The clerk in the clothing store was sitting in the corner of the small shop. We were in Merida for our nephew’s wedding and they paint walls there in colors that are not in our vocabulary. In this case both of the walls leading to the corner were beautiful. And, of course, there is that black cord in the corner, an electric line that would not be up to code in the U.S. I waited for Peggi to take something to the dressing before asking the clerk if I could move the table in order to take this photo. I didn’t have enough Spanish to express this so I mostly used gestures. The photo was in my “Portals & Planes” show. It didn’t sell so I put it in the RoCo Members Show which opens tonight.
We’ve been back almost three weeks now but we’re still wading through the notes, photos, books, gallery pamphlets and holy cards we brought back. This painting has stuck with me. It was in the collection of the Contemporary Art Museum in Sevilla. I immediately thought of the Richard Serra oil stick drawings/paintings and Malevech and Ellsworth Kelly but I didn’t recognize the name of the artist. I should have written it down so I could credit them but here it is.
The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo in Sevilla is a special place. After the conquest of Seville by Christians in the 13th century the Monasterio de Santa Maria de las Cuevas was built here. The chapel and crypts have been restored. Allegedly, Christopher Columbus spent some time in the monastery in preparation for his voyages. In the 15th century the archbishop of Seville, aided by the noble family of Medina, founded a Franciscan monastery at the site. In the early 19th century, the monastery was sacked and used as barracks during the Napoleonic invasion. In 1840 a Liverpool merchant bought the abandoned monastery and transformed it into a factory of ceramic tiles. Several towering ovens were built around the monastery and still stand. The factory closed in 1982. The site was restored for Seville Expo’92 and in 1997 it became the spectacular setting for a museum of contemporary art.
The building Rochester Contemporary (RoCo) is in used to be a women’s clothing store.
There is a neighborhood behind the Reina Sofia in Madrid called Lavapiés, a Jewish ghetto some 500 years ago, where small but hip galleries having been popping up for a few years. We usually make a point of visiting them and on the way there we came across this shop. I knew I had photographed it before (ten years ago) but I took another picture anyway. I love the lettering in their logo. You don’t see this typography very often and you never run across it in the US.
I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. It was only four letters, a sign in Barcelona that read “SEBA.” I sketched the four letters in my notebook and back home I drew what I imagined would be the dozen letters in the word, REFRIGERATOR. We’ve come across other examples of this font, always as a logo and always in Spain, and I have six or seven examples in a folder of jpegs.
I always wondered how long graffiti lasted. The three big tags on the orange panels are still here. And I thought it was Interesting that the Kodak logo made a comeback is in the newer shot.
When Jack isn’t too busy at the Bagel Shop he joins Margaret Explosion on bass clarinet or guitar. We were hoping he could make it on Wednesday because Peggi was unable to play. The Explosion without Margaret. I distracted Peggi while we were walking and she fell and broke her little finger. That digit and the surrounding mechanism is essential for playing soprano sax.
We have always played the same way regardless of who can make it but this was different. Melissa, who was unable to make the last gig, was there, thankfully, so her cello became a focal point for most songs. Phil’s guitar stole the show in the one below. I was tempted to say we were an instrumental band for the night, like one of those Play Along With records, but we are always an instrumental band. Peggi’s sax playing is our voice and we missed her.
The other day, just down the road from where this picture was taken, we ran into Bob Begy walking his dog in the park. Bob was good friends with Chuck and he asked us if we had ever seen the alternate version of the Bible that Chuck wrote in high school. Bob said he had a copy somewhere in his house that he had been trying to locate. We told him we’ll borrow it when he does.
Chuck was a poet. I walked away thinking of his “Wedding at Cana,” a song Colorblind James played at my sister’s wedding.
“The wedding party had just begun
People getting lose and having fun
Til Mary overheard the father of the bride
In a panic ’cause they had run out of wine
Mary said, “Son, they have no wine”
Mary said, “Son, they have no wine”
He said, “I can’t help that Mom, it’s not my time”
Mary said, “Son, they have no wine”
Mary told the waiter, “Do what he tells you
Take what he gives you and buy what he sells you
Listen to him once and listen to him twice
Don’t ignore any of his advice”
Well, even Jesus was smiling now
He always liked to help out anyhow
He said, “I’ll need seven buckets, all in a row
All of ’em filled with H2O”
The waiter was gone for ten minutes or so
And then he came back, just like he was told
He said, “Here’s your seven buckets, all in line”
Jesus said, “That’s not water, it’s wine”
Just then a man walked by with a frown on his face
Saying, “Suppose that I might have a taste?”
Mary winked and said she thought he could
So he drank a cup and said, “Boy, that’s good”
He said, “Most people serve the good wine first
And as the night wears on, the wine gets worse
But you certainly have shown a lot of class
You’ve saved the best wine for last”
Jesus told the waiter, “Don’t say a word
About what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard”
The waiter agreed and he tried hard too
But by the very next day, the whole town knew”
A little girl was handing out programs to each person who came through the door at the Firemen’s Exempt yesterday. I put it in my pocket. The place was packed and we were immediately involved in conversation. We were there to celebrate the life of Sue Schepp who passed away too soon. How often do potters get silicosis? One study revealed that among a tested group of 106 pottery workers, 55% had at least some stage of Silicosis. Sue had her own kiln and made beautiful dishes for everyone we know.
We met Chris in the late seventies. He was working at Midtown Printing on the second floor of Midtown Plaza behind Midtown Records and we were just starting to play out as Hi-Techs. Chris printed our posters at first and later designed them. He created many of the covers for The Refrigerator. Chris and Sue were married in this same place thirty five years ago. We were there. It was a perfect match of yin and yang. Sue was a Buddhist and grew up in a commune. John Cage and M.C. Escher were family friends.
Chris and Sue’s daughter, Celeste opened the tributes and hours later there was so much more to say. Sue was “a loving energy.” I read the program this morning and it stopped me in my tracks.
“Is it possible to just be here
and be nothing special at all?
With no need to be special,
no need to stand apart,
to just be comfortable with how one is?
What a peaceful world it would be
if people could just feel comfortable
being nothing at all.
To be no one special,
with no need to out-maneuver,
to strategize, to protect or defend, to resist
which all comes out of upholding
some image of being something.
It really seems so simple
and yet people continue to strive endlessly. …
In actuality, we are so much more
than these thoughts about ourselves.
We are life,
we are this life force that runs through all life,
this energy of aliveness,
which gets constricted with all these thoughts
about ourselves being this enclosed thing. …
As human beings,
when all this conditioned thought
or image-making activity slows down
or is not the dominating force, there is this vulnerability,
a loving energy,
a warmth, that can be felt.
And that may be the only profound impact
that we can have in the world,
when there is no striving, achieving, upholding.
In that, there is true love and compassion
for how one is,
here and everywhere.”
– Susan Schepp, Springwater, 2019
Tidied up my desk this morning. I still have one with a desktop computer. I have a drawing table too from my mechanical art days. All old school. I sorted the piles of oddball items that cover the entire surface and found a small piece of paper with my cousin’s last phone number on it. It wasn’t his direct line. He was living in a home out west and a monitor would answer the phone and pass it to him. I’m throwing this number away because Greg passed away over the summer.
Greg was the same age as me. We are always pictured together in the extended family photos. He was abused by a soon to be priest at our summer camp. His family (my mother’s sister) lived behind us on the next block. We double-dated in high school and even went out with the same girl twice (two different girls, two different times). He went to McQuaid, the Jesuit high school, and his parents threw a graduation party for him with all the aunts and uncles. Alone in the kitchen Greg said “Don’t tell anyone but I didn’t graduate. This is my parents’ idea – a sham.”
Greg had Tourette Syndrome with a variety of facial ticks and sometimes full body contortions. For a while he felt compelled to do a full turn, like a figure skater, every few steps he took. And he suffered from bi-polar disease or whatever they call it today. Wild mood swings and notions that festered. He would remain hyper focused on a slight and torture his parents. But mostly, when we saw him he was up, observant of the finest details, inquisitive and sharp. He was one of the funniest people I ever knew when he was on a roll.
He worked at Gray Metal in Webster across the street from Maracle industrial Finishing where I worked for year. We’d meet at lunch and go out at night. He and his first wife bought a house near Peggi and me in the city. He had two Great Dane’s in his basement and I watched him scoop up the piles of dog business with a snow shovel. As a farrier he shoed the Rochester Police Department’s horses. I was working for the city at the time and I’d visit him there on my lunch hour.
He move to Delaware, horse country, got married again and had a daughter. And then he started to wander. He stayed at our house a few times, once with his camper and a new dog. He was spending most nights in Walmart parking lots. He came out to hear our band and left during the second set. We expected to find him in our driveway in his camper but he was gone.
Greg visited us in our new place before moving out west and that was the last time we saw him. He had shock therapy and tried to describe that to me and then more health problems. We’d talk on the phone but the spark was gone. He came down with Parkinson’s and then Covid did him in. His family hosted a memorial gathering at a hotel downtown and there was an overall sense of relief. Greg was finally at rest. I will miss him.
You can’t expect to walk away from your house for a month and not be overloaded when you return. The mundane stuff piles up. Cleaning the gutters, raking the leaves and getting the garlic in. We are about a month late on that last one. We put 140 cloves in this afternoon. Nowhere near the one thousand cloves our neighbor, Emily, put in. We picked the last batch of Pimientos de Padrón and had them with dinner. The plants just look exhausted but our greens – the lettuces and arugula are loving this 60 degree weather. We have a neighborhood get together this weekend and we should have no problem supplying a big bowl of salad.
I received an email from the photographer Fred Chance in Gloucestershire about the photo I took of Robert Frank’s shoes. I posted it along with a review of a Scott McCarney show at Writers & Books back in 2012. Fred wanted to know if he could use my photo in connection with a written project he is working on. He is hoping the use the shoes as a focus. I found the original photo and was able to improve it in PS Elements’ “Haze Removal.” The shoes were in a glass case when I photographed them. Of course I am letting him use the photo and I’m excited to see what he comes up with.
Interestingly, we kept seeing Robert Frank’s “The Americans” book in Spain and it was often displayed next to a book of vintage black and white photos call “The Italians.” Like Fred, I like the late Robert Frank work as much as or more than “The Americans.” We have five or six of those Steidl books, some given to us by Duane, and they are treasures. Funny thinking about Robert Frank in these shoes (if they indeed were his). Frank is a bit of a prankster but these look like bowling shoes. Maybe he went bowling while in Rochester and wore the shoes right out of the alley.
Colleen Buzzard has placed herself at the center of a creative hub in Rochester by being a magnanimous host for the curious. Her studio is cabinet of curiosities that prompts questions and incubates ideas. She shares her thinking here and opens a portion of her space to other artists for shows of their work. Both feed off the dialog. She engages you and draws you in thereby creating a community of creatives.
Colleen gave an artist’s talk last night at the opening of her new show at Mercer Gallery. The place was packed, a testimony to her influence. I was struck by how her piece, above, a wire/shadow, three dimensional drawing reminded me of Chillida. We had seen so much of his work during our month in Spain. And when Colleen talked of working between 2D and 3D she is talking Chillida’s language. This piece is but a small detail in her installation, Colleen has work on all six sides of the cube as well as outside the window. I hope you can spend some time here in the next month.
A sign on the Diputación de Sevilla building advertised a sculpture show. Admission was free so we checked it out. The sculpture was a little too cute for us so we moved to the other rooms. An artist had about dozen photos in a line and I really liked the one above, the composition, the minimal elements perfectly arranged, the surprise element of the rocks, the cropping just right. Everything I like in a photo.
This was a government building of sorts. We weren’t quite sure what is was but it was casual enough for Peggi to stand behind this desk with the picture of Juan Carlos, the once hero because he steered Spain toward a demcracy after Franco but now scandle-ridden former King of Spain.
And now we are back in Rochester. To our surprise we have not had a frost so our Pimientos de Padrón plants had a double batch waiting for us. Our last lettuce plantings were ready for the picking. We even found a few tomatoes. A welcome back.
I’m following up yesterday’s love letter to Spain with a small dose of reality. Franco can still draw a crowd. Just like in the US, the conservatives have captured the flag. The colors hanging from balconies denote “the “patriots,” the anti immigrant crowd, the ones who have no tolerance for the separatist movements.
We were sitting in the window of a café in Madrid last Sunday when this couple walked by. They paused for a minute, right in front of us and said something to one another. I fumbled for my camera as fast as I could but I missed getting the front of this guy’s cap. The big white letters read ESPAÑA and it looked just like a MAGA hat. There was a guy sitting next to us at the counter. He was reading El País but apparently watching me as well. He said, “there’s still people like that here,” and he chuckled.
We woke up at five thirty this morning. Still mostly on Spanish time. We couldn’t wait to take a walk in the leaves, it was so beautiful out. They moved our polling location to the Transfiguration Church on Culver. We really liked our old place, the Point Pleasant Fire House. They have a bar in the building that they rent out and we always imagined Margaret Explosion playing there.
At Transfiguration there was a guy with an American Flag shirt on getting out of his car, a button collar, long sleeve shirt with the stars and stripes. The church gloms onto election day to host a bake sale so we checked out the cookies on the way in. The man who handed us our paper ballots was wearing a tie that had “Jesus” printed on it along with a quote from scripture. We cast our votes and bought two peanut butter chocolate chip cookies on the way out.
It takes a long time for civilizations to develop into higher life forms. That word, or at least my understanding of it, is the first thing that comes to mind when we land in Spain.
Walking the Camino across Spain through all those small towns and villages we were struck by how little sprawl there is. People like to live on top of one another. They are out in the street, the cafés and bars. They sit in parks and gather on the sidewalks to talk. When people walk into a café they say “Buenos Dias,” to everybody. It is rude not to. In big cities the metro is just as crowded as it is in New York but it is clean and orderly. People are polite. There are far fewer ads screaming at you.
Fresh loaves of bread are in every small grocery and on every table in restaurants. You will often get a free tapa or a plate of olives with a beer. And the tempting tapas and pinchos are always out on display. It’s good for business. It is only sociable. They are often artfully constructed. Cod and potato, atún, anchovies or jamón wrapped around an olive nestled on roasted peppers. You can make a meal out of them if you wish. This is the home of the Mediterranean Diet.
It is surely all older people who buy newspapers but there are enough of them in Spain to keep the regional presses rolling and the three national papers, El País, El Mundo and ABC are everywhere. The cafés still have copies sitting at the end of the bar for you skim over coffee. We watched a Real Madrid match last night that started at 9PM and then read two articles about the match in this morning’s paper!
The government supports the arts. Together with large corporations (Fundaciones) they underwrite museum quality shows that are free to the public. Cities have statues and sculptures in every plaza. The generations spend much more time together. Children are more mature and better behaved as a result. Sidewalks along the water have no guard rails or fences. Many people still pause at midday for a big meal. Shops close for two hours.
The streets are named after poets and saints. They have a national health plan. People live longer. They have a socialist for a Prime Minister. I better stop.
The night before leaving Sevilla we booked this hotel room in Chueca on the other side of the old city from where we stayed when we started this trip. It has proven to be a perfect spot for us. After stopping at Rocafria (Cold Rock) for café con leche and a pincho de tortilla we head off in a different direction each day. Today we started with a show of paintings by Luis Gordillo at La Sala Alcalá 31. He is 89 years but paints like a child, with abandon. We didn’t like what saw online so we walked right by this Exposición a few times without going in. Sometimes you just have to give an artist some time. We have often been turned around but we gave it our best shot and came up empty.
We had not been to the new location of Sin Tarima yet so we walked into La Latina neighborhood and got swallowed up by the crowd at the Sunday open air flea market, El Rastro. It was so crowded for so many blocks that we got turned around twice. Even the book store, blocks away was crowded. We wandered further and the streets quieted down.
We found a sweet little restaurant, Viuda de Vacas, (widow of cows), where the owners seemed to know everyone who came in. We ordered spinach and garbanzo beans and grilled asparagus with carrots. We we’re going to order the Cod, Portuguese style, but the waitress somehow talked us out of it. And then they showed us the dish (potatoes and pieces of cod with egg, sort of scrambled) when others ordered it and it looked great. It probably would have been too much. So we ordered a cheese plate.
Just a few blocks from the restaurant we walked by these people dancing in a small plaza, something they must do often as no one was making a fuss. Real Madrid plays at home tonight against Rayo Vallecano and we to plan to watch it at the hotel bar.
Could there be more of a contrast between two images than these two photos?
We stopped into Casado Santapau Gallery to see a show our first evening back in Madrid. The woman behind the desk recommended three nearby galleries and she took me to an instagram page that rounds up contemporary art in Madrid. We made a point of going to those three galleries this morning and each was eye opening. The Colombian artist, Mateo Lopez, at Travesia Cuatro was playful and entirely modern. Inma Feminía at Max Estrella showed her black mirrors, dyed plastic hangings and a black light image in a dark room that captivated us. The Japanese artist, Yoshihiro Suda, at Elvira Gonzales showed tiny botanical motifs at actual scale in large white rooms. The concept overwhelmed the work.
Our next two stops were more provincial. The Museo del Romanticismo was fun but I suspect only romantic for the very, very wealthy, as in royalty. The Museo de Historia de Madrid was enlightening as it made clear the city developed over five centuries as a playground for the elite. The royal family employed 22,000 people alone.
We found a great spot for dinner and split an arugula salad with fennel, pear, parmesan and walnuts and a deep black rice dish with calamari, ink and a large prawn. We came back to the hotel room to relax for a bit and went out to the exhibition at Fundación “la Caixa’ entitled “Venerated and Feared: Feminine Power in Art and Beliefs.” This show covered some 5000 years with pieces from antiquity to the present, from Ancient Greece to Marina Abramovic.
Oranges litter the streets in Sevilla. It is the warmest city in Europe. Our hotel room has an outdoor shower on the patio. I took one this morning. We took one last walk across the bridge over the Rio Guadalquivir and then got on a high speed train to Madrid where it is ten degrees cooler. We had roasted asparagus and a mixed mushroom dish at a restaurant around the corner from our hotel. And then we wandered.
We found a gallery on the next block with some intriguing paintings, abstracts painted on a mesh over abstracts on board. The attendant there told us about a show, “Before America,”at Foundation Juan March so we walked over there into Salamanca, a neighborhood we had not yet explored. This isn’t a corporate sponsored foundation. Juan March was the richest man in Spain, “the Rockefeller of Spain,” “the last pirate of the Mediterranean.” With the richest of sources the show illustrated the influence of indigenous civilizations on what is now called the Americas, on art from Man Ray to Joseph and Annie Albers. There were no photos allowed but the foundation is offering a poster of my favorite piece.
It can only be our good luck that brought us back to this café this morning. We had stopped in here two days ago for a beer. We were the only ones in the bar and the owner was busy carving jamon so we got to study all the pictures on the walls, pictures of Semana Santa celebrations over the years. Each of the picture frames had holy cards stuffed in the bottom of the frames. We surmised the owner carried one of the floats, either the Virgin or Christ in a scene from the Passion, for his parish, the Virgin of Candelaria. Amid the pomp she is depicted with an anchor as she protects the men on the ships that work out of Sevilla.
The owner gave us two holy cards of the Virgin and we asked him where we could go to buy some more “estampas” (the word they use for what we used to call holy cards). He thought for a while and then suggested a shop about fifteen minutes away. We found it and waited to talk to the clerk while he helped some teenagers who appeared to be buying school uniforms. The store was filled with religious items but also hernia belts and trusses. We put it together that this is where the guys who carry the floats in the annual Semana Santa processions get their gear. A costalero shop!
This morning we headed out in what we thought was a new area of the city. We had café y tostada con tomate y aciete in a place that was completely obsessed with bullfighting. And as is our usual pattern, we wandered some more and stopped for a second cup. We look for tipico places, the ones that are popular with locals, not tourists. They serve their coffee in small glasses rather than cups and you often stand at the bar. We were coming from a new direction when we spotted this crowded café. We had already ordered dos con leche when we put it together that we were in the same café, Bar La Candelaria.
Up to the eighth century All Saints Day was celebrated in May. Pope Gregory III moved the holy day, the feast day of all the saints at once, to November 1st in order to dampen the popular pagan celebrations surrounding Halloween. It is a major holiday in Spain. Families fill the streets and pay respects to their dead relatives. The restaurants are packed and the diners lining the sidewalks make the streets look like a great big dining hall.
We strolled by the Palace of San Telmo, built in 1682 on property belonging to the Tribunal of the Holy Office, the institution responsible for the Spanish Inquisition. Across the bridge in Triana we walked through the old Jewish Quarter, down Callejón de La Inquisición where they converted or died. We looked for a pastelería to buy one of the almond pastries they make just for All Saints Day. We found a shop and Peggi asked the woman if she had any of those. She explained that we were in an Arabic bakery so we bought a Moorish pastry. This is a holy day of obligation so there were masses going on in the churches but we noticed a lot of people were just stopping in. We did the same.
We have packed so many adventures into this trip I forgot to catalog the Atleti/Alaves contest. The Metro ride to the stadium was too easy. We arrived more than an hour before the match with plenty of time for a big glass of beer and a visit to the Atlético store. Peggi picked out a red cotton t shirt and I put it on over my sweater.
Our seats were better than we imagined, just over the tunnel, between the two benches. My watch alerted me to dangerous sound levels before the match had even started. Our first impression was how much faster the game seemed in person and rough. We could hear the up close collisions. It was indeed a fast paced opening, a wide open match with lots of turnovers. I got a great shot of El Cholo well outside his box, both feet on the playing field, animated as ever in all black. But I’m posting this one of one our favorite players, Angel Corea, getting subbed in for Morata in the 64th minute.
Atleti won despite giving up a careless goal in overtime. We fans were happy.
The woman behind the desk at our hotel, Alegría (“Happiness”), told us we would want to call a cab to get out to Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. We had been there before several years ago and we just let that suggestion go. We knew it was a nice walk along the canal that comes off the Rio Guadalquivir, through the Triana neighborhood so we headed out there first thing this morning. We stopped for coffee three different times. The museum is located in the Cartuja de Santa María de las Cuevas Monastery, where Christopher Columbus’ remains were interred for thirty years. The monastery had middle life as a ceramics factory and it makes a stunning location for contemporary art.
The featured show was entitled “Estampa Popular Sur” Artists Against Franco 1958-1976. Franco had been in power for almost twenty years before the movement really gained steam and organized itself under the Estampa Popular banner. In the fifties and sixties it was mostly linoleum prints and by the early seventies silkscreen was the preferred medium. Some of the artists were in exile so they showed their work in their respective countries but the really brave dispersed their work under Franco’s nose.
It got me thinking again about why artists tend to align themselves with the left. We walked along the canal off the Rio Guadalquivir and stopped for something to eat in the Triana neighborhood. We walked in and the waiter told us “The restaurant is yours.” We had the house salad, ”Ensalada gascona,” hojas de temporada con queso de cabrales, manzana y nueces. We found raisins in there too.
When we walked across Spain five years ago we divided our trip in two, walking from France to León and taking a break to return to Rochester for a month of Margaret Explosion gigs. In León we visited Casa Botines, the Modernist building designed by Antoni Gaudí. There is a museum in the building now and I found a small Chillida book in their book store. The book was in Spanish but the illustrations went deeper than anything in the museum. I bought the book (google translated it) and ever since we have crossed paths, either by plan or serendipity.
We took a high speed train to Sevilla this afternoon where it is almost twenty degrees warmer. We walked across the Rio Guadalquivir river and along the bank on the other side, a neighborhood called Triana. We crossed back over on another bridge and came across this piece called “La Tolerancia.” I photographed it from all sides and couldn’t decide which to post. We bought a loaf of fresh bread, some cheese and a bottle of wine and returned to our room in the old section of this beautiful city.
“I am a religious man. Questions of faith and my problems as an artist are closely linked. Naturally my conception of space has a spiritual dimension, just as it also has a philosophical dimension. My continued rebellion against the laws of gravity has a religious aspect.” – Eduardo Chillida (1988) from “En Silos”