It is probably just luck that I have won the last four horseshoe matches but I would like to attribute it to something I’ve done. And it is something that has worked for me before but I had forgotten how to tap into it.
The crazy thing, like so many other things in life, is that I don’t really do anything at all. I just let it go. I throw the shoe toward the stake with just enough of a grip to keep the shoe in my hand and just enough effort to get it there. I step forward with my left foot while swinging my arm backward and then step forward with my right foot letting my arm and the shoe follow. That step is what propels the shoe toward the stake, my arm with the weight of the shoe just goes along and if I can get out of the way and gently let go of the shoe it does one graceful back flip before sliding into the stake with its arms wide open.
It occurred to me that this is how Hobie Billingsley, my teacher in the diving class I took at IU, taught me to do a back flip from the high platform. Billingsley was also the mens’ Olympic diving coach (the gold medal winner, Mark Spitz, was was in my class) and he taught us to trust him by instructing us to stand backward at the edge of the platform, 10 meters (32 feet) above the pool, keep our bodies stiff and simply let go. You naturally do a perfect 360 and cut smoothly through the water feet first.
I really am not obsessed with the Stations of the Cross. I recently posted a new version, fourteen acrylic paintings, and that led to revisiting my 1998 version. Back then I was envisioning a contemporary retelling of the crucifixion with the Passion Play unfolding on a route I took everyday by bicycle, from our home near East High to my graphic arts job downtown.
We loved living in that neighborhood but is hard to romanticize East Main Street. It was pretty dismal. These fourteen locations were pulled from the 36 photos I took in 1996 and some of them were used as locations for my Passion Play 1998. I hope to live long enough to do a third version.
April 28th used to be the feast day of Saint Paul of the Cross, the Italian mystic who believed God was most easily found in the Passion of Christ. I was named Paul because I was born on this day. Coincidentally, I have always been drawn to the Stations of the Cross. A close family friend, Father Bill Shannon, returned from a European trip with a relic of Saint Paul that he gave me when I was ten or so. I began work on this series during Lent this year and finished in time for my birthday, St. Paul’s birthday.
In 1969 Pope Paul VI moved the feast day of St. Paul to October 19th. Grrr. My birthday remains where it was. And then Pope John Paul II attempted to put a happy ending on the Stations of the Cross by adding a 15th station dedicated to the resurrection. I’m not buying it (or the miracle). I created fourteen Stations, each 14″ by 17″, acrylic paint on plastic panels.
– click images for enlargement
I. Jesus is condemned to death II. Jesus accepts his cross III. Jesus falls for the first time IV. Jesus meets his Mother V. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross VI. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus VII. Jesus falls for the second time VIII. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem IX. Jesus falls for the third time X. Jesus is stripped of his garments XI. Jesus is nailed to the cross XII. Jesus dies on the cross XIII. Jesus is taken down from the cross XIV. Jesus is laid in the tomb
We feel in love with Bill Traylor after seeing a show of his work at the American Folk Museum in New York. Kino is currently streaming a new documentary about him called “Chasing Ghosts.” The movie is good but there is too much back story, too many talking heads. You need to keep the remote in your hand so you can pause and study the work. It is sensational and it speaks for itself.
Bill Traylor was a master of placement of object on ground or substrate or laundry shirt cardboard or whatever he found to paint on. Perfectly placed to articulate and accentuate the gesture. His paintings are all essentially flat but animated to leap off the page. Bill Traylor can knock you out with a drawing of a bird. Direct like punk rock but right on like a master. He does not miss a beat.
We spotted our neighbors, Jan and Jack, with a rake in the Fruticetum section of the park. Peggi jokingly asked if they didn’t have enough to do at their own place and they told us it was “Clean Up The Park” day. I said we clean up up the park everyday, a gross exaggeration but we do make a point of picking up bottles and cans and dropping them in one of the few trash cans. And today we made a special effort, going to of our way to pick up a 25 ounce Natty Daddy can, an 8% alcohol Anheuser Busch product, and something call Bud Light Seltzer, a fermented cane sugar drink with 5% alcohol. Also spotted a couple of dog bags full of you know what and carried them to a trash can.
Our dinner theme tight was “Springtime in Spain'” a special take-out menu from Atlas Eats. Ensalada de Cítricos, pan de aceite, shrimp a la plancha, tortilla española, romesco vegetables and Tarta de Almendras.
We are so lucky Peter Schjeldahl is still writing art criticism for The New Yorker. He enriches our lives with each column. I keep thinking eachwill be his last.
And how can it be that Roberta Smith, one of the sole art critic champions of Philip Guston’s late sixties work (at the time), can still be at the top of her game, writing for the New York Times. Alice Neel has been one of my favorite painters since I first laid eyes on her work. Neel is the subject of a retrospective and Ms. Smith knocks it out of the park with her review of the show.
“It is said that the future is female, and one can only hope. But it is important to remember that the past, through continuous excavation, is becoming more female all the time. The latest evidence is the gloriously relentless retrospective of Alice Neel (1900-1984), the radical realist painter of all things human.”
We saw a Alice Neel show in Chelsea at Zwirner in 2012 and a few paintings at the Met Breuer in 2016. And twenty years ago, at the last Neel retrospective at the Whitney, we ran into Chuck Close where he and the guy pushing his wheelchair were hogging our view of a Neel painting. I was getting upset at how long they were taking and then backed off when I realized it was Close.
The Eastman has a Maplethorpe portrait of Alice which they’ve pulled out a few times over the years. That is about as close as we can get to her in this town.
I reworked most of my small pencil sketches and then created these black and white versions of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. And I altered a few of these after taking this photo. I cut one of the plastic panels, I’ve had in the basement for so long, down to 14 x 17 and gave it a coat of Gesso. I plan to scale these drawings up and paint the panel in three colors, black, cream and a blood red.
We drove out to Clifton Springs this afternoon to see the Diner’s Club show at Main Street Arts. Bradley Butler, the director, was editing a video of the artists in the show and had it posted to YouTube by the time we got back home. It was good to see so many red dots on the walls. Pandemic money finding its priorities.
The wildly diverse work, by Christina Bang, Paul Brandwein, Edward Buscemi, Tarrant Clements, Bob Conge, Kurt Feuerherm, Bill Hand, William Keyser, Susan Mandl, Peter Monacelli and George Wegman was hung shown in a mixed fashion not clustered by artist and is even richer than the sum of its parts.
Bill Keyser’s work, both sculpture and painting, certainly stands out in a crowd. I was particularly taken by “Drift.” Pete Monacelli’s drawings/paintings are multilayered mysteries. Ed Buscemi has a Carborundum print here that I would have taken home if wasn’t already sold. We marveled at Kurt Feuerherm’s metal bases for his animal sculptures, primitive masterpieces in their own rite. The show is an experience.
I’ve already dumped this layout for Roman numeral 1 and I have a pad full of alternate versions for the others. I don’t usually do so many sketches before painting. I prefer to just jump right in especially when the medium is malleable. But I would like these 14 Stations to be either positive or negative and sometimes both with nothing in between. So I can’t just push paint around. The expression is in the shapes/forms of course but also in the edges.
I was born on the feast day of St. Paul of the Cross and feel destined to do a version of the Stations of the Cross. I started one in the mid nineties but I got bogged down in source material. I created digital composites of of my sources and generated 14 large ink jet prints which I hung in the Bug Jar during Lent 1998. I submitted “Passion Play” to the Finger Lakes exhibition in 1999 and won a couple of awards. This project has been on my mind for a long time and it has been thrilling work on it during Lent.
We’ve come across work by Eduardo Chillida in Spain and recently at Hauser Wirth in NYC and I started this project by doing a charcoal drawing based on one of his pieces. He is primarily a sculptor but I love his two dimensional work. When I’m happy with the sketches I’ll scale them up to fit these 14″ x 17″ plastic panels that I’ve been itching to paint on. I gues that means acrylic paint.
The last time I saw Tony Patracca was the opening of “Witness” at Rochester Contemporary. I’ve been following him on instagram but in mid July he went dark. He just popped back up again posting a photo of him in a wheelchair, recovering from a really bad accident. Here’s to a speedy recovery!
Tony is shown here standing in front of the first Pyramid art gallery space, this wedge of a brick building on the corner of Monroe and Marshall, across the street form the former Glass Onion (and before that Duffy’s Backstage where Miles Davis played in 1969, his first gig with his new quintet, Davis, Shorter, Corea, Holland and Johnette.)
I worked just down the street from this place at Multigraphics, a commercial art studio. It was called Carey Studios when I started there. They were in a brick building on Gibbs street that was torn down when the Eastman Library went up. I watched this little gallery space open in the old liquor store and would stop in on my lunch hour. It eventually became the Paper Store and today it is home to chef/restauranteur, Mark Cupolo’s Rella. Tony was the first director of the Pyramid which became Rochester Contemporary and 40 years later he is still on the Advisory Board.
It was a dreamy location for a Saturday morning yoga class. A woman who belonged to the Rochester Yacht Club arranged for Jeffery to teach a class there on the deck overlooking the mouth of the Genesee River. And it was open to the public. We were hanging around after class watching young kids learn how to sail when I found this little pocket along the shore of the river where driftwood was getting trapped. I picked up a handful of pieces and brought them home to dry out. I have mounted four of them on pieces of rough cut white pine and am experimenting with a color or stain for the base. If I can’t come up with something better than black, which works but appears a bit heavy, I will paint the other three that color.
The fifth one, shown in the middle above, is not driftwood. I carved it out of a piece of oak firewood. I spent most of a day in the garage with a chisel and hammer trying to create something as organic as a piece of found driftwood. It’s not easy. I found a piece of wood for the base of that one that I am happy with as is. I will report back on this project.
We’ve seen some great art movies lately. “Painters Painting,” “What Remains” with Sally Mann, “Notes on Marie Menken,” but last night’s was my favorite, “Leon Golub’s : Late Works are the Catastrophes.”
Golub opens the movie explaining his process and then demonstrating it. “You can see what a slow boring process painting is compared to photography.” he says. Despite his rough and tumble, monumental paintings of atrocities, the Viet Nam war, El Salvador and Iraq, I knew he would be this lovable guy. Just look at this painting of Franco from Golub’s show at the Reina Sofia in Madrid in 2011.
I had seen his paintings over the years and pretty much dismissed them as so damn messy. But that show in Madrid knocked me out. Maybe it was the setting. Spain knows something about brutal rulers. They revere Goya’s depiction of some of them.
The movie follows Golub through many years and he is another painter who gets better and better right up til the end. He describes his work as sort of political., sort of metaphysical sort of smart ass and a little bit silly. His wife, the artist, Nancy Spero, appears throughout the movie. They shared a studio. After fifty years they grow old. Golub says he still wants his work to be “in your face” but it turns more joyous. “I feel like I don’t have to take on authoritarianism anymore. I’m enjoying letting go.”
The movie will cost you a couple of PayPal bucks on Vimeo. Don’t miss it.
The Post Office got behind during the holidays and didn’t get our copies of the New Yorker out. We didn’t even notice. We were behind as well or in this pandemic time warp anyway. They all came in at once, two issues on the day, and I’m just getting to them.
“100 Drawings From Now” at the Drawing Center in SoHo has closed already but Peter Schjeldahl’s New Yorker review of the show is the best piece I have read on this existential crisis we have all stumbled into. “Drawing seems the most apt medium for expressing the fix we are all in.” The show included an R. Crumb self portrait and this Rashid Johnson beauty in Anxious Red.
“. . . for those of us who have been confined to home, these past months of forced lassitude have given rise to moments that are essentially mystical: temporary losses of ourselves, like existential hiccups, that we would likely not have noticed if we were leading full lives.”
Rochester Contemporary asked if I would talk about the piece I submitted in the annual members show. I was given a ten minute limit and I quit when I found myself saying something for the third time. They typically do these talks in person with the artist standing in front of their work, But this year RoCo plans to assemble a video of the artists who talked and share that online. I will be interested to hear what I had to say. I’m am not sure I offered anything at all.
I entered a large photo print last year. It sold and won the Light Impressions award. So I upped the photo presentation this year by bringing my old iMac downtown, tricked out with black duct tape framing the monitor. It plays a slideshow, called Abstracting Spain, in a big loop. It won the Axom Gallery Award. The 143 photos were all taken in Spain over a ten year period and to me there is a clear pattern. My favorite shots don’t document a monument or people. The best ones are constructions, like modern art paintings. They reference the two dimensional, horizontal grid of a landscape, 4×3 or 3×2 with my later cameras. They are compositions, sometimes before they even announce their subject. And to drive this point home I included my photos of a few paintings in Spanish galleries.
I use a pocket camera, a Sony RX100, and I rarely zoom. I walk up to what I want to photograph, sort of plumb the horizontals and verticals, and compose in camera. I do this instinctively and then wonder if it was done obsessively.
I didn’t prepare any notes for the talk and I didn’t mention the one thing I intended to say – that I pictured people sort of holding their breath as they scooted through the show during the pandemic so I cut the time each photo stayed on the screen down from 20 to 10 seconds. I thought I would just look at the pictures in my piece and talk about them but I don’t remember doing that.
The photo above was taken yesterday. A flattened box in the middle of Hoffman Road with a window cut out of it and surrounded by blue painter’s tape. What is there to say about that?
We used to go to a yoga class at the yacht club right at the mouth of the river in Charlotte. It was a dramatic setting for the Saturday morning class. In the summer we were out on the deck and in the winter we were upstairs in the ballroom. The members’ sailboats are all docked in a sheltered cove and it is right there, where the waterway runs off the river that I found all these pieces of driftwood bobbing in the water.
They were sculpted by nature and are beautiful just as is, so the challenge is how to present them. I tried this experiment this afternoon, cut the base from a piece of rough cut white pine, drilled a hole in the center of it, pounded a nail through the hole from the bottom, drilled the same sized hole in the base of the driftwood and stuck it together.
If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic and if I didn’t worry I may have been exposed, I would have gone down to my neighbors. They have a drill press in their garage and Jared loves a project. He would have devised a way to secure the organic driftwood while drilling a perfectly aligned, plumb hole. I rolled the piece up in a towel and clamped it to my workbench while I tried to hold the hand drill steady.
I decided the base needs to played down, maybe a half inch shorter in both directions, and it should probably be black.
I took this one apart, drilled out a different, bigger piece of driftwood and put it on this base and then painted the base black. It takes about four days for the oil paint to dry and turn matt rather than shiny. I will evaluate it then and consider mounting some other pieces.
“Art to an artist is a question: Is a series of questions his response?” Eduardo Chillida
Rochester Contemporary’s 30th Annual Members Exhibition opens tonight in the middle of a pandemic. We will stop by by later in the week. I submitted an old iMac with a slideshow on it. My piece is called “Abstracting Spain” and is a collection of photos taken in Spain between 2006 and 2019. It is my love letter to the country.
Cambridge Analytica mined Facebook data to manipulate the swing state persuadables in the last election. Four years later the manipulators are surly more sophisticated. In 3 minutes, 4 seconds Bill Posters and Daniel Howe’s AI synthesized video personas, “Big Dada,” at Rochester Contemporary illustrates the mind-blowing possibilities. You could almost walk into RoCo, hold your breath for the duration and not risk inhaling the virus.
Kota Ezawa “National Anthem” is one minute and thirty eight seconds long. The video installation was one of the stand pieces in the 2018 Whitney Biennial. It will make you weep, both at and for America. The show, “Big Data”Kota Ezawa: Taking a Knee,” is up til November 7th at Deborah Ronnen Fine Art 328b University Ave.
Time to think about what I might enter in RoCo’s upcoming Members Show. I put a photo in last year. It sold and I gave 100% to RoCo. It won some sort of prize too, the “Lumiere Photo Award” chosen by William Edwards, photographer and owner of Lumiere Photo, a $200 gift certificate.” I never saw that either but I am not complaining. Art is a labor of love.
Rain is forecast for tomorrow and that would make three days in row that we have walked in the rain. I feel like we are back in Galicia, completing the Camino de Santiago in October. Our rain gear is boss and the rain only deepens the meditation.
Philip Guston has been my favorite artist for a long time and I don’t expect him to lose that position before I pass but you never know. I always loved the photo of Guston’s studio with the late 60’s small panels on the wall. The photo has been reproduced in many Guston books and David McKee rounded up the small panels for a show at his gallery in 2009. Of course we made it to that show and Duane Sherwood took a photo of us there looking at this painting. We used it for our holiday card.
The 60’s was a turbulent time, at least as turbulent as ours and Guston’s paintings spoke to that directly. As bluntly as punk rock. If you don’t see the absurdity of these buffoons pointing out their next victim while hiding under their sheets no wall tag is going to help you. And he went much deeper putting himself under the hood painting a self portrait. Apparently this is all too much for us delicate pansies today. Or so the bone-headed thinking of four major art institutions goes as they pulled the plug the Guston retrospective, “Guston Now.” Even though the show is already on the wall and the catalog is on my coffee table.
The directors of National Gallery of Art, Tate Modern, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston came up with this explanation.
Philip Guston Now Statement from the Directors
After a great deal of reflection and extensive consultation, our four institutions have jointly made the decision to delay our successive presentations of Philip Guston Now. We are postponing the exhibition until a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted.
We recognize that the world we live in is very different from the one in which we first began to collaborate on this project five years ago. The racial justice movement that started in the U.S. and radiated to countries around the world, in addition to challenges of a global health crisis, have led us to pause.
As museum directors, we have a responsibility to meet the very real urgencies of the moment. We feel it is necessary to reframe our programming and, in this case, step back, and bring in additional perspectives and voices to shape how we present Guston’s work to our public. That process will take time.
In a statement sent to ARTnews, Musa Mayer, the artist’s daughter and a scholar who has written extensively on Guston, took issue with the decision and said she was “saddened” by the show’s delay. “Half a century ago, my father made a body of work that shocked the art world,” she said. “Not only had he violated the canon of what a noted abstract artist should be painting at a time of particularly doctrinaire art criticism, but he dared to hold up a mirror to white America, exposing the banality of evil and the systemic racism we are still struggling to confront today.”
Citing Guston’s Jewish ancestry and his family’s history of having fled Ukraine at a time when their people were under attack, she said Guston’s work resonates with contemporary concerns. “This should be a time of reckoning, of dialogue. These paintings meet the moment we are in today. The danger is not in looking at Philip Guston’s work, but in looking away.”
We had not driven anywhere in weeks so everything about the trip down Culver Road was weird. A lot of people, mostly women, were out doing yard work. Peggi and I had been in the basement all day working on art projects. A young couple was sitting in lawn chairs out by the sidewalk, maybe six feet from it. They weren’t wearing masks. They looked desperate for interaction.
A man and a woman were having coffee out in front of Dunkin Donuts. The woman had a mask on. Two twenty somethings with masks on were taking a selfies in front of the Vape Shop. A man on Webster Avenue was moving the lawn with a mask on but we saw quite a few young kids playing and teenagers hanging out without them.
Our mission was a safe drop-off of our RoCo 6×6 entries. We parked in front with our trunk open and Jess came out with a mask on. Ideally she would have picked up the artwork and disappeared but I complicated things because I lost one of my entry forms. She told us to roll down our window and she would come back out with a basket. The basket was hanging on the end of a long stick. I took the form and filled it out and we drove down East Avenue where even joggers were wearing masks. The outing was somewhere between a zombie movie and an acid trip.