Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Wonderful Scraps of Paper








If you're like me, then you're a sucker for the artist's sketch. It might be just a scrap of paper, a scribble, something short hand, something percolating, something being worked out, something barely conscious, something intuitive, something seen out of the corner the eye; an impression, a gesture, a vision, a reach. But to some of us it is something special. Something magic. Art nectar. An epiphany straight from the ether. A tip of an iceberg. A glimpse into the sublime, the divine, the unfathomable.

It is what happens when the artist's fingertips, holding pencil, charcoal, pen, crayon or brush, meet the receptive light of paper. When the visual intelligence, emotion, and imagination of the artist coalesces, fuses, swirls into existence from a confluence of forces from muse and nature and experience and the unconscious, from eyes and brain and heart and will, and then travels down arm to hand to fire like explosions off the tips of fingers onto the open expanse of pristine and beautiful smooth or textured paper.

Things happen on paper with the lightning speed and unfathomable depths of inspiration. Which is why I prize any scribble by any artist above the finest print by that same artist any day of the week. A scribble is unique, and it is awash in touch.








Artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Frida Kahlo, Willem de Kooning, and Jean Michel Basquiat made miracles of a scrap of paper. And then of course there was Picasso, perhaps the artist most famous for turning a paper napkin into a fine meal.

The things that happen on a scrap of paper are where they happen first, and sometimes never again. This is what makes the sketch so special. The flower of the imagination finds its way onto paper first. This explains why so many true connoisseurs covet the artist's drawing above all else. It may also explain why so many artists eschew working from drawings and go straight to the medium of the final destination, paint, canvas, metal, stone, found materials, installation space, etc. to make sure that what got them there, the inspiration, the impulse, the unconscious force of creation, is all there, and that none of that gets left behind.

My friend, the rare book dealer, John Wronoski, has always had such wonderful things on paper that I could never restrain myself. Everything from sketches and watercolors to manuscripts and letters and ephemera. My artist friend Martin Mugar and I could never quite believe what we were holding in our hands as we perused his treasures on visits to his shop tucked on a back street in Cambridge, a stone's throw from the Fogg Museum and Widener and Houghton libraries at Harvard. A handwritten Kazantzakis manuscript. A Garcia Lorca drawing. Magic trapped in paper like amber. The artist's touch.








That is it, isn't it? The artist's touch. The artist's hand. There are those who believe that it is all in the touch. I am one of them. We can't help it. Touch matters.

About ten years ago I discovered that I could find works of art at auction on line. I started by searching for a Matisse tapestry that had been in my family and had gone lost. I had enjoyed live art auctions already, but the prospect of being able to participate in an auction in Paris, or London, or New York without leaving my home, and then tracking down and finding works by artists that I cherished, that was a huge thrill.

It goes without saying that one has to be on one's toes. That fraud and art go hand in hand. Growing up on Via Margutta in Rome I watched in awe and wonder everyday as gifted artists sculpted and painted, and made something where there was previously nothing. I also watched with almost equal admiration as very skilled craftsmen on the same street created fake objects of art and antiquity for the tourists and unsuspecting collectors.

Years later I also followed my art history professor and mentor, James Kettlewell, around some of this country's finest museums as he explained how to spot a fake Rembrandt. Apparently they were everywhere, and there were lots of them. It was almost funny. A game of amusement. Sport. Spot the fakes.

After what transpired at the venerable and most reputable Knoedler Gallery in New York over the past few years, where major works of art by modern masters were sold to big collectors and then exposed as forgeries, the art world will never be the same. Everyone becomes suspicious when that kind of fraud takes place at the top of the art world, and for good reason. If you can't trust them, who can you trust?

It is said that Frida Kahlo produced far more work after her death than she ever did when she was alive. Two or three times more. It is also said that Stalin had factories cranking out forged works of Russian modernist art, and that almost nothing we see these days in exhibits and museums is authentic. I also heard it said that it was the ravenous hoards of collectors from the great state of Texas who put so many forgers to work, creating a huge market for knock-offs from the Dutch Masters to the Impressionists.







Which brings me again to one of my favorite opportunities to own a scrap of paper brought to life by the artist's touch. Art auctioning on line. It is fascinating, exhilarating, and fun. There have always been lots of wonderful small auction houses all over the country that handle estate sales, fine art, furniture, jewelry and collectibles. Now their live auctions can be accessed either through their own website/service, or through a larger "aggregate" service like Live Auctioneers, Bid Square, or Invaluable.

These auction houses come in all sizes, with varying reputations, from barns to posh establishments, and some are family owned and have been around for generations. You can make bids on your computer, a tablet, or even on your phone while you are out and about, at work, or having lunch.

Some auctions use live video streaming so that you can see what is actually happening and feel like you are in the room. This heightens the level of anticipation and excitement because bids come from individuals either on the floor, the telephone, or the internet, and you get to see and hear all of that, including your own bid.

You are guided as always by the auctioneer, who lets you know everything from the lot number and lot at hand, to the amount for the opening bid, the current high bid, and if the current lot is about to close, so hurry, or if it has not met its reserve and is being passed. If you are the high bidder they will let you know. If you win, and that is what they call it to further enhance the experience, that will be confirmed before they move on to the next lot. For your victory you will pay a "hammer" price which goes to the consignor, and a premium, which goes to the house.

Some auctioneers can be quite colorful and charming, and will give you a little extra, like a bit of trivia or history or if the piece on the block has generated a lot of interest. They spice it up. Sometimes they even acknowledge regulars in the room and address them by name. They make the occasion special and each one has their own style and way about them.

This is a ancient form of purchasing goods that doubles as entertainment; it is an outing; an event; an opportunity to see and be seen; and enjoy the company of old friends while getting something you prize in the bargain, and, hopefully, for a bargain. There are also strictly art auctions, horse and cattle auctions, car auctions, property auctions, and charity auctions, etc. It is another world. There is theater to it. And for about the last twenty years it has been on the internet.

And of course the internet is a mixed bag. With an up side and a down side. To many auction enthusiasts it has spoiled both the charm and the opportunity of the experience. Who knows who is who or what on the internet. It makes it that much harder to spot a shill, someone with a hidden agenda just trying to fabricate interest and drive up the price. But it has also created more positive competition and brought in new clients from all over the world.


So enter a little auction house called the Preston Hall Gallery, in Dallas, Texas. I really like these people and what they bring to the table. They have a style all there own.

Because it is nearly impossible to get something authenticated these days, either because of the daunting expense, or politics, or because artist foundations have simply shut down the process, the Preston Hall Gallery doesn't even bother trying to tell you if a work is authentic, but instead simply lists almost of if it's lots as attributed to, or in the manner of.

So unless the work in question is listed in a catalogue raisonne, an exhibition catalog, or has detailed sales receipts from known galleries, collectors, or houses, you are entirely on your own. One common almost comical recommendation is that unless you have a photograph of the artist in front of the work, with you preferably in the photograph, don't buy it, because anything and everything else can be faked. Forgers are clever, thorough, obsessive about every detail from the craft to materials to signatures to provenances, and they are incredibly successful.

So you do your homework; you decide if it looks like the real thing, if it rings true, if it passes the smell test; and if you would like it anyway even if it is an innocent copy or a downright forgery. Again, you decide.

Strangely enough this aspect of risk brings another level of excitement to the process. How did I do? Did I hit a home run or strike out? Did I just get a gem, or was I fleeced?

You may never know. Which is why liking the lot in question is so important. Maybe that will be all you have in the end. The chances are you may just have a scrap of paper that reminds you of an artist you want to have a little piece of in your life.

Often the works have a detailed provenance with names, and places, and dates. It might reassure you as to the possible authenticity of said works. How these lots end up at auction in the first place is sometimes anybody's guess. You can always ask the auction house. More often than not they come from estate settlements, descendants quietly unloading unwanted things their parents or uncles or grandparents collected. Sometimes collectors are simply discreetly downsizing, raising cash, or letting go of things which no longer hold their interest.

By big auctions house standards the lots at PHG are ridiculously inexpensive. Impossibly inexpensive. But rightly so. They are not listed as genuine, and they are not backed by the reputation of a Christie's or a Sotheby's. The risk is as plain as day.

It is also worth noting that quite a few of these "attributed to, and in the manner of" lots sold at PHG and other small auction houses have ended up authenticated, on the block, and sold at those same big auction houses for the kinds of figures that one would expect to pay for drawings and watercolors by artists of such stature. It happens, and it is a matter of public record.








But if you are like me. If you are a fool for scribbles by the artists you love. If you like a treasure hunt. If you trust your eye and your nose, and are thrilled by the prospect of having a work by an artist you admire, and could not otherwise afford, then the risk and trade off buying art at small auction houses like PHG is well worth it. Who knows? You just might get lucky!

Forgive me, but it is also worth noting that we gamble everyday on a million things. Being in the stock market is a prime example of gambling, although most investors have been led to believe otherwise. My own feeling is why not gamble on something you love that you can see and feel and that enriches your life by its mere presence.

The Preston Hall Gallery auctions are generally beyond belief for all the treasures available right before our eyes. Wonderful. Incredible. Too good to be true. That is what makes this process so difficult at times. Scraps of paper by the world's great painters and sculptors, each an artist's artist if not a household name, are mixed in with watches and furniture and coins and books. It is just too hard to believe. Chagall, Warhol, Rothko, Basquiat, Klee, Mitchell, Twombly, Schiele, Picasso, Whistler, and on and on. A veritable who's who. A sheer delight. One has to pinch one's self. Kid in a candy shop. But be careful.

Thanks to that mentor of mine, James Kettlewell, I got to spend time at the great American sculptor David Smith's home and studio at Bolton Landing on Lake George in upstate New York. Thanks to Preston Hall Gallery I have two lovely David Smith drawings I get to marvel at every day.

When I was in my late 20s I was invited to curate and write a catalog for a three woman show at Bard that included Elaine de Kooning. As a result I was invited to visit with her and her husband, my great idol, out at their Long Island home. Unfortunately due to circumstances I had to decline the opportunity and the visit. Thanks to the Preston Hall Gallery, however, I have a Bill de Kooning drawing dancing as fast as it can any time I look its way.








A long line of Parks grandfathers to great-great-grandfathers and so on are buried not far from Piet Mondrian in the Cypress Hill Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, and thanks to the Preston Hall Gallery I have two of his small flower drawings. Casting their spell.

On that charming street of artists I grew up on in Rome, Via Margutta, my favorite artist to spy on while he worked was Nino Franchina. Nino hung a small painting of mine on his living-room wall along with a blue slashed canvas by Fontana, a futurist painting complete with painted frame by his Futurist master father-in-law, Severini, and a little Calder mobile. Thanks to the Preston Hall Gallery I now have a wonderful Calder drawing from that special time in my life. Just a little scrap of paper with the artist's touch. It means the world to me.









Addison Parks
Spring Hill



http://www.artdealmagazine.com/Artdeal_Magazine/Spirit_of_Paper.html













Saturday, May 13, 2017

Artist Notes: Ian Stell











































Looked at your new work again today Ian. Magnificent work. I am so proud of you. Stupid thing to say and feel, but it is true. I love the way each piece you make is fresh and new and has an identity all its own. So rare. So difficult. Makes me think of Richard Tuttle. Or better, Thomas Jefferson! Inventor. Yes! Thomas Jefferson! The serpentine wall.

Plus! I want one!!!! Always telling. But each one is a revelation, like you start from scratch, all over again, tabula rasa, Sisyphus, shape shifting nesting inside of shape shifting! Shape shifting squared! Brilliant! You go back to the drawing board. Break it down. Start over. Fresh eyes. Rethink. It isn't furniture, it isn't sculpture, it isn't anything but instead everything. You look in a new direction. Take out the trash. Turn life on its ear. Ask what if? And you mean it!!!

Minimalist persona. Donald Judd. Tony Smith. Ronald Bladen. Agnes Martin. Leon Polk Smith. Even the enigmatic Richard Tuttle. They made art that could "fly." But you are different. Big picture persona with amazing details. Secrets inside of secrets. Unfolding Chinese box intricacy with a Cracker Jack surprise! And then another! You make art that can fly, but actually fly. Actually really fly! Wow!


Richard Tuttle, Thomas Jefferson and then, yes, Leonardo da Vinci! And Ian Stell! Wow! Nice friends you have!


















Hi Addison,

I asked Heather for your email. We just happened to reestablish contact in the past few months, and yesterday she told me that you were not well. I’m really sorry to hear this, and I’m also sorry that I’ve waited all of this time to reach out to you. I’ve never told you how important were in my young life, how much I admired you and your work, and how much of a role you played in my becoming an artist. Yesterday I wrote the following little reminiscence to Heather, about that year when our paths crossed:


1983, John Hughes meets Charles Dickens. It straddled my sophomore and junior years, and contained both the pinnacle and the nadir of my adolescence. Over that winter and into the spring, I began to emerge both socially and creatively, in many ways for the first time in my life. I clearly remember coming into my own, and distancing myself from a lot of the stifling energy of my family. Addison was a powerful mentor figure, and his encouragement helped make me feel stronger than I’d ever felt before. However as fate would have it, this blossoming was cut short. Over spring break, my parents announced they were getting divorced, thrusting all of their turmoil back into the narrative. The dreamlike Déjeuner sur l’herbe/painting outings with Addison and you ended, and I went back to NYC, into the stew of familial mess. Soon after returning to Putney in the fall, Two of my closest friends — Lakshman and Geoff — were expelled for throwing a keg party (I was equally guilty, but somehow miraculously didn’t get caught), and within a month or two, Geoff killed himself.

It was an intense year, and I remember it vividly. It exactly wasn’t rational, but I felt pretty abandoned that fall. My grades plummeted. What at first was an awakening, felt like a false start, by the time the leaves began to turn. Addison Reached out once or twice, but I never responded. I think my shell closed back up, and it wouldn’t begin to open again until long after I left Putney.


No, I didn’t stick to painting, although I tried! I had some facility, which was greatly encouraged first by you and then by others through my undergrad years at art school. It’s been a circuitous path, but I’m grateful to have found a creative practice that fits. (If you’re curious, you can find some of what I do on my website).

I hope that this isn’t too awkward to receive after so many years. I just feel the need to tell you how much you touched my life — that I still hear your encouragement in my mind and heart.

Much love,
Ian






























Addison Parks
Spring Hill


Ian Stell
http://www.ianstell.com




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Artist Notes: James Balla






I am sooo sorry I missed the boat writing about your work. I get that. You wanted me to write about the only thing that mattered, your spiritual quest, and forget the other stuff. I was not paying attention. I lost faith in anyone wanting to hear that stuff from me. Didn't want to take you down with me, so to speak. Tried to stay above that. To spare you.






But your work is all about the spiritual quest. Your guides are the Frankenthalers, not the Hofmanns, ironically. The egoless space where mind and body and the universe are all connected, indivisible, invisible!






Sorry. Would have loved to have written that! Sorry I let you down.







Addison Parks
Spring Hill






Sunday, April 09, 2017

Todd Mckie: Divine Comedy



Don't Look Now, But I Think We Have Company, 
2015, flashe on canvas, 20x16"
courtesy Gallery Naga



You might say that Todd McKie has the best of both worlds, that he is a wonderful painter who also makes us laugh. That his paintings are modern day frescoes by Giotto, on a mission, infused with the Holy Spirit of comedy.



“The Terrible Burden of Beauty” (2007)



And of course this is true. But what is also true is that he carries a double burden because of it, to make something special in paint, and to make it funny. One is hard enough. Two is darn near impossible.



“Please Pass the Sake” (2007), flashe on canvas


In art as in humor, you have to be brave, you have to be willing to be bad to be good. Both can so easily crash and burn. Both take great risks. Both can die a lonely death in complete and utter silence. And yet McKie goes there all day, every day, always has. Which is why his work is so widely beloved. You can't separate the two in him, the art and the humor.  The yin and the yang. The Cheech and the Chong. The right half from the left half of the brain. They are like the two pedals that make his bicycle go.



Todd McKie, "Feeling Any Better? 2007



Not that he is complaining either. Clearly he wouldn't have it any other way. Clearly this is what inspires him, what challenges him, what gets his motor running, what makes him tick, what tickles his funny bone.



Todd McKie, Geometry without Fear, 2001
flashe on canvas, 48" x 36"
Courtesy of Gallery Naga, Boston



There is so much going on in this work. So much that makes these paintings fly. The same is true of the humor. If Todd McKie is Giotto in paint, he is Bill Murray in comedy. His paintings go everywhere: landscape, interior, still life, portrait, surrealism, abstraction, color field, hard edge, action, minimalist, etc, and so do his jokes.




It's a Bird's World, 2014, flashe on canvas, 16x20"
courtesy Gallery Naga



Sight gags, one liners, parody, satire, slap stick, biting, witty, wise cracking, clowning, fooling around, sweet, dry, dumb, playful, contagious, unstoppable, incorrigible, he pokes fun at everyone and everything, especially himself. You can hear his paintings snickering. You can hear them crack themselves up. They are still killing themselves after you've left the room and they can't wait for you to get back so they can have another go.



Redball Express, 1993-- 25.75" x 31.5"


“Truth is Stranger Than Non-Fiction” (2006)



And yet they are beautiful. His goofy, cartoonish, almost stick-figure narratives about life, his life, about love and art, about living on this or some other planet, are beautiful. Giotto beautiful. They are a gift, a pleasure to the eyes, a feast that would make Caligula blush. Gorgeous adventures in color and mark and composition and imagination and invention.




Me and Hue, Babe, 2010, flashe on canvas, 24x20"
courtesy Gallery Naga



And the color! How much time do you have? Can you take the afternoon off? No one living or dead makes color talk, no... sing, no... wax pure poetry, like Todd McKie. He is in a league all his own. And it is not just beautiful color; it is daring, delightful, delicious, brilliant, breathtaking, disturbing, subtle, elegant, dangerous, generous, unexpected, unspeakable, undiscovered, beyond the pale, beyond the horizon, sublime, grimy, grim, and divine. Color alone puts McKie in the Hall.



Happy Arbor Day, 1993-- 27" x 32"


Todd McKie, A Proud Tradition, 36 x 48


“Bird, Interrupted” (2006)



And the same goes for the humor. But what of it? Does he suffer for it? Is he punished, and not taken seriously as an artist because of it? After all, The Martian won best comedy last year. Some people just don't have a sense of humor, or appreciate its stature or critical place in our lives. The Greeks did. Shakespeare did. I'm just saying.



Todd McKie, "Geometry" 2008, Flashe on paper, 22 x 28 inches


An Amazing Likeness, 2007, Flashe on paper, 22 x 28 inches



But oh! To be both! That is indeed a gift. In the worst of times and best of times, we need this. We need this artworld court jester now more than ever. To lighten the king's court. To let the air out of the royal windbag. That is something special! And Todd McKie's paintings are just that! Something special!



Jubilee, 2015, flashe on canvas, 20 x16"



Addison Parks
Spring Hill




"Flora" 1997, monotype, 23 x 30 1/2 inches




Gallery Naga Installation, 2016






Todd McKie




Todd McKie
received his BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design. He has works in various public collections across the country, including the MFA Boston, the Microsoft Corporation in Seattle, and the University of Texas, Austin. For more information please visit Gallery Naga and his website.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Rory Parks and Paradise Lost





Rory Parks Installation, NYC






Rory Parks is painter as all things. He is at once artist, author, architect, and engineer. He is poet, philosopher, tinkerer, dreamer, and inventor. He is stage director, stage designer, stage setter and stage driver. He is distracted, head in the clouds, and sleeves rolled up, laser focused. He is composer and conductor and orchestra and soloist and more.





Big Orange Projector (Jukebox), oil on canvas, 89”x21”, 2010





He has always known when something he was painting felt just right. That, ah yes, that'll do. He has that kind of sensibility. That kind of intelligence. That kind of natural talent, genius and ability. A deep well of emotional awareness and goodness and even music. All of that and more.






Four Thought Experiments, oil on canvas, 2011





All of that and more go into each one of his paintings. That is what it takes to bring one of his paintings to life. Like beautifully crafted ships or flying machines. Ready to launch themselves out into the world. He has been making paintings like this since he was a very young man, wise and mature and prolific beyond his years.






not titled, Oil on Canvas, 47"x24.5" 2014




So that is part of the story. Part of what goes into the paintings of Rory Parks. Part of what goes into these constructions that he envisions and executes with extraordinary deliberation. The paintings, the narratives in and behind the paintings, and the experience of the paintings, come together, integrate, to give us something highly evolved, utterly unique, and wholly original.





not titled, Oil on Canvas, 48.75"x25.5" 2014




These are dystopian landscapes the likes of the cave paintings of Lascaux. They tell a Mad Max kind of tale of a civilization hung up on itself, a civilization that lost touch with itself, with the earth, with why we are here. These are beautiful portraits of hubris, of decay, of paradise lost.






Organism Tracks (After Flayed Rabbit), Oil on Canvas Assemblage 2014




We see buildings and bridges and structures like grand arks, withering in the landscape like ancient ruins, lost cities, something out of Planet of the Apes or Aliens. They are above all, however, living, alive, organic, and as such, organisms. They are at once proud and beautiful and even defiant. They stand tall, but they are falling apart.





Blue and White Projector, oil on canvas, 32”x18”, 2009




Within the larger play of his various constructs, devices, lenses, and narratives, there is something else going on. It is his language of painting. His texture. His fabric. His thin lines of pigment that build his surfaces. Where unusual color dialogue sneaks in, sets off sparks, and surprises us. A whole wonderful world unto itself. Delicious strips of paint, bumpy coalescing lengths of juicy brush strokes that Van Gogh would make a meal of, that tell a color story Albers would delight in, brush strokes that are knitted together, cemented together, thatched together. This is his signature style. Where paint acts like paint. Where our itch for the sensuality of paint gets scratched. Where we could happily set up camp. Where we can be intimate with the richly layered painting experience. Where we can be intimate with Rory Parks's paintings.




Rory Parks, 2003, oil on canvas






Parks builds and stretches slightly irregular canvasses that enhance the essential "from the ground up" aesthetic of the work and reinforce the cave painting vibe. Rory Parks as Robinson Crusoe, artist documenting the fall of Western Civilization with his bare hands.





Blue Projector(Book), oil on canvas, 32”x17”, 2009




Interestingly enough some of his inspirations spring directly from just such sources, like St Peters on  the island of Bermuda, where the artist has deep family roots. The 1612 church has been rebuilt many times but the interior provided a rich jumping off point thick with history, culture, and the human stain. The body of paintings pulled from that experience tapped into a world trapped in amber.






Rory Parks, Rose Viewfinder De Facto Organism, oil on canvas, 2007
(inspired by St Peter's interior, Bermuda)




Parks also peoples his paintings with characters. We are not alone. Strange animated forms stand in for us. Abstract inventions consistent and faithful to the abstract nature and mission of the work. These are paintings, first and foremost. They never forget that. They speak through the language of painting, through form and color, mark and composition. Beautifully. Always.





Inside the Monastic Volume of the Calendar, oil on canvas, 2012







Rory Parks, 2004, oil on canvas



There is also this pop culture question imbedded in them. Like the great wall in King Kong, are his brilliant, elaborate, and complex constructions built to keep us out, or something in. This question is unspoken, but it gnaws at us, haunts us, providing just one more motor to a body of work that would seem to generate enough chthonic energy and power, like the cave paintings at Lascaux, to reach across time, to call to us, to wake us from our slumber, to whisper in our ears as we charge, half a league, half a league, half a league onward.





Quity’s Double Blue Cross Pageantry, 18” x 36”; oil on canvas, 2011






Rory Parks, water base paints on board, 2006






Stamps and Envelopes, 2016 Installation, SAC Visual Arts,
 San Antonio, Curated by Norbert Clyde Martinez JR




Artdeal Magazine
Spring Hill, April, 2017




Hang On To Your Hot Lights (installation 2013),
 Oil on Canvas, wooden sculpture/shelving installation 2013






Rory Parks, oil on board, 2012





Four Thought Experiments, Installation detail






VAN HANOS AND RORY PARKS @ THE OPENING OF ASTRAL WEEKS, 2013






Rory Parks, 2013, water base on board






Rory Parks Installation, The Bow Street Gallery, 2016 - 2017


This essay accompanies the Rory Parks painting exhibit currently on display at the Bow Street Gallery.




Rory Parks Installation, The Bow Street Gallery, 2016 - 2017








Rory Parks at the Rema Hort Mann Foundation

roryparks.com