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The Great American Interdisciplinary . . . (noun here)

Matthew Barney

Matthew Barney

I saw all of The Cremaster Cycle at the Guggenheim when the show was up . . . God, was it that long ago? My response was something like Bill Murray’s in Tootsie while he was watching the soap opera: “That is one nutty hospital.” My only reservation by the end of the five feature-length films was that I still didn’t know what the eye at the top of the pyramid on the back of a dollar bill is looking at, though I admired Barney’s attempt to cover just about everything else in human life. The rest of the exhibition taught me what the word vitrine means though I’ll probably never have a chance to use that word after this post. So far I’ve taken a pass on “River of Fundament,” a title that makes me smile, as I’m sure it’s meant to, though I really did admire Barney’s filthy Irish energy the first time around. Plus, like me, he grew up in Idaho, so I have to root for him. But being on Barney’s side is like putting money on the New England Patriots, isn’t it? (Go Bills!) This amused me:

“We hear about Matthew Barney’s six-hour film of Norman Mailer’s seven-hundred-page  Ancient Evenings, an unwatchable adapation of an unreadable book, and we think, Hey that might be great! It’s the American way.”

Adam Gopnik, “Go Giants”, The New Yorker, April 21, 20145

(I’m off to attend my son’s wedding in Mexico for the rest of the week, if we can trust United to get us there. We missed our originating flight this morning, which is why I was catching up on Gopnik.)

The 60s

Ed Ruscha, Dennis Hopper

Ed Ruscha, Dennis Hopper

Vernissage likes Polarities

diaper pins from vermissage

The Vernissage approved of my solo show at Viridian Artists, and to read their squib about it, you have to scroll down through images of Coca-Cola machines containing the bodies of dictators, from an exhibit at Unix Gallery. I was amused to see my diaper pins juxtaposed against images from a show containing an effigy of Generalissimo Franco. I’m relieved to know he’s still dead. It’s been decades since I was reminded of that on Saturdays. I liked the photography they posted of “Polarities”, along with the commentary:

Last week, our usual tour in Chelsea presented some fun surprises. Moreover, all the galleries we encountered presented entertaining works that revealed that ironic approach that we really, really enjoy. Viridian Artists Gallery presented a solo by David Dorsey . . . the space  filled with a series of . . . modern still lifes. M&M’s, a burger and pins here take the place of the more classical fruit and vegetables on canvas. An opposite experience . . . gorgeous but, somehow, wrong. The show played with the idea of opposites, portraying, in the same way, objects related to both death and everyday life.

Wikipedia: A vernissage (varnishing, from French) is a term used for a preview of an art exhibition, which may be private, before the formal opening. 

Still Life with Pomegranates

Jos Van Riswick, Oil, 2013

Jos Van Riswick, Oil, 2013


shot of solo show 3

I just got back from a long, lively conversation with probably the most accomplished painter in Western New York, Tom Insalaco. He called yesterday and asked to meet for coffee. He was dropping off a painting at Oxford Gallery and then heading to the Joy Adams lecture at Axom Gallery. So we met at Barnes & Noble. We talked about general cultural decline, the economy, the Pacific vs. the Gulf of Mexico, spastic young men in wheelchairs who make Tom nervous when they are in the proximity of great Dutch paintings, computer billionaires, Odd Nerdrum in prison for tax evasion, the Arcadia gallery in SoHo, the merits of acrylic vs. oil, but more than anything else we talked about Van Gogh and Vermeer. He’s reading the recent book which presents nearly a thousand pages on Van Gogh’s life plus the theory that Vincent was shot by two young men fooling around with a gun. I brought up the two great V’s because they appear to have painted with little or no thought to personal reward or recognition, as Tom himself has done, making a living almost entirely from teaching art. On the subject of Vermeer, Tom said the painter had at least one buyer who acted as a patron, but I maintained it was hard to believe he could have made a living from his work. Van Gogh stands as the finest example of devotion to painting without recognition or reward, and Tom agreed. “He wasn’t crazy. He was highly intelligent and well-read. He and the rest of his family wrote letters constantly to one another. He spoke four languages fluently. You look at the surface of those paintings, the thick impasto, and not a scratch, not a bit of grit—how did he manage to get them back from the fields without damaging them?”

He paused.

“But was it a fulfilling life?”

His remark reminded me of that Ingmar Bergman line from MORE

Mini me

Jens Lennartson with his army of tiny 3D selfies

Jens Lennartson with his army of tiny 3D selfies

Jens Lennartsson had a small company of miniature G.I. Jens created and sent out these action figures to promote himself as a photographer. A photographer I know here in Rochester has done similar things to promote himself as a writer, without the aspect of mass production.

Being a realist and all, I should create an inaction figure of myself.



Bill Creevy, Small Pear, oil on multimedia board, 5"x4"

Bill Creevy, Small Pear, oil on multimedia board, 5″x4″

From the First Street exhibition announcement:

Bill Creevy will show selections from his newest series of miniature oils on paper. Creevy’s imagery varies from intimate depictions of animals, to greenmarket finds, to vintage cars, to airplanes, to small scale panoramic landscapes. Though Creevy’s oils are quite small (many no higher than 5″), his paint application is assertive and open in the manner of the early action painters. Notable for their highly textural surfaces, luminous paint freely applied, and bold rich colors, these small confident paintings pulse with memory and glow with vitality.

Love his artist’s statement:

I like to do simple and straight forward paintings. My scale is small but my paint application is assertive. I let my imagination pick my subject matter and allow my paint strokes to go where they please. I give myself very few restrictions……


panorama 2 solo

panorama one solo

“Polarities”, my solo show at Viridian Artists, opens today. These are a couple shots I took after Lauren Purje and I hung the paintings on Sunday. It’s amazing how many emergency measures need doing at the last minute: one entire frame came apart at all four corners and had to be more or less reassembled securely, which we succeeded in doing, after a few false starts. I had to take another painting out of its frame, and off the stretchers at two corners, in order to tighten it, then reattach the frame. One other painting also had to be tightened, through less drastic measures involving a hair drier we bought on 10th Ave. at a drug store. I brought most of the other tools we needed, anticipating problems before I left Rochester, and Lauren provided the rest. There was a sense of fun in all of it, since so much work over the past five years had gone into making the work itself–any surprises in the delivery and hanging of the work seemed minor problem-solving exercises, rather than real work. Even though I drove the paintings 350 miles in what a friend called a “soccer mom” mini-van I rented from Avis. I informed her that it’s well known how Picasso lugged canvases to Paris in a Dodge Caravan. Really! (However, Van Gogh drove a Saab to Arles.) Here’s a video which I stupidly took in portrait aspect, offering what looks to me now like a keyhole view of the whole show. Reception is Thursday at 5:30 p.m. William Benton will perform on guitar.

Same as it ever was

Same As It Ever Was, Daniel Mosner, oil on canvas

Same As It Ever Was, Daniel Mosner, oil on canvas

From Proverbs and Commonplaces, Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY.

Survival of the fattest

Gatherer, Doug Whitfield, oil on canvas

Gatherer, Doug Whitfield, oil on canvas

A bird in the hand from From Proverbs and Commonplaces, Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY.

Art’s a poor excuse, but . . .


RICKY: It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing. And there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it, right? And this bag was just… dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember…

 Now Jane is watching him.

RICKY (distant): Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it… and my heart is going to cave in.


LESTER: I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper…And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And …Carolyn.

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst……and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…(amused) You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry…

You will someday.

–script for American Beauty


Still lifes and other oppositions

Jelly Bean Bullets, detail, oil on linen

Treaty: Jelly Bean Bullets, detail, oil on linen

It just occurred to me I ought to post this, since it’s about me and my solo show opening in a week at Viridian Artists. Blogs are so much work; you have to, like, stay on top of everything. Yellow Tail will be served. Cat Casual will play guitar, which is why I’ll be showing up.

DAVID DORSEY “Polarities: No Ideas But In Things”

JUNE 10 – JUNE 28, 2014, Reception, Thursday, JUNE 12, 6 – 8 pm.

In his first solo in his three years as a member at Viridian, David Dorsey’s painting dwells on humble objects or commonplace scenes that bear little conceptual weight, yet in the way they come together for this exhibit, he shows how they can evoke life’s vital oppositions: life and death, dark and light, innocence and experience. Each individual painting, considered alone, represents an exploration of purely perceptual concerns, exploring how all the most traditional elements of painting—light, color, form, and the physical quality of paint—can trigger an immediate apprehension of life as a whole, in ways that words can’t reach.

“I like to focus on things and moments that might be so common, they’re taken for granted, so that you have a fresh impression of what you might see every day,” he says. “Jelly beans. A white clam sauce jar. A cheap stainless steel cream pitcher I bought at Wegman’s. Dahlias I grow for next to nothing by wintering the tubers in my basement and replanting them every spring. The skulls would otherwise be sitting in a box forgotten, somewhere in a college lab. The diaper pins I store in the clam sauce jar. But bullet casings you can buy in bulk from Etsy.”

Completed over the past five years, these eighteen paintings express basic oppositions, sometimes ironically, sometimes literally. The ideas are secondary and usually arise after the work is done. In choosing subjects, Dorsey is concerned with perceptual qualities. As William Carlos Williams put it, “No ideas but in things.” Dorsey lives and works in upstate New York, has shown his work extensively in the U.S. as well as in Europe. He has won various awards, and his work is represented in collections throughout the U.S. He writes regularly about art at Manifest has published his criticism.

“Eggplant and Bok Choy” and “Still Life with Pocket Door” are painted so vividly with almost unreal, vibrant colors that they seize viewers’ attention, enticing with beautiful freshness. The living is cast against the long departed with his third painting, “Skull Unearthed Circa 1930,” a stark work of a pale room washed in clean light with a weathered skull propped atop a cardboard box. The quietude of the work is enhanced greatly by the single black audio speaker sitting silently on a shelf and the nearly toothless, gaping maw of the human remains. —Rebecca Rafferty

 In David Dorsey’s “Skull Unearthed Circa 1930″, the shipping box, scribble-marked “actual human skull”, presents the decapitated human remains in the . . . incongruous setting of a breezy open spring window. Study the sockets and cavities of the sculpted toothless mandible as the artist did in an intricately painted, multiple ridged landscape. One . . . is engrossed in the painter’s facility and fascination with his subject. –Marline Steel, AEQUI

Worlds apart

Worlds Apart, The Urbanites, Anthony Dungan,  oil on canvas

Worlds Apart, The Urbanites, detail, Anthony Dungan, oil on canvas

From Proverbs and Commonplaces, Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY.

Horse and cart

Breaking Free, Cutting Loose copy

Breaking Free, Cutting Loose, oil on linen

In painting, it can be hard to keep the cart behind the horse. For me, normally, paint comes first and everything else follows along behind. There are many ways to be clever and cerebral with a work of art, and most of them lead away from the subconscious drive to paint—a painting can too easily become a dutiful illustration of an idea. In my solo show in a couple weeks at Viridian Artists, entitled Polarities, I was drawn toward an idea of contraries as a basis for juxtaposing one kind of painting with another—or opposite principles within a single image. I arrived at the title and theme by looking at the work I’ve done over the past five years or so and seeing oppositions everywhere in the way I’d painted—in ways I hadn’t consciously registered while I was doing the work. At that point, I started working on some ideas for a few more paintings to complete the show. I was letting the idea of polarities serve as a basis for creating images that would fit, neatly or not, into the theme. For some people, this would be an occasion for applause, paintings that have “something to say”, work with a conceptual dimension, but I saw it as a Faustian bargain. Clever often means contrived. For the most part, though, the concepts here followed the work, sitting obediently in that cart securely behind the urge to paint.

I did one painting, Treaty: Jelly Bean Bullets, after coming up with my theme, though it took me weeks to arrive at the title. I kept stapling little notes at the crest of my easel’s middle strut, just above the upper edge of the painting, each note bearing a fresh, potential name. Armistice, no, Gun Control, no. Cease fire. Ugh. At first I was going to pair one of my candy jars with a jar full of empty Luger shell casings I found at Etsy, where they’re available in bulk as a craft supply for people making “steampunk jewelry.” Leave it to the Internet. I did a study or two of the empty shells and then at some point I saw how easily MORE

A bird in the hand

Bird in Hand, Jean K. Stephens, oil on canvas

Bird in Hand, Jean K. Stephens, oil on canvas

From Proverbs and Commonplaces, Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY.

Join the crowd

Join the Crowd, Chris Baker, gouache

Join the Crowd, Chris Baker, gouache

From Proverbs and Commonplaces, Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY.


Polarities and Prince Myshkin



The novels of Herman Hesse were a hot item in the 60s, with their romanticism, their mix of Jungian psychology and Eastern mysticism and their hippie-friendly dreaminess. I read most of them when I was in high school. I loved the opening of Steppenwolf, the yearning of Harry Haller, the depressed, cerebral, central figure who takes a room in a clean, well-lighted boarding house and lingers on the stairs admiring the cleanliness and order of the home’s little windowed corners, all the attention devoted to middle-class comfort and restraint. He loved it because it was a levee against the tide of darker impulses and brooding that pulled him, throughout the book, toward a pyschologically liberating and dangerous life on the margins of respectability. Its tension between the passion for order and normalcy and the imaginative pull of the unpredictable is how the book fascinated me years ago when I read it. The other night, in an email, I read  a quote from Mark Twain, sent from an acquaintance–”Be good and you will be lonesome.” It reminded me of Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin, who was so good he simply uttered  whatever he thought, without calculation, always telling the truth, or what appeared to be the truth to him, and the most fundamental truth he uttered was that “beauty will save the world.”

So I did a search for Prince Myshkin to refresh my memories about him and came across an out-of-print essay about him from Hesse, who was deeply influenced by Dostoevsky. To my surprise, it led me toward Hesse’s notion of polarity and how Myshkin himself was a figure who reconciled polarities by being rooted in something more fundamental than the world of opposites (in a Joseph Campbell kind of way). As Hesse puts it, about a scene where the prince is rejected by everyone around him:

On the one side society, the elegant worldly people, the rich, mighty, and conservative, on the other ferocious youth, inexorable, knowing nothing but rebellion and hatred for tradition, ruthless, dissolute, wild, MORE

The next best thing to being there

Boating, Edouard Manet

Boating, Edouard Manet

The Metropolitan has joined in the trend championed by Google, Getty and the National Gallery and has uploaded 400,000 images of art for free public viewing, with resolutions fine enough to give you a “feel” for the surface texture. So quit taking pictures of permanent collections and just look while you’re there. As with Google’s art project, the photography is so good you can see much of what was only available by looking at the actual work, except for a sense of scale.

For the underdogs

love artThis is a great guide for buying good art that’s far more affordable than what gets traded at the air fairs in one particular city–Toronto, just a hop across the lake for us in Rochester. It’s a great point-by-point argument for buying art that represents a choice between a good painting and a new high-end flat-screen TV. That’s no Sophie’s Choice.


Dazzle, Jim Mott's new app

Dazzle, Jim Mott’s new app

My friend Jim Mott came by a little while ago to discuss painting, “Tim’s Vermeer,” marriage, money, the uncanny behavior of birds, and an app he invented and created with the help of his partner, Bruce Campbell. A few days later, as a follow-up, he introduced me to a spot on the southern shore of Lake Ontario where you can see a dozen kinds of warbler in the course of an hour. They congregate there, biding their time before flying across the lake into Canada, maybe waiting for it to warm up enough to justify the effort. I photographed half a dozen warblers, a thrush I’d never seen before, a screech owl, a Lincoln sparrow and a couple catbirds. It was my first “birding” excursion, aside from climbing out of my TV-viewing chair to get a shot of a bird on our birdbath in the backyard.

The bird talk wasn’t completely unrelated to what he came to demonstrate: the game he made, called Dazzle, which is for sale on iTunes. It was designed with a couple disparate things in mind: the markings of a black and white warbler–which we saw in the woods a few days later–and the nautical camouflage used in World War I, called dazzle. Playing the game is simple: you try to rotate diagonal black-and-white squares to either match up colors for yourself or avoid matching them for your opponent. Points are assigned based on the number of matches. The level of simplicity is somewhere between Tic Tac Toe and Minesweeper. The game offers a virtual roll of dice to determine which square you have to rotate, and you can either play against the app or against another person.

“One of the things I like about it is that you can do something else intelligent, like have a conversation, while playing it,” he said.

Since Jim’s project, as an artist, is to take money out of the picture when it comes to art–traveling around the country and staying with people overnight in exchange for a painting of their surroundings–this app represents a very minor equivalent to a grant application or tenure for other artists. In other words, income not related to art sales. He created it to inspire the competitive urge, but also to give players a chance to get fascinated enough with the patterns they’re creating to quit caring who wins. That would be a nice principle to see applied to a lot of other activities. I bought it. It’s fun. Better yet, it’s like a donation to a Kickstarter campaign, without the Kickstarter.