Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Musical Chairs

Larry Deyab

All any artist really wants is a seat at the table that is art. What does that mean? Good question.

I think what that means is that every artist wants to be recognized as an artist in the first place, and then have a sense of place, both in terms of their work and also in terms of their voice. They want to be a part of the dialogue.

How to achieve that is one question. There is however, another problem. There are only so may seats at the table. The result seems a lot like musical chairs. There aren't enough seats to go around.

Why? Good question. Why not just pull up more chairs? The answers to these questions means a further examination of human nature as well as the human condition. On the other hand it doesn't take a degree in math to see that there aren't enough chairs and never have been. Apparently we like it that way.

All of this makes getting a seat at the table not only a question of survival, but also one of competition. Then of course there is keeping the seat once you get it. None of this is necessarily nice or fair. It is dog eat dog. Someone is going to come up short; someone is going to be without a seat. A lot of someones. Should life be nice or fair? Should the art world be nice or fair? Does should even matter? Isn't "what's what" what matters?

If you're asking why there aren't enough seats at the table you may be asking the wrong question. Or maybe that is what they want you to think. Maybe they want you to think "how do I get a seat, and keep it," and nothing else.

Change happens when people start asking questions. Questions are a big part of how we learn and grow. Just watch a child.

As an artist, do you even want to play musical chairs?

Addison Parks

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Natural

Some 30 years ago postmodernism rose from modernism's ashes and Larry Deyab was its perfect child. These three large unstretched canvasses from 1982 and 1983 are monument to that moment.

That Larry Deyab was not hoisted onto the shoulders of the ensuing parade is part travesty, part divine providence. That as a result he was forced to play the part of Cinderella and not only watch as other painters were feted by the likes of Mary Boones everywhere, he cleaned their brushes and mopped their studios(Bill Jensen, Ronald Bladen, Milton Resnick...).


These paintings(Larry Deyab/Paintings/early 80s NYC; October 8 - November 6, 2011; Bow Street Gallery, Harvard Square), buried in storage these 30 years, are proof that once again the art world got it wrong. What possible silver lining is there to this sad story? Why was Deyab denied, held back, thwarted, unrecognized? Tell me the good news!

Well hear this! Here it is! Hallelujah! Larry Deyab didn't quit! Larry Deyab kept painting! Larry Deyab was never spoiled by success! He was never changed by the art world! While those other artists flamed out or atrophied or grew stunted or not at all, Larry Deyab kept painting and evolving and growing and learning! Today he is every bit the painter of every star who ever drank from Whitney's cup! That is divine providence!

It is a curious phenomenon. Artist as Job. To have suffered so as others triumphed. Will Deyab ever get the call? Like Tom Brady waited so many years ago for that one chance to shine, to march the ball down the field and score!

Larry Deyab sprang from modernism's foam full grown! These paintings are proof! He spoke modernism fluently, his native tongue! He spoke it with an eloquence that was understood, so that the business of postmodernism was at his feet, and he went about making the paintings that told the story of his time! Our time! It is no surprise that any artist who is of his time always appears ahead of his time to all who are actually looking back!

Dealers who were looking back because that was all they were naturally capable of, never saw him, never got him, or worse, feared him.

But look at these paintings! Almost murals really! Hanging in this abandoned building! They are perfect! They should be in a museum so that young painters can look at them the way they look at Delacroix and Matisse and Picasso and de Kooning and Pollock!

OK. I know full well that by '82/'83 it was like Times Square on the morning of January 1st. The party was over. I know, I hung New York/New Wave at PS1! But that was a free for all. A hundred factions. You had no clear voice. Instead it was Basquiat here, Duncan Hannah there, Haring and Futura over there. I made sense out of it but it was the Tower of Babel, no doubt about it. That was the whole point! Pluralism! Anarchy! Anything goes! It was deliriously breathtaking!

And yes, Larry Deyab was the morning after! Pick up the pieces and make a new world, and he did that. Out of paint! He did what the artist does; he went back to his cave and made cave paintings!

And assimilated it all perfectly! Not in a calculated way, but as natural as breathing! Loving breathing! Larry Deyab paints cave paintings, but make no mistake, they only look crude in that sense. They are high art. The real thing. The rare thing. The original thing. Strange and alien and fresh as it is elegant and thoughtful and whole!

Larry Deyab is all observer, and he pays attention. His paintings, then as now, are made of the stuff of life. Like Mary Shelley's monster they are fashioned from the bits and pieces he picks up in his travels about town, about the country, about the world. They seem like disparate parts, but under his expert guidance they come together in a swirl of paint, in an epiphany! Alive!

The new paintings bear this out! They would have been hanging now had Bow Street not closed. They are painted a little differently. Spray paint and enamel instead of thick oils. But the vision is the same, steadily forged by time and experience. At first glance they are nothing, a bunch of paint, and then they start to coalesce, and then just when they seem to make sense, they evaporate and we find ourselves at the bottom of the hill.

This is what he shared so well with Resnick, his paintings never stand still. They are always moving, changing, always showing you something new, something different. Then when you find them again the next day they are reborn! Remade! Alive! Ready for another dance!

Addison Parks,
Bow Street
Harvard Square

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Horse's Mouth!

It is that filter that I am wondering about. The filtering of everything! The second handness of things. The loss of first hand experience. The fear of the power of the horse's mouth! The muzzling of the horse's mouth! We love the filters! We don't read so much as we read about! Virtual reality! The most insidious of all oxymorons!

I was reading an article about the philosopher Derek Parfit. My faith in The New Yorker had previously been shaken by an article I had read earlier about the photographer Thomas Struth. In that case the author had inserted herself so far into the article that I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that the asparagus she had enjoyed at a meal with the artist had given her gas. I had the sense that Struth probably changed his cell number to be rid of her.

So what of this author? How was she inserting herself into this article on Parfit? Twisting? Distorting! Both authors seemed perfectly comfortable that every word they wrote and that every detail they included was not only necessary but gospel. I was reminded of my mother who never let the facts interfere with a good story.

I kept telling myself "just go get Parfit's book; get it from the horse's mouth!" The author definitely colored my feelings about Parfit. It is this curious thing. My wife does it. She tells me about something that happened and leaves me to connect the dots. It is the illusion of some objective experience without the subjective response. We have to supply that.

The author in this case detailed how Parfit's sister died and how he found her daughter a foster home. I was left to conclude what a son of a bitch he was for not taking her in. Instead the author moved on to a dialogue of him and his wife parsing the minutiae of some tail-chasing philosophical argument over breakfast! Something akin to debating the arrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic! I was manipulated into concluding that philosophy was not just devoid of humanity, but also impotent.

Today I was reading Baudelaire's Intimate Journals(deck chairs!) and even this, as raw and unfiltered as it might seem, was translated by Christopher Isherwood! Not exactly a disinterested bystander or a neutral frame!

I found myself wondering what Isherwood was bringing to the table. Translation is far from exact science. Everything is affected! The meaning perhaps affected above all, but just as much the power, mood, texture, sound, cadence, speed, sensuousness! The everything!

Reading Baudelaire translated into english is more than just drinking a wine that does not travel well, it is like going from a fresh French farmer's cheese to something that's been processed, sliced, and sitting on the refrigerator shelf at Costco! They just aren't the same! You might as well look at the Sistine Ceiling as painted by Thomas Hart Benton or that "painter of light" guy! As interesting as that might sound, and maybe it does, it won't be Michelangelo! It won't be the real thing!

As real as Isherwood's translation sounds, I have decided that I can't trust it. What was lost? What was filtered out? What was distorted? T S Eliot in his introduction argued that the bulk of Baudelaire would get through, and that that was enough. Like the cream rising to the top. Well? Maybe? Can I buy that? OK, I can buy that. Better than no Baudelaire!

Everyday I want what little I have to be real. Real mozzarella. Real conversation. Real lemons. Real emotions. Real art. Real opinions. Without filters! My mother told us as children to make our own movies! And we did! But I also have great memories of her taking us to see To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Birds in a little American theater in Rome! She also argued with an Athens theater manager to get me into see Moulin Rouge even though I was under age. And I'll never forget seeing El CID in a smoke filled theater near Trastevere, where the roof slid open for ventilation, the smoke filtered into the night, and you could see the stars!

I don't buy the Globe. I don't watch the news! Well, maybe just a little sometimes, just not as a rule. I haven't the time to filter the filters. When I watch a movie I know it is fiction. Artful filter! If I watch sports I can trust my own eyes even if I can't trust the commentary! And I can read Baudelaire in french! Sort of. And learn more spanish so that I can really appreciate Love In The Time of Cholera(El amor en los tiempos del cólera) as Marquez wrote it and meant it! I can't wait! In the meantime I have an excellent translation!

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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Appreciation War and Peace

I've said this before: art is the appreciation business. I said it to make a point; that art is all about appreciation, from beginning to end. It is a circle of appreciation. It just goes round and round. The artist makes art as a result of what they appreciate; the viewer appreciates the art, and by doing so appreciates what the artist appreciated, and that appreciation reinforces that appreciated thing, which causes the artist to appreciate it again and so forth!

These days, however, appreciation is in short supply. It is not just that there is not much of it to go around, it seems that the very idea and existence of it are under attack!

I haven't been here long. Just 58 years. So I'm just figuring some things out. Appreciation is in grave danger. Like climate change it threatens our very way of life.

You don't have to look far or hard to see the signs. Never mind that art is off our cultural radar. Look at Congress. Record low approval! And nobody gets along! Democrats and Republicans don't only not appreciate each other, they don't appreciate their own parties! We seem to be threatened with an ice age, a dark age, an appreciation funk!

Yesterday the guy that brought the Red Sox their only two World Series in the last hundred years was let go because they missed the playoffs on the last day of the season--with a nasty bit of help from the Yankees I might add. What do you get when appreciation goes out the window? You guessed it!

I recently read an article on Rimbaud in the New Yorker. By the end of it the author revealed that he wasn't really a fan! He really just enjoyed tweaking the legions of Rimbaud lovers haunted by the question of Rimbaud's self-imposed exile from literature! He liked rubbing salt in the wound!

But the author really missed the whole point! It didn't matter that Rimbaud bailed. It didn't change anything! It is the work that mattered! You wouldn't have that question of repudiation if you didn't have the amazing poetry in the first place! AND! You still have that! Rimbaud's contribution to poetry isn't going anywhere. This New Yorker author not only doesn't appreciate this most obvious and important fact, clearly they are the on who is haunted because they will never be the recipient of that kind or level of appreciation!

People who feel unappreciated often seem to turn to un-appreciation as an answer. They start appreciating things less as they feel less appreciated when more is what would save then! The more you have to appreciate in life would seem to be the obvious path to happiness!

Being unappreciated is what makes people mean.

I'm close to an individual who struggles as an artist. The art world is not giving them a parade. But they somehow manage to scrape up enough appreciation for what they do despite the overwhelming lack of it from the outside world.

Artists who keep working are like that. They like what they do! That is not just really important, it is insanely critical! Critical doesn't even begin to describe just how important that is! Insane might! Because you just might be a little crazy to care so much about something no one else cares about!

I am close to another artist who can't muster up quite enough appreciation for what they do, and I couldn't figure out why, because from where I stand their work really has it going on!

What I discovered was that this person had never had someone in their life that they could count on to appreciate what they did. Which meant that when they faltered, they didn't have enough of that insane appreciation to pick them up when no one else would! I also discovered that this person had a person in their life that was the opposite of that, someone who kept poking a hole in their tire, making sure that it was always flat. A parent no less! A permanent fixture in their life! A person who could with a single phone call could slash all 4 tires!

Having no built-in support is one thing, having built-in opposition is quite another!

Rimbaud didn't get support from his mother, and his father had long before abandoned him. Baudelaire's father cut him off when he quit law to become a poet. The appreciation thing is strange.

Different people need different amounts to get by. Different people need different amounts to flourish! A little can go a long way for some, while others need vast amounts just to get through the day! Still some can hoard enough for themselves, and don't need to go out there looking for it. A few don't seem to need any at all! Sounds a lot like a drug!

I know someone else who went back to school to get it, essentially paying for it, and now they are back out and forced to ween themselves off of it. But they are setting up a new studio and feel better! Sounds a lot like love!

Like I said, I've only been here a short while! I don't quite get it. I realize that I am very lucky and have that built-in supply/support system: children, the family; but they are all teenagers or older now and I am at risk.

As an artist you need to keep yourself pumped up enough to keep working. Whatever it takes! I know my brother and I spent our lives proving my dad wrong, so as an artist sometimes that can work. Maybe we were really trying to earn some appreciation, at least that is what it felt like. Still, neither one of us has made a painting since he died. We never did get that appreciation.

It is worth mentioning that as I write this I have just received a letter from my brother telling me that he has set up a new studio by the water where he can see boats, and that he has just started painting again and feels better. It is also worth mentioning that recently I have been making sculpture, my first love, and am also setting up a new studio, and also feel better! Both of us in the last few weeks three thousand miles apart!

Some times it feels like you're trying to blow up a balloon with a big hole in it, other times it just seems like the sun comes out and your balloon simply soars! it might take forever to explain how to protect our balloon from puncture, and then we still get blind-sided. Still, we all get better at this. We have to!

To me it is something like climate change, we're all going to live or die depending on whether we get this right. It starts with each one of us! What goes around just might come around after all! Being an art lover always seemed to me to go hand in hand with being an artist! I still believe this! How could it be any other way?

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Is there someone else I can speak with?

I recently watched Michael Palin, no relation, as the chaste Sir something or other, standing with the Knights of the Round Table outside a castle wall while insults and farm animals were being hurled at him, ask the simple question, "is there someone else we could speak with?" I've seen the movie a thousand times but it only just hit me like the Holy Grail that this is the question I have been wanting to ask!

Usually I just have a question I ask myself that helps me through the day, like "what was I thinking?" it works for about a year until I get it through my thick head. There are questions you could ask other people, like "what's your problem?" but they sound rude. "Is there someone else I could speak with" sounds polite, especially coming from Michael Palin.

But the real point is that when we ask that question, we are trying to change the situation. We are trying to put ourselves in a better situation. We are trying to improve our lot in life!

How many times do I wish I could have just asked, "is there someone else I could speak with?"

How many rude, unpleasant people and situations from cradle to grave could be solved so sweetly with just this question. Especially if it worked! It didn't for Michael Palin.

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Wider Eyes!

You see it in sports. A guy is standing at the plate and the catcher is sizing him up and the pitcher is bearing down on him, getting ready to make his life a living hell! He opens his eyes wider. He looks harder. All the while he is trying to make the pitcher think he isn't paying attention maybe, or maybe he wants to make the pitcher know full well that he is his worst nightmare, that it is the pitcher who will know living hell thanks to him; he shows him his wide eyes!

There are those among us that got the wrong memo. When thrust on the rocky cliff of life they choose to close their eyes, and the worse it gets the tighter they close them.

Stop! Open your eyes wider! That is the only hope you have! Across the board!

When life is too much, don't care less to ease the pain, care more! Caring less is like closing your eyes! I know too many people on medication to dull their pain. This is suicide! Nothing less! Like closing your eyes to an oncoming train! When you see that train coming, open your eyes wider and you can get out of the way!

If you can't navigate your way through what tastes good and what tastes bad in life, don't cut out your taste buds! Get good at navigating! Taste more! Learn the difference between shit and fresh cream! Your taste buds will tell you the difference between fresh and rotten, vital and rancid, healthful and poison, and so on. Your life depends on it!

Art is not superficial. It is a world rich in feelings and ideas, a story told with color and shape, mark and space, speed and light. It is an eyes wide open world! And when that world cares less? Care more! When that world feels less, feel more! When that world see less? See more! Your life depends on it!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Leg Up

Artists by nature are self-absorbed. They have to be, I suppose, to survive, or at least that's what they think. I've met a few who weren't, but they might be the exceptions that prove the rule. What I have noticed lately, perhaps because of a down economy, is that they are nasty in the process, relentless, really well beyond the usual adversarial competitiveness, belligerent really, and blindly so.

One artist I encountered recently actually referred to themselves in the third person by name, and already advanced in years, was crowing about getting into an art program at a mid-level school. They would be well toward 60 by the time they completed it!

Most people have some inkling that an artist forges their own identity, that academic programs are really about getting a leg up. If you don't have vision, imagination, and courage, you won't get anywhere, and if you have those things, well, you probably don't need school; you need the time and space and drive to do the work.

Sure, if you went to some really prestigious school instead of Dippity-do U, then you can get hand-outs from the buddy system for all its worth. I know one artist like that who likes to act like he isn't just thinking about himself, that he is making it about you, but all the while it always comes back to "all about him" and in an unseemly desperate and shrill sort of way that ends in "what?" We all know that you can't talk to these people, and that as artists we are forced to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, "am I like that, am I that bad?"

Getting a leg up in this world seems a reasonable goal given the challenges that life presents, but then you have to ask yourself, who am I getting a leg up on?
My fellow man(and woman!), my brothers and sisters, my partners in this life, and who else? Isn't a leg up just another way of saying stepping on someone else to climb up in this world? Aren't we really talking about climbing? Is that really what this is all about? And if you believe in art, does art come from this place?

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

No Room At The Inn

I know there is no room at the inn. I won't take it personally. But that doesn't mean I won't ask. You never know. Something might have opened up.

Life is a little like the line at some nightclub. Life smiles on you and the guy at the door lets you in. Or doesn't. Sometimes there is no room at the inn, or sometimes there is no room at the inn for you. You never know which.

I know I don't have the pedigree. I know I don't have the credentials. And I don't have an entrée. But sometimes none of that matters. Sometimes you have something else that will get you in the door. It could be talent, or beauty, or brains, or money! Or something else, some je ne sais quoi, like confidence or energy or style. Or grit. Like true grit. Will you try again if you are turned away? And again? And again?

I once knew a woman who went to a school that she didn't get into. She just just showed up; she just went anyway. I don't know how she did it, but she did. She didn't take no for an answer. She had sand! It shouldn't be any surprise that she also did very well, and went on to have a successful career.

When I first moved to Boston, once I had settled in, I took my portfolio to visit a dealer I had recently done a favor for without ever having actually met them. Before I could introduce myself the dealer read me the riot act. I had no entrée, no pedigree that she was aware of, and there was no room at the inn. Effectively, how dare I? When she had finished venting her spleen at me for my audacity, telling me what was what, and pointing me to the back of the line, I reached out my hand and introduced myself. Her head snapped back and she gasped. Then she rushed past me to block the door, which she would not leave until I had accepted an apology.

It was a shame really, because she had actually told me the absolute unvarnished truth, something you never hear, and that I would never hear the likes of again. I later went on to show in Boston, and even got to know some dealers as friends, but no one, not even one of those friends, was ever honest enough to tell me what was what. It was an "ah-ha!" moment where I got the straight dope, and not the dressed up bullshit.

I have gotten a few of those along the way. Those rare glimpses at the truth that you can carry with you to make sense of this world. Like the teacher that confided in me that my strength was intimidating, explaining why she had treated me so badly. Another "ah-ha!" moment.

So when you're standing there at the door, and they don't let you in, it might not be because you weren't good enough, but because you were too good. I actually got that from another teacher when I had asked about the hesitation to let me into a program. They told me it was to make sure I wasn't too good. Needless to say at that point I was a little disappointed that I had been accepted, .

These days I make it a special point to avoid lines with gate keepers. I'll accept an outright invitation perhaps, but never one to compete for room at the inn if it is willy-nilly up to some gatekeeper. Accept this invitation at your peril.

I was once interviewed by a man for a spot in an elite graduate program who kept his back to me and never looked at me the entire time; years later I was casually informed that he was no less than mortal enemies with the man from the program who had recommended me. That was an "ah-ah!" moment that did not reveal itself for almost thirty years, not until the man who had recommended me unwittingly mentioned their deep seeded enmity! Luckily this was also confirmed by another intimate who detailed the great pride of that particular gate-keeper, as gate-keeper.

I mention these things to illustrate just where we find ourselves when knocking on the inn door. It cuts so many ways. As further illustration I once secured a position as a columnist for a newspaper that I had been previously turned down for. The first time my recommendation came from the publisher who assured me that his support would undoubtedly be the kiss of death. He was right. Later I was joyfully hired by the very same editors who had forgotten about my previous application because they had never even given me the time of day. Go figure.

Again, I say all this because, and you must be prepared, what are you going to do when you're told there is no room at the inn?

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Friday, July 01, 2011

Measured in Roses

Parvolae partes ventris tauri, linguae anitum (Small parts of stomach of bull and duck tongues), 2007, silver halide print, 27 x 30.5 in

Mimosa, Hibiscus, Bougainvillea. The language of love. The language of sex. Of unfolding petals, of pistons and stamens and pollination. The language of life. Of beauty and art, of birth and death. Plant 12 inches apart. At least six hours of direct sun. Water regularly. Good drainage. Life can be measured in flowers. First marriage, Freesia. I once lived with a woman who was like one of those rare species that produces a single bloom in a year. Felt like an eternity! I learned that I like a woman who shows up everyday, like a pot of Geraniums! And I married her!

Shaker Heights. I was three and looking from the window of my baby blue bedroom. Steven our handyman’s bloodied body lay in the Hydrangea bushes down below as figures cut towards him across the lawn. A ruby red flashed and whirled in the failing light. At seven I was walking barefoot down a stoney road on the cliff of a Greek island with an Easter Lily in my hand and three small and ancient women in black crossed themselves as we passed. My mother explained that it was the flower of death. Waxy and almost fake in its perfection, I never thought of it as a flower again. More a trumpet of doom. At ten I sat with the Azaleas on the Spanish Steps while my mother cashed an alimony check at the American Express. We lived nearby on Via Margutta. The Oleander’s had flowers like little helicopters and my sister and I would launch them from our terrace.

Cut flowers. Roses. Cut the stems at an angle under water. Immerse them in cold water over night and they will last forever. Some people put them in their refrigerator when they go to bed. Same thing. They look good at every phase. From small and closed to past their glory and dried up. We had apricot colored ones above our bed when Stacey’s water broke at three in the morning. She did not scream “911!” but called the midwife and got out a shower curtain and placed it on our bed. I washed my hands about five times. The midwife never showed. Little Ecco was born quietly while her three brothers slept in their rooms. I always have plenty of cut flowers. My one vice. I’ve tried growing roses for cutting but can’t take them from the bush.

When I was a young painter in New York I would regularly buy a half dozen or so roses from the buckets of street vendors and deliver them individually to my favorite people and girlfriends. It is an amazing thing to see someone’s face light up on the other end of a rose. I let them think they were the only ones. A harmless lie I thought at the time but my conscience told me otherwise. The language of deception. Title of first solo show in New York: Flowerheads.

Outside my living room window a Witch Hazel bush lives a mostly uneventful year. Then, as early as February, when color is all but forgotten and I have lost every hope that winter won’t last forever, it performs its brave magic: an amazing feat of delicate yellow blossoms that announce that commencement is at hand. Then Pansies and Primrose show up at nurseries and impatiently start the spring; they stand up to the snow and cold when the change of season is stubborn. Then the wait for Crocuses, Daffodils and Tulips begins. Forsythia! I’m pretty sure I could live inside the blossom of a Silver Magnolia. Lilacs make me savor their moment every year. Dogwoods are synonymous with deer and bring me peace.

Impatiens work their butts off in the shade all summer and build a dome of blossoms well into the fall. Petunias cascade their velvet trumpets. Begonias are as varied as cuttlefish. Geraniums can stand the heat and go for a long time without water. Electric against the green. Cut them down and take them inside for the winter. There are no pedestrian flowers. Every flower is special, every flower awaits us. Weeds flower beautifully. Wild flowers are free. Even the dreaded Garlic Mustard looks quite charming.

When I don’t feel well I see my garden inside myself and let the sun shine on it. I breathe it all in. The bees and the rabbits and the birds and butterflies join the Day Lilies and Delphinium and other flowers, and I feel better. Works every time. Flowers are the language of color. Having a flower garden is a vital luxury that strikes many people as a waste of space and water. Why not vegetables instead? With my gardens I can make paintings with living plants. Blues, yellows, oranges, reds, and violets; infinite color abounds. The energy of each feeds whatever that is inside me, be it soul and/or spirit. After my mother died, Stacey and I spread some of her ashes at the base of a Bougainvillea high up overlooking a bay on the island of St. Lucia. Her kind of flower, her kind of place.

Daisies and Black-eyed Susans bring me down to earth; they are so conversant in the language of sunshine. Morning Glories are just that. But go indoors and Japanese Peace Lilies are as advertised. Christmas Cactus gift us winter cheer. Paper Whites do the same and bring a thick perfume. They all sing to us. Sun Flowers, Orchids, Violets, Iris, Bleeding Hearts, Peonies! I love Peonies! So many kinds of flowers, all over the world, every day of the year!

I don’t do community work anymore.  What I do instead is plant flowers by the road for people who walk or bike or drive by. It is what I give. The cause-minded friends I have laugh. They say Addison thinks flowers make a difference. 

Addison Parks
Spring Hill 2011

Addison Parks, Mykonos, 1960

Measured In Roses was written in 2011 for Heide Hatry's book, Not A Rose, published by Charta in 2012, and launched at MoMA PS1 in 2013. 

Posing as a coffee-table book of flowers, Heide Hatry's Not a Rose turns the genre inside out with her realistic "flowers" created from the offal, genitalia and other parts of animals. Text contributions by 101 prominent intellectuals, writers and artists examine "the question of the flower" from a multiplicity of perspectives. Contributors include Giovanni Aloi, Jonathan Ames, Stephen T. Asma, John Baxter, Claudia Benthien, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lou Boxer, Rudolph Borchardt, Virginia Braun, Kiene Brillenburg, Bazon Brook, Mary Caponegro, Mary Cappello, Dennis Choi, Steve Connor, Paul Craddock, Brenda Coultas, Karen Duve, Joanna Ebenstein, Ron Flemming, Jonathan Safran Foer, Peter Frank, Martin Gessmann, Bennett Gilbert, Thyrza Goodeve, Jonas Gretlein, Anthony Haden-Guest, Jessica Hagedorn, Donna Haraway, Glenn Harper, Laura Hatry, George Holton, Siri Hustvedt, Christine Isherwood, Meredith Jones, Paul Manfred Kaestner, Gavin Keeney, Robert Kelly, Richard Kostelanetz, Paula Lee, Lucy Lippard, Fiona Maazel, Alex Mackintosh, Richard Macksey, Charlotte Mandell, Wythe Marschall, JW McCormack, Askold Melnyczuk, Selena Millares, William Ian Miller, Lydia Millet, Kate Millett, Richard Milner, Svetlana Mintcheva, Hannah Monyer, Rick Moody, Glenn Most, Alexander Nagel, Addison Parks, Jennifer Peters, Donald Pfister, Steven Pinker, Liedeke Plate, George Quasha, Christopher Reiger, Avital Ronell, Stanley Rosen, Selah Saterstrom, Volker Schill, Thomas Schnalke, Jennifer Seaman Cook, Philip Selenko, Robert Shuster, Joel Simpson, Peter Singer, Justin E.H. Smith, Iris Smyles, Jennifer Steil, Lisa Paul Streitfeld, Joe Summer, Lisa Summer, Klaus Theweleit, Luisa Valenzuela, Dan Wechsler, Jim Woodburn, John Wronoski and Franz Wright.

RECENT PRESS for Not a Rose:

- MoMA PS1

HEIDE HATRY, NOT A ROSE: at  STUX Gallery (530 W 25th St. New York) May 23 - June 22, 2013.
SKIN TRADE curated by Martha Wilson and Larry List at  P.P.O.W. Gallery (535 W 22th St. New York).  June 27 - JULY 27, 2013.
MYKONOS BIENNALE: Mykonos (Greece)  June 21 - June 24, 2013.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tools Not Rules!

Back in school some teacher would invariably remind us when we did something wrong that "you had to learn the rules before you could break them."

So here's a wacky thought. What if there was something wrong with this idea of having to learn the rules before you could break them? What if there were terrible consequences when the whole thing played out and then it was too late?

What if those who promote this educational philosophy unwittingly or by design end up stealing the innocence of those to whom they propose to teach? Could they truly believe that their students can only learn and grow by first learning what are called the rules?

Could they then believe that their students could break the rules once they had learned them so that they might reconnect to their creative self, their individual voice, and fulfill their need to invent and define and discover and break out for themselves?

Did they foresee that breaking the rules would be the inevitable outcome to achieve this, thereby making rule breakers of these students? Did they foresee the outcome; that these students who put their trust in them would have indeed lost their innocence and become rule breakers?

Of course if we didn't know the rules we couldn't break them. Never mind that "rules were made to be broken." Furthermore there are clearly situations where knowing the rules is essential. Baseball for example.

Most of the time we want to learn the rules. We need to learn the rules. That's part of the problem. We hate getting caught not knowing the rules! We want to know what's going on. Otherwise we feel powerless; we feel at a disadvantage! This is natural. This world keeps us in the dark enough as it is. How many times has each one of us found ourselves being punished because we violated some unwritten rule?

But everything in life is not so simple. The rules have been made up as we've been going along. The rules are made up by those in charge. They don't just reflect the values of those in charge, they are the values of those in charge! Let's face it: the rules are what matter!

We're talking about the whole ball of wax, of course, but in this context we're talking about the creative: writing, music, art. Is there a downside to the rules, and learning them? Shouldn't we be rethinking this one?

Could the "learn the rules" philosophy be an intentional double bind designed to preserve and protect the rules, and the power of the rule makers? To protect their values?

Again, if we buy into this wellworn authoritarian commandment that is presented as a philosophical and educational truth, then there can be just two outcomes, we follow the rules or we break them. Buried inside this is the idea that once we learn the rules we can't or won't or wouldn't even want to break the rules! Or, by doing so we are threatened with the idea of something negative: becoming rule breakers.

Just how deeply insidious is this, even creepy? Doesn't it remind us of the clever lawyer that when some claim is struck from the record still knows that the jury has heard it, and that the damage is done? When we learn the rules the damage is done.

What this means is that we can never be free. It is no surprise then that most of the great artists were either bad students or not students at all. The double bind: be a good student and end up a bad artist! Be a bad student and be punished!

And now we get down to it! Punishment! Isn't punishment all around us? Every day? Every step? From the cradle to the grave? Isn't it learn the rules or be punished? Break the rules and be punished?

Did whoever said life is suffering probably mean life is punishment? Isn't it true that if they get you, teach you the rules, then you will do their work for for them; you will either follow the rules or punish yourself with guilt for breaking them? Isn't this really the end of innocence? The end of creativity as an innocent act? Isn't this what alienates the artist and the arts from the rest of society? Isn't this why artists have to be bad and seen and treated as bad? Because they broke the rules when everyone else followed them?

Todd McKie

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Tale Circa 1982

I just want to talk about only two of the reasons we go to look at work in a gallery or museum. One is to see what the artist has achieved; the other is to see what has been going on with the artist. While I am always interested to see the first, the second is why I'm writing.

I was remembering an incident that happened almost thirty years ago. I had a show with the Andrew Crispo Gallery in the Fuller Building on 57th Street and Madison. It was a modest show. The paintings were all done on canvas board, none bigger than 18 x 24. I had carried all 35 pieces across the park in two paper shopping bags. They were called Flowerheads. I really liked them. They were all done after I had found out that my girlfriend was pregnant and we were going to have the baby. The paintings were a celebration.

As a result of that news I left New York to take a job as an art teacher at the Putney School in Vermont, and had to come down for the opening of the show. None of my family came, but Leon Polk Smith was there with his partner, Bob, and Sally Michel Avery also happened to be there, which was a thrill for me having always felt a connection to her husband. A bunch of friends were there too, but it was not a wild affair. April Gornik made it, and was visibly disappointed, and so did Douglas Abdell, who was probably responsible for me getting the show in the first place; Crispo didn't show young artists.

I say all this because when I think back on it, this was really a show of what I was up to, what was going on with me, what was happening to me, what I was thinking and feeling at that time, consciously and unconsciously. If you knew me at all you might have definitely been interested.

And while the show was up my mother happened to be in New York. I was back in Vermont teaching so I didn't see her. When I spoke to her on the phone I asked her what she thought of the show. She told me she hadn't seen it. I asked her why and she told me that my brother Peter, also a painter, had told her that there was nothing worth seeing.

Now at one time my mother had been an artist, and my inspiration and mentor as a child, so naturally I was shocked by her response. This is the story behind this story. In my heart of hearts the show was at the very least a record of what was going on with me. At the very least but most importantly. In the most profound sense. The show may not have been an achievement and "important" in that way, but if you are interested in art as life, then it becomes very important.

When I think back on it anyone who had that slightest interest would have found plenty of stuff to see at that show. Beyond the color and mark-making there were a thousand stories in every picture. Humor and play, invention and a truck load of references to personal and public affairs of the day. In short these were nothing less than 35 little cave paintings that told the story of my life and the life in New York City in the year of our Lord 1982!

Furthermore this is what has always drawn me to art and still does, as a record of where life has been. Sure I go to see what the artists makes happen; as an artist that is what I am trying to do. But I really go to see what's happened on that other level, where they've been, what they've been up to, what's been going on. On some level, once you get past all the fashion of the art world, we know that this is the real value of art, not as achievement but as a testament of what life is and was! The record of where life has been! This is the real value of art beyond fashion and trend, which are of course telling in their own right in the telling of that story. And what a tale art has to tell! And to paraphrase the great artist Leon Polk Smith, all we have to do is listen!

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

WING: Tuttle/Seliger/Smith

The following is an essay from the March/April exhibition at the Bow Street Gallery in Harvard Square.

Leon Polk Smith
(1906-1996), Charles Seliger(1926-2009), and Richard Tuttle(1941-) were never Minimalists, but that reductivist art movement dominant in the late 60’s and early 70’s is the elephant in the room at Bow Street; an elephant with wings, funnily enough, that soars around, flits around, and hovers over this tribute to these three great artists.

Leon Polk Smith is credited with inspiring some of Minimalism’s most influential founding members, artists like Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelley, who were forever and instantly changed after visiting his New York studio as young artists in 1957 and witnessing the morning light clarity and vitality of his hard edge abstractions. Smith had years earlier distilled his three major influences: Mondrian’s severe geometric matrix; the flat Oklahoma plains of his childhood; and stark graphic images in printed matter, and with them he ascended high over the skyscrapers of the truly modern city he loved so much; they gave him his wings. His modernism was more rooted in a kind of Frank Lloyd Wright pioneer American spirit than as it was the Bauhaus purism of Gropius and Albers imported from Europe. Ultimately his painting was an organic poetry wrought from a Native American past and a passion for a brave new world.

Charles Seliger was like one of those Americans that lived in London and became more American for the experience, the way they say the English in the colonies were more English than English; his particular brand of biomorphic and automatic abstraction only became busier, more complex, more layered, and more ambiguous as Minimalism put its stamp on the art world.  As they pared off he only too gladly piled on, doing what artists do, resurrecting what others cast off. Still, his work also became smaller at that time, which is worth considering. If the Minimalist credo of "less is more" became the rallying cry of a generation; Charles Seliger spent his life proving that "small was big!" Where Minimalism became rigid and cold and mechanical, Seliger offered an oasis of relief on the head of a pin--a lush and intimate universe, an alternative future to an otherwise dehumanized 1984!

Richard Tuttle, on the other hand, took the movement in stride, striding along side it, got the point because it was already inside him, and kept moving; to him it was all matter of fact, part of the landscape; and although many thought him to be one of theirs,  he never was, and never would be, never a joiner enough to be a member of that club that would have him as a member. Not that the group chased Tuttle away, he just planted his work somewhere else, not in group think, but in some personal journey, some profound inquiry, quest if you will, a path wholly defined by the absolute necessity of freedom. The individual and stubbornly American spirit once more! He might have breathed the same air, gulps of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Tony Smith, gulps of Leon Polk Smith inspired Ellsworth Kelley, gulps of all the artists that ever exhibited at the Betty Parsons Gallery where he apprenticed, including Leon, and Kelley and Martin; but no, he was always artist as individual, riding alone, out on the vast frontier, forever on the lookout for what he called "fresh meat," picking up diamonds where others gathered trash.

And in this they all shared. Always the individual, always the artist, always the poet, always unsinkable in their optimism where life and art were concerned, and always grateful for what art meant to them and the world, fiercely so, because life demands nothing less. And for that Bow Street is very grateful indeed, for them, to celebrate them, to cheer them, to honor them. So thank you! Thank you very much Richard Tuttle, Charles Seliger, and Leon Polk Smith!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Always in the Room

It is sometimes easy to forget that during most of the 20th century, there was always one guy in the room, one guy in the back of everyone's mind, that in the night sky every star in every constellation was outshone by that big round smiling moon! And every artist for almost a hundred years felt mooned by that greatest of French artists, who of course was actually Spanish! In that way that the biggest loser of every NFL season is the Superbowl runner-up,
we will always feel a little sorry for Braque, who really was French!

Art history, like all history, is very tidy. We get to observe every artist on a pedestal, or in a context. We get to pour over their body of work and actually forget that every time they finished a masterpiece they suffered the knowledge that the world cared more about what that guy scribbled on a napkin. Say what you like, but every big shot, every Kandinsky or Mondrian or Pollock or Bacon or Modigliani or de Kooning or Miro or Morandi or Warhol or Moore played a distant second fiddle to that guy.

The Tidiness of art history rarely tells us that you could never have Marsden Hartley in a room with Man Ray, or Duchamp, much less Franz Marc, or Diego Rivera, but you could and did. For an excellent example of the sheer mess of the art world just look at the Armory Show of 1913 that finds Duchamp with Delacroix, and Courbet with Hopper! Life clashes everyday but art history is a well hung room at the Met with all the right people in it. The truth is that every room at the Met in real life should have that tan grinning bald man standing there in his stripped shirt! Front and center!

When I was a boy in Rome I got to sit at the knee of a woman who had regularly bounced on his knee as a toddler in the Paris of the early Twentieth Century. Her father was his friend and fellow artist, the Italian Futurist Master Gino Severini, who like many painters had also made Paris his home. When he was in Rome she would take me to see him and he would tell me things like how to cast sand onto wet plaster and let the patterns which emerged speak to the composition of the painting or in my case, mural. But still, even from her, I noticed an occasional remark, albeit the tiniest aside, hints of a kind of professional jealousy. That man was always in the conversation!

I was curious what I should think as a boy. Shouldn't so many people who agreed so vehemently be right? But I will tell you, it always struck me as envy. The most articulate, rational, reasoned critique always seemed tinged. Any kind of dispute at all just made him all the more the undisputed king of the art world. And people just hated that!

My mother had a good friend who was the mistress of another prominent painter in Paris, and I swear I think the family pass-time, she had children from a previous marriage, was chanting hate for the man. I also swear that I know mature, major league art world players that when they see his work their heads snap to the side as though he wasn't there! They just hold their breath hard until they get past. That is how much pain his celebrity caused and still causes. Alliances of pain. This Mozart made a Salieri of not only every painter alive but even, maybe even especially, their loyal friends and family! All reason, all grace, all sanity just went straight out the window! This brash man just had this effect on people! He might as well have been American!

So as I enjoy the work of some or other painter, contemplate them in all their glory, I can forget for a moment; I sense the shadow is lifting and that they can breathe a little, that they can pretend for a moment, like every artist does, that they are the world's greatest painter, and sigh, and smile. A moment's peace from that man who never allowed any artist much more. Maybe the world will bury him for a few hundred years, forget him, forget his greatness, forget his influence, forget that he was at once the absolute painter's painter and painter's nightmare. That every brush stroke made belonged to him! Was his! That he was the Father of 20th Century art and that we are all his descendants. Like it or not. Maybe. Maybe we'll forget. But I don't think so.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Push and Push Back!

I have objected at times to the idea of push/pushing and didn't exactly know why. The push I refer to is the one people do with themselves or others to get them over a hurdle or fear or hump. I remember the moment that I first consciously objected to the idea was when a teacher of mine suggested I push my work as a painter. It felt wrong. I remember that it occurred to me at the time that pushing my work would just make it pushy, and I didn't want that.

I also learned one thing later as a teacher, and still later as a parent; that force creates resistance, that pushing makes for pushing back. We've all felt it from early on, when someone pushes us all we want to do is push back.

There are lots of reasons why pushing is not a good idea and usually produces the opposite of what we hope for. I always use the horse to water proverb because it helps make the point that nothing gets accomplished by pushing. The horse drinks when it wants to and that that is not only as it should be, but what is good and right. The horse is free to drink when it is ready to drink and this brings us to the real truth in all of this, to the magic word: freedom. Freedom is what is being safeguarded through resistance. Freedom is our greatest treasure! It is worth pushing back for!

So is there anything we can do instead of pushing? When we push we not only make it about us, we prove it is about us(listen up Tiger Moms)! When we make it about the person we wanted to push instead of ourselves, the difference is automatic; we acknowledge their control, not ours, and all that is left is to encourage. Encouraging might seems like a fine line, but it makes all the difference. Encouragement gives strength and confidence to that person whose freedom we wish to preserve. Encourage is the difference between teaching to fish and providing fish, between helping someone or doing if for them. The courage belongs to them! Encourage is our responsibility as parents, teachers, mentors!

So what about when we are pushing ourselves you may ask? No problem, because when we make things about us, we are really talking about ego. When we push ourselves it is our ego that is trying to push us around. It is merely a question of disarming the ego by showing it that is is in everyone's best interest to let the horse drink when it wants to drink!

It is worth adding that this is why it is impossible to teach art. You take away an artist's freedom and they have nothing. However You can encourage art, as we all know, and that makes the difference. In fact, we can even encourage ourselves!

All of this explains why almost no one who was pushed to play the piano ever ends up playing one, and what a shame!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Forget What I Just Said!

Teachers say a lot of stuff. I am continually reminded that the luckiest artists are the ones who had no teachers at all. They call teaching "passing the poison," but if there was something worse than poison, teaching would be that.

I recently discovered that Frank Lloyd Wright not only didn't graduate from college, but that there is no record of him graduating from high school either. Our greatest architect! It doesn't take much imagination to figure out that if he had studied architecture he probably wouldn't have become Frank Lloyd Wright.

Goya, arguably Spain's greatest painter, did not get into the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Madrid. Neither did Matisse the first time he applied to the Ècole des Beaux-Arts, also arguably France's greatest painter of the 20th century. When invited to lecture at Yale, Jim Dine reminded the audience that he had not gotten into the School of Art. Needless to say Yale never graduated anyone as big as Jim Dine.

When I was a little boy my father remarried to a woman who used to be a school teacher and would grade my letters to him. I would get them back with a big "D" on them. Art is a lot like a letter to your father. It is to be read and enjoyed and felt and listened to and maybe even learned from, like, so that is what he is thinking--not graded! Not just that we shouldn't grade but that it can't be done! That it is not just wrong but immoral! We grade art so much so often and so completely that we think that that is what it is all about. We do it without thinking, and we have lost our way. We have lost our way with art. All of us. And the grading is the problem. Whether an A or an F.

Why? Why do we grade? Maybe it is because we don't want to listen. We're afraid to feel. To find out what is really going on. Afraid of the deeper meaning of all things. What courses beneath the surface, in the blood of things. I'm not sure. I saw an interview with Damien Hirst on CNN the other day, and as I had met him and spoken with him many years ago I was curious to hear what he had to say. The interviewer just asked him what it was like to make a lot of money, and have a lot of money(make the grade!). Pretty unbelievable, but not when you really think about it. Still, he managed to talk about being lucky to make the art, and not about making so much money. Do I have to say that he didn't get into the Leeds College of Art and Design the first time he applied, or later Goldsmiths, University of London? Although he did end up at both. Still.

You find this out over and over again. That artists do without school. That school isn't the almighty answer everyone says it is. Learning, yes. Of course. You want to learn everyday for the rest of your life. And yet there are other places of learning besides school, and some of them are better. Maybe precisely because of the absence of grading, or teachers with grading in their hearts. Faulkner and Hemingway and London, some of our greatest writers, didn't go to college. Didn't take a creative writing class. What does this tell you? I've felt this forever, but I only found out about Wright and Goya last week. Makes me afraid for our children. Makes me afraid for my children. It is not much of a stretch to think that if some of these people went to school they might not have become what they did.

I have a son in the graduate painting program at Columbia. I knew he was strong enough and stubborn enough to survive the teaching. It would get him to New York where he could smell the paint caked up on the city's streets, a hundred years of artists from Ryder to Rothko, Gorky to Guston, de Kooning to Keith Haring, Marin to Mondrian to Motherwell to Resnick and Rauschenberg. Artists to meet. Studios to visit. Elbows to rub and heads to bang up against.

Yesterday another son of mine balked when I suggested that he get involved in music at his school. He mistook my meaning. He thought I meant get taught stuff. When I explained that I meant share what he was doing with his school mates his relief was palpable. I told him that we count on the sharing. That gifts are for giving! That that is what we get from school for all the poisoning it does us. What we get is from the other students. Really. The only time I ever got anything from a teacher was in a private moment when they shared something about themselves. Something that was really almost an aside. The smartest ones never said anything!

As a teacher and a student I have some regrets. I was aware of them at the time. I don't regret that I never went to graduate school, but I do regret that I hung around and finished RISD(the ones I admired dropped out after one year). I regret when I listened to my teachers and then when my students listened to me. My son in graduate school would never have become a painter if I had so much as whispered something in his direction. We just painted together. The most dangerous thing I ever felt as a teacher was a student that was really listening to me, you know, desperate for direction or the answer. I knew that anything I told them would by definition close a door. If they didn't find the answer out for themselves then it didn't count, and if I told them then they never would find that answer. Teaching is such a delicate process. One of encouragement, and then getting out of the way. Takes amazing discipline. The last thing you want to do is rob the world of another Frank Lloyd Wright! Yes! I really mean it! And forget what I just said!

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

That said, what do we do? School and grades are how we do things. It isn't easy being a teacher, let alone a good teacher. I am a big believer in not only making the best of things, but also believing that you wouldn't have anything any different, any other way--you are where you are and you have to be so tuned in to that that you can, indeed, make the best of it, no matter what it is. It is your life! Love your life! Even in the midst of your greatest challenges--this makes you who you are! If we are going to change anything, change starts from within!

We are not going to get anywhere by whining about school and grades! Accept the challenge and overcome it! Learn from the fact that despite great artists like Goya or Matisse or Damian Hirst not making the grade at first, they persevered! One way or the other. With or without school; with or without making the grade. They fulfilled themselves, their dream, their destiny! If life is an illusion, a fantasy, a sick joke, then this is ours! Do it and love it!