In “The Object Stares Back” Ithaca author, James Elkins, makes a case for why it is so difficult to see something and paint it. You don’t simply see anything. You can’t. The act is wrapped up in an activity of give and take with what you are looking at. And of course it is quite a different experience for each individual.
My painting teacher always says, “Trust your eyes”. If you sense something is wrong, it probably is. If your eyes really like something you’ve painted, trust it and follow it up. Simple advice but a powerful guide. But getting to the nut of what you are seeing can be an illusive experience with all that Elkins brings to the table.
Elkins says, “Art is among the experiences I rely on to alter who I am”. I am down with that. He says, “Paintings seem to be exempt from the world, as if their frames were parenthesis letting the text of the world flow on around them, or little fences keeping the picture from straying into the world.” He describes the many ways seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. So this is a very fluid situation and art continues to nourish in circular ways.
There was a new guy in my painting class tonight. He is an architect by day. He asked me who these people were that I was painting and I said that they were from the CrimeStoppers page in the paper. He seemed really surprised but he smiled and said, “They have some attitude”.
The other day I read that one out every one hundred US citizens are in prison. I know at least a hundred people and I know someone who did time for printing twenties in his basement. And my brother did some time for weed but I don’t know anyone behind bars. I know my friend, Frank Paolo, visits a woman in prison.
I guess these crime faces are really pretty mainstream. I plan to to move on to some new subject manner as as soon as I can nail this “attitude” thing.
Yesterday we skied in the woods with Jeff Munson and Mary Kaye. Today it was 67 degrees so everything was melting. We took a walk on the dry roads and spotted this sign. I now have a backlog of 43 signs to post in the Refrigerator Signs section.
We went skiing with our friends and neighbors, Rick and Monica. We skied up the west side of Eastman Lake and back the east side of Durand Lake in the park. On the way back, Rick got a hankerin’ for Mexican so we got online and looked for alternatives to nearby Monte Albán. We toyed with driving out to El Rincón in Sodus or the one in Canandaigua but decided to try San José on Buffalo Road. I was a little suspicious because the pdf of their online menu said “printed in South Carolina” but we jumped in the car and headed out to Gates. Rick had a “Best of Incredible String Band” cd on. We found the place and a sign on the door. “Closed Until March 3rd For Remodeling”.
So we continued on to Chilango’s in Spencerport. It was about eight o’clock and there was a half hour wait so we drove back in the city to Monte Albán. We ordered Margaritas and Peggi and I asked for no salt. Rick wanted salt. Monica ordered horchata and the waitress told her they were all out so she settled for a root beer.
The waitress was beautiful. It was hard to do something as mundane as place an order with her. She was a marvel. She had dark hair, a shiny, wide, white belt, a really cute accent and amazing eyes. She brought the margaritas back and two had salt and only one was saltless. Fine. She asked if we were ready to order and we obviously weren’t so she said she would come back, but she didn’t. Some time went by. I thought we had ordered already and we were waiting for our food. Rick started getting agitated. We had worked up an appetite skiing. He asked a nearby waitress to go get our waitress.
She returned smiling. We placed our order. She came back and asked Rick if he had ordered number 18 or 19. Rick ordered a Negra Modelo and she said they were out. The food was ok. Peggi asked for more napkins and the waitress smiled and nodded but never came back with them. None of this mattered. She actually yawned while we were placing our order and we still tipped her.
Back home, Rick asked if we wanted to watch “La Sirène du Mississippi” (“Mississippi Mermaid”), the 1969 Francois Truffaut movie with them and we took him up on the offer. Catherine Deneuve, the star, waltzed through the movie like she was barely in it. She was a blond version of our waitress.
We stopped in on the Dave Cross family benefit at the German House last night and walked in just as Phil Marshall was ending his set. We heard he did a great version of “September Song” and told a few stories about Dave who recently died of a brain tumor. Phil played in a version of Coffee with Dave and they did a cover of a Raymond Scott tune that wound up on a European compilation. They played a gig at the Bottom Line in New York and Dave was smoking joints all the way down there. Phil said he was pissed that they were jeopardizing the performance but it came off flawlessly and Phil learned some sort of lesson from this.
Nod took the stage next and the sound was big. Chris Schepp made it bigger on magical keyboards. Peggi wanted to dance but didn’t. The only ones up close were the little kids playing on the dance floor. Nod has a new cd coming out in a few weeks. Chris was excited about the art work he did for the package. He recycled some commercial piece that he originally did for Dick Poole’s agency.
We were standing with Martin Edic during Nod and it was impossible to talk. He appeared in Peggi’s dream last night offering some advice on a dispute we were having with some neighbors in Mexico. I guess we had bought some beachfront property in Cozumel or Playa del Carmen and strangers were swimming in our pool. We were considering building a wall. Martin offered his advice and Peggi wrote him a check for $500.
After Nod, we walked down to Tap & Mallet and had a pint of McBane’s Bitter. I checked in on the paintings I have there. The place was packed. We chatted with Joe Tunis and Chris Reeg who had just finished their “Deciduous vs Conifer” gig at House of Hamez and then called it a night.
The cross country ski conditions are still in the excellent category so we headed out for our third day in a row. We headed through the woods and then crossed one of the holes on Durand Eastman’s Golf Course where we saw another skier. She darted up the hill in front of us and disappeared.
There are two types of skiers. Both types are old (say 30 and up). You won’t find any kids or teenagers on cross country skis, at least not in this neck of the woods. You can see the first type coming a mile away. They look like they are skating on skis, lifting one leg up and gliding on the other. And they have skinny legs because they are wearing black tights with gators around their ankles. Their jackets and accessories are brightly colored and they often have only ear muffs on because they have worked up such a sweat.
We belong to the second type. We basically ski in layers of street clothes. We trudge through the snow and wallow in the brush. We take goofy trails, sometimes following only deer prints. Today we saw about twenty deer. We usually stop and watch before continuing. You could probably see us coming a mile away too. Our pants would be baggy (as in LL Bean flannel-lined) and there might be some long underwear under there. And we would probably be covered in snow.
Respect Sextet played the Village Gate Atrium on Tuesday night so there was a serious conflict with my painting class. I checked their website and it said they would be be doing a clinic at their alma mater, the Eastman School of Music, at 4PM that same day.
So we found our way to Room 305 and sat in the back in desk/chairs. The word “idiomatic” was underlined on a chalk board and under it were three descriptions,” dance based”, “variation” and “improvisation”, three things that don’t immediately come to mind when you think of this prestigious school of music. The other green blackboards were permanently lined with musical staffs. The G clef was waiting.
There were about twenty five people in the room, most of them Eastman students. Josh Rutner, the group’s sax player, closed the door and the group launched into one of drummer, Ted Poor’s compositions. They started reading and just as quickly moved to playing and the band sounded great. It felt like we were inside a big, warm speaker. I gather most of them graduated in 2003 but they sound like seasoned pros, in full command of some meaty music.
Between songs they discussed making money with music, getting gigs, doing without health insurance, and life in NYC versus Rochester. Bass player, Malcolm Kirby and Ted Poor are apparently making a living with their music. Josh said, “I think I’m happy”. The Eastman students all talked of moving to New York, Boston or Europe after graduation. Trombone player, James Hirschfeld, in a Sun Ra t-shirt, said getting together to play involved an insane amount of travel. “It would be like driving from here to Fredonia to rehearse.” They emphasized the importance of their formative weekly Wednesday night gig at Java’s while they were here going to school. They released a 3 inch cd of Sun Ra’s “A Call For All Demons”. It was recorded live at Java’s in 2002 and gives you an inkling of what you missed.
I snuck out of painting class at the Memorial Art Gallery and caught a few of their songs outside the Bop Shop in Village Gate. These guys are my favorite group to have ever come out of Rochester.
It’s Spring in San Francisco and the daffodils are out. The temperature in Rochester is 11 degrees and it is supposed to go down to 2 degrees tonight. The cross country skiing conditions are perfect. We skied from our front door to Lake Ontario and back through the woods.
Our neighbor, Leo, is a sprightly 91. His typewriter died a few years back and he became very frustrated that no one would repair it. Everyone told him to get a computer so he finally bought a new Dell with his grandson’s help. He is able to email but he keeps getting confused as to what happens in his email package and what happens in his browser. He got an offer in the mail to subscribe to Consumer Reports but he had to register online. So Peggi and I helped him through that process.
Leo keeps his computer in the basement by his wood stove and he shuts it off after using it. So when we go over to help, we have to sit through his lengthy boot process. His grandson has all kinds of virus software running even though Leo has no files on his computer. Leo worries about viruses and he doesn’t even know what they are.
We turned on the printer to print the confirmation of his transaction with Consumer Reports but the only thing that came out was a letter to an old friend that he wrote a few weeks ago. The print dialog box was backed up with old jobs so we tried to delete them and squeeze our page out but there was one file in the queue that we could not delete. Peggi worked on this for about ten minutes and then the Consumer Reports page timed out so we gave up. Leo told us that last week he got so frustrated he was going to take a pick ax to his computer. He asked, “Who invented this thing?” We laughed. He went to shut down his machine and looked up at us. “That’s another thing. Why do I go to ‘Start’ to shut this thing down?”
Leo was a dentist and he still has a dentistry chair in his basement. And on the wall near his computer he has this painting from 1952 that a patient of his did in exchange for a break on a tooth extraction. Leo told us that the patient painted himself as the dentist holding his tooth. The patient’s name was Frans Schmanke and he based this painting on a Frans Hals painting. Leo said he hung the painting in his office but he had to take it down because his patients didn’t like it.
We had dinner with Peggi’s mom at Max’s on Monroe Avenue. We sat below some bad collage art. I tried not to let it spoil the dinner. We each ordered a roasted beet salad with orange slices and pistachios. Fantastic! We followed that up with an order of wild rice with dried cherries and pine nuts. I forgot all about the art.
Our NetFlix queue had two documentaries lined up in a row. We sat through Sicko a few nights ago and the Ralph Nader movie last night. I had a couple questions about Sicko. Isn’t Michael Moore big enough to stay out of his movies? And why is he so big anyway? And during the Nader movie I kept wondering why he wasn’t in the 2008 race and then he announced his candidacy this morning. We need more parties but how about somebody younger with a sense of humor? Hillary’s crack about “Change you can Xerox” rang a little differently in Xerox’s hometown but it still landed like a clunker. Xerox hasn’t been synonymous with copy since the desktop revolution.
We walked to the library and returned “Duma Key” which was two days overdue. Peggi did manage to finish the 600 pages. She told me I should read this one because it is all about painting. Some guy loses an arm and then takes up painting and discovers his paintings actually affect people’s lives. I’m busy reading “the Object Stares Back” by James Elkins. We stopped at Wegmans and picked up the ingredients for the “Hot and Sour Soup” recipe that was in the paper. Shitake mushrooms, Bella mushrooms, tofu, ginger, scallions, garlic and red pepper. Peggi also made some bread with buckwheat flour because we ran out of unbleached and we ate like kings.
I brought a pile of paintings to class last week. I think I had eight that were near done but all needed more work. I’ve been having fun starting new ones and trying to grab the essence of these crime guys as quickly as possible without getting bogged down correcting all my mistakes. Fred, my painting teacher came around and said, “I’ll talk about these when you’re ready”. I said “I’m ready now. I’m getting tired of fussing with this one”. He said, “I don’t like the word fussing. I like struggling”. I guess it is a little more noble.
So this week I’ve spent a lot of time time “struggling”. It’s the perfect word for this activity. Someone has to do it. And if the word sounded any easier it wouldn’t come close to describing how difficult painting is. Like Fred says, “It’s supposed to be difficult. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
Peggi had a dream about Hillary last night. They were at a Kmart and Hillary was speaking to a small crowd. Peggi was feeling really sorry for her and hugged her. Hillary asked Peggi if she had voted for her. Peggi hesitated and then said, “Yes”, even though she hadn’t.
I took this shot of Hillary when she was campaigning for her first senate race.
Steve Hoy was in Rochester and Personal Effects was playing down at Scorgies. We were hanging around after the gig and we started hopping parking meters. I landed wrong and jammed my leg up my back like I was trying to shorten it or something. I had muscle spasms and saw my doctor about it. He prescribed muscle relaxers which didn’t do much. The pain continued so I saw him again. He prescribed pain killers which did quite a bit. Except I was working as a free lance graphic artist and I couldn’t work while taking them. Friends kept saying, “Go to a Chiropractor” but I gave my doctor one more shot. He told me there was not much choice but to get in bed and rest for a week.
I checked out Dr. Donald Siedel, a Chiropractor whose office was around the corner from my house on Culver. He put me on my back and had me hold out my arms and he pushed against them. I had no strength at all in some positions. He rolled me over and told me to take a deep breath. When I exhaled he popped my spine so the knobs lined up. He didn’t prescribe anything, he just manhandled me. Fifteen minutes later I was standing outside of his office wondering what the hell had happened. I felt dazed like he had zapped me with something. And my back felt great.
In follow-up appointments he taught me how to “free” myself. He gave me a little pamphlet and circled the exercises that help alleviate my problem. I do these all the time when I feel locked up. But every once in a while I go through a bad patch where the exercises don’t help. I swivel my hips like Elvis. I do the egg. I do the dog, leg openers and hip openers but I still feel stuck. I miss Dr. Siedel. I heard someone filed a bogus complaint against him and he had to leave town.
I am in pretty good health but that is subject to change at the drop of a hat. My back seems to go out of whack throughout the day even when I am just sitting at my desk. I can usually free the stuck parts with a few simple movements. I might have injured it playing sports. I did a lot of that. The first time I remember throwing it out was while doing cartwheels on our front lawn sometime during high school. From then on I could only do a cartwheel going in one direction. Sort of like when I learned how to throw a curve ball so good, I could only throw curve balls. And then I injured my back it in a car accident.
I was a freshman at Indiana University and I hooked up with a guy going to Syracuse on Thanksgiving. He had posted a listing on the IU Ride Board in the Commons and I gave him a call. There were six of us in a restored 56 Chevy. That sounds like a lot but it was perfectly comfortable in the back seat. We were getting low on gas in Pennsylvania near this town called North East. It’s on Route 90 near the New York border. You can pretty much guess what part of the state it is in. We got off the highway to look for gas and there wasn’t anything open. We drove for a bit on a small road and ran out of gas.
We walked up to a farm house and rang the bell. A woman told us we were in luck because there was a gas station at the bottom of the big hill out front. All we had to do was push the car over the crest of the hill. The owner of the car sat behind the wheel and we all pushed but were having a hard time getting this tank to the top of the hill. The owner got out and pushed from the rear and I was reaching in the window from the side to steer the car while pushing. We were giving it everything we had and got it up to the crest where it started picking up steam. The owner yelled, “Jump in and steer” so I did.
I was rolling down this hill when a car came up behind me. I was watching him in my mirror and he was coming up pretty fast while I was just rolling. I turned on my lights, pumped the brakes and he kept coming at me. I pulled off to the shoulder and the guy pulled off to the shoulder. I pulled back on the road and he followed me. I was watching all this in that tiny little mirror and the guy just plowed into me.
I wound up down by the gas pedal curled up like a ball. The back seat of the Chevy came out and landed on top of me. The horn on the other car was stuck in the loud position. I worked my way free and walked back to find a man and a woman slumped over in the front seat. Their heads had shattered the windshield and they were both very bloody. The man was groaning.
The other guys caught up to us and the owner was pissed. He was pissed at me too! We walked to a house and called an ambulance for the couple. The car was towed and we hitchhiked home separately. My back was hurting me for weeks.
I fell in love with this photo. It was on the front page of The Irondequoit Post. Lou and Arianna Calesso teach computer skills to local blind people. Arianna says, “I can do anything (on a computer) you (sighted) guys can do.” In the article she tells how she met her husband. “I heard a new voice (in the group) and that was it,” she laughed. “I wasn’t looking for anyone.” My mother in law has one of the clocks shown here. It chirps a different bird sound for every quarter hour.
I took some heat a while back for a my post with the dead mouse. That hasn’t stopped me from setting traps although we haven’t caught one in a while. The last few times I’ve checked on them the peanut butter I used as bait was gone but the traps hadn’t sprung. Either the mice were wising up as their brothers went down or or maybe it was light-on-their-feet ants. Yesterday I stuck my had in the crawl space to check on the status and one of the traps was gone. I got a flashlight but couldn’t see the trap anywhere. Either a mouse dragged it back to where he came from or some other bigger animal took the dead mouse and trap somewhere.
I loaded the cd player (shown to the left) with five Art Ensemble of Chicago cds and hoped some of their magic would rub off on me.
And I remembered another painting truism. The further back I stand from my painting, the better it looks. And I don’t mean just because I can’t see it as well. When I catch myself hunching over the canvas I know I am in trouble. I am better off hanging onto the end of a big brush and standing as far back as I can. This way I can keep the whole painting in view while I paint a small section. When I start obsessing on the parts I would be better off walking away. “Walking away” seems to be a useful technique as well. When I come back to it, I usually find a clearer picture of the real problems.
We didn’t get out for a walk yesterday until the sun was setting. It had been a crystal clear day and the snow was shiny. We were supposed to get three inches on Friday and a then a couple, possibly more Lake Effect snow, on Saturday. Well we live by the lake and we didn’t get any. So we walked in the woods rather than skiing. We headed up into Spring Valley and saw some footprints. We are usually the only ones up here We smelled deer and then saw some. We smelled deer again but couldn’t see them because it was just about dark. A animal, bigger than a squirrel but not as big as a possum slithered up a tree in front of us. We headed down in the valley and the near full moon was casting stark shadows in the snow.
Back home we changed clothes and drove over to the George Eastman House for an opening of “Larry Towell: The World From My Front Porch”. I had never heard of him but I liked his photo of the three Amish guys in the paper. His photos are stunning. Whether Towell is framing Mennonites, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, Katrina, destruction or rural Ontario, Canada his shots tell big, cinema graphic stories. It is tough enough taking in a show with the distractions of an opening but the show itself has included distractions like old magazines, posters, kids drawings and concrete blocks. And on top of that there were plaques with incidental information mounted near the photos and lit like they were the main attraction and electric red title type on the green and blue grey walls. Let me look at these beautiful photos for crying out loud. We plan to revisit this show.
At least we found the show. On Friday we went out to see Jim Mott’s painting show downtown. We got an email earlier in the day about the show at the Bausch & Lomb building. We were there at seven and we could not get in the building. Jim is a Rochester artist who moves his front porch around the country and paints what he sees. He trades paintings for hospitality and was featured on the Today show.
I brought my MacBook to the Super Bowl party at my parents house and found a neighbor’s wifi connection to do my blog entry. I wasn’t really paying attention to the game but I gathered it was a good one. It seemed like a long string of commercials interrupted by short bursts of football. I prefer the English version, the beautiful game with no commercials for forty five minutes. I was looking forward to the Apple commercials but I didn’t see any. My niece said they aired one for the MacBook Air before the game started. I admit to being an Macophile but $1799 is too much for a laptop.
Our Apple stock has lost seventy dollars a share from its high but then our stockbroker (who talked us into selling a hundred shares when it was at 70) now says, “Hey, if I had told you seven months ago that Apple would be at 124 now, wouldn’t you want to buy some?” OK, so I am not upset about the stock slipping. I am upset that Apple has trashed its iMovie program. It has been completely rewritten. I never had to read the help forums while using the old iMovie HD. It was all drag and drop intuitive. The first time I used this upgrade I popped open a new project and was greeted with a black window with little boxes with round dashed borders and a prompt to “Drag Media Files Here”. Everything I tried to drag here bounced off. And not only that, they have removed features like the ability to mix multiple audio tracks. The only reason I can think of for why they would be trashing this program is that they are trying to get you to buy their more expensive editing software like Final Cut. But what do I know? My nephew has the scoop.
And now that I’m running Apple’s newest operating system I have “Time Machine” writing huge backup files to my external hard drive of all my botched movie experiments. Apple must have thought it had the Midas Touch.
My father sets up next to me in painting class and last week Fred Lipp was making it clear to him that he will never get everything right in a painting. “No painting has everything right in it”. My ears were erect. At times I feel like I have everything wrong in a painting and then I will do something so right that the painting as a whole looks pretty good. But don’t the masters get it all right? “If you had everything right you would have the Midas touch and you don’t want that. I don’t want it and you don’t want it.” I kept painting but I was thinking I better get some clarification on this Midas bit. I thought it was a pretty cool thing.
I told Peggi about the discourse and she said, “Why don’t you ask him to follow up on it?” I looked “Midas Touch” up on Wikipedia and learned that the king’s food, wine and even his daughter turned to gold when he touched them and this was all kind of a drag. I think I may have known this story at one time.
This week I asked Fred why we wouldn’t want the Midas touch in our painting and he said, “If you assume that everything you touch is gold, you’re dead. Creativity is doubt and questioning”.