Monday, December 24, 2012

LA DOLCE VITA: REMEMBERING NINO FRANCHINA

That drawing on my wall!

Something occurred to me recently while lost in the haze of a gaze at a drawing doing its thing on my wall, as drawings are want to do, their thing, whether anyone is looking or not, that thing, patient, dancing, posing, strutting, gesticulating, or simply being. So I was admiring this drawing, a drawing I have had for almost 50 years, as it spoke to me in soothing tones, as it gently showed me the way for the umpteenth million time, while I have been stupid and arrogant and off course and flailing about, and once more it whispered to me in its way, kindly, generously, without force or noise or fanfare, like some tree that silently gave me comfort and shade and solace. 

Now it makes me sad. I never told it. I never told the artist who made it and gave it to me so long ago. I never told him how of all the people who have taught me, mentored me, influenced me, some powerful, some famous, that  it was his mark that left its mark on me. I never told him and thanked him and celebrated him and rewarded him and hugged him for it. Maybe he knew how profoundly he had affected me and the course of my life. Maybe, or maybe not. I'll never know. Makes me feel sad, makes me feel like a jerk, and makes me want to be better. Fiercely determined to be better. 


Me & Xeni on our terrace at Via Margutta 48

This started in about 1962. In Rome. Via Margutta. Number 51. He had a studio off the far right side of the courtyard. We lived next door at 48, and because I had a beautiful studio there that had supposedly belonged to Raphael, the other artists called me Piccolo Raffaello.  After school or on the weekends, I would quietly inch my way into the doorway of his studio trying not to disturb him while he was working. I was about 9. If he wasn't welding, he would have been grinding and hammering metal,  or drawing, goggles still on his head, face blackened where they weren't, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He would let me watch, and would go about his work. He knew I was there. Soaking it all up. Learning. Dreaming. Taking note. Because this was it. The way. 




There isn't enough time to tell this story. But when I look at my life now, when I look at my work, I realize that this is where it all came from. Every bit of it. The spirit. The form. The contemplation. The work. The way. 

                                           


Brain experts say all we do is model. We model on things, after things. We don't really have ideas. We just model. Unconsciously. And to a certain extent for once I would have to agree. This was my model, and I never even realized it. When it finally struck me, thunder struck me, it rushed in like water, the floodgates opened wide. Overwhelming me. Spinning me around. Carrying me upward.  It was all there. Everything.




His work stood up, tall, vertical, abstract, but still a figure of sorts, with wings, like an angel, like a light, like a plant, a tree, a flower, a fountain, a spring of life! The radiant life-giving force. The shine. The shine within all things. Sentinel. Standing guard. Guardian. Standing strong. The protector.  Noble.  At the ready. The champion. The knight. The angel Gabriel. Avatar. His Avatar. A modern day avatar channeling the old world chivalry and valor and virtue of the sacred knights of centuries past charged with the quest, the good and humble devotion to the service of all humanity. Art. Artist. Do some good.


Sculpture was my first love. One of mine.
Wall drawings of mine that sprang from doodles

And there it was in the drawing hanging on my wall, and I stared at it dumbfounded. That star. That beacon. And this has always been the driving force in my work, swirling around inside of me, all my life, in every doodle, in every image sense inside me, waiting to come out, and finally emerging, in sculpture and then painting over the past tens years, once I stopped pursuing the gallery machine, once I just started working for what it was all about, for the pleasure of it.



With Sandy Calder

And this sculptor that I had watched work so often, he labored, he pursued his quest like the knight. He hammered and cut and welded steel. He shaped steel. He made it shine. He made it fly. And he was not a world famous artist that I was aware of. Because he did not act important. He did not act celebrated. He did not strut. But famous and important artists knew him. Alexander Calder, David Smith, Gino Severini, DiChirico, Fontana, Pomodoro. Their works all hung on his walls, and so did mine. I met them on his roof deck, laughing, drinking, talking up a storm, while he operated the grill like the artist he was, like the creator, at the forge, in the fire, squinting, cigarette pursed in his mouth, gesturing with tongs in hand. When I saw his towering piece in Spoleto at the first festival there organized by Giovanni Carandente in 1964, I have to say I was, well, ok, about time! We were Carandente's guest on his beautiful roof deck. Carandente, Italy's foremost and most beloved art critic, appreciated his work! 



Next to his sculpture in Spoleto
When my family was away I would stay with this sculptor and his wife. Together the three of us watched The African Queen in awe on a little black and white tv in their little flat high up over his studio, magnificent with views of the domes of the ancient city, more intimate and family like than I ever knew. I make a fuss about the fact that the wife bounced on Picasso's knee as a child. That her father was the seminal Italian Futurist Master, Gino Severini. That she dragged me by the hand to get mural instruction from her famous aging father when he was in Rome. That he explained how one could find inspiration in the patterns formed by casting sand across fresh plaster. I make a fuss about that. I wear it like a feather in my cap. I never spoke, never once, about the quiet but indelible inspiration of the sculptor who gave me it all. I never spoke about the artist who was somewhat crusty on the outside,  but of such a kind and generous spirit, like that tree. I never once mentioned Nino Franchina.

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, Dec. 2012





Nino and Gina Franchina, Via Margutta 51 studio


1964 Mostra D’Arte Dei Cento PittoriRome, Italy
My sister DD watching my paintings at Via Margutta 48


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Bruce Helander Last Summer at Peter Marcelle


EDEN(2002), Mixed Media, 145 x 122cm

In life we get certain opportunities; even certain advantages. A roll of the dice, a flip of a coin, white's first move in chess. A baseball manager knows that he gets 27 precious outs to master his opponent, and treats each one like gold. A writer depends on having one thought, one sentence, one word with which to win his reader, never getting the second chance to make that first impression. The image-maker understands all of this. He is the fisherman,  and like every good fisherman he knows that it is all about the bait. Bruce Helander is just such an artist, and he gets it. Give him just the corner of your eye, and he'll catch it.


 
Fun in the Sun(2012), collage, 25 x 15"

Bits of paper, that's all. Bits of paper are that with which he crafts his lure. Collage. A bit of paper that like the first drop of rain becomes a flood, becomes a vision, and all at once each vision becomes a dream, a paradise, a carnival, a Sunday outing with the top down, a portrait, a landscape, a new world. That's what Helander does. He is that explorer. That guy. He finds the lost city of Atlantis, the fountain of youth, El Dorado. With bits of paper. He aims for nothing less.


 
Elvis Reinvented(2012); collage, 21 x 15"

That's what his images are. He doesn't waste any time. He doesn't waste our time. He has something for you. He has something for everyone. No one has ever taken collage where Helander has. And not for nothing. Not Picasso, not Cornell, not Bearden, and not Rauschenberg. Bruce Helander is, yes, first and foremost as much magician as master of collage, but that is just his craft; it is where his collages take him, and finally us, that matters. Those dreams he makes, those rides he takes us on, those new worlds he discovers; they are endless, bottomless, unfathomable. They open doors that lead to places at once strange and familiar, remembered and unseen, lost and found. Helander takes bits of paper that have a past and gives them a future. He takes something broken and remakes it whole. He takes what most people would think is trash and makes art. 



Post Triangle(2009); collage, gouache on board, 17 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.


I once found myself on the wrong side. Among "rich" white people on holiday being shown a thing or two by a troupe of Jamaican entertainers. Embarrassed because they had nothing but were gods and knew it, and we the audience had lots of money but were bankrupt. Anyway, each entertainer had this one something, this one something that he or she could do, and do lights out. Something with basically a piece of detritus, an old hat, or a bottle, or a broken bike. Feats that were impossible and unimaginable. Feats that were amazing. With a piece of junk. But they had that one thing, that one tiny chance, that one meager role of the dice, and they made a fountain of gold. 

That's what Bruce Helander does. He told me once a long, long time ago that you couldn't wait for that something to come to your door, that you had to go out and take your chance. That's what he does. What the artist does. Bruce Helander takes his chance.  He shows us a thing or two. He takes a few scraps of paper and makes the impossible and the unimaginable and the amazing. A few scraps of paper and he is a god. 

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, October 2012



Images courtesty of the Peter Marcelle Gallery, Bridgehampton, New York

This is my second crack at the Bruce Helander show. In August I made a frenetic mess of it. Mea Culpa!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

From Russia with Love

Marc Chagall, 1960, ink and crayon on title page of The Birthday Of The World


I love Chagall. There, I said it. That hokey gaudy folksy sentimental sellout of an "artist." I love Chagall. I'll say it again. I always have. I don't care if he isn't respected by serious art people, or that I might lose their respect if I ever had it. I'd rather have Chagall. Any day of the week and yes, twice on Sundays. Especially on Sundays. Sunday morning is the best of the week, Sunday evening the worst. All in the same day. Go figure!


Chagall. Yes, I loved him as a kid. Loved the lavender print hanging on the wall in our Rome living-room next to the large studio window below which Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck filmed Roman Holiday a few years earlier. Loved being shown the newly installed murals in the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center  by our great friend Beverly Sills after tea at the Palm Room at the Plaza, her daughter Muffy exclaiming how "the chandeliers look like Mummy's earrings!" 

When I was at Exeter my art teacher Charles Carrico tried to bully me out of love with Chagall. Out of love with trite pictures of embracing lovers and flying cows playing violins. That was the year my sister was murdered in New York, and Carrico held my college future and beyond in the palm of his hand. Even though he totally set me back because I was frankly a too willing student, he did single-handedly instill in me that even in America one could be an artist, a painter, that I didn't have to be a set designer or illustrator or architect, something which had been drilled into me since returning to this country as a high school student. But I kept Chagall, even though I somewhat lost myself. His posters hung in my room. My sanctuary. Touch stones. Lights in the dark.

My great friend Martin Mugar just wrote a blog post about not letting the fickle and begrudging art world get to artists. He gave me a little shout out for suggesting that it is about keeping one's good health. A healthy attitude about what is important, about what you can and cannot control. I would agree, but I would add that it is not just about health, but about love: remembering the love that brought you to art in the first place, remembering that art is an act of appreciation, love, that it is the result of what we care about, love. When you have art, the love of art, you are never alone.

Chagall is all about love. The story of love, the power of love, the color of love and the love of color. So it is easy to forget that at one time he was a member of the modernist avant-garde that poured out of Russia and the later Soviet Union. That he hired Malevich and Lissitzky to join the faculty at Vitebsk. That he was friends with Leger in Paris, and Mondrian in New York. That he helped shape this revolution in art that was modernism.

I love color. It is said that after Matisse, Picasso considered Chagall the next great colorist. I can't argue with that. Color at all is considered gaudy in puritanical America. Cher's character in Moonstruck said as much when beneath the marvelous murals at the Met. Americans in general are afraid of color, probably because they don't understand it. Color is associated with bad taste and poverty. Color is all the poor can afford. My friend and adopted grandfather, the great American modernist Leon Polk Smith maintained that color could never be bad, that it was innocent, that it was joy and life, and only people made it bad with their ignorance. His greatest compliment to me was that I was "obviously a colorist. "

Richard Tuttle, my most difficult mentor, ascribed meaning to color, and preached a severe philosophy of color awareness, taking an altogether different attitude from Smith's, seeing color as man's expression in bold and literal terms. He believed that color spoke for us, but we just weren't paying attention. He found our obliviousness both painful and impossible to ignore. In some ways you could say that as a result, color meant more to him than anyone, that it's power was so awesome as to be as terrible as it was wonderful; that the damage it could do in the wrong hands made it frightening. 

Chagall's color has been called gypsy. Jeweled. Like stained glass. He was a Russian Jew. His work is both Russian and Jewish. My wife, Stacey, is of Russian Jewish descent. She always hated Chagall. He reminded her of what people hated about Jews, that people hated Jews at all. All of that really scared her. She wanted to fit in and turned her back on one of the richest cultural heritages the world has ever known. Today she is ok with Chagall, and somewhat proud of that heritage. I bought her this drawing by Chagall. It is from 1960, the year she was born, the birthday of the world, my world. It shows an artist holding a palette, painting flowers, nature's palette. Me.

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, September 2012

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Bruce Helander at Peter Marcelle: Art Lover Boy Wonder

Fun in the Sun(2012), collage, 25 x 15"


Bruce Helander has had to pay the price for being more than a great American artist. In his illustrious career he has done it all, art school dean, publisher, dealer, curator, collector, writer, critic, entrepreneur and artist, and  he has done it all his way. Call him a Renaissance man, from Kansas. All groups demand dumb loyalty, confining us to one discipline, and the arts are no different; but to his credit  Bruce Helander is too smart for that.

"A Survey of Works" at the Peter Marcelle Gallery in Bridgehampton, New York this summer showed off this brilliant artist in all of his witty and inventive glory;  over two decades of collages, assemblages, and paintings tracked the bright arc and spectrum of his unique art experience. Bruce Helander pioneered the mining of Americana for probably the last 50 years or more, and the ground is firmly his. What his friend Tom Wolfe is to American Arts and Letters, Helander is to her Fine Arts. What Wes Anderson brings to filmmaking today, Helander has been forging for the last half a century.

But the Fine Arts in New York are a tough club.   The late great Richard Merkin,  another friend of Helander's,  boogied through the gates on the coat tails of America's one true and undisputed celebrity and style: Jazz. Helander had no such ride.

Is it any surprise that the source of this work flows from the Heartland. It is not about influence, but roots. Bruce Helander is Heartland America’s native son, land of sun and corn, son of corn. There was not ART there. Art was the fins of a '57 Chevy. It was the silver diner, the ferris wheel, the pin-up girl.  It was the jacket worn by Presley. It was fantastic, and it was the fantastic.  Art was the show. The great and powerful Oz was artist, and Bruce Helander is that showman. Not everybody gets that. He is a descendant of Oz. His style is a little bit carney. That is his charm. He is quintessentially American.

Elvis Reinvented(2012); collage, 21 x 15"

The New York modern art world was born European, Europhile and Eurocentric. It was shaped by the likes of Stieglitz, Mondrian, Duchamp, Rebay, Gorky, Graham, Peggy Guggenheim, Gertrude Stein, and Betty Parsons(and of course by the guy who was always in the room, Picasso). It was the New World, where Europeans came to free and reinvent themselves. It was where ex-pats came home to roost. Bruce Helander has more in common with Thomas Hart Benton than Pollock ever did. Pollock is mistakenly called our one great All-American artist, but Pollock caught the ball from Europe and ran with it thanks to the likes of Jung and Andre Masson. Bruce Helander is the All-American. He doesn't just chafe in Gucci,  Gucci chafes next to him. Like Thomas Hart Benton, Bruce Helander would be happiest with his work hanging over a bar. You can't take the Kansas out of him.

And in this there is flash, and he becomes Flash. And then there is his keen eye and appreciation for all things fake and faked. Bruce Helander is a connoisseur and aesthete of the clever work of imitation. He is the professor of ersatz and simulacrum and duplication. But make no mistake, he is the real thing. He celebrates our true nature. Our boldness. Our brash. He revels in it like Marilyn Monroe in a bubble bath. Pin-ups are his perfect playmate. The French may have refined the art of never having found a situation that could not be improved by a naked woman; but the pin-up is pure, red-blooded American.  That it borders on politically incorrect makes it an excellent source of both tension and the not-so-secret guilty pleasure.  It is just one aspect of his work that is both naughty and comical. Where he is the Joker. The shameless punster. The clown. The guy killing himself with laughter. Having us on. Winking. The gift of a smile for each of us. Seriously.

Post Triangle(2009); collage, gouache on board, 17 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.

Sure, Helander too owes a debt to Picasso. Collage is his medium. The Cubism of collage. It is the ball he has been running with. It is also the lens he sees through, and what we see through in turn.  But the debt ends there and he paid it. After that he took a left on Tristan Tzara and followed that through the light past Magritte and De Chirico all the way down Utopia Parkway to the thruway and parts unknown: a little place just beyond postmodernism called deconstruction, where he set up camp way ahead of the pack.

Bruce Helander has an exploding sense of invention that remakes things, transforms things, takes things apart and puts them back together, makes them whole, makes them beautiful, and brings them to life. It is what he does; he makes collages and assemblages. He makes work that looks back at us. 

Bruce Helander is more than artist as original, artist as creator, artist who makes something from nothing; Bruce Helander is the reinventor, the recreator, the recreationist, the recycler, the great recycler, patching together what others cast off. In this he is both artist and educator, because folks, this is how it is done, this is what makes great art. And this is what makes Bruce Helander so special. He shows us the way.

What finds and  fancies and forces its way into his images, cut and cemented in place, are the stuff of the American Visual Experience, the once Life Magazinesque: advertising, wall-paper, billboards, kitchen labels, comic strips, posters, and sex. A largely print design world. A largely vanishing world.  A quirky and whimsical world where cigarettes are good for you, Elvis is The King, and all breasts point to heaven. Neon lights and chrome. Paint and leopard skin. Sequined sun glasses and Hawaiian shirts. Roller-skates and apple pie. State Fairs and prize pumpkins. A world Helander lovingly documents and preserves and resurrects.  A world he remembers for what was best about it, for what was unique and special about it. A world that is well worth remembering. But again, and most importantly, also a world that is above all both fun and funny. Where everything is fair game. Where he can poke fun at it all, including himself. Where the motto is “sense of humor or die trying.”

That Bruce Helander loved art made him a rare bird in that world. That he is an artist who is also a great art lover makes him rarer still. It is what lifts him above the common artist that can love only his own work. Bruce Helander is an art lover; art lover extraordinaire; art lover boy wonder!

This is what he does at the end of a long day, cutting and arranging pieces of paper under a plate of glass; playing with fragments of images and shapes and colors and words and puns of all kinds. Squinting at them through the smoke of a cigarette that might have once been in his mouth.  His mind racing, eyes searching,  ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, processing at a 100 miles an hour. Flashing. Turning. Turning everything on its ear. Gaming. Referencing. Conjuring. Riddle me this! Riddle me that! And so it goes. Wordplay is as much a part of these collages as image play. That makes them as much a delight for the mind as for the eye, a delight seen sharply through rose colored glasses. A parade for the eyes that ultimately takes us somewhere else, somewhere Jung would have relished, somewhere down a yellow brick road.  And there's the surprise! Toto, we aren't in Kansas anymore!


Addison Parks, Spring Hill, August 2012


EDEN(2002), Mixed Media, 145 x 122cm

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Amy Goodwin: What She Saw


What She Saw, a show of paintings by Amy Goodwin at the Albright Gallery(Concord, Ma; Spring 2012) delivered a complete vision:  fresh, a black belt in invention, a retinal tiramisu, a thoughtful and thoroughly considered body of work that resonated with purpose, depth of meaning, and passion. Color, texture, composition and mark! Amy Goodwin carved and forged and nurtured these paintings. She Lewis and Clarked them! She planted her flag in them! And she nailed the dismount!

These are predominantly flower paintings. So you get the idea. And then they are not. Amy Goodwin takes flowers and considers them from every perspective, in every light: first and foremost as just flower, then as flower image, flower idea, flower sign, flower template, flower decal, flower power, flower self-portrait, flower familiar, flower spirit, flower dream, flower memory, flower after-image, etc. They scrape, they day-glow, they drip, they pastel, they articulate, inseminate, and mandate! They are flat, layered, painterly, collaged, post-painterly, Madison Avenue, and Emily Dickinson. They honor Warhol, late Derain, Marimekko, and Mary-Mary-quite-contrary.  And they do it all at once, seamlessly. They are both rat-tat-tat and ommmmmmmm! What we get as viewer reads on all of those levels, and Goodwin would have it no other way. You go around once, and you want it all. These are flower paintings as Icarus, and they are headed straight for the sun.

The show is titled "What She Saw," but it's more like a line from an old Talking Heads song than something literal. These aren't still-life paintings even when they look that way. They have an edge. They muse. And they have a sense of irony and humor. In many ways What She Saw is more about what Jesus Christ saw hanging on the cross in Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ: that rapid fire of La Dolce Vita, remembered and imagined, the blood, sweat and tears, flashing before your eyes in a staccato circle of fifths climbing up your DNA code into Dorothy's twister funnel above, coalescing into a painting, stilled into a painting, recorded into a painting, only to be a spring-board for more of the same ad infinitum. Her paintings are peopled with family, friends, gods and all god's creatures, even when you can't see them. Everything that matters to her gets stirred into their swirl, mixed into their perfume, floated into their vortex, pressed into their petals, coded into their message. Amy Goodwin is the Little Prince and her paintings are the story of her little planet. 


It is easy to forget about what is really at work in art, but what is at work, behind all of the ART, is play. Amy Goodwin finds what she finds through the act of play. Carl Jung gave art as play as the gateway to revelation his blessing and 20th century artists said thank you very much. Goodwin muses in her garden, Little Prince on her Little Planet, wandering in the garden, wondering in the garden, and her paintings are her gift. Look what I found, she says, holding her prize up to us in both hands cupped and outstretched. Les grandes personnes sont...bizarres.

Flowers are a gift. They hurt not. They bring us love. They are life for life's sake, beauty for beauty's sake, a smile for a smile's sake. Amy Goodwin brings us roses, or daisies, or dandelions. They're a little more complicated, but they deliver!






Addison Parks
Spring Hill






Sunday, May 27, 2012

CONSIDER THIS: ONLY

David Burliuk(1951); oil & collage on canvas, 6" x 8"; w/ Burliuk frame
Art is subjective, that much seems pretty clear. But... apparently it isn't. You always get a lot of "yes...but." So recently I changed my mind. I don't say art is subjective anymore. Recently I've taken to saying that art is only subjective.

I have to say that this meets with even greater resistance. Yes, greater force produces greater resistance. I'm a dad of teenagers, so I understand. I was a teacher for more years than I care to remember, so I get it. But what I've learned is that resistance has to be met with greater force if there is going to be any movement, any breakthrough. That art is only subjective is obvious. That there are boatloads of people who think otherwise, who think that they somehow know better, is just plain arrogance. Neurosis. We all get to think we know better, right? We all get to believe that we have the wherewithal to judge art objectively. Which is just another way of making my point. Individually we get to decide what is art, what is great art, what is bad, etc. Subjectivity. Nothing but. Definition of...etc.

Which is great. Art is only subjective. The power to club other people with objective judgment is within everyone's grasp, but it is stupid. Like teenagers giving whatever the thumbs up or the thumbs down. The fact that grown people, so called experts, etc, want to behave this way is nothing more than ego, adolescent ego. Which isn't really fair of course, since adolescents aren't nearly so bad. We just know that they are exercising their egos in new ways, and opinions as fact are new found power in a world that gives them no power at all.

                                                               ***************

So there you have it. Art is only subjective. It is a gift. Enjoy it. Don't hate me for saying this. Sure we wish it was different. We wish that art could be properly measured. But we're wrong. The beauty of art is that it is subjective. Try it. Go with it. Subjectivity is a beautiful thing. We are alone. We experience things alone, even in the movie theater. Our heads are our own. Our minds are our own. Yes, we share. Sharing is also a beautiful thing. We can even agree. Many of us can even agree. Many of us who are devoted, experienced, enlightened can even agree. But that is all we are doing. That is not objectivity. That is just people agreeing. Let it go. We all still agree as individuals. Subjectivity is not as powerless as it seems.  If artists can play God making something of nothing, well then the rest of us can play God sitting in judgment. Sure. We can do that all we like. Thumbs up, thumbs down. Just one word of caution however; if you are busy judging, then you are missing out. We judge from a safe distance. Art is a dish better eaten with your hands than judged from behind glass. Dive in! Chow down! Or savor each morsel. It is whatever you make it, so make it. In the end we might do the thumbs up and thumbs down, but this would still be just our subjective opinion, no matter how well considered. Art is only subjective.

Addison Parks

Spring Hill

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Permit yourself!

   
Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, Easel and Japanese Print, January 1889, Oil on canvas, 60 × 49 cm., Courtauld Institute Galleries, London (F527)
Sometimes the results are the same; sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. The fine line. The difference between being taught to fish and being given fish. You get fish.


Permission is the same. You can give someone permission, or you can encourage them to permit themselves, to give themselves permission (teaching in so many ways is nothing more than encouragement: helping someone to risk falling down to ride a bike, to brave water to swim, to persevere and be patient to fish).


Permission is key. Permission is power; permission is power over oneself AND power over others. If you can give yourself permission in this life, you don't need it from others, and others can't stop you from doing what you dream to do, need to do, believe in doing.


A person who gives themselves permission and doesn't need it from others is a powerful and even dangerous person.


But you can only do this for yourself, that has to be understood. No one can or will do it for you. Artists have to give themselves permission: to themselves! And then anything is possible.


It goes without saying that one has to accept the consequences; power means responsibility.


Everyone will be an obstacle and will try to stop you, divert you, exploit you, undermine you, crush you, discredit you, ignore you, ridicule you, break you down, turn others against you, withhold support, steal your faith, steal your confidence, steal your well-being, steal your sense of self, steal your mission away from you. They will stop at nothing to wrest permission away from you.


You can't feel sorry for yourself about this. Do something about it. Life isn't fair. It is what it is. Don't expect support for doing what you want to do, especially from people who aren't doing what they want to do. I think what we are talking about here is freedom. It comes at a price.


As an artist permission is all you need. Permission from yourself. You have to pay for it. It is up to you! Pay the price. Give yourself permission! Take it back from those who would try to steal it from you! It is your lunch money. If you are going to survive and flourish you need it!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Spring Hill

Thursday, April 12, 2012

PEGEEN




The story of Pegeen Guggenheim Vail is like something out of a movie, and her work is something else all together. I have never been one to put facts before the experience of the work. We might have a cart full of interesting life story here, but it is the horse where my real interest lies, and the horse in this instance is not the person, but the work. And this work might be as challenging to write about as any work that I have ever written about before.
I haven't seen or read anything serious written about Pegeen's paintings(I am going to refer to Pegeen Guggenheim Vail as Pegeen because it is just easier, and frankly, nicer).
There are probably some very good reasons why not much has been written about her. Lots of them. Her mother was none other than Peggy Guggenheim, one of the most powerful and influential people in the art world. And Pegeen's work was nothing like anything that that powerful art world had in it. Yes, she was a serious painter in that she took her painting seriously. I don't know how or if anyone else besides her mother could have taken the work that seriously. It must have seemed like work only a mother could love. But the work didn't seem serious by its very nature. It was fun and childlike. Defenseless, like a little bird. And it looked like street art! Not to knock street art; art is free, it goes anywhere it wants, and can be just as likely found on the street as in a museum. I’m sure Pegeen believed that too.
Pegeen was said to be self-taught, as if anyone who grew up around as much art as she had could ever be considered self-taught. How artists really learn is a subject for another day, but any artist worth their salt, with even an ounce of authenticity, is of course self-taught, in that being an artist requires having a spirit of one's own, and you can't teach that(or art for that matter). So yes, of course she was self-taught; what she had was good company, and one can learn a lot from that!
Which gets me to what is so fascinating about these paintings. They demonstrate no training! No skill! No measurable degree of "good" painting. The stuff you can teach! They look like bad painting! Like illustrations for the Little Prince! They look like something you would find for sale in Paris along the Seine!
Sort of.
What does that make them? Remarkably pure! Pure of spirit, and this is rare in art. It is also prized! What does this mean; what does pure mean? Well if art is the single voice, the voice of one person in this world, the voice of the individual, the individual spirit, then pure means a clean vision, an untutored, unmaligned, untrampled, unadulterated, untrained and unmessed with vision of life. Pure! Outsider art is fussed over for just this reason. No academic makeover. Not even any handholding. Not the careful development of promise and talent. Just someone alone with their passion.
This work has been called Naive Painting. As though the work of the daughter of Peggy Guggenheim could have been naive. Well maybe it was. Maybe there was all of mother Peggy's world class art by all of these powerful artists, and then there was just Pegeen. Maybe more than maybe! So then what is really going on with this work!
Describing it won't get the job done. Yes, it is bright. Colorful. Figurative in a doll-like way. Flat. Linear. Decorative. Charming. Part carnival, part circus. Personal. Narrative. Tableau. Illustrative. Autobiographical. What serious art people call sentimental. None of that really puts a finger on it.
The work stands there. It gives a brave smile. It says here I am. This is my life. This is me, dancing as fast as I can. This is me making the best of things. This is me giving it everything I've got! This is me in a pretty dress! With a pretty parasol. With a pretty husband. With a pretty family. With a pretty life. This is what matters to me. This is what I love. This is the way I think of myself. This is the way I want you to think of me. This is the way I want to be remembered. This is my brave face! This is me dressed up and stripped naked at the same time! It says I am happy, and that being happy is what matters. It says that I am going to do everything I can to be happy, and to make everyone around me happy. Desperately happy. This is my life. This is my life on parade! This is what matters! Love. Loving the people you love. Love with flowers and music and candles and art and funny hats and shoes and parasols! This is it! This is my gift to you! Now live!
But there is more! The work might actually be deceptively complicated. Surprise! It has roots going back to cave painting. Back to the Egyptians. Back to the Etruscans. Back to the Middle Ages. Look at these paintings! They are modern day documents of where life has been. Mid-Twentieth Century Paris! Venice! The South of France! How easy it is to overlook this! In the drama of Modernism we can't see or hear Pegeen's drama. It gets drowned out by all of the grandiosity of raging, overcompensating male Modernist need, by a lot of self-important men with self-important ideas and self-important agendas.
Peggy Guggenheim showed her daughter's work. She must have recognized something significant about it. Something you couldn't put a finger on. The work is haunting in the way that aboriginal art, medieval art, children's art, haunts us. Something about sincerity, about devotion to what matters. Or an utter lack of artifice! Or contrivance! Or calculation. Or pretense! Or filter! Or filtering! That is why the work is so difficult to write about: sincerity. Sincerity is too damn difficult in this world! What do you do with it? Sincerity. Vulnerability. Innocence. We destroy these things! In so many ways this work is that simple, it is what you see is what you get. And it turns out, sadly, that in the end it is not Pegeen Guggenheim Vail's work that is so complicated or difficult after all, but us.
Addison Parks, Spring Hill
Pegeen Guggeheim Vail was born in 1925 in Ouchy, Switzerland, the daughter of Peggy Guggenheim and Laurence Vail. She was married twice and had four sons. She died in Paris in 1967 after an overdose of pills.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Painting in the Painting: Charles Seliger



We forget this.

This thing that can happen in painting. The happen that can happen in painting. It is almost addictive to painters. Finding the painting in the painting, through the painting, with the painting, by the painting. What this means is that the painting is something that happens through the very act of painting, and not the result of some preconceived image that through careful effort produces the desired result. What we are talking about is the painting that evolves, changes, even appears to the painter in the act of painting.

I was thinking about this because I was thinking about Charles Seliger, who was as addicted to this experience as any painter I can think of. At the end of a painting he had arrived somewhere that changed him. That is the addiction. To be changed by making a painting. To learn something, about the world, about art, about ourselves, about the universe.

Because Charles did that as much as anyone. He opened himself up to the universe and said come on in! Make my day! And of course it did! He painted, and he looked and he listened and he mused and he probably prayed in his way, the way that all painters pray, who are looking for redemption and transformation and sublimation and union through the act of painting. It is not because he thought he or the world needed another painting. It is because the act of painting was everything; absolution, affirmation, inspiration, divination, integration, revelation. Through painting Charles Seliger communed with the universe. And that only happens when you find the painting in the painting.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Forrest for the Trees: Forrest Bess Revisited, Rethought, and Refelt pt2

Having written about Forrest Bess over 30 years ago and wanting to know how my feelings might have changed after all that time because of the recent surge of interest in his work, I find that I need to rethink this complicated artist.

At the time I had immersed myself in everything I could get my hands on. I had Betty Parsons treasure trove of material in my possession, letters, photographs, etc., and some of the paintings themselves.

In retrospect I have to concede that I was probably in too deep, that I was too weirded out, and that I probably lost the forest for the trees. I almost lost my mind, to be honest, and as a result I lost perspective.

In retrospect I find now that I can feel lighter, and less weighed down by the intensity and passion of his quest. I think I failed to give the man as much respect as I gave the work 30 years ago. 30 years ago I was always trying to keep those things separate. Maybe out of respect, ironically, but now I have no interest in separating a person from his or her work. I don't think you can draw that line. A person is their work and vice versa. Richard Tuttle tried very hard to explain that to me just about 35 years ago. Wow!

Forrest Bess had ideas and dreams he wanted the time and space to explore, and Texas gave him that in a way that New York would never have; some artists can never turn off the city completely and just be and work. His paintings were the result of all of that time and space he found on the Gulf. This is a very pure kind of art. Bess was poet, philosopher, scientist, explorer, shaman, channel, vessel, and lone wolf howling at the moon. Visionary, yes, fisherman, yes, in every sense of the word. Primal and divine. Arms stretched out to the universe.

His paintings are inspirations, pictograms, ideograms, diagrams, documents, maps, clues, signs, plans. They take us through his door. And isn't that marvelous? Isn't art marvelous that way? Isn't life marvelous that way?We go through that door and we see life through our brother or sister, even after they've long vanished from the face of this earth. Thank you art. Thank you Forrest Bess.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Long Live The Fisherman King, Long Live Forrest Bess!


30 years ago this month I published a two page spread on Forrest Bess in ARTS Magazine. I've also lived with one of his paintings since then, and am sort of curious to know what I think about it all after 30 years. At the time I had seen a wonderful group of his little paintings, mostly from the 40's and 50's, at the Whitney in a small show on the ground floor curated by Barbara Haskell. I also saw some things at Betty Parsons. Parsons's director, Jack Tilton, let me have all of Betty's letters from Bess, and anything else they had, and for what felt like the entire winter of 1981/82, I lived and breathed this unusual artist. I had the polaroids of his operation on himself to make himself a perfect and complete being. I had letter after letter begging for money because he was broke. You see these kinds of letters at auction by artists like Manet. They are sobering. Parsons was selling Bess's paintings that are all the fuss these days for as little as $45!

Not that I object to the fuss. His work knocked my socks off from the minute I saw it. I just didn't know what to make of it. Still don't. And that doesn't matter. I think my good friend at the time Doug Welch first recommended that I check out these strange little powerhouse paintings by the fisherman savant. Doug had a great eye and was always steering me in the right direction. He was a painter working for the Bernard Jacobson Gallery while I was helping Joe Fawbush at Brooke Alexander. We were always scouting around, mining for gold, and he knew that I was writing for Arts, which was how we met. Bess was the motherlode. He appealed to the painter in all of us. He was a kind of alter ego artist. Someone who brought out the "what the heck" in us. Someone really raw at a time when raw was the order of the day. The word spread and very quickly Bess was the man.

Just shows how crazy things were, and of course still are. Serious. And seriously crazy! Bess was raw and doing his thing. The painting that I have of his sits next to a Marsden Hartley Dogtown painting. Now there is a pair! Two wonderfully strange birds, and great painters! Three cheers for both!

Yes I think Bess is a great painter. I don't care about the other stuff, the strange bird, the private life; I didn't care then and I don't care now. Not because I don't believe there is a connection and not because I love art so much that I can overlook the means to justify the ends. I just believe the work has meaning and power regardless. No one else got hurt. The work transcends the ick! Maybe that is it in a nutshell! The work is as transcendent as transcendent can be. It defines transcendence, which is what every artist strives for. From da Vinci to van Gogh to Kahlo to Hartley!

And of all of them Bess is the purest, rawest butterfly! The fact that he tried to achieve it in real life should come as no surprise.
Forrest Clemenger Bess was unlike any artist before or since. Maybe Roberta Smith is correct to object to a market driven revival, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions and the one to heaven with bad. Some people want to make a lot of money. So what else is new? Ultimately it can't touch who Bess was and what he did. He was the Real McCoy. Parsons recognized that. Also difficult, but who isn't?

Richard Tuttle had worked for Parsons and was only too familiar with Bess and his work. When I told him I was shacked up reading Jung and writing about Bess he lamented the advent of psychology. He said that it just opened a can of worms. When I mentioned the Polaroids Bess took of his naked crotch and sent to Betty, he chuckled and remarked that Bess was just some guy who literally wanted to screw himself. For what? For self love? For completion?

Now Christie's wants to screw a lot of collectors and museums for something that can actually be counted and measured. Money. Forrest Bess appealed to all of us young painters because our only hope was that art was something ineffable, that could never be counted and measured, and no artist ever lived like Forrest Bess that was less able to be counted or measured! Art doesn't add up, and no one adds up less than Forrest Bess.

If Richard Tuttle is our greatest living ineffable artist, Forrest Bess was his father and the father of the rest of us. He is Mr Ineffable! The Fisherman King of the ineffable! And that is all I have to say about that!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

I've remarked about this curiosity before. We seem completely comfortable about the idea that people can change for the worse. No problem. Happens all the time. But if you talk about people changing for the better? Forget about it! Doesn't happen! Then the concept of change becomes impossible. Change for the worse? Sure. Change for the better? People don't change! Curious. Schopenhauer didn't think people could better themselves. Our only hope was to sublimate that self, bury it; he did believe in music though. Apparently music was us at our best. The exception that proves the rule. You're not going to get an argument from me about that. However I think we do a few other things that are also what I like to think of as transformative. When taking about change I do what we all do, I point to the butterfly! Art is about transformation. Visualizing it, documenting it, wishing it, making it happen! It is change! It is alchemy and it is metamorphosis! From Lascaux to the Brandenburg Concertos. Transformation and transcendence. Any artist who has ever made anything knows this. Change is something we can do. Everyday! It is palpable, it is powerful, and it is possible! - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Butterflies!