Gossip

Being in Paris has always been a sort of battery for my work. During this pandemic for the first time in decades I found myself cut off from my usual arrondissement and sources of inspiration. I recognize many had it far worse than I, so bare in mind I am not complaining. I needed to find a new way to work for essentially first time in my career.

I had my usual routine but mixed in with this were little challenges, explorations as to facilitate both evolution and insperation. I started several series utilizing new to me mediums, ideas and goals.

Gossip in one of them. It is not a book so much as a work of art which utilizes text. It is not only something very different for me but in general unique. I would call the art “immediate” in the same sense as some of the works by Wayne White & Ed Ruscha’s text incorporated pieces. You view it, have initial ideas but then chew upon it after the fact.

One thing I highly recommend is that you do not take a peek inside as amazon offers but rather go in completely cold with no idea what awaits you. Were it up to me, I would offer no “sneak peek” but amazon has other ideas in that department.

Rarely do i promote my works to buy. I would always rather have an audience than customers. With Gossip, it is meant to be viewed as a whole start to finish and there is simply no way to show parts of it in journals or what not without loss of effect.

All the images are created by me as is the text.

From the back cover:

At its best, the stream of life is like a great jazz standard. There is the familiar melody but with each player there are infinite variations and improvisations occurring within the known framework. Not just what the player says but the way in which it is said, the tone, make it worth revisiting. Further variation derives from our perceptions. One person’s requiem is another’s calliope.

Here is my riffing on humanity, flurries of notes darkly funny, tragic and image rich.

In the Car

I have started reading The William H Gass reader. Right out of the gate I found myself deeply enjoying it. One of the first essays is on books which were touchstones for his life as an author. Early on he makes a point of drawing a distinction, it is not supposed to be a “best books” list but rather ones which resonated personally for him and which served in his journey into becoming an author.

He mentions Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet. Of the trinity of Flaubert, Balzac and Zola I had always held him in the least esteem (with Zola being, in general, one of my favorite authors). Right before returning to France a few years ago I read the excellent bio on Cezanne by Alex Danchev. Cezanne talks so passionately about Flaubert, i felt the stirrings of considering giving him another try.

That season I kept meeting Helene and Charlie for drinks and book talk. Her admiration of the trio was the inverse of mine. Her description has stuck with me:

“With Balzac, it was all money, money, money if only I had the money. With Zola it was sex, i need power to get sex, I use sex to get money to get power to have sex. But Flaubert, there is an author, the sentences each meticulously crafted.”

I decided to give Flaubert another try. I went to Gagliani and bought Sentimental Education and Bouvard et Pécuchet. I read Sentimental first. It was good, i definitely had more appreciation for Flaubert than I used to. It was Bouvard though which sealed the deal for me. I found the book darkly funny in the way early Celine had been.

What is interesting to me is that when this book is discussed it’s merits are often described via a shorthand of being “funny” ala wacky Swiftian satire. I think people perceive it this way because it and Sentimental Education form perfect bookends. The later is more outwardly “dark”. I like it, but really it is just a romantic era story of squandered potential and the dried up promises of bygone youth. And, of course, the usual chess like romantic patterns of the main characters. Bouvard is actually a darker novel.

Gass has very much same assessment. His articulation spot on and obvious, but not until you have heard him say it.

I would never argue interpretation with someone on art unless they were 100% wrong. With my own work, unlike when I was first starting out, I rarely talk about it. Fascinating though that art can have completely differing interpretations. Is one person wrong or are they merely noticing and emphasizing in talking of it, a different aspect than someone else?

The pandemic has effected people in drastically different ways. I am not talking about how they directly handle it i.e wearing a mask, not wearing a mask et al. Rather, the sea-change that has come over people in regards to their personal philosophy. For some it served as grim reminder that life is fleeting so live while you can. For others, it has served to bring on a sort of cautious vigilance less something else unexpected further swat us down.

A type of cabin fever-life is too short bubbles up in many and temporarily dictates their actions. I find myself getting notes, photos, movies which when looking at, I keep this in mind.

One of the photos which I recently received had an interesting compositional point of balance. I decided to make a painting of it. As i worked on it, I found people all had different interpretations on it. “Hot” “Silly” “Weird” “Beautiful”. Like Bouvard, it has a little bit of everything in it. The main overriding intent is not for me to say as why would I want to make anyone wrong and temper their enjoyment.

“In the Car” 9×12 watercolor & paper

Toronto

During the pandemic I have made constructive use of my time about 90% of the time. Of course now and then I need a break from working & thinking. I’ve tried watching some of the genre shows people talk about. The shows which take place post-apocalyptic, the writing at best is “I wonder what is going to happen next?” Missing from all of these type shows is a largely untouched upon important component.

Of course in middle of a zombie outbreak first consideration is escape, safety. Shelter, food and ability to defend oneself are the primary concerns understandably. Some of these shows have been on for years and they do not really show the toll which would be taken on humanity collectively with the loss of culture. Making things (of beauty) just for the sake of doing so or if one does not have those skills, then viewing them. Life without culture as non-stop collecting or searching for the basic essentials would see a profound rewiring of mankind’s way of acting and thinking. After “X” amount of time, would it even be worth sticking around?

This mental fast food made me reflect on our current situation. I do not think it the duty of artists to put specific messages, rhetoric or agenda in their works. I do however think that, especially in in trying times, it is every artists’ duty to do their thing, create something beautiful.

It serves as a reminder of the better part of humanity awaiting us all when the trouble is over. It unites us all in reminding us there are things which are not unpleasant that link us all all together. One can not avoid bad times, we are all trapped by history. As artists we can put beauty out there, a page saver for when our thoughts and actions can once again look past merely surviving.

Offered up beauty. As usual all the images are from photos I personally took. No digital magic was used, just scissors and adhesive applied with brush.

“Toronto” 11×14

We All Need Beauty (Now)

The news stateside continues to be bleak. Now more than ever we need beauty. Brief glimpses from afar to remind ourselves that the best versions of each of us are waiting to be birthed, that there is something more important beyond the “I” .  Beauty need not be a rarefied thing either, it can be an abandoned spiderweb in the corner of a window or even something more mundane or not traditionally considered so. Beauty can touch us all in collective way, resonating differently for each individual.

To continue evolving as an artist during this I continuously challenge myself. I ordered all kinds of paper which I had never worked with before for both drawing & painting. I have never painted on colored paper. First new thing was to try a 6×8 tan paper which is on a block.

It handled very differently, I had to let it really dry between layers which was all right. The blending was also very different from my other paper. The end result I was very happy with. The volume & mass of skin looks a little more expressionistic than how I portray it with other paper, this is not better nor worse, just different. I will definitely continue  with this paper. I have tan, grey and brown papers in all different sizes to further explore with too.

“Write This Down” 6×8 watercolor & paper

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Tan Lines

9×12 watercolor & paper

During having to stay home she took sun baths on her balcony. From there she could see into my studio window, watching me work. Hers was one of many faces who while away the time taking in the mellow rays of the sun, which after an hour or so almost managed to trick the body into thinking everything is all right,  watching me work. when I finished a piece I would turn it towards window so she could see what I had been working on. shyly at first, she started informally modeling.

To me, the real is always beautiful. It facilitates emotions which in turn allow the viewer to return to a work over and over without becoming bored.

The size of my works is intentional. Their size helps bolster the feeling of happening upon a scene from an open ended story. Shelter in place has shown a lot of us that our living space is smaller than we realized. The wall sized pieces so often emphasized make a collector live under the piece and not with it. The larger size and familiarity also eventually creates the effect of a work just becoming first visual static, then merely a wall. My smaller pieces engage the viewer as one is making the choice to look at it rather than having it loom over them.

I also keep in mind the burgeoning collector who is just starting to collect. Large pieces, especially for an apartment dweller can dictate the style of the collection while also limiting the amount which can be displayed. I want my works to be able to be included in a collection as it and the collector’s tastes grow.

Ultimately bigger is not better, there is just more of it.

 

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Schnabel Flag & A Portrait

I decided to  switch to mostly using cloth napkins. While sheltering in place it makes it a little nicer when finding oneself at the same table meal after meal. When the second wave of people being sick hits and those without empathy become even more animalistic than they had shamefully been during the initial outbreak,  (paper napkins) it will be one less thing I have to worry about being hoarded and unenviable to me. I ordered a few extra packs online so i am not perpetually washing them.

One pack i got looked like the pattern of the type of pajamas Julian Schnabel wears out in public. By coincidence the night before they arrived I had a dream that he had come over. I had made tagliatelle with my Palermo sauce.  After eating we sat at the table not bothering about clearing it, talking. I doodled on a napkin. When it was time to go home, without asking permission, he took my napkin doodle .

I took one of these Schnabel napkins and tacked it to my studio wall like a flag. A flag under which I serve, a flag of a conquered nation. A totem that there are others out there who also live to serve the process.

 

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I just completed this portrait. I used multi-media paper. The most important aspect for all my work is that emotion comes through. The true is always beautiful and i do not think in my ever growing body of work there is one face that is not.

“This Moment” 9×12 Watercolor & Paper

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Hero

This is the face of a nurse showing the effects of wearing a mask 65 hours worth of shifts in six days. She is one of many heroes putting it on the line for strangers asking for nothing, no glory or even mention, in return.

 

There will be no parades, nor most likely can we ever adequately thank all who acted without hesitation to try to make a difference. In my more jaded moments, I imagine once this is over, people like her finally wearily able to take a moment to sit down as throngs of people rush past them, not even slowing down as to get to the store to buy armloads or microwave pizza pockets or to the beach to take side standing poses to post on Instagram. That’s probably at least for North America, close to the truth. The hope however is that going forward  we find a better way from how we were as a society, “returning to normal” not necessarily a good thing.

I thank and salute these people regardless of how collectively they are treated after the fact.

 

This is watercolor on 9×12 paper. I used a brand new paper which I liked and will continue to use.

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