and self expression, and I try to work on the next generation, to basically teach them not to be intimidated by art, to look at it, feel it. If you bring the kids into museums and galleries and give them confidence that everything they perceive and feel about it is true. And then I try to incorporate the kind of spontaneity and movement that kids have into my own work. And the kids all know my work – they live in the neighborhood here and they come by and see the stuff. So it goes hand-in-hand. On the one hand it’s nice as an artist to do your work by yourself, but you can get too isolated. The social interaction brings elements into my work, and the children sometimes help me with little sketches. So I think I have a pretty good balance.

A: How long does it take you do of one of these medium sized pieces? What is your process?

K: It depends of course, on the day and how I feel, but an average piece could take a week or so. On the other hand, one like this (“Hel”) took three months, but I didn’t have to do much with my job then, so I was working on it full time. I had to research it at the library – the research part is very important and it takes about half of the time. Then I have a short period where I do sketches and things, then I begin the cutting process. Also, I like to do the finishing, with the Plexiglas layers.

A: Do you ever take commissions?

K: Yes, I do commissions sometimes. (He shows me a portfolio of photos of his work, with preparatory sketches for the complex works.) for instance my last one was a “Creation” theme, where the client wanted me to combine different creation theories, like the big bang, Greek mythology of Kronos and Gaia, and the Genesis story. So each story was in a different layer (and different color paper.) Once I did one of the solar system, which I would not choose as a theme, but this is very challenging, and it expands my boundaries. People usually come to me because they like my style and they trust me, so it works out pretty well.

A: What’s your next project?

K: I’m really drawn to the metal cuts now, and it’s something I’d like to explore a little more. It’s an interesting material in terms of aging and sculptural aspects. There are so many options… I don’t know… anything can happen.

Kay Weber’s Open Studio was last weekend, but you can contact him about a private studio visit. His studio is at 111 Jones Street #408 (at Golden Gate), SF, CA 94102
Email Kay or call him for an appointment: phone 415-563-5905
Permanent Link to this entry.

October 7, 2004 (Thursday)
Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist Sandra Yagi
69 Belcher Street (at 14th St.) San Francisco

I first saw Sandra Yagi’s work at an Open Studio several years ago. It was the image of the Sisyphus in the apiary that drew me to her studio, but it was the rest of her work that kept me coming back year after year. She paints in a renaissance style but subverts the images to address contemporary issues. Sandra ‘s studio is down at the end of the main hall, at the artist’s collective, Belcher Street Studios. I met her there one night this week, as she was cleaning up for this weekend.

S: Unfortunately I don’t have that much new work here for this weekend because I just sold some and just shipped six paintings to Los Angeles. (Sandra’s gallery is Bert Green Fine Art.)

A: You’ve been with him a while now, you must be pretty happy there.

S: Yes, I think his vision of what he wants to show is right in line with the kind of stuff I do.

A: You still have quite a few nice pieces here… I was just noticing these small paintings (example at right) of dancing skeletons… didn’t you use this same conjoined skeleton in another painting last year?

S: Yes, I used one of them in “Madonna.” (below, left) These are all deformities. One of them is at the Mutter Museum. But with these little dancing skeletons, they get a sense of grace, whereas in real life, they could probably hardly walk.

A: How about your real life – how did you become an artist?

S: When I was about five, or maybe younger, I was always drawing. I was one of those kids who wouldn’t color in the coloring books (except on the inside front cover.) I wanted a plain white page. I didn’t want to do what somebody else had done. I kept it up all the way through high school. I really enjoyed doing art in high school because it gives you an identity. Since I wasn’t cool enough to be a jock or a cheerleader, but I could be an artist. But then I went through this cycle with my dad where he would not help me with college unless I did something practical. I started out with one semester in Fine Arts, but then it just got too difficult trying to work and go to school. So I decided to major in business, but take a lot of art electives. I went ahead and got my MBA. The problem was, in doing that degree, I didn’t touch a sketch book for five, ten years. I really knew something was missing – I was at this semi-depressed level. Then I met a woman who told me that she had wanted to be a sculptor, but she became a chiropractor and then by the time she came back to sculpting it was too difficult (physically challenging) to do. That made me realize that if you have something that you really want to do, you gotta do it. At this point I had moved from Denver to L.A., where I was working in banking. The good thing is, L.A.’s got a very vibrant art community and I went to Otis Parsons and took some continuing ed classes. At the time I thought, “Oh, I can’t deal with color.” But I found a wonderful teacher, started with watercolors and graduated to oils. I was about 30 or 35 years old when I came back to art, and it was the best thing I ever did. I work a day job, about 32 hours a week, and spend about 24 hours on my art. It makes for a pretty full week. The kind of thing that suffers is social life. It’s a good thing I’m not a social butterfly. It’s a solitary profession. You know, creativity takes place when there’s no one around, usually.

A: What about the kind of socializing you have to do, to promote your art?

S: That’s really hard. The one good thing about the day job is that it has allowed me to not worry about whether someone likes a painting or not. I pick subjects where I think, “I’m going to do this, but I know there’s not a broad market for it.” It is nice when someone comes in and says they like a painting. Even that they’re disturbed by it, is OK. (at right, “Cerebus”)

A: I remember an earlier Open Studios, you had a portrait of yourself wearing a jester’s hat, holding a skull…

S: Yeah, I won’t sell that painting. You know, my father was the one who kept telling me I had to do something practical. He was real glad when I got my graduate degree (MBA.) But I think, over time, he saw that I was really an artist. It’s hard for someone who’s an engineer, but he started to accept it. One day, we were just talking about life and death in general, because some of my paintings have death as a topic. I was telling him about that painting I was working on (the self-portrait, looking at a skull.) I guess he was very happy with his life at this point in time… he said he was really glad I was doing art. And then he said, “Maybe you should cut back your hours at your job and start really doing this.” Then he died the next day. That was my last conversation with him. After years of fighting over this…

A: How important is it to you, that people understand the meaning you intended for a painting?

S: Well, it’s interesting, some of the scenarios that I happen to overhear viewers coming up with, do make a lot sense. It’s generally not way, way off the mark. A lot of times people will just ask me. But if they just like it on a color level, or just like the way I draw, or whatever, that’s OK too. I think art can work on all kinds of levels. I know this sounds weird, but when I first come up with a painting, it’s kind of hard to say what it’s about. Hard to say concisely – that’s why it’s a painting, I guess. But, the more people ask me, the better I get at explaining it. That’s why Open Studios is good – I get better at explaining things as the weekend goes on. I’m happy when people come in and start talking to each other about what it means. It’s pretty gratifying when the painting elicits discussion and causes people to think.

A: The first pieces of yours that I remember seeing were of the beehives… (above left)

S: That was fairly early, it was about my third Open Studios here. Interestingly, I was working full time then. In one of them, I showed Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill, and people in their little cubicles. You know bees have a life of 45 days – they work work, work, until they die, for the good of the hive.

A: Was it that job that brought you to San Francisco from L.A. and Denver?

S: Yes, I moved here in ’91. There’s just something about the atmosphere here that’s very, very good for me. I grew up in Denver, which is a very suburban, sports town. Every Sunday you watch the Broncos. I don’t think it’s the most conducive atmosphere for art. I’m wondering how the people are going to take to Clyfford Still, when the Denver Art Museum has a whole floor devoted to Western Art. Living here in San Francisco has had a profound effect on me. You can walk anywhere and there are arty little posters for events and happenings; you can look down at the sidewalk and there’s those little stencils… I love them! The fact that a city the size of San Francisco (population 750,000) can support an event like Open Studios, with over 900 artists, says a lot about the people that support it by making an effort to go out and look. There’s a support for the arts here, that you don’t get in a lot of other places. There’s a more open attitude toward the kinds of subjects you can approach here. It allows the artist to think more freely. I think Los Angeles has a degree of that, but it tends to be a little more conservative.

A: In Los Angeles, when you first got back into painting, what was your subject matter?

S: I started out with more standard things such as landscapes and still life. The shift toward more unusual subjects began about the time I got a studio here, about ’95. Some of it was the ability to do oil painting. I had been doing watercolor, and working at home. I look at renaissance art… I could probably never get get to that level of ability, but I like the whole idea of taking what they did and using it to explore current issues. Like this one on the easel, “St. Jerome”, is about the Catholic church and its attitude toward sex. (photo of Sandra in front of easel holding “St. Jerome” is on right, two up)

A: Well, speaking of this one on the easel, let’s talk about technique. You’ve got it all laid out so nicely here… a color study for the background, pencil sketches of the composition, as well as individual figures. Did you use a model for the figure of Jerome?

S: Usually I do, but in this particular instance, I saw this really great sculpture at the L.A. County Museum of Art. I sketched it, (at left) but it’s an older guy, so I changed him to make it a younger, more virile man. I have a full scale skeleton at home, and so I can make some educated guesses about the figures. Now these people in “Eden” (above left) they’re all models. It was inspired by a Durer etching. Eden is always portrayed as perfect, but in real life things are not black and white. There’s death, there’s the whole range of things that nature presents. The backgrounds are usually landscapes I’ve actually seen (Eden is from Golden Gate Park.)

A: Have you ever considered painting abstract or non-representational work?

S: I know that a lot of people will look at an abstract painting and think, “Oh, I could do that.” I look at an abstract painting and go, “How did they do that?” I don’t know if I could just start attacking a canvas like that. It looks more fun than hell. I think to be an abstract painter, you have to be really fearless. Maybe I’m a little bit more risk-averse than they are.

A: Have you experimented with other mediums besides oils and watercolors?

S: I’ve used pastels, and I’ve often thought about going back and playing around with them. It’s a great medium, but pretty messy. Acrylic – it just dries too fast. All of these oil paintings have a little bit of acrylic underneath. The first layer, because I’m impatient, is usually acrylic. I block things in, using the acrylic almost like watercolor. Once I see where I’m going with it, I start building up the layers in oils.

A: What kind of surface do you prefer?

S: Panel, except for the larger pieces, which I do on canvas because it’s easier to transport. Since I use weird sizes, I get my panels custom-made by a guy in L.A., although he’s going out of business soon, so I don’t know what I’m going to do then.

A: What’s your routine? How does a painting progress?

S: I have a couple of idea books. The ideas always start out in different books, so I cut them out and keep them all in one place (she shows me a scrap book of sketches.) Some of these ideas take literally years… like the Icarus paintings (below left.) First, I had a dream about being a bird and flying over an industrial wasteland. Then it dawned on me that the myth of Icarus flying too close to the sun was like human ingenuity taking us too far. Like for instance, the U.S. Army experimenting with anti-matter weapons. The ideas take a long time to percolate. Then there’s the gathering of the materials and finding the right person to model. In the case of Icarus it had to be a cocky young guy, who I finally found… then doing the preliminary thumbnails, working on finished sketches, and then bringing it all down to the studio. Sometimes I do a color study, but often, like with “St. Jerome”, I just start without one. I transfer the sketch to the canvas. I used to do a neutral underpainting, but now I just start blocking in the basic values and colors. Once I start painting… this “St. Jerome” painting is going to take me, probably two and a half months. They can take 2 to 6 months, depending on how many figures there are , how complex it is.

A: What do you consider a successful piece?

S: One that I like looking at afterwards.

A: Do you ever work on them after they’ve been photographed and you thought they were done?

S: I’m pretty good about that… by the time I photograph it it’s in a pretty close state and I very rarely do any corrections. It’s funny – I kind of know when they’re done. Sometimes I know, just as I’m putting the last stroke of paint, “that’s it.”

A: What’s your favorite piece?

S: It’s always the last one I did. Right now, I really like this “St. Jerome” painting. I also really like this “Eden” painting. I’m probably going to do some more of these with different scenarios.

A: What’s next for you, after you finish “St. Jerome?”

S: I’m working on a commission right now. I’ve got a drawing at home that I’m almost done with – it’s Joan of Arc, burning at the stake.

Sandra Yagi’s studio will be open this coming weekend, October 9 & 10, from 11am to 6pm each day. She’s at 69 Belcher Street (near 14th) Call 415-861-3698 for more info. Her work can also be see at the Bert Green Fine Art gallery in Los Angeles.
Permanent Link to this entry.

October 6, 2004 (Wednesday)
Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist Saundra McPherson
22 Castro Street (across from Davies Hospital, between Duboce & 14th)

Saundra McPherson’s place is a big dusty-pink house, rising high above the sidewalk, its back against the base of Buena Vista hill. The entryway (the kind of space that usually collects bicycles, baby carriages and recycling bins) is a small art gallery. Saundra’s large abstract (oil, drip) canvases dominate the room and announce, “artist living here.” Her painting studio is two floors up, a small room facing the street, a redwood tree just visible above the translucent papers taped across the window. There were about 18 paintings in various stages, more than half of them on the floor, the rest leaning against the walls. A stone fireplace on one wall was piled with sticks, stones, moss, leaves, dried insects, and photos. I started by asking Saundra about her workspace – what did she like about this space in her house?

S: I would love a bigger space, because you know there’s stretching the canvas, building and working the stuff… but having a studio here gives me flexibility. It gives me the ability to just go in and look at the work, which I do about four times a day… walk in and see what’s going on, see where the drips have gone. Once they’ve dripped as much as I want them to drip, I put them to rest until they’re dry. I have a severely sloping floor here, so unpredictable things can happen. But that adds to the character of the work. It has its own ideas about where it wants to go. I give up control at a certain point.

A: Can you talk a little more about your process?

S: I do a lot of sanding, all along… I work with the tooth of the gesso on the canvas. I try for an uneven, asymmetrical quality. It gives it this nice look, which I love and try to preserve, but it’s hard to create what I call the architecture of the work. So, I have to follow what the drips and the canvas give me. I’m using oils with a lot of Galkyd and a lot of thinner. The Galkyd suspends the pigments, so you can see through each layer to the layers beneath. The Galkyd is a resin product so it’s really flexible and it doesn’t crack – I just love this stuff. It’s got the color of honey, but it doesn’t color the paint much. (below right: in front of her palette)

A: I notice your paintings are all warm hues.

S: Yes, I’m using the colors that I love. I don’t use a whole lot of blues. You’re seeing some blues here, but those are just really to balance the other section of the canvas. I’m using a lot of Gamblin’s Transparent Earth Red and Transparent Earth Yellow. Oh, speaking of earth tones, let me show you this… I’m kind of a science geek. I go to the Academy of Sciences lectures whenever I can. I was in Wyoming this summer at a dinosaur dig, and I collected forty pounds of pigments. (She starts pulling out bags of colored dirt and opens them to show me.) I was there with my seven year old son, and we were participating in the dig, but you literally just look around at the hills and there are all these gorgeous colors… I mean, look at this! Aren’t they great? I’ll have to put them in a kiln and grind them. And, this will eventually turn into a painting. (below: showing the earth pigments)

A: How long do you work on a piece?

S: About six to eight weeks, a really long time, that’s why I have so many going.

A: Do you paint full time, or do something else to pay the bills?

S: Painting helps pay the bills. I paint about 20 hours a week, and then there’s about eight hours a week of marketing, taking stuff to the photographer, buying supplies, etc. The rest of the time I take care of my son, volunteer at his school…

A: How long have you been working as an artist?

S: About seven or eight years. As a kid I painted and drew, but mostly I just painted. Then I stopped for probably 20 years. I have a million interests… I studied social sciences and I wanted to make some money. I got my feet wet in the business world and got a sense of how the business world works. For years I did fundraising for non-profits. Eventually I realized I was so close to the arts, but I wasn’t doing my own.

A: How long have you been in the Bay Area? And has living here affected your art?

S: I’ve lived here all but five years of my life. It’s had a tremendous influence on my work. I mean, even though I’m a city person, I see nature everywhere. I really see color and movement. Sometimes I think my brain is a hawk’s brain because I tend to see movement. Yet, I look out here and I see these incredible greens, in the redwood and the other street trees. I’m also a gardner, so I tend to see texture… (the fireplace in Saundra’s studio, at right)

A: Are there any painters who’ve influenced or inspired you?

S: It’s really hard to say. I didn’t go to art school, so I just pick up art history here and there. I love contemporary painters. Darren Waterston is not necessarily an influence, well maybe a little bit, but I love his work. He just does wonderful, fantastical things. He’s very influenced by nature, and that’s my biggest influence. This series (of mine) is about emotional landscapes. In the past, my paintings had more images in them and they were images drawn from nature, like leaves, and trees, and tree roots. Suddenly about a year and a half ago. I just pared it down… to two fields of color.

A: Do you think it’s important for the viewer to know your intent?

S: I think about that a lot, and we’ve discussed it in my critique group. I think it’s important. If the viewer wants to know, they should read the artist’s statement, look at the web site, and get to know the artist. I love it when clients come here. It means so much more than selling it through a stranger. So it’s important if the viewer wants it, but it’s not important to me. What’s important to me is the process. It’s all about the process. And once it’s done and out in that entry foyer, it has its own life, you know? It’s very much a relationship. Each one of these (paintings) – there’s a relationship with it. When I’m done painting it, it’s kind of like an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time and don’t really engage with anymore.

A: Do you ever go back into a painting that was finished?

S: Oh yeah. Sometimes even after it’s been photographed. Not very often, but there was a piece, the first one in this series – it never sold, I was never really that happy with it, and I realized that it wasn’t as developed as some of the ones that came after it. So finally I brought it back and reworked it, and it was wonderful. (left: detail of work in progress.)

A: How do you respond when viewers come here and say, “What is this about? I think I see a tree or a face?”

S: I usually just listen. If I intended it to be an image I’ll concur, but I usually just let people think what they want. If they ask me, it depends on how well I know the person. If it’s another artist, I’ll tell them what my intent was. But if it’s a client, I’ll usually just listen.

A: Has anyone ever wanted to hang a painting of yours in a different orientation than you intended?

S: I have no objection to it… I have no attachment to that. Again, it’s about the process for me.

A: How do you feel about framing?

S: I actually advise against it. I just feel like they don’t need it. I paint the edges. This way the painting goes off into the space it’s occupying. It’s like signing the piece – I would never sign a piece on the front. I see the painting as a natural creation and signing it would be like putting some kind of weird stamp on it that contains it and makes it a product.

A: I’ve noticed while we’ve been standing here talking, that every now and then you grab a rag and dab at these paintings on the floor… is that part of your process?

S: Picking at them… yeah, yeah, mostly I’ll come in and I’ll turn it and it’ll drip in another direction. Sometimes I forget, like leaving something on the stove, and there’ll be happy accidents? But other times… like, I had to completely repaint this gorgeous section on this one (above left.) I had let some of it drip down and dry. I tried sanding it, but it wasn’t working, so I to completely start over down there.

A: What do you consider a successful work of art?

S: Just that it’s balanced and it’s resolved, to my eye. It’s an intuitive thing with me. Very intuitive. Sometimes, say with this light green piece (at left)… you can see it has very little paint on it. Just pigment and thinner – no Galkyd yet, I don’t do that until half way through. I just started it and… I got this far, and… it’s been sitting around here for six months. I just don’t want to take it too far. So I want to let it live, like that… and go back to it when I’m ready.

A: What’s next for you?

S: I really want to keep going with this work. The small pieces have been kind of exciting, because they go a lot quicker. I just started to play around with these again. You can different things with this small area.

A: What do you like about doing Open Studios?

S: I’ve been doing it for four years, and I like the contact with people. I never have any expectations about selling work, it’s not about that. It’s just about seeing the work, talking about it. About 20% of the visitors are other artists and we end up having great conversations and sharing resources. Everyone should get out and see as many studios as they can – there’s so much to be learned from the artist directly.

Saundra McPherson’s home gallery will be open this coming weekend, October 9 & 10, from 10am to 6pm each day. She’s at 22 Castro Street (across from Davies Hospital, between Duboce & 14th) Call 415-487-9827 for more info. Her work can also be see at Andrea Schwartz Gallery and the Gardener Store in Berkeley.
Permanent Link to this entry.

October 5, 2004 (Tuesday)
Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist Teresa Newson
15 Dorland Street looks like an old-fashioned boarding house on a beautiful alley between Dolores and Guerrero. Teresa Newson lives and works in a small front room facing the street. I first met Teresa several years ago when we both worked at an art supply store, but have only occasionally bumped into her at art shows since then.

We started out talking about the display of small egg tempera paintings hanging above her fireplace. The frames on the cherry and pomegranate paintings were especially well made and well suited to the paintings. I mentioned the importance of frames to very small works.

T: I got them done at the Painter’s Place on Hayes Street. Their frames are expensive but just gorgeous.

A: Are these paintings on wood?

T: Yes. Just the cheapest artist panel. I gesso both sides to seal it off, so theoretically it’ll even out the tension on the surface…

A: Is this a recent piece? (skull, feather, blue cloth shown below.)

T: Fairly recent – it’s this year. The blue cloth I made up. I couldn’t figure out how to get anything to drape the way I wanted. You know, you get an idea and start working on it… it seemed like a wonderful idea… I was going to use a black cloth, but that didn’t work out and you know, I had started on this thing, and so I had to finish it. And the back ground? I was going to have one solid color, but I could not, for the life of me, get the pigment to lay down that way. So I just started making things up.

A: What do you say to people when they ask you what this means?
T: (Laughs) People used to ask me that when I was kid, and I don’t have any better answers now, than I did then. I don’t know what it means.

A: I notice a few older, bigger abstract paintings (oils) over there. What influenced your move to realism?

T: It’s necessitated by the medium (egg tempera.) When I was painting in oils, I could just slap the paint on and go with the flow, but you can’t do that with egg tempera.

A: Tell me about egg tempera.

T: It’s very time consuming and I feel like I’m just insane to keep working with it, but since I’m working at home and I have room mates who don’t like the smell of turpentine, I can’t use oils. And I just can’t work with acrylics. I’ve never been able to get a feel for acrylics. With egg tempera, it’s just water, dry pigment and egg yolk. I feel like I have to have a dialog with the pigments. The pigments have different characteristics and personalities. It’s like having a conversation… some conversations work better than others.

A: How long have you been working with egg tempera?

T: Since I lost my studio, about four and a half years ago. I belong to the Society of Egg Tempera Painters – it’s been very helpful.

A: Do you mix the colors yourself? What kind of problems have you encountered?

T: Yes, I mix it myself. The only thing I’ve had trouble with has been algae forming in here (shows me a small jar of mixed egg tempera). And on occasion I’ve had some weird little bug come in and…. at first I thought I’d scraped it accidently, but there’s this tiny white scratch where the paint has been eaten off the surface of the painting. But that’s only happened a couple of times. I don’t get mold problems because I work so slowly, in thin layers, with at least a week to dry between layers.

A: How long does it take you do a piece like this, on average?

T: Over a year. But I work on several at a time, because sometimes I have to put one aside for awhile. Like this one – I put it aside because I wasn’t happy with it, and I’m still not happy with it, but I still have the delusion that I’ll be able to fix it this week (Open Studios is next weekend.)

A: How many do you work on at a time? What’s your routine?

T: Sometimes as many as five, but usually three are about all I can handle. Sometimes I get so physically tired that I have to make myself stop working. I paint on weekends, but I also try to paint during the week. When I get home, I do something like organize papers for a little bit, then about 9pm I’ll start painting, and I sometimes paint until midnight, but usually I quit about 11pm.

A: What do you consider a successful work of art? What’s the importance of intent?

T: After I put it aside for a while, and then I pull it out and take a look… if I think “gee, that doesn’t look too bad, ” then it’s a success. I’m looking for some balance, and clarity, and I really like it when it has the quality of popping out of the surface, but I don’t often achieve that. I’ve tried having intentions when I start working on a piece, but for whatever reason, I never feel like I’m able to pull it off. If I try too hard to go with my intention, then I wind up with a stiff, stilted piece.

A: Do you paint from life, or your imagination?

T: The backgrounds are from my imagination but the actual objects are from observation. It’s little stuff that I have sitting around, and for whatever reason it looks interesting to my eye. It’s got to be some kind of visual thing that catches the attention of my subconscious.

A: What about these self portraits?

T: I did these a few years ago. They’re egg tempera on on little walnut panels. One is “by night” and one is “by day.” It was when I was living in the place I was in before this, and the room was half this size (which would make it the size of a closet.) The same week I moved in there I found out I was losing my studio, so I had to move my room and my studio into this teeny little place. The window faced a walkway between the buildings, so it didn’t get much light. So, this is how I felt then… you can see the edge of my lamp and the wall behind me.

A: Are these silverpoint? (Looking at a several life sized hand studies on mauve toned & prepared paper.)

T: Yes, those are older, but I’ve done quite a few new silverpoint drawings for this open studios – they’re at my photographer’s now. Dana Davis does my slides and he’s really good, if you want to put in a plug for him. The toned background is a weird paint I mixed from a recipe from Kurt Wehlte’s book, “Materials and Techniques of Painting.” Here’s a sample of the tone I used for this year’s silverpoints (shows me a gold toned & prepared paper.)

A: So where is Mr. Chicken Skull?
T: The skull that was on my card?
A: The skull that’s everywhere, in your paintings, drawings… does he exist?
T: Oh, yeah, Chicken Skull has been a good friend – I got him at the Bone Room. Here he is… do you want to take a picture of him?

A: How did you become an artist?

T: I was born in Landstuhl, Germany. My father was a medical entomologist for the U.S. Army. He was a specialist in mosquitoes. When I was three we moved to Maryland, just outside Washington DC. I’ve identified myself as an artist ever since kindergarden when a boy came up to me and said, “You are a great artist – you’ll be rich and famous when you grow up.” I really bless that boy for saying that to me, because I feel that girls didn’t get to identify themselves with something as serious and specific as that, at least during the time that I was growing up. So, even though I was ill-at-ease in many other ways, I knew I was an artist and had that one part of my life to focus on. It was something that was not based on being of service to a man. So it granted me an independence I don’t think I would have had. I think without that I could have been dead by now. I believe that there is a deep need to be expressive that some people are born with, and for so many women that gets thwarted. I felt so much pressure and I saw so many women around me not following up on their own talents, so that they could cook and clean up after other people… I could never live like that. I never wanted to get married, I never wanted to have kids. I would rather live in this one little room and be able to paint.

A: So, you’re happy with the choices you’ve made?

T: Yes, when I consider the alternatives. I do wish I’d completed college and gotten that piece of paper… not having it limits my ability to make money. I went back to school to get my degree, but I was working two jobs, and then I got laid off. Times weren’t great economically, I didn’t have a car, and my options were limited. I applied for an art store job because I thought even if it’s a dead-end job, at least it’s art related. And I did learn a lot there. In some ways it was a fabulous place to work because there were so many talented people there. I feel like I didn’t meet any serious artists until I started working at there.

A: Were there any other benefits to working at the art supply store, besides meeting other artists?

T: Not much else. I lasted a year and a month. Then I got an opportunity to work at the place where I am now

A: The work you do now – is it art related?

T: Not at all. It’s been eye-opening for me to work there. It’s full of “hip” young people who are a lot more conventional than they seem to realize. They’re into brand names and acquiring stuff. I feel like I’m working to generate money for people who are already filthy rich. Some days are exasperating and exhausting and I come home and I don’t have the physical energy or coordination to do my work. But it pays my rent, and I’m able to save money so that I can go on journeys and take pictures…

A: How long have you been living in California?

T: Since 1978, and I’ve been living in San Francisco since 1981.

A: Has living here had any effect on your art?

T: I’m sure it has, but I’m not sure how. I don’t have the necessary perspective to be able to say how I’ve been influenced by California.

A: Are there any local artists you’ve been impressed by?

T: Robert Schwartz – I haven’t seen the retrospective in San jose, but I saw his work at the Hackett Freedman gallery. And also (I think at Hackett Freedman) an artist named Costa V…(?) He does very realistic paintings and drawings, with exquisite detail but subtle… amazing work. His palette is limited to maybe five colors, like cerulean blue, an earth red, white, maybe an ocher, burnt umber and raw umber… and he got this amazing range of beautiful greys. And he got these beautiful flesh tones… he got everything he needed.

A: What’s your favorite piece in this show?
T: I’m actually very pleased with how the cherries look. It’s the red of it, but I also like all the subtle variations in the background.

A: Do you think it’s important for the art viewer to understand the artist’s intent when viewing the piece?

T: I think the art viewer has another whole universe of knowlege and experience to bring… it would be too limiting if the viewer just saw what I see in the work. I learn so much from viewers. A big part of why I decided to do Open Studios is so I could see other people’s responses to my work and I could learn from those responses what my work actually was.

A: What’s next for you, after Open Studios?
T: I’d like to work more with toned paper. Both silverpoint and egg tempera. I can do a painting on paper much more quickly than the paintings on panel. It’s nice to have the intensity of working on a painting for a long time, but it’s good to have a balance and these pieces on paper can be finished in a few days.

Teresa Newson’s Open Studio is this coming weekend, Oct. 9th and 10th, at 15 Dorland Street (near 18th, between Dolores and Guerrero)
Permanent Link to this entry.

October 4, 2004 (Monday)
Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya
4 September 2004 —2 January 2005
at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

I finally got a chance to get a good look at this show, and took my sketchbook with me (no cameras allowed.) It was unbelievably dark in the galleries, so it was like doing blind contour drawings. Later, out in the cafeteria, I was able to touch ’em up a bit. The painting at left (jade carving of the Jester God) was completed back in the studio, mostly from memory, so it may be less accurate than the pencil sketches.

This show was organized jointly by the SF Fine Art Museums and the National Gallery in D.C., where it showed earlier this year. My biggest surprise and strongest impression on seeing this selection of Mayan art was how lively, fun, and accessible it is. Before this, my main impression of Mayan art was heavy, complex stone carvings of indecipherable glyphs and ornate symbolism. I vaguely remembered seeing some clay figurines, but that was about it. Surprise: not all the stonework is stiff, the figurines are fantastic, and best of all – there’s a lot of excellent painting! The other thing that struck me about this art is how many echos of other cultures are present.

For instance, this volcanic stone sculpture of the Maize God, Yum Kaax, (at left) has the soft, beneficent pose of a Hindu or Buddhist divinity. Nearby is another portrait of Yum Kaax painted on a plate in loose, flowing brushstokes. The figure resembles a Minoan bull dancer.

A limestone sculpture of the Storm God Chac (two views, below) is a horrific, frightening personification of one of the most powerful gods in Mayan culture. In this example, he’s wearing a headdress of a bird with a monkey(?) in its beak. Next to the sculpture is a rough capstone painting (approx 16″ x 24″) of the same god. Executed in brown pigment with the equivalent of size 6 brush, the painting looks like it was dashed off in one quick sitting.

The cylinders are the most impressive paintings in the show. They’re rendered in sketchy black and white cartoons, sometimes with red, brown and yellow colors. The figures are unique individuals, depicted in natural poses with expressive faces. The drawing above right is an example – it shows a young captive, being unbound by the God “L” (on his throne, with bird headdress) while his rabbit scribe records the proceedings.

The show is small, but there’s plenty to look at – each cylinder is painted with many figures. I was there for two hours the second time I went, and I’m planning to go back again.

– 7 images on Legion web site, but all sculpture – none of the paintings
– more images on DC site, including some paintings, and a lot of explanatory text
– bigger, and clearest photos at (click on art of ancient maya photo gallery)
– SFGate review by Kenneth Baker (3 photos)
– BEST site for Mayan paintings is by Stevan Davies
– A good reference is the book, “Maya Script” by Maria Longhena, Abbeville Press 1999, ISBN 0-7892-0653-6
Permanent Link to this entry.

October 2, 2004 (Weekend)
There’s an interesting discussion taking place over at J.T. Kirkland’s Thinking About Art blog. Is it necessary for the viewer to know and understand the artist’s intent to to really appreciate a work of art? Check it out, and add your opinion.

Take the Art Blog Survey – only 6 days left! Rate this blog (and others like it) and let us know what kind of content you’d like to see here.

Congratulations to Tyler Green, my favorite art blogger, who has been designated as the art critic for Bloomberg News.

More Open Studios artist interviews to come – I have several interviews lined up, and I’m working on more. I’ll be posting them, 2 or 3 per week, in the coming 4 weeks.

Thinking of linking? I’ve added the “Permanent Link” feature to my blog entries, and the archives (starting with September) are now linked by entry instead of by month.

Photo at right: Observed yesterday on the N-Judah. This guy got on the MUNI train at one of the underground stations downtown. His sign says “Art for Sale.”
Permanent Link to this entry.

October 1, 2004 (Friday)
Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist Eric Joyner
Weekend 1 (Oct. 2-3, 11am – 6pm), 111 New Montgomery St. #402

Eric Joyner’s studio is a small room on the fourth floor of a building near the Academy of Art building at Mission & New Montgomery. It’s jammed with canvases, toys, a computer station and one easel. I’d never met Eric before today, but I’ve seen his Robot paintings here and there. He was kind enough to agree to this interview on extremely short notice.

A: I read on some web site that it all began in grade school when another kid asked you to draw a picture for him.

E: That’s a true story, and then one thing after another kept my interest in art.

A: So, you’ve always drawn & painted?

E: Yeah, pretty much.

A: Have you always lived in the Bay Area?

E: Yes, I grew up in San Mateo.

A: How do you think living in California most of your life has affected your work?

E: I guess maybe since I’m a bit closer to Japan, that might be why I’m interested in Japanese toys. I only started painting them recently, but I started buying them in the ’80s at these big events at the San Mateo County Fair Grounds. (He points to toys tucked here and there around the studio.)

A: So you’ve always made your living as an artist?

E: Yes, a commercial artist – illustration, animation and games.

A: Do those kinds of work feel the same, creatively, as doing your fine art?

E: Well, there’s definitely a division. I’ve noticed now, since I’ve been working on the Robots for myself, that it’s harder to work on the commercial stuff. After you get in the groove of doing your own stuff, commercial work seems so…. it doesn’t pay enough.

A: Since you’re a freelancer, do you keep a regular schedule?

E: Yes, I usually don’t get here until around 10am, but sometimes I stay until midnight, although I might go out in the day, for lunch or something. The only problem with working for yourself is you work all the time. When you’re not painting, you’re doing samples or looking for work, or doing promotional work. You have to keep promoting yourself because art directors come and go.

A: So, tell me about some of the things you paint… I see some dinosaurs, robots in fantasy scenes, doughnuts …

E: I think I’m working out some childhood issues (joking.) I like doughnuts, I’d eat them every day if I could. I’m just trying to bring some life into these robots. Sometimes I get ideas from looking at images, other times I could be talking to a friend about some silly thing…

A: Do you just grab a canvas and start painting?

E: No – there’s a lot of preparation. I have to gather my models (I call my robots my models), try to compose them and light them just right, then I take photographs of them. For this (at left, upper) I took a photo of Rome in the springtime, all grassy and green, and changed it to snow. For this (at right, lower), I did a Frank Frazetta kind of scene – it’s actually kind of random.

A: What can you tell me about your use of color?

E: It’s no big deal, just regular colors. I use yellow ocher a lot. I don’t want any one painting to be just hot or just cool; I try to keep a balance. Sometimes I make a painting darker to give it a dark feeling. I’ve been trying keep the shadows darker and not have so much reflective lighting.

A: What do you mean by reflective lighting?

E: You know, the light that bounces off an object and reflects in the shadow of another object.

A: Why do you want to avoid that?

E: Because I want to keep more mystery in the painting. I don’t want to see every detail. I like the effect that leads your imagination to fill in the blanks. I’m trying to simplify the values, with more shadow. It not only speeds up the painting but it has a certain mood to it, like the way I feel… dark, I guess.

A: What’s your most recent robot painting?

E: This big one here (image at left.) Everyone has a different idea of what it means…

A: That’s one of the things I wanted to ask you – how often do you get the question, “What does it mean?”

E: Too often. People want answers and I don’t have ’em.

A: Do you think there should be an answer?

E: I think everybody has their own interpretation. My goal is just to make people think, a little bit, and maybe they can come up with their own story.

A: How do you handle it when people come up to you and ask you “What does this mean?”

E: I tell them a story. Sometimes my stories change. You just get bored, and so you just start coming up with different scenarios. It’s just a painting, you know? I don’t think any artist should have to explain if they don’t want to. That’s the attraction to abstract painting – you don’t have to explain anything.

A: Have you done much abstract painting?

E: Not much, no. I like looking at it. I especially like Diebenkorn’s work. It’s amazing, the whole series… there’s noting there but lines, shapes, colors… and I like the fact that you can see all the mistakes underneath, the struggle, you know?

A: So, why did you start painting realism?

E: I try to make a living from my painting.

A: How about your cityscapes?

E: They’re just a different thing I like to do. It’s more like a skill, working on drawing and composition, and also I just appreciate good painting of streets and buildings. Sometimes I try to change the mood of the things I see. I’ve kind of slowed down on the street scenes, but I intend to start up again, but before that I want to do some figurative work. And also, I’m thinking about doing some floral paintings.

A: Do you ever do political themes?

E: No. I’m just not interested in politics. I have to put it out of my mind or else I’d never get anything else done. I can’t be getting intently focused on things I can’t control.

A: Let’s talk about technique a little bit. Do you use oils, acrylic or both?

E: I start with a piece of wood (door skin, birch, or maple) or a canvas. I gesso it and then draw with a pencil, sometime freehand, sometimes projecting. Then I start painting with acrylics, in washes, mostly browns or grey tones. Then I finish the painting in oils and alkyds. Oils are a lot nicer to paint with than acrylics because they dry slower, the colors are better… they’re thicker, just better feeling.

A: How long have you been doing Open Studios?
E: This is the first time, officially.

A: Is there anything you want potential Open Studios visitors to know ?
E: I’ll have some wine, maybe crackers, and I’m selling prints of my images… all archival, limited editions, for the special Open Studios price of $65.

My Story

Not long ago, on my birthday (June 2004) I came home after a pleasant day in the city to find a message from R—- on my telephone answering machine. He said that he was a fan of my paintings and he had just seen some of my paintings for sale on ebay, under another artist’s name! I had never been on ebay before, but I wasted no time checking it out. What I found was that eBay Inc. seller “MikeK30” is selling work by “Outsider” artist Geraldine Klemmer, and it is labeled as “original art”. But it is not original art, it is reproduced from copyrighted images belonging to many other artists, including me. (Ms. Klemmer’s promotional materials mention that she is talented in “many styles.”)

The work was advertised as original paintings, acrylic on canvas. The brushwork and colors are a messy and incompetent echo of the original paintings, but the underlying structure of the image is an exact duplicate, at 50% scale. My guess: she downloaded a copy of the image from the web, printed it on canvas, and did a quick paint-by-numbers kind of thing over the surface.

Some people have asked me why, since I have long since sold the originals, it matters if some yokel in Texas is copying my paintings.

Painting is an art of innovation and creation. But this is just a business for some people. They start stealing the paintings of other painters and sell them to the clients. The clients are getting only disappointment. Because original is always original. Duplicates will one day show its character. Earning money should be a goal for everyone but it should be very loyal and should not affect others life and future. Likewise, Trading is a business for many people to earn profits by sitting at home comfortably and doing work. But, there are some broker softwares which are scam. So, the users should be very careful and conscious while choosing a trading software. There is a software named “Bitcoin Trader” which is so simple and easy to use and it is purely a legit software.

I make my living as an artist, and my reputation as an honest businessperson is as important as my reputation for high quality work. When my clients see work that looks almost identical (at least to them) to paintings they have purchased from me, paintings they thought were one of a kind, and those copy-cat paintings are selling for a fraction of the price they paid me, those clients feel cheated. This impugns my reputation, lowers the value of my work, and makes it difficult for me to make future sales. Which adversely affects my already faint income.

And then there’s the issue of stealing. It just burns me up to think of all the time and effort I took to come up with those images. I walked all over town, took lots of photos, revisited sites so that I could be there when the light was just right, collaged and edited multiple photos to compose the images in such a way that they were pleasing to the eye, as well as descriptive of my city. THEN I started the painting. All the con-artist did was steal that beautiful image and copy it. Not use it as inspiration, not interpret it – copy it, as exactly as her feeble skills could manage.

From what I could tell, based on the public records on eBay, this con-artist has sold at least 483 works, at $40 to $80 each, for approximately $19,000 to $38,000 worth of plagiarized art. Some of the buyers of this plagiarized art have purchased up to 55 pieces, and it’s my guess that this work is being resold around the country in little boutique gift store galleries as “original art by Texas painter, Geraldine Klemmer.”

I attempted to remedy this situation by contacting ebay, but so far I have not been successful at getting through to them. When I posted messages to their forums (Community Help boards, Member Violations, Fraudulent Activity, Customer Support) I received quick admonishments from the forum moderators that informed me that I was using the forum inappropriately. But no one from ebay has answered my requests for help in dealing the fact that one of their members is violating my (and other artists) copyrights as well as defrauding ebay customers who think they have purchased original art. They do not have a listed phone number, and calling 411 is no help. It has been three days now, and still they do not address this issue at all. Meanwhile, this person is free to sell more fake art.

Luckily, I do have other avenues for pursuing this problem, and I’m doing just that.
So far, we have identified the work of five artists (multiple works per artist) and are actively searching for the others who have been ripped off. This particular scammer tends to rip off realist art, particularly cityscapes, landscapes, and still life (almost no figurative work.) You can email me if you want me to check your site for work that matches the scammer’s catalog.

July 1, 2004 – I found out about eBay’s VeRO program and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (aka the DMCA) from a lawyer. I should have been able to easily access this information from eBay, but I guess they don’t want to encourage people like me from doing anything that will slow their sales. This is what the lawyer had to say about it:

“In the VeRO program, you can report eBay auctions where you believe your IP is being infringed. I have done so many times (for my clients), and eBay has been very responsive in taking down these auctions. You can ask eBay to do the same for your copyrighted image which is being infringed.

Also, eBay has a DMCA Registered Agent. eBay is an online service provider, and is required to have an DMCA agent, who is required to take down infringing materials eBay is aware of.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (aka the DMCA) says that eBay needs to have this process in place in order to be immune from prosecution for copyright infringement when third party posters put infringing stuff on eBay. Through the VeRO program, which is eBay’s DMCA compliance program, you send eBay a notice certifying that you’re the copyright owner of works that are being infringed, and they take the material down and send a notice to the person posting the work.”

I also got some new links to useful (copyright protection) websites for artists – I put them up at right.

July 3, 2004
I received some helpful tips for the people who keep wondering how to restrict access to copyrighted images (see box at right) from Miyoji Productions.

The investigation is still progressing, but I’m sorry I can’t share any more news right now. I will have more to post here after July 6th.


This is what I’ve been doing the last couple days, and probably the next few as well. But on Thursday, I’ve got some great shows to see, and on Friday I’ll tell you all about it.

This past Friday I made my third attempt to see the Deco show at the Legion. Crowds give me the heebee-jeebees, so I turned away the first two times when I saw huge lines just to get into the place. But mid-day Friday there were no lines, so I took a chance. Bad choice – the galleries were packed and it was one of those times when you have to stand for an eternity waiting for a couple of nattering fools to move along before you get a chance to shuffle over a few inches to see the next painting… I was very cranky before leaving the first room, so I gave up. I’ll try again next month.

Sunday morning I was out walking in some alleys south of Mission Street, and I got some fantastic photos of residence hotels, which I plan to use in paintings very soon.Transforming photos into a piece of art is something that is commonly done by artists these days. But mostly it is advised to paint seeing the scenic location or from a life that is still and painting the living models. But sometimes you don’t have time to spend that much time in one particular location, in that case artists take a photograph and paint it later. You can view this page for Bitcoin Loophole. When I got back to the studio, I pulled them up on the computer, fiddled around with them a bit and then printed out the copies I’ll use to paint from. I never print them bigger than 8″x10″. I learned that from Larry Morace. His work is so loose, it can sometimes pass for abstract. I was in his studio a few years ago and he showed me this fancy German slide projector he’d just gotten. I was shocked that he even used a projector, but then he showed me that it projects on a little 8″x10″ screen. He said he tried to avoid looking at anything bigger because then he just becomes mired in details and loses the color and compositional elements that attracted him to the scene in the first place. Good advice, I thought. “Drawing up” (sketching the image on a larger canvas, using a smaller image as reference) invariably results in further editing and adjustments, and a more satisfying painting.

Speaking of ideas for paintings, When I added those two images I just mentioned to my stack of “paintings-to-be”, it brought the total to 80. And when you consider that my average annual output is about 50 paintings, and I’m getting new ideas all the time, and whenever I get a bee in my bonnet about some special project (like the Trickster Series) it puts all the other painting on hold, it’s easy to see that one lifetime is simply not enough. As a reminder not to waste any more of this one, I started a painting a couple of weeks ago that may take me the rest of my life to finish. It’s a medium sized canvas, covered with 7305 little (1 cm) squares, one for each day of the rest of my life (7305 days = 20 years, which will take me to age 73.) When I step back and take a look at it, it’s a shockingly small number of squares, especially now that I’ve started filling in one each day. Each tiny square is a unique painting, but also part of the whole, which will not be revealed until it’s done… when ever that may be. I hope I finish this one and start a new one in March 2024. But in the meantime, whenever I enter the studio, this unfinished painting is a visual reminder to live each day:

March 25, 2004
In response to the question from Rachael at Honest Art Talk : How do you work in your studio? What surprises you about the process?

On a good day …

At the start of a studio session, I sit in front of the easel and look. Sometimes this process lasts 20 or 30 minutes. My husband calls it “staring” (“What are you doing in there? Oh – you’re staring again.”) I see the painting in front of me as if it was the first time. I see where the painting has been and where it can go. I decide on the direction for today and imagine how I’ll proceed. If there are unresolved problems from the previous session, I “try out” different solutions in my mind. When I have a clear idea of the first few steps, then I pick up the brush and begin.

Once actual painting has begun, I go into a kind of pre-verbal state, that feels as if my brain is being bypassed. There is a zing of energy that goes from eyes to heart to hands to eyes… and so on, in a continuous loop. If you were to ask me a question at this point, I would have a great deal of difficulty locating the words and then placing them in the proper order to construct a sentence. Sometimes, in the middle of this process, I hear my impatient questioner say, “Earth to Anna…”

Strangely, although I have trouble saying words, I can listen to them. Once the painting is well under way, and humming along nicely, I like to turn on the radio and listen to “This American Life”, “Philosophy Talk”, or “New Dimensions”. Books on tape are good too. It’s as if the body and spirit have gone painting and the intellect is forced into coming along, like a recalcitrant child who is told to be quiet, sit still, and and don’t touch anything.

What I’m working on now:

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March 24, 2004
More about painting, photography, and copyrighting images

Is it ethical for an artist to paint a picture based on a photograph, without permission of the photographer?

This issue has come up more and more frequently since the Pop art era, and it is currently being debated online and in the art world because of a lawsuit being brought against painter Joy Garnett, by a photojournalist. The photographer shot a photo of a young man throwing a molotov cocktail, the image was printed in a newspaper, and Ms. Garnett made a painting from the image. The painter’s friends are taking action by disseminating Ms. Garnett’s painting, as well as digitally manipulated versions of it, as widely as possible. I think they are trying to make these points:
1- copyright protection is meaningless in these times
2 – we don’t care if you use our images, so why should you care if we use yours
3 – copyright protection is wrong – open source standards are better for society

(There is a parallel version of this argument in the music industry and it seems like plagiarism stories have been in the news a bit recently, so maybe it’s a bigger story than I realize, but for now I want to focus on visual art.)

Both photographers and painters are visual artists. They both manipulate their mediums to present a personal vision to the viewer. Some present “straight” reporting, which is generally considered “real”, “realistic” or “realism”. Others focus on stylistic concerns, but their work is usually still “representational”. Others are more concerned with pushing the limits of their mediums, and these images often become “abstract.” And there are plenty of artists who cross these fuzzy boundaries.

Sometimes painters use photographs. They make painted copies of all or part of the photo. They copy the photo as exactly as possible, or just use it as a starting point, and change so much that the source is not recognizable. Sometimes they take the actual photo and literally paste it into the painting.

Less often, photographers use paintings (or sculptures.) They shoot photos of sculptures and paintings in public places. They set up a scene to look like a famous painting, then shoot photos of it. In at least one case a photographer (Richard Misrach) photographed parts of paintings and then published a book titled “Pictures of Paintings”.

Both painters and photographers “use” what they see in their world. This includes people, animals, flowers, food, furniture, buildings, vehicles, natural and man-made land formations, sunsets, sunrises, bill boards, magazines, videos, web pages, etc. The list is infinite. There is no shortage of images.

Reasons why artists might decide NOT to paint or photograph a particular image:
1. They live in a society that jails or kills artists who make this kind of image.
2. The image is copyrighted by someone and the artist does not wish to risk a lawsuit.
3. The subject of the painting or photograph does not want to be portrayed in this way, and the artist cares about the feelings of this person or group.
4. The image has already been done over and over, and this artist has nothing new to add.

… and, after all, there is no shortage of images.

Reasons why artists might decide NOT to sue another artist for “stealing” their copyrighted image:
1. It’s more trouble than it’s worth – how much money can you squeeze out of the average artist?
2. Thinking about people who live in glass houses…. is there an artist anywhere who hasn’t appropriated something from other artists?
3. The energy that goes into tracking down and prosecuting copyright violations is not put into creating new work.

… and, after all, there is no shortage of images, and new work to be created.

So, what I still don’t understand is why this still happens. If your business is in the visual arts, then the issue of copyright is not new to you. So why ask for trouble? If you’re trying to make a political point, then I can see how getting sued would add to the value of your project. But if you’re mainly interested in aesthetics, use your creative juices and pick another image that does the same thing… it’s not like there’s a shortage of images.

Elise Tomlinson on the law and painters using public images, March 23

photonet forum – a series of letters from photographers on the issue
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March 19, 2004
I’ve been worrying too much about finances lately (basic stuff, like where am I going to get rent money if I don’t sell another painting soon) so I decided to calm myself by re-reading Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift – Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. This time I started at chapter 8 – “The Commerce of the Creative Spirit”, which is really the heart of the book. He starts out with the question of the sources of an artist’s work and concludes with this:

I do not want to overreach the bounds of my argument here. The destruction of the spirit of the gift is nothing new or particular to capitalism. All cultures and all artists have felt the tension between gift exchange and the market, between the self-forgetfulness of art and the self-aggrandizement of the merchant, and how that tension is to be resolved has been the subject of debate since before Aristotle.

And yet some aspects of the problem are modern. Eros and logos have a distinctly new relationship in a mass society. The remarkable analysis of commodities with which Marx opens Das Kapital appears in the nineteenth century, not any earlier. and the exploitation of the arts which we find in the twentieth century is without precedent. The particular manner in which radio, television, the movies, and the recording industry have commercialized song and drama is wholly new, for example, and their “high finance” produces an atmosphere that all the sister arts must breathe. (Your favorite show) may be the best show that ever came to television, but it belongs to a class of creations which will not live unless they are constantly fed large sums of money. The more we allow such commodity art to define and control our gifts, the less gifted we will become, as individuals and as a society. The true commerce of art is a gift exchange, and where that commerce can proceed on its own terms we shall be heirs to the fruits of gift exchange: in this case, to a creative spirit whose fertility is not exhausted in use, to the sense of plenitude which is the mark of all erotic exchange, to a storehouse of works that can serve as agents of transformation, and to a sense of an inhabitable world – an awareness, that is, of our solidarity with whatever we take to be the source of our gifts, be it the community, or the race, nature, or the gods. But none of these fruits will come to us where we have converted our arts to pure commercial enterprises. The Nielsen ratings will not lead us toward a civilization in which the realized gifts of the gifted stand surety for the life of the citizenry. Sprinkles of gold flake will not free the genius of our race.

And so I went to bed, thinking those thoughts, and woke up the next morning to read a little web news before heading out to see some art. I saw Tyler Green’s artnet review / essay about painting (Joy Garnett, Ian Whitmore, et al) vs photography and then his posts about Joywar – Painter Joy Garnett is being sued by a photographer for using a news photo as the basis for one of her paintings

I had very mixed feelings on this topic, and mulled it over as I rode the MUNI light rail downtown to SFMOMA. I have a lot of friends who are trying to make a living as photographers, and I wouldn’t dream of using one of their images unless I asked them first. (This is one of the reasons I take my own photos for most of my photo based paintings.) I’ve had some interesting conversations with photographers about images that “would make a good photograph” vs “would make a good painting.” Sometimes we help each other out by pointing out visual situations that we know the other would love to capture, on film or in paint. When I set up my Trickster project, I couldn’t physically shoot it all myself, so I asked some photographers to help me. What I’m getting at is simple respect and courtesy. As I came out of the underground onto Market Street, my sympathies were with the photographer – I felt that Joy Garnett was wrong to appropriate a living artist’s image, especially without asking.

Then I went into SFMOMA to see the Pop! show. Well, I’m sure you can see where this is leading… although my favorite pieces in the show were paintings by Vija Clemins (“Envelope”, “Fan”) and David Hockney (“Seated woman Being Served Tea by a Standing companion”), original images all, the overwhelming sense of the show was of cleansing the window of perception; taking a look back at the onslaught of visual imagery so many of us are exposed to every day. This is not a new thought, but understanding it intellectually is not the same as the understanding that comes from art, and that’s what happened to me in about the third room full of Ruscha, Warhol, et al.

So I understand what Joy Garnett was doing when she used another person’s image, an image that was part of the visual melange floating out there in the public spaces. OK, I get it. And yes, the Disney corporation getting laws changed to lock up copyright to Walt Disney’s images, long after the artist is dead, is a perversion of the original idea behind copyright laws. And lawsuits are completely out of control these days, being used as a first strike rather than last resort.

But I still would have asked first.

Addendum to March 15th listing of favorite blogs:
Nathaniel Kramer reminded me about the Artbusiness site that does mini reviews of San Francisco art openings. I used to read this, but had forgotten about it.

Tyler Green and Rachel Buffington Baldanza tipped me to a blog by New York based collector/curator Paige West, at Art Addict. Thanks!

March 15, 2004
Joan Ryan of the SF Chron wrote a column about Brian Goggin, the artist I mentioned on March 9th (scroll down), who constructed the hungry couch in the “Domestic Odyssey” show at SJMA. I’m curious about why Brian seems to avoid mentioning his membership and residence in Project Artaud.

I’m really enjoying my daily blog breaks. I usually have two canvases going at once, so that I can work on one while a glaze on the other dries. But now and then both canvases need 30 minutes or so to set (we’re talking acrylics, not oils.) Which is the perfect time to make a new cup of tea, check my email, and see what kind of art news is out there. I define news loosely, to include the categories of “factual” reports, gossip, speculation, new ideas and other fiction. Perfect blog material.

I mentioned art blogs at dinner a couple of weeks ago, and a (well read, intelligent) friend cut me off with, “Blogs are boring.” Well, OK, I guess some of them are, maybe even most, but that could be said about books, music CDs, and paintings. that doesn’t stop a lot of people from looking for the good ones.

Frankly, art news is not easy to find. Especially if you work in isolation. I subscribe to several art magazines, but they’re mostly bound versions of all the show announcement postcards that arrive each month, not that I don’t love looking at all the pretty pictures. (Modern Painters is a magnificent exception. Wish it came out more often.) The web is the perfect place for the exchange of information I’m looking for.

So for those people not inclined to look for themselves, here’s my current list of blogs worth taking a look at:

About Last Night
by Terry Teachout in New York and “Our Girl” in Chicago, both critics, take turns writing about their experiences in the arts, as critics and consumers. It’s funny, it’s informative – this is one of my “must reads”.
Just text, short to long entries, updated daily.

Angry Pirate
by Alanna Spence, a San Francisco painter (and web developer) who writes a very personal journal about making art, working, and her broken foot. Mostly, I get a kick out of this blog because I’ve never met her, but we move in the same circles, go to some of the same events …
Mostly text, short entries, updated almost daily.

by Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, who post from Philadelphia. I love this blog! I spent a lot of time in and around Philadelphia in the 60s and 70s, and reading this reminds me of how much of my art sensibilities have been formed by the Philadelphia scene, even though I haven’t been back there in about 20 years. They pick interesting artists and the writing is clear, informative, enjoyable.
Lots of images with the text, short to moderate entries, updated daily.

Art Blogging LA
by Caryn Coleman (curator and gallery director) and Emily Ho – they cover the Los Angeles art openings, interviews artists, and share editorial musings.
Text and a few images, short entries, updated daily.

Artist Blog
by Elise Tomlinson, a librarian and painter from Alaska. Painfully honest reflections on painting and on life.
Text and images, short to long entries, updated every day or three.

by John Perreault, New York artist, poet, author, who was painted nude by Alice Neel in 1972, writes a weekly art essay – the kind you’d find in print publication.
Text and a few images, long entries, updated weekly.

Bad Art Cafe
by Clara Jolie Clare, who describes herself as a “creative writer/former starving artist”. Strong literary bent – most entries are a quote from an art book, story, or film. Interesting cross-referencing system lets the reader search the site for various art topics. Lots of photography references.
Just text, short entries, updated every two or three days.

Cup of Chicha
by Nathalie Rachelle Chicha – A kind of “Readers Digest” of the web, with an arts and literature bias.
Mostly text, mostly short entries, updated daily.

Honest Art Talk
by Rachael Buffington Baldanza, a watercolor painter with a day job in Atlanta, she makes cheerful salads of tidbits culled from the web, mixed with personal observations.
Text and a few images, short entries, updated every day or two.

Everyday Matters
by Danny Gregory, author and artist from New York, writes about everything… from an artist’s view.
Original art and text, short to long entries, updated almost daily.

by four guys in and around Washington DC, who write on music, art and literature – tons of culture links on their site.
Mostly text, long entries, updated daily.

Modern Art Notes
by Tyler Green, a political consultant and art writer, lives in Washington DC. He sees a lot of shows, hears a lot of scuttlebutt, and writes intelligent, witty reports. One of my favorites.
Text and a few images, short to long entries, updated daily.

That Rabbit Girl
by Alice Maggio, a librarian from Chicago, shares items on art and literature.
Just text, short entries, updated almost daily.

Studio Notebook (Dangerous Chunky)
by Carolyn Zick, a painter in Seattle writes about the art scene in the Pacific Northwest.
Mostly text (with single icon), short entries, updated every day or three.

Wish Jar Journal
by Keri Smith, illustrator and comic artist, lives near Toronto and writes motivational and philosophical observations.
Original art and text, mostly short entries, updated every 3 to 6 days.

Witold Riedel
by Witold Riedel, who draws intricate line drawings, and takes surrealistic photos of New York, and writes… odd, beautiful thoughts
Image-rich, text variable, updated irregularly.

2 Blowhards
by Michael and Friedrich, self described as graying amateur art buffs – they discuss a lot of things, but art comes up frequently, and they live up to their domain name.
Mostly text, very long entries, updated daily.

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March 11,2004
How can you sell art you don’t care about? And if you sell your own art, the question becomes, why bother making art you don’t care about? There are plenty of downsides to living as a freelance creative – you may as well engage in the main upside, which is making work that you’re passionate about. But at some point, most of us have to sell it. Which means you have to be able to talk about it. Explain the unexplainable, or at least shed some light on it. I saw a couple of things recently about a “reality” TV show that set two teams of apprentice art dealers loose to see who could sell the most art:

from the Art Biz Coach:
“The teams visited four artists and selected the ones they wanted to work with. One team ended up selling over $13,000 worth of art. The other sold a single work for $869. Why the big difference? The losing team selected the artist based on the price of her work. No one on the team seemed to like it, but it had higher prices and, so the logic goes, they would have to sell less of it in order to win. The Donald (Trump) said over and over again, “You have to love your product in order to sell it. You have to believe in your product.” That was the failure of the losing team. They had no interest in their artist or her artwork. How can you sell something you don’t believe in or care about?”
Copyright (C)2004 Alyson B. Stanfield, Stanfield Art Associates, 5968 El Diente St., Golden, CO 80403. All rights reserved.

from About Last Night:
“Trump put them on the wrong foot at the outset by standing on the steps of the Met telling them, in his introduction to the assignment, that all art was “subjective,” a view that they all parroted when it became clear that they were failing. … So intent on proving their ambition and business-worthiness are these contestants that you wonder if there’s a genuine response out there anywhere among those who don’t hit the galleries and the museums. … their utter inability to talk about the work, even if only to sell it, and their bemused indifference about what they were doing only consolidated the idea for me that visual art is a flummoxing agent of the highest order. And it deserves better. These works tonight deserved better, and with my enthusiasm for what I was seeing I could have outsold the Apprentices with my mouth taped shut. It wouldn’t have been hard, given the quality of the “product.” Why is enthusiasm so elusive these days?”
Thanks to Our Friend on the Block (who previously opined forAbout Last Night here)

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March 9, 2004
Visited the San Jose Museum of Art last weekend to see the Domestic Odyssey exhibition featuring work by artists “who use household items — appliances and furniture — as touchstones for their work.” I was especially looking forward to seeing Liza Lou’s “Kitchen”, as this is the first time it’s been exhibited in Northern Califronia. On entering the gallery, I forgot all about Lou’s beaded ovens. Stretching halfway across the gallery and towering above me was a huge, red, writhing beast, consuming a wing-back chair. On second look, this thing is a sofa! It’s 33 feet long, upholstered in red faux leather, with a center section that bulges like an anaconda that has just consumed a table, a television, a lamp, and a telephone. “Desire for the Other” is by Brian Goggin, the artist that did the “Defenestration” installation. I’m really sorry I can’t find a photo of “Desire” anywhere. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of work. If you’re in the Bay Area, you’ll have to go see it.

Just beyond the cannibalistic couch is Liza Lou’s contemporary masterpiece, “Kitchen.” She spent 5 years creating this installation – a full sized suburban kitchen, the surface of every object, as well as the walls and floors, covered with millions of tiny glass beads. Appliances on the counter, food on the table, dishes in the sink are all covered with bright, busy designs. Inside the oven is a cherry red design with mud-flap style naked women. Beaded strings “flow” from the faucet into a sink full of dishes with a swirling Van Gogh sky on the surface of the water.

In another gallery, Marlene Alt’s “Still Waters” is an iron bed frame with a “mattress” composed of a flat white surface receiving a video projection of rippling water. A long wordy academic wall tag completely overlooked the main point/joke: it’s a waterbed! Willie Cole scorched a stretched canvas with a waffle iron, making overlapping designs in shades of tan and brown (made me hungry.) Oh, I almost forgot- there were almost no paintings in this show, but the one at the entrance was a beautiful, funny piece by Robert Colescott. “The Dutiful Son” shows a pink fleshy woman of a certain age, reclining on a sofa, eating bon-bons, while an adolescent boy in a frilly apron vacuums. Gotta love it.

Working artist, Rachael Buffington Baldanza, mentions on her blog that astronomers said the Hubble image released on Thursday “bears remarkable similarities to the van Gogh work, complete with never-before-seen spirals of dust swirling across trillions of miles of interstellar space.” Like the swirling patterns in Liza Lou’s beaded sink and Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches of the deluge.

Yesterday Tyler Green quoted a favorite passage from a Chicago Tribune interview with Lee Bontecou: “The art world is the artists and the work. I was reading Vincent van Gogh’s letters. Now what the galleries want to give you is like stardom. I think what Vincent had was maybe healthier, made better art than now when everything has to be ‘new.'”

And on the same topic from Franklin Einspruch “Most art schools teach how to invoke unprecedented reality, which is a better term for what this is usually called: originality. An artist ought to be generating at least some unprecedented reality or he’s not doing his job. But by emphasizing the novel, the art world has become fashion-driven. The cutting-edge art school experience has the students graduating with little more skill than they entered with, but with a finely-tuned art-world fashion sense. The blows to sincerity and integrity have been palpable. This is why I favor craftsmanship and connoiseurship – I believe human concerns ought to be addressed by art not just intellectually, but formally. Otherwise, you get the results that you often see on the gallery wall: art that does to your soul what sitting in the Mies chair does to your back.”

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March 5, 2004
Great weather here lately, and I’ve been out and about. I hiked up Leavenworth Street, through the Tenderloin, to the John Pence Gallery for the Randall Sexton show. His work fills the back two rooms at JPG. (The front room has some work from the next show, “Allegory”, which opens April 2nd. ) Sexton’s new work is focused on Cuba and San Francisco: vibrant cityscapes, populated with casual folks, clowns, parade crowds, and classic cars. He paints in a loose, plein-air style, but I’m guessing that most of these were done in the studio. His work is deeply saturated, with large swatches of toned ground showing through. His underpainting seems to have been scraped or rubbed in a rough pattern, to show the texture of the canvas. This creates a sparkly effect that adds vibrance to the image and works especially well when painting the street surface or stucco walls. Many of the people are rendered as specific individuals and the reflections on the cars are perfect. There were are few sloppy details that bothered me, like a woman’s thumb that was as long as the rest of her hand, and a pedicab’s awning poles that were all painted on the same side of the cab. I admire this style of painting, but I’ve never been able to stop in time – I start out loose, but keep fiddling with it until the details are all in place.

A nice stroll down the east side of the hill brought me to 333 Bush (a corporate lobby) to see Dale Erickson’s “Friends” series. I’ve seen these all before in his studio at Project Artaud, but they look different here – smaller, more personal. Each one is isolated in an acre of white marble.

When I asked the security guard if I could take some photos, he started telling me how much he enjoyed the paintings. I can see why – without the artwork, this lobby would feel like a an arctic mausoleum.

A couple of friends told me I should see the show at John Berggruen gallery : small gouaches by Paul Wonner and drawings by Picasso. I didn’t think much of either show. In both cases, the work seemed like the kind of stuff that every artist has piled around the studio – little things you noodle around with to warm up, or get ideas, or practice. They’re good for giving to friends or patrons, but I can’t see making a show out of them.

I’d also heard that the Mark Lombardi drawings at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts were worth checking out. And they are. I’m not sure if I’d call them art, but they are fascinating. I’d like to see them installed under glass table tops in a coffee house. These drawings invite close, prolonged inspection. When looking at them, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to turn to the person nearest you and say, “Oh my god, did you see this?” Lombardi used a (very sharp) pencil to draw complex diagrams showing the connections between political figures and corporate and financial institutions, using idiosyncratic symbols for the transfer of influence, power, and money. It’s a lot more interesting than it sounds.

Speaking of political figures, next stop was the Cartoon Art Museum to see the “Don’t Parade on My Reign” show with editorial cartoonists Phil Frank, Tom Meyer, Mark Fiore, and Don Asmussen. The focus of the show was the recently ended eight year reign of Willie Brown as San Francisco’s mayor. There was also a Dr. Suess exhibit and a show of comic strips that were made into films. Hilarious, as usual, and always nice to see high quality pen and ink work.

Li Huayi takes ink work to soaring levels at the Asian Art Museum. His monumental landscapes are rendered on some of the largest pieces of paper manufactured today, and placed in the traditional hanging scroll. He begins with washes of splashed and dripped ink. Then he works over the surface with a small brush and a palette of two or (rarely) three colors. The subject matter is mountains, trees, waterfalls and clouds. The clouds and misty atmosphere provide rests from the microscopic detail of the trees and rock. The emotional impact is overwhelming.

Leaving the Asian Art museum, I walked across the Civic Center (where the resident chicken scratches among the new “Love” plantings in front of City Hall )

to SFPALM. The San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum has a dance exhibit in the galleries now. Two galleries are devoted to George Balanchine: Ballet Master, A Centennial Exhibition, and includes photographs, posters, programs, correspondence, newspaper clippings, costume and set designs, and video excerpts. One of my favorite items is Geralyn Donald’s personal photo album. Ms. Donald was a dancer with the NYC Ballet in the late 50’s. Her impromptu snapshots of dancers backstage and after the show are a warm and intimate look at the NYCB. In another gallery at SFPALM is the Dance Heritage Coalition’s first traveling exhibition, America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: The First 100. The ambitious goal of this project is to “identify 100 treasures representing the richness and range of American dance.” There are photos, posters and costumes and an original work of art by Anna Halprin called “In the Mountain, On the Mountain.” I’m not sure, but I think this piece of paper is the choreographic notation for the performance piece. It’s approximately 24″ x 60″, with collage and painted images, plus hand prints and writing.(About 12 years ago I took a two day seminar with Anna Halprin. It had something to do with art and healing. What I remember most about that weekend is the way she cajoled us into moving around, to put down our paints and remember what it felt like to have a body. There was a lot of resistance, but by the end of day two, we were dancing around the room in a conga line, weaving in and out among the paintings.)

But the most compelling item in the Dance Heritage Coalition exhibit is the interactive video kiosk. The touch screen options and well designed program guide the viewer through a personal and intuitive tour of American dance history, with fabulous video clips for most of the performers. I started with Tap and went from a delightful 1945 clip of Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry the mouse, to a 2002 Savion Glover performance at Jacob’s Pillow, to a 1935 Kinetic Molpi performance at Jacob’s Pillow, to a Sioux Ghost Dance filmed in 1894 by Thomas Edison, to Anna Halprin with “Hangar” in 1957 and so on… there was an incredible 1938 clip of Erik Hawkins performing in “Filling Station” – it looked like Vaudeville meets “West side Story”. They finally had to kick me out of there as they were closing.
(but I’ll be back – the exhibit is at SFPALM through May 15th, then it heads for the East coast.)