I didn’t know Stewart Davis when he was practicing law. I only met him when he hooked up with Anne Havens, our favorite local artist. He was a gentleman and I never would have took him as an artist. Apparently what he saw in Anne’s art was a vehicle for a whole lot of rich expression. He was eternally young and where most artists strive to paint as directly as they did as a child Stewart had no art baggage to shake. He painted in the garage of their home and he blossomed in retirement. His art was pure. We bought one of his abstracts from a RoCo Members Show and it is one of our favorites.
His self portrait (above) is from “Stewart Davis – A Memorial Exhibition,” on view now at Rochester Contemporary. We were marveling at the uninhibited, primitive work while Bill Keyser was studying the show. He described the work as being “sophisticated.” That is quite a range.
In the lab space at RoCo Anne Havens is showing drawings she made of Stewart when he was in Sarasota undergoing cancer treatment. This show is stunningly beautiful, a loving tribute to a great man.
Rochester’s Arena Group has a show at RoCo as well and I can’t say I saw the whole show. I like to look at the walls and then move in on what calls me. And when I’ve had an internal conversation with that piece I move to what attracts me. I love Peter Sucy’s 3D prints. He prints his file, a few times, swaps out the ink color and arranges the pieces. And then he chose the perfect frame!
Evelyne Albanese has two beautiful watercolors in this show, both based on musicians. I had to look up Melody Gardot.
I knew this was a Barbara Fox from across the room.
On the forth floor of the Anderson Arts building Studio 402 has a show of new work by Gail and Jim Thomas. Gail has been been painting flowers for the last year, luscious pastel drawings, while Jim has been playing with space and form by revisiting the fallen oak in Genesee Valley Park, The Tree of Life. This was a fantastic show with both artists going in new directions. It has only reinforced my idea that the pandemic has been good for artists.
I have a few things I would to do before I die, projects that have been kicking around for a long time. I imagine I am far from alone on this. And when someone l know dies suddenly, my thoughts run to their unfinished business.
Fred Lipp and my father died just months apart in late 2016. Both discovered they had cancer and both went quickly. I took a painting class with them for twenty years before it crash landed. Fred was a great teacher and even a good teacher’s work is never done. You live with and by the advice. You practice it and you pass it on. It is unfinished by design. This teacher was also an artist, as good an artist as he was a teacher, and his art will also live forever. It is unfinished business.
It took Fred’s family a long time to reallocate his worldly goods. His studio, a retrofitted barn behind his home in Union Hill, was packed with his work. His daughter recently invited Peggi and me to come out and look at the leftovers. We spent the afternoon telling stories about Fred. He loved to laugh and his spirit was there with us.
I spotted a box of Bocour Magna Acrylic Resin artist paint, a brand I had never seen before. The tubes were still pliable so I brought them home. White metal section frames that Fred showed charcoal drawings in over the years were stacked against the wall. I took some of them as well.
I applied some of the paint to paper and found it had a really strong oder. The colors were rich though, purer and denser than any paint I had ever used. “Loaded” as they say. I tried cleaning my brushes with water but it wouldn’t touch it. Neither would walnut oil or turpentine. What was this acrylic resin stuff?
Online I learned Bocour was the first artist’s acrylic paint, used by Barnett Newman, Morris Louis, and Roy Lichtenstein. I took one of the tubes down to my neighbor’s. A former chemist at Kodak, he suggested thinning the paint with acetone. The smell of the paint stayed in my nose for hours and I wasn’t crazy about using the solvents to thin or clean up. But I was determined to do something in remembrance of Fred with his materials. I made big paint chips from the sixteen colors, each 1/3 of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet, and went to Rochester Art Supply see if I could find modern equivalents to Fred’s colors.
Mike, the owner, told me he remembered Leonard Bocour “coming in the store with a woman on each arm.” Mike pointed to the shelf where they kept the line of Bocour products. Golden Acrylics, today’s water based artist paint, has been having a hard time getting pigments from various parts of the world during the pandemic so I wasn’t able to get replacements.
I became enamored with the paint chips. How the color bled off three sides and stopped short of the bottom and how they fit the unfinished business concept. With a plastic trowel I covered sixteen large sheets of paper, paper that will fit nicely in the 20″ x 26″ white metal section frames that I brought home from Fred’s.
Pete Monacelli is not afraid of these paints and he offered to buy them from me. Fat chance. I will give them to him the next time I see him. No piece is done until it is photographed and this took the better part of a week. Using 4 Lowel Toto lights that Duane gave me, I struggled to evenly light the work. Duane found photo bulbs online to replace my Home Depot bulbs and he helped me get the white balance. Over the phone from Brooklyn he found the ideal settings which I will record here for the record. Shutter speed at 1/125, Aperture at F8, ISO at 640 and a custom white balance (1). Once photographed Peggi, also a student of Fred’s, helped me color correct these online versions. See all sixteen panels here.
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.