Monday, April 5, 2021

Raft of the Medusa

This is what happens when an artist publicly declares they are moving away from human figure

The journey towards making this piece began way before Covid and I did a previous post about it.  In painstaking detail the post describes the journey of the drawing from cradle to grave.  If you want to call the resolution of an artwork “the grave” and I find that I do. This piece is heavy on drawing so if you want to know more, please read the post here.

I also made a short video introducing the piece which you can watch if you would prefer.  It will be based on the text below plus that previous post so you don’t need to read a single more word if you'd rather watch. Plus it will have even MORE info and pictures as its easier to talk than write.

Some context:

·      I have always been fascinated by the following works of art:

“Raft of the Medusa” by Theodore Gericault, “Battle of the NakedMen”, 1465–1475 Antonio del Pollaiuolo.

·      I have done “battle scenes” since I was a painting major in 1981.  


·      I have an urge to depict “piles of things” or interlocking things. 

·      Perhaps related to that urge, is a strong urge to do repeating, tessellated patterns. 

·      I think Escher is an under-rated artist. Seriously.

·      Swearing off figures makes it into an irresistible forbidden fruit.

·      The summer of 2020. 


 That’s the brain brew that grew “Raft of the Medusa”.

As for the narrative content…i.e. “subject matter”: First off, a caveat. In discussing, analyzing or critiquing art, the urge to understand “subject matter” or “narrative content” as somehow separate from design and material concerns HAS GOT TO STOP……she said, possibly rushing forward right into that very trap…. Subject matter alone is not “Concept”.  “Concept” is not a synonym for meaning…just stop it people, would you?? The meaning of a work of art is in its gestalt—the experience of its subject/design/material all play integral parts, and all generate aspects of meaning. 

“Raft of the Medusa” was a very direct attempt to come to terms with the very traumatic summer of 2020. This time period, I know you haven’t forgotten and won’t for a long time, was marked by social isolation from covid and social unrest from Black Lives Matter protests.  To crowd or not to crowd...that was the question or for many, it became worth it to demonstrate that some issues are worth risking death for, so demonstrate some people did.  


 Donald Trump and his policies, administration etc. filled me (and many, many artists) with the urge to say something. Why is it so hard to get along?  I think we do want to love one another, but it’s so very, very difficult. Even loving a single other person is a difficult task that involves facing one’s own shadow self, let alone trying to love human-kind as a clump. And loving neighbors…well loving thy neighbor is probably the hardest thing to ask in the whole world! How can I possibly when they are hoarders who smoke? Or vote differently or have different beliefs? 

I have always thought that disapproving of one’s “neighbors” (i.e. “others”) is not really about them anyway, but about coming to terms with the parts of ourselves that are most hard to reconcile, to love. Being angry with your “neighbor” is the single most effective strategy to avoid recognizing the parts of yourself you hate!  But that’s because it’s easy: they are, almost by definition, strange and alien and you can consolidate your love for your family and friends at their expense, without threat. I mean that without a ton of judgment—it’s kind of our default setting and hard to change.

Last summer, even die-hard soft-hearted liberals were unfriending their neighbors and families on Facebook over social policy disagreements. And all this played out with a deadly pandemic urging us to ISOLATE!  HIDE!  Duck and cover…. We have met the enemy and he is virus-us.

Covid brought all this out, it’s not a coincidence it all happened at once.

I hope this isn’t too moralistic and preachy—I don’t want to tell people how to think.  Just, perhaps make mild suggestions.


SO, I made a picture, which, I hope, expresses and externalizes the all-too-human struggle to deal with our fear and aggression towards others, our loved ones and ultimately our own selves. It’s all the same fear. That which I imagine to be outside of myself is always within and to come to terms with that is the essence of love.

In the image, I included a lot of people struggling and writhing in discomfort and dis-ease, together and alone and there all stuck together on this tiny “raft” (not pictured!) and there are even some moments of tenderness if you look for them.




Painting in progress

Design Concerns:

I have an urge to depict “piles of things” or interlocking things.  What is this about?

Despite the contemporary pressure for an artist to analyze themselves to death I am going to attempt to reclaim the following: “my work is an attempt to know myself and by extension to understand other and the entire world outside of my brain.  Any claims of a-priori conclusion would be absurdly premature. In other words, I work intuitively and am utterly in service to my subconscious.  And although they (i.e. neurologists) will never locate a “collective subconscious” in the brain, its metaphorically true enough. Suck it up, buttercup!”  I hope you enjoyed that bit of art-speak for “no clue.”

Perhaps related to that urge, is a strong urge to do repeating, tessellated patterns.  Also “no clue”—but I would suggest that much of what a brain wants to do is draw pictures of itself and often that self is strangely mathematical.  I read somewhere (and I deeply regret I can’t remember where) that many of their abstract doodlings a person is compelled to do resemble nothing so much as biological phenomena such as phosphenes.  Who knows what we will figure out in terms of how the brain encodes self-generated images in the future.  I look forward to whatever it is.


Super bonus! I also made a tiny version of this for Shelter in Place Gallery:



The gallery is a perfect scale model and my piece appears to be gigantic!


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Dirty Snow

"Dirty Snow" 32" x 32"

As I write this, I have a glass sliver in my forefinger making it hard to type.  Gritty, hard livin’ type that I am I would usually operate with my #11 knife and be done with it.  However, this one is so deep that that would involve too much invasive probing and gore; plus, I’d probably get an infection.  So please excuse me, but this time, my typos happened for a reason!

If you don’t want to read a lot of blahdeblah, please skip down to the asterisk.

 As is often the case, the figure was imagined and fabricated a while ago.  I wanted to do a puffy coat.  Why?  Do I have to know?  Does the reason need to be a solid, conceptual scaffold on which profundities can be constructed into edifices reaching heavenward towards a theoretical interrogation of all that is assumed culminating in an apotheosis which proposes a new framework on which to model our culture, society, world etc??  Well, I hope not because I honestly just wanted to make a puffy coat on a lark. I mean, puffy coats…they’re funny!  And so very practical.  During the energy crisis of the 1970’s my parents kept the heat down when they weren’t home.  I had a men’s large puffy coat that I wore around the house like a bathrobe.  OK, try to unimagine that please. I swore them off and only wore leather motorcycle jackets, Carhart prole-wear or long black coats when they were for film students not school shooters. Then, about three years ago, I broke down and got one because AS GOD IS MY WITNESS, I NEVER WANT TO BE COLD AGAIN!!


I just want you to know I have a history of deep thoughts on puffy coats.


When I have a fully realized glass character, I am faced with a dilemma.  Who is this character? Where are they?  What are they doing?  Should I put them in an interior space? A landscape? And abstract space (a favorite solution of mine)? I can force things to happen; but usually I like things to arise on their own, so I often table it to see what happens. Meaning—if I work on other ideas, boundaries tend to blur and sometimes a solution for a different piece works for this one.  Also, I take a picture of the figure, input to Photoshop and mess around putting the character in different situations.


Puffy coat, go figure, seemed to suggest an outdoor scene in winter. But are we talking day or night?  Country or city?   Without detailing every machination of my imagination (and believe me there were millions of options I considered), I chose a city scene at night. While I may hate being cold, I like winter.  I get weird winter feelings—sort of the opposite of seasonal affective disorder.  I get happier when the sun goes down at 4 and rises after 7 am!  There is something about fading light and bare trees that evokes in me a keening sense of, well, I dunno what but for some reason it always brings me back to a moment in 1983 when I was walking to my apartment on Hope street in Providence Rhode Island.  Was I thinking something special?  I have no recollection.  Was there a sublime sunset? I was walking south,  so no.  But everyone must have these memories, of some time ages ago that we can’t remember but we can recall it very vividly—at least in a visual way.  I worked pretty hard to evoke this keening sense of winter in this piece.


*On my covid walks, I have noticed something that made it into this piece. People, everywhere around me are people walking around with little bags of poop. (Never mind this has a practical aspect regarding dog walking, I literally saw this as an alien on their first visit to earth.  I saw it completely afresh—like “Oh look at the humans with their little bags of poo!”)

I know it sounds amusing, but I truly found it to be a poignant human thing.  For one thing, don’t we all walk around metaphorically speaking with a little bag of sh*t?  Just a small one, one that we seek to dispose of, so others don’t have to step in it.  What a decent thing to do!

But I was afraid it would be seen as a gag.  And yeah, maybe it will be.  But this statement is a small way I can put forward the idea that it might be funny but it also sweet and kind and to memorialize that is a good and appropriate thing to do.

Technical details:  Dirty snow is represented by the side panels.  I call those designs “pongs”.  I looked back and figured out I had not made pongs in ten (!!) years. I used to do them all the time, but I definitely reached a point where if I made another, I was gonna rampage.  So, I asked myself if I really wanted to do this motif…if I had anything new to say.  The answer, as it turns out was yes indeed. 


Dirty snowflake jawns.


 Shout out to Karisa Gregorio who helped with cutting ALL. THESE. HEXAGONS.

I have done a city at night before.  This city sky was done with some acid etching (or to be totally transparent (!) about it, Armor Etch).  Since I don’t usually use that technique, I thought it was worth mentioning.  Another example is the body of the whale in “Beached Whale” (scroll down).

"Landscape with Underpants", also featuring a city skyline at night.

Also, I did the head thrice:


Another version of the face that I rejected.

1st version of face, which I rejected. You know what?  I honestly have no clue why I didn't like it.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Sandblast videos

 I have always wanted to make instructional videos.  Covid is making that dream a reality!

The first two are on sandblaster setups and equipment and Sandblaster Maintenance.

Sandblaster Setups and  Equipment

Sandblaster Maintenance

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Last Belch of the Fish


Last Belch of the Fish 25" x 24.5"


I attend a meeting in a space that has a children’s carpet with a lily pond motif.  I have been there often enough, staring at it for long periods of time that I began to think about how I would redesign it.  So this is that piece.  The title is from a song by David E. Williams—he granted me permission to use it, which I was keen to do since it fits so perfectly.

I see dead fish-people


What inspired it beyond the carpet?  Visits to the Salton Sea, concern about habitat destruction, ocean pollution and overfishing.  Reading about animals’ emotions. A sense that animal protagonists are more affecting in some ways than human ones, after all, they are so obviously innocent in their predicament, as well as innocent of it---that ratchets up the poignancy by a more than few degrees if you ask me.

Fish are not easy subject to depict as characters without going overboard with anthropomorphic caricature.  But I tried.

This is really the only sketch I made.

Compositional concerns: trying to make the dying fish appear in a fetal sac, whilst simultaneously suggesting a planet whirling about in space.


Body Bag, 200? (I forget and I am too lazy to launch the doc to find out .


Another thing that was key in making this piece was a desire to revisit the compositional motif from “Body Bag” (2002)—I wanted to make an amorphous, almost abstract cloud that  went in and out of recognizability in terms of image.  I wanted to create the feeling of a swirling muck puddle.  

Suffocating fish
Muck puddle


 And of course, as always, I wanted to put forth a beautalist version of such.  Beautalist is my new word that I invented just this week intended to convey a brutal beauty.  I would never want to make a work that I could not look at, or consume myself.  If one is going to traffic in preachy dogma, it had better look really, really nice, which is a lesson I copped from Christian art.

Layers comprising fish pond separated.  This part was partly improvised while in progress.

Partway through.
Bubble motif: l--red/clear flash glass, Middle: blue/clear flash, r: both pieces together.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Eye of the Story


I used to think eyes were good for keeping one from bumping into telephone poles and that the “art part” was all in your head.  I used to joke about art causing “eyegasms”.  I am a lot less sure that’s a joke now.  I am not sure why this is a surprise, but it is.

Don't bump into the telephone poles!

I once saw a film of my very own hands working…and “wow! I thought…who’s that person with mad hand skills?”  I never think of myself as technically skilled especially as I was pretty terrible when I began years ago.  Seeing that film amazed me because I could see that my hands were possessed of knowledge—of intelligence even. With no thought at all, my hand placed the tools right where they needed to be and proceeded to work the glass with complete confidence? Faith? Knowledge that what I was doing was accurate and precise. And believe me, they were going all over the place really fast! So, I understood my hands were intelligent, independent of my brain (which if anything, overthinks, doubts and therefore hesitates and jerks around like the jerk it can be!) Why wouldn’t I understand that of my eyes?


I can’t do that coordinated eye/hand stuff easily at all right now (I have to make a real effort to find the surface of the glass and to put a tool on it in the right place), although I hope after my eye fully heals (from surgery to remove an epi-retinal membrane which was causing distortions in my right eye) I will get back to it.


Perhaps even more bizarrely, I can’t tell if my work looks good.  WHY SHOULD THIS BE???  My left eye is working just fine!  My work is not particularly 3-dimensional either, so it’s not that.  But, no: I cannot assess my work visually like I usually can.  Can I shut the bad eye and see it?  No, I cannot.  I mean I can, but it feels worthless and unreliable.  So, apparently my vision is proactive.  I know my work looks OK in my eye, not my head and part of that is the right eye.


If you had asked me before my retina issues “do you find the act of seeing pleasurable” I would have agreed in principle, but perhaps without any understanding of the depth of this truth.  Also, when my eye doctor referred to me as a “visual person”—despite my complete obsession with image, design, art and even staring endlessly out of car windows at anything no matter how dull, I would have denied it.  To me, a visual person sees kaleidoscopes and fireworks, every day another aurora borealis haloing objects in a supernatural colored glow. I imagined a visual person is someone who saw pictures in their heads instead of words. I imagined visionaries…those who presumably are seeing things before they make them.  And I don’t see things (pictures) before I make them, au contraire.  Just to be a dick, I also suspect most artists don’t.  I mean, they think they do, but really?  They don’t.  Just like a dream—there’s no actual capturable image.  That image we had imagined to be an image must be created from scratch, eye wide open, and awake.  Dreams and visions are imagined vision, not actual vision and as such, must be redesigned in order to be made material.  Thoughts only think they are material! Silly thoughts!


I mean, sign me up—but frankly, I think too much in words to qualify as a visionary.  And when I say “think in words” I am hearing them, not seeing them.  And when I want to make an art project I literally (ha!  Get it?) have to draw it, pull it by force out of its hidey hole, which I assumed to be in my brain alone.  But it turns out, I can’t SEE what I want to make until I make it, until I see-see it, in the flesh, looking back up at me!


Imagine my surprise, then when I discovered, by dint of one epi-retinal membrane, how much pleasure I get from seeing.  And here I realized that I had fallen sucker to the belief that pleasure itself was solely a brain thing!  HA!  I am sure the brain is supplying part of the experience here, but the eye…. oh my…how active is the eye in this pleasure.  How active?  Very active.  I currently am very compromised in my right eye temporarily.  Post-surgery, I am to expect not to have decent vision for up to three to six months.  I can technically see…the brain is definitely receiving input from that eye…but it’s impossible to interpret—it’s a lacuna or a cloud or both. When the information is unreliable, it’s a form of blindness. Trust me, I am currently effectively blind in one eye. Before the surgery wasn’t all that much better, which is why I elected to have it in the first place.  I could see…but I couldn’t SEE.

And seeing, when I managed it, was suddenly a lot of effort, a lot of work and no fun at all.  Plus, I think I can claim to have some sort of visual equivalent to perfect pitch.  Needless to say, that was GONE!  POOF!  FMW!


The way my eye created pleasure goes like this: my eye is hungry.  My eyes are insatiably curious. Maybe yours too?  They have appetites, in my case, big appetites.  I see the world just like everyone else, but I think now that I also saw it differently.  My eye and brain were inextricably linked in a process; not just interpreting and avoiding telephone poles but of amplification and exaggeration.  I see beauty and inspiration in everything!  Or close to it.  I am obsessed with looking.  I love the act of seeing!  I can look at the same thing a billion times and every time it suggests entire new worlds. I am the person in the passenger seat who can stare out the window at a cornfield for eight hours and still be titillated with delight.  I am the person who bullies their way to the window seat on Amtrak…even at night.  I am sorry (not sorry) if I did that to you!

And I desperately want to share this with others because what’s the point of having all that good stuff locked up in me?  The door to the attic storage will burst from the pressure! Maybe I don’t see haloes and fireworks and kaleidoscopes…but yeah, now that I think about it…maybe I do!  I can make them happen and although that sounds very much like a brain thing, it requires the PRO-active participation of the eye itself.  And sorry, people, but I can’t explain that at all. I believe a neurologist or ophthalmologist (with philosophical leanings) might be able to.  But all I can say is that eyeballs are absolutely much more than just sensory inputs.  They are directing the brain, not vice versa.


One thing from above I wish to elaborate on: Visual pleasure is a relay between the eye, the brain and ultimately with another person’s eyes and brain.


As for visual pleasure:  pleasure itself is often divided on Cartesian mind/body lines.  Pleasure of the mind are given preferential treatment and pleasures of the body are delegated to being shameful or embarrassing, worth skepticism and denial lest we indulge our animal natures, get addicted, yadda yadda, insert Judeo-Christian dogma here.  When I have rattled on about beauty in the past, I have begged people to consider any philosophy that divided mind from body to be scientifically false as well as nihilistic and frankly silly.  Oh, come ON!  I love candy!  And I refuse to apologize for any love, no matter how unhealthy it can be potentially.  (Addiction is another matter, because that’s when pleasure becomes a huge physical and mental liability. But to abstain from pleasure in some misguided preemptive strike is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.)

Love, pleasure and beauty (and therefore ultimately meaningfulness, inspiration and truth) are inextricably linked and to remain abstinent of one is to affect them all.  Beware.


And as I said above, there is much evidence that our inputs—functions of our body’s fabulous sensory equipment are inextricably in dialogue with the brain which, in turn in inextricably in dialogue with the environment.  If you think you can exist as a brain in a vat or that you can upload your brain to a hard drive, you are incorrect.  It will not be a brain anymore unless it is interacting via a body and that body is interacting with an environment.  To separate mind from body is scientifically inaccurate; cut it out.  Physical pleasure is not your brain being naughty or indulgent.  Similarly, mental pleasure is not evidence you are a superior being to another person or an animal.  It is not even mental—it’s a loophole by which we are fooled into a convenient untruth so that we can allow ourselves the biological necessity of pleasure, without which we will surely die.


The pleasure of vision is specifically the pleasure of optical beauty, in which I would include sights we might delectate in such as prettiness as well as ugliness, cuteness and weirdness.  I would say, the artist tweaks these in order that they be more keenly or directly experienced; and specifically experienced as meaningful.  I am keen on inspiration. Let’s called inspiration “life force”—it’s supposed to be part of seeing and making art.  If you deny that then I think art is not different than anything else in life, so what’s the point? OK, I will assume that airtight sentence totally convinced you the value of “inspiration” and go further and say: if you don’t feel life is meaningful or inspiring you will literally want to be dead. So, this stuff is important; mind/body important.  Inspiration and meaning can be gotten to via many paths: the eyes are but one way…there’s also the hands, the nose, the ears and the tongue.  And other senses like balance, direction etc.  But key here is senses…those physical things that are why our brains even exist in the first place.

When an artist is inspired, they share it. And it’s not because they are being particularly generous in nature.  Because inspiration, coming from the word breath is just like breathing.  You can’t hold an inhale forever.  I love museums: places where I can go to have the inspiration, the life force, of the original artist (possibly long deceased) huffed into my eyeballs so I can in turn spit out something new.  Life force must be encoded somehow into a work of art or its just regular ol’ stuff.  Off to the landfill!


This is far, far, far away from ideas of beauty as a social construct, which indeed it can be, but really, don’t let others construct beauty for you when you are perfectly capable of creating it yourself. Thank you.)  To be visually attracted, to be visually curious, to be able to construct a ne plus ultra of what the visual world provides as raw material is a wonderful thing.  And to share it is important as this teaches others by example how to do this and thus life is that much more worth living. What could be more beautiful than that?


So, I can only conclude that the reason I can’t tell if my art looks good right now is because my eyes make decisions in dynamic conversation with my hands and my brain.  And that how can I tell if my art gives pleasure if I can’t be pleasured by my eyes right now?  I can’t.  Six months….


As for “eyegasms” …we all know where life comes from and we all know that’s wonderful even when actual human babies aren’t the goal. Anything that creates any kind of life; real, metaphorical, animal, vegetable, mineral…it’s all good.  More love for everybody!  Creativity is fundamentally erotic[1].  Perhaps that’s what Bataille was getting at in “The Story of the Eye”.  I read that 40 years ago and all I remember thinking is “ew.”  But maybe I get it now.


Eyes: not passive.  Eyes are creative.  Or they can be.



[1] Soon to be another essay, I promise.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Death and Decoration

These are random thoughts, inspired by a suggestion that I address the decorative in my work and by reading an article in Cabinet Magazine this morning on thedominance of rectangular form In Western art. My thoughts are sadly limited to my western euro bias, FYI, but I will say, I think rejecting decoration is a problem of European inheritance.


I used to tat lace.


Two great efflorescences of decoration are the Gothic and the Victorian (I don’t know enough about the Rococo and the culture at the time to comment, but yeah, throw them in there too!). I wonder if one could claim a connection between these cultures practices/obsessions with death and a tendency towards obsessive ornamentation? Of course, cultural preference/rejection for decoration probably follows a pendulum’s path of over-saturation and subsequent draconian palate cleansing. So, there’s that.

Could the rejection of ornament and decoration arise from a fear of death? There is nothing more terrifying than imagining our insides getting out. For this reason alone, people obsess on coloring inside the lines. If you can’t manage your histrionic expressions, what’s to say disembowelment isn’t next on the agenda? De-composition is, a process by which a seemingly integrated thing becomes literally dis-integrated.  Its encoded right there in the word, after all. Could it be that decoration reminds us of our own inevitable end? If art was only striving “to make order of chaos” as is sometimes claimed, decoration would indeed be a crime. When organic material rots, does it not come forth with a profusion of sorts which implies the decorative? When the dignity and authority of a person is devoured by a colony of shiny little maggots, don’t they look pearly and precious; at least if you can consider them beyond the merely disgusting? Aren’t the stages of de-composition the most florid, overflowing and flamboyant? Could decoration be an imitation of death because decoration represents a threat to the orderliness that ensures our insides don’t erupt from their confines? Is this why we love to hate it? 

Enjoy some random details of my work...

If there’s one thing I know about decoration, it’s that it does make it hard to discern the structure and it breaks down the confining outline—that which reassures us that what’s inside is inside and what’s outside is outside. Another comfortable illusion, but I will leave that alone for nw.

Curlicues, arabesques, frills, fur, fringe, lace, swirls, serifs, all manner of lavish flourishings, in all their particulate glorious detail tend to make for a diffuse border that threatens to dissolve whatever it is encrusting into its surroundings. Excrescence makes it hard to see the macro and the micro at the same time. By focusing on the minute, we can’t see the contained whole. Perhaps all this makes some people nervous.


I suppose it’s also possible that ornament and decoration are a Thanatic embrace of “the great unknown”.  An attempt to populate what must necessarily be a void in our imagination with a profusion of stuff. Usually stuff that is pulsating with life or, if abstract, visual energy. Is it an attempt to enact a sacrifice to God— “here, take this fascia, this repeating rosette, this dearest embellishment, this pearly extravagance, (from Latin extra "outside of" + vagari "wander, roam".)  instead of my actual children?” Is horror vacuii an escapist strategy to avoid the terrifying inevitable? Assuming that the decorative focuses on the small details, would that make it sort of the inverse of Romantic ideas of “the Sublime” (this could apply to Rococo and grottoes, cave vs the vast expanse of sky etc)? A deep dive into the eternity contained in the infinite infinitesimally tiny. Come back later, death! I’m busy—with an emphasis on busy (as in “the surface is busy with detail”).

Ornament.  I love it.


Is it a coincidence that when we toggled from obsessive funerary culture to an obsession with sex(iness) at the beginning of the 20th century that we went from ornament to brutalism? When we went from pondering the dissemination of body and soul into the heavens (or hells) to a firm consolidation of body into the corporeal—which no doubt is smart when you want to have the living be the consumers, not the dead, or god, what with their lack of cash and credit and all.

Although consumers tend to like ornament so maybe that theory is a flop. Or maybe it merely ensures the kitschification of ornament when the ultimate “end user” is us mortals instead of God?

I am pretty sure I use decoration in my artwork as I described Victorians and Gothic people using it above. Even as an atheist I have come to see the hellhound at my heels as one of god’s avatars. A god who craves bling. One whom I am most anxious to please, lest I or my loved ones be recalled before we are ready!  Although my own pleasure and that of the audience is of great importance to me, it is ultimately unwise to aim the work that low.  Apologies to all humans for what must seem a disparaging remark—I do not intend it to be so—just an indication that we are exceeded by the celestial empyrean at least in metaphor and believe me, nothing matters more to an artist than metaphor! And human connection always needs a lubricant and I can’t think of a better one than embodying love in various modalities both material and metaphorical and for some that means taking the time in ever-so-painstaking devotion to detail and embellishment of an object.

There's a reason I call myself a "Militant Ornamentalist"


I used to think each single instance or inspiration was the last one I would ever have. So, it would be nothing at all to invest a few months, if not decades in elaborate diversions into my imagination (not to mention materials and techniques) which is to say, decoration was and still is a way of creating a stay of execution most literally. I hope god is pleased. I am also aware that other people tend to like it too.  Win/win! Meanwhile, I find that I would rather work on one piece for a long time than many pieces for shorter times.  So long as I am in the midst of a project, I have a reason to wake up in the morning. I truly loathe beginning new pieces.  So, if I can drag out the process for a few months or years, all the better.


Apropos of all this, it saddens me that ornament and decoration are pejorative terms in art school critiques. Still!!!  (You would think by sheer force of time and fashion trends we’d be over it by now.) I do see a hefty element of sexism, homophobia and white supremacy in that—a rejection of notions that, for reasons of pure coincidence (and I could go into this…) have become feminized. It could be as simple as the curves of a female implying an indirect path that men (or those invested in securing their status as something different from a female), cannot afford to be deviated (or, more importantly, devianted) by as they focus on reaching super-linear goals. It is a way to maintain a white male images of male seriousness, of gravitas and genius.  A lot of males have bad association with anything that seems “sissy-like”, so goodbye decoration which somehow got cast as the domain of the female or gay man. It all seems rather capricious, but that’s how exclusion works.  You gotta have some set of traits that are the good ones—even if you are attaching these values arbitrarily.

In fact, these motifs are increasingly become my whole game.


And then there is the dependence on hierarchical understanding of art history; as if art could somehow progress! As if one could install a certain aesthetic as “top of the heap”. It’s ok to be influenced by “primitive” but make sure to establish dominance over it...yadda yadda (see Adolf Loos for the ultimate and hilariously dated explication of this and watch how he sticks decoration as the lowest of the low, because …well, just cuz. Mainly because he didn’t like it..and why…oh the circles you will go round...)  Rejecting ornament in no way ensures you have secured the true path to enlightenment! It’s just a reassurance de jour that seemed all kinds of right in the mid 20th c back when ideas of “purity” were allowed to persist. A form of Modernist reductive lunacy when we should have learned our lesson ca 1945.

Let me repeat that: any theory of aesthetics that disparages decoration because it “obscures the purity of structure” did not learn the lessons of extremist thinking about racial purity put forth by Nazis.  STOP IT. 


Finally, just because decoration reminds us of bottleflies on a corpse doesn’t mean it doesn’t make our brains turn on the pleasure juice switches. Why, why, whywhywhwywhywhy does sensual pleasure always end up reminding us of excess’ inevitable rot? That’s easy.  We are terrified that pleasure is temporary, and the true state of life is endless suffering so why get your hopes up?  And yup, life can be that way!  Everything we love will die.  But that’s one lousy argument for becoming an austere, celibate, pleasure rejecting fool. The problem with preciousness (in the itty-bitty-beauty-pretty sense rather than economic although they are related)—is that we suspect that if we succumb to our passion, we will be rendered so powerless in its presence and we go directly from dazzle to despair. That we will literally be inviting maggots to eat us. 

Because I said so.

So, we sometimes hate precious things. We sometimes hate beautiful things; we sometimes hate decoration and ornament. But you know what?  You were already powerless.  So, go out and enjoy some decorative art today!




Monday, September 14, 2020

A Patient Lady

"A Patient Lady" 23" x 22"

 This all began quite some time ago: the idea was to make a small, quick piece.  When you are in the business of making large, complex pieces that take months on end, quickies can be a real palette refresher.  Also, if I think of them in a certain way, they seem more fun because there's less pressure.  Or at least that's what I tell myself at the outset...the road to hell, etc etc.

Who doesn't just love Holbein?  Well probably someone... I dunno--I love much of the portraiture of the Northern Renaissance.  I love the peacock blue of Holbein's backgrounds.  I love the flourish of a decorative vine lurking in the background.  I love nun-fashions.  Not to wear myself...but you know, those big white head wrappings...  There are a few specific Holbeins I looked at: Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling , Portrait of a Woman and Lady Guilford

Its not a good idea to rip off an artist as good as Holbein as it will only underscore all one's shortcomings but apparently I forgot that for the duration...

Portraiture is such a freaky genre in so many ways.  And is this piece here that I have made a portrait?  Well it can't be because the character is from my imagination, so no. But its drawing on the tropes of the portrait tradition: a person just. sitting. there. Doing nothing but being seen.  Holbein's pieces are, I am guessing,  wealthy patrons. One of the reasons why I think portraiture is weird is because it really speaks to motive: why would anyone paint someone's portrait?  There are so few reasons!  Money and to remember them--that's it right?  Can anyone think of another reason an artist would want to choose this subject? I guess a love of the human form?  Self portraits can be done for additional reasons (lack of models, practice, desire for immortality/insecurity).
Portraiture as a form reduces the world to two philosophical possibilities as represented by the artist's selection of subject.  In figurative art you can do a self portrait or a portrait of someone else. That's IT: one's self or the other.  Which suggests that psychologically we are screwed. Once again, leave it to art to remind us we cannot breach the barrier into a single other human or animal consciousness...we are stuck in our own heads trying to decide if others are characters in a dream you are having from the laboratory in which your disembodied brain is sitting in a vat dreaming crazily. Or if maybe we are the character in some other brain in a vat's dream.  

Do a self portrait and you are stuck in a solipsistic world of narcissistic self referral.  Paint anyone else and its exploitation of their body, pure and simple, every time. (And then there's the vast range of response we have from iconoclasm, to censorship, to support--the whole gamut often all in the same time and culture--but certainly over the eons and all over the world.  Attempt to depict a person and you are usually screwed!)  What I think allows some breathing room in this mode is that, hopefully,  portraits can be a prime venue for empathy and possibly compassion.  They are not a chance just to consume the subject, but to inhabit their to speak.  But don't imagine for a second that by creating an image of a human that just happens automatically (well, maybe..)...empathy doesn't just happen every time you see a picture of a human.  No, one must pay mind to gesture, to expression, to color, design, mood, and tweak it in such a way that the viewer considers it an invitation to step into that person's consciousness for a sec.  And of course, empathy is merely a step towards compassion--they are not identical.  But art can only do so much.

So why would anyone make a portrait of an imaginary person?  I should be able to answer that because I have done it oh-so-many times!  No, they are not all supposed to be ME!  Although I don't think I could ever make a character I didn't identify with, so there is an element of dress up here, ala Cindy Sherman.  Aside: I have, on more than one occasion, been told I am "nun-like"...not sure if they mean  Maria Von Trapp nun, Sister Helen Prejean or the evil stereotype of Catholic school.  Its pretty funny to be told you are nun-like when you are an atheist, but I do see what they mean. Sometimes I'm Prudith and sometimes I'm Lewdith. So this is yet another character I have invented to stand in my proxy and presumably, hopefully, other people can relate.  Also, right now I am digging the fact that its hard to accuse someone of exploitation when you use imaginary characters...but that was not an issue when I got my start. 

I made the glass head last year and I even soldered it together because I knew if I didn't I would keep messing with it and ruin it.  Because I had convinced myself she was a "quickie" I thought I was gonna slap this one together while making dashing creative decisions of great risk and derring-do and in the process stumble upon a whole new line of inspiration without having to do any heavy lifting or deep underground mining. HAHAHAHAHAAAAA. That's never happens--at least not to me.

Beginning the engraving
Later in the engraving
She used to have a Marge Simpson beehive.
But I cut it off and gave her a wimple instead and a suggestive flower.
Layers of glass used to create all the colors.  Lambert's R/CLB, Desag gold pink on clear, St Just 221 teal on clear.

First off: All I wanted to do was copy exactly stroke for stroke the vine in the Holbein piece. But that's I set about creating my own and when you put all that work into it, it can't just be part of the background--a way to activate a blue field. So I  turned it into an oak branch and put it in her hand.   This pleased me immensely. Why? Once again: ORNAMENT IS ONLY A CRIME because it reminds certain people invested in being seen as "Serious Geniuses" of fashion accessories; which, by those people's critical assessment must necessarily be the very definition of not serious and not geniusy...because...well, because they are girly. WRONG ANSWER.  Decoration is not frivolous: it takes time and energy to produce so it represent a sacrifice of valued resources on the part of the artist. And they do it to say YOU ARE WORTH IT.  I want anyone seeing this thing to never doubt for a single instant that it mattered to me to make it and it matters equally that you see it.  So she's holding the damned oak branch, its not floating up from the background like some frou frou grape vine.  Oak: for strength?  Or because pin oak leaves are so cool?  You decide.  I like it--who carries around tree branches and then sits for their portrait with one?  It looks meaningful...therefore, by the power invested in my by the Communicative power of art, I declare it be actually meaningful.


At some point, she took her shoes off.  They were on for a long time... I was really happy when this happened.  The real reason  for this (especially after they were completed!) was because the bottom half desperately needed some color. Of course I could have given her red shoes...or wacky socks.  But the first thing that came to mind was her feet...and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed dead on as a solution.

She had shoes on

You know: bare feet on a fully dressed person in a portrait say something...maybe in the Kenneth Clark sense of nude vs naked.  Adam and Eve are nude, a nude is a natural state of being, etc: to have clothes on is to leave the Garden.  And to have some of the expected clothing missing draws attention to this nude vs naked thing. They allude to the natural state of nude...she's dressed but her feet are two nudes. 

To me they say: she's patient but she's also allowing herself some comfort, letting her feet feel the warm breeze, get less moist. They may be erotic--but not in the sexy sense.  Erotic refers to Eros who  breathed life into the dead planet before becoming Cupid.  (That's all wrong... the real stuff is discussed in Anne Carson's excellent book  "Eros the Bittersweet", highly recommended)  Eros, then is life itself and the creative force that breaths life (i.e. inspires) into the world.  To show her feet, the character (at least in my mind) is allowing herself to reconnect to the planet directly.   And its so much easier to walk in another's shoes if you don't have to pull them off their feet.  And there they are...(my shoes.  I took a photo.)


The brown side panels were to play up the Holbein palette thing.

The title was inadvertently suggest by my friend Candace Jensen.