Collective Wisdom

October 06, 2018

I’ve always collected books and comics. As a kid I amassed a pile in the closet of Superman and Fantastic Four comics along with others. My brother and I stretched our comics budget by teaming up on purchases. He’d buy Batman and Spiderman, and we’d trade. One day, we came home from school and found our extensive closet floor library emptied out in some sort of Spring cleaning catastrophe. Such are the injustices of youth.

When I got a job bussing tables at a restaurant and started commuting into the city for school, I discovered the direct market. This was the transition of comics sales from the drug store spinner racks of youth to dedicated (and often dingy) urban comic shops, spurred by the growth in the collector subculture. During my freshman and sophomore years, I began collecting again, searching out the Silver Age classics of my childhood.

I came out west, where the occasional bookstore carried only current, not-very-classic Bronze age issues. My interest waned, but fortunately, European humor and Sci-fi comics were beginning to appear in Heavy Metal Magazine, and the college bookstore began to carry classic Euro comics such as Tintin and Asterix. The Sci-fi trend began to carry over into obscure mainstream titles, such as Jim Starlin’s delightfully weird Warlock series, and the passion was back, though frustratingly hard to satisfy.

My return to the city in the mid-eighties changed all that. The direct market had led to a flowering of small publisher and independent or self-published “alternative”comics which inspired by the  undergrounds of the urban 60’s and 70’s, explored more sophisticated themes, but without the drug references and sexist imagery. The renaissance had begun, and I was back to collecting in a big way, with the medium growing up along with my tastes.

I’ve said that the alt comics that led to the comics renaissance we currently enjoy grew out of the Punk zines. This is partially true, in that the Punk movement in music caused a sudden profusion of music zines, and cartoonists, like Los Bros Hernandez for example, punk music fans, naturally began to emulate self publishers in their own medium. Early Love and Rockets is often centered around the punk scene in L.A.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as comics fans were publishing zines long before punk, and made a major contribution to the collector culture which later led to the direct market. Squatront, a zine about EC Comics, which had been essentially censored out of existence in the 50’s by the Comics Code, a comics industry self censorship agency, was publishing by the early 60’s, along with a few others. The first mini comics seem to have popped up around the same time, if you don’t count the Tijuana bibles of the 30’s. Even Siegel and Shuster self-published an early version of Superman, before (to their eternal regret) shopping the character around to the nascent comic book industry.

The minis seem to have really begun to flourish with the alt comics of the 80’s. With that, mini comics broadened as a category, from the tiny photocopied, hand-stapled, self published and frankly amateurish efforts one spied in music stores and small bookstores, to fairly sophisticated small press numbers. Some well known artists got their start in minis, and for what ever reasons, have continued to put them out. Even after securing contracts with established publishers, some artists have emulated mini comics formats in their major publisher output. Chris Ware, Jessica Abel and Gabrielle Bell are examples. I recently posted a brief review of one newer artist, Sophia Foster-Dimino whose mini comics relate to the current conversations on sexual ethics. I’ve mentioned recently that comics, a fairly accessible publishing medium, can offer opportunities for expression for marginalized creators, such as women. Mini comics are at the frontline of that battle. A Frontier Comics mini by alt comics star Eleanor Davis, for example, is one of the few sensitive, un-sensationalized treatment of S&M sex that can be seen in any pop culture medium.

Smaller presses have sprung up to specialize mainly in minis and in the emerging artists who make them, and an ad hoc network  of distributors and web sites can now be found that carry a wide variety. It’s become easier to access minis from all over, and in that sense, collecting minis can be pretty fun, as you’re getting in on the ground floor creatively, and can also access rarities by well regarded artists. They certainly don’t take up much space, and with their mostly small print runs and relative rarity, and with alt comics very definitely beginning to be a presence in the secondary market, you can tap into the quintessential collector’s high: owning breakthrough early work that you can brag about when it gets popular, or sell on to latecomers when the artist becomes popular.

Standard disclaimer: although early independents (80’s and 90’s) are beginning to pop up on secondary markets such as Ebay and Amazon at solid prices (30-$50 is not uncommon for significant artists, and breakthrough comics can get up to 400-$500), this is not usually a good way to get rich, though it can help support your reading habit, while clearing space on your shelves! You are of course, required to plow the profits back into obscure comics, or lose your street cred. As I’ve said, the alternative and small press stars of the 80’s are now best found in traditional hardbacks, with impressive print runs, in good bookstores, and sometimes on the short list for the Mann-Booker Prize. But inexpensive comics can still be found. Here are some good minis I’ve found lately, and after that, some good places to find minis and indies.

Lovers in the Garden, Anya Davidson: featuring the same raw, choppy brushwork, fractured perspective and garish colors as School Spirits, her 2013 Small press debut with  Dan Nadel’s PictureBox. This is a crime tale, modeled on the blaxploitation narratives of 70’s B-movie Hollywood.  Its characters all have aspirations, even the drug lord who wishes to open an asian art gallery. It has a fairly arbitrary, though open ended conclusion, and doesn’t match up to School Spirits, but is a worthy read by this rising star. I found this on John Porcellino’s web site (below).

Coin Op Comics 1997-2017, Peter and Maria Hoey: This anthology collects the mini comics of this brother/sister pair. There are seven issues collected here, along with some of their older work from the Blab anthology, where they were regulars. They got their start in illustration ( Blab mined both comics and illustration for its yearly collections), but have become interested in comics and printmaking. They seem to love the freelancer’s life, and self-publishing. This hardback was put out by Top Shelf, a fairly small comics publisher. Their other output, including Coin Op’s 1-7, are available on their website in small print runs, and includes hand-pulled items such as accordion books and silkscreen posters, which taps into another love of mine, printmaking. 

The writing is lively and unique as well as the visuals. And though the Hoeys deploy a retro 40’s-50’s commercial style, updated with computer graphics, the stories are not mere nostalgia. Along with collaborator C. Freund, stories cover a wide range of formal and topical subjects, including an ongoing series, Saltz and Pepz about vagabond dogs, one white and one black, that touches on, without indulging in, 40’s racial stereotypes. Other subjects: Jazz, Blues, and movies, including a fairly brilliant mash-up of Bunuel’s Andalusian Dog with Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and a biography of Nicolas Ray. All are rich with historical and stylistic allusion, comics for intellectuals- but still laugh out loud funny!

Your Smile at the Top of the Dial, Peter and Maria Hoey: This mini , formatted like a 45 rpm single, features a hand silkscreened cover and a somewhat retro, slightly surreal tale of cross country radio stations. The Hoeys dedication to the small press model means it may never really be a collectible, but like many of these comics, it’s certainly unique.

Vulture City Stories, Sam Spina: Kilgore Books product that I got at DINK, it features the zany, over-the-top misadventures of the characters that live in an anachronistic old west town where a Saguaro cactus has been appointed sheriff.

Here in Denver, the DINK Expo, a yearly mini-con for mini- and indie comics comes around in April. It’s cheap, $20 (early bird tix) for a whole weekend, and the line up is strong, with small press stars like Dash Shaw, Sammy Harkham and Los Bros Hernandez, along with lesser known talents, such as Peter and Maria Hoey, and Sam Spina. It’s still small enough to have nice chats with creators, and you can get a small pile of (signed) comics for $50. A personal treasure: a silk screened accordion book in an edition of 350 by Peter and Maria Hoey, signed by Maria.

Kilgore Books and Comics on the Wax Trax block carries a nice selection of minis, including some that their associates at Kilgore Books publish. The Denver mini-comics scene has always been fairly strong, with well knowns Noah Van Sciver and John Porcellino having spent time here.

These connections remain strong, and Porcellino’s website, Spit and a Half, provides a source for mini-comics by up-and-comers and indie projects by bigger names. They’re packed well and most are under $20.

Coin-Op Books is really one of the few places to get work by the Hoeys, though they do a lot of small press expos like DINK. Other websites to visit: Retrofit Comics, Youth in Decline, publishers of Frontier, a series of minis by cutting edge authors both new and established, Uncivilized Books, and  Kilgore Comics.

 

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New Territory

September 29, 2018

Bramble _TP 3 _18

Above is a photopolymer etching I did as a test proof during a workshop by Henrik Boegh, a Danish Master Printer well know for developing non-toxic methods in printmaking. I applied marker pen, ink wash and scratches to a hardened polymer surface, then wiped and printed like a regular etching plate. 

I took, at the invitation of the school, a couple of workshops taught by Henrik Boegh, a Danish Master Printer in non-toxic intaglio. Intaglio is a traditional word for etching- it means, roughly, ‘cutting into’. It’s a different medium than monotype, a very simple process of making an ink picture on a smooth plane and then transferring it to paper. For one thing it’s repeatable, as indicated by larger edition numbers, such as 1,2 or 3/10, etc. (Monotypes, unique one-of-a-kind prints, often are designated 1/1).

There were two 3-day workshops on different aspects of etching. Photo-polymer etching was the first. One uses a light source (including the sun) to expose an image onto a polymer film, then hardens it, and prints it like a traditional etching plate (that is to say: put ink on, wipe off the excess until only the etched lines have ink, and run through a hand press.) I’ve done this often with prepared plates, such as Solar Plates, invented by Dan Welden. Here one actually prepares the plate.

The second was the more traditional, centuries-old process of etching lines and tones into a metal plate. Here a whole range of non-toxic, or perhaps more accurately, relatively less toxic, materials were used instead of the highly toxic acids and oil-based grounds that we learned about in school. These are acrylic grounds of various types, some specialized, others using common materials (such as Johnson Floor Wax!)

The whole idea of the League offering this workshop to me and a couple of other instructors is that we would eventually teach it, expanding the school’s offerings into safer processes. So in October, we three will be meeting to process the large amount of new techniques and get on the same page before new classes and workshops start in Spring. Eventually, though traditional methods will continue to be taught at the school, toxic etching materials will be replaced.

Here is an image I made of one process during the workshop. More rough sketch than finished art, this test proof was made to see how well I’d used various ink drawing, washes and scratchings on a photo plate. But it relates to some themes I’ve been exploring about (mental) brambles and undeveloped wilderness, so I may try to clean it up as a finished piece soon, while working on my technique. I’ll post more as I go along.

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Gathering Hopes

August 31, 2018

This rather contented looking feller is from a nice thank you note I received from artists and staff of The Gathering Place, a day shelter for homeless women where I taught a series of monotype and relief printing workshops this summer. Card by JVO

I’ve got a brief break for writing and studio work after finishing up two workshops. One was my Monotype Portfolio summer evening class, which went well; I’ll post a nice image from that soon. The other was my Wednesday morning workshop with the women of The Gathering Place, a day shelter for homeless women. It was a wake-up but a joy, for several reasons.

I love a morning class anyway. You get to start off the day with conversations on creativity, it really puts a hopeful spin on things. The perspective of the whole day changes to one of possibility. Also, the women there, despite their many struggles, are talented. All of us need to see reminders of the humanity in everyone, whether fortunate ( Yes, I’m grateful) or not, and art provides that.

And I felt welcomed there- The staff and clients made me feel valued- a contributor for hope. At some point, I really began to buy into that hope. I began to ask myself how I might help advance the hopes of others. TGP is not surprisingly situated at the epicenter of this city’s exploding homeless population. Eat day I went there, I walked or rode through the hordes of much less fortunate people that our current failing politics seeks to ignore.

That brings me to the point of the post, not the art we made in class, which was mostly fairly simple processes which in some cases led to spectacular results. As I said, there were some talented artists here, and I’ll post some of those below.

But the cat above is not from the class. It’s part of a separate Gathering Place project I’d like you to know about: Their card project which allows down on their luck women to make money from their talent for art and making. I got this one, with some nice notes written inside, as a thank you for teaching the workshop, and it’ll be treasured along with some other artworks and notes I’ve received over the years. I wish the picture showed it better- it’s drawn in a sort of sparkly colored ink!

 

By Purchasing this piece of handcrafted original art, you are making a difference in the life of an individual who is experiencing homelessness or poverty. 75% of the revenue generated for The Gathering Place by the sale of this card will be returned to the individual artist.

-back of the card

Many of the artists were pondering how the simple relief prints we did could be incorporated into The Card Project, which made me feel very happy. Have I contributed in a small way?

As you might imagine, The Gathering Place is not really open to the public. But you can visit, and see all of these hundreds of cards at affordable prices by contacting them at cards@tgpdenver.org or calling 303.996.9068. We’ve all been feeling a bit knocked around since November 2016. Soon, we get to vote, but we can also pay it forward a little. 

Just a few of the many prints done by the artists of The Gathering Place.
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Fall Workshops Are Registering Now

August 16, 2018

A bit of surrealism for your late summer/fall enjoyment. “Gloaming”, Monotype, 20×26″, 2018

I’ve updated the Classes, Demos and Workshops page for the Fall schedule. It’s got dates, descriptions and links for everything scheduled so far. There may be more coming, so check back soon. Click here.

The big news is the addition of a third main workshop, Mad Science Monoprint, starting in November on Tuesday afternoons. It’s not intended to follow the second in the series, Monotype Portfolio, but to be a companion to that. It’s four weekly sessions on adding repeatable elements to your monotypes. 

I’m still working on a series of posts on Starting, Transforming and Finishing Ideas, and a new editor for Word Press has been introduced just as I’m getting a last bit of free time, so I’m hoping for an update for the entire site soon.

I’ve been doing a series of workshops for a women’s homeless shelter here, and I’m blown away by the talent I’m seeing. It can be hard to get time to take pics during the classes, but I’ll try to post some soon.

I need to thank longtime Gathering Place volunteer, and ASLD print artist Cindy M. for her help as assistant and liaison with these wonderful folks. There is an existing Card Project that allows women to earn money for themselves and the program by making cards, and we’re trying to incorporate some of the basic printmaking techniques in our drop-in workshops into that. It’s inspiring!

I’m reading up on Picasso’s prints and some techniques I want to incorporate into Mad Science. I also finished John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and I’ve been dipping into a history of 20th Century modernist graphics. All of this has made for a great relaxing summer, and while I haven’t been doing a lot of studio work, I guess I decided a break was OK after a crazy spring. Most of my fall schedule is still up in the air, but I’ve got a feeling it’ll all fall into place soon.

I’m feeling optimistic in general. After a horrible two years, are we on the cusp of a turning point? Register to vote, and plan on positive change this November! Then register for a workshop, and let’s get creative. 

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Summer Reading

August 02, 2018

A small monotype can often suggest larger concepts to pursue. I was experimenting with the idea of bramble patches when it dawned on me the creative process often resembles being in one. “Bramble”, Monotype, 11×15″, 2018

 

As promised, I’m trying to catch up on my reading list. Then, I must knuckle down and finish my three-parter on starting, transforming and finishing idea, with possible related theme of Story in Art, which I will eventually convert to a Keynote presentation, for a possible standalone lecture.

I have first drafts of all these posts, but have been procrastinating/ wimping out on finishing them up. Eventually, they’ll go into a downloadable section on this site, also a much postponed project.

But I have been enjoying a lot of reading time, and in view of my irregular posting schedule, it seems a shame not to share it. One part of this list seemed to tie in with my World Cup/American exceptionalism observations from last week, which included observations from England’s surprising run. While I jettisoned the precious little segue I’d dreamed up for that (Yes! I DO edit these things), I’m re-boarding that train of thought now.

I think we tend to regard one part of the outside world, England, with a comfortable familiarity. We speak the same language (hah! sort of), read their literature in high school, adopt laughably poor fake accents to evoke sophistication or eccentricity. Even the high-fat, low information voters adore their fish ‘n’ chips! When we examine Ol’ Blighty more closely, however, we begin to see a place that’s alien, and not just in high quality of medical care. 

When I came to this city in 1985, having been starved on the Wyoming High Plains of anything interesting in comics besides the occasional sci-fi or eurocomics gem in Heavy Metal Magazine, I immediately began to haunt the comics shops on Colfax. 

My timing was pretty good. The Alternative/Punk/Zine scene was burgeoning, and I was able to locate back issues of the legendary Raw Magazine, along with new discoveries in the exploding black and white indy comics then beginning to appear. Each week I would go down on delivery day to a shop that regularly ordered one or two copies of the new comics to pick up the latest Love and Rockets, Hate, or Eightball. I’d grab any other interesting new titles I saw as well. These included more and more, comics from across the pond. One was Mauretania Comics, from England, an oddly titled and -produced number that fit right in with my punker’s sensibility for avoid-the-mainstream. 

Mauretania was an anthology featuring most often, three cartoonists of similar, unique mood, working in stark black and white, or drizzly grays. Paul Harvey and Chris Reynolds worked in thick murky b&w, and Carol Swain in her exquisite graphite crayon grays. Swain had been appearing in early Fantagraphics anthologies, and her comics were the reason I picked it up.

New York Review Comics, published by the New York Review of Books, has recently been publishing avant garde gems from the past, such as Mark Beyer’s exquisitely neurotic Agony, first published by Raw. Their latest project is a thick collection of Reynold’s eerie “Monitor” stories from Mauretania Comics, edited and designed by cartoonist Seth.

Monitor is a strangely earthbound superhero in a helmet and visor, with no discernible powers, but an urge to piece together his story. I only found three issues of Mauretania in the 80’s, and was unable to get a sense of an over arching narrative, though its brooding air of mystery was palpable, and I saved them.

A sense of incompleteness and floating anxiety turn out to be characteristic of the series as a whole, even when placed in the context of a 275 page collection. Episodically, in snatches, characters drift in and out, small mysteries proliferate; aliens, detectives and disciples of a mystery religion wander blasted, yet pastoral landscapes, mostly unpeopled (Reynolds hails from Wales and Sussex); yet nothing really resolves in a narrative sense. 

It makes for compelling reading with the emotional distance implied by the sometime third person narration countered by the immediacy of Reynold’s thick brush work. There are few comparisons I can make to this unique body of work, though Swain and Harvey fit in quite well in the original issues, which I re-read. Mario Hernandez of early Love and Rockets also comes to mind. Though not really similar in either narrative or graphic sensibilities, Eddie Campbell’s The King Canute Crowd body of work is also emblematic of the appeal of these mid-late 80’s alternative comics from England. Alan Moore and others had already begun to make a mark on mainstream American comics. Those troubled by the libertarian violence of V For Vendetta might find these comics a more subtly poetic evocation of England’s Thatcher-era dystopianism.

Reynolds and Swain continue to publish, in print and on the web, but we may not see Mauretania’s quiet, slow-paced angst again. Seth himself comes closest.

Lately the torch of British alternative comics has been carried by NoBrow, with their occasional anthology NoBrow Magazine, and other published work. A new NoBrow (#10) is out and I recommend it highly, though I haven’t seen it. I’m going on issues 6-9. 

Their esthetic hews more closely to mainland eurocomics artists such as Blexbolex, or America’s Fort Thunder ( cartoon brut) style cartoonists. These are characterized by expressionistic color, retro-big foot-style or neo cubistic images, transgressive or even picaresque characters and situations.  Nobrow also publish cutting edge illustration, much like Monte Beauchamp’s Blab Magazine. Another aspect of American exceptionalism is to gloss over English contributions to the advent of the comics, which Americans like to say we invented (Wrong! It was a Swiss guy, Rodolphe Topffer). Nobrow and the Mauretania collection  bring needed focus to British and European artists.

Nobrow has also just released Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn, by Canadian artist Ryan Heshka. Doubling as outrageous, ultra violent feminist screed and retro 40’s tough chick noir, all in luscious dry brushed blacks, grays and lascivious pinks, it’s laugh out loud funny, and a comics masterwork. Heshka channels Golden Age Batman and Dick Tracy, along with a healthy dose of Thelma and Louise with a soupcon of S&M. All in a fast paced story that delivers arson, cigarettes, gunplay and booze along with a Sweet Gwendolyne type submissive heroine who sees the light, gets herself a leather jacket and becomes a femme fatale. It’s all good fun until someone loses an eye; which they do, along with other body parts in a tale that delivers a “stiletto-stab to the crotch of the patriarchy”. 

A lesser noticed aspect of the 80’s punk/zine-inspired alt comics renaissance is the role that it played in giving a voice to female artists. At the time, largely due to the cost and old boys connections required of producing movies, television and books, second wave feminist artists were shut out of pop culture. Black and white comics changed that. Trina Robbins pioneered cheap to produce, easily distributed feminist underground comics as early as the 70’s, and the punkers and zinesters of the 80’s did not slack the pace. 

Fiona Smyth, another cartoonist I discovered at the shops through her stylishly executed Nocturnal Emissions mag, has just released a collection of her bawdy, urban primitive, third wave feminist comics with Koyama Press. Her subjects- tattooed, sex crazed and sexy punkerettes, sexualized mannikins, transgendered goddesses, are perpetually emergent. They slide from asses, mouths and cunts to float in an atmospheric scrawl of tribal squiggles, dots and hatchings, as if the very world they inhabit is tattooed.

This is no didactic screed, more a hallucinogenic trip through alternative sexuality and punk tribal lifestyles. Like many documents of subcultures, it’s very in-your-face. Her heroines meet injustice and disrespect positively and forthrightly with unabashed sexuality and compulsive art making, two very related impulses in the war against American Puritanism. Or in the famous (unattributed) dictum: “Everything in the world is about sex. Except sex; sex is about power.”

It’s important to give these 80’s artists (I’ll add Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Diane Noomin, Carol Lay, Debbie Drechsler and Phoebe Gloeckner, to name a very few of many) their due in the gradual inclusion of female voices in pop culture, which in the USA, is an important source of cultural power. I really don’t think it could have happened without them. 

The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing as a Way of Thinking; Ball and Kuhlman, editors: French Situationists! Oedipal superheroes! “Comics and the Grammar of Diagrams”! And, at least one Roland Barthes citation. It will not be easy to explain to my grandchildren why I was reading stuff like this when I should have been earning money for their college funds, or at least,  enough cash to ask someone on a date, so that I might consider even having them (grandchildren!).

Chris Ware, the somewhat misanthropic cartoonist ( Building Stories, Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth) who, as much as anyone, spearheaded the comics’ charge into the book market and critical significance, garnered his own collection of critical essays in 2010, which I’m now reading.

The interpretations in this wide-ranging set of academic papers are very thought provoking in terms of all art and ideas, very validating in that I’ve collected everything from Ware I could afford, and a very pleasant way to escape the grind of Trump’s new feudalism for an hour. Surprisingly readable as these things go, and for someone who’s new to the medium’s ongoing renaissance, but past the Buzzfeed listicles of “Graphic Novels You Must Read” phase, it just might serve as an intro to the unique aesthetic advantages and challenges comics are now posing.

I’ve also been reading some novels and books on art and printmaking. I’ll post those, along with my own thoughts on art soon.

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WC2018ICYMI

July 31, 2018

I never wrapped up the World Cup, and though this one will not fade from memory soon- there’d been late drama and close games every day, few favorites (even France) ever seemed safe, and few minnows hopeless. Really, one of them made the Final! I’m loathe to waste my previously recorded thoughts. So I separated this excerpt from my latest book blurbs- also rapidly losing their topicality, and here it is:

At some point just past the Group Stage, without any sort of announcement or clear dividing line, we enter the part of the World Cup where people are consumed by it. Entire countries basically shut down or go through daily routine in a dream-like state. Were there people still drinking and celebrating in England and Croatia, days after they progressed to the Semis? 

Yes, I’m certain there were. Soon enough, tension and anxiety sets in, though, as thoughts turn to the next round. Caution also sets in, coaches and players begin to feel the weight of national expectation, the nervy zeitgeist, the paralyzing realization that just two games remain. 

There was a point where most of the final eight would have returned to a hero’s welcome, but we irrevocably pass the just-happy-to-be-here phase, to where the differences between 3rd place and 1st are magnified.  England and Belgium found that out, and at some point, so too, will Croatia.

England was actually in control of most of their quarterfinal, though it remained at that always neurotic 2-0 scoreline, where just one goal can change the entire complexion and momentum of the match. Rather than make the classic mistake and sit back to defend, thus inviting doom, they continued to press for the third, and clinching goal. They didn’t get it, but Sweden, overmatched and game, kept it entertaining. Against Croatia in the Semis, though, England never really got onto the front foot.

Croatia v Russia was a barnburner, something we’d now come to expect from this WC, already being called the greatest ever, an incomplete judgement that Fox naturally jumped on for promotional purposes. I was not arguing the idea, though I like to see the Final before I make historical pronouncements. Now I have, and France’s talent speaks for itself, though Croatia, pretty much doomed after the 67th minute, never lost their fighting spirit. Dignitaries handing out medals in a downpour might’ve made even a nil-nil with PKs seem pretty legendary.

All of it mostly lost on oblivious, exceptionalist, USA of course. If tiny Belgium or Croatia can potentially win it, then it must not be a real sport. I was downtown one night over the holiday, and the overweight thousands were choking the streets for a Rockies game. I haven’t checked, but usually the Rockies are firmly embedded in last place by Independence Day. 

I’m not putting down real fans. Nothing brings out the dunce confederacy for any event on the Fourth like hot dogs and fireworks. But it’s odd how this country celebrates -and overpays- for  bloated spectacle, (military parade, anyone?) while the rest of the world anxiously awaits the results of a real sports and culture drama. When people are shocked by the US’ slow slide into neo-facism, I wonder why they don’t just open their eyes and look around them.

I’ll catch up on my reading list next. It’s mostly books on art, and comics. I’m glad to say that procrastination this time does not stem from the wretched ‘too busy’ excuse, but the relatively human ‘lazy summer days’ rubric, and I wish everyone the same.

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While You Were Away…

June 30, 2018

The Summer Art Market was  one of my better ones in terms of sales, and also one of the hotter ones. After this cool spring it was not that surprising, but it didn’t melt the crowd- I had sales in almost every two hour block of the weekend, which also keeps the time moving. Thank you to everyone who came by and helped me celebrate a positive year!

I had fun with the posters featuring my artwork, giving them away with sales and to my friends. Beginning with my “Best Of Show” award at 2017’s show (which landed me on the poster), I had a fun year; appearing in Westword, showing in the State Capitol, participating in MoPrint.

So after a very busy Winter/Spring, it’s a month to enjoy some relaxation, and the World Cup.

Tree of Life in Vacant Garden, Monotype, 30×22″, 2018. I enjoyed layering the colorful Mylar shapes to create a sense of abundance yet loss. I’m hoping to go in a different direction when I go back into the studio later this Summer.

The World Cup is living proof of American exceptionalism. It’s by far the greatest sporting event in the world, but especially with the USA having crashed out, it gets little real attention here, not that attention span is something Americans excel at in sports viewing. Some overweight fool somewhere is on his couch, trying to convince himself- with ESPN’s help- that the four hour baseball game he’s watching has more significance than, say, Portugal v Spain, a gripping early clash of titans in the Group Stage.

One for the ages? Hard to say, as there were many mistakes. Ronaldo jobs Nacho for a PK early, then Spain works their way- patiently with characteristic precision passing, back into it for a number of chances before equalizing on a brilliant Costa run. 

Patience is required to enjoy Soccer. More than any sport, it takes place in real time- it’s not bloated with commercials, fantasy league statistics, and long-winded analyses. One must actively read the ebbs and flows of momentum on the field, rather than passively await a scoring highlight or statistical benchmark, as in American sports. 

Now Ronaldo sneaks a counterattack goal past DeGea to bookmark the first half. Again, a mistake by Spain. But Spain is patient and works a brilliant set piece goal from Costa. Then Nacho gets redemption with a brilliant, trailing whiplash shot off both posts. 

Spain has clearly been the better team, yet they made two major mistakes at the beginning and end of the primer tiempo. They must close this out efficiently, or their WC will be in question from the get go. The Group Stage seems to offer multiple chances to get into a rthym, but for favored teams like Spain, it can be unforgiving.

Another mistake, and Ronaldo lasers the equalizer. What a game! If the rest of the WC is as good as its start, perhaps Ronaldo- and even Putin- can be excused for taking his shirt off. 

The intensity ramps up with Peru v Denmark(0-1): the most intense 90+ minutes of football seen so far; end to end for most of the second half. The cruelty and drama of the stereotypically reviled one-nil: Peru will play entertainingly for all three matches, but will be eliminated after the second.“Insufficient guile” is Derek Rae’s assessment of a Peruvian FK late in their game v France. They couldn’t turn their exciting play into goals. That sums up their tournament.

Mexico make no mistakes. Their tactics are excellent against the World Champions. The first half they show a fairly high press with very concise long balls over the top to keep Germany out of rhythm. They stay wide and keep up a nice tempo- short, short, long; basically playing Germany’s slow midfield press against themselves, lengthening the field, where Germany loves to shorten it. The goal is a brilliant bit of cutback and a seeing eye shot by Lozano. 

They bunker a bit in the segunda tiempo, with Germany slowly shortening the field, and Mexico with just enough counter to relieve pressure, though they misfire on all. GK Memo Ochoa is there for the inevitable final siege. Mexico puts themselves in good position to go through, if they can maintain their aggressive tempo.   

This plays out in the second round of games, where the stakes are suddenly higher, and teams walk a fine line. Mexico v Korea (2-1) and Germany v Sweden (2-1), a late thriller with one of this tournament’s many extra timegame winners= one of the more thrilling days of the Cup, and it carries over into Sunday with Japan v Senegal (2-2), and Poland v Columbia (0-3) which actually puts Senegal in a bad place in the final match day. This, too, would prove significant. Monday, the first day of the third round, is also dramatic with Spain coming back (2-2) and Portugal being hauled back (1-1) intense, complex, Video Assistant Referee-flavored battles that decide knockout round pairings.

France v Denmark (0-0), not so much. The commentators are fond of saying “This game needs a goal”. Sometimes that’s all it needs, but here it’s a stultifying bird-in-the-hand type game between two teams who already have what they want, and little to gain in future pairings, unlike Mexico, who have a real incentive to avoid Brazil in the next round. So we get the only nil-nil of the Cup so far, as the crowd whistles, but it’s plenty enough to perpetuate the soccer stereotypes, I’m sure.

Now, today, it’s the last day of Group Stage -always bittersweet. I’m on the couch, well-coffee’d and watching an intriguing start for Columbia v Senegal, two dangerous teams. Senegal does take their usual aggressive attitude toward attack, but after half time, Columbia’s quality and resilience begin to turn the tide. Final score- yes, 1-0. Senegal is out of the knockouts on a tie breaker. I had already watched a complete collapse by Mexico (not to mention Germany) on replay last night. But Mexico ends up on the right side of the math, and goes on, at least as far as Brazil.

Now, there is bacon in the skillet and I’m awaiting the kick off for Belgium v England. Both teams also already through, but the well regarded, high-scoring Red Devils and the underrated Three Lions have a lot to prove with top of the group at stake, and I’m not expecting nil-nil. Commentators are the erudite Derek Rae, and former WC player Ally Wagner, who retains her field-level feel for tactics, and is thus far unsullied by pundit-speak. Fox has had an up and down WC so far. Rob Stone is a football lightweight, Lalas apparently the designated loudmouth, with Terry Bradshaw the model. Rae and Wagner are firmly in the “ups”.

We’ll see what kind of match we get. Group Stage has been surprising and very evenly matched. Even the big  boys- Brazil, France,  Spain, have struggled to find rythym, and some- like Germany and Argentina have not found it at all, or rarely. There’s been a lot of late drama, and half my bracket is in shambles. My predicted finalists, Spain and Brazil are still alive, though.

Baseball and NFL are for bean-counters. Baseball flatters itself that its cheap stats  make any of its long slogging progress toward September and October meaningful. When the brain rattling violence on the claustrophobic gridiron is done, the last team to do an end zone dance will be declared “World Champion”, having never ventured out of the astro-turf infested suburbs, none of their “highlights” having aroused any interest in the world. To Americans, soccer’s a game that doesn’t “count”, but in 2026, The USA will find out that no travel ban will keep it out.

My own experience with other Americans, especially those of my generation, who created the hype machine that is the Super Bowl, and are often heard extolling the copious commercials- is a frustration. Even friends who profess a positive attitude toward the game, when they can be coaxed out to the park, seem to see the jockeying in the midfield as some sort of pause in the action, rather than integral to it. They treat it as an opportunity to drift into triviality, as if it was a commercial break in NFL, or the interminable tics and twitches between pitches in baseball. Soccer, where one pass can define an entire game, measures itself on a continuum of emotion, it’s a game defined by persistence of the heart. It provides few defined periods, incremental territorial gains or mandated possessions. Politically, culturally, and especially in sports, Americans have little patience for the grey areas of life. They are considered “boring”.

Soccer is poetry in motion, possibility centered squarely in the moment. It’s the game that breathes and sings. A team (and nation) in the 80th minute of a 1-nil match are only seconds from a blowout disgrace, a life-saving draw, or a glorious fight back triumph. It is always up to the players. Each one on the expansive field has the power to change the result. Even for Ronaldo, it takes a career for any impressive numbers to be tallied up, but his greatness is visible on the grass long before then.

It’s on to the Knockout Round, where, sorry, bean-counters, the tension ramps up and the goals are fewer. (Update: often fewer. Not on the first day, though.)

Greatness and glory poised on a knife’s edge. The whole world is watching, not counting. To the world, it’s only the game that counts and thus it’s the only game that matters.

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SAM and Summer Doings

June 08, 2018

Poster designed by Michelle Messenger

Again, SAM! The Art Students League Summer Art Market posters are out, and guess who’s the poster child? It’s a reward for winning “Best of Show” in 2017. I’ll be there again this year in booth, number 97, on Grant St. between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.  

I’ll have new work, as well as some older stuff from the flat files, at older prices. And I’m giving signed SAM posters, while they last, with every purchase of $150 or more. I have enough for a typical show, though I’ve had shows where they wouldn’t have made it to Sunday afternoon, so get there early, as I’m not sure if I can get more.  The League will also have them available for a donation in their booth. 

In addition, I’ll have a few copies of the beautiful catalog for the now dearly departed Open Press’ 2014 25th Anniversary show. 9×12”, 64 pgs, with over 50 of the best printmakers from Denver and beyond, including moi ( Really, Nick Cave is in there, along with Dale Chisman and Joellyn Duesbury). These are signed and free with any purchase of $400 or more. 

SAM is a classic, and a real social scene, featuring 180 artists and the first blast of summer. I hope you’ll come down!

Classes: I’ll have three this summer, and the first, Monotype Starter, June 19- July 10 is already full. You can call the League to get on a waiting list in case of last minute drop outs, which are common. 

The other two, Monotype Portfolio, July 24-August 21, for experienced printmakers, and Monotype Blast, an all day Saturday sampler on August 4, are filling, but if you have questions, you should be able to stop down at SAM and ask me, then register at the ASLD booth. Fair warning: Blast is half full already, so it will eventually fill. 

Other news: For those who missed it, I was featured in Westword’s 100 Colorado Creatives 4.0 Blog in March. It’s a nice article by Susan Froyd, along with an interview, lots of pictures and a video. 

I’m hoping to debut a new workshop in Fall. It’s called Monoprint Mad Science, for intermediate and advanced artists. Monoprints are monotypes with repeating elements, such as drypoint, Chine Colle’, and polymer etching, etc. It’s starting as a 4-week workshop, which will keep it affordable. I’ll get confirmation sometime soon.  

It’s been a very fun year, and people taking my classes and buying work make that possible. Thank you so much for your continued interest.

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Between the World and We

May 10, 2018

I’m working on new work for the Summer Art Market, June 9th and 10th. I’ll finish in studio in a couple of weeks, then shift to framing and prepping for it. A couple of days after the show the World Cup starts. In theory, I’ll have lots of money from the show, and I’ll spend many afternoons in downtown bars, starting my day with eggs and beer and football. That’s the theory.

The USA isn’t in the Finals this year. Since making a relatively strong run in Brazil 2014, they’d sputtered under two coaches, Juergen Klinsman and Bruce Arena, before an unlikely but mostly well deserved combination of results eliminated them on the last day of qualification. The team had a certain amount of talent, but never any real consistency in play.

There was a real howl from the fans, many of whom were 20-somethings who’d bought their first USA shirts in June, 2014. It’s heartening to see such a failure evoke  an indignant reaction to those of us who remember decades when not reaching the World Cup Finals meant…crickets. But youth is not given to reflection,  and many of the reactions were simplistic and not very well informed:

The US should NEVER fail to qualify, they howled, ignoring the fact that some far more consistent performers, e.g. Italy, Netherlands, Chile, had failed to qualify, and the quality of play in the US’ confederation has been rapidly improving. Getting into the World Cup is hard, no matter who you are.

The US Soccer Association leadership is corrupt and only interested in selling rights fees, they wailed, ignoring the fact that the leadership has been actively campaigning against FIFA corruption for years now, and the rights fees they’re selling are World Cup rights fees, which went down in value by millions when the US did not qualify. There is corruption in football, yes, but applying a blanket stereotype to an organization working for reform is ignorant.

Other, even more preposterous pronouncements followed: The USA will never challenge for the World Cup unless a laundry list of “reforms” meant to mimic the structure of their favorite ‘proper’ football league, the British Premier League, were immediately instituted in our own domestic league, MLS, they screeched. These include promotion and relegation, and a 20-team ‘balanced schedule.’

This ignores the fact that though Major League Soccer, formed in 1996 as a condition of having the World Cup here in ’94, is making solid growth, with four well established major leagues ahead of it, it is unlikely to match the BPL’s position in Britain very soon. It’s likely that BPL is more popular in THIS country, in fact, if we are to judge by TV ratings and the expensive English kits collected by adoring twenty-somethings. Because of that, MLS has had to find its own formula.

MLS has stretched the level of corporatism already rampant in world football with a single entity league structure and salary caps. This has made investment in the still fragile league attractive to the types of oligarchs that tend to own big teams around the world, but those billionaires are unlikely to welcome relegation to a lower league, especially as infrastructure in the lower leagues remains spotty. And TV networks see no profit in imposing the 20-team footprint of a country of 50 million onto this vast land of 300 million. Euro-snobbery is when you unreflectively expect all leagues to operate exactly like the Premier League. This is textbook euro-snobbery.

Nonetheless, some reforms are definitely needed, particularly in youth development, which tends to serve suburban white kids while ignoring Hispanic and African kids. Soccer is now ranked number two (behind NFL) in popularity in certain prized demographic groups, and the fact that the new fans see it as something worth agitating about, however magical their thinking, is a great sign.  Football, and the World Cup, are kind of about magical thinking, anyway. After the USA crashed out, many fatuously vowed to not watch the Cup this year, or to become permanent fans of other nations. Fat chance. But millennials are not the only football fans who lack logic.

A Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, editors: As in the 2006 World Cup. This is a book about how football affects entire nations in ways that defy common sense. I got this during the run up to the highly anticipated, but ultimately disappointing, USA run in the Germany World Cup. The US was ranked number five in the world that year, in complete defiance of common sense, as was proven on the pitch.

It was to go in the bag of culled books to take to the used book store for trade and for shelf space. But as sometimes happens, in scanning it, I got hooked again. Though it sounds outdated, the editors’ approach, much like Franklin Foer’s in How Soccer Explains the World, (highly recommended) is not to concentrate on what the world says about football, but on what football says about the countries who play it. In this case, many of the national teams are the same ones back for the current World Cup, and the observations here are still quite relevant to the cultural landscape, as football tends to be.  

As great change and the frustrations of progressives shakes the country, we acknowledge  that American exceptionalism in sports and in other areas is a real obstacle to American progress, but even liberals might not realize how steeped in it we are. After all, even liberals wear shirts that proudly proclaim their home city’s league team “World Champions”, when the only teams they’ve beaten come from suburbs outside of Boston or Atlanta. The essays here form a travelogue of footballing nations and bring their own failures and triumphs, baked into their cultures, into relief. The millennials who howl do value the power of travel and football to bring nations together. They distrust the spread of global corporatism. Their complaints about Team USA are simplistic, but they are not xenophobic. In them, we hear hope for real change.

There is a weird sort of justice in football. Thomas Jones talks about the justice of Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal vs. England in Mexico ’86 (One of the first WC games I can remember watching on American TV) in the context of the fall of the Argentinian junta after the Falklands War of 1982. He is not the only one to mention that war, with the posturing of a conservative government in England that the dispossessed hooligans in England instinctively lashed out against.

Tom Vanderbilt and Eric Schlosser write about exceptionalism in other white, progressive societies, Netherlands and Sweden, respectively. And Sayid Sayrafezadeh and Binyavanga Wainaina wrestle with the complexities and culture shock of leaving more anglicized societies to visit ancestral nations (Iran and Togo). Strong men, ayatollahs, and juntas use football no less than corporate oligarchs. Supporter culture often stands in opposition to these forces, and that’s why, in the world, football is the only game that matters.

Other favorites: Robert Coover in post-Franco Spain, watching the 1982 WC in an immigrant neighborhood, in the stadium of the OTHER Barcelona football club, and Wendell Steavenson on the political currents surrounding football in Tunisia under Ben Ali, later deposed in the Arab Spring, along with James Surowiecki, who writes about disillusionment in Poland after the fall of the Iron Curtain. 

Dave Eggers writes the USA segment (surplus to requirements this year!) with an exaggerated humor that manages to both highlight and embody American sports exceptionalism. Foer himself contributes an afterword on which political system is more likely to win the Cup. Fascist dictatorships and military juntas have gotten a large share, but social democracy is still the best system. Proto-fascist, post-truth oligarchies are not mentioned, and perhaps we can get a more winning approach at the voting booth soon; by relegating the oligarchs, and promoting someone less a buffoon. Here is the real corruption.

All of the essays are interesting, even the second time through; some barely touch on soccer at all. All in all, this is a hard book to put in the trade bag, and I would welcome something like this for each World Cup, but sales were probably never impressive. The millennials, who are way ahead of most Americans in their understanding of why the world is so passionate about ‘proper’ football, will change that, and sooner than we think.

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Summer Class Update

May 08, 2018

We rearranged the ASLD print room for a more open feel and to add storage and more work areas.

Here’s a heads up that my June Monotype Starter workshop is nearly filled, so if you’d like to take it, you’ll need to move fast. There are often last minute drop-outs, so request to be on the waiting list if all the spots are filled.

There are normally plenty of spots left during the Summer Art Market, and I tell people to come down and see my booth ( 97 this year) and ask questions if they like, but that may not work this year. There are still plenty of spots for Monotype Portfolio, a second class in the series, for people wanting to pursue the medium.

My one-day Monotype Blast is in early August this year, and I’m planning to add a class or two in Fall. Watch for the new catalog in late August.

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