Monday, December 5, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
National Novel Writing Month is November, and I signed up to pledge my 50,000 words, like thousands of others. Is that why I haven't been posting here? Well, no. Turns out I'm just as bad at regular fiction writing as I am at regular blogging.
What he actually thought he might see when he got to this point, he has no idea. Right now, what he does see, out through the cracked and fogged windshield, is nothing. An infinity of shifting white nothing. A swirling, thickened, distance-less nothing, a palpable absence of form and light made weirdly tangible in the failing grey afternoon only by the flakes that float, lift and corkscrew into the one operational headlight the old truck has. Out beyond the cracked and rattling side mirror, scrims of white flakes, sometimes parting, but only to reveal more flakes, moving in all directions, tiny inscrutable dramas of gravity and physics being played out, all according to stage directions unreadable to him.
He grips the wheel too tightly, without any sense of purchase or direction on the pavement, only a greasy gliding sensation. The tires aren’t that good, and he tells himself that relaxing his grip on the wheel, breathing deeply and gradually slowing down, will keep the worn rubber and drafty metal on the road. Just go with it, he tells himself. But he cannot shake the claustrophobic sense of dread that has gnawed and chilled him in this heater-less pick-up since Kearney.
It was then, he’d finally known that he was not home anymore. Home was back there, not a memory yet, nothing so real as that; yet omnipresent, though suddenly ephemeral and hazy, though he’d never left it before. He resolved to stop thinking about it.
Past Kearney early this morning, not thinking about home, then past Cheyenne. Its flat metal buildings and jumbled, fenced enclosures of junk cars, farm machinery, dessicated wooden relics of some sunny past, Interstate detritus beneath impossibly tall truck stop neon and dust blown gray asphalt, clustered and defending against... what? Outside the gray concrete ribbon with its halo of fast food trash, rolling sage of an almost blue/green against the dun ochre, cresting and troughing without definition, held, it seemed, only by the occasional blasted barbed wire fence, pinned tenuously, almost randomly to the Earth, though of course it was “earth”, but of a sort that didn’t seem to amount to much. Clouds appeared in the endless sky and suddenly overtook the sun. Cadres of fluffy white chargers stretching limitlessly into the distance, now thickening and turning gray, and soon he knew what it must be like to stare into the teeth of a vast and violent horde, seeing clearly your fate. Welcome to oblivion.
Rock formations now appeared on the ridge, squat and hunched like beaten soldiers, as the gray upon gray clouds, steel colored clouds, torn and ragged in the hoarse wind, rolled into the dun colored canyons and stunted blackened evergreen scrub, shearing off the tops of the mountains and blurring whatever features in the landscape the wind had not scraped away or turned flat and faceless. An unforgiving nothing.
The truck chugs up a long grade. There are a few other cars whirring past, rushing to warm places trying to beat the storm. Lights are sparse and receding as the buildings and cars grow fewer. A fat snowflake, then more. He is in the teeth of something, and doesn’t know where he even is, though of course he is not home.
The vast and meaningless landscape now closes around him, tethered to concrete, navigable reality only by the withered barbed wire fences and split, crone-like posts that recede grayly into the chill void. Another vehicle, lumpish and ghostlike, leaves a double furrow ahead. Its tail lights glow pinkish. Telephone poles slide by at measured intervals, carrying into the lowering darkness messages unheard, the whispered trivia of strangers, uncomfortable silences. As the tailights disapear, he finds the poles to be his only anchor in reality. The truck whines and gnashes through the icy slush, then seems to breathe and to settle in. he takes his foot off the accelerator. They are at the summit.
It is dark now and silent. Agitated luminescent flakes part and veer away into the blackness behind him. He downshifts carefully, feeling a slight swerve as he does, a loosening of discernible intention, a failure of control. Like a hurtling missile, he is without purpose, really. The trajectory has been pre-measured and between theses steep canyon walls, swooping from left to right gingerly in long switchbacks, his path is no longer under his control. He is floating, weightless, part of an object without sentience or compassion, a missile bound to the end of its arc, from whatever weird impetus put him on this road, toward whatever lay at the bottom of this steep descent. His momentum is palpable, thrilling, lethal.
Swirls of dry snow rise from the wheel wells, ghosts of whatever silent trackless gradient existed before he hurtled through.
Then there is a black spot, and another, hissing wetly as his wheels hit. He dares not antagonize the brakes until another, larger one appears and then a stretch of liquid glistening pavement and he slows, and the road clears, the grade softens, and behind a long looping curve and the steep black silouhette of a hill are the occluded lights of a medium sized town, glowing vaguely through the storm, a long way away still, but he’s off the mountain and rescued from his terrible momentum and calmed down enough to reach for a cigarette and he thinks about a beer.
“You won’t like it there.”
The memory of her voice, bodiless, separating itself from the whining tires in the road hiss.
“How do you know?”
“My dad went through there once. There’s nothing there.”
White letters on a green reflective sign. A place name he’d seen in a western movie, then never troubled himself about again. Well it would have to do. It wasn’t where he’d intended to stop, but it would be home for tonight, wherever it was. He slowed and the first billboard appeared, then fences again, rusting agricultural metal in the darkness. An empty parking lot by a shut down road house, and then a giant cowboy, white, yellow and pink neon reflected in mercurial rivulets in the wet asphalt, tipping a blue cowboy hat in the air, then replacing it on his blue-haired head then tipping it again. "Howdy! You’re at the Ranger, where the West begins! Vacancy."
“Howdy,” he mumbled through the cigarette filter, then cranked the wheel into the lot, and coasted up to the bar.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
So I headed west,
Gray, heavy sky; dark days with steady rain and sodden ground- glorious weather, really. Parts of our state have had no significant precipitation since September.
I had made quite a few monotypes this spring, but then hit a sort of wall. It's normal to take a break, then come back to finish strong for the show season, but also I hadn’t really figured out what the monotypes were about. This isn’t all that unusual. I often work off snippets or glimmers of an idea, hoping that improvisation and gesture, or just day-to-day experience, would provide a full concept.
So I worked on this telephone pole ( above), which is actually outside my back door. I've put it in a number of large monotypes, so it made sense to do a small polymer plate etching. The subject gets admired a lot. People admit somewhat sheepishly, their fascination with the subject, though I can't remember anyone buying one!
What I like about the admittedly somewhat prosaic image is that it's a visible manifestation of absence. It's interesting to me that a conversation between faraway strangers may be passing above me, just out of earshot, so to speak. The rain and clouds add a bit of pathos, I guess. Hence the title, "Signal To Noise". It's a metaphor one of my favorite authors, Thomas Pynchon, explores in his novel "V". You would think that with the technology for transmitting the message improving everyday, we wouldn't miss so many.
A polymer etching involves a thin metal plate coated in a photo-sensitive emulsion. Many people expose them in the sun, and you can also do a monotype right on top of the plate, then etch it, and that's what I've done here. I added Chine Colle' for a bit of color. It's a nice thing for me, since I don't produce the monotypes very quickly. Now I can print 5-10 images, sell them throughout the year, and at a more affordable price. Can you tell show season is coming? As marketing psychology tells us, one must have bins chock full, or sales suffer.
At the same time, constantly making the smaller work can be vaguely frustrating. The smaller, improvised images often make the jump to larger and more refined iterations. I have to "jump off my train of thought" to refill the bins, as those are the popular purchase around here. Sometimes I've felt like I'm constantly starting, and never really finishing, an idea.
The second image, a monotype, is a better example. I love it, but I'm pretty sure it's nowhere close to where it could be. Where could it be? As the rain continues to come, and I'm still spending my nights on the couch, I'm starting to look to my current reading for an answer. Where better to look for metaphor and message than to the writings of the American Romantics?
Melville, Whitman and Dickinson, along with the Luminist painters, such as Martin Heade and Fitz Hugh Lane, captured the search for American identity in the pre civil war years of cultural ferment. Cynthia Griffin Wolff in her eponymous biography of Emily Dickinson, has a good sense of those times, and what makes us tick, even now. I recall Dickinson being taught as a reclusive genteel eccentric . But her most famous poem features her narrator in a carriage with death, driving "out past the sunset". Oh-oh. A spiritual journey that ends in darkness, this from the Belle of Puritan Amherst.
Wolff places her in the context of her times, in which authors like Emerson and Thoreau, but also the Hudson River School and later Luminists defined the American spirit. They understood America's westward path is toward the light and away from darkness, yet also into vast space and isolation. The Luminist painters especially, but also Melville and Dickinson, understood the spiritual absence where the conflicted Puritan soul met the isolation of the vast American landscape and its implicit relationship to the American experience.
Conversely, the revival movement of Emily Dickinson's girlhood, which stressed "wrestling" or struggling with faith, just as Jacob wrestled with God, sought to define American experience in the absence of any state endorsed religion, or, I might add, artistic academy system. Jacob "strives" until dawn, forcing God to bless him before He leaves. As Wolff points out, God is not seen in face to face encounter with Man again in the narrative, appearing as a burning bush, blinding light, etc. She notes too that Moby Dick is the mostly absent force of nature whom embittered Ahab, whose name relates to Jacob, struggles against.
Emily Dickinson sought an identity in a society that offered few choices- mother, person of faith- to women. Dickinson rejected the revivalists and rarely left her room, where she met God, the Devil and the details of meaning and poetic space on her own terms. She understood the role of existential absence in American spiritual experience. Her famous dashes are tokens of a self actualized subjective voice, but they are also tangible marks of absence.
Her writing, at turns simple and agreeable, then abruptly dark and isolate, calls to mind one of the beach scenes of John Kensett.
Melville died in obscurity until rescued decades later by academics. Whitman's bold incantatory affirmations of identity were revived by the Beats. Dickinson's dashes were posthumously removed by her first editors. The struggle to come to terms with the anger and idealism at war in the heart of the Puritan soul continues, now more than ever, in this "damp, drizzly November in [the American] soul". Puritan idealism is exemplified in its original assertion that each person may treat with God without the mediation of a higher (state, or Papal) authority. This is the essence of spiritual identity.
But as soon as Cromwell turned westward toward Ireland, the darkness and violence began. King Phillip's War, and Sand Creek eventually, inevitably, followed, each westward step bringing us closer to nature, yet farther from God, and into absence and isolation. Irish, Native Americans, Women, Gays, all "striving" then and now to find identity in the face of the Puritan anger that vitiates our culture. Just as Puritans themselves once did.
It turns out that ruling one's soul, and ruling others' as well, are mutually incompatible things.
A monotype, or any kind of print, seems a good medium with which to interpret a poem. The white space that is, I believe, at the essential heart of any print, mimics the striving for meaning from absence at the heart of Ahab’s struggle, and the dark inky bits mimic the words on the page with which the American Romantics forged a cultural identity.
Graphics and printmaking have been the medium of advertising messages and mass communication before the electrons took over. Prints brought visions of the American west back to immigrants, and helped to fill in the void. They were cheaper and more quickly produced, and thus less beholden to elites. They are part and parcel of the American "message" in the turbulent and earth-shaking 19th century, as were the poets and novelists of the American Romantic era.
A poem or print is certainly more concise than this misty digression. The iconography of print- its dashes and white voids, even its squishes, blobs, smudges and spatters tell a story. As always, one can only hope the message is getting through.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Just to wrap up on my previous post on a series of sketches I'd been doing in the print studio. Here is the final version, at least for now, as I'm not sure how or whether to pursue the idea.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Friday, March 18, 2011
I did get some video of Monday's work session at Open Press, as well as Tuesday's demo for Introduction to Monotypes at the Art Students League. I'm getting more familiar with iMovie, as evidenced by this 5 minute monster I did to promote my soccer supporters group friends.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Took a break from my own projects to go watch a favorite Denver artist do a demo at the Art Students League of Denver. Homare Ikeda has done a lot of monotypes, which is why I often bump into him at Open Press. He's also on the faculty at ASLD. Here he was doing a painting demo, which was well attended and very interesting.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Blustery and frigid winter has made February its home here. We got a mild November and December, January could not make up its mind, but the last 2 weeks have been definitive, lock down winter.
We even have snow, of which the Squish approves. I feel cheated when it's frigid and brown. I love the kind of minimalist landscape and diffuse light that the snow brings, and would probably be distilling the bleached gray blues and fat yellowy whites in ink on paper right now, if I hadn't committed to some part time work to pay some bills.
That will come. Right now I'm bunkered in, fiddling with my rabbit ears to pick up al Jazeera reports on Egypt; peeking in on the yearly cultural car wreck of the Helmet Bowl, the epitome of American Sporting Exceptionalism (one team wearing garish satin capri pants will be declared "World" Champion, but I've usually forgotten which one it is by May).
Mostly I've been reading. I have a small stack of Atlantic Monthly, featuring the usual blend of abstract speculations, mixed with hard nosed, iconoclastic bubble-bursting (After expounding on Tea-Baggers' inherent self absorption, one recent issue advised that coal is the key to our energy future.)
The latest McSweeney's is always a good read, if you can ignore their bizarre, almost perverse, love affair with Roddy Doyle. OK, I actually read the latest thing for once, and it was a sort of a departure, meaning, not quite as "Commitments"-like. You also have to indulge them in a typical, gratuitously silly short story about a Pontiac Sunfire that enrolls in high school. But I like that they're not afraid to try different things.
But this here bloggy-blog is going to be about comics.
There are several graphic novels out in the last few months that are worth a peek. I've been playing catch-up on these, as the outlay has gone up, and all the big names get a release date near Christmas.
For those who don't indulge in this far corner of the literary universe (including those who don't consider it even a part of the literary universe), a bit of recent history: As the alternative comics movement, which traces its lineage back to R. Crumb and Mad magazine, has made a progressively larger impression on the mainstream, with some of the bigger names appearing in the Times and New Yorker etc, the publishing strategy has transitioned from traditional comic book format to a more European "album" format. This means top artists are being seen in nicely bound, even hardback Tintin-style books which appear about once a year. This makes for attractive, more easily accessible complete stories that appeal to the adult they're written for, rather than the booklet form, which adult readers still associate with adolescent entertainment. it also makes for prices in the 15-$25 range, rather than 3-$5, but perhaps I'm getting bitter.
I'll start with a title I've spoken of before, Love and Rockets, which is a continuing story (30 years, now!), but which contains semi-complete episodes within the larger whole. Love and Rockets New Stories #3 is such a jumping on point. There are several stories written by two brothers, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. Gilbert's stories tend to be bizarre, cinematic and hyper violent. They have their rabid fans and are interesting to me, but I'll concentrate on my favorite of Los Bros, Jaime. He presents three separate but subtly interconnected tales here, and looks to have returned to his "Locas" ( "Crazy Women") storyline after a diversion into a tangentially connected space fantasy.
Two of the tales take place in modern day suburban L.A. and concern his primary heroine, Maggie Chascarillo, and one takes place in 50's Oxnard, CA, and fills in details about Maggie's youth. They're worth reading for their cleanly written dialogue and simple graphic power. You sense the vast backstory underlying the characters, but the subtly interacting narratives here are perfectly functional as independent tales.
"Wilson" , by "Ghost World" auteur Dan Clowes is a completely self contained book , which actually features a series of blackly humorous one-page gags. There is a complex set of influences in the shifting styles, including "Peanuts" and Mad Magazine, and as we follow the main character, we realize that these gags are interconnected, too, and a satiric narrative on the notion of "family" emerges.
"Wally Gropius", by Tim Hensley, a newcomer, satirizes 60's comics such as Richie Rich and John Stanley teen comics with a visually kinetic and subversive, sometimes even surreal, sight-gag type humor.
Comics superstar Chris Ware has also published a new episode in his ongoing Acme Novelty Library (#20), and though interconnected with other ongoing characters, this story is actually a stand-alone tale of one person's life and struggle to find meaningful connection. Ware can be a real mope, but his quiet depiction of aging, and his hugely influential design sense which has expanded well beyond the borders of comics and into popular culture at large, make him the first name in modern graphic narrative. Though he will probably never equal his breakthrough masterpiece, "Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth".
X'ed Out is the latest opus of Raw Magazine veteran Charles Burns. This may be the most intriguing new book on the list. Raw, which kept the flag flying for cutting edge, adult oriented graphics during the 70's and 80's, has given us many breakthrough artists over the years, such as Art Spiegelman (Maus); Gary Panter (Jimbo, Peewee's Playhouse, and countless Zappa LP covers) and David Sandlin (Land of a Thousand Beers).
Burns has been contributing to The Believer magazine, and has now released a hardback album format graphic novel, which is not complete, but this is the first segment, so it's a good time to jump in. Burns traffics in the horror that lurks just behind the mundane, and seems to be on his game here. We enter immediately a dream-like mise en scene which carries over even after the main character has "woken up", as if the whole story was the kind of lucid, cyclic dream in which you believe you've awoken, only to realize you are dreaming still. The art is clean and depthlessly noir. We'll have to see if Burns can keep the narrative moving as briskly as the first segment; his last major work, Black Hole, did seem to bog down a bit.
You can get a nice, inexpensive overview of current efforts by these and other artists by seeking out The Anthology of Graphic Fiction by Ivan Brunetti, which seems to have entered the close out market. Brunetti, with out getting didactic, tries to link all the diverse strands of this movement toward comics' artistic maturity, and even throws in a few of the lesser known classics of the newspaper era.
Ultimately, the recent history of graphic fiction and humor is one of censorship and marginalization. Creative magnificence abounds, as well as truly affecting characterization, but as with 80's and 90's Rock, there's no way to see what you've been denied until you just jump in.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Room of Remembrance, Monotype, 15x22"
I'm going to wrap up a few odds and ends as I gear up for Spring. I've spent most of January spamming people. Or hopefully, bac'ning them. Bacn being the kind of spam that you voluntarily sign up for because you have a genuine interest in the subject matter.
As outlined in my last post, I've been trying to upgrade my presence on the web, and also took on social media duties for a couple of groups I'm a member of. I have a ton of workshops and shows coming up this year, and social media can really help one get the word out. Here are a couple of examples:
As you may know, I've joined Zip 37 Gallery in Denver, and will have work hanging there at all times, in their wonderful back room gallery. Each member has a little space for mostly small work, and many people already use it for one-stop art shopping. I'm handling their Twitter account, too, as well as my own.
I'll be starting my next workshop in early March, and it is registering now. It's designed to be a good introduction to Monotypes, but I also have return students who like to continue their explorations, and I try to accommodate both. It is a great way to start off a Tuesday morning; bring your coffee!
I've also posted a few images from 2010 ( including the one above) on my Facebook page as a review of sorts, with my commentary. Check it out, and if you'd like regular updates on shows and workshops, as well as new work, click "Like".
I also need to briefly update the post on the Tea Baggers' ironic ignorance of history in the light of recent events. I don't intend this to be a solely political blog, but the querulous effort to repeal Health Care reform, definitely affects those of us in the creative and small business economy, and so is relevant to what I am trying to do.
The GOP right's insincere promise to abandon their characteristic vitriol after the Tucson shootings went quickly up in smoke as they moved to reward their health industry sponsors with a "repeal" of the Health Care Reform Law.
This legislative charade has no chance of success, but offered a nice opportunity to go back to the name calling ("Obamacare") and outright lies they'd used to scare up the Faux News crowd originally. Even the name of their repeal bill ("Jobs-Killing-Health-Care") is a proven lie.
The numbers cited (650,000) link it to a non-partisan CBO report which actually notes the potentially POSITIVE effect of people leaving their jobs when they are no longer tied to corporate-offered Health Care. For example, to start businesses; or enter the creative economy. To innovate; to follow the American Dream. There is, to be fair, also a slight effect on the McJobs portion of the economy, which look good in Government reports, but do nothing to narrow the quickly widening wealth gap.
Having paraded that dog through the House of Representatives, the right then ponied up for their ultra conservative base by announcing that next on the agenda would be yet another attempt to erode Americans' right to reproductive choice. Not only is this narrow-minded and vindictive, it's plain stupid. At a time when the American public has sent a clear message in recent polls that the bi-partisan progress late in the 111th Congress met their approval, the GOP insists on revisiting past defeats in the Culture Wars. It's as if the Buffalo Bills demanded a replay of all their Superbowls.
This is a party that has completely "lost the plot". As we are reminded on Martin Luther King Day (the conservative's least favorite holiday), you cannot redeem the promise of American freedom without progress, and change. The Tea Baggers actually do have ways they can contribute to progress, such as in deficit reduction, which they have completely ignored when there are no elections in sight. The last President to balance the budget? a Democrat. His successor, the Deciderator, went "nuculer", and set a record for deficits. And their only substantive response to the Tucson tragedy has been shrill screeching about proposed common sense limits on high capacity clips for automatic weaponry.
The State of the Union rebuttals? Just a photo op for every Palin wanna-be that wants to tap into the anger of Tea Bagger booboisie. The deficit will never be eliminated without tax reform that includes increased revenues from the very rich, period. Targeting discretionary spending on already stripped-to-the-bone programs for arts, NPR and education are a straw man for GOP 2012 ambitions, and Obama has beaten them to the punch, anyway, as past grudges are vented in the House.
The right wing GOP/Tea Baggers continue to be the party of fear, demagoguery and narrow self interest. Their biggest lie of all? Calling themselves "patriots". Real patriots would get down to work on real problems, not be staring into space on Faux News, trying to cover talking points for the next election.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I love this time of year, as the days brighten a bit. It's also a good time for a fresh start in the studio, and I plan on some sketchbook time with new ideas later. I'll post some of these, as well as work from the end of 2010. But first, I'll wrap up some recent posts.
My "techie week" went pretty well, all things considered. Launched a FB page for the soccer supporters group, and took over the Twitter account for the gallery. I realize this is simple stuff for the generation that doesn't remember lp vinyl, but it's a somewhat slow process for one who remembers watching the Kennedy Inaugural on b&w TV. Social media come with a new learning curve, but I also need to clear the decks for the ancient technology of making monotypes.
New media are important business tools, but spending a lot of time on them to the detriment of studio time is frustrating. However, the only real way to smooth the learning process of marketing in social media that really works is to just jump in and do it. it isn't so surprising that those of a certain age didn't realize that making art was a business when they started. But many of us now realize that making art without a Facebook account these days makes about as much business sense as making pizza without a delivery truck. I secretly suspect some in my age group of pooh-poohing these new media simply because they know the learning curve will be steep. And it is.
Then each new medium seems to open up a whole host of other tech mysteries. One finds many eager to compare notes on the head spinning profusion of new technology. My neighbor is an architecture professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. Because there is online teaching involved, he's had to become familiar with certain Open Source applications and Wiki technology (with the help of University IT, he was thankful to say). My brother also extolls Open Source, which he uses for animation and e-publishing. I've enjoyed several Wiki's related to one of my favorite authors, Pynchon. It's all intriguing stuff. But my initial reaction is much like Popeye's after one of those spinning Bluto roundhouse rights: aigetty, aigetty!
I'll continue to tinker with the Facebook page, and you can also find me on Twitter. One of the biggest challenges for me is learning how to keep the posts regular and substantive. But now, the library wants their "Facebook Marketing for Dummies" book back, and it's time to carve out a little time for a technology I'm familiar with, pencil and sketchbook.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Winter finally did arrive here, 6-7 inches worth, along with the frigid local tradition known as "Stock Show Weather", named after the National Western Stock Show.