Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

Craftsmanship is not a word I had ever entertained in the same sentence with the name Julian Schnabel. And because of my biases towards actually caring about the visual component of Visual Art, I had all but written him off in my mind. No, to be totally honest I had completely written him off.

However, I was taken by surprise when I happened to stumble upon his latest exhibition at Claire Oliver while dropping some work off at my gallery on W 26th st. At first, I was entranced by the distant light of what appeared to be stained glass windows glowing in the gray mist of a rainy Wednesday morning. Had Claire Oliver been turned into some minimalist cathedral? I thought this unlikely so I decided to investigate. Upon closer examination, my first impression was of exultation. I had found the contemporary iconographer: who I dearly wished to be myself if I could only shake the monkey of seductive Baroque light off my back. My second impression was of shock- for I saw the name Julian Schnabel stenciled on the wall, above the aptly named show:

Burning Inside.

Which is how I felt. I quickly cycled through the five stages of grief:

Denial:This couldn't be Julian Schnabel. There's no way.
Anger: Why would he do this? This isn't his territory! He should stick to his cracked china, dissonant colors, and crudely drawn figures!
Bargaining: OK, you can have stained glass, but you can't monopolize contemporary iconography or beauty.
Depression: Who am I kidding? I don't understand the art world. Maybe I should just quit.
Acceptance: You know, if he's starting to think about aesthetics that means there's a growing market for it. This could be a good thing for me.

You see, I felt as if the team for passion and sincerity in art had finally won a big name over from the dark side, or a Franciscan monk who had just converted a Benedictine theologian. Gothic references aside (and also my self-righteousness), I think that the slight aroma of humor and sarcasm did slip in at times to the detriment of this near mannered mastery of the more sincere pieces.

The artist has gathered bits of the Byzantine clerestory, alchemically bound the light into a Gothic exploration of contemporary subjects - the abject ascetic business man seated on an English bench; a forlorn Ophelia poisoned in her room of startling geometric beauty. But my favorite piece (above) hangs in the entrance, encouraging inquiry: the androgynous and slightly decaying princess of somewhere bearing witness to the Guernica death of innocence, caught between the diametric opposition of two cosmic forces. This is My One Desire.

Just as I grew warm with the thought, I glanced again at the name on the wall and my tepid soul reversed the sensation. It seems that I had not looked closely enough. All the hopes of the past half hour had been dashed upon the tiles of Clair Oliver's floor like the heart of a sordid lover. Well, perhaps not that badly, but I was sadly mistaken. The name on the wall was in fact Judith Schaechter and not Julian Schnabel. Well, of course, that explains everything.

But, this message is to Julian Schnabel if by some strange twist of fate he might come across this article: Oddly, I still harbor a dim and newly founded hope that you'll come join us while there's still time. The grass is truly greener over here.

And to Judith Schaechter, thank you for the beautiful work. It stands on its own regardless of what name is attached to it - a testament to time and man's quest for meaning. I am sincerely glad it was you and not him.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Clean Revolution

Many people have criticized the fact that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, sometimes to the point of being livid. (I don't want to point fingers, but it's mostly republicans.) When I inquire why it makes them angry they list off reasons such as his contesting the 2000 election (unrelated), the idea that he's an economic elitist (related?), or they (ironically) say that he hasn't done enough to get his message out: they claim that he refuses to debate the point with an intelligent opposition. Regardless of the fact that he is a figure head and not a scientist. It is the scientists responsibility to debate the data, I think it is his (self chosen) responsibility to convey the information to the public. In the same breath they'll say that global warming isn't an issue of peace. But mostly these people question the veracity of An Inconvenient Truth - claiming that it's an exaggeration, that it's the worst case scenario. They further say that it is politically motivated. They don't tend to follow a logical line of reasoning, but merely throw out scattered and unrelated arguments to undercut his validity.

I must admit that the first time I saw the documentary, I also thought that it was only portraying the worst case scenario. However, I thought that it was necessary in order to get people's attention, and for the most part it has been effective. But as I've followed the research, more data is being revealed which paints a much more frightening picture than An Inconvenient Truth even hinted. First, there's the rate of ice melt on the north pole and in glaciers, which is accelerating much faster than all of the worst case projections. Then there's the report of the deterioration of CO2 sinks such as oceans and plants, which are loosing their capacity to absorb CO2 at the previous rates. The oceans are becoming over-saturated and acidic, the weather patterns are changing and disrupting plant growth.

Specifically, oceans and plant growth absorbed only around 540 kilograms per metric ton (1,190 pounds per short ton) of the CO2 produced in 2006, compared with 600 kilograms per metric ton (1,322 pounds per short ton) in 2000. Coupled with an emissions growth rate of 3.3 percent—triple the growth rate of the 1990s—the atmospheric burden is now rising by nearly two parts per million of CO2 a year, the fastest growth rate since 1850, the international team of researchers reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

New maritime measurements over the past decade also show that the North Atlantic's ability to absorb CO2 has been cut in half, according to researchers from the University of East Anglia who were not affiliated with the study by Canadell and his colleagues. "Until now, we thought that the decline in the efficiency of natural sinks was going to happen during the 21st century and more strongly during [its] second half," Canadell says. "If we didn't [include in the assumptions] that this was going to happen [so soon], have we underestimated the decline in the efficiency into the future?"
Just ice melt and CO2 absorption alone will drastically change the model projections for the next 50 years. But the research continues to mount, leading scientists and myself to believe that the doomsday scenario portrayed in An Inconvenient Truth might seem like a walk in the park compared to what may already be occurring.

We haven't had such a rate of emissions growth and pollution since the 1850's, in other words The Industrial Revolution. And we already know the results of that. Only 100 years later, our rivers were literally burning! CFC's were eating holes in the ozone layer, cancer rates jumped drastically. You couldn't drink water, breath, or swim without being seriously confronted with toxins. Though we've cleaned up our streams (somewhat), outlawed CFC's, and have reversed some of the local environmental pollutants, we are now dealing with an issue that is truly and unequivocally global. A rate of unchecked destruction like the Industrial Revolution, magnified by our greater technological power and the vastly larger population will not just compromise our health within the next 100 years, it will destroy our civilization as we know it. It will effect everyone, but especially the poor. It will lead to starvation, disease, never before fathomed masses of refugees, and violent conflicts over space and resources both in our own back yards and on a global level.

What will it take for us to give a damn about our children's and even our own future? What will it take to truly start The Clean Revolution?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Age of Prodigy

Marla Olmstead.
Many have called her a child prodigy, though I would gather, not on the level of Picasso who created superb realist pieces before the age of 14.
Nonetheless, her fame began at the age of four, and its persistence beyond the usual one-hit-wonder factor leads me to ask this question:

Is she the artistic equivalent of Buddha: a mystic reincarnation of an artist's soul and at the age of seven, amazingly knowns more art history than most cram into a college degree?

I've noticed from looking at her work, that the "child prodigy" references a great deal of artists who have come before her.

A simple google search on her can produce a wide array of styles that very nearly emulate Kandinsky, Van Gogh (sunflowers above), Basquiat, Cy Twombly, and a host of others.

Take the piece above, which combines elements of several artists and is perhaps one of her most successful. It incorporates the line language of both Matisse and Picasso, color and compositional elements from Gauguin, and a non-objective collection of German Expressionists and American Ab-Ex. Though I, and many other artists I know, were doing abstract paintings at that age, we most assuredly didn't have the visual vocabulary or hand eye co-ordination to even pull off the variations in line weight, much less the cognitive focus for triangulation of color elements and textural variation.

I'm not saying that I don't think she could or should paint, nor that people shouldn't buy the work. I'm not even saying that I don't like or respect the work (some of it is pretty good). I'm just saying that Occam's razor tells me that her father at the very least touches up the paintings. But, hey - they've got a good thing going here. I hope they've founded a fulfilling father/daughter relationship working together in the studio, which I think is the most important thing.

Call it a performance piece, revealing the machines of the art market. Call it a challenge to the perception of what constitutes a "masterpiece" - such as would hang in a museum. Call it what you will. Just don't call it sincere.

To play the devil's (or divine) advocate for a moment, one might attribute this as evidence of some kind of afterlife or reincarnation, certainly proof of the existence of the soul. There have been documented cases of children purportedly recalling the lives and deaths of WWII fighter pilots, etc... Does this hinge upon whether or not you can rest upon abstract belief? If so, it seems to me that all art rests upon faith - in some form or another. And so, maybe the only important thing is the belief that such a child can exist. After all, children are the future, right? I would certainly like to have faith in their potential for brilliance.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Aspirational and Operational Drawing

I made this untitled drawing tonight (8" x 11") (July 13, 2006) and something in the process triggered memories from a trip I took. I began leafing through my old sketchbooks. Damn it, I have never labeled their spines. I was looking for the sketchbook that I had with me in the late 80's while on a 44 foot sail boat that was attempting to circumnavigate the globe. Three of us left the Puget Sound and two of us came home to our families. Those are tales that I can only tell face to face. Extremes. Tonight, however, I was looking for a drawing that I had done (or thought I had done) that was going to be the kernel of the drawing above. I found the first book from the trip. I was reminded of how hard it is to draw while sailing. . . wind flapping the paper to annoyance and Sisyphean motion testing one's half full/empty glass:
I drew the only things that I could see for awhile. Boat stuff. The sketches are filled with words in the margins. I was reading way too much. There was nothing else to do. Point the boat towards some stars, do some push ups, and then read some Kafka. That was not a healthy combo actually, but, I found these words next to a drawing of a life vest:
Obviously, these are not my words. They are from something that I read. It is a great quote though, isn't it? "Universality is not given, it is perpetually being made." (I couldn't remember who had said this, but I figured that if Harold could give a context to a lyric by the Beta Band, then maybe someone could tell me where I got this. . . . never mind. . . google tells me Sartre created a version of it). We had sailed for over a month without seeing any other humans. Landfall was sweet:
We stopped moving at Fatu Hiva. The trees were like nothing I had ever seen:
The animals were ancient:
I started drawing the tiki figures that I would stumble across (I didn't have a camera on purpose):
(Later, I would turn these drawings into paintings, hence the spatters of paint). The natives seemed to walk past these votive offerings with the same disregard that Seattelites have for their fire hydrants.
Tonight, I wasn't finding the drawing that I thought I had done. I began to pull other sketchbooks from the shelf. In an interesting moment of loopty-loop connection I came across this drawing of a tiki painting I had done that was hanging in a house that I was living in (2 years after standing on Gauguin's grave): Tonight I really connected to this drawing. It is a rendition of a place that had a painting of a drawing of a place that I had been. Plus the Rainer "R" is so pretty. Here is the original tiki drawing:
Tonight I remembered how important sketchbooks are. They represent plotting and doing. You have no idea what connections you might make in the future.

swamp, sampson, whatever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pareidolia: Screaming at the Void

this is another old chestnut from the archives..but it seems pertinent via the discussion regarding abstraction/form..etc.

Kicking around the galleries lately I've been seeing alot of faces. Paintings have been staring back at me..following me as I walk around the room. It's spooky. Aside from an eerie humaness, what seems to be operative in all of these pieces is a visual trope in which the parts and the whole of the picture are in a Phyrric contest for dominance that finds no resolution. This reminds me of the frisson between the philosophical concepts of Nominalism and Realism. The doctrine of Nominalism holds that abstract concepts, general terms, or universals have no independent existence but exist only as names. This would be contrasted to Philosophical Realism, which holds that when we use descriptive terms such as "green" or "tree," the Forms of those concepts really exist, independently of the world in an abstract realm. The paintings in question refuse to be accepted either as parts or as wholes(named objects.."faces"), but instead vibrate between the two-which curiosly recalls the nature of light, alternately described as a wave or particle..some physicists have even referred to it as a "wavicle". Remeber that Arcimboldo famously made faces out of vegetables, and Dali made skulls out of nudes..both image systems operate on the same principle. Getting back to my point, what's exciting about nominalism and it's relationship to pareidolia (the tendency to see faces in random stimuli), is the illustration of one of the perennial problems of philosophy. For example, I often wonder how "society" can phenomenologically be experienced, if it is nothing more than a loose collection of individuals with various beliefs, attitudes, and values. "America" is just an idea, held in various terms by all those who engage in this peculiarly amorphous concept. Conversely, in crude, literal terms one could point to the geographic border of this country for an answer, but this would be ignoring all of those "Non-Americans" that reside within it's borders and contribute to the operation of the concept of "America". It's a problem in perception that's not going away any time soon, but mostly it illustrates that people see really what they wan't to see...what is convenient to them, and what doesn't contradict with the beliefs that they have curently found truth in.

So you can see the face or you can see it's parts..or hopefully you can see them all at once. By doing so you recognize that no "thing" that one can point to and name in the world can really only be that thing. Nothing can be taken at "face" value (excuse the lame pun). It's better to acknowledge the trap door behind every belief or phenomena that leads to the pre-linguistic nuomena that ultimately is closer to the source of all that is. Buddhists call this shunyata..and we could clumsily translate this as "void"..although the connotation is negative only in verbal form. Looking into random patterns we see faces staring back at us because we are human. This is why the Christian God is an old man with a white beard, and also why teleologists believe that this is all going somehwere. As an artists and thinker, my message becomes more and more point out that although nature is not a mirror..we are nature..and the universe is us. When you look into the void..the void stares back, and this reminds me of what my friend Steve Canaday usually says about Voids: it's best to confront them head on by raising a knife, screaming at the top of your lungs...and running straight at them.

  • Cauda Draconis

  • Pareidolia (pronounced /pɛɹaɪˈdoliə/ or /pæraɪˈdəʊliə/), first used in 1994 by Steven Goldstein, describes a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being mistakenly perceived as recognizable. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, seeing the man in the moon, and hearing messages on records played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek para- – amiss, faulty, wrong – and eidolon – image, the diminutive of eidos – appearance, form.

    As a survival technique, Human beings are "hard-wired" from birth to identify the human face. This allows people to use only minimal details to recognize faces from a distance and in poor visibility, but can also lead them to interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces. Skeptics assert that sightings of religious or iconic figures in everyday objects, such as Marian apparitions, are examples of pareidolia, as are some cases of electronic voice phenomena. The Face on Mars is a phenomenon that succeeded the Martian canals, both eventually attributed to pareidolia, when the "seen" images disappeared in better and more numerous images. Many Canadians thought they saw the face of the Devil in the Queen's hair on a dollar bill in the 1954 series, adapted from a photograph. The bills were not withdrawn from circulation, but the image was altered in its next printing.
  • Fortean Times examples of pareidolia in nature
  • Dichotomous Analysis: A Formal Necessity in Painting

    I think there's an interesting play between abstraction and form/space that makes these dynamic. In my view, there is a correlation between abstraction and iconicism (graphic images imprint more strongly on the mind), whereas space seems to imply time.

    Yet, the format of painting is inherently iconic because it lacks the element of time and change. Perhaps this is why some of the most powerful painted images are iconic as they reinforce the nature of the medium. However, I can see how a narrative can be especially dynamic in contrast with the iconic nature of the medium if it holds a strong enough implication of time. But I think that the most intriguing images have a dynamic tension between the icon and the narrative - in painting, film, and photography.

    Three visual elements lead me to define an image as iconographic or narrative in painting:

    The graphic or tonal composition (contrast)

    Time - as implied by singularity (iconic/layered meaning), or repetition and variation of form (temporal/chronologically revealed meaning)

    Language of the paint (abstraction <-> form/space)

    Perhaps this last correlation is a bit unclear. So, my thought process is as such:
    The flatness of the abstract image defines the painting as a static object within the viewer's space.
    The illusion of form and space implies that the viewer is within the space of the image, or the image is an extension of space. Since the viewer experiences time, the image implies a stillness (which is a reference to time). The abstract image in itself does not relate to stillness or change/time.

    What is interesting to me is when an artist mixes these different elements to imply a seeming contradiction between both iconicism and temporality, which all the artists above do. It is the tension between this and other formal dichotomies that interests my eye:

    Light/Shadow, Chromatic color/Neutral color, Warm/Cool, Iconic/Narrative, Texture/Smoothness, Open form/Closed form, Organic form/Geometric form....

    Tuesday, October 9, 2007

    The Teaching Philosophy of Steven LaRose

    Sunday, October 07, 2007

    Teaching is a performance art.
    Teaching is a craft.
    Leading by example, I hope to develop a sense of wonder and inquiry.
    We live within the shadow of a potentially black and white endgame.
    I believe that we must cultivate a Culture of Grey.
    A Culture of the Shadow would perpetuate the infinite appreciation for variables and relativity.
    I would like to teach Creating Order from Chaos (and vice versa)
    I would like to teach The Fundamentals of Context
    I want to teach a class called: Set and Setting
    Don’t be afraid of accidents
    Look at the dog before you look at the fleas
    Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes
    There is such a thing as vicarious learning
    It is ok to change your mind, heck, it is essential!
    Sometimes, you simply have to just “do” and figure it out later, while other times it is wise to step back and figure out what the #%$@ is going on.
    To be good at Anything we must learn to plan our improvisations.
    I want to teach the fine nuances of Doubt.
    I want to teach the feeling of throwing caution into the wind.
    I want to teach the moment when a mistake becomes a brainstorm.
    I want to maintain a sense of wonder and expectation
    Practice and discipline are essential in making things appear naturally.

    Steven LaRose

    Monday, October 8, 2007

    Painting Demo by Steven Assael

    Watching Steven Assael work is absolutely incredible. He will literally do an oil sketch like this in less than an hour. Here's a demo from one of his classes at the New York Academy of Art.

    If you have any questions on his technique, feel free to ask.

    Sunday, October 7, 2007