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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