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Michael seeks to create works that reflect his struggles with the world he finds himself living in, and the commonalities that we all share in this. Desire, Defeat, Acceptance, Judgment, Love, Fear, Time, and Space. Michael's studio is downtown Los Angeles in the Spring Arts Tower. "Happiness is that funny little place halfway between fantasy and reality." -me

Friday, October 23, 2020

Deaccessioning Art: The Democratization of Jackson Pollock, Laurie Anderson, and the Baltimore Museum of Art

  In 1990 I was to see for myself a performance by Laurie Anderson, essentially the tour for her, Strange Angels, CD. It was at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, and was titled, “Empty Places.” Empty, perhaps as a nod to all that had gone missing, and the feelings which remained. A past she longed for but could no longer locate. Strange Angels would hold a seminal place in the Anderson oeuvre. It encapsulated the darker days of the late 80’s where the AIDS crisis, Reaganomics, New Age ideation, and Americana were cocooned in song. In this work she points to Walter Benjamin through her song The Dream Before. “...history is an Angel being blown backwards into the future...history is a pile of debris. And the Angel wants to go back and fix things to repair the things that have been broken. But there is a storm blowing from Paradise. And the storm keep blowing the Angel backwards into the Future. And this storm, this storm is called progress.” This teleological Angel who understands we can only perceive where we are in turning back and seeing from where we came. Laurie sang about Angels who were mowing down her lawn, and of the Visitors, the ones who in her absence "...ate all the grapes."

It was a time for the Unknown:

...for Communion, a N.Y. Times non-fiction bestseller, was the story of the Visitors who haunted its author Whitley Strieber. Strieber would write, “...This book is about forming a new relationship with the unknown. Instead of shunning the darkness, we can face straight into it with an open mind. When we do that, the unknown changes. Fearful things become understandable and a truth is suggested.” The unknown is the place to where we are continually aimed. It is in continual search for the scryer, the soothsayer, the missing card of the tarot.

…for the past lives of Shirley MacLaine. Out on a Limb, would delve into the far personal past. A past one could consider at great odds with the ego, concepts of the self, and how the great past effects one presently. “...I found myself gently but firmly exposed to dimensions of time and space that heretofore, for me, belonged to science fiction or the occult...people progress according to what they’re ready for.”

…for the Great Plague that was decimating young gay men, the chaos laid bare in its wake, and a government unwilling to do anything to help.

By 1990 Andy Warhol had passed, along with Jean-Michel Basquiat who was the great hope of the Art World. Left were David Salle. Eric Fischl. Clemente. Kostabi. 

Somewhere Anselm Kiefer was smelting lead into books, and Rene Ricard was searching for words with which to elaborate an insight toward a Julian Schnabel painting.

Laurie Anderson stepped out of this conversation altogether, and in performative style presented her works with a perceptively vaudeville render, albeit with help from a progressive IT department, and electrical sound-making machines. Presenting the looping of drum beats, words, violin phrases, and repetitious video-imagery upon a screen. Her loops were not unlike the circular drool from a stir stick dipped into a can of paint, held in the hand of Jackson Pollock. Drips and drools that were maneuvered not onto a canvas mounted to the wall, or resting in an easel, or vertically propped on bricks just inches above the floor and leaned back, but laid instead on the floor itself. Mr. Pollock hunched over and looking down, denied the horizon in grounding these works to the earth. Canvas was un-stretched and un-gessoed. No brush stroked its surface. It looked neither forward, nor back. It was working within the realm of the ineffable, the ultra-thin, the omni-present. Pollock disposed altogether the technology of tools the painter has, through his abdicated mis-use of their typical handling. And yet one only has to look at his paintings to see him at work, performing them, forcing his past production into the present as the viewer visually traces line after line, endlessly searching for a beginning, a middle, an end.



Jackson Pollock
Lucifer
1947

But what story is Pollock telling us? You know the one. The one he told once he found it, over and over again. Searching. Searching. More and more in each new canvas laid upon the floor, circular loops re-joining one another in an unceasing event and ever present. A terminal present. The one critical theorist and philosopher Thierry DeDuve informs us we are now living in. Inescapable, like this universe. The one Whitley Strieber suggests is coffin-like; an endless unknown forever. A present which is changing once held in our hands, but instantly slipping through the fingers. A kind of mercurial-sand. Like the story of a continual past Shirley experiences, forever recognizing she has already arrived as a result of the force of this. But arrived where? Like the video loop Laurie presents of a subway car running by. Running by. Over and over again. Never arriving or actually leaving a place. Like our society. Like the past we are fraught to experience again, but which is gone. Lost. An America we just can’t find. Hiawatha’s dream. And what remains is a sense of foreboding vertigo. 

How did we get here-there? From the 50’s: Pollock’s day, to the late 90’s, and how has this fed into the interminable present of 2020 in which we are stationed, here in the burgeoning, infantile, sickly, new century? The progression from moon landing up to now has been nearly nil were it not for iPhones and Twitter accounts. We have not escaped the Kuiper Belt, or so conspiracy theorists denying a moon landing would have us believe; conspiracy theorists who led the pack to the fake news phenom of a narcissistic delusional idiocracy, a President birthed from the sad inbred cousin of reality television.

Popularity is an unstable but malleable foundation for democracy. Popularity is a pop-music audience, and is evidenced with record sales. If democracy is the goal of the All, then the All can not entertain needs of speciality within the individual. Democracy is the outgrowth of the popular need, servicing the needs of the many, with aims for the good of all, and not just the majority. This is an impossible goal, for the majority can only service itself and not the All. The All has an inability to agree upon what is good, and can only at best reflect into the past for considerations of what the good may or may not have been. It is the present which invades an ability to establish a detached judgement perceptible of clarity, for we are fluid within the river of time. Good has to consider change, for good is only a passing ideology, it is transient and non-local. Made up of waves and not of particles. It is continual. Democratic formulae is particle driven, and as such significantly more difficult to corral into existence due to its nature. It is specific to the individual, and seeks to transform the particle into a wave, a cohesion that considers the past as prominently affixed with the future. And so in this format, good can only be a reflexive observation. It is not an experiential figure in present living. We can look back and together agree; “That was a good meal. That was a good harvest. That was a good rainy season. That was a good year for hunting. That was a good year for peaches. That was a good friendship. That was a good political movement. That was a good school system.” We cannot however agree, while currently situated, on a good. Perhaps at best we can agree upon a bad. “This doesn’t feel right. This movie is awful. This book is boring. These french-fries are stale.” Our terminal present requires we make an argument for good based on example, for which we have many an algebraic equation to establish categorization, but unlike law for which judgement making is based, good in art has the consideration of the new in an historical lineage of predecession. This means individuation. A non-conformity, creatively producing a new vision. A vision of the future, that which the artist is inherently capable of perceiving as they look into the field of potential where the new rests, await. The new situates itself within the clan of the avant-garde, and is not democratic. Jackson Pollock was avant-garde, prior to his popularity, as is Laurie Anderson. It is the antithesis of democratic, but in the long lens of the past, will be understood as the very stepping stones of the democratic process as it leads through individuation in its slow grind: a Mills of the Gods methodology, proving its goodness outside of and beyond popularity and majority rule. Art has always been the Angel being blown backward. Art has preceded democratic ideals as it gently but firmly exposed itself to the masses. Art is always new and teleologically like the Angel explains our present through the backward blow of past reference. The unknown is that which we haven’t faced, but which art is directing us to look. It is always good, and holy because it is newborn. Blame-free. Connected and formed from the past through understanding teleologically how it arrived. 

It is 2020. We are missing something. We are missing a generation who consider the past. A generation that seems to have no idea how they arrived, who believe they are inventing the wheel, who cannot look past the immediate access the device in their hand tempts for which their nose is endlessly buried. Who believe Beyonce arrived full blown without any awareness of the great ladies before her, and that Running Man, is a riff on a piano underneath a Timbaland song. But that is just fine I guess. They face the Unknown with the rest of us. The forward movement is still guided by artists, toward a democratic end for which the populace will arrive, eventually. At any rate, democracy is itself an impossible goal and an unworthy form because it can never meet its end. The populace will never allow it to be met. And no past that can be caught and held in the hand is of any value, because its true purpose was served, and forever flies away from us backward into the future. 



Andy Warhol 
The Last Supper
1986

    When I was in the 5th grade, I had a transformative experience discovering a painting by the artist Clyfford Still as I thumbed through an art book in the library. It was a large red painting with a darker blackish streak down the mid-center. I brought the book with this painting to the attention of my teacher and asked her, "how could this be a painting, how is it art?" She must have laughed, because I do not remember receiving a response that educated me, but this painting changed me. It motivated me to discover what an artwork could be, and what it means to be an artist.



Clyfford Still
1949-G
1949

    Deaccessioning a past, as exampled through the reckless auctioning of preeminent artists gifted works, rests at the feet of Christopher Bedford who heralds as Director for the Baltimore Museum of Art. This move, this eliminating of a past, in turn produces a destabilization that resultantly is unable to bear a future’s weight. Bedford pillages the foundations from a past history that has already proved its cornerstone bearings of stability. Move forward yes, create new opportunities for those who have remained for too long in the shadows, absolutely, but Bedford believes this is handled best by leveling the house and then looking for walls upon which to hang newly purchased artworks, only to wonder, "where are the walls?"

    In the 1990's, Bedford was a student at Oberlin College intending to study literature. His life's goals changed after visiting the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College. He states he had a, "transformative experience," when viewing a painting by Dutch artist Hendrick ter Brugghen. He related his impressions concerning the painting to the Baltimore Sun, stating, "The figure glowed. It seemed completely and utterly present in the room. Even today, I could draw every detail of that painting with my own hand."

    Of course this begs the question, "what if?" What if this particular painting, which out of a past experience constitutes such a present of importance in Bedford's life that he could, "...draw every detail of that painting," was never there? A painting he would gladly deny others resultant of a deaccessioning he positions for a reparations-produced future financed not from a museum directors main objective: namely fund-raising, but instead pillaging a priceless past he so ignorantly and selfishly destroys? 



Hendrick ter Brugghen
Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene 
1625



Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Fence

In 1991 Miss Saigon premiered on Broadway. Based on the opera Madame Butterfly, it has an Act II set-design of a chain-link fence that comes down from the fly rail above and tops a gated fence on the ground which entered from stage right and left, meeting in center stage. A dramatic entrance for an elaborate set piece. This fence in total then would enclose the U.S. Embassy and helicopter pad, reflecting the one once situated in Saigon. Artistically, this gated fence dramatized through set-design the division of one from another; the American soldiers, and the Vietnamese. In this scene the fence separates the helicopter that lands on the pad, (allowing the occupying American soldiers to evacuate safely) from would-be refugees. Ironically, the top portion of the fence was designed to corral the chopper blades of an 8,000 pound helicopter; a safety feature in all actuality, from the audience. The helicopter blades were crafted from nylon rope bearing a heavily-weighted ball on one end that circularly rotated above the cab. The fence was there in case the rope snapped and the weighted ball flew out into the audience, the result of centrifugal force gone awry. In any event the fence had a technical error during the performance and could not lower from the fly rail down to the Embassy gates, the helicopter effect would be aborted and this spectacular special effect could not be used. The performing cast had contingency staging whereby they would run up several steps to a landing and pretend to jump into a helicopter not there. Extra fog would be dispensed and added flashing lights alighted the audience, and hopefully no one felt they missed out.
The lower portion of the fence was designed to open and turn once it aligned at center stage. Visually and choreographically what this entails is twofold; first the audience is with the Vietnamese looking upstage through the fence toward the U.S. Embassy base where helicopters are departing, then the fence opens spinning sideways and reverses the scene. The Vietnamese rush through this opening while the American soldiers go around it running downstage. The audience is now with the Americans evacuating. The desperation of the Vietnamese rushing the closing fence, pleading to be freed, are upstage, facing the audience and the Americans, begging to be taken to a place of safety and freedom. Desiring refuge. To not be excluded, left behind, negated. Lastly, the original scene is returned once more and the fence opens. The Vietnamese run downstage through the opening changing perspective with the American soldiers, and the audience is with the Vietnamese looking through the fence as the last remaining GI’s board the helicopter. The helicopter flies up and out of the sight-line of the audience into the fly-rail, leaving the Vietnamese behind. The fence silently remains. Would-be refugees are alone on the stage, kept out from a vacated U.S. Embassy base. But kept out from what? From evacuating also? Evacuating to where, and leaving what behind? Why did they rush the fence? What were they wanting, needing, desiring, and asking for? What was the fence to them and conversely for the American soldiers? What does it mean to be deserted, left behind?

In A Chorus Line, the Pulitzer Prize awarded musical created by Michael Bennett in 1975, the dancers stand on a white line near the downstage lip of the stage as they audition for one of eight spots in a show. For two hours as the story unfolds, the dancers are put through their paces in ballet, jazz, and tap routines the choreographer Zach teaches them. While this for any audition is enough from which to cast the best, Zach wants to go deeper and has the dancers stand on this white line downstage, inviting them to expose personal stories of their lives, sharing their collective struggles, hopes, dreams, failures, and desires. Why do they dance? Why do they want this job? Zach’s questions probe the dancers to reflect on intimate details of their lives. Putting them on the line personally and professionally, literally and figuratively, in his quest for the perfect chorus. God I hope I get it, they sing in the show. Ultimately the question is, why should Zach cast one of them over the other one? It is not enough to perform the routines with skill, professionalism, sex appeal, and any other charms a stage performer must possess and display when called upon. They must also for this show evidence something deeper: their soul; their demons, their vulnerabilities, their excesses. All are gathered for Zach to sift through in his hands, searching for the grains he deems worthy of his time and effort. Who will brightly shine under his spotlight? There is no Human Resources department governing this job interview. No protections act is in place from which to refer unfair, sexist, ageist, racist, misogynist, or etcetera-ist, hiring practices. The question begs, why would anyone allow themself to be maligned and humiliated in such a way? How could any one job, director, or choreographer, be worthy of such desire? How does the line they stand upon in search of this job embody their desire for something as ineffable, elusive, and illusory as a moment in the spotlight? Does this story reach into the truth of a dancer, an actor, an artist, and is there a kind of line from which all artists subject the self in search of the dream to share and expose oneself so explicitly?

In Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity, which opened at the Palace Theatre in New York City on January 18th, 1966, the Fan-Dango Girls, as they are known in the Playbill synopsis, stand at a  velvet cushioned waist-high rail and sing Big Spender. This rail separates the Fan-Dango Girls; taxi dancers as they are commonly known, as they advertise their wares, from the unseen men who patronize the club, just below. Do you wanna have fun…how about a few laughs…I can show you a good time, they sing. The song embodies the taunt they offer the men looking to hire one or more of the many girls for a ten-cent dance. This “dance,” a gentler evocation of the world’s oldest profession, situates the dancer in separation as commodity of re-sellable flesh from the would-be customer, the “John,” who desires companionship. The rail evidences needs the ladies must socially and economically struggle with. This is explicitly elaborated through Fosse’s choreography; they pose, snap, present, shimmy, writhe, and gyrate behind the velvet rail as they perform this famous number. A number not just for the men at the Fan-Dango Ballroom, but the audience who participates in enjoying the body in performance. They meta-sell youth, beauty, sex-appeal and sex, spotlit and available for the right price. But what price? How much is their need worth? Desire will pay for, and also cost much; needs, wants, hopes, dreams…relationship, a home, safety, inclusion, refuge. The refuge of a warm body in close companionship; perhaps a dance, not unlike the dance we all perform in life as we search and work toward many of the same basic wants and needs, dreams and desires.

I worked on the original Broadway production of Miss Saigon. It was an untenable time, the early 1990’s. It was a time when gay men and minority drug-users bodies were let and left behind, a result of the Reagan Administration’s policies of inaction toward life-saving health care initiatives or pharmaceutical developments. There were members of the cast and crew; some HIV positive and fighting for their life, working alongside virus-free company members. I thought of their personal struggle while performing would-be refugees; running up against a fence, hoping for a place better than where they were. Begging for help. The performance of a vulnerable body seeking refuge, and the performer, made vulnerable from a lack of governmental care. HIV-positive bodies seeking refuge also, but no helicopter could free them, and the proverbial fence was resultant of social stigma and minority oppression. The line between life and death did not cross the edge of a dark stage, it was imminent and real. No rail was cushioned in velvet providing rest. The Miss Saigon Broadway cast performed eight times a week with the fence, an object of resistance. The fence evidenced an engineered division and as such cultivated the embodiment of exclusion and then conversely, solidarity in desire the cast confronted. Personally, I wondered toward a time when a kind of resolve would provide the care these bodies needed. Care in action from a government who initiated concern for all who resided upon their shores. Not excluding anyone out with a fence and thereby also not confining anyone within. I found myself looking to a future I had better hopes for. Many times since then I believed we were getting there, but these last few years I am no longer as sure.

The Best New Musical for 2019 on Broadway was awarded to Hadestown with music, lyrics, and book by Anais Mitchell. In this show the actor Patrick Page plays the role of Hades, and asks the chorus whom he addresses as Children in song, Why do we build the wall, my Children, my Children?…how does the wall keep us free?…who do we call the enemy? To Hades the Children sing in response, poverty. I cannot think of a more succinct or explicit embodiment in word denoting how otherness is warped by greed and fear and then excluded, separated, dismissed, impoverished, and ultimately, let. Let to wither, disintegrate, fail, and die, inconclusive of their potential to be. How it is expressed whether artistically, or in day to day reality, this word poverty simultaneously seems to be performed with a fence, a line, a rail, and a wall.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

We Are Sea-Farers



It was late. Well, not late for me as I had been home from work about an hour, but late concerning the day as it was now half past midnight. I decompress alone upon returning home while everyone else is in bed asleep. I enjoy the stillness of the house at this time. The dog quietly waiting for me by the door; kneeling I scratch her ears, stroke her long back, kiss her nose, then take her outside. The quiet of the backyard where various aromatic plants perfume the night air; Champaca Alba, Salvia Clevelandii, Patchouli, Plumeria, African Jasmine. I search the heavens for favorite stars and constellations, Cassiopeia, Orion, Southern Cross, Big Dipper, Pleiades. What animals are stirring; something in the Palm or Orange tree, an Owl, maybe a possum sitting atop the telephone line will stare down at me? Small planes overhead, their passing distant and nearly silent except for a slight drone and buzz. I track them by the lights blinking underneath and along wingtip edges. The dog goes for a last minute tinkle and sniff of the yard, and together we come in and close and lock the back door, our reflections silhouetted in the dark windowpanes. I turn off the dining room lights and then walk through the galley kitchen to the door leading into the garage. I open this heavy door, and click the switch turning off the front yard lights. Lights we have posted in brick columns the gated yard contains running along the burn of the street. I close and deadbolt the door. Next to this door is a small bathroom I use at night where I brush my teeth, and then back through this end of the kitchen turning out the light. From here in the dark now I cross the great front room guided only by the soft light of a singular post in the front yard. It casts a glow through the blinds and efficiently lines the floor before me like an enormous pad of paper. This is the dream light and it remains on watch until dawn, making a friend to moths and the errant random bug. Quietly I enter my daughters room. She is asleep and her white noise machine burbles the soft sounds of a stream she enjoys having on at night. I pull up her covers and turn down the stream to a quiet gurgle.

I walk to my bedroom and slip into bed closing my eyes, ready to fall away from the day into sleep.

It was a high pitched, singular, beep, I heard then. Like a small digital wrist watch could make. I opened my eyes waiting quietly, for the second, and then continual, beep, to sound; thinking, I would now have to get up, find the watch somewhere in the dark, and turn it off. But there was nothing. All quiet. No more beep from the perceived watch. Instead it was followed by a bright but isolated, flash, just outside the french doors in our bedroom. As bright as lightning but small, contained, and not much larger it seemed than the width of the doors and the narrow vertical side-windows which bordered them. The deep grey curtains were closed shut, and for this briefest moment were illuminated from outside. Lightning? I began to count;
one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi,...
expecting a small distant thunder call. Nothing. I waited another few moments. No digital, beep. No accommodating, flash. 

I puzzled for a moment, something imagined, perhaps. Unexplained but certainly plain and natural had occurred. The tonic of two separate events collided. First, a beep. Then, a flash. Mixed together in my mind making the sum greater than the whole. Had I the answer to this minor mystery right then, I would have fallen fast asleep. I closed my eyes, laid my head back down and tried to settle my wondering thoughts.

Beep. Beep. I open my eyes. I heard the small but distinct digital sound again, twice, and then immediately following, right outside my bedroom doors facing the backyard; a backyard completely fenced in with 12' high ivy and bougainvillea covered walls, two lightning-bright flashes illuminate against the curtained windows. This time I sat up slightly, resting one side on a bent elbow. I counted to myself again, hoping for the thunder roll;
one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi.
Silent. No car driving past on the street, no plane flew or mobile craft helicoptered overhead. No one in the house stirred, not even my easily-stirred partner fast asleep next to me. Nothing was happening at the neighbors. It was silent. Not a sound. Nothing to give away or explain the beeps and flashes.

Of course I had to get up. Investigate. Look around.

What is it which prompts such a thought? To make one explore such things in the night, when everyone else is asleep and you are basically, alone? The need to protect your family and home? The need to understand the place you are in? Or is it the invitation to mystery so great, even if frightened or anxious, you still go out into that great dark room and peer around the corner.

I step into the great front room just outside and to the right of our bedroom door and peer through this space. With the glow of the dream light it is much more vast than it appears in the day, and as such I wait and look at unnatural shapes of art, furniture, plants. From here I can look out one of the front windows, the blinds about two-thirds closed. Open enough so I can see the outdoor security lights are not on. The lights on the brick posts lining our yard to the street are off. The singular glowing post is alone, and but for the tips of Milkweed plants and an Hibiscus against the window, I see not much to report. I listen carefully to nearly nothing other than maybe a faint humm of the refrigerator and the slight spill from my daughter's room where the burbling brook continues to play. I step a few feet into the front room and half expect a field of dozens of little grey visitors to come running past me like salmon swimming upstream against a current, but it is just me, and the dark, and the quiet.  I look toward and face the kitchen. There isn't a watch left out randomly beeping, nor are there flashes of lightning, even though it is cloudy and a slight mist was in the air when I arrived home. Lightning is extremely rare in Los Angeles. If it had been lightning the flash would have surrounded the house in a fashion causing all doors and windows to become lit up, but the only thing lit up was just outside our bedroom doors. I continue my search, slowly stepping through the dark toward the front door where I can turn to my right and look into the open back room and dining area. I see the dark silhouette of the couch, the enormous plant standing by a window, and the french doors to the back yard where me and our dog just visited the night stars. I walk through this area to the french doors and carefully step into their frame hesitantly looking into the backyard. Nothing. The pool shimmers darkly from ambient light pollution, but most of this is darkened by the huge fence, and trees shadowing the space. I turn and then look through the galley kitchen and notice, the light in the garage is on? I can see the frame around this door is brightly lit from some light on in the garage, but much brighter than I know the garage light actually contains. It is a bluish essence, like a cross between a neon light and fluorescent. There is a fluorescent light in the garage, but you have to turn it on from a switch which is currently blocked by a stack of unsorted boxes, and two bicycles. Simultaneously I can't help but wonder on the tightness of the seal around this door. I mean after all, it should be totally sealed making it fire proof as cars drive in and out of the garage and as I am looking at this three-sided lit rectangle around the door, which may or may not be now properly sealed, frozen by the mystery of it, when it instantly goes out.

What. The. Fuck.

I can sense my mouth drop open and I am stock still, immobile, with my back to the outside doors as thoughts like a damm bursting open tumble through my head in unorderly fashion, making senseless demands like, you must go into the garage and investigate, and, who is in the garage, and, why am I so far from any light switch, and, I should stay in the dark that way any prowler will not see me and I will have the upper hand because they don't know they woke me and I can slide along the floor and find my way to protecting the family and getting help and surprising them and I saw Jodie Foster in that movie with Anthony Newly, no not Newly, umm what is his fucking name, that movie where she was in the dark of a basement, it has a poster of a moth in a mouth, not unlike the moths now fluttering around the singular front post whose light is so brief and dim it couldn't possibly cast a glow into the garage and did it just go out and maybe there was a car in the street parked perpendicular in the street blocking the street and its headlights were on bright and like spotlights they shown through the garage window the one covered in blinds so no light actually can get in and I don't hear a car it is actually so quiet it is making this entire scenario more uneasy oh God why don't I hear a car driving around the block or a dog barking or the humm from the freeway just four blocks away or cars drag racing up and down Ventura, and before I realize it entirely, I have made my way stealthily through the galley kitchen and find I am standing in the doorway of the small bathroom next to the garage door. I may be shaking. I open the frosted window in the small bathroom trying to get a look out onto the front yard, hoping I can see some answer for why there was a light on in the garage. I see nothing, and continue to hear nothing. On my tip toes I step toward the door to the garage and place my right ear against it, and hear nothing. I pause and consider my options...wondering if and what I should do. I turn the deadbolt and quickly open the door as my hand reaches for the light switch, just past the door frame and click it on.
The garage is as quiet and silent as I left it just a few minutes ago when I shut off the front yard lights and locked up the house. I stare into the garage. I see the alarm light of the car blinking as it does when parked and locked. Nothing is out of place. No one had been in here.
I turn out the light, and close and lock the door.
I am standing once again in the dark. Slowly I walk through this end of the kitchen and into the entryway of the front door. I close my eyes and reaching outside myself I ask,
Who is here?

We are seafarers looking for safe harbor. We are astounded by your bravery.

I open my eyes, and am stock still.

What does one do at this point? There is nothing more to investigate. The answer to my question seems to provide a mystery I will wonder on for some time, perhaps the rest of my days.

We are seafarers looking for safe harbor.

Well, aren't we all, really? Here we couch ourselves in distractions of safety; our homes, our families, our friends. All together now while on a planet who spins through the depths of space and dark. A moon posts on our doorstep, the dream light catching our nocturnal wonderings like moths, or an errant bug. We are alone, really, and safety is an illusion we create but don't deserve or possess.

We are astounded by your bravery.








Sunday, April 9, 2017

Betty Buckley Story Songs

I think when you have a voice like Betty Buckley, and for me, she is singular in this aspect; I mean, no one, simply no one, has a voice like hers, that it must be both an enormous opportunity for giving and a burden of responsibility. I can only imagine.

I have tried to imagine so often over many years of listening closely, a metaphor for what it is I hear in her. Recently, I was given some incredible insights to life when I asked, "...in a world of illusions, what is real?," and the most profound answer was simply, "...breathing is real." Betty's voice is like this. It is like a breath set free as a skip above a vast ocean of water, where the rest of us are submerged. It shimmers across the surface reflecting the light of the sun, and as such is ephemeral and bright, translucent, and simply a mirror of something else, not hers entirely, and all of it also, purely herself, and that which she brought into this life as a person and artist at the same time.

I first heard Memory, from Cats, on vinyl, in the bedroom of my best friends house. We were both in junior high and beginning to become interested in musical theatre. Riveted, I am sure I had him play over and over this recording, of this one miraculous song, of this unbelievable voice, from this odd and mysterious show, Cats.

I was to see my first Broadway show, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, some years later. Of course in the lead role would be none other than Ms. Buckley herself, playing this boy, Edwin.

A few more years passed and I was a student in New York. Instead of purchasing materials for class projects at F.I.T., I spent what monies I had to see Betty perform at The Bottom Line. Numerous times did I see and hear her perform there. The Bottom Line offered a close proximity to the artist and this was a large part of the draw. The setting was intimate and rough, sexy and old school, with a touch of glimmer from its star studded history imbued into the walls. Betty adding to this.
She sang from Joni Mitchell, and offered me a first encounter to her work:

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I'm frightened by the devil
and I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid

Surely she was directing this right to me, as it described me immediately. The voice she gave to a lyric; the turn of a phrase, and the sound created with the musicians backing her, was place-changing for me. She took me into another space, creating new frames of reference with her artistry, informing and illustrating new ways to enter into life, and for me, see as a painter.

When her CD, Children Will Listen, was released in 1993 it brought me back to her performing at The Bottom Line. From then on in my studio in New York I played Betty's recordings. Over and over I listened to her within a small loop chorus consisting of Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Emmylou Harris, and Joni Mitchell to near exclusivity of other artists while I worked. My collection of her recordings grew over the years as she did, each new release offering access to her routinely, in turn giving me access to that small and young, trusting and open artist within.

Recently I met Ms. Buckley while working on a production of Grey Gardens. To meet one who has had such impact, while coordinating a fitting for costumes is always something I have to negotiate inside myself very carefully. My feelings of awe and deep respect filed away. I did my work, was friendly but kept to myself as I have learned to do over the many years working on Broadway, and in film, and television. What I have always considered my, "waiting tables so I can paint," job, which gratefully I have been extremely successful with.

As rehearsal moved along I would spend my days with Betty, along with of course the other actors, getting to know them as they shared. Often actors don't make themselves too available. They are working, and necessarily so, focused on the work they must perform on stage. Friendships are rare, let alone genuine friendliness, so I, as I have done for many years, was friendly in return but kept to myself. I am a professional. I know what my priorities are, where boundaries must be set. Betty was an example as a star of the show in her daily kindness and availability and this wasn't lost on me. I slowly shared with Betty my deep appreciation of her work, and how much I admired her. I could see she was a private person. Her sensitivity toward others around her as she worked was genuine and a new respect grew for her. I was always considerate of these things so when we became friendly, it was gentle and slow, over the weeks we all were together.

One beautiful summer night I was at the Hollywood Bowl where Sting and Peter Gabriel were performing. As Peter sang, "Don't Give Up," one of my favorite songs, I closed my eyes to take it all in, sensitive to where I was in my life, the joy of being there, the emotion of the music, and that incredible song. In my minds eyes I saw Betty singing "Don't Give Up," and thought how perfect it would be for her.

The following night at the show I mentioned this to Betty. She lit up and exclaimed what a great song that was, and then asked if I had any other songs to suggest, as she would like to consider them for a new show. I could read her sincerity in this invitation, and taking it seriously composed a list of 11 titles for her, from which she chose the Peter Gabriel song, and one by Emmylou Harris, "Prayer in Open D."



Many weeks later I went to see Betty at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in her show Story Songs. She had been performing this show in many cities, and this was one of the last stops on the tour. Friends in New York had been texting me when she performed at Joe's Pub, that she spoke of me during the evening. I was stunned, she spoke about me? I couldn't imagine this, and was curious what she was saying. I knew she was going to sing both songs I suggested within the context of the show, and realized this must be what she was sharing. So that evening as she presented, "Prayer in Open D," she spoke to the audience of our meeting and the list of songs I gave her; I couldn't help but feel shock and a kind of out of body, time travelling distance coalesce from all my visceral memories of her and her work, her voice, her performing, and ultimately now, herself, there looking at me from the stage. Tears brimmed my eyes as she sang the Emmylou song. I sat still as I could, but all the while nearly shaking inside, removed from the space and with her connecting spiritually to the words of the song.

There's a highway risin' from my dreams
Deep in the heart I know it gleams

Being an artist, a painter, a writer, I know from experience the road is long. I am not lonely though, my box of paints is quite full, and I am no longer scared of the devil. There are angels along the highway, showing and sharing the way. Betty is one such angel. Her new recording Story Songs is brilliant. Brilliant like a star one finds in the deep dark night sky, multi-pointed and twinkling from afar. It is much like herself; deep, resonant, spiritual, nuanced...and that voice. I will always have this to listen to; as I paint, drive, meditate, connecting to more than I am with her music, and now can personally share with her my love and appreciation as a friend and fellow artist, too.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

For the concern of All

It is only from the outside one can tell the size and movement of something.

I grew up learning this lesson. Daily. From mid elementary years starting on occasion, and then beginning in the 7th grade until graduation from high school I did not know one day where I wasn’t bullied and harassed from classmates for being what they considered a fag. The worst of this was from teammates on my basketball, track, and cross country running teams, and perhaps the most difficult to handle. Imagine striving for your best as those running alongside you taunted and teased. A living metaphor isn’t it? But what is the metaphor, and does it signify anything? Then there was the day I was physically attacked in a shopping mall and punched in the face as the attacker yelled, “fag,” knocking me into the wall as he walked away from me.
After time one has to question the toll psychologically, emotionally, and psychically what this does. 
For me I found my best defense in an ever increasing sense of the space around me and the inhabitants. A constant scanning and screening of those, near and far. An ability to see a room in its entirety in a flash, searching out danger. I would do everything in my power to avoid confrontation and attacks. Going to school was for me a nightmare I suffered with daily. Despite this, and perhaps because of this, I had to find those who I felt safe with. I searched places I could survive and be friended. I relied on these safe havens. A Peregrin nesting aside a church steeple. Sanctuary.
I knew I had to get through those years, somehow. I knew once I was older, I could leave home and move to a big city. A city large enough I could disappear into, and find those like me. Safety in numbers. Safety in the mix of difference.
Difference, the great equalizer.

I took with me an ability to scan a space. I discovered a psychic awareness, a doppler effect which stayed with me all the many years post high school trauma. It helped me in my work, this ability to see into something or someone quickly, evaluate, and respond. It takes an enormous amount of energy, this constant surveillance, and please do not mistake it for paranoia, but it worked for me and I thrived. It also allowed me to tap into a considerable creative flow. I found sensing, searching, viewing, also had side benefits of inspiration. It would come to me nearly constantly, and this I also sift through continually. It is as if a radio is on all the time, and hearing this ceaselessly I tune it out until a thing catches my attention. Then I zero in on it, reading and watching and listening, gathering information to distill, for art. 

I can’t locate the numbers for the lottery, or find my missing keys, but then I didn’t tune my awareness for this, and I guess this was not one of the side effects. I tuned it for protection. I sat on the side of the pond, from a safe space, and watched. Watched the ripples in the pond, learning their many meanings, and began to listen. I remained on the edge of the pond all the years once I was put there. Not swimming in the depths, lazing on my back staring into the nothingness of space, dumb to what lay below. I was on the edge, the perimeter, the outside. It is only from here one can see the size of a thing and how it is, or maybe isn’t, moving. 

I wonder now in this later stage of my life, with partner and daughter to care for and protect, how the times we have entered will effect our lives. I note I am suddenly sitting up again. Watching. Concerned and curious if I, if we, if our daughter, are safe. I don’t know that we are. I am aware now when we go out together, a little family, we are different. I am aware of others noting us, two men with a child, and considering us differently. I am not wrong in this. I know this territory well. It isn’t something I can mistake. I am an old tree. My roots are deep, and my branches have grown to reach out far as I have been a still and silent witness to many, many things. I am aware now of old feelings, from childhood years ago when I first learned them. It is very possible my nest is not as safe as it once was. I have with me now something I have not felt in the cities I have lived in for the last 30 years, New York and Los Angeles. Cities I always felt safe in. This something I thought I had left behind to the small town I grew up in. This something you could not possibly understand unless you were also on the outside, the perimeter, the edge, looking in.  

But you can trust those of us who are. We are your family members. We are your friends. We are your neighbors. We are your co-workers. We have seen this before and though time has passed since it was incredibly bad, it is now here again but it isn’t just our safety at stake, it is yours too. It is this country’s, and as this world grows small there are those who would give up their populations to have what America has, this place. If you want to take over something, simply undermine their internal relations, separate them one from another like chaff from wheat. Take the spoils, and harvest what remains. 
If we don’t stick together, if we don’t protect one another, if we don’t value what is different we will lose everything. 


I know this because I am on the outside. I know the size of the thing and how fast it is moving. I invite you to join me here, where it is safe, where we can all watch together and see through for the concern of All.

Monday, September 19, 2016

We Are Story-Tellers

So here is a story I haven't told.

It is about birds. It is about communication. It is about things that go bump. It contains no answers. It has no ending.

Mike Clelland is on UnknownCountry speaking with Whitley Strieber, and for me the summation of his September 16, 2016 Dreamland interview was; "...we are storytellers," to paraphrase their conversation. And so I considered a story I have to offer, and because of Mr. Clelland's candid example, I want to now share this one.
Much like the stories of Mr. Strieber, Mr. Clelland, and so many others, it doesn't have an ending. It is made of moments. These moments when strung together in a Life perhaps cause a consideration of beginning, middle, and end. And perhaps they are all just beginnings.
To me they are all constellations. We peer at them from great distances on dark nights, and back to us they twinkle. Still shining with their wonder and light.

I was at work with my friend Ann when she told me of this woman who channels the Visitors, and before she finished her various facts of who this person is, how she knows of her, and other entails, I interrupted Ann with, "I'm in."

Once I gave Ann room to finish the story she started, I glibly informed her I would refer to this channeler, her friend of a friend of a friend (Ann has a very large network of friends of friends across the U.S., who like her and myself are conscious explorers, and open), as, "The Birdlady," due to Ann's description of what she sounds like when she channels. "It's like birds I was told. A Birdlike staccato. A fast, chirpy sound."

I think of Kate Bush, and her recordings of Blackbirds. Of Kate singing along with their beautiful, shrill communication. I think of the myth Laurie Anderson shares about birds. When there was no earth, no land. Birds flying through space ceaselessly, no place to rest. Birds swarming vast endless collective reaches; their sound, their call, deafening.

I learn the Birdlady is extremely private, and does not want her identity disclosed. She does not work with just anyone. I am to add my name to a proverbial, "hat," from which the Birdlady reads a list of names and then chooses who she feels right about connecting with, and ultimately, for. She does not do this everyday. She does not offer this work with any routine or regularity. She does not charge, but accepts donations if you so choose. She has had this ability since a little girl, and wants to help, but is very careful about when and how she does this. She seeks no publicity for this work. In all actuality Ann and I may never hear back from her.

A number of days pass when unexpectedly Ann tells me the Birdlady has accepted me, and I need to e-mail her friend, this liaison for the Birdlady, my cell phone number, and a date and time will be given for when the Birdlady will call.

I am more than excited. I enjoy intrigue, and it reminds me of when I received my first tattoo. That plot involved me having to call from a pay-phone on a street corner just off St. Mark's Place, so I could be seen in full view from a window of the as-yet-hidden address of the underground tattoo parlor. This was back in 1992 when tattoo parlors were illegal in New York City, and so, apparently, such secure measures were needed in order to protect the parlor from cops looking to bust the artists who permanently inked their work.

Within the week I received a reply to my e-mail directing me to an upcoming morning session with the Birdlady. I was informed it would be thirty minutes in length, more or less depending, and to simply wait for the phone call on the scheduled time and date.

Of course I was enthused, as well as skeptical. I was concerned when the Birdlady began to channel, I would laugh from nervousness, and just the grand silliness of it all. I would laugh mostly at myself, for enlisting such Shirley MacLaine shenanigans.  In spite of this I also wanted to be open. Open to exploring something new and costumed randomly from other events in my life. I hoped for an experience expanding a sense of who I am and how I fit in the scheme of it all.

The morning of our appointment I gathered the few things I wanted ready; my cell phone with earplugs and mic attached, and a journal-tablet and pen for which to write any notes from the session.

Shortly after 9:30 AM my phone rings. I answer with a slow, even, flat, "hello," which rises just slightly in pitch toward the end of the "o," as if to offer not just a proper greeting, but also to imply a sense of concerned curiousity. I do after all know who is calling, but don't know what to expect. I try to imply a sense I am ready for what is to happen, but not entirely trusting or offering carte blanche to her of my good nature. This isn't my first Miller Lite I want to intone.

She is reservedly friendly as she introduces herself to me. I get the feeling she is setting boundaries for the work she is about to do, which I find I respect greatly, as it allows me to know how I should respond. Her inflection informs very clearly she is going to do the work. This gives me room to be open to her in a way I find organically disarms me, and I am soon receptive to the possibility of what just a few weeks ago began as a silly exchange between me and my friend, Ann.

Working with the Birdlady was, I have to say, remarkable. After initial greetings, and informal directions as to what was to occur, I soon recognized the weight and density of air around me, and specifically in front of me, was full. She informed me the Beings were here with me, and yes, the atmosphere of being surrounding then was evident in not just my minds eye, but also in my peripheral senses. I felt my skin tighten as if electrified down the length of my arms. My spine naturally straightened and telescoping, seemed to reach beyond the confines of my body, heightening toward incoming messages. She spoke to me in her own voice, and then immediately switched and a sound of fast, brilliant, percussive vibrational trembles began to arise out of her, as if she stepped aside momentarily, and another picked up the call and interrupted. I did immediately have to suppress a childish need to giggle when she began to, and I have no other means to describe this, "chirp," but only out of the newness and abrupt shock of difference I was hearing.
It isn't important to share what was dispelled through this being who channeled Others. As she spoke I received glimpses of who she was, and correctly identified her as a doctor of animals. Horses to be exact, and when she told me horses were, "dolphins incarnated," all I could think was, "of course they are." It all made sense, in this incredibly abstract phone call. It was all perfect, and unusually clear.

Later I shared the experience with my dear friend Liza, and also with Ann when I got to work. It seemed like it was an event not needing dissection, and mostly I outlined details of what is was like. The parameters. The abstractness of it. How I had to initially suppress a nervous instinct to giggle, and then the natural and immediate connection I felt with her. How it was evident, even in the bright morning sunlight, I was greeted, and communicated with, the Other.

Several days went by, and I began to think back on my phone call. Did this really happen? Did what Ann say would take place, exist in its space? Did this women I most likely will never know or meet in person, channel a bird-like cadence, interpreting for me what the Others shared?

I was leaving work. It was just past 11 PM, and as I pulled onto the 101 in downtown Los Angeles, I felt myself relax after the long day. I made my way as I always do to the fast lane, on the outside far left. I merged in front of what turned out to be a highway patrol car and checking my speed, made sure I wasn't driving too fast. The patrol car followed immediately behind me and as traffic was fairly heavy even at this hour, remained there, not having the availability to change lanes unless necessary. I soon lost myself in my thoughts, and felt an odd sadness of the possibility my morning phone call from days ago was a goof. I was foolish to consider the real of it, nor would I ever have any kind of confirmation either supporting or denying this.

Sometimes, when lost in routine, much like I was late that evening driving home from work, a bolt strikes in the middle of life's repetitive meditation. On the dark highway I sped down now, this was my experience. Striking with shocking force and flash, a jarring report exploded above my head sharpening my wandering thoughts instantly into focus. This was a noise so loud I could picture nothing other than a sledge hammer inexplicably being brought down on the roof of my Ford Escape. I looked in my rear view mirror to see the patrol car continuing as it had been behind me. There were no signs of anything out of the ordinary. The cars to my immediate right had not moved over, or suddenly swerved as if to miss a random, interjecting object. I looked around the open stretch of highway we all were on. We were not near any bridges or open embankments from which one could have tossed a brick or small boulder, the kind frequently found along the base of steep inclines in Los Angeles. This particular stretch of road leaving downtown and moving north is free of any such steep inclines or hills. It is very open, until you get closer to Hollywood. I could not find a group of crazed teenagers tossing rocks or cans of beer onto traffic, as my mind formed a picture of likely culprits. It was late, cars rushed along the highway. There were no pedestrians anywhere. It caused me to think I had momentarily imagined the entire effect when the noise and shock of bang happened a second time immediately above my head.

Now the hairs on my neck and down my arms were standing straight up. I was scared and took my foot off the gas, forcing the patrol car behind me to slow. The car to my right passed me, but all three of us were in the same basic position from moments before, unmoved from any sudden actual emergency on the highway. Nothing was in the road. No debris or remains of a previous wreck. We were not under a bridge. We were not next to anything from which a heavy object could be tossed entirely across four previous lanes of highway traffic, or from the five lanes of oncoming traffic to my left, just beyond the Jersey barrier I was speeding close to.

I sat up high in my seat and accelerated so as not to arouse the attention of the officer behind me, and then it happened again.

A third and nearly deafening report slammed onto the roof of my car and this time I was brought to an alertness I am not sure I had previously experienced. I may have stated out loud, "Oh my God!" and perhaps, "What?" I looked behind me and for the slightest moment, nearly imperceptible, I thought I may have seen a tall thin figure sitting. But then again, maybe I didn't. I did know a few things. I knew I was completely present. I knew where I was. I knew no one or no thing was on the roof of my car. At least nothing I could identify from this world. I knew nothing had been thrown onto my car hitting it with such force as to cause those three loud shocking sounds. I remembered what I had just been thinking seconds before the first crash separated me from my wandering mind and the present state, "I wonder if what happened between me and the Birdlady was real, or just plain foolishness?"

A twinkling had passed between this thought and the concurrent reports hitting my roof, which were maybe three seconds apart. All in all, the whole drama played out in under ten seconds I could gather, but induced a long stretch of; experience, thoughts, questions, searching, and wonder.

I wasn't afraid. I was alone in my car, but alone was the furthest feeling from what I then felt. The radio station I play when I drive home, SiriusXM Spa continued to gently sooth the atmosphere with dulcet sounds. I was glistening now in the dark interior, lit softly with the blue-green glow of my dashboard.

I continued on my drive home, white hot with a composure of conscious alertness nothing could informally induce. The patrol car signaled and then pulled into the consecutive right lanes, making its way to the Santa Monica Boulevard exit. More cars seemed to slowly fade away from me, and soon the 101 wound its way past the Scientology Celebrity Centre, and then between the Capitol Records Building and the Hollywood Tower. I was a seemingly lone driver turning with the curves on the road home. I passed in between the enormous white cross illuminating the dark from atop a hill and the Hollywood Bowl; past Universal City, the Vivid Video building, and then staying in the left lane, I merged onto the 170 toward the quiet Valley.

The highway turned into surface streets, and then the street on which I live. I pulled slowly into the drive of my home, grateful to slow to a stop and sit for a moment. I turned off the engine and sat in silence, collecting myself. The outside motion security lights mounted onto my garage and porch beamed bright announcing I was home. I opened my door trepidatiously, and stepped onto the floor board standing up so I could see onto my roof. Here I witnessed nothing but weeks of dust and grime Los Angeles had settled, mapping the time since my car was last cleaned. No grain or speck of particle was disturbed. No print of rock, brick, or can left a mark, or printed an index. The roof of my Ford Escape was perfectly and evenly smoothed with the dust and minute debris displaying many days piled one upon the other. Reminding me how badly I needed to visit the carwash.

As with other unexplainable's in my life, I add the wonderful Birdlady, and along with the rest consider this night from time to time. Searching for something forgotten, for its truth, its meaning, its need to evidence, what? It fills my night sky so beautifully, and alights a map of my soul. Like lace it is delicately woven and reminds me of who I am, a conscious being among so many Others, searching my way. Experiencing my story as it unfolds in the River of Time.

Of course, the number three is remarkable. It is definite and indifferent to other numbers because it contains two opposing sides, married and grounded by a third, causing the Other to be defined by what it is not.

This experience has neither moral nor ending. It is not from what I can decipher a parable, but might be a metaphor. It may be an abstract thing representative of something else. For or of what, I am still unsure. It is free of anything from which I can get stability, or conscious understanding. We all look for and need the explained, but when confronted by the inexplicable, often cower or dismiss, and thereby lose what I believe to be the magic, the point of it all. The wonder of God.

http://www.unknowncountry.com/dreamland/latest

http://hiddenexperience.blogspot.com/2016/09/interview-with-whitley-strieber-on.html

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Sovereignty of Canvas

In consideration of the tools of the artist, I have found myself at perhaps the base of it all. The canvas. The foundation upon which most modern era art works have been realized. In this I mean paintings created since the turn of the previous century-thereabouts; Cezanne, Monet, Matisse, and Picasso.

The work as movable object became tangible during the Renaissance. Previous to this artists earned their way busily fresco-ing churches and domes, ceilings, and walls, etc. Basically buildings of the corporate or individual rich; the Church, the Medici’s, and so on. If you had a private church or chapel on your property chances are you had a wall painted with a scene of religious contemplation. It was Sovereign. Art was not yet a painted canvas, hung on a wall...that would soon change.

So then what of the person who had a more subtle domain, and not the riches affording them a painted wall? When canvas was stretched upon a frame and artists began to paint scenes of; familial study, or landscapes, or still lifes, or friend such as Mona Lisa, they did so toward a personal aim. The focus changed from religious contemplation, to the quotidian. It turned inward. Man was Sovereign. Sovereignty was brought into the work through the artist, it was not searched for in a pictorial emulation of the Holy. The needed outlet of sharing this Enlightenment, through a visual medium, was transformed. This then could be transported from one location to another, and the birth of Art as commerce, personal gain for pleasure or otherwise, grew.

The second most considerable advent was tin tubes. The painter could then contain their colors in travel size, handleable containers, and go afield to work. Think Van Gogh in the countryside, or seashore.

And then there was the photograph. Why would one have any need to render in paint for future times a mother and daughter, a king or pet, home or tree grove? A photograph can do it for you in the click of a shutter, capturing the bounced light from the scene before it on film. The film is developed, making a negative. The negative has light projected through it onto a photographic plate; paper or other, and through a chemical bath, is brought forth in two dimensional life. I distill this here, even though superficially simply, to illustrate how a photograph actually works. This illustration becomes important to the work I am currently invested in. 

When a person living today, the 21st Century, makes a picture with most likely a device also used for phone calls, internet use, and textual sharing, they are capturing an image in digital form; zero’s and one’s, and not taking a photograph. They are taking an image. The only similarity this has to a photograph resides in what they choose to include, and not, in the two dimensional frame of the image captured. What they include when cropping the image, and what they do not include when they aim the phone. Most do not consider they are creating based on what they decide to not include in this picture, but nonetheless, it is a choice unconscious or otherwise. The Photographer is aware of this, however, and what you don’t see when looking upon their photographs, is as large a part of what is created as what you see.

So now we are here, in the year 2016. The unending present. The continual present which began at the turn of the 1900’s, and sped up during the time from I would specifically like to argue, the 1950’s, to now.

Other than technology, what has changed since the 1950’s in Art? In our Theatre, our Books, our Music, our Movies? The means to continue to express something ineffable through differing media has remained unchanged since artists began to make works, so why take another photograph? Why throw another pot, write a drama, film a movie, record a song, choreograph a dance? What new is the artist, the composer, the potter, the painter, the writer, the actor, the choreographer, bringing to the table?

We are now back to the tools of the artist. What new can one create using the same tools? Here for me, the paint, the brush, the canvas, are my basic tools. In 2014 I began to wonder of the everyday object. The quotidian. The average. The still life of objects in our homes, workplace, mall. Having no need to capture in a photograph (it has already been done), a painting (it has already been done), a story (it has already been done), I wondered what could I bring to the table, anew? I turned to my tools, and was most drawn to the canvas. Canvas is incredible. It is sturdy, it is nearly non-colored, but oh so beautiful in its color, and it is malleable. I began to make everyday objects using just canvas, sculpting into a three dimensional form; a designer shopping bag, a McDonald’s Meal, a pair of sneakers (including the box containing them), a tissue box, specific books, a wind-chime. In their silence and form they are small wonders. They are all usable. One can pick them up, fill them, carry them, turn their pages, gently push their stems creating a chime specific to itself, and in doing so take an object, created from the innumerable quotidian, and see the special, the specific, the one of a kind. The machine Andy Warhol created has here been denied. The two dimensional plane Matisse worked so diligently to transpose has been lifted and brought into the space the body lives within. 

I read the critical theories of Dave Hickey (The Invisible Dragon), John Roberts (Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde), Thierry de Duve (Kant After Duchamp), Rosalind E. Krauss (The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths), Susan Sontag (Against Interpretation and Other Essays), Michele Foucault (Manet and the Object of Painting, and several essays), Jacques Ranciere (The Future of the Image), and essays by Kathy Acker, Jean Baudrillard, Thomas Lawson, Douglas Crimp, Hal Foster, Clement Greenberg, and most notable, Walter Benjamin. For me though, the most significant work was brought through the ideas of de Duve. It was here I was able to re-consider the canvas. Most notably, the Blank Canvas. The Blank Canvas, which hung upon a Wall, could cause one to re-propose, beginning with I would argue Matisse, in his 1918 painting, The Black Shawl, through Duchamp’s, Fountain, and finishing with, let’s say Lucifer, by Jackson Pollock. 

Matisse indicated the three separate fields he was rendering. The Wall, the Floor, and a form in between these two. Upon the Floor, a woman rests. Behind the woman is a Wall. These make up three dimensions of space, in real life. But in a painting, Matisse bisects all three points, and allows the two dimensional field of the canvas stretched over a wood frame, to be just that. A flat space where all three points collide. The viewer creates the remainder. 

Duchamp dismissed all before him entirely in his work Fountain. Instead he focused his eye on the working of the art world. The Gallery, the Committee, the Museum, the Media, i.e., the Papers. Through manipulation of these, he pointed his finger, and through choice, deemed a machine produced, mass-created urinal, and turning it upside down he signed it, creating Fountain. 

Jackson Pollock, although certainly not the first to do so, allowed paint to be the subject, but perhaps most famously so in his drip paintings. The casualty; literally I mean casual and its recourse; movement of his hand holding a paint-full brush, over the canvas laid upon the floor, put into object action the work of Matisse. He evidenced most fluidly, the subject was paint, and made it exciting. 

And so where am I? How do I bring myself to this table? What do I have to offer? Who am I?

Our images are created and socially-mediated, perhaps millions of times a second through Instagram, to name just one such avenue. Our televisions, previously having taken up an enormous amount of three dimensional space in the home, now flatten themselves and are hung on the wall. The Wall previously saved for painting. A painting one could move from place to place, and not have need for what riches would provide in a personal chapel’s frescoed walls, within privately-owned lands. Everyone could hang a painting, or photograph, on their Wall. 

Today, with HD flat-screened images Netflixed 24-7 on an expanse of Wall for viewers contemplation, through bingeing of regurgitated images and stories, none of them original in any manner, where is the painting?

I was a student of fashion. I majored in Women’s Fashion Design at F.I.T., where I learned to drape on dress-form in muslin (the slighter cousin of canvas), three dimensionally. I had to think about this as I wondered on the painting, the blank canvas which I loved so much, and all the giant flat televisions people watched, and hand-held devices of images they scrolled through.


It seemed almost easy to me, the creative impulse then, to form three dimensionally, canvas, using the wood frame as base, and re-place it upon the Wall. It allowed me to conclude and bring to the Table of Art, and all its History, something new. Something when hung upon a Wall, took up space. Rendered images, abstract or otherwise, with; blank canvas, shadow, highlight, depth, projection, the unseen, and the seen. Something to be contemplated. Not unlike a religious scene on a frescoed wall. An attempt to create a three dimensional image from a two dimensional one, an abstract. All of them, containing Sovereignty.


Michael Gardner
Canvas #8
25" x 29" x 14"
2016