Tuesday, December 20, 2011

rest ye merry gentlemen

Child with Christmas Card
Alden Finney Brooks ( 1840 - 1932)
Watecolor, graphite and gold paint on wove cardboard
Maria DeWitt Jesup Fund, 1989 Accession Number: 1989.299, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Christmas did seem pretty swell when I was a kid. Sure there was Santa and the presents, but there were many other aspects of the season that made it different than the rest of the year.  Christmas served to soften the blow of the cold and bleak months that would follow. It was a sensory event filled with good cheer.

One day you would arrive home and Christmas cookies would be baking. Decorating them required concentration and teamwork. Another afternoon, you would find the stair's bannister transformed with swags of pine, fruit, silver beads and pale green satin ribbon. There was the advent calendar, the cut paper snowflakes, the ornament guessing game, the army of plastic carolers (my father piped music outside the house) and barrage christmas lights adorning our home. At school we would practice our carols for the pageant and each Sunday at Mass we would light the advent wreath. There was often snow on the ground and we would skate at the park after school. And the Christmas cards! It seemed as though my parents received hundreds. I would pour over them trying to order them best to worst. Every activity coerced that heightened sense of anticipation for the great day.

As time went on things fell off. Would my father get called in for a delivery? Would my mother drink too much? Would I get their tree be done by Christmas? Would I do my parent's Christmas shopping for them? Would I have to wrap my own Christmas present, which in the end would be two pairs of pants from Marshall's, four sizes too small and one of which was torn. (Yes, my father handed me the plastic Marshall's bag and told me to wrap it for myself.)

When I began my own adult life. I wanted to recapture all of the good things. After all, Christmas was the one time of year when everything looked special and everyone was kind to each other. You could still decorate the house, have a beautiful tree, make great food to enjoy with friends and family, and send out the type of card that you would surely have ranked in your own  top five. You could recapture, I thought, the good parts of your memories, perhaps even invent new ones. But nostalgia is a tricky thing and anticipation guarantees disappointment. The two married together are positively dangerous. You wish for something that never really was and hope for something that won't materialize and in the end, you have another day with a lot of stuff that just needs to be wrapped up and put away in just a couple of weeks.

Oh, I had that heightened sense of Christmas spirit for a day and a half this year and it was nice, but I just don't have the energy anymore. I guess, in the end, the satisfaction will come from just trying to live in the here and now and demonstrating kindness and compassion towards my fellow man, no matter their race, creed or means. You know, the Golden Rule. After all, wouldn't that be the best way to honor the individual Whose birthday started this whole spectacle?

Monday, November 21, 2011

lead pipe

postcard IV, 40 x 40, oil and graphite on polymered paper, © 2011 sioban lombardi

Yesterday I read an article that only reinforced my cultural and societal pessimism around contemporary culture. The article in the New York Times, A Career Provocateur described performance artist Marina Abramovic’s program for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) fundraising gala. Before I delve into my concerns regarding the event, I want to address some just plain stupid things stated in the article.

Obviously, the article's author is not well versed in the canon of contemporary art, hence the article’s placement in the style section, I suppose. Statements describing Abramovic as “a woman whose provocative works have made her, somewhat unexpectedly at 64, a darling of the increasingly incestuous worlds of fashion, society and art” articulate the author’s ignorance of Abramovic’s prominence in cultural circles. Unexpectedly at 64 - really? Flip back to 1974 and the artist’s work Rhythm 0. It changed the perceived boundary between artist and viewer, it changed feminist art and, if you really paid attention, it revealed the way people are willing to treat each other when given the opportunity.

The article also states that Ms. Abramovic is the first performance artist to wear couture. The author should check in with Yoko Ono. Yes, she’s a performance artist and yes, she’s worn couture. I’m certain that there are many more. Fashion and the arts have long had a relationship. Consider Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau, Paul Poiret and the Ballet Russes, Andy Warhol and everyone, and Julian Schnabel and pajamas. It was sculptor Jana Sterbak that first created a meat dress more than 20 years ago, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic. I so wish we were willing to extend our scope beyond the dubious talents of Lady Gaga and those parasitic Kardashian sisters. Conversations would be so much more interesting.

Finally, there is the shock expressed that Ms. Abramovic attended rehearsals carrying a $1500. Givenchy handbag.  What is she supposed to carry, a burlap sack? I love fashion, and were I as successful as Ms. Abramovic, I too would carry a beautiful handbag. I would prefer an Hermes Birkin or perhaps some bespoke Italian job. The myth of the starving artist is ridiculous and threadbare. As I’ve said before the cultural economy is one of the few remaining areas of independent production in the United States. Artists deserve to be paid for their work. Unfortunately, the so-called artists we reward have pink hair, lip sync and rely on Auto-Tune. Pity, when there is so much thoughtful work actually being made.

Well, that is enough ranting about clothes and ignorance. Let’s discuss Caligula.

If you recall, the article is staged around the fundraising Gala for MOCA. The entire evening appears to have been spectacle. Live performers whose heads protruded from holes in table tops, naked performers draped in fake skeletons as table centerpieces, cakes crafted in the shape of the artist’s naked body, a performance by Debra Harry. Ms. Abramovic is quoted stating. “But this evening is not about fancy dress and who [sic] have enough money.” Frankly, that is all it was about. The star-studded gala raised $2.5 million for the California museum.

Meanwhile, near that state’s capital (and across the country) the proles were coping with the abuse that peaceful students suffered at the hands of campus police.

I would like to pass this off as an LA thing, but it’s not. Frankly some of the best painting in the country is coming out of Los Angeles. But as a society, we are no longer capable of experiencing a work of art on its own merit. It has to be seen or heard with the assistance of an audio tour, television reality show, hired performers and a full day of scheduled programming. Just look at how many museum-goers choose to experience a work of art through the viewfinder of their smart phone. Museums have to keep up with this dumbing down and it’s expensive. Please don’t forget to stop in the gift shop.

Some theorize that the excess, failure and eventual collapse of the Roman Empire was due to pipes and cookware lined with lead. I doubt there is a lead problem in the Los Angeles drinking water. But I wonder when cultural institutions such as MOCA decided that their need for money, status and power was so great that the overindulgence displayed at this gala could fly in the face of attacks on personal liberty and the economic catastrophe playing out across the United States and abroad.

Shame on these institutions and shame on the artists involved. Sorry David.

Next post: the no complicit museum.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

look homeward angel

I have a recurring dream in which I visit the house I grew up in. In my dream I am aware that the house has been abandoned. I am also aware of the weather. It is one of those bright, yet completely overcast days. There is no discernible temperature, neither hot nor cold. All of the doors and windows are wide open and the strong breeze causes the curtains to billow inside. Each time, I enter through the garage and progress through the laundry-room, kitchen and breakfast-room. In the den, my dog is sitting waiting for me. It is as though she has been waiting alone since I left this house, twenty-seven years ago. There the dream always ends.

In reality, I recently returned to my hometown for the first time in several years. I will be living here as an artist-in-residence for two weeks. The town is a wealthy suburb north of Chicago. My husband calls it Magic Town. The wealth has grown exponentially since I lived here. The town manages to be both manicured and wild. It smells good, the streets are lit with gas lamps, and the BP station still has full-service. This is the land of milk and honey, the land of the one percent.

I took advantage of a few free hours and drove down memory lane. Because I lived here from age twelve through twenty-two, I experienced many “firsts” here: my first boyfriend, my first cigarette, my first show and my first awareness that there was a big, nasty, gorgeous and painful world beyond these rarefied lanes.

I drove to my old college, whose demolition and residential re-development had been halted by the financial crisis. I didn’t realize that the old main building was still standing. At one time it appeared learned and grand. Now it’s a structural Miss Havisham, the haunted spinster waiting for the wedding that will never take place. This school is one of the lynchpins in my foundation as an artist. It broke my heart to see it sitting so forlorn, so I quickly moved on to the house my father built. While en route, I paused at the corner of Ridge and Old Mill, where I recalled barfing all over the dashboard only a few blocks from home (an ominous warning I failed to heed). But seeing the house lifted my spirits. It is obviously well cared for. I could not believe how giant the Maples had grown, showing off the season in full color.
It’s not strange that Thomas Wolfe named two of his most important works conversely: Look Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again. I agree that you can’t go home again. If you think you can, you probably never left. But you can look homeward. Yes, I am an artist who has very different sensibilities today. But once-upon-a-time, before I knew any better, I was a debutante and a sorority girl who hung out at the country club and drank too much. All of that is as much a part of me today as critical theory and oil paint are. I’m proud that I know which fork to use and that I will never wear white shoes after Labor Day.

If I had the means to live here, it's unlikely that I would. Frankly, the locals would proably be relieved! It took me so long and was such hard work to get to where I am. Yes, the wealth, beauty and comfort would be lovely, but that kind of paper could certainly afford a pretty nifty little place in France. Besides, I’m still trying to embrace a future that is uncertain and waiting for me. Just like Cleo always is in my dream.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I had a substantive conversation last night with a friend who is also an artist. Like myself, this artist had the advantage of being raised in comfortable circumstances in a family of successful professionals. Many of his friends, like mine, were reared and continue to live in those situations. I asked him if he ever felt that friends and family treated him like a “novelty” and was delighted by his laughing confirmation.

I paint the things I think because then I can make them real. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my noggin’ and my work allows me to sort that stuff out, and sometimes make sense of it. Occasionally, I’m asking the viewer to make sense of it for me. The ideas are rarely pretty, cute, or sweet. Look at the world we live in. On my good days I try create something visually compelling, and formally competent. It may even be beautiful. There is very little that is truly new in visual art, and that is not my goal. As I’ve stated before, as a painter, my work is bound to a long lineage of painters before me. It is also informed by my own experience and environment.

Talent or curse, painting came to be an avocation I could no longer ignore in pursuit of more common material benefits. Believe me, I like material benefits. Any romantic notion of an artist struggling in a garret is a load of crap. The creative process is hard. Artists practice the same base skills that are required in any successful venture; patience, ingenuity, decision-making, discernment, commitment and the ability to actually finish something that they commenced. My first inclination has never been the sale of my work; it’s been to get the ideas out there. But I am enough of a realist to know that sales provide more freedom, greater opportunity, and a roomier platform for an artist.

What I have a real problem with are those that don’t value the intellectual component of the work. There are those who try to helpful with “creative” ideas to “market” my work, but I have decided to pursue the difficult path of the painter that doesn’t paint what others want her to paint. Andre Malraux said, “The crucial discovery was made that, in order to become painting, the universe seen by the artist had to become a private one created by himself.”[i] I have chosen to live with this path.

What is the point of all of this babbling? I take this very seriously. It’s not a hobby or a craft. I just want lay people to understand why my temperature goes up when they make certain suggestions, and why I probably won’t follow their suggestions. For this reason, there are things I will and will not do. Some of these things include:

·       I probably won’t paint what you tell me you think I should paint, and if I do I will charge you a lot more for it

·       I will not exhibit work at a venue that also sells earrings, Christmas ornaments (and I love Christmas ornaments), or decorative pottery. Sculptural ceramics yes, but not pottery. (this does not include museums and their attendant gift shops, but I don’t think I have to worry about that)

·       I will continue to make my Christmas cards only for the people I send them to

·       I will never call an inkjet print a GiclĂ©e

·       I will continue to believe that good art made today has to be about something - otherwise it is just decoration. And yes, I believe still-life, landscape, text and abstraction can all convey meaning. The about something has nothing to do with what or how something is represented. Goya and Rockwell shared the same sense of timing.

·       I won’t faux anything. Faux implies that the work is either very old or made under duress, neither of which is true

·       I will not buy any mass-produced wall decorations from a chain store unless they are plastic, illuminated and Santa

So, in a few years, I guess I’ll see you at the bonfire!

[i]  Malraux, Andre, Voices of Silence, Doubleday. 1953

Friday, July 29, 2011


about bowls

People need widgets. I make the widgets that you to sell to people. I make them so that you and I can have bowls. Because you let me make widgets for you, you may have many more bowls than me. Others make widgets for you so that they may have bowls too. Once upon a time, when we kept making more and better widgets, we got to have more bowls. The sheriff made sure you were kind to us while we were making more and better widgets every day. Then you learned that desperate people in faraway places would make widgets for a cup, rather than a bowl. These people are often very young and treated very badly, but they put up with it because a cup can change their life.

now about those widgets

Everyone needs a widget. It took a long time and hard work to make a perfect widget. People had to keep trading in old widgets to get new and improved widgets. Finally widgets were perfect and people didn’t need new ones very often. But you still wanted more bowls. So you hired some magicians. The magicians understood that people with more bowls thought they were better than people with fewer bowls.  Their magic made people believe that having your new and improved widget would make them seem as though and think that they had more bowls than they actually did. Now, there are millions of old widgets lying everywhere. You don’t think the sheriff should make you clean them up even though they hurt the birds and fish.

some things I don’t understand about bowls and widgets

A few years ago you broke almost all of the bowls. The sheriff came and fixed your bowls. He hoped you would fix mine, or at least let me start making widgets again. You did neither. You just kept buying and hoarding all the bowls for yourself. It takes a lot of work to keep the bowls useful. It’s funny; it takes much more work keep my few bowls useful than it does your thousands of bowls. The sheriff helps you with your bowls, but you don’t want him to help me. I need my bowls and if they break again, I may never again be able to make widgets or use bowls.

some things you don’t understand about bowls and widgets

If I can’t make widgets and use bowls, your widgets become obsolete and your bowls seem useless. And those people with cups? They now want bowls and they have started making doodads that are better than widgets. They also make bowls. Why? Their sheriff taught them how to do so.  Using his own bowls.

next time: the hocus pocus of obtaining more bowls.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


ballroom, 52 x 42, oil on canvas,  (c) sioban lombardi 2011

I am delighted about the write-up that The Exceptional Ordinary received on ARTLOG. I am exhibiting with Gwendolyn Zabicki, a gifted visual and skillful painter. Our works have an interesting conversation.

The show will remain at Robert Bills Contemporary until August 5, 2011. I hope you can stop and see it. I'm anxious to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

visual disturbance

My husband is a musician and composer. He is sonically circuited. We travelled recently and audio problems developed with the in-flight film. It almost sent him over the edge. Static and poor reception on the car radio elicit a similar response. I sympathize with his reaction, although my sensitivity lies in the visual realm. It has from an early age. I hated when friends would decorate their doors with stickers. It ruined the visual plane of the door. I also hate adhesive price tags placed on package labels.

This sensitivity doesn’t have anything to do with style, ornament, sparseness or excess. It has nothing to do with age or newness, beauty, ugliness, mess or cleanliness. Rather, it is activated when a particular element, combination of elements, or placements of elements are so discordant, one’s visual experience of a thing or place is subverted. I can’t get around it.

Disparate elements are often successfully employed when humor, satire, irony and parody are intended. I’m not referencing those occasions. I’m concerned with the visual disregard for place, time, context and participant. It’s carelessness that occurs in everyday life and in art making. Consider white-flocked Christmas trees in Florida, a photorealist painting executed in Day-Glo colors, a nude wearing spectacles. I could go on and on.

Of course this is strictly a personal problem, but a problem that has served me well when determining the “doneness” of my own work. Often, my first idea for a painting was not my best and this is the place where fault in the overall conception shows up. If my eyes consistently travel to one place in a painting, there is something wrong. In fact, right now I’m thinking of cutting a particular painting into two pieces.

While it can be personally heartbreaking, it raises the bar on work that still needs to be done. If I want to grow, I have to maintain a certain level of dissatisfaction.  Right now I am good, but I want to be better.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

ain't it a kick in the pants

I'm the kind of person that never likes to ask for help, but after viewing so many great projects on Kickstarter, I decided to try. Kickstarter is a venue where creatives can seek funding from a broad, at-large, internet community. In return, artists offer really creative premiums to funders. My project, Frame Utopia Nope!,  will allow me to frame large works on paper for an upcoming show.

Please take a moment to look. If you aren't interested in my project, there are dozens of others that need help funding their work.

Remember? It's part of that creative economy we talked about before...and it's an economy no one talks about when discussing the recession. Thank you!

Friday, March 11, 2011


13 x 20
oil on shellacked paper
© sioban lombardi 2010

Winston Churchill suffered from depression. He called it his “black dog” referencing its familiarity and constancy. I know this black dog, however unlike Churchill’s pet, my friend’s presence occurs in direct proportion to the extent I allow external forces to effect me. Given the state of the economy, the absence of a creative peer group, my failure (despite more than 200 applications) to secure employment, and the general feeling of helplessness those conditions produce, sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose.

I had not seen Fido for more than 10 years, and when he reappeared last summer I was surprised by two aspects of his return: The first being my failure to recognize his presence. Certainly, I had experienced intense grief after the death of my parents, but there the relationship between cause and effect was clear. While my move from Brooklyn to Chicago was wrought with emotion, it was a happy event marked by accomplishment and a return home. Yet after two years away, where every conversation was interesting and every waking moment was productive, silent days spent largely alone furnish a void easily populated by doubt, apprehension and melancholy. My ability to concentrate, let alone create is challenged on a regular basis. 

The second surprise is the persistence with which the dog has reentered my life. Sometimes he sits quietly at my side, encouraging me to play Free Cell solitaire for hours, wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday, and maybe the day before that. Then, with the blink of an eye, I can plummet into a pool of despair so cavernous that I doubt my ability to surface. Everything is an absolute. This will never end. Any change would be welcome.

The operative phrase here is “blink of an eye.” In fact, eleven years after first recognizing the dog, I know his presence is a deception. In fact, moments of sadness are countered by moments of joy and both are buoyed by much-of-the-mundane in between. I know that the dog will eventually go away. I believe he will visit again. But amidst all of his comings and goings lives the certainty that I am loved and cared for and that I love and care for - all in a life much larger than my immediate situation.