Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lest you think the country is all about jeans and fleece--that's the weekenders. The locals are fashion forward even as they tackle their chores. This is my adorable neighbor, Arianna LaBosco, as I caught her decked out for the raking and pruning detail:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oh no!

Thoughts are so onerous. I’m envious of birds that can flit around without having to think about stuff all the time. I mean maybe they think about stuff, but it’s important stuff, like where to find the next worm. As humans our heads are filled with…filler. Thoughts that serve no practical purpose. Nature could have at least provided us with an on/off switch. Oh there’s sleep, of course, which can, as Shakespeare so beautifully put it, knit up the raveled sleeve of care, but that only lasts until we wake up and are again at our own mercy.

Meditate, they say. Well I have, forever. There’s a great misunderstanding about meditation, as it’s generally perceived to be a state without thought, and I’m here to tell you the bad news—that thoughts are inevitable, and no matter how much you meditate, they keep on coming, like waves on the sea. What you learn from meditation is not to be attached to them. You get a thought, wave it bye-bye, and are on to the next thought. You learn that, while the act of thinking isn’t optional, the content is. Great! All that practice to finally realize that our thoughts are absolutely meaningless, and the beliefs we once held so dear are simply thoughts we think more consistently than others. Trust me, it was much more fun when I took the shit my mind made up seriously. 

So now what?  I’ve lived long enough to know that, outside of the occasional glass of red wine and a complete dependence on chocolate, drugs are not the answer; further, I just can’t get into golf, and Sudoku makes my head hurt.

This is why I am an artist. Because art is language without words, communication that’s capable of skipping over the thinking part and going straight to feeling mode. This is why I hate artists’ statements, because they’re an attempt to add a rational motive to something that, when it’s at its best, is irrational. And this is also why I lean toward abstract, or rather, non-representational, art, because it’s mediation-free; with few indications of how one is expected to respond, it just is what it is. While I didn't start out with an intention—I was simply doing what I was doing—I  realize now that for the last few years I’ve been experimenting with recognizable images, to see if I can create a non-directed, abstract experience while still using pictures, if that makes any sense, which I hope it doesn’t. Fuck, I think I just wrote an artists’ statement.

Where I End and You Begin, 2007, oil on panel, 12" x 18".

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Social Network

I have no doubt that “The Social Network” will become a classic, the defining film of an era. Somehow the producers managed to make a gripping story about something inherently static—people sitting behind computers—that’s brilliantly executed and acted. However I still don’t understand how it’s legal to fictionalize the experiences of living persons—put words into their mouths as it were, without their permission. Bad enough that we have to live with our own histories, without having also to contend with the fallout from those created by others (nevertheless, I’ve decided to give Hollywood full rights to my life story, as long as I am played by Penelope Cruz).

It amused me that “The Social Network” ended with a Beatles song, “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” because throughout (having just read the Beatles’ biography described in the post below) I was thinking about the similarities between the Facebook story and the Beatles’ trajectory—guys in their early 20s, misfits in their own way, who engendered social/cultural phenomena on a scale so new and massive it would have been impossible to predict, creating situations (and legal problems) no one had dealt with before. Both had forward-thinking mentors (Facebook’s Sean Parker, formerly of Napster, was the Beatles’ Brian Epstein and George Martin rolled into one), and both found it necessary to fire a founding member of the team who was also a good friend because he couldn’t keep up with the vision—and both did it in a nasty, cowardly manner. In the film, Parker delivers the final blow to Eduardo Saverin, whose business school mentality was a drag on the program. Like Saverin, the Beatles’ Pete Best (who was also the band heartthrob) was there from the beginning, chosen originally because he owned a drum kit—a big consideration in those lean days—and could keep a beat. Further Best’s mum was the band’s den mother who, in the club she established in the basement of her Liverpool home, gave them some of their earliest performance opportunities. Yet when the Beatles decided Best’s leaden style was holding them back (wanting to replace him with Ringo, the best drummer on the scene) they left it to Brian Epstein do the deed.

There’s also another issue here—that of stolen ideas.  I’m not saying Mark Zuckerberg shouldn’t have compensated the others, but he’s right when he says, effectively, that they would not have made Facebook what it was. There is the idea, and the doing something with the idea, two different things entirely. I participated in a symposium at the Guggenheim on the occasion of The Gates, when an artist stood up and complained, bitterly, that Christo and Jeanne-Claude had stolen her idea. She didn’t get much support from the audience, who recognized that orange flags were only part of the project (and I remember thinking that someone who was so embroiled in wrongs from the past, would never have the open spirit needed to negotiate its ultimate realization). I have had ideas stolen—or let’s say “adapted”—several times. It isn’t pleasant, but it goes with the creative territory.  Once a visiting artist where I was teaching (who had even complained in his lecture about his dearth of ideas) blatantly “adapted” a graduate students's concept.  As he walked out the door after the critique, her studio mate predicted, “You’re going to see these in Chelsea in a year and a half,” and it happened, right on schedule. While I was furious, my student not so flapped, and in the end I said to her, “Don’t worry, while you’re going to have many more new ideas, he’s not.”

And he hasn’t.

By the same token, when someone accuses a Christo (or George Harrison or Coldplay) of “artistic theft” it seems especially silly, because these are people who clearly have come up with so many ideas, it seems unlikely that they’d intentionally stoop to stealing.  But it could happen--here’s an example of a similarity that cropped up between artists who are, for all intents and purposes, equals. You can be the judge.

And, as I mentioned in a previous post, two artists can, without any contact at all, come up with almost exactly the same thing—the example I gave was the paintings I did without ever having seen those by Alighiero e Boetti.

Oh well, it all makes for a good story.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Catching up...

I find I have taken an inadvertent vacation from my blog—not for any particular reason, I just didn’t have any thoughts or opinions, which anyone who has known me for longer than five minutes will find difficult to believe. It happens rarely, but it does happen.

I did go to the Chelsea gallery openings and saw some shows I enjoyed (Joan Snyder, Judy Pfaff, and Jane Rosen) and others I thought were ridiculous (best left unsaid), as well as Gerhard Richter at the Drawing Center in SoHo, which I didn’t love but, regardless, found surprisingly inspiring. I bought the catalogue and when I came back to my studio, all I wanted to do was draw.

I also discovered a new art material: PanPastels.  A while ago, out of the blue, the company sent me some samples to try, and I recently unearthed them. They call them “painting pastels,” and the colors, which are highly pigmented, come in little pots like rouge and are not overly dusty, so it’s like painting, but without the muss and fuss. I love that I can just up and leave the drawing board and when I come back hours later my brushes haven’t gone stiff, and nothing has dried up. They can be purchased in individual colors ($5.14 each at Dick Blick) and in sets, and my only complaint is that the sets don’t really contain what I want (you have to order a set of 20 to get one that contains orange!) and if they do there are duplicates (Payne’s Gray appears in both the gray and the blue sets of five each).  But it’s a small quibble, and every day I compulsively order more. 

Drawing, 9/30/10, graphite and pastel on paper, 9" x 12"

I also became completely hooked on a book—a fascinating, in-depth (875 pages), and completely annotated biography of the Beatles by Bob Spitz (out-of-print but still available), who seems to have interviewed everyone who ever came in contact with them and brings the times alive.  He doesn’t do much editorializing, but lets the information speak for itself. Who knew John was a bully? Or that he and Yoko were hooked on heroin? Or that the main occupation of the nightclub owners who hired the Beatles in Hamburg was running prostitution rings? However while there’s a certain amount of dirt (the author does not love Yoko), as well as insight into the claustrophobia of fame, what I got most from it is a comprehensive picture of how great art was made—and the serendipity involved. The chances of these four guys—who were really not equipped to do anything else in life—finding each other and then, in Brian Epstein, someone who was willing to promote them, as well as the contributing genius of George Martin…not to speak of the volume of rejections, the inhuman amount of work they undertook, and their uncompromising belief in their own vision…the story is mind-boggling. The book is so long that I felt as if I was living my life, then their life, then my life, etc. and I missed them all when it ended.

I did find one inaccuracy—when the Beatles left the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram (because of a story about a presumed affair the Maharishi had, apparently concocted by a Beatles sycophant who feared losing control) Spitz says they cut all ties. However, consulting Wikipedia, I find that Paul has found the Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation (TM) useful for most of his life, and that he and Ringo performed at a benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation, which funds instruction in TM for at-risk youth.

Further, eleven years ago, after learning TM, which I still practice (and chose because it was used by most of the people I knew who had life-long meditation practices) I was at the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, MA, taking in the benefits of an Ayurvedic healing and cleansing program called panchakarma, when George Harrison appeared with a small entourage. He was apparently a regular and adored by the staff. Before my sojourn at Lancaster, I’d been working with the high-end European furniture company, Vitra, as a consultant, producing celebrity print ads (the photographs, taken by Christian Coigny, were later shown at the Louvre). The most challenging part of my job was finding the famous people to sit in the famous chairs, and as a consequence I was celebrity-ed out. I remember that, even though I’d organized the shoots, I passed on meeting Ed Koch and Philip Johnson, because I thought, “why?” (Of course now i wish I had.) However I wasn’t as blasé as I assumed, because that first night, knowing George Harrison was ensconced on the floor above me, I could barely sleep. The next day I passed him in the hall, both of us swathed in white terry robes with towels wrapped around our sesame oil-soaked hair. He said, “Hello” and I said, “Hello.” It was a big moment.

Sadly, no amount of belated clean living was going to save Harrison from the excesses of his youth (in addition to taking a gazillion drugs and drinking like crazy, all of the Beatles smoked up a storm), and he died of lung cancer a year later.

Now that I’m finished with the Beatles, I’m reading a biography of Carl Jung, which isn’t nearly as good, but at least proves I have range.

Lou Reed on my roof, in a chair by Phillippe Starck. Photo by Christian Coigny for Vitra, ca. sometime in the 90s