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)