Monday, December 28, 2009

top eleven

The end of the year, and surely the end of the decade, brings about a plethora of obligatory “Top Ten” lists. Why not dive right in? Below is my Aesthetic Top Eleven list for 2009 – in alphabetical not preferential order.

Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. On exhibit are more than three hundred drawings from this vast collection. Included are gestural, figurative, conceptual and systems based works. One gets to view drawings of established masters such as Donald Judd and Joseph Beuys, while viewing contemporary European works by Kai Althoff, Neo Rausch and Francis Alÿs. There was almost too much to take in and the show required more than one visit. The collection demonstrates why drawings, both as tools and end products, remain relevant.

Fred Sandback at David Zwirner, deftly demonstrated the late artist’s acute sense of the phenomenology of space and volume. The illusion of these qualities was remarkably created with the lowliest of materials, and its most minimal employment: acrylic yarn.

Martin Kippenberger, The Problem Perspective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kippenberger lived fast and hard and died young from liver cancer at the age of 44. This did not however, diminish his prolific, varied and fearless output. I walked away with the sense that I shouldn’t think too much about what I am doing, but rather “do” and let the thinking follow.

Mat Lombardi, Guitar Quartets. My only non-visual entry and please forgive the nepotism. I felt that I was hearing something I shouldn’t hear; experiencing something beyond my realm; and knowing something a human shouldn’t know. Profound.

Michaël Borremans, Taking Turns at David Zwirner, New York. The Europeans aren’t afraid of employing representational and figurative art to describe an ambiguity. Borremans does just that. I respond to his paint and his iconography.

Pierre Bonnard, The Late Interiors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Every experienced painter that I’ve recently heard speak has referenced Bonnard. I can understand why. His ability to meld color, light, form, material, abstraction, figuration and symbolism was astounding. I wanted to lick the paint right off of the canvases.

Raoul De Keyser , Terminus: Drawings (1979-1982) and Recent Paintings at David Zwirner the small and modest abstract paintings made clear that the artist was definitely looking at or thinking of something when he painted them. The beautifully installed show was refreshing amidst the spectacle that is the first opening night of the autumn season in Chelsea.

Ree Morton: At the Still Point of the Turning World at The Drawing Center, New York. Avoiding the tropes so typically found in the works of many of her fellow feminist contemporaries, Morton’s work remains fresh today more than thirty years after her death. It demonstrates that she was part of this world, not just commenting on it.

Robert Frank, The Americans at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It articulated the way I think and changed the way I see.

Song Dong, Projects 90 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. If you have suffered the loss of one parent and observed the grief of the surviving one, this installation, based on the Chinese concept of wu jin qi yong, or "waste not” consists of the complete contents of Dong’s mother’s home, amassed over fifty years. The artist collaborated with her, assembling and organizing the contents after his father’s death. It poignantly demonstrated all of the sadness, humor, impatience, compassion and lunacy that punctuate such an experience.

The Lindy & Edwin Bergman Collection of Joseph Cornell’s boxes at the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. Finally, one can regularly view the important and comprehensive collection of 38 boxes, where, within each, dreams are made manifest.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

more likes and dislikes

The past several weeks have been chock full of just working on work. A hope for this holiday break is down time to write and reflect. So here is a list:

the logic of sense, Deleuze
Significant Others, eds. Chadwick & de Courtivron

Listening to:
A lot of Christmas music
My ipod on shuffle – i’ve been busy

tissue paper with glitter embedded in it
snow in Central Park
the word: mellifluous
Ken Johnson, NYtimes
the smell of balsam fir
little ones in winter coats
my laundry backpack
the 10” of snow on my window sill

the movie: home for the holidays
insurance companies
sour grapes
lingering kitchen smells

Monday, December 7, 2009


Window display at Peter Pan Donuts, Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

One of my favorite things about New York is the variety of window displays, particularly at Christmas time. From the tinseled paper towels at the lowliest Bodega to the opulent splendor at Bergdorf Goodman, merchants display their wares in the most festive holiday manner.

I have always loved Christmas, the rituals, the smells, the sounds, the flavors, a general good will and, of course, the giving and receiving of gifts. Last year, the economy, tuition, a new business and maturity prompted me to reassess the season. I was also deeply saddened by the tragic events that occurred at a Long Island Wal-Mart for the want of a flat screen TV. Mat and I decided to make each other’s gifts. It was much like the Christmas just before our wedding when we imposed a $25 price limit. I still wear and treasure the Speidel ID bracelets I received, and 21 years later, we are still going steady. We intend to make each other’s gifts every year.

Every Christmas I recall the creatures, the boy and the girl, hiding in the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.

My hope this Yuletide and beyond is to heed these words and remember that kindness and tolerance are among the greatest of gifts and are surely remembered long after the others gather dust in a closet. Next week I will have some free time and I plan to enjoy New York at Christmas with a stroll in the city. I will take my camera and notebook but will travel lightly - sans shopping list. I imagine I’ll experience a larger helping of Christmas Spirit.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


John Singer Sargent | 1856-1925 | Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes 1897 | Oil on canvas | 214 x 101cm | Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104) | Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York | Photograph courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The women that John Singer Sargent painted have a definite presence. Obviously one immediately understands that they are beautiful, well bred and well heeled, but on closer inspection, one senses their self awareness, competence, independence and intellect. If I were to choose any artist in history to paint a portrait of my dear friend Germaine, it would be Sargent.
I have known Germaine for 36 years, and in that time I have come to treasure her powerful intellect, her surgical wit and her even and measured approach to life. Her friendship has been unwavering.

In an earlier time, Germaine might have been considered a Blue Stocking, admirable in itself, but she is also a devoted wife, a loving mother, a gifted tennis player and a wonderful cook and hostess. She seems to accomplish everything with ease. The most embarrassing thing I can think about her (and I won’t go into Nancy Drew) is that we were nerds together – she outgrew this condition much more quickly and gracefully than I.

I wish I could repay the friendship you’ve shown to me, but for now happy birthday dear friend. Thanks for your beauty, your humor, your brains and your example!

Friday, November 27, 2009

a sort of survey

as yet untitled, 2009
oil on canvas, 84”w x 78”h

I recently posted about the needless tragedy that occurred in a makeshift sweat lodge at James Arthur Ray’s Spiritual Warrior retreat in Arizona. There are several facts we know, among them: the retreat cost each participant almost $10,000, the participants fasted for 36 hours then attended a breakfast buffet before entering the sweat lodge, three people died and their families are suing, and the aforementioned facilitator has put his Los Angeles home on the market to fund the costs of his legal defense. Many other questions will remain unanswered for some time.

What were these people looking for? This is the question that continues to sit with me. Indeed, what is it that any of us is looking for? It may be something idealistic, such as I am looking for equality among all people; it may be necessary, as in I am looking for a job; it may be immediate as in I am looking for my keys. (I look for my keys every morning.)

I recently began a body of work centered on this question and am asking for your help. Tell me what you are looking for. Your pursuit may fall within any and all of the categories - this doesn’t matter. Please tell me in the comment section following this post, and use the anonymous option when responding. If possible, please forward this post to friends and acquaintances so that they too may respond.

Whatever it is you seek, I hope you find it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

a friend you can travel with

Travelling together is one of the true tests of any friendship. Meghan and I met as co-workers and became friends almost immediately. She is pretty, stylish, intelligent and witty. Her tiny size belies her ability to stomp her foot (hands on hips), and cuss most effectively. Together we have travelled to Nashville, Boston, San Francisco, Palm Beach, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Tucson, Phoenix, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Beijing and Shanghai. Though we usually enjoyed the best accommodations and wonderful food, we worked long hours for an exacting constituency. When one of us panicked, the other stayed calm. The same was true for our up and down days. It always worked out.

Meghan was in New York last weekend and we met for breakfast. We chatted away and drank lattes from giant bowls. When we parted, the morning felt different than it had upon arrival at the Patisserie. I felt as though I was out of town, which I am and am not.

If you are so fortunate as to have a friend you can travel with – hang on tight. They may travel to you and brighten your day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


"Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate." W.H. Auden

I like November. It appeals to my senses; the smell of fallen, damp leaves - and when you’re lucky - the smell of burning leaves; the gray and silvery skies; the earth preparing itself for a long winter’s nap.

The primary reason I like November is that it is the month in which I met Mat, twenty-five years ago. I have known him for more than half my life. The funny thing is that the last 14 1/2 months feel infinitely longer than the span of 25. We’re on the home stretch now and waiting patiently to begin our next chapter is difficult. Whatever or wherever it is we’re agreed, it will be together.

We like sparrows. We call them the jesters of the bird world. We give them suet and seeds in the winter and sneak crumbs to them when dining outdoors. Last summer, Mat half-jokingly said, “I think you should paint a giant sparrow”, and because I take him far more seriously than even my painting, I did.

A Marriage, 2009, oil on linen, 30”x 40”

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Last weekend on my trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I had the opportunity to see what may be a perfect painting, Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. Only thirty-four paintings are “officially” attributed to the artist, so I make it point to see one if I am in a city so fortunate to own one. The Met has five of its own works by Vermeer. Of course it does. They own a possible sixth but its provenance remains in question. The Milkmaid is on brief loan from the Rijksmuseumin, its home in the Netherlands.

What is it about this painting (and others by Vermeer) that demands respect from historians and artists of every discipline? The first aspect perceived in a Vermeer is the quality of light. Many attribute this to his possible use of the camera obscura which caused a halo effect when drawing the projected image onto the support. As a painter, I know how hard it is to effectively translate a drawing into a painting, and although the device may have assisted Vermeer in the composition, it would not have produced the optical effects his paint creates. That comes in the application.

Vermeer’s paint is luminous, and the light is projected from within the layers of pigment, not the surface. Of course, the pigments, particularly the lead-based ones used, assist in producing the layers of paint that independently project their characteristics. Yes, lead-based white, or Flake White, is still the best white and with care can be used safely. Vermeer worked with a very limited palette. Unlike the commercially produced paints available today, the chemical composition and reactivity of his paints varied color to color. Thus, it is believed, each area had to be applied and then allowed to dry before the application of a different color. Thus the blue in the skirt of the milkmaid maintains a mind-boggling brilliance.

It is obvious that every inch of the painting was given equal importance. So much so that even a dent in the white plaster wall behind the subject is as fascinating as the bread on the table. This is a consistent quality found in master paintings executed centuries later; consider the work of Cezanne, Matisse and Pollock. Finally, the milkmaid herself is given the dignity and presence of a person of much higher social standing. This may be the most enduring, and radical, characteristic of the work.

I like to think of this painting as an execution in extravagant simplicity. The Milkmaid's continued relevance lies in the attention given in equal parts, to every aspect of the work; conception, composition, materials, care and execution. Had there not been a crowd, I could have lingered, gazing at it for hours.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Seeing, The Americans

Bar, Gallup, New Mexico, 1955, printed ca. 1977;
Gelatin silver print 36.9 x 24.2 cm (14 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.)
Purchase, Anonymous Gifts, 1986 (1986.1198.17)
Signed in ink on print, recto LR: "Robert Frank"; inscribed in pencil on print, verso UR: "RF.A. 29"

I was unaware that comparisons had already been drawn between Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Robert Frank’s The Americans, but the relationship was the first thought that came to mind while viewing the powerful suite of 83 photographs currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The photographs document the cross-country road trip the Swiss-born Frank undertook from 1955-1956. At the outset, Frank said, “ What I have in mind, then, is observation and record of what one naturalized American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere.” The exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of their publication.

When assessed aesthetically, the photographs are riveting. Often shot in situations that precluded the formal considerations of focus and composition, they still mange to hold the viewer captive within their moment. Each is titled only with the site and/or location. They are extremely pure. There is no sense of the clandestine nor suggestion of either the arbitrary or the staged. One understands that Frank’s subjects were clearly aware of his presence. Finally, there are no gimmicks. Frank did not rely on special effects, manipulation or cropping as evidenced by the marked contact sheets included in the exhibition.

As a narrative, the suite captures the purposefulness, diversity, and individuality inherent in the American character. It also speaks volumes about the disparity, prejudice and disenfranchisement existing mid-20th century and still today. This remains our birth defect conceived when slavery was sanctioned coexistent with the demands of liberty made plain in the Declaration of Independence. One cannot help but recall the nation’s response to Hurricane Katrina when viewing Frank’s photographs taken in New Orleans. And here we are fifty years after these photos were published to ample criticism and disparagement.

I would encourage anyone living in or travelling to New York to view this exhibition. If you can’t, buy the book. It is a document that should be present in every American’s visual vernacular until we correct our vision and begin to see differently.

Monday, October 26, 2009

as seen on oprah

As seen on Oprah” So proclaims James Arthur Ray’s website. When exactly did this become a credential for serious consideration? For those of you less familiar with the self-help guru that trademarked the term Harmonic Wealth™, it was at his $10,000 per person “Spiritual Warrior” retreat that three people died in a sweat lodge. Several others were critically injured.

Mr. Ray states that he wants to, “assist you in everything from setting and achieving your goals to building the million-dollar lifestyle you deserve.” I am a stickler for credentials and was curious about Mr. Ray’s other-than-Oprah qualifications. I learned that in addition to studying Business and Human Behavior in college he had read extensively in History and Psychology. Prior to establishing to his personal development career, Mr. Ray was a sales manager for AT&T where he was commended for five consecutive years. In addition he was commissioned for the establishment and management of a telemarketing venture at AT&T. He received honors for this role.

Somewhere along the line, Mr. Ray missed the flashcard demonstrating “material” as the antonym for “spiritual.” While I mourn the tragic and senseless loss, I wonder what its is about our culture that makes us willing to pay $10,000 to a telecommunications salesman to attain spiritual growth?

Granted, I am a skeptic. I would gladly forgo bedside manner in exchange for a degree from Johns Hopkins any day of the week. But I also believe in God and find revolting those hucksters and charlatans who use the ubiquitous catchall of “spirituality” to profit from and consecrate our own insatiable desire for more. Native American groups, deeply saddened by the recent tragedy are also incensed, citing the lack of respect and the ignorance demonstrated when self-proclaimed experts appropriate tribal traditions that are specific in protocol and complexity.

The result of a quest for spiritual growth can produce a variety of outcomes. Last week I went to the Kandinsky retrospective at the Guggenheim. His practice was a dedicated search for a higher consciousness. It was grounded in the emotional and visceral responses that result from the interplay of color, form and geometry. He opened up abstraction. His prodigious project presaged, informed and enhanced the aesthetic practice and experience of others for decades. It continues to do so.

As a person who once woke each day wanting to die, I have found that, with the exception of Paris, the most satisfaction comes from those endeavors that don’t necessarily cost $10,000 and don’t qualify themselves with guarantees. My own satisfaction and growth has resulted from:

The search: hard work consistently practiced over a long period of time - it’s an inside job

The credentials: The advice and counsel of one more educated and experienced than myself. Remaining willing to accept their point of view, criticism and support

The giving: developing my own credentials that I can share only when invited (this is really hard)

The messiness: The living of life with all of its love, pain, joy and vulnerability (this is also very hard)


The NO: Not getting everything I want, and not always getting to know the reason why

My friend Cindy has repeatedly said, “What you came here looking for, you came here with.” I believe this but I doubt that this would get any play on Oprah. Perhaps I should talk to that Shaman wearing the sandwich board. He’s outside the donut shop on 14th & 3rd.

Monday, October 19, 2009

An exhibition featuring Pratt MFA candidates

"Autobiography" oil and graphite on panel, Sioban Lombardi, 2009

Speaking to a Kitchen Mouse

October 18-28, 2009

Steuben Galleries South and West
Pratt Institute
200 Willoughby Ave.
Brooklyn, New York

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

At the Still Point of the Turning World: Ree Morton at the Drawing Center

Ree Morton, Untitled (Repetition Series), 1970. Pencil on paper, 14 x 10 inches. Estate of Ree Morton, Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York and Annemarie Verna Galerie, Zürich.

Ree Morton: At the Still Point of the Turning World currently on view at The Drawing Center, offers a glimpse into the drawing practice of the late artist better known for her influential sculpture and installations.

Though sculpture is included in the exhibition, one might fail to notice the larger, three-dimensional forms. Those who do might experience a measure of irritation over these work’s more heavy-handed intrusion into the lyrical, modest and highly personal drawings that span the length of the artist’s all-too-short career.

Made more than 30 years ago, Morton’s work is unusually refreshing and current, lacking the “looking for Mr. Goodbar” aesthetic that dates the work of some of her feminist contemporaries. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Morton had already exorcised much of the baggage associated with feminist art of the 1970’s. Having married, raised children and then divorced in order to completely engage in her art making practice, Morton was able to incorporate these experiences into the broader pool of dream, spontaneity, myth and poetry.

In addition, Morton demonstrated an ease and faculty with materials at hand, freeing her from any sort of material carbon dating and allowing her obviously rich imagination to roam freely through her work. In works such as her series of Untitled Line Drawings, 1970, one is reminded that a static line on paper can demonstrate tension, temperament, movement and space. Though heavily influenced by the drawings of Eva Hesse, Morton’s drawings possess a far more organic and ephemeral presence than structural one.

Morton’s line quality and spare execution reveal with simplicity and candor, the benefit of making drawings discreet from preparatory practice and an artist’s principal project. Her works also fortify the notion that the stuff of inspiration is not limited to spectacle and conflict, but can still germinate within the antiquated realms of music, nature, myth, literature and dreams.

Monday, October 5, 2009

carol jean

Five years ago today my mother died. The offending event, a massive stroke, came quite unexpectedly. Her death was one of a handful of seminal events in my life and bookended her period of mourning following the death of my father in 2001. I believe that her grief could only be relieved by the companionship of someone she loved, lived with, raised a family with and battled for more than fifty years. I do believe that they are together today.

Time alone in my studio facilitates reflection, and I have been thinking about her a lot lately. I think about the night before she died, and how I had planned to stay with her at the hospital. She was in hospice care, and with the decline of her brain function, her breathing became a loud, labored rasp followed by a wailing inhalation kicked into action by oxygen and CO2 levels. It’s called Cheyne-Stokes respiration. She was unconscious and in no pain, but the sound was unbearable and at about midnight, I had to go home. She died very early the following morning. This is a deep regret. I’m sorry I left you alone Mama.

What little there is that is remarkable about me is at least fifty percent due to my mother. As a young woman, and throughout her life, she was a great beauty. (My sister looks so much like her!) She had wanted to be a cartographer or stage set designer, but as with so many young women of her generation, the opportunities presented to her were nursing or teaching and she chose the former. She never lost her interest in the Arts and in her fifties returned to college to get her degree in the Humanities.

Though much of her adult life was afflicted by the same demon that is a constant companion to myself and several family members, she passed on her visual acumen, her sense of style, and the understanding of color, line, shape and proportion that affords me attendance at one of the finest art institutions in the United States. In addition, thanks to her, my sister and I are both excellent cooks.

Now nearly fifty myself, almost three quarters of the way through Graduate School and with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I recognize all that I inherited from her. In May, when (God willing) I walk across the stage at Radio City Music Hall and collect my Master’s Degree, I can celebrate that this is indeed the stage set she designed. Please take a bow Carol Jean. With all my love and thanks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Sloan is another member of the cadre of girlfriends I began to introduce on May 12. Sloan is a dear friend and she is also my cousin, the fifth of my beloved Aunt Grace’s six daughters. Our mutual awareness seems to coincide with her family’s move from South Shore to the North Shore. I caught her wedding bouquet and it worked. (Or should I say, she handed me her wedding bouquet.) It still worked.

Sloan is beautiful, but it is an unusual beauty and always has been. So unusual in fact, that as a child, her siblings managed to convince both she and the neighbors that Sloan was an adopted Vietnamese war orphan. Her beauty attracts equally unusual admirers. There was that interesting chap than unzipped and placed a particular part of his anatomy on her shoulder on the 151. And I vaguely recall a story about the French TA she dated in college. I believe that relationship cooled when he showed up for a game of Squash wearing a Speedo.

Setting aside the funny anecdotes, Sloan’s beauty is surpassed only by her kindness and compassion. She freely embraces the deeply spiritual component of her character, spending time away from family and a successful career to teach catechism to the intellectually challenged.

I love to talk to Sloan about life, love, God, family, books and art; also fashion, food, Paris and Argentinean Polo players. We had the privilege of seeing Merce Cunningham dance in 1984. This event served to enhance the Cadre’s ritual of throwing offbeat dancing into the party mix at only a moment’s notice.

Together we invented the cheeseburger diet, sweater syndrome and a million other crazy notions. I am extremely lucky that I get to share the bonds of friendship and family with Sloan and I look forward to doing so well into our dotage.

Happy Birthday Darling! Just remember to leave your shoes near the front door so that my parents know you’re here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

jennifer bisbing

Chicago photographer Jennifer Bisbing’s personal work exists in response to the ultimate existentiality of being a human within landscape and social construct. Existing in those obscure places between dream, memory, consciousness and truth, her contemplative rural landscapes suggest both longing and nostalgia.

In contrast, Jennifer’s urban encounters are, like the city itself, much less forgiving. Still, they too emphasize the isolation of one’s existence, albeit in the hard steel and concrete framework that abets our anonymity. Her photos of Gary, Indiana, manage to maintain an exquisite aesthetic while documenting the vestiges of the Modernist failure that is that city’s legacy.

Jennifer is talented portrait photographer. Her project Wicker Women has been documenting women living and working in the Chicago neighborhood of Wicker Park. While the face of this population has certainly changed in the 15 years since I worked there, Wicker Park demonstrates the lively, ever-evolving character of Chicago’s neighborhoods. In addition, all proceeds from the portrait sittings will benefit CAWC (Connections for Abused Women and their Children). This yearlong project will culminate with an exhibition benefit at Chrome Gallery, 1462 1/2 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, on October 10, 2009. Please help support this important organization and celebrate Jennifer’s impressive and dedicated work on its behalf. Complete information about the event is available on the Wicker Women Blog site accessible on my Blog list.

Monday, September 21, 2009

salad days

Yesterday was a cloudless and temperate late-summer day in Brooklyn - a perfect day for a street fair. I’ve now lived here for just over a year, and my love for this Borough continues to grow. Prior to 2008, I imagined it as the neglected, illegitimate sibling of a spoiled and privileged Manhattan. Though one might consider its history noteworthy only for the Bridge, the Dodgers and Coney Island, Brooklyn has a rich and storied heritage. To me, it felt immediately familiar.

Archeological evidence demonstrates that the Native American Lenape people populated this area as long as 12,000 years ago. In 1646 the village of Breuckelen (Brooklyn) was chartered by the Dutch West India Company. Though the approximately 2.5 million residents remain largely working class, Brooklyn is also home to a roster of artists, musicians, writers and scholars too large to individually name. In fact, I have heard that Brooklyn boasts more Guggenheim Fellows than any other municipality. It is also responsible for the Teddy Bear, the Roller Coaster, Twizzlers™ and single-packet sugar.

As with any large city, Brooklyn has its share of problems. Yet the culturally diverse residents genuinely appear to love and share their community. The population represents the largest number of people from every cultural, ethnic, and racial background, thus making Brooklyn more like a salad bowl than the proverbial melting pot. Each unique flavor adds to the spice and vitality of the community. Then too, gentrification appears to have been kinder here.

With so much malice and divisiveness occurring in the country today, Brooklyn seems a better angel of the United States’ nature. I wish everyone could experience its magic.

You can have your Tea Parties – I’ll go Brooklyn!

Friday, September 11, 2009

the death of painting, and the death of painting

I find myself pondering this statement-turned-question often. I also find myself saying, “I am just a painter.”

Certainly, as a documentary or didactic vehicle, painting’s usefulness was replaced long ago by the speed and accuracy of the photograph. Yet, like classical painting, photography cannot always escape the actuality of the subject matter captured.

Video, and sometimes performance, can provoke profound emotional, visceral and intellectual experiences. Video in particular, can compete with and satisfy the desire created by the insistent mass-media culture in which we exist. Yet the experience of video and performance is often ephemeral. For those seeking beauty, the methods can render the viewer bereft. A return viewing may offer nothing to enhance the experience.

Painting has the alchemy and the voodoo. Representational or abstract, painting can effect those same intense experiences. It has done so for thousands of years, with the same humble material, pigment suspended in liquid. The stuff, applied with intuition and practice, is bolstered conversely by imagination and lived experience.

The alchemy is often the hook that turns a visual into a painter. It is a heady, sensuous mixture of plasticity and color. It incorporates smell, movement and texture. It is the satisfaction derived from transforming the infinite into the particular and the pleasure of making something from nothing. For the painter, the alchemy is the love potion.

The voodoo is the realization. Rembrandt never met the Prodigal Son, yet he painted his return with acute insight and sensitivity. When I saw the work, I recalled every grace granted and found myself crying in the middle of the Hermitage.

In contrast, the modest, abstract paintings of Raoul De Keyser (currently on exhibit at David Zwirner) negotiate the gap between object and space and explore the tension amid color and form. While they talk about their paint, these paintings also materialize an aesthetic very different than the jam-packed, monumental canvases symptomatic of a recent, more conspicuous time.

In its innumerable forms, painting remains relevant. Perhaps it’s wise. It has the capacity to simultaneously reinvent and reflect upon itself.

Last night I visited Chelsea for the opening of the Fall Season. There was a lot to take in. I encountered and admired examples of those other forms, but I sought and contemplated the paintings. Dead? At least for the painters, not yet.

(photo: the floor in my colleague Russell Tyler’s studio)

Monday, August 24, 2009

new digs

Until a year ago, I had lived at the same address for twenty years. In fact, though well travelled, I’d lived in the same state for forty-eight years. I am now in my fourth Brooklyn domicile and have also moved into a new studio. Most of my recent moves have been à pied, and though one was a distance of only eight floors, each move has meant packing and unpacking my possessions. I hate moving.

Fall has always been the start season for me. This sense is only amplified by my current academic situation. With one week left before classes commence, my literal and intellectual sketchbooks are jammed with ideas for new work. I am not, however, making plans. I regret the plans that didn’t come to fruition over the summer. Life, circumstance and of course current economics have a way of affecting my designs. I once observed that a worried friend was so busy looking for the miraculous, that she was missing the spectacular. I should follow my own advice. One shouldn’t plan too much.

So, with the start of this year, my only plan is to embrace what comes my direction, concentrate on the work in front of me, and try to notice the little spectaculars that occur in the now.

Who knows where I’ll be a year from now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

josh garrett

Chicago artist and musician Josh Garrett consistently seeks perfection in his work and in the world around him. He does so with the conviction that ultimately, perfection is the sole purview of God. Josh’s work represents his earnest effort to understand God’s will in his life.

His current body of work, Providence I, is executed in his preferred materials of pigment, fire and metal. It addresses the age-old conflict between God’s will and man’s will, and does so with minimal description or narrative. Despite his emblematic iconography and the aggression implied by the materials he employs, the works are elegant and highly personal.

Josh’s work is currently on exhibit at Ossia Fine Art Space, 410 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago. The exhibit runs through September 25, 2009.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


The twentieth-century artist who uses symbols is alienated because the system of symbols is a private one. After you have dealt with the symbols you are still private, you are still lonely, because you are not sure anyone will understand it except yourself. The ransom of privacy is that you are alone.

(Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911), U.S. sculptor. As quoted in Lives and Works, by Lynn F. Miller and Sally S. Swenson (1981).)

I recently viewed the film
Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine. The film was a thought provoking examination of the life and work of the 97-year-old artist, who continues to inspire artists and feminists, despite her own existence within and separate from almost every art movement since the mid-twentieth century. Knowledge about the work and practice of any such artist often prompts me to reexamine my own approach.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a symbol as a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract. I have always incorporated symbols in my work. Those used are highly personal, persistent images the reoccur in my conscious and to which I assign meaning. Thus, my paintings reflect an attempt to visually organize thought using personal symbol and reference. It is through a visual vernacular that I discern, understand and communicate.

What I have only recently begun to understand is why I articulate them void of narrative or environment. I am a firm believer that we cannot escape the history in which we exist. Thus I returned to the visual source material I encountered as a child in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and that continues to attract my attention – print advertisement.

It is clear to me that I respond to any visual media that conveys meaning with a minimum of descriptive text. My mother, who is also responsible for any creative genetics I have inherited, was a magazine hoarder. I was a loner who spent long hours paging though magazines, returning over and over again to images that attracted me. Acting on this theory, I began investigating print advertisements of the aforementioned period. What I discovered seemed to confirm my theory and startled me with its precision.

Above, I have taken two print advertisements from the 1960’s, removed the text and compared them to my painting Toy Plane, Oil on Linen, 2007. While I have no recollection of these images, the visual relationship seems significant.

There are two things I have learned from this. I can confirm, at least for myself, that early visual information continues to inform my work. In addition, and most important, is the fact that the dialogues, real or fictional, I have with other artists, and the investigations they provoke, are clearly the impetus for a heightened awareness of my practice. I remain grateful for these conversations. Incidentally, if you have not already seen this film, I highly recommend it. The scene discussing her father and the tangerine will rip your heart out. Ms. Bourgeois is clearly a force of nature.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Veronika Szkudlarek

My previous post reviewed the thought provoking drama Ruined, by Lynn Nottage. I had the privilege of attending this performance with fellow painter, Veronika Szkudlarek. As there are no accidents, Veronika’s insight into the plight of African women was invaluable.

Informed by extensive travels throughout Africa, the Mid-East, Europe and North America, Veronika addresses the ignorance and cruelty of war. Through direct observation of its methods, its structure and its victims, she plants herself firmly in the center as an artist existing within and relevant to a global community.

Veronika’s mural for the Mother Theresa Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda brought her into direct contact with the more than one- hundred women and children, survivors of the Rwandan Genocide, that are residents. It also facilitated conversations with government officials intent on building sustainable living conditions and meaningful lives for the victims of the atrocity.

Veronika’s work doesn’t depict images of the horrors of war, but rather the vestiges of those horrors. It is as though her paintings themselves weep, with surfaces of lachrymose paint, bleeding image into ground. This sensitive marriage of palette, medium and subject engenders the essentially hopeful role of the artist, as if stating that there is another way.

Veronika’s work is included at the upcoming exhibition "Skin Deep" at Kips Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, New York, NY, August 18 through September 1, 2009.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The personal compromises and self-delusions a group of Congolese brothel women are willing to employ to guarantee survival in the face of atrocity and genocide is the core theme of Lynn Nottage’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning drama Ruined, produced by the Manhattan Theater Club, and being performed at Stage I at the Manhattan City Center. The play is co-produced by the Goodman Theater in Chicago where it premiered in 2008.

The Manhattan Theater Club, one of the nation’s premiere not-for-profit theater producers, has provided theatergoers with contemporary dramas, musicals and comedies since its inception in 1971. The Club incorporates three theater venues: on Broadway, The Samuel J. Friedman Theater (formerly the Biltmore Theater;) and Stage I and Sage II Theatres off-Broadway at the Manhattan City Center. Ruined is the sixth Pulitzer Prize winning Drama the club has produced.

Travels to the refuge camps of Uganda, and the 1939 work Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht inform Nottage’s work. Initially, Nottage planned an adaptation of Brecht’s play, but her own experience interviewing Congolese women in Rwandan refugee camps prompted her own work. Unlike Brecht, the Brooklyn born, Cornell/Yale educated Nottage seeks to evoke an emotional response from the audience, rather than (in the case of Brecht) an intellectual one. “I believe in engaging people emotionally, because I think they react more out of emotion” than when they are “preached to, told how to feel. It was important that this not become a documentary, or agitprop”.[1] Nottage’s plays frequently pivot on the experience of women, and here, the brutalities they have suffered civil war-torn Africa. Indeed the title references women, who have experienced rape, sexual abuse and mutilation so brutal that that they are ruined physically, emotionally and culturally.

The play opens in the barroom of Mama Nadi’s brothel with Christian, a local customer and “supplier” delivering goods to Mama Nadi (the July 28th performance featured understudy Jamie Lincoln Smith in the role of Simon.) Along with cigarettes, liquor and various sundries, Simon, a tea-totaller, supplies fresh women for the brothel. On this particular visit, he delivers Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstein), a simple minded woman who has been rejected by her family and village as the result of her kidnapping and subsequent servicing of a band of rebels in the bush, and Sophie (Condola Rashad), a girl of eighteen, who has been ruined. The flamboyant, emotionally detached Mama Nadi (Portia) at first refuses to take on Sophie – it’s bad for business - but agrees after Simon begs, praises Sophie’s talent for song and reveals that Sophie is his niece. He also bribes Mama Nadi with Belgian chocolates.

It is clear from the get-go that Mama Nadi plays both sides of the civil war fence and is interested in one thing, self-preservation. Mama Nadi has convinced herself and almost convinces the audience, that her prostitution of these women provides safe haven from the indecencies and rejection that they have already suffered. In addition, her ownership of the brothel represents her independence, from the brutalities of war and from Simon’s genuine romantic advances.

As the drama progresses the warring factions draw nearer the brothel and tensions mount. Christian begins drinking, the customers become more raucous. In addition, the audience gradually learns the stories of both the now pregnant Salima and another prostitute, Josephina (Victoire Charles), a tribal Chief’s daughter who has been dehumanized by similar atrocities as well as rejected from her village. Given her emotional simplicity, Salima’s story is particularly heartbreaking. Although the title references her, we never do hear Sophie’s story. What the audience begins to understand is that all of these women are the victims of Congolese Civil War. In the end, each, even the apparently hard-hearted, mercenary Mama Nadi, though damaged, have not been destroyed by the conflict. It is their courage that enables their survival.

Additional characters, all male, include rebel leader Jerome Kisimbe (Chris Chalk); Commander Osembenga (Kevin Mambo); mercenary Mr. Harari (Tim Mardirosian); and Salima’s repentant husband Pascal (Ron McBee).

In a drama, where men could easily be seen as only as monstrous perpetrators of evil and women as spiritless victims, Director Kate Whoriskey, effectively draws out the subtle personality traits of each of the characters. She evokes sympathy and distain for almost all involved. Having previously directed another of Nottage’s works, Intimate Apparel, Whoriskey carefully balances the push-pull, intense emotions that the dramatist has penned. Here, almost everyone is a victim, either of the atrocities of war, or the Western Colonialism that left countries such as the Congo bereft.

Stand out performances culled by Whoriskey include the deceptively complex Salima, enacted by the aforementioned Quincy Tyler Bernstein; the delusional Mama Nadi, flamboyantly portrayed by Portia; and the sympathetic, sweetly voiced, yet spirited, Sophie as rendered by New York newcomer Condola Rashad. Rashad premièred the role at the Goodman Theater. Among the men, Jaime Lincoln Smith as Simon, reveals helplessness and fear in the face of the anticipated horrors. Initially, it was difficult to hear and understand Smith as Simon. But he quickly recovered his voice either as the result of his own confidence or an adjustment in the sound system. Indeed, despite the efforts of dialect coach Charlotte Fleck, all of the actors seemed, at times, to struggle with maintaining their accent. Of final note is Kevin Mambo’s Commander Osembenga, the character most closely identified with the senselessness and evil of war, and the ego and bravado necessary to justify its leadership and proliferation.

The set, designed by Derek McLane, transitions between the barroom and the shared living quarters of Salima, Josephina and Sophie. Though it incorporates cheerful local color, it still conveys the poverty of the situation and the isolation within the density of the surrounding rain forest. Costumes designed by Paul Tazewell suggest the same local color while reflecting the rag-tag collection of characters living at Mama Nadi’s. Finally, the entire production is punctuated by music composed by Dominic Kanza with lyrics written by Nottage. Performed by Congolese guitarist Simon Shabantu Kashama and sung by members of the cast, the music transitions the narrative, and reflects the tradition of oral history and story telling indigenous to many African countries.

Ruined is a powerful drama that evokes complex emotions regarding the nature of survival, the power of evil, the evil of power and the uselessness of cultural judgments cast upon those incapable of defending themselves. What Lynn Nottage has so successfully written and the Manhattan Theater Club so powerfully staged is the experienced collapse and inevitable triumph of the human spirit in the face unimaginable evil. With so many spectacles, theatrical interpretations of animated feature films, and resuscitations of past productions populating the current theater scene in New York, it is edifying to leave a play a little sadder, a little more informed, and certainly asking a lot more questions.

[1] New York Times By Celia McGee, “Approaching Brecht, by Way of Africa,” New York Times: January 21, 2009,

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Good-Bye Dear Freak

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Council announced plans this week for the revitalization and redevelopment of Coney Island. The rejuvenation would include a new amusement park, luxury hotels, restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters and a new roller coaster. And so continues the homogenization of New York, and the eradication of that which made it unique.

Coney Island should be left alone.

I am not one for nostalgia. People tend to romanticize the past, just as they romanticize country life, their youth, family relationships, and Christmas. The nostalgic images we conjure of the past are often what we wish something had been. There is little today that reflects Coney Island’s heyday. In fact, Coney Island makes people uncomfortable, it is one of the United States’ last authentic freak shows. It is its wonderful freakishness that makes it attractive to those who don’t mind being uncomfortable and who don't mind seeing a part of our culture as it really is.

Although Mayor Bloomberg states that the plan will restore Coney Island to its grander days, he is indeed creating a simulacrum: a prepackaged, sterile and codified reproduction of something that never existed in the first place. What will be missing from Coney Island are the derelicts, carnies, and thousands of average families who, via subway, haul their beach chairs and sunscreen there each summer weekend. I find it difficult to imagine the Mermaid Parade, the hot dog eating contest, and the headless woman on view in a glass enclosed entertainment environment. Coney Island may be seedy, but its sleaze is out in the open for everyone to see and recognize. I will miss it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

d. stine

I am neither a music nor literary critic, and I have seen very little of his visual output, but I have been informed by the extremely informed, that musically, Chicago composer, poet and artist d. Stine is a talent dedicated to his pursuit of the craft. Recently, he has been working within the construct of The Banana Twins on noise and ambient compositions. The works are a requirement each time I need to settle myself into the studio. Independently, a series of harmonica compositions he created for the film The Brave and the Kind evoke the same melancholy reflection I experience looking down an abandoned stretch of railroad tracks on a humid August day.

In addition, d. Stine has just published his third volume of poetry, Abacus, following previous works, Directional Forensics and Litmus. The implication of these titles is the synchronic counting, measuring, and testing apparatuses symptomatic of Post Modernism. My sense here however, is that d. Stine is a cultural skeptic cautiously dipping his toe in a broader pool of experience. It is fortifying to watch.

I am consistently surprised at what I learn about myself when meeting other artists. Part of it is learning about your own limitations. Poetry and music, necessary to my own art production, are art forms I am incapable of producing. I have tremendous respect for those who, as in this case, do it well. The other aspect is discovering hidden aspects of your own personality. I was indeed surprised by the discovery that, I do, after all, possess a maternal instinct.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

in love and love

What "love" is I don't know if it's not the response of our deepest natures to one another. ~William Carlos Williams

This week has given me an opportunity to reflect on love and the state of being in love. Often casually referenced in the same context, they are, I believe, quite different. Being in love carries a measure of biological urgency. It is a heightened state of impracticality and idealism. Similar to a concussion, it can be accompanied by nausea and blurred vision. You don’t look, you gaze, and the object is imagined as near perfection. Those in love can rarely be apart and when together, are oblivious to the rest of the world. It is new and startling. It is electric. You are bullet proof when in love. You can be mysterious, damaged, emotional and brooding when in love. It fuels the desire of the beloved. There are aspects of the beloved that you believe you can change. You can’t, but you don’t know that yet. You merely shelve those ambitions for a rainy day. It is also extremely easy to fall out of being in love. I have done it at a moment’s notice at least 10 times. Though being in love is a conduit to love, in the end, it does not guarantee its actuality.

Love is the trenches. It is perhaps the least human characteristic humanly possible; it is a complete state of vulnerability and inflicts a loss of self. Love is sight. Sometimes it is straining to see across a vast distance (literally and figuratively.) It allows one to reveal the absolute truth about them self and still remain standing. It is forgetful, as layers of scar tissue grown around a million tiny pinpricks. It is fortification bolstered by each worldly and time-inflicted wound experienced together. It is calloused fingertips resting on your inner thigh. Its physicality is loaded with intellectual intimacy, much like an equation resulting in a single organism. As an infiltrating condition, love is far more difficult to extract oneself from. It will leave a permanent scar.

When you are in love you cannot imagine the profundity that is the mundane, day-to-day experience of sharing a life with another person. Being in love is an intense state of mind based on expectations and plans. Love carries the patina of time and experience, accomplishment and disappointment, and while you sometimes cast fleeting glances at the headiness that is being in love, you quickly recall the nausea and blurred vision. As with any long journey, you sometimes put the map in the glove box, and wait to see where life continues to take you. It has taken you amazing places already.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Maggie Meiners

Though she has an appreciation for beauty from an early age, anyone that knows Chicago photographer Maggie Meiners, suspects that what she considers to be beautiful has grown exponentially during the past several years.

Deceptively honest, Maggie’s work presupposes an informed, perceptive audience. It doesn’t proffer an opinion on what has been captured, nor does it assume circumstance. Rather, it offers generous space in which the viewer may perceive and construct their own experience of the content. This occurs, for example, in the non-narrative, non-editorial series Extractions, which is reminiscent of the mid-twentieth century work of Frederick Sommer.

Equally intriguing is her series, Childhood Contemplations. While the abstract body of work is devoid of nostalgia and sentimentality, it provides a photographic mandala or meditative gazing ball, through what one suspects is a personal conveyance of memory and color.

Select pieces from Childhood Contemplations are included in the exhibition Meditative Surfaces along with work by Charles Gniech and Deanna Krueger at Schoenherr Art Gallery in Naperville, Illinois. The exhibition opens this week on July 21 will run through August 21.