Group 14: Beeswax on Muslin / Acrylic on Canvas 2002 -

For the intellect conceives not save limited things. Verily bound by the realm of limitations, men are unable to gaze upon things simultaneously in their manifold aspects….. No one can recognize the truth of the Middle Way between the two extreme poles except after attaining unto the gate of the heart…”

Syyid ‘Ali- Muhammad Shirazi – The Bab

I first learned the wax resist technique, as a child, from my father Syd, and I practiced it sometimes as I went along in art.  Syd’s work is all about resist techniques. His singular contribution perhaps, was that he was able to expand it to the scale of Abstract Expressionist grandeur.

The wax resist is mostly used with watercolors or inks on paper. It was made to reveal layers of color saved by the resistance of the covering of wax coatings over watercolors or ink. After creating the initial layer of watercolor, portions of it are then “saved” by a covering of wax.  It is usually melted wax that is used but sometimes it’s applied in a cold state by rubbing it on to the surface. Batik can be a form of wax resist, using wax with dyes, on cloth. In painting, one can superimpose multiple layers of watercolors and wax.  It is a way of creating visual context, as one sees the elements of one layer contextualized through a subsequent one.  If more than two layers are made through the process, then things get really interesting as patterns of hiding and revealing become a kind of thickly complex camouflage.

In 1990, I saw it done in the most masterful way possible when Alfonso Ossorio showed me his 1950 – 1952 works on paper, masterpieces of the technique, that, in my opinion, no one has yet surpassed. It was these works too that Jean Dubuffet wrote a book about in 1951 titled, Peintures Initiatiques d’ Alfonso Ossorio. These works also influenced Jackson Pollock to go back to the figure in 1951. They came to occupy a good deal of my attention at the Ossorio Foundation and even after, as they stand as a kind of talisman of what can be done.

Out of all this experience, I developed quite an affinity for the mechanism the resist technique contains. Basically, it was pre-Photoshop, a manual way of creating layers. Eventually I came up with a process that combined the save and reveal of the resist technique with an assemblage procedure which had also been a mode of working I had been interested in since the beginning.   I have written about that in previous chapters. See Group 4

Behind the combing of these two techniques was a philosophy, which had developed from the awareness of the ever present phenomenon of opposite forces.  This dialectical format is visibly embodied in various diptych works of mine;  in some of the post cards of ’83, some clay prints from ’85 – ’89, all the subway Polaroids of ’87-88 and in  various diptychs that continued in the ’90s.

The genesis of my understanding, is that essentially, we think, live and work within a binary system. This notion first came from my earliest and dearest mentor, James Brooks, who stated once that he aimed at balancing his works so that one element did not dominate the others.  This implied a kind of push- pull, ying-yang structure to painting as well as revealing the emphasis of Jim’s ethic. In another instance Jim said he wanted to “absorb the accident”, meaning, that he would start with a chance operation, but then after that initial impulse, he would become deliberate with the opportunities it provided and resolve the work consciously.

From this origin, of accepting and finding resolutions with opposite modes, I later found similar ideas expressed by artists dealing with a multiple elements. The goals voiced to me by John Chamberlain and Alfonso Ossorio, as they dealt with the relationship of the  parts of their respective assemblages, had many of the same ideals I had experienced with Brooks. “Chiaroscuro” is a perfect example of the opposites that create form. Diversity, plurality are other words that imply this duality. Chamberlain and Ossorio were seeking a unity in the diversity of their respective assemblage parts. Later I encountered the thinking of Otto Rogers, a highly refined artist from Canada, who also spoke about working with opposites and all that was evoked and implied by the comparison of two very different elements within one work. Otto was most precise and elaborate in defining the idea for me.

So…. with all this brewing, I conceived of works which would incorporate two very different modalities but the qualities of each part would be such that they would need to be visually permeable, so that they would blend.  Transparency / translucency was the way in which this was achieved. I would paint one part or “level” with a chance operation and paint another with a very deliberate operation. The deliberate one would consist of drawing, using the continuation of the rendering / drawing style I had been developing since my student days, a simple line contour that depicted the object. As I had been working with grids that warped and bent to depict wave shapes, I did drawings of these grids based on images I created from draping nets.   The drawings were the mapping of space and form, through the tool of the grid.  Drawn on muslin, the lines were made by melting beeswax into the muslin. Where the melted wax was put down, it turned the muslin translucent and so what ever was put underneath it, could be seen.  A group of these drawings of the nets were made with beeswax on thin muslin canvases.

To represent  the unconscious / chance operation mode, I made gestural abstractions with acrylic colors on canvases or on wood panels.  These solicited chance, the unknown, the unconscious.  In these, I let phenomenon and the accident rule. There was a lot of wet on wet technique and pouring, dripping  etc. These paintings too were made as an autonomous group.

Then, having sets of each type, “deliberate” and “accidental”, elements of both mind and heart, made of the same size, I would then match them up, by superimposing the muslin / wax drawings over the colored canvases. When the fit/blend seemed right, meaning that the image that was underneath would marry with the top in some intuited way (probably too complex to discuss) those two would be permanently joined by stretching and attaching the muslin over the canvas below. The areas of wax on the muslin would reveal the colors from the acrylic canvases underneath more than what you could faintly see of them through the areas where wax did not exist on the muslin.  It was a see-through, but it resembled a resist technique but it was also assemblage. ___________________________________________________

The two “levels” represent a number of things simultaneously. First and most basically, the bottom level represents the unconscious and the state of the heart as it expressed itself through choosing colors and making gestures with paint. It represented the phenomenological, the big forces that course through life, the raw and automatic. The top level, the carefully rendered analytical drawing, represents the conscious level, the mind and how it operates, by mapping and isolating one thing at a time. The idea of these modes was backed up by the essay, The Blot and the Diagram by Sir Kenneth Clark, which Dr. Francis V. O’Connor had referred to, with regards to my beeswax and wire sculptures. These two levels also represent an historical progression, the raw energy of abstract expressionism on the bottom and the refinement of consciousness of depiction on the top. Also the two levels represent “father” who was an abstract expressionist and “son”, one who used representational depiction.

I have to credit Michael Halsband for dragging the then budding art dealer James Salomon (no relation) over to my studio one day in 2005 to see these works. Having worked with Mary Boone Gallery for almost 10 years, James was establishing himself and was ciphering what shape his program should take.  He had redesigned a large warehouse in East Hampton – made it into an absolutely marvelous Boone-like space.  I was asked to be in with the initial crew, which included, Ned Smyth, Michael Halsband, Peter Dayton and Darius Yektai. Now James is on 26th St, in Chelsea and the roster has morphed and expanded exponentially.

The first show of these works in James’ warehouse in 2006, was accompanied by a superlative essay written by the late Robert Long.  I think it’s the best essay ever written on my work as far as literary style goes and also as far as perception into how my work delivers itself. He talks about the way it “sneaks up on you”.  Very sadly, Robert passed on shortly after he wrote the essay and I will forever be grateful for this parting gift.  His book, deKooning’s Bicycle, if you haven’t read it, is a work of pure genius and is so entertaining; the culmination of a life where his literary achievements meshed with first hand experiences with artists and writers in the Hamptons. Even though its device is fictional, someday it will be regarded as the closest thing to being there.  As Picasso said, “painting is a lie that tells the truth” and Robert’s book would fit into that description perfectly.

The most splendid thing happened with the show in 2006 at Salomon Contemporary Warehouse.   #1, 2006 was bought by the curator Joan Inciardi for Cantor – Fitzgerald, the firm that had lost most of its people in the 911 attack. The firm’s head, Howard Lutnick, having survived, decided to rebuild the prestigious art collection that they lost when the building went down.  I was very honored to even be considered for the new collection.  That was the cake. The icing was John Chamberlain’s reaction to #1.  He just raved about it and I got the message that at least in his book, I had finally arrived.  Having known him since 1976  while John had always been quite encouraging about my work, he had never been so plainly and explicitly demonstrative about it.  For those who knew John, that kind of thing didn’t happen very often.

In 2007, I started making smaller paper versions of these works. The process was exactly the same except that the supports were rice paper for the beeswax layer and watercolor paper for the acrylic layer.

Though I haven’t made works like this for a few years now it is a mode I intend to keep exploring because of the rich possibilities inherent in the materials and the long term development I have in the process and ideals. In some way it boils down to seeing one thing in terms of another, understanding or comprehending one form though another form. In this there is that mystical experience that seems to be essential to our lives, the “metaphorical nature of physical reality” as Dr. John Hatcher, so aptly put it.

                                                       

                                                                      
                                                       

                                                       

                                               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 13: Beeswax and Wire Sculptures 1999-2002 (& beeswax drawings)

Since I was 11 and got my first surfboard, surfing was the central activity in my life and so when I started painting at about 14, naturally I painted scenes related to surfing and to waves. My first show was with a surf buddy, Chris Lundy, who also painted surf scenes. Chris went on to become a world class surfer, an influential surfboard shaper in Hawaii, as well as successful surf industry artist. Our high school art teacher, Mrs. Davis, was so important to us in terms of encouragement and, letting us go to the Hong Kong Kitchen for lunch where we had great discussions about what we would do with our lives. Those freedoms gave us wings.

At fifteen I attempted to make a wave sculpture out of paper and wire, but I lacked the skills and gave it up. Eventually the only art I did that related to surfing, was to paint “en plein air ” watercolors of the places I surfed, following in the tradition (I thought) of Winslow Homer’s travel watercolors.  Eventually I called them “meteorological watercolors” because I included notes as to tides, wind, swell size and direction water temperatures and the like, as captions.  To this day, I still, on occasion, do these watercolors and because they span the entire course of my life, they will be featured in a special section of the blog once I am caught up with the chronological progression.

In 1999 I had a kind of down period, when I didn’t feel much relevance to going on with art.   We all have these times, especially when one works for decades. I was surfing a lot then. It was kind-of “better the second time around” thing. I started up again partly because I had a son who approached the age of being able to learn to surf. It was fun to take Malik out and watch him progress as a surfer, and fun for me to return to the water after some years not surfing and to get into long boarding which had been re-invigorated by the surfing prodigy, Joel Tudor. I got to know Joel through my friend, the photographer Michael Halsband. It was a lucky confluence, because along with long-boarding, Joel and others in the surfing world had rediscovered the kind of surfboards that I had first learned on, which were called mid-lengths.  Mid-length surfboards range from 6’8″ to 8’6 or so and have a way of fitting onto the faces of waves that neither the modern shortboards nor the older longboards do. Joel and Michael and I had some important discussions about the flow that came from riding theses kinds of boards.  I then collaborated with shaper Tom Ninke of Ziphius Surfboards in making a number of models, one of which was called the Solomon. It worked really well and sold like hot cakes.  This was also at a time when the surf spot Ditch Plain in New York was still a viable venue for serious surfing. Now surfing has become so fashionable in New York and there in particular, that there’s almost no way to ride without dealing with hordes of crowds on stand up paddle boards or novice surfers clogging up the waves.  But from the 90s through about ’03 the place was an awesome wave for progressive longboarding and mid-length surfing and I made  good use of it. I am grateful for having a kind of resurrection as a surfer in those years. To tell it all that would require another blog. I just wanted to give a hint of where I was coming from around 1999.  Up until then, my thinking was that it was redundant to make art about surfing, because surfing was an art in its own right. I still think that, but reality is more thickly  layered. Degas painted ballet dancers with a certain validity, so I realized that one art can inspire another. For me the ocean is a serious subject, both as a source of  form and also of metaphor.  ”.. the billows of the Ocean of Thy mercy…”   is part of a prayer by Baha’u'llah, and if you know something about the endlessness of waves that constantly and faithfully arrive at all the shores of the world , it illuminates the metaphor; the endlessness of the Creator’s love, as expressed in that prayer.

As I had been working with bees wax in drawings on paper, I guess it was sort of a fetish driven thing when I first made a little wave from beeswax in 1999.  I just had the notion one day to make a little wave, just to look at.  That failed paper and wire piece that I tried to make when I was 15 came back into my memory. And I found some hardware cloth which contained the grid, which had always been an element in my work.  With the beeswax, the two came together in a surprising way, as they were very opposite one another in qualities and attributes. I made more little waves and it  started to open up a whole world to me which,, had always been there in the background. It was sculpture. It had  been hovering in my life, but I hadn’t really  ”seen” it till then.

In my childhood, the sculptor Gabriel Kohn lived with our family for while and worked in a little shop my dad had behind his studio, next to our house.  I used to take the scraps he left from cutting wood and try to put them together in imitation of what I saw he was doing. I distinctly remember him encouraging me by exclaiming that my attempts were better than his. That was Gabe, a very loving and generous man, one of the kindest and saddest men I have ever met.  His life was tragedy after tragedy but he left an impeccable, if small, body of work, which combined the reductions of Brancusi with the raw and rough qualities of American art  being made at mid-century.  The art dealer David McKee has faithfully done his best over the years, to champion Gabe’s decidely excellent and unique body of work. Later I came to work for John Chamberlain as his first assistant in Florida, so sculpture played a big role in my life.  And in a way, most of my paintings were done with sculptural, or at least in an assemblagist method, and the tactile aspects of process and material was always present in my paintings.

So those were the precedents, but up until 1999 I really had not made any sculpture to speak of, just a few things here and there. Around the same time I had also explored doing grid drawings in beeswax of wave like shapes – all to learn how to see the warping of the grid.  Warping space was certainly Chamberlain influenced. One of my jobs with John was to crush sheets of car metal in a paper bailer. The warping of material stuck in my brain. Isolated as an event, and mapped, by seeing what it did to the grid, that image, became my interest. The fact that I had used a grid based material like wire mesh, was classic to armature building in sculptural practice, but, to cover that armature with a translucent skin so that the under structure showed in the final work, this was was were I had departed from tradition. But there were others before me, in this showing of armature and skin, and interestingly, all were women; Eva Hesse, Claire Falkenstein and Lee Bontecou – great company as far as I am concerned.   In a sense too, I was more on the path of contemporary architecture, except without the limits of having to deal with functionality.

At some point having made a dozen or so small wave sculptures, I began to show them to friends and colleagues and the response was unlike any I had ever received. One of the first  to respond was the esteemed art historian and Pollock expert, Dr. Francis V. O’Connor.  I had gotten to know Francis through my work at Ossorio Foundation. At the time we were formulating the idea for an exhibition on the relationship between Ossorio, Pollock and Dubuffet with curator Klaus Ottmann (Angels, Demons and  Savages).  So I shared images of my new works with Francis and he had a wonderful reaction. He said he thought they were exactly what Sir Kenneth Clark was talking about in his essay The Blot and The Diagram. I was very pleased by this, because I was familiar with the essay. And it was true that the amorphous and mystically invested substance of beeswax combined with the rigorous and analytical quality of the grid was a compelling combination of opposites, both archetypes that represent elements in art that the essay deals with.

Michael Halsband did a lot to promote these works.  First he volunteered to photograph them and that probably accounts for much of what happened subsequently.  The photographs were amazing, and I will always be grateful for his generosity.  Then he called Scott Hulet at Surfers Journal and soon they were featured in that most eminent of all surfing publications. From there things took off and the work was featured in Big Magazine, Hamptons Magazine and the coffee table book,  Studios By the Sea: Artists of the Long Island’s East End by Bob Colacello and Jonathan Becker. In 2001, Halsband and I, along with the late great curator John McWhinnie did the first show on surfing and culture in New York, at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in East Hampton.  We had works by Ashley Bickerton, Richard Prince, Julian Schnabel, Ken Price and others (including some boards that Joel Tudor painted).  John McWhinnie had been collecting all kinds of vintage surf related ephemera. We also had contributions from board collector / surfer Jerry Hirsh. One of the boards was a customized longboard that had won the first Noseriding Contest at Malibu that Tom Morey had organized.  I had my sculptures and some meteorological watercolors in the show. It was a great success. (Much to Glenn Horowitz’s surprise and pleasure, he told me that our opening was larger than Cindy Sherman’s who had a show there, just before ours.)

A month or so later the world was changed due to 9/11. I was surfing at Ditch the morning of the event. The waves were incredible that day and a number of guys didn’t report to work because of the waves. Surfing saved quite a few lives that day.  I happen to get out of the water just after 9:00 and there was a small crowd gathered around an RV in the Ditch parking lot watching thier small TV. The first building had been hit and we watched in horror as the 2nd plane came in.  I raced home to make sure my family was safe. They had sent the kids home from school. At that point we still didn’t know if the whole country was under attack or what.

The surf continued to be great that entire week and I know so many people who went surfing as a way to de-stress from what had happened. I found myself somewhere in between emotions in those days, and one morning on the 14th, after surfing a lot the day before, but still being freaked by what had happened, I woke up in agonizing pain. My neck, back and right shoulder had seized up as hard as a rock and I had to be taken to the hospital. They had to give me 3 injections of morphine before my muscles would relax. I had herniated a disk in my neck. Was it the effect of 40 years of surfing on my body or the stress of what had happened?  Probably both.

Eventually I have worked my way back into some semblance of health without having major surgery. I can surf but not without a lot of stretching and having some pain.  That’s ok, I am older and I’ve had a good long run. I don’t mind surfing less at this point.  I have seen surfing and surf art explode culturally.  I continue to paint the watercolors when the urge hits and  I went on to make larger sculptures using the wave metaphor, a lovely part of my physical, as well as spiritual life. The ocean is both a source of life and language, of form and metaphor, and it will go on eternally, giving us everything we need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Group 12: The Beeswax, Gouache and Muslin Paintings 1994 – 1999

In the mid 90s after doing lots of works on paper, I wanted to make larger works. This provided a challenge because I could not find the kind of paper I needed in a larger size. I wanted to continue working with the techniques I had built a repertoire from, in which the surface became transparent when melted wax was applied to it and showed what was beneath on the level below, which I had painted using a different process.  It took some experimenting. That’s one of the fun parts of being an artist, seeing what happens when you try to expand the paradigm.  Eventually I found some muslin that acted with melted wax in a way that was similar to the paper.  So as far as the technical /physical side of things I was off and running.

I have not mentioned, in past entries, that since the mid ‘80s I had been developing a 4” x 6” card file of drawings, which, by the mid 90s, was comprised of hundreds of images.  Most of them were made in pencil and some had been augmented with tones of gray in graphic markers.  They were my  “image library” and they served as a source for images used in my all my work.

As I surveyed them and the wax works on paper I had done, I noticed a recurring structure that emerged in many images, although it had a variety of presentations. In a discussion with a colleague around that time, the word “omphalos” was suggested.  The Greek word means “navel” and usually refers to a spot at the “center of the world”.  It is often marked by navel shaped stone  which is said to allow one to communicate with the gods. The Oracle of Delphi is a famous omphalos.   As it is described as a navel, I became interested in the inside / outside relationship of the structure/ shape. Among the images I had gathered and used, I saw that a repeating structure in the various objects I had been attracted to, was in essence, conical in form. This image/ structure was common to the hats, canoes, shoes, vitamins, buttons, bridges, pop up tents, corncobs, cigars and beehives I had been drawing. Having come to consciously identify this underlying form I felt…well, gratified at least that I noticed something that was unconscious for so long.  And I saw that my emphasis could shift from the literary content of the images, which is what had attracted me to them, to the content of the structure of the images.

 

As a kind of celebration of that realization I chose to focus on the image of the hat as the penultimate image /structure that encompassed the archetypal omphalos form. One of the pieces that seemed to touch a cord for many people was the work on paper, “Lincoln’s Hat”, 1993.    The stovepipe hat did have an extra political sign that perhaps made it more a point of interest than most other things.  And there was a red aura emerging off of the top of the hat as well as a tiny dot of red in the lower center, both of which alluded to the great man’s assassination.  So there was a subtle expression of a great drama in the image.  That hat became the symbol for everything about Lincoln; his giant stature both physical and spiritual, his elevated intelligence, his covering and protecting the nation, his great sacrifice for equality; all was encompassed through the image of his hat.

So taking that as a motif I thought I’d make a series of portraits of people I admired, by painting their hats, as they would have appeared on their heads.  The images were taken from paintings or photographs of these people (except in some cases where I had to imagine the context.)  The people themselves were not depicted, so the hats sat in some kind of floating posture, in space.  This construct alluded to the physical/ spiritual nature of existence. The hat I felt was a symbol and sign of the body, a covering, a dome, under which sat the mind or intellect, which is invisible.  The hat could be a shrine, it could be a navel where the connecting cord runs and feeds the embryo (brain) and there are many other associations as well.

Gathering all these ideas together, gave me great conviction to make a number of large paintings. The series was done pretty fast. They just came out once I got going.  By the spring of 1998 I had completed most of them.  One of the mistakes I made however then, was inviting over a few older artist friends, people whom I looked up to and admired. Unfortunately the wife of one of them was a well-known artist too and she really liked the work. She liked the hats so much  that she decided to quickly do her own series. Unlike me, at the time, she had a gallery and so in about a month she had a show in town, of “Hat Paintings” and thus making it potentially appear, at least to the public here, that had I  shown mine, I must have copied her. Of course her paintings were different from mine but she did imitate at least one of the hats exactly and centered it floating in the middle of the canvas as I had done.  I ended up having to show my works out of town.  That show  was at the Heckscher Museum’s Bryant Library and it was a good space. Robbie Stein wrote a very good piece for the catalog.  Nevertheless, I have stopped inviting artists over to see my work before I show it. “A tempest in a teapot”, as they say… unless you’re the one that got ripped.

Anyway as each hat was based on individual people many of whom were artists, or important people to me, I felt I could reference their some of their artistic qualities in making the images.  In “Van Gogh” I painted the artist’s straw hat that he wore while painting in the hot sun in southern France.  The color I chose was a bright yellow mixed with the straw like color of the raw beeswax. It was like his sunflowers and it had expressive marks and gestures that celebrated his brushstrokes and energy.  The whole thing was about his white-hot passion, the fever of Van Gogh’s purity of intent, his empyrean quality.

In “Walt” (Whitman) I painted the poet’s broad but soft-flowing slouch hat. The raw beeswax is literally the color of honey. That amber tone alluded to Whitman’s writing as natural anti-bacteria, a healing balm.  It also referred to his stint caring for the wounded during the Civil War. The hat was set against a silvery background that represented his stature as an artist; a mercurial might that soothed a nation with the balm of his words.

In “Jimmy”, aka “The Singing Brakeman”, I painted a rail road conductor’s hat which was a symbol for Jimmy Rogers, the great singer/ song writer of country music who wrote so many ballads about the poor and desolate life of those in the American heartland.  He rode the rails, wrote about the “lonesome hobo” and was foundational to modern country music.

In “Bob’s Latest”, I painted an imaginary hat thinking of the many hats Bob Dylan has worn. Then I was into the old songs he’d surveyed in his twin cover albums Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong.  I’ve always been a fan of Dylan. The fact that he has worn many hats, i.e., used many identities, was not lost on me. This particular hat and the colors of red and black with the natural beeswax made the image have a kind of iconic and dramatic feel.

In “Mary”, I painted a scarf covering the head of an imagined Mary Magdalene, a figure I very much admire from what I have read about her. It was also an image of another spiritual Mary. Mary Sutherland Maxwell, a Baha’i, who became Ruhiyyih Rabbani, a Hand of the Cause of God and wife of the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi. She always wore a scarf and the image of her wearing it became indelible to me. I had seen her speak in New York in 1992 and I remember her talking about the  indigenous people of the world, many of whom she had sought out and befriended, sometimes going into terrain no white person, much less an elderly white lady, had ever gone before. She had said one thing that was quite common among all of them was how they had “seen” the potential dangers that technology could bring without spiritual maturity how they had actually made the conscious choice to approach technology slowly and more carefully. And while the rest of the world may have thought of them as “backward” or “primitive” they “were no threat to the planet”, implying of course, that we indeed, were- are.

In “Sergeant,” I painted a WWII army helmet with the netting that was commonly wrapped around it. This was used to stick branches and leaves in it from local environments that would camouflage the head of the soldier. This image was a portrait of my father who had been a sergeant in the war and had designed camouflage in very innovative ways for a number of campaigns. At the time I painted it, in the late 1990s, Syd was in a home for Alzheimer’s patients and was in the middle stage of the disease where he no longer knew our names or many other things that had been part of his life.  In the painting, the netting on the helmet was frayed and broken in a few places, symbolizing the missing synapses that had occurred in his brain.

In “Charlie”, a porkpie hat sits upside down symbolizing “The Tramp” the beggar that was Chaplin’s important character.  I was interested in the poverty / riches aspect of the character, how though materially poor, in spirit Chaplin’s characters had so much energy and love. It was that love that came across when I saw the movie, The Tramp.  The green background was symbolic of wealth. It also referred to one of my best and most loved long time friends, Charles Teague.

“Country Gentleman” is painting of a porkpie hat tipped in space. This was a hat I wore at the time and so it had a kind of self-identity I was exploring but also eluded to any number of characters from the 19th Century, including painters, writers and musicians that wore the ubiquitous dome.  For me it had opposing connotations, of buffoonery and sophistication.

“Gathered Rider” is portrait of my wife, Claudia Spinelli, who despite her circumstances, became an eminent horsewoman.  She worked mucking out stalls at five in the morning when she was 11 so she could ride later in the day at the stable and she became a champion rider in her class, outdoing the rich girls from Westchester where she rode.  Eventually though, without wealth, it becomes impossible to have a horse that can compete, so for over 20 years she was without riding.  Luckily, during the late 90s we moved to a house near a wonderful horse farm and the lady who owned it became friends with Claudia and when she discovered Claudia’s skills, she invited her to come to the farm. Claudia was re-discovered as a kind of horse guru. Since then Claudia is offered horses left and right because of her ability with them. She’s saved some from the proverbial glue factory by steadily caring for them and bringing them back to health and she’s helped other riders understand how to deal with riding and horsey issues.   The helmet in this picture was from a photo of her siting on a horse in a winner’s circle.

“Tropic of Henry” has the added technique of burning out the image that is saved by wax.  Yeah actually paper burns faster than wax, so the drawing in wax is saved once I light the thing on fire. I then took the saved part, which was Miller’s hat and attached it on to the yellow background. So it’s a fire-relief cutout. I am not sure why Miller was so important to me at one time…something about the striped down prose, I think.

Then there are a number of other works that were done throughout this period.  Some have tangential relationships to the omphalos shape, like “Skiffle”, which is an image of shoes. It refers to skiffle bands that played in England in the ‘40s which influenced the emergence of the Stones and the Beatles, and it was also a way of moving, walking.  There are two tent paintings, “Red Tent” and “Pop Up”, “Amphora” and “Bells”. They all have a pretty obvious relation to the omphalos and it’s fun to see how far you can get from something and still see a relationship to that thing.

“Surveillance” was one that was out of the box.  I just loved the image of the field glasses and they were an old pair I had, of my dads. This is a thick encaustic work and was truly “sun cured’. I didn’t like it much for a while and so I left it out in the yard facing the sun for several months in the summer. The black wax really sunk into the weave of the linen and when I recovered the abandoned work, I realized the melting sun had fixed the painting for me. When we see what is going on now with the invasion of our privacy through the easy gathering of information on things like Face Book or through phone records, this painting is perhaps somewhat more relevant now than when I made it.

This group of work was the culmination of a long period of using representation. I had gone to it because I felt that a common visual language was the most appropriate way to communicate with others. I still believe that. But the seeing of the emergence of a repetitive structure, a structure that is content, changed the direction of my focus. My work after this group, moved more into the realm of abstraction which I had left 2O years earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 11: Works On Paper 1994 -1997 : The Cave

As a teenager I remember being taught that making art was a journey, a life-long ramble through all visualizations and there was no telling where one might go. One moves through things, though ideas, styles, and techniques and, through ambitions, aspirations and you never really know what is just around the corner. That is what is so interesting about art, it’s not all that controllable. You go along working in some mode based on ideas you have formulated or agreed to and you look around and there are other ways too.  So there are always other choices, but even when you ignore them or feel you can’t agree with a certain premise, well sometimes that’s just too bad, they might get under your skin anyway.

In my case, Neo-Expressionism was becoming prominent during my formative years, from the late ‘70s onward. Then, I was interested in minimalist philosophy, in art that was reduced to basic elements and processes.  I went into that because I wanted to understand the foundational language of art.  I wanted to understand the elemental.  But I kept looking over my shoulder so to speak at other movements. It was a kind of quiet semi conscious dialog that was transpiring somewhere within.  As I pursued an understanding of my interests, my definition of what was essential to art broadened over time.  Then, it seemed that all of a sudden  (though it had taken me decades) I had arrived at a place where the idea of dealing with images and playing with my responses to them, was the most appropriate thing in the world to do.  This was the model I had been quietly watching out of the corner of my eye for years, in artists like Basquiat, Keifer, Clemente and other Neo Expressionists.

Expressionism is very complicated stuff; the artist’s relation to the self and to his or her subjects. Artist Jean Dubuffet brilliantly analyses its particular phenomenon in his book Initiatory Paintings of Alfonso Ossorio.  Dubuffet talks about the conflicting goals that can exist within the artist.  While one is trying to express something about the subject one has chosen, often embodied in the process of depicting an image, one alternatively desires to express one’s own identity. Perhaps this internal push and pull accounts for why images in early expressionism frequently morph into brushwork and visa versa. Gesture, it could be said, is the visual equivalent of the artist’s voice, which wants to be heard sometimes above the content of the subject. Dubuffet, Ossorio, de Kooning, the figurative works by Pollock in ’51 and Guston’s return to the figure all foreshadowed the work of the later Neo Expressionists, but the difference was that the earlier artists where also gauging their works by formal concerns, which is a modernist mode. The latter group abandoned formalism and let autobiography rule, which explains the sort of let loose feeling in a lot of the later work and probably the use of words.  The words seemed to function to bring attention back to the artist’s voice.  My work in the Neo Expressionist mode seems to lay in between somewhere, as I have deep roots in the earlier period but age wise, am a person of the latter one.

The work from ‘94 – ‘97 represents that part of my life  where there was that switching between the subject and the self, indicated either through gestures or the use of symbols or words.  I think of this point on the path as the “cave” (of Neo Expressionism) because it felt like I had arrived to a kind of isolated, protected space, in which I could project the emotion of the ambiguity or irony that existed in my relation things. Many artists in America and in Europe had been working in this space for a few decades.  It was, in a sense, a generational location, as if the whole lot had been corralled into that isolated space, which was at the same time was being observed by culture. It was like being animals in the zoo. “Look kids, there’s an artist over there, grinding his chocolate!”  (We weren’t Fauves anymore, we, had been captured.)  Overindulgence in our needs had been the hunger that enabled culture to get us.  Like no other generation before, we wanted attention, money, fame, etc; to live and to work as artists and some of us could be almost belligerent about it.  We could scratch ourselves, throw excrement at the audience, do pretty much anything because we were protected by that emerging celebrity of “artist” thing that fit so well with the expressionist identity. And it was identity that was the real subject of the day, the outcome of the post modernist rational, the supposed supremacy of the subjective self.

If you detect some negativity about this, it is because I do have a problem with some of it. I have overcome the idea of a completely subjective universe, but to discuss all that requires more than can be written here.   Nevertheless, there is still something valuable about Neo Expressionism,  and so I am trying not to throw the baby out with the bath water.  To be brief, Neo-Expressionism, if instigated by the humility that could come from our existential vulnerability (and not from overindulgence in self-importance) is still a very powerful and valid voice in art as far as I am concerned. It is something that has to be parsed.

About some works:

Deer John was a joke between John Chamberlain and me about notes.  The classic “Dear John” is of course that letter written during war to a soldier by the gal he’s left at home. It’s that fateful message telling him she’s found another man, while he’s  out there on the battlefield getting shot at.  The other inspiration for the work, was Chamberlain’s note to an artist friend, which read something like,  “dear______ here’s the note I told you I left you.”

In some other works, I used OSHA danger signs as images, like in Schlumberger (a nod to the de Menils), which is written at the bottom of a hazardous material sign in melted clay, and Gold Only, and Corro.  Another group as made with flocking powder.  Flocked Chair, Footstool and the Yves Kline inspired Flocked Venus ( my wife’s body print) were all done by applying a glue-like medium to the paper and covering it with flocking material.  Then there were the “melts” where images were painted in wax on a wax background and then melted with a heat gun or torch; Leaf and Dissolvers and the Pitch series (in which images of pop up tents were used.)  There are two works which are eulogistic, Freye (Hansel) and J. Brooks; both great friends and artists who had died during this period.  Freye was one of the best artists I have known. Her Neo Expressionist paintings should really be re-evaluated, they are amazing and even prescient.  Her performance and installation pieces were marvelously witty and ahead of their time. Her untimely death made worse by the long descent to it, was one of the saddest things, I had known.  Alzheimer’s brought Jim Brooks down but he’d lived a long, productive and wonderful life. Both of them are very under-rated but I am sure that will change over time.  In the pieces dedicated to these friends, I imitated their works, as a way of honoring them.

Lastly there is a series done at the end of the period called Rialto. These works explore the idea of the bridge over something and this was the beginning of my exploration into using separate physical layers. The backgrounds were watercolors on paper where all the color came from, the foreground, depictions of the Rialto in Venice taken from paintings by W.J.M. Turner done in black (and sometimes white) on translucent velum.  The images of the bridge were put over the watercolor layer. The bridge of course was a literary symbol of the physical process.   

You can put the cursor over the image to see the title, media, etc and double click to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 10: Beeswax on Paper 1992 -1994

The meaning that a material can bring to the making of an artwork first entered my consciousness through the work of Joseph Beuys.  I went to that first Guggenheim show in ‘79 and attended the contentious lecture that followed at Cooper Union. During the talk, a small group of us defended the artist from hecklers in the crowd, much to his amusement.  His work opened up a new area for many in my generation.

In 1992 I began to branch out looking for another material after having worked with clay for two years. One day I was driving around in Springs and I saw a sign on someone’s yard that said “beeswax and honey. “ I stopped and knocked on the door. An older man answered and invited me in. I asked about his beeswax and he asked what I wanted to use it for. I said “Maybe painting ?”.  He asked, “ You make the Ukraine eggs ?  Me too!”, and before I could answer he showed me a glass case with a number of beautifully painted Easter eggs. He had worked in traditional method using the wax as a resist with inks and dyes as colors. They have a tiny tool that allows them to apply narrow lines of wax to the eggs surface.  Anyway after looking at the eggs, which were painted with incredible intricacy, I bought a few pounds of his beeswax. It was funky and unfiltered so it had bee carcasses and other debris in it.  The honeyed smell was insidious. I was hooked.

So, as in working with clay and letting it lead me to images that related to the earth, I “asked” the beeswax what the imagery should be.  It had a very 19th century connotation, very agrarian. The amber color of it also conspired to put me in a frame of mind where I could conjure up images of the past. Wheat, corn, railroad spikes, a harmonica, canoes, old guitars, a steam pipe hat, old tools – these images seemed to be related and they inspired me. I took to reading about Lincoln, and I re-read a lot of Whitman’s work. The Civil War also became a source for some of the images.  One work was derived from an image of the sunken hulls of warships of the 1860s. For me, one of the most important pieces was “Lincoln’s Hat” which depicted the stovepipe hat he was known for wearing. There was a tiny hole in it which revealed a red spot…

At the time I was also working on making recordings of songs I had been writing and they too were “old timey”, so I was inundated with 19th century aesthetics.  Later on, when there was a resurgence of interest in ” old America”  evidenced by movies like O Brother Where Art Thou, and Ken Burns’ Civil War, I felt I had been a kind of scout by re-assessing archetypal images embedded in the American psyche which lingered from that period, a period of fecundity that bloomed into the folk music of Dylan, The Band and others. It was interesting to bring it to painting.

Technically, the works were relatively simple. I’d melt the wax and then draw the chosen image.  The paper I used was given to me by Alfonso Ossorio, at the end of his life. It was part of a ream of an un-sized cotton rag.  It had a watermark; a rose on a stem and the maker’s name “Avergne” was embossed into the surface.  The paper was very old. A lot of it had been ruined by foxing, but I was able to salvage many sheets to work on.  The bees wax would melt right through it and often after painting the image on one side, I would turn the paper over to discover the other side was more compelling.

This brings up an interesting aspect, that of having “permission” to do things because one has seen them done before. This is why exposure to other art is so important. In my case, I had seen the ‘40s and ‘50s works by James Brooks first hand while cataloging them during these years at his studio in Springs. Jim had worked with a loose weave canvas called “osnaberg”. Applying oils to the front, the canvas was so porous that the paint flowed through it to the back. He then would sometimes turn the canvas around and finish it on that side. He even had one or two that were “completed” on both sides.  His process had so much to do with the chance operations explored by the Abstract Expressionists and those had related to Surrealist techniques of working blind or letting images arrive out of the unconscious through “automatic writing”.   Jim’s work provided the precedent that allowed me to think about the front and / or the backs of works.

In addition, wax had for years, been used to resist water-based colors like watercolor or ink, in the creation of works on paper. Ossorio was a master of the wax resist technique, but I had first learned about it from my father. Victor Brauner was an early pioneer in the technique.  So I was familiar with the concept of resist technologies, that is, hiding or saving one layer below another through some form of masking agent.  At some point I started to apply colors to the papers I was working on prior to applying the melted wax. Though not strictly a resist, the wax melting through the paper made it translucent, so the color I had applied to the other side, which did not penetrate through the paper, was made visible, brought forward in a sense, by the translucency of the paper made by the melted wax.  This became my obsession and it still exists in the kinds of work I have done subsequently.

Because I used a small torch then to re-melt the wax, sometimes holes would be burned in the paper.  Ironically, the wax actually protected the paper beneath it so it was the areas of unprotected paper around the wax that burned. This could be called a wax and fire resist. The burnt holes became another element in my repertoire then.  In one review at the time the art critic, the late Rose Slivka, related what I was doing to some of Conrad Marca Relli’s work, another artist whom I knew from my youth and  whose studio I had frequently been in, as the Marca-Rellis lived just up the street from my parent’s house and would often invite us over for lunch.

This body of work inspired paintings done at the end of the decade, which were made on muslin.  The two main things about this body of work was how the material helped spawn the imagery, and that I had used a Neo-Expressionist mode to explore 19th century imagery. I was proud to be included in the first museum show on encaustic, called Waxing Poetic at the Montclair Art Museum and Knoxville Museum.

You can see the information about each work by scrolling over the image with the cursor and can enlarge images by double clicking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 9: Clay Works 1990 -1994

This is a rather long text.  However, it has some art history that you might find interesting.   &  you can see the information about each work by scrolling over the image with the cursor and can enlarge images by double clicking.

In 1990 after having settled in on the East End, I had the precious experience of going to work for the erudite artist/ collector Alfonso Ossorio.  His estate, called The Creeks, had been the first place I lived in the Hamptons.  In 1959, the year I turned three, my parents rented the gatehouse on his property. Alfonso was very generous to artists, letting them work in a barn studio which came with the cottage rental.  Clifford Still and Grace Hartigan had worked in it before my father did and Ray Parker came in the year after.  1959 was a seminal summer for my parents as it set the pattern for their life for the next 35 years. We would spend half the year in the Hamptons and half in Sarasota, following the warm weather.  So I was familiar with The Creeks, and from time to time over the years, I would see Alfonso. He had wonderful parties for the art community in the summers of the early ‘60s. I have vivid memories of seeing his works and the works he collected, by Pollock, deKooning, Dubuffet and others, and also I remember chasing Lisa deKooning around the sloping lawn that led down to Georgica Pond in front of the house.

In late ‘89 the art historian Helen Harrison took me to over to his place.  It had been years since I’d last seen Alfonso.  Helen was interviewing him for an exhibition she was doing on the Signa Gallery. Signa was an artist run gallery founded by Alfonso, John Little and Elizabeth Parker. It was perhaps the first “alternative” gallery on the East End. Helen’s “Salute to Signa” exhibition took place in 1990 at both Guild Hall and at the East Hampton Center for Contemporary Art, then run by Jennifer Cross.  The catalog for the show describes the four years of the gallery’s existence 1957 -1960 and demonstrates that Signa was among the most avant-garde galleries at the time. Not only did they show all the Abstract Expressionists  as well as some young pop and performance artists but also, through Ossorio’s link to  Michel Tapie, the gallery exhibited the abstract art being done in Europe by the “informel” artists as well as art by the Gutai Group, leading Japanese abstract artists.  This was the scope and vibration of activity Alfonso always seemed to manifest.   I’m trying to give you a picture of what I walked into that day at The Creeks… the vibrations of Alfonso’s protean life.   As Helen was interviewing Alfonso in the huge studio he occupied that had been built almost a century before by the scenic painter Albert Herter, Alfonso told me to feel free to look around.  At the other end of the room was a stage (that Caruso had once sang from and Isadora Duncan had once danced on) which he had converted into storage racks for big paintings. In those racks were some of the original paintings that he had actually shown at Signa, including works by Fontana, Mathieu, Serpan, Teshigahara and many others. As I was pulling works out I noticed a small grey painting, a monochromatic painting. As it turned out, I happened to know the artist. The reason I did was because another friend and artist, David Budd, had once told me about Roland Crampton, who had been a pioneer of minimalist painting, but had been almost entirely forgotten.  David said that Alfonso owned a good grey one that he hoped I would get to see at some point, so I had a foreknowledge of the very painting I found that day.  I held the work up for Helen and Alfonso to see and said “Hey, nice Roland Crampton!”   Alfonso said, “How the hell do you know whose work that is?”  It was just luck.  Anyway that was my job interview… Alfonso hired me on the spot to be his assistant.   It was a wonderful but limited time we spent working together. His illnesses prevented him from doing much in the studio, but he eventually confided in me enough to  entrust me with his works on paper from 1950 and 1951 which he kept in a private flat file in his study off his bedroom in the house.  A lot of them were made in parts, so it was important that someone know how the parts should be arranged for their presentation.  It was this group of work I learned, that had impressed Dubuffet enough to write a brilliant book about them. It was also these same works which had influenced Pollock to return to the figure, which became his black and white paintings of 1951. Alfonso once spoke to us about the “treasure he was leaving his family”  and in the context of where and when he said it,  to Linda Alpern( his nurse) and myself while we were with him in the study,  it was clear to us he was in fact, referring to these works.  There were other things he wanted me to know too, about his work and collections. However Alfonso had amassed so much that even he had lost track of all he had.  I later found some significant things he had lost tract of. We made one assemblage together before he got too sick to work.

It was like cleaning out the Aegean stables…his studio.  There was dust everywhere and works on paper were piled up on tables under very old plastic that had turned amber and fell apart when it was touched.  Alfonso had died in late 1990 and I had the job to inventory, not only all his works, but everything left in his various collections. This meant fine art, two wine cellars and a library of about 9,000 books.  It took over a couple of years with 3 people working full time.  I had to become familiar with the history of his collections in order to know what he still had and what he had sold. It was required for tax purposes.  This task, particularly concerning the art he had collected of others, informed me in ways that could have never been predicted.  I am sure his collection in the 1950s was one of the most important in the world.  He had owned several important Pollocks, including “Lavender Mist”, a ton of Dubuffets including several large “Corps de Dames” paintings, 3 classic deKoonings, same with Lee Kransner, Clifford Stills and a host of other artists. By the time I came along in ‘89 all the really important paintings had been sold. That was how he paid for his conifer arboretum and the seawall that stretched along some of the mile long perimeter of his property on the pond.  Even without all the major things, there were many amazing small works that had to be accounted for; erotic drawings by Dubuffet, early works by Artschwager, Michael Goldberg, Lee Krasner, Fautrier and outsider art the Surrealists called  “l’art brut”.   Well, it went on and on.

My thoughts regarding my own work at the time were reactionary. I had tired of working in, or thinking in, multiples, whether that meant using many pieces or just two. Returning to the country sparked my relationship to nature, to the rawness of the elements.   These feelings coupled with the extreme cultural experience I was having learning from Ossorio’s collections, formed to give me a new direction.  In particular, it was the exposure to l’art brut that Ossorio had been involved with, through Dubuffet that showed me just how powerful expression could be when focused through the lens of obsession and very limited means, some of the qualities which characterize the work made by the original “outsider” artists.   One “maker” as they then called some of those artists, had scraped images into the walls of his cell. That really got me,  the intensity and singleness of the act, and  it was proof I felt that art was indispensable to humans, no matter what their “condition”.   Dubuffet had gained control of the works when he took over Companie de L’ Art Brut from Andre Breton in the early 1940s. The entire collection which in 1952 consisted of 707 peices was sent by Dubuffet to Ossorio to house and exhibit at The Creeks. In Ossorio, Dubuffet found a willing conspirator in the promotion of l’art brut.  Alfonso had accompanied him to Chicago where he gave a famous talk about it. It was the introduction to an entirely new kind of art in America. The collection itself was exhibited in the upper rooms of The Creeks for about ten years till it was sent to Lausanne in 1962 where Dubuffet had arranged for an official museum to be dedicated to l’art brut.  I had seen some of the collection when I was a child visiting Alfonso’s house though obviously I had no way of knowing what it was all about but I loved seeing Auguste Forestier’s “Monstre” a kind of playfully made alligator constructed of found wood, feathers and other detritus which Alfonso made a practice of showing the kids of artists. Most of the artists, curators and collectors of the time saw l’ art brut collection during the 1950s.  When I was cleaning up the studio, under the piles of papers, books and drawings on Ossorio’s tables I found a notebook delineating the collection, as it existed in 1952. It was written in Dubuffet’s own hand.  The descriptions of each piece were incredibly meticulous. This amazing artifact and document coupled with installation shots taken by Hans Naumth of the works as they were exhibited there helped me put together the information I needed to deal with some estate matters. Dubuffet had given Alfonso about a dozen pieces from the original collection. They were works by Auguste Forestier, Wolfli, Jeanne Tripier and Chassac.  Soon after settling the estate, I made sure the original notebook written by Dubuffet was given to the museum in Lausanne.

One day I was lucky to have Lynda Benglis come to my studio. We became friends after she gave a brilliant talk at the Pollock-Krasner House one summer.  I was still doing prints from clay plates and she looked at the plates and said, ”why not just think of the plates as finished work?”   I really liked working on the flat clay, as I could draw in it and if I didn’t like the drawing erase it completely by smooshing the soft clay over the lines I had made.  For me, it was a perfect kind of erasure, as there could be no trace or pentimento left of the previous lines.  When Lynda suggested that I become conscious that my process of drawing in the clay was enough, that it could be the end result and not a intermediate stage for print-making, I found I could accept that idea, because of the exposure to the raw and primitive power I had seen in l’art brut. These are what’s called “happy accidents”.

So I began to conceive of the clay work as an end in itself. This led me to think about the meaning of clay as content and generally about how material can have meaning prior to being employed in the making of a work.  The connection with earth was obviously the main motif. I began to study the words, earth, clay, dirt, soil, ground, etc. The research resulted in finding a several quotes. This one is from Heidigger.

“ Once when Care was crossing a river she saw some clay. She thoughtfully took up a piece and began to shape it. While she was meditating on what she had made Jupiter came by. Care asked him to give it spirit and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted her name to be bestowed on it, he forbade this, and demanded it be given his name instead. While Care and Jupiter were disputing Earth arose and desired that her name be conferred upon the creature since she had furnished it with part of her body. They asked Saturn to be their arbiter and he made the following decision, which seemed a just one. ” Since you Jupiter have given its spirit, you shall receive that spirit at its death, and since you Earth have given its body, you shall receive its body. But since Care first shaped this creature she shall possess it as long as it lives. And now because there is a dispute among you as to its name, let it be called ‘homo” for it is made out of humus (earth)”.

Another one was from the Hidden Words by Baha’u'llah,  “…with the clay of My command I made thee to appear and ordained for thy training every atom in existence…”

So clay = man and even in a very literal sense the clay beneath our feet could conceivably be made up of those who had gone before us and who now had become part of the earth.  So working with clay had had a kind of sacred quality, in that it was literally and metaphorically invested with humanity.

The return to nature and being involved with environmental concerns was all wrapped up in my new consciousness. Because I was incising lines into the surface of the clay, an act of micro digging so to speak, it lead me to think that the process was directly related to the material.  Now, what kind of images would be appropriate to this “digging” in the “earth”?  I decided since the process was related to the material that the images too should be related to both, creating a triple level redundancy. Among the first images I used were mounds of dirt. One day driving around I spotted one of those DOT barns with the doors open which housed a huge mound of salt, for de-icing roads.  So that was were mound image came from. Over the course of the years I worked in clay I would elaborate the essential structure; material > process > symbol.

I was able to show Alfonso my clay work. It was the only time he came to my house. Sick as he was, he was kind enough to make the effort. I am still not sure what he made of the work. He was most concerned with its impracticality as an art material, as the modeling clay stays soft forever.  He felt I was defeating my efforts by using it and of course on many levels he was right, but I decided to venture on anyway.   I also showed the work to Chuck Close that year and he too seemed reticent about it stemming from the material issue. There is a work called Chuck’s Beard, that I did after his visit.. another tribute to marks being the building blocks of imagery.

Anyway eventually I had enough work for a show and I was  lucky that Arlene Bujese was willing to exhibit these difficult to sell works at her Benton Galley in Southampton. The gallery had 3 semi-separate spaces and she would produce 3 one-person shows simultaneously.  My work was shown with Dan Flavin Jr.’s and Li Lan’s. It was quite a spread.  Flavin was suffering from diabetes which took him, a few years later. He had been doing prints and drawings with images of sails that were quite beautiful.   Li Lan made exquisite watercolors and paintings using a language that came from postal graphics; stamps, cancellation bars, envelops, etc. and then there were my soft clay works. Flavin loved the clay works and bought one called “Bridge at Langlouis”.  It was an appropriation. I had taken the image from Van Gogh and drew it into the clay, then filled in the hollows of the lines with Caran clay, a neon red kid’s clay. I think that’s why Dan bought that one, the color.  I had come to using other materials with the clay too, by imbedding them into the surface. I used powdered pigments, carborundum,  Caran clay and bees wax.

During the years I made the clay works the images I chose to depict always had some relation to the connotation of the material and the process, no matter how obscurely tangential. “Lives of the Cell” which was named after a Lewis Thomas book had that relationship, of life coming from the earth. Reading that book and getting to meet that great man was so inspiring. That too was because of Alfonso. They had done a limited edition book together for the Fellows of the Whitney Library and I had to have Dr. Thomas sign one for a friend of Alfonso’s.  When I was visiting with him, he  gave me a signed copy of his book “A Long Line of Cells”.  I still treasure it. Edward Albee bought “Lives of the Cell”  from a show in 1996.   Another work called “Race” was an image of a big mound.   At first, I had four small panels underneath the larger clay one. Each was covered with powdered pigments representing the four major races/ skin colors but then I thought that was too divisive.  It was better to say all races came from one source, the earth.   My wonderful collectors, Alex and Lorraine, bought that one.  A central meaning in the mound images, had to do with the “rise” from the flatness and nothingness of the world, and is related to the Omphalos. It is a Greek word meaning “navel’. However it has wide connotations, including fecundity, pregnancy, womb, erection, existence and even the “centeredness of man’s collective unconscious.”   A decade later I was to return to this theme, but in my water phase, when the mound became the wave,  its liquid equivalent.

Some images had symbolic or metaphoric meanings like “Susanna” from the Artemisia painting “Susanna and the Elders.”  I felt the image of the falsely accused Susanna could stand for our misunderstanding of our relationship to nature.. how there was a difference between a legitimate stewardship and the rape of nature seen in today’s world. The scuff marks and foot prints on the surface expressed the struggle she (Nature) had, avoiding molestation.  “Shiny Whites” came from the story about Christ walking with the disciples when they spotted a dead dog rotting on the ground. The disciples complained of its ugliness but Christ pointed out how beautiful its white teeth were. I love that story.

I am very happy about this particular group of works, even though from a commercial point of view, they are difficult pieces. I was honored by the bravery of those who plunked some cash down for them.  I was also grateful to the curator Meg Perlman, who conducted an interview concerning these works with me, which we called “re: source” .  The idea that material has its own content is something I have carried with me ever since. The following group of works, made with raw beeswax, was simply an extension of the idea found through working in clay, as has been my recent work with resin with its relation to light and water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 8: Transition – The Community

In ‘89 I finished my MFA at Hunter. We decided to move out to Long Island, to the Hamptons. We had lived there in the early ‘80s and I had lived there during my formative years as well, so it was a kind of symbolic “return”.  The works I did once we settled were various for the first year.  It was a transitional period, I was reexamining what I had done and went about finding ways to express various conclusions I had come to.  In this respect the advice of colleagues was invaluable.

I reconnected to many of the artists of my father’s generation. Jim and Charlotte Brooks were my favorite people among the artists from my childhood. To me there were the best of all role models. They were “cool” before cool was cool. They shunned that “Sturm und Drang” exhibited by many of the artists in their generation.  They lived a very simple un-material life, completely devoted to making art and living in harmony with nature. They had a ten-acre property onto which they had moved their house from Montauk, after the hurricane of ‘54.  It was set off of Neck Path in Springs about 300 feet into the woods. Charlotte’s studio, a smallish shed, had once been the post office building of Amagansett. They moved it to a spot deeper into the woods, about 150 feet from the house, and Jim’s studio was built even further again out into the woods.  So the walks to the studios, were a kind of preparation and meditation and enabled one to separate from the daily cares of the world.  It was brilliant.  (His studio also has the remnants of paintings done on the floor, similar to Pollock’s studio.) Jim and Charlotte did not drink a lot like most of their peers. They were smart but non-confrontational, with high standards but not exclusive or acerbic.  Their vibe was one of acceptance.  Jim was the other side of the coin from Pollock, though they had been close friends and shared a studio on 8th street during the formation of Abstract Expressionism.  Charlotte was a very good painter and had been in the Whitney Annual when it was down in the village, before Jim had achieved recognition.

By 1989 Jim was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s and I got into helping Charlotte a bit with things related to managing art and studio. I created the first digital database of Jim’s work. I was amazed to see the progression of his work, because while differing in sensibility and temperament to Pollock, on another level, that of process and working philosophy, they were very close. Surveying Jim’s oeuvre, which spanned about 60 years, one could see how those ideas played out on the long trajectory, as opposed to Pollock’s oeuvre which followed a short one, due to his death in ‘56.

Charlotte too had been a pioneer, a woman of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists along with Lee Krasner and others. She once told me that, in the ‘40s when the artists began to settle in the country (they called it “the country” then, never “the Hamptons”) that in the afternoons it was common for them to visit each other’s studios, just to see, as she said, “If it was alright to still be doing what we were doing.” Charlotte’s statement underscores how important camaraderie was to those who were pushing into the unknown.

In the summer of ’89 I wrote some art criticism for the East Hampton Star and then, through the curator Helen Harrison, (the most knowledgeable historian on the Hamptons art community) I got reacquainted with the artist / collector Alfonso Ossorio and went to work for him. I had known him since I was a child when my family rented his gatehouse at The Creeks in 1959.  Working for Ossorio was a major event in my life, at least as important as working with Chamberlain had been.  What I did subsequently to the work shown here, was certainly influenced by the exposure, not only to Ossorio’s work and ideas, but also to the work of the artists he collected, especially Jean Dubuffet and l’art brut artists.

I was still occupied by the diptych idea but I began expanding and contracting it to see what the potentials were. One mode of the works I produced then was identifying the tenor or root of something and then showing its progeny. So I began to incorporate both the plates and prints as one work of art.  This was also a nod to early  “process” art which was the art that I most admired during my education in the ‘70s.  Other diptych ideas had to do with presenting a “noun” and a “verb”, like the image of a bucket and an image made from pouring liquids, presumably from that bucket. A more complex one consisted of a large image of a book with two half-size panels: a black one made of ink and a white one representing paper.  There is one with a shovel on one side and actual dirt adhered to a canvas on the other.  In the middle of this period the Berlin wall was taken down. I had previously done some big clay prints of the image of a hammer. Some just happened to be printed with red ink.  As a response to the fall of the wall, I cut the red hammer in two, the long way, dividing the tines from the head.  I hung it separated at the top, but attached at the bottom, “quoting” Gordon Matta-Clark’s first cut house format.  Then there were two paintings that had representational fragments collaged onto abstract canvases. All these different efforts were explorations, looking for something ….

The interesting thing about making art is being the recipient of peoples’ reactions. I was lucky to have smart people come by for studio visits and give me their view of what they saw.  Jim Brooks once asked me, when I was about 20, “Do you have friends or colleagues that you can really talk to about what you and they are doing?  You’ll find, in the long run, that’s the most important thing.” Community is important because art is a thing that flows from work to work, from artist to artist.  It was good to be “home” in a place where there was so rich an art history and to be reacquainted with the older artists I knew growing up. And there was the discovery too, of other artists my age, who had settled “in the country” like we had: Sally Egbert, Michael Rosch, Robert Harms, Nic Tarr, Steve Miller, Terry Elkins, Jennifer Cross, Tracy Harris and now so many more great artist friends. Jim was right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 7 : Subway Ad Polaroids 1987 – 1989

In 1987 while living and working in New York I began to notice how subway platform advertisements had a connection to my assembled print images.  By the late ‘80s I had come to the realization that assemblage, in its essence, could be defined as binary structure; one added to another.  I found the autonomy in the process very comforting, as the individual unit, being acknowledged as unique, contributes value, via that uniqueness. My understanding was that by juxtaposing two individuals, potentially representing the x (0) and y(1) of things, the binary format was capable of that dynamism necessary to conception.  In other words, the binary structure follows the format of thesis and anti-thesis and could culminate in the viewer’s process as synthesis. The “diptych” structure in painting represents the idea of using two equal supports, such as canvases or panels. The simple notion of measuring one side with the other,  comparing their images and compositions (among other aspects)  produced a kind of syntax that could stand on its own.  Having acclimatized myself to seeing and thinking this way, I noticed one day that the subway platform ad posters were almost invariably displayed in cases that held two images of the same size together, so I started taking Polaroids of them in late 1987.

I used a Polaroid Spectra camera with a built-in flash. The flash is really important in this work, first for lighting sometimes darkly lit ads but more importantly, for the image the flash makes in the photos. The flash image unites the two ad images in situ. thus dispelling the idea that I simply juxtaposed two images together in the studio.  In most of the photos the images bleed off the edges. This cropping limit was imposed by the short distance I usually had to stand back to get the two ad images in the frame of the camera.  Another step back was death trains and / or tracks.

Because of their scale and proximity to the viewers, the ads were affecting people subliminally.  People pass by in a rush or stroll, stand or sit waiting. Maybe some of those people occasionally focus on the details of the ads. A train pulls up, people get out and move while other schools of people wait to swim into the cars. Because of this I would venture to say the majority “feel” the ads more than they see them.  This scale of image to the body/eye is related to various art ideas. One is the notion that the Abstract Expressionists developed around the “environmental” scale they worked in, with the object of encompassing the viewer’s body completely by the painting.  Then there’s Jim Rosenquist, who described using some images that were so big, that initially, the viewer doesn’t see what they are, in other words… images that were felt before they were seen.

There was a point in time in 1988 when I think I knew almost every advertisement that appeared in subways in New York. It was fascinating, the combination and repetition of images. One could see a certain ad coupled with different partner ads throughout the city.  All the juxtapositions, I thought it was safe to assume, were put up randomly by the workers charged with that task.  The whole operation then, while corresponding to processes that artists would follow in making a work was carried out anonymously and autonomously, so this was perhaps a real demonstration of the collective unconscious.  In the beginning is the consumer, the origin of desire, then there are the business entities involved in the production of the wares designed to fulfill that desire, then the ad agencies charged with the tasks of coming up with campaigns for those products, the “creatives” involved with the actual details of the art and then the format of the ad stands on the platform which funnels it all back to the consumer.

In those years of walks through the subway stations, I thought of the ad images as a collective oracle, a kind of sociological tarot deck that had been drawn from society’s desires. The posters fit all descriptions: ads for things like cigarettes, beer, hard liquor and over the counter drugs, cultural events including musicals, concerts, sports events, ads for movies, travel deals, museums and radio stations, public service ads dealing with health or work related issues, ads for beauty treatments, and on and on. Like a Tarot deck, the ad images could be said to be symbols of all the various impulses we have: survival, food, sex, death, love, power, beauty, money, etc.  They had then been drawn, shuffled and laid out in a precise format with neutrality to any meaning that might be involved their combination. Here was where the artist came in…seeing it and reflecting it back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 6: The Clay Print Assemblages 1985-1989

  ( scroll over images for titles dates, sizes etc. click to enlarge)

Using picture postcards for my assemblages, eventually I hit a point where I needed to connect to more personal imagery, as the postcard images were intended as souvenirs for tourists.  I had the idea then that I should make my own “postcards”, image souvenirs of my own life.  I turned to a print technique because I could make multiples of images, the large amount of units needed for working in assemblage. The images I conjured were from personal life like photos of friends, or just what ever I was drawn to.

In the early ‘60s my father invented a printing technique, which he called the “clay cut”.  “Clay-cut” referring to the use of clay for a printing surface instead of wood as in “wood-cut”. He flattened modeling clay (plasticene) out in a panel to make the printing plate, then incised marks into the surface to make imagery.  Because the clay surface stays relatively soft it was necessary to ink it and bray lightweight paper, all by hand, to make prints. The general effect was that every print was ever so slightly unique. Syd used this roughly calibrated technique to achieve some nice effects in the few prints he made this way.

In late ’84 I was experimenting with the clay print technique and presentation. By the summer of ’85 I had made a number of works. They were comprised of tiling multiple prints. They were larger than previous work as the unit size of the prints was much larger than postcards.  I used oil based printing inks and rice paper for the media of the prints and then mounted the assembled group to a canvas or a panel.  Eventually I also used water-based colors to stain parts of the rice paper where there was no oil color, a resist between oil and water-based media.

Technically, I could do a few different things to make the editions variable. I could print states, where the plate was inked only once but a number of sheets were pulled off the plate. Each successive print would be lighter until there was no image left. By assembling these prints together in succession I could show in a serial way, the effects of change or time.  Or I could continue to ink one area of the plate but let other areas fade, like in the work “ Gleam And Then Pale.” It starts with a starry night and as the sun comes up in successive versions, the stars fade.  In this case the sky fades from black to light and the printed white stars become invisible against the lightening sky. Or I could color various areas on the plates differently producing different effects within the same image.  An early clay print work was “Life in a Day of the Palm”.  It showed the same palm tree at four different times in the day.

A linear way of thinking entered into my assemblage concepts because of the printing technique.  This progressed the notions I had had about patterning. With an abstract structure merging with the representational images I worked with, I could show, this process is happening to that individual. I had a narrative, the noun and the verb working together.  The assemblages were like short films for me and I could just draw them up, unencumbered by having to deal with photography or projection.

The depiction style that I used to render images was almost cartoon-like, very flat and simple, often with outlined contours.  This related to the representational style I had developed in California, which was influenced by artists like Milton Avery, Charles Garabedian, Hank Pitcher, Paul Georges, Steve & Shawn White, Roy Flowler, Gregory Botts, as well as the works of the European neo-expressionists.  For me the simple style combined with the roughness of the technique evoked an expressionist feel, as the prints were always textured by the various surfaces produced by the crudeness of the clay plates. This offset and countered the lighter, decorative aspect that patterning the prints evoked.

In other works from this period, it is the shape of the unit that presented the image that was altered. In, “Black Cherry Soda” the same image was cast in a triangle, a square and a hexagon.  This challenged the tradition of the frame. Tiling these shapes together, expressed how the same image changed depending on the shape it was presented in, through repetition.

Well into it this period I realized I was creating a large library of images that were the source for the enlarged printed ones. They were the initial drawings on 4 x 6 index cards.  Some were line drawings, others were tone drawings done with gray markers.  I am up to about a thousand, images. Hats, tools, shoes, jets, guitars, vases, objects of all kinds, hands, bodies, faces, trees, leaves, and on and on, wheel barrows, pine combs, horse chestnuts, chairs, bugs, feathers, combs, mounds, rocks, etc.

While at Hunter, I took a class with Vincent Longo. Vinnie is a master print maker and painter and great to have as a teacher and even more as a kind of spiritual guide.  In his class I made transfer prints using my card file of small drawings. In transfers, you make Xerox of things and use acetone to transfer the Xerox to other paper as it’s run through the press.  It was a way for me to think out ideas for my larger print assemblages, which had grown to use diverse images and ways to assemble them.  My thesis at Hunter talked about how I assembled the diverse images I had created. I started to see the act of assemblage as a personal Tarot deck, a personal oracular image library. Of course I was not going to follow a ritualized order in laying them out nor was I was working from a deck of fixed images and meanings, but the choice of images, the why and wherefore with which I spread them out across the wall, revealed thoughts and aspirations as sure as any oracle could.

{ It was also during the Hunter years (’87-’89) point that I started noticing the posters in the subways. I started to see all imagery as pure desire.  The way they were presented in the cases, usually as diptychs, attracted me. I considered them to be close to what I was doing except that these images reflected the collective oracle, the desires of society as a whole, or at least the society of America, of New York. I began an overlapping series of work at this time, which were Polaroids, taken of these diptychs in the subway… they’re next month’s topic.}

The clay prints represented a new period for me, a maturation of various ideas and aspirations. It particularly represented the notion that abstraction and representation could work together. By merging the structures of geometric abstraction, with representational images, I felt I was able to have an expression that was both accessible but also worked on some of those essential levels that abstraction addresses.  This mode enabled a metaphorical narrative.

The aspiration to unite had its genesis in my interest in spiritual philosophy, and in particular, it came from the influence of Baha’i philosophy, which I had been interested in since the age of 15.   The idea of oneness, so central to the Baha’is and so well elaborated in the Faith’s Literature, very much appealed to me.  The declaration of the commonality of essentials while embodied diversely, engenders an inclusive attitude while not diminishing the uniqueness of the individual.

Seeking this kind of balance within the elements of art became a guiding principal. As the work progressed I came to realize that, assemblage boils down to putting two different things together, like the digital reduction that every value is either 1 or 0.   The diptych is the pictorial parallel.  During this period, I met the Canadian painter, Otto Rodgers.  The imagery of Otto’s work had developed from his experience growing up on the plains of Saskatoon where the horizon was ever present.  The horizontal divide influenced his compositions.  Otto talked about making the two sides of the painting as different as possible. He talked about how we gravitate towards finding the connections between different things, and how the capacity of man was in measuring differences, always seeking connections and oneness but also uniqueness, the unknown.

The diptych presented me with a rich yet succinct form to work out the dynamics involved in diversity and oneness and there are a number of diptychs in this group, although the series contains formats of various kinds.  The last works in the series made in late 1989 were the Food / War diptychs.  These combined images taken from gourmet magazines of food plates shot in vivid color, with black and white images of war photos. Images of planes being shot, soldiers in the battlefield, rockets firing, etc. These works were obviously influenced by the subway Polaroids I had been taking and by my thoughts about differences and connections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 5: Brazilian Series 1983-1984

A continuation of the postcard works. These influenced by Neil William’s works he brought back from Brazil. A few spray paint on aluminum flashing works honoring High-Life music and a few other things marked the end of an era for me.  In mid ’84 I left working for Chamberlain, left Florida… time for a change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 4 : Postcards Assemblages with China Markers 1983

One of things that I experienced in working for John Chamberlain was the use of found object assemblage material.  To be accurate, Chamberlain almost always altered his found objects before incorporating them in his assemblage sculptures, but never-the-less his material starts from being found, as it comes from the formation of auto bodies. Working for John was an inundation in assembly line processing. In this aspect, he followed Henry Ford’s process. If John’s work has to be associated with the automotive, it should be for his assembly line of chance operations and not, because his crushed metal elements really have anything to do with car content.

My jobs included cutting things, especially chrome bumpers, bending body metal in a paper bailer and painting.  I also found and processed all the Tonka pieces. When I started working for him he said proudly, “I’m the only one that can make a mistake!” In other words the chance processes I would perform to create his assemblage pieces, where up to him to use or discard.  I was instructed to take cans of color and pour them on piles of  metal I had bent up in the bailer. When the paint had dried and the parts were separated, the color that had dried on the respective pieces was very arbitrary. Once John threw a can of color backwards over his head to land on a pile of metal I had bent up.  That insured that I understood just how chance driven he wanted the process to be.

In the summer of 1983, we were living in my parent’s house on Siesta Key. One of my issues was how the natural places I grew up in, got developed by those who seemed to me, to have little understanding of the natural world that existed there before they came and changed it.  Now looking back, my feelings had to have been as much about the loss of childhood, the loss of innocence, as they were about the loss of nature.  In addition to the anger I felt at the change of the environment, my parents’ property became threatened by a unique kind of coastal erosion while we lived there. A natural pass that carried water from the bay to the Gulf became un-stabilized and began to migrate from where it had been for about 60 years towards our section of the beach. In just a month it threatened to take out our neighbor’s house and then ours. We went through a horrific battle with the authorities and the community before the issue was somewhat settled. It was a rite of passage for me, as I dealt with the authorities alone while my parents stayed in their summer pattern, living in Long Island. I bring the erosion event up to shed light on the work I did then, as some of the images were a direct reaction to it.

My expression of the anger I felt was to employ sarcasm. The vehicle for this came about from my reaction one day to a carousel stand of picture postcards that are ubiquitous in most of the tourist stores down there. The imagery on these postcards are clichés made as souvenirs for tourists to take or send home. There were photos of sunsets, alligators, and girls in skimpy bikinis, sea gulls, or “landmarks” like big new developments. There were images of old oak trees with Spanish moss, water skiing, alligators, pelicans, flamingos, aerial photos of the barrier islands known as “keys”, Manatees, orange groves, sand dollars, lovers walking on the beach and even the Skyway Bridge which during the previous year, had been hit by a tanker. That spectacle / tragedy was used by the tourist industry as a souvenir image. Images on postcards of the bridge missing the lane where 32 people lost their lives by driving off 150 feet into Tampa Bay were common during those years.  There for the tourists who in my angry view were trampling on my sacred ground, the picture postcards seemed the perfect foil for me to use to protest all that I was angry about. And John’s example, of using a found objects and then altering them, became the model for me in the years I worked on postcards.

One of the things I learned from John about assemblage is that you have to have lots of material so that your grouping choices are as various as possible. Postcards were cheap and I could buy them in mass quantities. At first I assembled them together in various tiling patterns.  Their diminutive size made it so that when seen from across a room one did not at first recognize the images. They looked like abstract patterns and in this and because of their scale, they related to my oil paintings from 1979 and the paper assemblages before that. Whether it condemns me or not, I’ll admit I had no awareness of the same kind of work being done by Gilbert and George. What the patterning did to the imagery was of great interest to me, as it automatically sent the images into a deconstructed space. By multiplying them, each element became detached from its context and joined the context of its “likes”.  To me this was strange form of surrealist space where the image’s context was misplaced. I felt this was a way to negate their use for tourists’ pleasure.

At some point because I was still doing some drawings with China Markers, I just started drawing on the post cards. I liked the contrast of the two surfaces, the slick glossy surface of the photos with the flat surface of the wax markers.  Having gotten used to altering John’s found material, my altering the postcards was an easy step and the repertoire I had developed using the markers, which included scrapping layers of wax down to the surfaces beneath was applied to overworking the photographic images on the cards.  As far as I know this was a few years before Gerhard Richter did a similar thing with his “over-painted photographs”. To draw or paint on a photograph is a form of critique made visually and directly, instead of through words which function at a remove from the object itself.  To alter the photographic image by making marks on it, one can emphasize being  “with” or “against”, the image. Drawn or painted over photography, is a form of commentary and artists have been doing it for probably as long as photography has been around.

Anyways, you’ll see in these works, images that deal with shifting shorelines and flooded developments, references to our erosion problem. The idea of putting bright colors over the shoreline images was partly influenced by Christo as he had just completed surrounding some islands in Biscane Bay with pink fabric which was very thought provoking both from an aesthetic as well as environmental point of view. In my way, I altered things too, through drawing. I flooded beach-front developments, swamped new bridges and causeways, erased the crowds sunning themselves on the beaches, drew giant spikes that dwarfed other new buildings, blackened blue waters, put fire and brimstone in blue skies – just generally raised hell among the many images of tourist memorabilia I had found.  This was my way of dealing with my feelings. Some works are “graffitied on” images, which deny the gratification of souvenir visions by being overwritten with the angst of expressionist gesture.   The use of my father’s language – abstract gesture – was also a step towards dealing with my background. Working for John had allowed me to go back to it and use it for my own purposes. I felt the work was in line with some of the neo-expressionist work being done in Europe and in New York by my peers. But there I was, like Robinson Carouso, working on a beach on the west coast of Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 3: China Marker Drawings 1978-1982

As you look through these images they progress chronologically from neat ones to ones with more gesture. This transition can be attributed to being around John Chamberlain. I started working as his assistant in Florida in May of 1980.  Though a generation removed from Abstract Expressionism, his work embodied it enough, that during the time I worked with him, I slowly came to  re-appreciate the aesthetics that my father’s world had first represented.  The emergence of neo-expressionism during the same period was influential in this regard as well.

The drawings were done on  grid paper and the squares are composed of 4 units to the inch.  The media is “china marker” a professional grade wax marker. I liked the quality of the markers because they applied evenly and had great coverage, unlike crayons. The series was started in New York in the fall of 1978,  made while I  did the larger paper assemblages, and continued in my last year in California in ’79 and then again, in Florida while I worked for John.

The motif in the most of these drawings is morphing patterns.  As “pattern painting”  had been influential in the late ’70s  my response might be described as ” post pattern”  because of my deconstruction of that element. After establishing a pattern of the composition, I would then break it, either by redrawing certain parts or by actually cutting the drawing and physically shifting the paper. My process, was to work through a sequences of actions; determine initial pattern, determine color, apply, redraw pattern or cut/shift, recolor new pattern, cut and shift again,  recolor again, etc..all this was following the Jasper Johns’ description .. do something, do something to that, do something to that… etc.

A counter theme, which appeared occasionally in the series was simply to leave the initial  pattern, unchanged.   I always have the need to create some works in a series which occupy a dialectical position from the rest.  Finally, toward the end of the series, the drawings become more about gesture altogether. These emphasized the feeling of the viscosity of the wax line which included how it felt to scrape the wax off. The edges of the drawings become irregular. I liked to call those drawings “fuzzies”.

Drawing is the “arena”, (Harold Rosenberg’s term)  where things can get worked out, where you try anything and everything and see what gives. I made about 100 drawings with china markers and they established my love of working with wax, which I returned to in the ’90s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group 2: College of Creative Studies> Yale & NYC 1978-1979

In my first two and a half years at Creative Studies I had been exposed to most of the trends in contemporary of art. I have to credit my first girlfriend there, Lani Asher, for hipping me to many things. When I started there I knew next to nothing about cutting edge contemporary art. My background was the Ab Ex generation with a little Pop mixed in.  That was about it except for knowing a bit about 19th Century and early 20th Century art, stuff common to most middle class “artsy” kids.  So Lani’s world was an opening.  Among the many artists she was into, Eve Hesse’s work has stayed with me, close to the heart.

The College of Creative Studies at UCSB was an incredible program. CCS was the first place and maybe the only place, I’ve experienced a truly open theoretical curricula.  A traditionalist on the art faculty was Hank Pitcher. Hank had assimilated Manet and the Impressionists as well as modern figurative artists, like Wayne Thiebaud and Paul Georges. Working with narrative themes and painting in a highly mannered way, Pitcher’s direction was a precursor to some of what happened in the 80s.  At the same time, we had a post-minimalist, the master of “fetish finish” on the faculty, John McCracken.   I had some good conversations with John and some astute advice from him too. Everything from McCracken, was very quietly said and that added a certain power.  We also had two incredible regular visiting artists who lived in LA, and taught on a semester-by-semester basis. Charles Garabedian taught most of the time I was there and Kiesho Okayama taught quite a bit as well.  Kiesho’s family had been the Sakuhaci players for the Emperor of Japan. I think he was supposed to be the next in line.  Kiesho played that flute once for us, by way of introduction, one semester.  It was like the pied piper… everyone fell in love with him.  Kiesho taught drawing and they were some of the most difficult and satisfying classes I have ever taken. In one class we were instructed to draw lines back and forth across the page for an hour or till the paper wore through.

Garabedian was so eclectic. The first time I experienced him was at a slide lecture he gave on Italian artists including Botticelli, Giotto, Piero, and Pontormo.  He talked about how the arrows went though St. Sebastian’ body, the angle of attack and how various artists drew them, and how the ankles of Jesus were painted while he was on the Cross or standing in the water during Baptism.  Chaz blew our minds in adapting these kinds of structural concerns to his California funk cartoon collages. He had the most amazing attitude towards art I’ve ever encountered.  I go to see his shows whenever I can.

We had a class that visited artist studios in LA. guided by David Trowbridge.  I saw Baldesari’s place, the old arcade in Santa Monica, that he had converted for studios. He’d kept all the different rooms and booths where the games had been and had different projects going in each one.   Tom Wudl also taught at CCS and Bill Viola  came through once.  These various influences provided without any administrative editorial, was how things were done at CCS. Throw everything at the student and let them sort it out for themselves.

In 1978, I got to attend Yale’s summer art program in Norfolk, CT. By then I had decided that abstraction / formalism, was the direction I needed to move in.  It was largely because I came to believe that color was the primary force in visual art and I wanted to focus on it, so I began to pursue a reductive approach that would eliminate other elements I defined as non-essential.    This happened in fits and starts throughout the summer at Yale, where I admittedly was struggling, and had a kind of odd relationship with the faculty. Louis Finklestein and Andrew Forge, were running the place. I could not quite cotton to the NY Studio School technique/dogma they dished, although I loved Cezanne on whose work their agenda was based. I did relate though to the photographer Larry Fink and even more to his then wife, (not on the faculty but a “visiting artist” who we could talk with) Joan Snyder.  Trying to make the transition from representational work to abstract, Joan’s example really helped me jump the divide. I have admired her work ever since I came to know it that summer. At some point I started drawing tile patterns and they grew into a series of etchings. These became the basis for moving forward. Even the faculty I did not get along with responded to the etchings, so that to me, was a sign of sorts.

In August, when the program was over I arranged to spend the fall living in New York on an independent study through CCS.  I had lined up advisers, the painters David Budd (SVA) and Ray Parker (Hunter), who would visit my studio, critique the work and report to CCS that I was indeed working. With Fritz Van Orden, a friend from CCS who had graduated and was living in New York and Elizabeth Greason, an artist who Fritz had met in the search for a loft, we rented 276 Bowery. 2nd floor. It was just below Houston St. I was the lucky one, because all I had to do was paint and see shows for three months. Fritz had the most grueling life during those years, driving taxis during the graveyard shift. (He later founded the Ordenaires with drummer Jim Thomas, another CCS grad. They were one of the best instrumental bands, ever.)  Elizabeth, who was gorgeous, worked in upscale restaurants and made enough to support herself a few nights a week to spend the majority of her time in the studio.  She was a very diligent artist.  Ray Parker had a studio nearby, in the same building as Chuck Close. Ray took me over there once and I got to meet Chuck and see how he worked – on a customized easel that moved the canvas vertically so he could cover the entire surface working horizontally from the same position, like using a typewriter.  That was fascinating and taught me something about set-up.

That fall I traipsed around Soho. Dorothea Rockburn, Alan Sheilds, Sol Lewitt, Alan Saret, Keith Sonnier, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Ned Smyth, Alyce Aycock, Carl Andre, Lynda Benglis, Gordon Matta Clark, Mel Bochner, Chuck Close, Brice Marden and Agnes Martin were the most important to me, and the influence of Joseph Beuys was in the air.  Paula Cooper and Michael Werner had the best new stuff.  Basquiat was still doing SAMO. I also visited the Hamptons once or twice that fall and hung out with Neil Williams.

While soaking in what I saw, I found that I needed to adapt the formalism I was interested in, to personal way of making paintings. Relying again on my training in watercolor, I used washes of color to stain sheets of paper. I would then cut the sheets up into small rectangles and then assemble the rectangles onto canvases or other larger supports, using roplex, the all purpose medium /adhesive of the time. I also used “color chips” to make works with, would glue them down and then add washes of color over the original colors.  I felt that a handmade feel was important to retain, to keep a kind of human feeling to the otherwise hard edged geometric abstraction. The patterns that emerged from this way of working intrigued me and sometimes I would make cuts in the assemblage and shift the patterns of the initial composition. This began to be a language for me.. a way of creating a dynamic in the process.  I was following Jasper Johns’ statement, ” … you just take something and do something to it and do something else to it…” A few pieces became irregular in shape, particularly Green Way. The brick pattern I had been using encouraged me to let the work become a pathway across the wall. The idea of “gait” of movement across the surface was very appealing to me. You could say they were simply shaped works but they became that way through the process and not as a preconceived design.  Certainly Dorothea Rockburn’s work, which was everywhere then, really got under my skin. Nothing wrong with that.

On my return to CCS at the beginning of 1979 I made some larger grid etchings with the intent of using them as a structure to paint on.  Having completed just a few I decided to switch to doing oil paintings. I guess the idea of being able to paint things in and out, which oil on canvas lets itself to so well, was a logical thing for me to explore and moving into oil on canvas was a way of evoking “classical” connotations. I did about twenty small paintings that way. I had my graduate show in late 79. It was half representational – comprised of the work I made from 75 – 78 and half abstract, work made from 78-79. That kind of set up a pattern I would follow… the back and forth between mimetic and non-mimetic practices.

I moved to New York the first day of 1980 and lived in Roy Fowler’s loft on Walker St. for a short while.  Lani had already moved to New York and so we found a place on 27th St., but I was not that happy there, was restless, moody. One day I got a call from John Chamberlain. John had seen some of the paper assemblages I had done at my parents house where I had hung them. We’d met a few years before when he’d bought a car I wanted to get rid of.   John called to ask me if I’d help set up a Florida studio for him. He liked my assemblages and thought I would be a good assistant.  He’d had trouble in Essex, CT, where he’d just moved with his new wife. The town wouldn’t see John’s assemblage material, the crushed car metal he had spread out on his back 40, as anything other than junk. They stopped him from working there.  It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so off I went in May to Florida alone, to work for John.

Group 1: The California Coast 1971-79

In 1971 when I was 15, I made a conscious choice to work in art.  Growing up with the influence of my father Syd who was an abstract painter (see: Syd Solomon.com) may make my choice to be an artist seem obvious, but for me, at the time, it was based on the simple notion that I had some skill at drawing. The first work in the group presented, is a pencil drawing that I liked at the time. Somehow it gave me confidence.  I can say now, it had something to do with ordering elements using a certain focus and simplicity.    I had, like many artists’ children, been raised from infancy with painting and drawing. Going to art class in high school was the place where I distinguished parental encouragement from “objective” assessment.  Without my knowing it, my art teacher submitted a print I did to a national student art contest and it won. (Thank you, Mrs. Davis) That kind of cinched it for me, at least for the idea of really pursuing art. I was also involved in music. When I graduated in 74, I went up to Maine and did some small watercolors of trees in bright sunlight at a Baha’i retreat.   Somehow that moment, of painting light shimmering in the leaves, was a major marker, a kind of prediction of how light and transparency were important to me.  I painted my first shoreline watercolor, at Kittery, that summer as well.  After the summer was over I ran in to a surfing buddy, Stevie White, at Georgica Beach in East Hampton. He had just returned from traveling to India. He wanted to go to California and since he didn’t drive, or own a car, I volunteered.  I got to hear about his travels, hitch-hiking from Morocco to India, as we drove across the US. It was an unforgettable combination of words and images.

The California coast around Santa Barbara was an amazing experience for me. The first night we got in we stayed at Hank Pitcher’s house in Isla Vista. Hank was (is) a good painter with high craft, stylized and witty.  The next morning we went out to Devereaux Point to check the surf.  I absolutely fell in love with California then.  It was the scale of everything and the light. I had grown up on a west facing shoreline, on the Gulf of Mexico. I knew how afternoon light looked shining through waves, but California had such altitude and depth compared to the flatness, intimacy and shallowness of the Gulf. And it seemed even more golden.  I started painting, mostly still lives in our apartment on Picasso Street in Isla Vista. (Yes, two artists living on Picasso…. We called each other Braque and Picasso when we surfed. ”Nice tube, Braque.”)  We had a one bedroom, which contained 2 drum sets, many surfboards, and paintings all over the place. It was so 70s surf bohemian !

Eventually I started wandering out with notebooks and then with canvases, painting the places we surfed.  I loved the wilder places like Jalama, Point Conception and  Hollister Ranch.  Stevie attended the College of Creative Studies at UCSB and I worked in an avocado nursery in Santa Barbara.  Eventually I went to Creative Studies, one of the best things that ever happened to me.  It was founded by a literary man named Marvin Mudrick and had one of the advanced arts curricula in the country. With artists like John McCracken and Charles Garabedian teaching at the same time, the influences were serious and yet open.  The only “agenda” I ever heard from CCS officialdom was  that students were expected  “to learn how to think”.  With no programmatic dogma and the independence of its artist/teachers, one had  to figure things out for oneself. That experience served its graduates exceptionally well.

I don’t exactly know how I formulated the way I painted then. I tried to be strait forward, matching what I saw with what I could do technically. I was interested in learning, building a foundation. I drew constantly, in class and out. Growing up with Abstract Expressionism I felt I needed to go back and start again at the beginning, training in traditional mimetic skills. During this period I showed some of my notebooks to the artist James Brooks, who was a close family friend.  Jim was profoundly encouraging then. He said something like, ”it’s all right in there”. The notebook works were done with watercolor and I had the tendency to lay many layers on, often making the tones very rich. The images were seascapes, landscapes and still lives.  The coastal vistas had an effect on my well-being. I got a kind of energy from some places, I can’t quite explain.  Of all the kinds of techniques I have done in my life, I still work with watercolor. They are a kind of talisman. When I assess most of the physical qualities I have sought from painting and sculpture over the years, transparency has to be at the top.  Working with watercolor became a technical and aesthetic foundation.

 

 

Devereux Point, Isla Vista February 12, 1979 6 foot North swell Water 52 From cliffs - after surfing all day I had to come back just to see it again. Still glassy perfection but I only have enough energy left to lift a paint brush.

The Bombora, Isla Vista March 3, 1979 12:00 Can't believe how placid it looks today after yesterday's double overhead + mackers. 2 ft swell, no wind, water about 53

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All The Work I’ve Ever Done

Over the last decade or so, I have been slowly assembling a chronology of my life’s work in a database – images of paintings, drawings, sculptures, watercolors, prints and photographs. Of the number of good reasons to do this, the primary one for me, is to be able to exhume the hidden narrative my circuitous interests have made.  Having not followed the more standard way, that of perfecting a limited set of media and images over the course of a long practice, I have instead, worked in various visual languages and media, exploring certain interests until I was satisfied, and then moving on to the next.  In an age of specialists, I have been more like a shape-shifter or to use an outdoorsy metaphor, a scout. In my process, ideas morph from one phase into another, or one technique to another and the thread is not always so obvious.

Within the confines of commercial concerns, artists have been required to follow quite narrow parameters. Artists brand themselves for market by sticking to a form and “look”. This has something to do with the lack of depth in the general viewing sector, and it has carried over, pressuring art dealers to require artists to produce more of the same “recognizable” works.  Without a deeper level of understanding of art, recognizing the superficial “look”, is all there is.  This has become coupled with another stereotype, the “obsessed artist”. We have come to judge the artist by the level of obsession/compulsion they have.   Only through obsession is the artist considered to be an expert within his or her chosen set of aesthetics. When an artist moves away from obsession and specialization we tend to be suspect.. he or she must not be serious enough.  It is a limited standard to judge artists with and again, is one that is used by an uneducated audience as they have no other means of respecting the import of an artist or their work.

Now I have no problems with perfecting an idea, deep involvement or specialization, but for me it comes down to the question of how we choose the  limits of our aspirations and how we deal with our natural curiosities.  While working for John Chamberlain, grouping piles of metal in the studio to be used for his assemblages,  John talked to me about the “sets” of his materials. There were the ones that fit into his standard repertoire,  like chrome bumpers, bent fenders, etc., but then there were pieces of metal that John deemed to belong to an “irregular set”, those pieces that, for whatever reason, did not fit into his notion of standard sets.  His solution, which shows one aspect of his brilliance and open mind, was to make works comprised of all the pieces complied from the irregular set.

The point is, that it is often arbitrary to set limits as to what one’s parameters are, especially in the beginning. Eventually, even by taking the freedoms someone like me has taken, one finds one’s limits.  It can take a long time to find the edges of one’s interests.  This was  actually encouraged through the advice given to me by the artists of my father’s generation. I was lucky enough to be doted upon by some of them, probably because in the early 70s, when I was coming of age, there were few young people who took an interest in the art or ideas of the Ab Ex generation. The advice that I got from  them was, “work for 20 years before showing”. In other words, “know thyself first.”

As I look back on 40 years of art making, I can see the links to various paths taken in the service of knowing myself.   One thing that was constant was my use of  the scientific method, which required that I conduct my work by looking into variables and opposites, to guide my explorations.  The years of searching have revealed my sensibility to me. It is that which did not change, while I explored the diversity of examples required by the method.  Without exploring diversely, I could not have recognized the immutable qualities inherent in my being. My process became a mechanism that measured what was a constant internal sensibility ( my uniqueness)  with the various external qualities found in materials, subjects or ideas.

Organizing my work – taking the curatorial approach – also comes about from a professional life of being a curator of the works of other artists. Growing up in my father’s studio and the studios of his friends and later working for Chamberlain, I experienced how artists organize themselves (and how they don’t).  I gravitated to helping artists and their estates organize works. Over the last 25 years I have cataloged thousands and thousands of works; by James Brooks, Charlotte Park, Alfonso Ossorio, Charles Addams and  my father,  and I’ve advised many others charged with this task.  With Ossorio, the curatorial role I played while running Ossorio Foundation, gave me a special opportunity to first digest and then guide the exhibition program of an entire body of work.  During my time there I laid out a plan for 10 exhibitions and we were able to follow through with that, a legacy I am exceedingly proud of. The organization I brought to his diverse and misunderstood body of work, helped people comprehend it and then become enamored with it. Like Ossorio, I have worked more or less independent of market and also have a diverse yet philosophically united body of work.  So I hope I can do for myself what I did for him, by the organization of my work and its explanation and exhibition, through this blog.

So… over the next year I will be posting, in chronological succession, my body of work, starting from 1971 and proceeding to the present. There are about a dozen major groups, with some offshoots. Of course it will not literally be all of the works I have made, but a selection of 20 to 50 works from each period. In the text part of the blog I will write about each group of work that has been put up, discussing their context and how they are connected to previous works and /or future works. I will send notices out each time a new post goes online. The interval between each post will be a few weeks or so, during which time I hope you will feel free to share your thoughts and observations.   As the posts become old, they will remain accessible so that eventually everything will be posted online.  After everything is up, the blog will remain open for any additional dialog that comes about concerning either past or present works. I look forward to sharing my work and ideas with you.

Best, Mike

Mike Solomon  © 2011