While You Were Away…

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.

SAM and Summer Doings

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.

Mo’ Activity

My haul of delicious prints from Saturday’s #MoPrint2018 Open Portfolio event at Redline Gallery. Clockwise from top left, prints by Jeff Russell (etching w/ Chine Colle’) Greg Santos (silkscreen), Michael Keyes, Michael Keyes (both woodcuts), Sasha Thackeray (aquatint etching), Holly White (linocut), Javier Flores (woodcut reduction), and Sasha Thackeray(etching w/ Chine Colle’).

My interview with Westword’s Susan Froyd is up on the site today. It’s in association with Month of Printmaking Colorado, along with several other printmakers: Jennifer Ghormley, Taiko Chandler, Sue Oehme. It’s a privilege to be included in this series, and it’s a joy to be involved in the burgeoning Denver printmaking community, which for reasons mentioned below, is very supportive and friendly. This includes Westword itself, really. Mo’Print has an all volunteer organizing committee; we try hard to market and publicize professionally, but over the last five years, Susan Froyd, Michael Paglia, and Patty Calhoun have never failed to give it the attention I feel it deserves. This has really helped prevent it from slipping through the cracks during its early stages. I try to return the favor to the community in the interview, and in other ways, as printmaking really enriches my life.

It’s been a busy month owing to #MoPrint2018, and I’m pretty happy with most of the shows and events I’ve been involved with. I had a blast Saturday at the Open Portfolio event at Redline, selling and trading prints in a relaxed setting.

I have two more events upcoming, one of which is the Studio + Print Tour, which I’ll do at the Art Students League Print Room from 10-4 with two or three other artists from the League. Mami Yamamoto and Taiko Chandler will be there too. We’ll probably have snacks and prints there, but later that evening, there will be the Ink Mixer at Ink Lounge, where you can get beer and snacks and see their silk screen set-up and mix with artists and printmakers.

The diversity is incredible. When I joined the 12-15 member Month of Printmaking Colorado organizing committee in early 2013, I think we felt that we knew, or knew of- all the major players in Colorado printmaking. Wrong. Silkscreeners, lithography artists, bookmakers, letterpress artists and more came out of the wood work. Not students or dabblers, mind, though there are plenty of those as well, but career printmakers, small business people, educators. Accomplished creatives, in other words.

One of the few perks of being an artist is the ability to trade for an art collection. For me, lately that has meant prints. Here’s a photo of my haul from Saturday. It’s worth noting that several of these are from artists I had just met that day. I think because printmaking is regarded traditionally as a fairly humble corner of the art market, and because we often need to congregate in groups to utilize public presses, that printmaking has a social component that some media don’t have. One of these community presses, Mark Lunning’s Open Press is moving out of town owing to the real estate inflation. I’ll miss Mark and Open Press, and I’ll write a post about them soon.

Month of Printmaking 2018 and Other Doings

“Conceptual Studio”, Monotype. Actually an impression of a very real studio where I worked during a residency in Sheridan, WY. It is up for auction to benefit the Art Students League of Colorado during their “Art and Soul” gala, February 10.

I’m Preparing art for a number of different shows and events this Spring. Most are related to the MoPrint (Month of Printmaking) festival of events and I’m organizing one event myself. It makes for a busy schedule.

“Master Printer and Print Educators of Colorado”, McNichols Building 3rd Floor, January 13-April 8 : This one has already opened, though viewing hours are limited, and the venue is often closed for private parties. The best way to see it may be the MoPrint Kick Off event on February 23 at 6-9 PM. I will be there. I have 3 pieces in the show ( I fall into the second category in the title), but I did not have any large work ready for the show.

“Hand Pulled: Mark Lunning’s Open Press”, PACE Center, Parker, Co, March 2-April 30: This is a show honoring the Open Press artists. The printmaking facility on Bayaud Ave run by Master Printer Mark Lunning is soon to close and move to Sterling, Colorado owing to the rapidly dwindling affordable space for arts orgs during the recent development boom. I haven’t worked there in a couple of years, since I now do most of my work at the Arts Students League, so this show will feature 3-5 large pieces from my past work there. It will be a mini retrospective of sorts. Opens March 2, 5:30-8 PM

Open Portfolio, Redline Gallery, March 17, 2-5 PM: This will probably be the most affordable show I’ve done in a long time. It was a fun show during the last MoPrint (2016) so I’ve decided to join it this year. Every artist has more art than they can sell, and this will be for printmakers, a chance to clean out the flat files at bargain prices, and that’s just what I’m doing. You’ll also see a lot of young artists trying to launch a name for themselves, I’m sure. Starting a print collection, and on a budget?

Art and Soul, Art Students League, February 10: This is the major fundraiser for the League, a big party with food and art auctions to benefit the school, and I always donate a piece. Tickets here.

artma, February 8: A fairly glitzy event that benefits The Morgan Adams Foundation.org. This year it will be in the Evans School at 11th and Acoma, an opportunity in itself to see this historic building.

I’ll mention here that many of us artists are approached by charity auctions on a regular basis. Any auction is risky to begin with, as it can be damaging to your ‘market value’, especially if poorly organized and callous about their donating artists’ career needs, as many appallingly are.

This is not one of those, however. artma is the creme de la creme of charity auctions, with artists on the board of the event, professional treatment for donating artists, and an overall spirit of gratitude for artists’ generosity. I’ve been donating for several years because of this.

Meininger Art Supply, Broadway, March 3, 11-1 PM: I’ll be doing a monotype demo here. It’s a fun place to do one, and well equipped for the large groups they usually get. It’s about an hour, but you get a coupon at the end. Come early for a good seat, though they have mirrors and PA, so it works in the cheap seats, too.

Monotype-aThon, Art Students League, March 3, 9-5 PM: Same day! I’ll rush over there to join eight other artists doing 2-3 hour shifts, with the public invited to watch and kibbitz. There will be prints donated for sale to benefit the League and MoPrint, light snacks and lots of different approaches to monotype making.

A Moxie U class at the Art Students League, March 15, provides a more ‘hands-on’ intro to monotypes, with materials provided and all the ink mixing and prep done for you. It’s less than $35, so it’s a great way to celebrate Moprint 2018!

I’ll have a complete list of all Spring workshops soon.

I’ll look for some of you at these events. Feel free to come say hello and chat.

Westering

Gun ownership is inevitably in the news again. For most who defend its increase in the wake of the carnage it creates, it is a power fantasy. In a country where the long term trend is downward in crime, and where terrorism hasn’t gotten the foothold it has in Europe and other places, the actual need for firearms is quite low, and the fetish of gun ownership is mostly about a male cowboy/crime fiction fantasy scenario where problems (including psychotic rage) are easily solved with the correct ordnance.

The proven fact that the opposite is the actual result of unlimited ownership of weaponry- the society becomes less secure, more regimented, less just- hasn’t intruded in any meaningful way into the NRA-sponsored fantasy. Where did it come from?

“Westering”, 2009, Monotype, 32×44″

Westering: When I got the invitation to show with other ASL instructors at the state capitol, I thought immediately of this piece, which is older, but has been seen only in a couple of small shows. It is ostensibly a landscape, one of many, I’m sure, that have hung under Colorado’s golden dome, but its theme is much more complex, as it alludes to the American push westward. Though the print hasn’t been a centerpiece in my exhibition history, I’d like to explicate the thinking behind it which holds a very central place in my landscape years, roughly 1999-2009.

The association in the American spirit/mind of heading west with individual freedom and opportunity dates back to the Puritans. It is now expressed in xenophobic ultra right wing politics of survivalists and gun fetishists, but other subcultures, such as environmentalists have also  drawn inspiration from the American move westward. Artists such as Moran, Twain and Bierstadt have made both poetry and cash from selling this vision back to the populace. And the Arcadian/Rousseau myth of humans at peace in nature’s solitude relates in a complex way with the gun totin’ loner.These Right and Left fantasies are inextricably linked. I myself left my decaying Great Lakes region rust belt childhood home to escape the decay and drug fueled lassitude there as a teen, and spent time in transcendently beautiful and stubbornly racist Wyoming,

I’m quite vocal about my politics elsewhere, but in my artwork, this is about as political as it often gets. One of the last elements added to the print was the small enclosure next to the windowless structure, symbolizing isolation, aggressive aquisitiveness and the closed mind of the typical “home on the range”, now a fortified compound in many minds. This bunker mentality has had a big effect on American politics of late, and certainly is intrinsic to the gun fantasy.

This isn’t a criticism of rural living per se, or even gun ownership. We could all use a little dialogue with our neighbors, and our poisonous politics proves how the urge to ‘head west’, rather than learn to live with each other, is one of the country’s greatest threats. It derives from the Puritan notion of the individual’s right to ‘treat with God’ in his own way. It reaches horrifying apotheosis in the ‘lone wolf’- style shooting spree, one against the hordes.

In an age where ‘compromise’ is a dirty word (sometimes on both sides of the aisle), an understanding of this complex psychological, and very American impulse can get lost. I was always very satisfied with what I was able to say in this picture, and now through December, I’ll have my ‘say’ in the halls of government. If only the majority wishing for an end to carnage had theirs.

This image relates to memory and the way we move through it.
“Man With Torch”, Monotype, 30×42″, 2004.

Carrying a Torch: While I’m glorying in the exhibition, I’ll mention that I’ve had work hanging in both the state and nation’s capitol complexes. This print, entitled “Man with Torch” hung in Senator Bennet’s office in DC for a year as part of a juried program to showcase Colorado’s artists. Many also consider this one pretty political, and while I don’t argue with the obvious ecological interpretation, it was actually concieved of as a commentary upon memory and our human urge to destroy and remake the past constantly, in the process endangering our future relations. I quickly realized how apropos it was to the environment, but that’s not how my mind was working as I made it, as a reaction to an earlier smaller piece, “Woman With Torch”, which really isn’t political or even existential commentary at all, but as often happens with early, smaller pieces of mine, made simply as a compelling image. But a picture’s allusive qualities often creates great appeal for the viewer, I’ve learned, through many conversations in my booth at the Summer Art Market.

There’s always more than the surface intention to the story of a work’s creation of course, but I try to honestly convey what I was thinking at the time, for what it’s worth. The viewer often gives me a -valuable- different story. John Lennon always maintained that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by the innocent words of his five year old son, but most of us who lived through its  popularity always considered it a song about hallucinogens. It’s disingenuous to believe Lennon was unaware of this, and art creates a meaning of its own. The artist is often not in control of this process.

Please comment with your own take if you have seen “Westering”.

I Hope You All Enjoyed The Show.

I have a post I didn’t have time to finish and post last week, on the Beatles’ 50th anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, June 1. I didn’t post it with the rush to prepare for the annual Summer Art Market show. That went okay, with the main news being I won “Best In Show.” I’ll put up an album of photos soon. But here’s the Beatles post, and I’ve got another that I never posted, so I’m going to finish that, too.

 

It was 50 years ago today. We’ve been seeing that almost obligatory headline a lot recently, as the media return to a longtime, can’t-miss subject: The Beatles, and the anniversary of the release of their ground-breaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Everyone old enough will have memories of this release, which was a watershed in both artistic and cultural, even political history. Its effect is probably emotional for some people who lived it, and difficult to describe to those who weren’t there without using hyperventilated superlatives. The Beatles were sort of magical at that time; the hair- a big issue then, the flippancy, the “more popular than Jesus” defiance. There were some Goldwater Republicans and what we then called “Jesus Freaks” who hated them, but no one else did. It’s important to note- you young whippersnappers! -that no later artist, no Prince, no U2, R.E.M., Beyonce or Katy Perry, has ever had that grip on the imaginations of the young.

Suffice it to say, I’ll never be all that distant from Sgt. Pepper’s. It seems a part of me, and retains its immediacy. For one thing, at that time Sgt. Pepper’s was the only show in town. But it’s become fashionable to place it behind Revolver in the Beatles’ canon.

Like many, I’ve read a lot of books on the Beatles. My two go-tos, musically, remain Tell Me Why, by Tim Riley, a song-by-song analysis of the musical and lyrical structures of all their albums, and The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, by Mark Lewison, a day-to day record of their studio work with George Martin. Both provide critical analysis, as well as cultural and biographical context for their many moods and innovations. As I’ve mentioned here before, The Beatles Anthology albums (Vols. 1-3), with their out takes, creative progressions and studio half-steps, are an indispensable companion. Also search out The Atlantic’s The Power of Two, (July 2014) by Joshua Wolf Shenk, a shorter analysis of what made the Lennon and McCartney collaboration so effective.

In 1967, others, notably rivals The Rolling Stones, were still standing on the shoulders of blues giants. The Beatles however, had leveraged their unassailable chart postings by quitting touring, and had unlimited studio time to explore pop, folk and psychedelia.

On Pepper’s, the sheer power of George Martin’s control room vision can no longer cover up the centrifugal motion of Lennon and McCartney’s artistic intentions. On Revolver, we hear McCartney’s R&B masterpiece “Got to Get You Into My Life” moments before one of the first great 60’s psychedelic/mystic songs, Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”. They are clearly moving apart musically. But with Pepper’s, their ideas are still engaged in metaphorical dialog, thanks in part to its loose concept (faux Victorian psychedelic nostalgia, which quickly became the rage for pop bands, and eventually informed steam punk genre fiction and fashion). Three songs epitomize the Pepper album’s failures and its triumphs. One is on the album, two are not.

The first is “A Day In The Life”. It is the emotional core of an album that has been criticized for not having one, when compared with the worldly love songs and social realism of Revolver.  But its disjunct between bouncy pop and existential questioning is part of its brilliance, and the Atlantic article defines this as part of Lennon and McCartney’s collective genius, the tendency of John and Paul to respond to each other’s ideas, in the same way that the dreamy search for identity in Strawberry Fields plays off against the uncannily superrealist nostalgia of Penny Lane, the other two songs I allude to above.

This is the real problem with the record: it’s not complete. In early 1967, their record labels Parlophone and Capitol, anxious that a cash cow single had not been seen for all of 10 months, were pressuring the band, just liberated from brutal touring schedules, for a new 45. The fireman rushes in, indeed. The labels’ release schedule was out of sync with their creative one. Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane were two of the few songs ready. But by custom, these midterm singles were not included on the subsequent album. By late April, work had begun on several other songs, and only a month after Pepper, the “All You Need Is Love” single is released. No song was ever released from  SPLHCB as a single, in fact. “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” are included in December on another Capitol mash-up, the “Magical Mystery Tour LP.  It’s treated as a trivial oddity if mentioned at all, but is in fact a pop artistic tragedy on a par with a lost Shakespeare play. Or perhaps it’s enough to state that George Martin called the songs’ omission from the record “a dreadful mistake”. He’s right- only those two songs refer both to the floating anxiety of Lennon’s distant, ironicized dreamscapes brought together with McCartney’s photorealism in one disturbing “Day”, between morning newspaper and first cigarette.

In A Day In The Life, the Beatles themselves puncture their own nostalgic Victorian band conceit before the record even ends. As Riley points out, in a useful discussion of the song’s metaphoric soundscape, the spare acoustic guitar opening of Day emerges from the fading illusion of Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise), and Lennon’s dreamy absurdity ( “4000 holes”) asks us to ponder what is real and what is illusion. We hear an alarm clock; the dream is over-  a studio alarm clock included in an early take as a time marker inspires McCartney’s man on the bus smoking segment, which plays what is in this context, as quotidian zombie horror, as his working stiff rushes for the bus. This daydream plays off perfectly against Lennon’s existential nightmare.

Without Penny Lane, however, The crystalline nostalgia of McCartney’s hyperrealist suburban vignettes (When I’m 64, Lovely Rita) can sound gratuitous and superficial next to the anxiety-prone absurdity of Lennon’s hallucinogenic Victoriana ( Good Morning, Mr. Kite). These songs, in turn, sound like LSD fripperies without the primal identity quest (“No one, I think, is in my tree”) of Strawberry Fields to anchor them. “Fields”- about an orphanage grounds, and “Lane”, about an everyday intersection, center the ideas of the Pepper sessions as no other song, other than “A Day”, can. The metaphoric backstory of the album begins with these childhood memories and ends with Paul and Martin’s orchestrated crescendos, knitting disparate sounds and leading to a note of attenuated anticipation, a sort of definitive ambiguity. What’s next, the long closing note asks? Martin was excited by the creative effusion, and anxious to return to the studio. But the band, in retrospect, suddenly seemed adrift.

“A crowd of people stood and stared” referring perhaps, to the just-exited Sgt. Pepper’s audience? Or to the Beatles themselves? Nobody was sure what exactly they were seeing. The disjunct between Lennon’s dark apocalyptic dreamscape; and the sunny clarity of McCartney’s blue suburban skies is explained, as a dream within a dream. It all adds up to a kind of existential, hallucinogenic identity crisis,  one that mirrors the one many of us, in large parts of society as a whole, experienced then. But the Beatles, now without Brian Epstein, might’ve been having one, too.

It brings up the question of what might have been released instead of these two songs, and the correct answer is, really, “Who cares?” “When I’m 64” was the other song ready in February 1967, and would be no great loss to the album, where it’s more of a breathing space between more meaningful songs. Same with “Within You Without You” which fits only by virtue of geography into the album’s loose concept. But that brings up band politics, as it was Harrison’s only song on the album. So why not include them all? Recording technology was apparently an issue. Sgt. Pepper runs 39 minutes, Revolver, 35. Mostly, though, it was commerce triumphing over art.

For the Beatles’ part, they’d made themselves clear on this issue with the “butcher” cover to the spurious Capitol Records release Yesterday and Today, but never seemed to have returned to the issue. “Well I just had to laugh” is, as Riley notes, a token of resigned disillusionment.

By the time Pepper’s was released, they’d recorded several sessions for Magical Mystery Tour. Self indulgence was rearing its head. On the very day of the Pepper album release, Lewison reports the Beatles in studio, recording unplanned and “frankly tedious” jams. Perhaps it was the Beatles themselves who had lost their emotional core. Did they have an inkling that some element of magic had gone mysteriously missing? Had hubris set in? But if the album does fail, it’s a failure of execution, not of artistic vision. Sgt. Pepper’s, always great in terms of its cultural influence, if not in terms of its artistic cohesion,  was sacrificed to an already outdated business plan.

 

Walk Right In?

Textures and graphic effects are a way of bringing energy to a print composition. A highly detailed texture will attract the eye and demand attention, a subtle one will invite mental rest and contemplation. A heavier, darker texture or a very transparent one will tend to create depth by playing off what’s behind or underneath it. In this three staged monotype, I had some fairly unique coloring and a balanced, if plain image, and I put it aside with a vague feeling of disappointment as it really didn’t have a lot of intrigue. Intrigue can be defined in prints, probably in all art, as something, a bit of mystery or surprise that might keep the eye exploring the picture, possibly to extract meaning ( or determine if meaning is indeed there), or to solve the puzzle of its composition, or simply to bring the visual exploration to a fairly logical stopping point.

In this case, I didn’t want to give up on the print because I liked the sense of calm, or is it desolation? which I think comes from the pink light and the fairly empty expanse on the left side. So I wanted to heighten that distance and light, without cluttering the picture.

I did this print last year, and while I loved the strange colors and stylized interplay between positive and negative elements, it seemed too sparse to call finished.

The picture was also a bit sparse though, lacked a real focal point and featured mostly hard edges. I wanted to add a bit of visual richness and narrative movement while maintaining the graphic simplicity.

First I added in some more visual elements in the foreground which enhanced the designerly, modernist look of the first layer, and although these are also hard-edged shapes (created with mylar overlays), I think the addition of more complexity in the foreground makes the emptiness in the background more pronounced.

I added some foreground darks to create a focal point in opposition to the rather empty background.

Then I thickened the glade at the right avoiding too much clutter, by adding some trace monotype lines.

I rediscoverd trace monotype, a favorite from Paul Klee’s early work in my art history class days, and decided to experiment with it to see if it might add to these pictures I’d never finished. It has a fairly spontaneous and softer-edged feel to it as opposed to the hard edge of the mylar stencilling, which might, given the subject ( strangely lit glade) add some visual balance. The softer-edged elements were placed in front of the earlier graphic elements, not usually how you do it, but as in photography, the depth of field is being manipulated to sharpen and highlight middle ground elements, an example of what I mean by visual intrigue. When you highlight or sharpen the middle ground, you are, in effect, asking the viewer to “enter” past the foreground elements. Like pushing to the front of the crowd for a street busker, say, it asks for a bit of commitment.

It added a bit of “dirty” look to the print, which adds an edgy but also timeless feel to the modernist hard edges. Blacks ( not too heavy) always add depth by bringing out color and balancing tones, which here were sitting mostly in the middle-light to middle-dark range except the ghostly whites. I used the trace mainly for spindly forest brush (plant) images and ground debris which adds a bit of suggested perspective and realistic “bottom” to the pic, but also a kind of synaesthesia in that one can imagine the crackling of twigs, which draws one in to the place depicted. It’s also somewhat calligraphic and hints at a story in the scene. The second layer of leafy designs in mylar  plays off the twigs to create a sort of diversity of textures and heightens the original play of positive negative space in the pic. I like that the imagery is denser, but the two image sets are now in a bit of visual tension with each other in a sort of necker cube shift of dark and light. Is the white log stencil some sort of border treatment, or is it a log that has shifted to another dimension. A ghost log? I always enjoy signal-to-noise problems, and this one suggests information degradation or decay, since it exists at the edge of the picture plane, where an image might be expected to fade anyway.

Whether this all works is of course for the viewer to decide, but as the “first” viewer, it made me happier.  This was a print which seemingly had no chance of ever being seen by the public, until I decided that other textures might make it just intriguing enough to show ( Yes, I have to see intrigue, or at least stylistic interplay in something before I can bring myself to show it). It seemed to lack any sort of visual grace or interior dialog beyond the pink and brown coloring, which I always loved, and which probably kept it near the top of the stack of unfinished items, rather than buried in a flat file. It seems to have a fair amount of depth and “placeness” in it now. It’s a place I would like to go to and walk around in, so I went there.

You can see it and judge for yourself at the Art Students League Summer Art Market, June 10-11, Booth #96, where I’ll be showing it along with work by my booth mate, Taiko Chandler.

The finished piece has quite a bit more texture, including rub marks from the trace monotype.

Workshop Update for Summer

I’ve updated my workshop page (click at the top) with Summer workshop information and links. The registration for these opened up this week and most have already had enrollees, so don’t wait too long. The first, Monotypes for Advanced Beginners is intended for those who have been printing in recent years, and want to explore a more intermediate level- finished, frame-able work for a show or portfolio perhaps; larger, multi-layered work, or those who need only a minimal refresher in print room technique who want to execute a project or series. There are still openings for this one, which begins June 20, 6-9:30 PM. It runs  5 weeks, excluding July 4.

I’m adding more workshops, and alternating more between morning and evening sessions, so if you don’t see a time slot that works for you, check back for Fall, and it’ll probably be offered.

I’m preparing a long post on the intersection of comics and fine art, but it’s been busy, so I’m not sure when I’ll have it ready. I’m finishing new work in the studio, and I’ll have some new photos to post in mid-May. Summer Art Market is coming June 10-11!

Summertime Update

Sincere thanks, as always, to the folks who came by during the Art Students League Summer Art Market a couple of weekends ago. It’s always a fun show, and this was another successful one. It’s also a lot of work and often comes during the year’s first full-on heat wave, as did this year’s, so I rewarded myself with a week’s vacation on the back porch with a stack of new reading material. So I haven’t posted, but expect a book post soon; it’s already being written.

I also hied myself down to the DAM for a first peek at the “Women in Abstract Expressionism” show that is attracting a significant amount of national attention. I wanted to get in while the conversation is still just beginning, and I’m joining it soon with a post of first impressions which may be posted here as quickly as a day or two, as I’m in the final edits with that.

My Summer workshops have started again. Most are sold out, but one, “Monotypes for Advanced Beginners“, starting in July, still has space left at last check. It’s intended for people with recent printmaking experience, so contact me if you are in doubt.  If you missed out on one of the others, the Fall schedule for those will be confirmed, and posted here in not too long.

I’ve tentatively added a free Meininger’s Demo and Dialogue to the schedule for November’s Denver Arts Week. I’ll post on the Workshops page when I confirm date and time. I don’t have a lot of free stuff going on this year, but the Meininger demos are real fun, with a great space and usually a good crowd, so I thought you should know.

I hope you are having a great beginning of Summer!

 

 

Ab Expression: First Impressions

"Epic", Judith Godwin (Detail)
“Epic”, Judith Godwin (Detail)

I took a preliminary stroll through “Women of Abstract Expressionism”, the new and ground-breaking show of “under reported and undervalued” artists from the NYC and SF art scenes of the 40’s-60’s.I wanted to leave all pronounciness at the door, and let the show simply wash over me.

After an initial wide-eyed cruise through the show to take in the lay of the land, the groupings of multiple and various works by each artist, the rich colors, broad or frenzied strokes and gooped-on paint so characteristic of Ab Ex, I began to entertain myself with more ancillary aspects of the show, as outlined in the title cards.

There are 12 artists in the show, most of them now dead. I will not speculate on the role the omnipresent cigarettes dangling from their lips in contemporary photos may have played in this.

Frankenthaler, Krasner, Mitchell and DeKooning have, honestly, long been heavyweights, at least among the cognoscenti. Undervalued, perhaps (out of my league), but certainly not as under reported as several others that I, at least, have never heard of. This provides its own sort of pleasure, as the “bucket list” aspect of the viewing, the anticipated “wow” of seeing the male superstars of Ab Ex is washed away, and a freshness of first impressions takes its place.

A Joy DeFeo in blacks, grays and distressed whites is now on my bucket list for destination viewing in future visits. Mary Abbott shows a diversity of ideas; Pearl Fine’s use of non-traditional materials in painting anticipates Anselm Kiefer’s.

The design of the show, with its generous samplings of each artist, gives perspective. The artists’ own words and work defeats any lingering temptation to typecast along gender lines. For example, it’s hard to miss a large signature Krasner piece at the entrance in defiantly “pretty” pinks; and another later in the show which is awash in a lucsious magenta paired with a spring green. Yet a superficial impulse to judge these in terms of “feminine” qualities is quickly defeated by two nearby stunners executed in a potent, slashing brown/black, their insomniac beiges,drips and spatters palpably all her own, despite the famous “action” of her husband’s multi-million dollar canvasses. Krasner must have known by then that she was fated to become recognized primarily as Jackson Pollack’s wife. In this grouping, we can detect irony, resistance, anxiety and disappointment. And the ever present cigarettes in the photos perhaps speak to a jaded resignation, as they were wont to do in movies of the period.

Similarly, Elaine DeKooning shows an explosively chromatic “Bullfight”, which must certainly be related in many minds to her husband Willem’s work. But across the way are two portraits (of Willem) that in their measured flowing gesture and dark contemplative atmospherics of tone and color, must also qualify as two of the most unique in the show.

The exception that perhaps proves the rule is found in the opening vistas of the show, in the work of Helen Frankenthaler, whose soft pastel colors and abstract, misty riverine washes suggest flowery effusions and vulva-like redoubts in direct lineage to the delicate, so-designated cunts and petals of Georgia O’Keefe. But as the show notes steadfastly maintain, they primarily attest to her innovative and influential discovery of a staining process which spawned an entire movement, color field painting. So the scholarship behind the show is strong, and revelatory, and clearly not afraid to address the inevitable gender issues head-on and straightforwardly.

Nor is Krasner the only artist to allude, if only subconsciously, to the gender gap and its connotations. In a time when Freudian interpretation was still very influential, Judith Godwin, in “Epic”, situates a vaguely erectile swath of black and purple in a field of warming whites. Positive and negative space, good and evil, figure and ground, hidden grotto or towering monument, they are in a state of eternal flux in this show stopping canvas. And so might have Godwin’s ambivalence about her station in the art world expressed itself as well. But for the most part, the women of Ab Ex did their jobs for years despite the iniquities of the art market.

One interesting title card revelation: the testimonial evidence that San Francisco, as an American art scene outlier, was not afflicted with the sexist repressions of the well-monied NY city scene. This is a perspective especially appropriate to a place like Denver, where almost every artist, male or female, is “undervalued and under reported.” It speaks to the balance and thoughtfulness of the show’s curation, by DAM’s Dr. Gwen Chanzit.

Several of the works, by the way, are now in the collection of the DAM itself. This show is not a hasty band wagon leaping-on, a middle American museum calling desperately for attention. The museum clearly intended to find a niche for itself in this area for a while now and will continue to make this type of inquiry in the future. A previously installed, but related exhibition on the level below provides context for this show in a brief but well balanced look at Ab Ex as a whole. You shouldn’t miss it, because it supplies sketches and smaller works by some of the artists in the feature show.

There is much to be said for solitary and spontaneous wanderings through a show like this. It allows one to “listen” to what the show has to say. This show, though it attempts to set the historical record straight, also gives ear to these artists, as artists. I suspect that this show will become one of the more significant conversation starters in Denver- and the nation’s- cultural history.