Saturday, April 26, 2008

Looking at Artists

Today my new issue of Art in America magazine arrived. While looking through it, I realized that I had never posted my thoughts on the last issue in this ever-popular "Looking at Artists" series of posts ... "ever-popular" probably exists only in my own imagination, but whatever, it's fun to do.

When I get my new A in A issue, I go through it and flag anything interesting by turning down the page corner. Unfortunately, in a typical issue, I might only flag maybe six pages or so ... A in A has become less enamored of painters in recent years and more fond of installations and other art forms that I just cannot relate to.  My next step is to go to the internet and look up all the artists that caught my eye. Sometimes they look good, sometimes they don't. I bang out my impressions in this blog.

Okay, so on to last month's issue. The first one that got my attention was Tianbing Li at L&M Arts in New York. He has a show called "Me and My Brother", based on photographs taken by his parents when he was a child. As it turns out, his "brother" is imaginary, but the series looks pretty powerful. This would be a good one to see in person ... little images on the web don't have much punch, but photos of the paintings installed in the gallery gave me the impression it would really be effective.  Tianbing's choices in color, cropping, smudging, and things included/excluded sometimes seemed a bit odd, but they make me stop and think.  And the cumulative feeling that I get from looking at all the images is intense, like he he mourning a missing brother.  

Another artist is Xenia Hausner at Forum Gallery.  The image in the ad was of a very loosely-painted work, with paint application a bit like Cezanne and a colorful flowery background like Matisse.  This struck me as very unlike Forum, which usually exhibits artists whose work falls into the "fine arts league" school of Renaissance realism, so it got my curiosity up.  I wasn't too enthused, though, after seeing the works on the web site.  Maybe it was the fact that she works so obviously from photographs, maybe it was that her subject matter was usually herself, but I just got a feeling that it was "art for art's sake" with no real story to tell except maybe a bit of narcissism.  I think she can paint, but I just never felt a connection to what she was painting.

Claire Klarewicz-Okser was featured at Katharina Rich Perlow gallery in New York.  These paintings intrigued me the more I looked at them.  Her people are right on the verge of being real or stylized, so they're real and not real at the same time.  More importantly, her paintings have a consistent mood to them.  The artist I thought of the most while looking at her work was Edward Hopper, oddly enough.  The reason is that she achieves the same feelings of isolation and loneliness with her figures that Hopper achieved with his buildings.  (As much as I like Hopper's work, his figures were usually awkward.  Claire K-O's figures are never awkward.)  Her people look like they're from the '20's or '30's, and it seems to me that she uses this quality of dress to say something about how people can appear to be "successful" while actually being completely cut off from others ... even if they're pushed up against each other, they're still in different worlds.

I flagged a few other artists, but on looking at more of their images on the web sites, I was very disappointed.  So many artists, it seems, are simply copying photographs, right down to the "happy-snap" quality.  I don't get the feeling that they're using their own vision, just whatever pops out of the camera.  The last time I did one of these "looking at artists" posts was in February and I wrote about two artists (David Shevlino and Kim Cogan) who obviously used photos, and this month I started with Tianbing Li.  The difference is that these artists all used the photos as a launching pad for their own visions.  A lot of the artists this month didn't - it was as if they weren't going to put anything into the painting that wasn't already in the photo.  What happened to personal statement and vision?

I still have some more artists to look at, but it's late and I'm pooped.  Maybe more tomorrow.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Follow-Ups to Previous Posts

Yeah, that's right, this post will probably only be of interest to those three of you who've occasionally been stopping in here.

Back on the 14th, I sent a note to all three presidential candidates asking what they were going to do about George Bush's signing statements. To date, the only thing I've gotten are several notes from Obama telling me to vote early in the NC primaries, and innumerable emails and telephone solicitations from Hillary to send her some money. From McCain, nuthin'.

On the 13th, I wrote a post entitled "Free Art?", about how a government agency wanted me to do some artwork for them for free. Instead, I wrote up a proposal for a decent project ("decent" in that it would look like something you'd want to actually show somebody), included what it would cost them (not free, but not my normal gallery costs, either), sent it in, and forgot about it. I figured they'd never go for it. Well, they subsequently asked me for a sketch of what I had in mind. I'm working up a rather detailed watercolor mockup of part of it and will turn it in to them on Monday. Maybe they'll go for the project after all.

One of my dogs came down with Addison's disease a while back. It's not really a disease, but a condition in which her adrenal glands have shut down. I was afraid we might lose her, but the vet put her on a regimen of once-a-month shots and daily doses of Prednizone. Now she's back to normal. I think her stamina is down just a notch, and she has taken a greater interest in humping her sister, but otherwise, she's the same ol' Indy. Thank God.

The local newspaper picked up on my press release about Warrior winning the national competition. They ran a big article on the painting and me. I started getting calls from friends and neighbors commenting on it. Today I walked in the post office and the clerk said "Whoah, it's the world-famous artist!". Yes, it's fun. You can read the article here.

'Nuff for now. I'm tired. My dog Soozee is sprawled out on the rug right behind me, flat on her back, all four legs pointing to the heavens, snoring like a freight train. She's got the right idea.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jackson Pictures

Jackson's first birthday party ... he seems to have enjoyed himself immensely ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Political Readings

We get Rolling Stone magazine. Their political reporter, Matt Taibbi, often gets me irritated, since he has a rather intolerant view of his subjects. However, in this issue of Rolling Stone, he has an article on Hillary Clinton and all her pork projects. Apparently she's procured more than $2.2B in earmarks while in office. Unbelievable ... well, except it really is believable. Some examples:

- Hillary was endorsed by Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on the day before MLK Day. Turns out that Hillary put through three earmarks totalling $1.5M to the development corporation run by ... Calvin Butts.
- Hillary secured a deal for Lockheed Martin in Oswego, NY, to build a new Presidential helicopter. One helicopter would cost $400M. That's more than Air Force One cost! What did it cost Lockheed Martin? $10,000 in contributions to Hillary's Senate campaign and lots of free rides on its planes.

Where do these funds come from? Well, not out of thin air. The money comes from the overall budget for the agency affected. The cost for the helicopter, for example, comes out of the military's general operating budget for the year. Congress gives the military X amount of dollars, but pork projects take Y amount of funding, leaving some smaller amount for other important acquisitions (like ammunition, armored humvees, body armor, minor things like that).

Hillary's not alone in bringing home the bacon to political supporters and her state. Republicans had a bad rep for lining up at the pork trough, which was one reason that the Democrats were able to take over the House and Senate in the last elections. However, last year Congress approved more than $17B .. as in BILLIONS ... in earmarks, which is a 30% increase over the Republican-led congress that they portrayed as corrupt feeders at the public trough.

And Hillary's competitors for the Prez job aren't immune to criticism. Barack Obama put in one earmark. McCain had one in '03. Hillary? She had 26 just on the '08 defense bill alone.

Hillary for President? Pleeeze.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Artist-Gallery Relationship

There's a fascinating discussion on the Edward Winkleman blog about the artist-gallery relationship. Edward runs a gallery in Chelsea and bought out his partner last year. Subsequently he revamped it to match his own vision, which meant letting several artists go. One of them recently wrote about it in her own blog, and Edward followed up with his own perspective. This is not a bitter, screaming, Dr. Phil-style divorce show. Rather, both blogs are open and honest and respectful of each other.

Why can't our politicians do the same thing?
(Answer: they're not open, honest, nor respectful, and a bitter, screaming Dr. Phil-style show is good theater.)

This artist-gallery discussion hit home with me because I recently pulled out of a gallery. I joined it a year ago with rather high hopes. The owner had a good eye for art ... I say that not because he liked my work, but because when he talked about my work or that of others, he could pick up on things that the piece was saying or not saying, and when my work was off base, he'd tell me. However, he also began telling me a bit too specifically what it was that he wanted me to produce. My paintings are my own explorations, and if they're made to somebody else's order, they're not MY paintings. I faced a choice: paint what he told me to paint and stay with him and possibly sell some, or leave. I left.

It wasn't a completely negative experience, though. I learned a good bit about the art marketplace, and I learned some things about improving my chances of selling artwork without selling out. And in my discussions with him about my art, I learned something about myself, too.

But now I've got to spend some time and energy finding a way to make my art habit self-sustaining at least. I think it's a given that an artist needs a good gallery, preferably more than one, to be taken seriously. But I also think that I need to explore other options, like grants or working with businesses, NGO's, or other organizations for specific projects. My best works are paintings like Lament, Warrior, and You Don't Understand, pieces that are very moving but certainly will never, ever, decorate anybody's living-room wall. Yes, I've gotten started on this road, but have nothing to report yet.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Warrior Wins National Competition

My painting Warrior was just awarded First Place in a nationwide competition for Iraq memorial art! The competition was sponsored by Art Cries Out (a link to their web site is on the right somewhere). I mentioned the site and the competition here a few days ago. I am so excited, I'm bouncing off the walls! It's been a while since anything this positive has happened to me, at least in my "professional artist" world, and it sure is wonderful.

Signing Statements

I have sent the following note to all three presidential campaigns. I'll let you know their answers.

"President Bush has used signing statements far more than any other president in history, and in such a way that very few people know exactly what any particular signing statement really says. It's my understanding that these signing statements will remain in effect indefinitely unless they are specifically revoked by executive order, court order, or new legislation. What will you do about President Bush's signing orders?"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Got Any Ideas?

I'm looking for some ideas. If you've looked at my web site, you know that I have a series of paintings that's titled "Bush League". It started as a satirical commentary on George Bush and his buddies, and "Bush League" fit it just fine.

Until now. Now we are seeing the last throes, if you will, of the Bush insurgency. In less than a year he'll be gone and already we're moving past him. My paintings are as well. While I'm still doing some satirical images, they're really about the state of our society and not about Republican neocons. To give you an idea, here are three of the most recent ones:

I'm notoriously bad at coming up with names ("Bush League" notwithstanding). So I'm issuing this call for help. Got any ideas for what this series of satirical paintings should be called?

Free Art?

As usual, I have too much to blog about, so I'll just pick one topic for now and get to the rest another time. Right now, what's got my goat is people wanting art for free.

I was contacted earlier this week by a government agency here in town (won't say which one so I don't embarrass 'em). They have a construction project going on by their main entrance, and it has a wooden fence up to keep people out and to hide the really ugly construction stuff. The fence is about 8' high and about 100' long. The agency's director wanted some art that would (a) make the fence look better and (b) honor the people that the agency serves. And once the construction was over, the art would be removed from the fence and kept within the agency. Sounds pretty cool to me. I went out and looked at it, then talked with my point of contact on the phone. We were both talking about a pretty good-sized project, namely five 4'x4' diamond-shaped plywood panels with different things painted on each panel. Everything was going great until I asked him, "What kind of budget are we looking at?"

Stunned silence on the other end of the line. Then "Uhh, well, we were looking for a volunteer effort ... uh, we'd pay for the materials, of course ..."

Right. This government agency wants me to work for about six weeks on these panels. For free. Gee, I'm so honored. I mean, hey, everybody there is working for free, too, right? So is everybody in the construction company ... but the government is paying for the materials, of course!

I've sent them a written proposal that includes a fairly detailed description of what the job entails, how long it would take, and what I'd do it for. I'm even giving them a very cut-rate price since I admire the work they're doing. But it's not free.

The problem is, so many people think that artists are just dying to give their work away for free. This agency is no different from any non-profit, church, school, or tiddly-wink club. I get people all the time asking me for donations for fund-raising events. I used to give to some of them, but then I thought about the business side of it, and have slammed that particular door shut. Here's the business model, in a nutshell:
1. I do the work.
2. They take it away and sell it for maybe 25% of the retail price if they're lucky.
3. They keep the money. The buyer might get a tax break.
4. They tell me how much "exposure" my art got.
5. My collectors have now been "exposed" to the fact that other people are buying my work at a 75% or more discount.
6. I'm left without the art, without a tax break, and with collectors who are pissed off that their collection has just been severely devalued. Think they're gonna buy anything from me in the future?

Grumble, grumble, grumble. This government agency has got me in a grouchy mood. Time to go play with my dogs.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Canine Crisis, Part 3

Our sweet little Indie had her checkup yesterday.  You may remember from previous posts that a couple of weeks ago she suddenly developed Addison's syndrome, which is when your adrenal glands quit working.  We thought we might lose her.  However, Addison's is treatable (not curable).  In yesterday's checkup, all her blood chemicals were normal and her weight was back up to a rousing 13.4 pounds, about where it was when it all began.  Just as important, her spirits are up, her attention level is back to normal, she's active and giving her sister hell.  Her stamina is back to about 99% of where it was before, but then, she's very much a tomboy.  So all is well in Indie-land.

Side effects of the Prednizone we give her every day are minimal.  Her water intake and outflow are up a bit - not quite as dramatically as earlier, but noticeable.  The only odd thing is that she has taken a lot more interest in humping her sister.  Hey, if it feels good, do it, right?  Soozee is clueless, of course.  We don't know if Indie is gender-confused, a hard-core incestuous lesbian, or just feeling the effects of the steroids.  Whatever the case, it's just an amusing and mild side effect, and given the alternatives, we'll take it any day.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Art Cries Out

Art Cries Out is an online site dedicated to protest art. Some is about the Iraq war, some about Katrina, you name it. There's some very good work there. Those of us doing such socially-conscious work often have a hard time getting it exhibited. It's great to have a site like this where the focus is on the message and not on sales. I entered their Online Iraq War Memorial competition. At the moment, my painting "Warrior" is one of their three finalists. Go take a look - I think you'll find some thought-provoking material there.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

More Pictures of Jackson

I haven't posted any pictures of my grandson, Jackson, lately. Sorry for being so inconsiderate! Here are a few of the latest.