Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Burning, Book Yearning

by Drew Martin

During one introverted spell in college, I shut my door to the world for a few days and watched a stack of movies. It sounds harmless, but I usually do not do unhealthy shut-in things like that. The only film I remember from that stretch was Fahrenheit 451. What I recall, is not so much watching it but thinking what seeing it versus reading it meant. In this case, I read the book and then saw the movie.

There exists the common exchange,
"Have you read ___________"
"No, but I saw the movie."

In most cases, this answer is a bit of an embarrassment because it is an admission to a diluted and commercial experience. Surrendering to the cinematic version means less time with the subject and a shallow understanding of the characters. The cognitive challenge of reading a book requires an imaginative mind, which is needed to comprehend things that come too easily in film. The experience of seeing the film after reading the book may also be spoiled by certain actors and limitations of the visual medium.

There are some cases, where the acting is so good, that the film gains a certain level of credit: Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Even if the acting is so-so, a director's faithfulness to the book and perhaps other factors such as shooting on location, make the movie a wonderful follow-up to the text: Sean Penn's Into the Wild.

And then there are the supreme directors who make films that not only get under the skin of the authors and characters, but also add something with their own genius and vision: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange.

Someone interested in media would ask the same standard question I asked regarding this book/movie relationship...What is the difference between reading a book and watching the movie version and what are the affects of each? The differences can be simply technical and the affects may be profound.

Fahrenheit 451 compounds the issues by making the differences central to the plot. Seeing it on a screen means that you are already in that futuristic world, where the only purpose of the fire department is to burn books (at the temperature of the title) since the houses in the future are all fire-proof. Reading the book makes you one of the underground collective who commit books to memory.

I think about this kind of thing a lot but every once in a while the gravity of it makes the sky seem like it is falling.

I knew one of my favorite Village-area bookstores, the 20-year-standing Biography Bookshop had been pushed down Bleecker Street to a new location, which I have been supporting, but I did not know (until a couple weeks ago) that it was replaced by Bookmarc by Marc Jacobs. A friend had told me about the new tenant so I went by to see what they had to offer. I was actually very open-minded but once inside, I had a very uneasy feeling. Just as Jacobs would not like the fashion vision of a bookworm, his vision of a bookstore is quite pathetic.

My first impression is that it is a bookstore with a lot of accessories for sale, which would make a non-literate model feel comfortable and good about herself or himself. The artsy books are more like hard-covered fashion magazines, only with less text and, for the most part are more on the profane/smutty side.

My instinct, which I followed, was to recuperate in The Strand's 18 miles of books and purchase something substantial to fill the void. I bought four books including Boethius' 6th century AD The Consolation of Philosophy. On my return, I stopped back into Bookmarc to see if I was being unfair...but the feeling returned and the too-cool-for-school shoppers were contemplating the "books" and other merchandise with a similar lack of discrepancy: as equal "things" to buy.

My shock of such things is short lived but I ponder the long-term meaning of trends. As books (the written ones) are moving to Kindles and NOOKs and the book format is absorbing more personal art and photographic experiences, especially with limited-edition, self-publishing sites such as Blurb...we may simiply be witnessing the evolution of the word "book". I recently wrote about such a transition with the meaning of red in Red Square. It is not out of the question that a book will simply cease to be a thing we read any more the same way "magazine" is no longer a place we stock goods and gunpowder.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Getting e-Inked

by Drew Martin

I met a man from a land down under where beer does flow and men chunder. It happened to be in the unremarkable outskirts of Prague, 15 years ago, at the end of a bus route, at the end of a metro line, where no foreigner would care to venture unless he (me) was teaching at an electrical component start up company where the students (men and women, 20-40-somethings) smoked cigarettes and drank vodka in the office during class, or he (the Aussie) was staying there with a recently connected, long lost cousin.

Shortly after bumping in to each other we went to a small food store, where I thought the elderly shop women would be shocked by his abundant and colorful tattoos, unconcealed by his tank top. Instead, they were quite animated because of him and called him the "painted man". That nice expression has stuck with me all these years because, at that time, tattooing still had many negative connotations: prison derelicts and WWII concentration camp survivors.

Multiple piercings, all over the body, were more common than tattoos in the art crowd, as I recall, especially during the the height of AIDS unawareness, because piercings were more easily performed by friends and tattooing was still considered very HIV-risky. This all changed in a few years and soon it became super trendy to get inked. As an artist, I always liked the concept of tattooing, especially to have your own artwork on oneself but the idea of never really being able to change it was unappealing, especially to someone like me who was constantly drawing different things: A static image seemed too boring. Additionally, it seemed like everyone I talked to at the time with a tattoo expressed regret for getting one.

The other thing was that the fine colorful lines always become splotchy and blurred. It's still a hard fact, tattoos don't age gracefully. If legs are the last to go, tattooed skin is the first to wither. Though most tattoos are silly images and the equivalent of bad clip art, I still really like tattoos by artists done unto themselves, including inmates. The latter are are ingenious...having used motors from Walkmans for the gun and burned black chess pieces for the ink.

Like everything, tattooing has an evolution. Parlors are cleaner and safer now and so are the clientele. But what's next? With e-books here to stay and advancements in digital ink/e-ink technology, I think the next logical step is to make a digital ink tattoo (e-tattoo), which could update itself according to the whim of the bearer.

This is a golden opportunity for Barnes & Noble, whose NOOK envies's Kindle. B&N has a lot going for it for this venture: unlike B&N has around 1,400 walk-in locations, most with Starbucks cafes. Just tack on a e-ink tattoo parlor and extend the literary experience beyond the coffee sipping cafe.

To my knowledge e-tattoos have not be invented yet, but that is a low hurdle for brainiacs at MIT. All it would mean, would be to embed a field of matched-skin color pellets, which would have the ability to switch colors. It might be interesting even if these pellets raise the skin up a bit: I have always found scarification more interesting than here they could be combined. As a kid, I had one of those potato clocks that ran off the juice of tubers and I am sure the human body could charge the e-tattoo, which could be synched to the electronic device of choice.

You could even synch your e-tattoo with your NOOK to display the "book cover" so you could have a complementary dragon tattoo, while reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Or you could show off (in the flesh) that you are tackling Moby Dick, which, come to think of it, was the ahead-of-its-time synthesis of tattooing and literature. Who could forget (assuming you've read the novel, shame on you if you haven't) Ishmael's first encounter with the extensively tattooed Queequeg, returning from an evening of peddling shrunken heads, harpoon in hand, and crawling into the bed they shared at the booked Spouter Inn, only to awake spooning like an amorous couple.

The "What did I do last night?" morning-after effect might even inspire the nocturnal e-tattoo, so the snarling panther on your jugular would disappear by the time you got to the office.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Migrants of Dreams: An Interview with Pixelis

The following is an interview with a digital artist from Argentina, who goes by the name of Pixelis. He was kind enough to provide the Spanish version, which was posted earlier, below.

I have known you virtually as Pixelis but your real name is Roberto. Is Pixelis just your online identity or is it a moniker you have adopted to identify yourself as an artist who manipulates pixels? Please explain how the name came about.

The name was created for social networking and comes from the term Pixelismofotografico; a chaotic method for new creations, which is a technique I use for my work, developed from a set of programs and ideas intertwined so that through the destruction of an image arises a new aesthetic.

During the day you work in a bank. How does that environment influence your artwork? Would you be doing different kind of art if you were, for example, a mailman?

No, I do not think my work has helped me. It just gives me a broader view of life and the ephemeral nature of money and its impact on human beings, which is sometimes dehumanizing and insensitive, like during an economic crash, when there is no regard for the fellow citizen. I will entertain the idea of being a postman. That would be more in touch with people and nature. Thanks for the idea Drew.

You are from and live in Argentina. What influence does that have on what you do?

Argentina is a large country, geographically speaking, with vast natural resources and with a lot of people who are intellectual, artistic and scientific. A critical analysis of my country would point to the fragility of memory; quickly fading without political and social continuity. There are huge social differences and little support to make lasting changes. History tells us that the dreams of the citizens are always out of reach and never realized. All of this influences my work; change and chaos.

You were born in 1962 so you really got to see computers take over the world from their infancy. Do you think, because of the fact that you speak Spanish that the idea of social networking is a more natural fit for you? What I mean by this is that Spanish is the national language in most countries of South America, and is spoken everywhere in Central America and in much of North America: Mexico and by a large population in the United States. all originated from Spain, so there is a European/international connection. Speaking a world language assumes a very different perspective than being from a small country with a local language.

Perhaps social networks will save mankind. Networks are the magical invention of the 21st century and for years to come, thanks to which, we can approach and establish human relationships like never before. You can immediately share a work of art; music, painting, or any other manifestation and have a wonderful and sensitive exchange between people online. Spanish is a great language because of the range of places it is spoken and its roots. Every day we are enriched by the history of the international Hispanic community and its great contributions to the world.

I have seen some of the pictures from your cyclops series. Do you take the original images or are they lifted from the Internet?

All images are taken by me at different times of my life. I save them to use later, for the right moment.

How has the history of the cyclops in Greek mythology and Homer's Odyssey been an influence on your work? Do you know if the beast was something people actually once feared or was it always a bit of fun, in a fantasy way?

It is referencing the mythological story of the cyclops, as Homer tells us in his masterful Odyssey, but my take on it is something much deeper. It is a desire to stop being a Cyclops Society and to control the dominant eye, the eye of selfishness. It’s the eye of the social insensibilities and the eye of dehumanizing policies. We should stop having one way of looking at things and adopt a broader view, which is more diverse and can comprehend all our differences as a society.

Personally, it's hard for me to look at these pictures. The cyclops is an odd image. On one hand, humans find symmetry naturally attractive in others, but the cyclops is a real mutant and the singularity of the lone eye references the orifices of the male and female reproductive organs and the anus. Although your images are clean and proportional, I read the "defacement" with a kind of repulsion at a gut level. The subject matter makes me feel a bit sick. Is this something you are open to, perhaps even trying for, or do you want everyone to find them pleasant to look at and "cool"?

Yes, they are strong images that have an impact on the senses, but I think art should grab someone's attention and not be overlooked. The viewer should observe, analyze and consume it. What I want is that each experience is a personal, critical analysis, which starts from the bottom of the senses; from the heart and with love for human beings. It is like looking at ourselves and asking, "I'm doing this for me and for others to leave behind a better world"

What other projects are you working on now and what are you most proud of with your achievements?

Right now I'm working on a series called "The Migrants of Dreams”. These pictures are torn from my subconscious to speak of all the people who, in one way or another, must leave their homeland. This migration is not only of the people but how their dreams migrate in order to achieve their desires.

Thank you for your time.

Migradores de Sueños: Una Conversación con Pixelis

Yo te he conocido virtualmente como Pixelis pero su verdadero nombre es Roberto. Es Pixelis sólo su identidad en línea o es un apodo que han adoptado para identificarse como un artista que manipula píxeles? Por favor, explicar cómo surgió el nombre.

Si el nombre nace para poder identificarme en las redes sociales que transito, a partir de haber creado el termino Pixelismofotografico, una manera de caos para una nueva creación,tecnica con la cual realizo mis obras, desarrollada con un conjunto de programas e ideas entrelazadas para que a partir de la destrucción de una imagen nasca una nueva obra estetica.

Durante el día se trabaja en un banco. ¿Cómo es que el medio ambiente influyen en su obra de arte? ¿Estaría haciendo diferentes tipos de arte, si fuera usted, por ejemplo, un cartero?

No, creo que no, mi trabajo solo me ha ayudado a tener una mirada mas amplia de la vida y lo efimero del dinero y sus consecuencias sobre los seres humanos, a veces deshumanizados e insensibles, tras el afan descontrolado del dinero sin mirar a su alrededor a sus semejantes.Y la idea de cartero me gusta la analizare, estaria mas en contacto con la gente y la naturaleza, gracias por la idea Andrés.

Eres y vivir en Argentina. ¿Qué influencia tiene eso en lo que haces?

La Argentina es un gran pais, geográficamente hablando, con grandes riquezas naturales, con un gran capital humano desde lo intelectual, artistico y cientifico. El analisis critico sobre mi pais, es la fragilidad de la memoria, los echos ocurren velozmente, y sin una continuidad política y social, con grandes diferencias sociales, sobre todo con la falta de una seguridad juridica que respalde los actos de gobierno, a lo largo de la historia, es por ello que lo mas estable es el cambio continuo, de acciones sociales alejadas de los sueños de la gente, todo eso influye en forma determinante sobre mi obra, el cambio, el caos.

Usted nació en el año 1962 por lo que realmente tiene que ver ordenadores dominar el mundo desde su infancia. ¿Cree usted que, por el hecho de que hablan español que la idea de las redes sociales es una forma más natural para usted? Lo que quiero decir con esto es que el español es la lengua nacional en la mayoría de los países de América del Sur, y es hablado en todas partes de América Central y en gran parte de América del Norte: México y por una gran población en los Estados Unidos...Y todo se originó en España, por lo que es un europeo/conexión internacional. Al hablar un idioma mundial supone una perspectiva muy diferente a ser de un país pequeño con una lengua local.

Las redes sociales salvaran al ser humano. Las redes son el invento magico del siglo 21 y de los años por venir, gracias a ello los seres humanos, nos hemos acercado y se van afianzando las relaciones humanas en forma mas vertiginosa y solidaria, hoy uno puede compartir una obras de arte, sea música,pintura,o cualquier otra manisfestacion al instante de una forma maravillosa y sensible entre los internautas. El idioma español es un gran idioma por su diversidad de lugares y sus raices, atravez de el se conoce y nos enriquecemos diariamente de la historia de la humanidad hispana en el mundo y sus grandes aportes al mundo.

He visto algunas de las imágenes de la serie de cíclope. ¿Toma usted las imágenes originales o se levantaron de Internet?

Todas las imagenes son tomadas por mi, en diferentes momentos de mi vida, que voy guardando para luego utilizar en el instante preciso.

¿Cómo ha sido la historia del cíclope de la mitología griega y la Odisea de Homero sido una influencia en su trabajo? ¿Sabes si la bestia era algo que la gente realmente se temía o fue siempre un poco de diversión, de una manera fantasía?

La historia mitologicas de los Ciclopes, ya es conocida, por lo que nos cuenta Homero en su magistral Odisea.Pero mi concepto es algo mas profundo, es un deseo que dejemos de ser una Sociedad Ciclope, o sea que dejemos de mirar con un solo ojo, con el ojo del egoismo, con el ojo de la insesibilidad social, con el ojo de la política deshumanizante, que dejemos de tener una sola mirada, la nuestra, la propia la que nos conviene, sino poseer una mirada mas amplia mas diversa donde todos estemos abarcados con todas nuestra diferencias como sociedad.

Personalmente, es difícil para mí ver estas imágenes. El cíclope es una imagen extraña. Por un lado, los seres humanos encontramos la simetría natural atractivo que en otros, pero el cíclope es una singularidad real y el mutante de las referencias del ojo único de los orificios de los órganos reproductores masculino y femenino y el ano. Aunque las imágenes son limpias y proporcional, he leído la "desfiguración" con una especie de repulsión en un nivel visceral. El tema me hace sentir un poco enfermo. Es esto algo que usted está abierto a, tal vez tratando de, o quiere que cada uno encuentre su agradable a la vista y "cool"?

Si, son imagenes fuertes, que impactan a los sentidos, pero creo que la obra de arte debe ser eso, una forma de llamar la atención del observador que no pase desapercibida ante la mirada, la critica del que la observa, la analiza, y la consume.Lo que pretendo es que cada uno busque su analisis critico personal, que la transite, que la recorra desde lo mas profundo de los sentido, desde el corazón y el amor a los seres humanos, es como mirarnos a nosotros mismos y preguntarnos, “ que estoy haciendo por mi y para los demas para dejar un mundo mejor”.

¿Qué otros proyectos estás trabajando ahora y lo que está más orgulloso de tus logros?

Acutalmete estoy trabajando sobre una serie que denomine “Migradores de Sueños,no solo mueren y migran las personas también en los sueños “.Se trata de imagenes arrancadas de mi subconsciente para hablar de todos aquellos pueblos o habitantes, que de una forma u otra deben dejar su tierra natal, esa migración que no solo es de personas, también los sueños migran, para poder lograr su deseo.

Gracias por su tiempo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Leaves of Brass: An Interview with Kirk Maxson

Kirk Maxson is an artist I met in the late 1980s. We were friends at school in that time and roommates for a summer...we were even in a quirky instrumental band together, The Galatian Carpet Service, which was described as orphan folk music. Kirk was always ahead of me; a year in school and light years in ideas. What he could do with a pair of scissors and any material always blew me away. Originally from Oregon, Kirk has been in California for more than two decades and in San Francisco most of that time.The following is an interview conducted via email:

First of all, I have to say I wish I could have this interview in person. It's been ten years since we last saw each other.

A few weeks ago I schlepped 50 blocks up to 200 Lex to see your Mallow. It was well worth the scorching summer trek. I was surprised by how much it reminded me of the very first thing I saw by you in the late '80s, which was the wall mural you made from the old dictionary etchings. The materials have changed to mallow and wild geraniums, but you handled the drawings just as delicately. The connection is that both the mural and Mallow are wall pieces and they are also roughly the same size and have the same swarming shape. I love how Mallow builds out from the wall. Do you see the similarities and is there a reason for that?

I didn't realize the similarities, it's been a long time since I thought about all of the portraits in Isla Vista. The etching portraits morphed into that shape slowly, I think I was adding to it for several months, while the mallow was assembled in a day. I've made patches of weed in rectangular shapes: the mallow and geraniums were collected around the city from patches of rectangular dirt surrounded by concrete. Although, sometimes the patches of weeds don't fill up the rectangle and make a more organic shape.

All the leaves looked like they were in perfect shape. I could not tell if they were real, but gilded, or made of foil. Can you explain the preservation, gilding and installation processes or is that a secret recipe you will carry to your grave?

I collect plants that grow around my neighborhood; plants that are adapted to city living. After a week of heavy rain, I walk around with a fork and zip lock bags. I dig up the plants that grow in vacant lots and untended parts of the city. I'm careful to get the entire plant. At home, I take apart each plant and tape each leaf to pages of a notebook and record the sequence of leaves and the length of stem. In this way I have a pattern of every leaf on the plant and I know which order they go and how long the stems are.

The mallow sends up two heart-shaped leaves when it sprouts, then round leaves with a serrated edge. As the mallow matures it sends up leaves that are closer to the shape of a maple leaf. The wild geraniums send up two kidney-shaped leaves when it sprouts, then the leaves have five round numbs, then the leaves start getting more nubs and become branched. The mallow and wild geraniums attracted me because each leaf is like a finger print. They are unique. I have collected hundreds of the same species of wild geraniums and mallow at different stages of it's growth, and at different locations. Both plants look different when they grow in full sun vs shade or when they are in a location or time of year when they receive more rain vs little rain.

Once I have a bunch of plants in the notebooks I go to Kinko's and copy them. I cover the copies with clear packing tape and cut out all the leaf shapes with a pair of scissors. Each leaf is labeled with the page number of the notebook it came from, that way I can look back at the notebooks when I want to reassemble the plants. I then trace the patterns onto sheet metal. The clear packing tape makes the copies strong for the tracing step. I then use an inkless ballpoint pen to draw on the veins. The ballpoint pen rolls across soft brass sheet metal, leaving behind a line of depression without scratching the metal. I then size the brass with an clear oil size and wait an hour for the size to reach the right stickiness. I sprinkle metallic powders over the brass. I use all different shades of gold and some super sparkle and I tint the oil size with red and green to give subtle shifts of color.

Installation: The piece is a moment in time. There's been several weeks of heavy rain, seeds in a patch of dirt in the city that had been sprayed with weed killer or burned so there are no plants to compete with. It's a race: the mallow and the geranium seeds sprout at the same time but the mallow sends up larger leafs and can reach six feet in height. The wild geraniums have tiny leafs and will reach a maximum height of a foot in a half. The Mallow is crowding out the geraniums and eventually will block out the sun from the wild geraniums.
I had already installed the piece so I knew the shape for New York. I outlined the shape on the wall with low-tack blue tape. I knew I wanted the tallest weeds in the middle and heavy with mallow on the right and thicker with the wild geraniums on the left.

Our friend, Michael, took a picture of us on the evening of a wig party in the early '90s in Isla Vista. I had wired up a real wig and attached it with a turban. You had a Medusa-like newspaper and wire wig, which I believe was part of the life-sized newspaper man you made, which sat in our backyard. On the back of the picture I kept, I wrote that you switched wigs and had been wearing a wig made out of geraniums earlier in the day. Have geraniums been in your work all this time? Why did you first start using them?

That was the first experiment with geraniums. I think the geranium wig started to wilt. I think that's why I moved on to newspaper. Or maybe the geraniums were more of a day look.

The last time I saw you was in San Francisco. You were making metal flower sculptures and arrangements. Do you still make those or was that just a step which led to works such as Mallow?

I haven't made the aluminum flower heads in awhile. I guess I have moved on, although I did recently make a gold crown made up of hundred of tiny leaves and two different kinds of flowers, which brings me back to the geranium wig. And my friend Kiddie recently performed with one of my aluminum flowers glued to the side of her head. It's posted on youtube >>> click here.

I see you have recently posted photographs that you convert into flurries of butterflies, which have a nice three-dimensional collage look. You also posted one of wolfish creatures in a diorama, which I really liked. What inspired these?

The butterfly piece, Bookworm, is made of books that have been important to me throughout my life. It starts with books I had when I was a child, Squirrel Nutkin, by Beatrix Potter (and the first Nutkin I bought), a photo book on the architect Gaudi; and my parents' books, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which was my mother's, and books on Frank Lloyd Wright, my father's; and books my brother and I both read by Frank Herbert, and Ray Bradbury. Then the installation gets more adult and there are butterflies from Querelle of Brest, by Jean Genet, Tom of Finland butterflies and butterflies of Trannies.

The hyenas are a return to work I did in college. I have cut out hundred of animals out of paper from guide books. I'm attracted to science illustrations; animals that are artwork, not photographs. I think it fits nicely with the metal plants, paper insects, and paper animals set in artificial environments and photographed.

We were both Ann Hamilton students at UC Santa Barbara in the late '80s, early '90s. I think she had a lot of influence on your work, more so than mine, although I was probably more enraptured by her. Is that fair to say?

I think she did have a huge influence on me. I sat in her tub of ash in the Santa Barbra art museum, behind me was a wall of bugs pinned to the wall. A lot of her work back then involved animals insects and wall surfaces. But I don't recall her working with plants.

What else have you been up to? Is drag still a big part of your life (or at least weekends) and how does that kind of performance enter your work?

I haven't done drag in long time. Whoops that's not entirely true. When Trannyshack closed down Heklina had a month of recreating the history of the club and Kay White came out to perform. She wore a skirt suit and carried a cane. It had been so long since I had been on stage I forgot how time slows down and how you can't hear your music when your on stage. Because it was the end the of club and it was so crowded, you couldn't get a drink (the bartenders were more interested in what was happening on stage than the customers) which was a good thing because there's no way, if I had a drink, that I could have ever made it to the bathroom and back. Recently I've been taking photos of Kay White and Mr Nancy and cutting them up into butterflies and moths.

Speaking of of my favorite memories of your creativity was how you dealt with those itsy cockroaches in the apartment you were living in when I first met you. You rigged your cabinets with lights that turned on when the cabinet doors were closed. You also sprinkled gravel on your carpet every morning and then vacuumed, hoping the little rocks would hit the roaches on the head when they were sucked up together.

That infestation was so bad we could see tiny cockroaches in the display of the stereo behind the plastic. I would wake up in the middle of the night and turn on the lights and vacuum all of the cockroaches I could find with the vacuum cleaner. I think that fight was futile. Eventually, the landlords tainted and sprayed the whole building to kill termites and all the cockroaches disappeared.

I see you read my review of Prag. It was so weird how the plot seemed to need a gay turn to make it more interesting or shocking. It was really silly because the last place I would expect a gay Dane would go in the mid 1980s is to an even more repressive and intolerant society, especially behind the Iron Curtain. It made no sense. Why not go to Berlin, Paris, New York or San Francisco? But what was most offensive was that the father's coming out was all around accepted as the reason why he needed to abandon his son, as if gay men cannot be good fathers. Am I barking up the wrong tree?

No, I moved to San Francisco. I wouldn't have moved to the former Eastern Bloc. More and more gay men in San Francisco are becoming fathers.

Even though this is an interview, I feel like I am asking you too many questions? Is this a question you would like to ask me?

It doesn't feel like too many questions. Have you continued making graphic novels? I remember your typewriter piano, have you made any more musical instruments?

I will make the third of the Infinous Space series in 2015. I stopped doing the graphic novels because they consume time I do not have anymore and I really have to be removed from society at a certain level to focus on them, which I no longer am. But...I am committed to making one from this series every 12 years. I should, however, make more graphic novels/comics like these because this cartoon style is perhaps my most authentic voice and my first medium. I still love reading my old cartoons...I love how my drawing and writing share the same space. Sometimes (in other pursuits) I take myself too seriously and it does not do me any good.

As for the typewriter piano, which I called the Typar, and the other instruments I made: the hip banjo, the stand-up accordion and the musical chime box gourds....I have not made others. I miss those projects. I started them because I was not a good student of music when I was younger and I did not grow up in a musical household so there was always a distance from musical instruments for me. When I wanted to play music in college, I found it easier to make the instruments first and determine their sounds and establish how they should be played. The Typar was probably the best example of this. I used an old, mechanical typewriter, built a long casing for it (which looked like a small coffin that I carried on my back) and strung it with guitar strings, which were amplified. It sounded a bit like a sitar, which was the sound I was going for, but it used QWERTY typewriter keys. It was great because you could play it by typing either what was on your mind or from a text.

Thank you for your time. I hope to see you soon in New York or San Francisco!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bags Under My Eyes

by Drew Martin

In my late twenties I had a horrible falling out with my veganism and I rebounded by flirting with leather products. I bought a leather jacket a couple hours before I flew away from Eastern Europe and two pairs of leather pants shortly after arriving in America. I do not know what I was thinking. Perhaps it was a kind of sacrificial ritual or a revenge on myself in some bizarre way. Or maybe it was just a hormonal blast, ending a reckless past. How does a former vegan deal with this? You justify it by telling yourself that the good native Americans relied on hides for clothing, bedding and shelter.

Once such things are in your possession, however, there arises another dilemma. To throw out these items would be wasteful so I thought I would make a project out of one of the pairs of pants. I have a bag problem. I need a handy bag but I don't want anything too big; just large enough to carry some food, a newspaper, a book and perhaps a my slim netbook. That leaves me considering a line of man purses (murses), which are way too weird for me because I am already peculiar enough looking.

I cut up the less expensive and thicker leather pants (by Gap) and used a paper retailer's bag, which is the perfect size, as my pattern. Then I glued together my form with Bish's Original Tear Mender: by far the best fabric and leather adhesive I have every used. It looks like watered down Elmer's Glue but it instantly binds materials and any excess easily rubs off.

There is a Russian cobbler I know, a real leather craftsman, who is down the street from me. Last Friday, I took my bag to him at his shoe and watch repair store in the Village and asked him to sew the edges and rivet the corners and handles. I also made a woman's bag from the upper part of the pants and requested that he finish off the stitches for me as well because he has the heavy-duty sewing machines.

I went to pick up both bags today and was shocked. I had envisioned my murse turning out manly and rugged with his final touches but it was way too feminine, which two ladies quickly and unapologetically told me.

At first I felt defeated, but in the end, I realized I had created two unique bags, which simply were not for me. I added one of my belts, a reddish one with a brass buckle, to the one with my 32" waist for the opening. As for my murse, I am determined to keep tinkering until I make the perfect tote, which I can proudly walk down the street with.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"The People Ride in a Hole in the Ground"

by Drew Martin

If I were to ask you if the arts and the subway system have in anything in common, you would probably think of some connection (no pun intended). Perhaps the musicians and other buskers would come to mind; performing for the waiting and hurried commuters; or the less-but-more-visible graffiti artists, such as Keith Haring (R.I.P., below-left), of the underworld.

Trained and collaborative artists and craftsmen have been part of subway station design from the very start. New York has its share of new and old tile mosaics, while Moscow (above) is over-the-top and the most spectacular of all systems with classical statues, chandeliers, ornamentation and wall paintings in many stations.

The subway system has also set the stage for too-many-to-count cinematic action scenes, including the unyielding Agent and Neo fights in The Matrix. The 2003 Hungarian film, Kontroll (Control), takes place entirely in the Budapest metro.

The very first article I ever wrote and published was for the Prognosis in 1992. I had been a cartoonist up to that point and was not sure how to approach journalistic writing. I proposed an article about the Prague metro so I decided to visit every station, where I would get out, note distinguishing features, go above ground and take some pictures, then descend to continue on my journey.

I was only 22 and new to Czechoslovakia. The language was still a mystery to me so the newspaper had arranged for an interpreter to accompany me on an official interview. I was, however, stood up by the young, slinky Czech polyglot who decided last minute to join another reporter to cover the opening of a tattoo parlour, which was a big deal for the young Bohemians. So I went alone and interviewed an engineer from the Prague metro.

I was happy to hear that one of the senior staff back at the paper thought it was the best article of the year. Looking back at it, I am surprised by its thoroughness. I even had a chart of the former communist station names, with their post-Velvet Revolution new names and their meanings. (click on it to read, right)

Metro is the most common term used around the world. Alternatively, London's Underground ("the Tube") is the oldest and largest in the world. New York does not have a metro; it is a subway. The difference is that a metro has a sense of order and planning, the way the Russian's fabulously designed and made the system in Prague.

The New York City subway system is a labyrinth, which has less to do with engineering than it does with blind-mammalian burrowing and spelunking. As a map, it looks as if someone was trying to untangle a mass of knotted yarns and frustratingly started cutting at unyielding loops, then tossed the whole mess on the ground. It is a fine example of the origins of drawing; converting random experiences into abstract movements.

As for what to call the vehicles within the can call them the subway in, "I rode the subway this morning." or "I took the subway instead of a cab." If you want to be specific to a segment you can say subway car as in, "The crazy man got on the subway and everyone move to the next car."

The difference between a train and a subway is that the former system only requires a locomotive engine to push or pull a series of free-wheeling sections. The subway is quite different and more sophisticated and complicated. Each car is powered to pull its own weight. This is known as the Sprague System, named after its inventor Frank Sprague, the "father of electric traction", who pioneered the idea of multiple unit train controls and the spring-loaded trolley pole for collecting electricity from overhead wires. The system was first introduced in Richmond, VA at the start of 1888 and could run more than 30 trolley cars at the same time. This was a huge advancement, which made the subway system possible because he resolved previous issues of transmitting an electric current from a stationary power source to a moving vehicle and by introducing the first electric motor that ran at a constant speed under various loads.

Sprague had previously been an associate of Thomas Edison and introduced mathematical methods to the inventor's costly trial-and-error experiments. In 1884, he founded the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company. One of his sons, Robert, established the Sprague Electric Company, which became a leading manufacturer of electronic components. In 1942, the Company bought a former textile mill in North Adams, Massachusetts and converted it into an electronics plant. The 13-acre campus is now MASS MoCA (right), the largest center for contemporary arts in the United States.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Museum on T.V.

by Drew Martin

I have very good memories of plastic. Most of my toys (when I was growing up in the 1970's) were made out of the cool, smooth material. I still remember the back-from-the-dead, zombie-green eyes of the mummy doll I got in an elementary school Halloween grab-bag. We drove down to Virginia later that same day. My mother would hold him in our four-door-sedan's opened glove compartment so he could bask in the light. A minute later, she would hand him to me in the back seat so we could stare at each other to pass the time on that long, black, night ride: his glow-in-the-dark eyes beaming, then fading until the next charge in his makeshift solarium.

My Pulsar toy (pictured left - Mattel's answer to Kenner's Six Million Dollar Man line) had exposed organs under his clear-plastic chest. I would press in his back panel and see his heart and lungs pump with life. Red blood would circulate through clear tubing for arteries. His tan, muscular face was hinged to the top of his head. Inside, there was a place to put different mission disks on his brain (and this was years before cd's).

I loved how family excursions ended with child-appeasing plastic souvenirs, such as the pens that were filled with a liquid on one end and when you tipped them, some scene came to life: perhaps a masted boat would sail into Mystic Seaport. It was all incredibly low-tech but it seemed amazing at that time and young age.

I recently found a gift-shop knick-knack from the Franklin Mineral Museum in Franklin, NJ. The region is home to the world's most famous Zinc mines and is considered "the Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World." The Zinc deposits have produced 357 different mineral species, starting with the discovery of Zincite in 1810 by Dr. Archibald Bruce.

The souvenir from the display museum is a tiny plastic television set, modern for that time it was made (in Hong Kong) in the 1970s. It has an inch and a half wide screen, which serves only as a translucent layer to allow light inside. On the back panel, is a small peep hole. When you look into it and face the screen toward a light source, you see a little transparency. Pressing a button on the bottom, rotates eight black and white images. The first slide is of the exterior of the Franklin Mineral Museum followed by images of Franklinite, a Zinc Miner, the Fluorescent Display, two shots of the Mine Replica, the Gift Shop and one of the many Mineral Displays.

Under the peep hole are gold letters that read, Franklin Mineral Museum on T.V. It is the perfect little memento and it intrigued me so much I returned to the museum today, about 35 years later, to see if it really existed. beyond my adolescent memories.

Despite its small size and an off-the-beaten-path location, the museum has thousands of specimens and the most comprehensive mineral collection on public display in the world. It also includes artifacts of the native Americans, fossils, petrified wood, a mine replica and a three-acre mineral gathering field. The wow feature is a special 33-foot-long fluorescent display room. With the lights on, the rocks behind viewing windows are nothing special but when the light is switched to black lighting, the rocks glow in amazing and mind-boggling colors and abstract patterns. It all seemed bigger and better than in my youth, which is not often the case.

The staff was both amused and impressed by my little plastic T.V. keepsake. What I like most about it is how a couple ounces of plastic can achieve so much. Every medium has its ability. Paper is typically used to store information while wood and metal, more often than not, simulate the form of something. In this object, plastic does many things: it simulates form but is also dense with information stored in the eight unique images, which summarize (ever so economically) the museum experience.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Ich bin ein New Yorker"

by Drew Martin

When Hillary Clinton moved to New York State in 2000 and promptly boasted she was a New Yorker, the island of Manhattan recoiled in horror. It was not a supportive and metaphoric Ich bin ein Berliner kind of statement; she desperately wanted the label.

Since this is a term of great regional complexity, I will attempt to explain it here for an international audience. In the context of this site, it is a matter of language and communication. Additionally, for the art world, it is essential to know when visiting the Big Apple for all the great museums and galleries it has to offer.

Perhaps you have heard that if you live continuously in New York for ten years, you earn the right to call yourself a New Yorker. This is what people from Ohio tell people from Missouri.

Here are some guidelines for the misinformed:

1. New Yorker applies only to a resident of Manhattan. If you are from the other boroughs but currently live in Manhattan, the term still applies. If, however, you live in the other boroughs then technically you are a New Yorker, especially when you pay taxes, but you would not really call yourself a New Yorker. The appropriate thing to say is that you are from the Bronx, Brooklyn, etc. To be from, for example, Staten Island and say you are a New Yorker is entirely misleading (practically as well as culturally). There are even parts of Manhattan that would raise eyebrows in association with the term: Battery Park City, Roosevelt Island and anything north of the George Washington Bridge. Think of it this way...if you make a reservation for a New York Hotel, expecting to be in the Times Square Area or the Village but end up in Queens, you wouldn't be too thrilled and would most likely make the argument that such a place is not really "New York".

2. You can never be a New Yorker to a true New Yorker unless you were born and raised there. This is also true to people in the surrounding areas: Northern New Jersey, Southern Connecticut and the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania who know the city even better than most long-time residents. So, if you moved from Kansas in 2000, you are not, and never will be a New Yorker to such New York savvy people.

3. If you are gay and grew up ostracized in some crummy small town and then move to New York, you are a New Yorker on the first day you wake up in the city. You made it! (This overrides conflicting disqualifications such as being from New Jersey or Florida)

4. Likewise, if you are from a thuggish, oppressive country where you might get killed for creatively expressing yourself, you are a New Yorker as soon as you embrace the very thought of it, which may even be before you arrive. The reason for this (which also applies if you are gay) is simple: you were mistakenly born in the wrong place. Come home to NYC!

5. If you are from New Jersey and grew up telling people you met in other states and countries that you were from the New York area, then you can remain that impostor New Yorker as long you don't tell a soul. Also, if Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi come on the radio make sure you scowl and request to change the station. If you really detest them, you might also naturally qualify under the "born in the wrong place" status.

6. If you are from abroad and spent the majority of your life in New York but still complain about how the bread back home is better and how you cannot get the soap you like, then all bets are off. Go thee to JFK and catch the next flight home (if for any other reason to see how much it has changed).

7. If you think language plays into this, it doesn't. If you don't speak English...who cares?! My Cantonese-only barbers in Chinatown are definitely New Yorkers.

8. If you never set foot on the East Coast, couldn't ride a subway even if your life depended on it and never had a real bagel (which do not exist outside the tri-state area) but got a cartoon published in The New Yorker, are a New Yorker.

9. If you grew up in New Jersey and had a knife held to your stomach while you got mugged in 42nd Street, when it used to be a dangerous place, you are still not a New Yorker but have a bit more street cred and can laugh a little harder when you meet a self-proclaimed New Yorker, who moved to the Big Apple because she (typically) liked the television show Friends.

10. If, however, you were mugged at knife/gun-point, had bedbugs (at least once), currently have cockroaches but don't think it is a big deal, have seen semi-homeless guys killing pigeons for dog meat and live in an area where dogs are constantly defecating on your sidewalk and it doesn't bother you and you would never trade this for anything in the world, then sure...I guess you are a New Yorker.

One might question the fact that I am from New Jersey (although, I was actually born in California) and what would qualify me to make such a preposterous set of rules since I can never be a New Yorker. My only answer is that like the New York skyline, people in New Jersey have the best view.

(The "I heart NY" painting on top of post is by Drew Martin © 2010)

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Naked Truth

by Drew Martin

When I was a fresh, young teenager, perhaps still a tween, my brother and I went to a camping expo with one of his friends where, unbeknownst to my parents, knives and guns were pedaled by the kind of men who stockpile supplies in the woods; waiting for the end of civilization. I bought a sleek, black BB hand gun that looked like something James Bond would pack.

Back at home, I was sitting on my bedroom floor, admiring the ebony pistol, imagining some mission where it would be my trusty piece, when my mother suddenly entered my room. I quickly stuffed it under my bed so all she saw was the movement of guilty concealment. She became upset but did not question me what it was. She grabbed me by the hand and marched me into her study, sat me on her soft, blue tattered couch and pulled out a few oversized and heavy art books from her shelves. She opened them up to nudes, dropped them in my lap and said. "If you want to look at naked women, look at the works of these great artists!"

She left the room, while I stared, wide-eyed at the oily beauties by Goya, Dalí and Picasso. I do not ever remember looking closely at an image of a naked woman before these. Sure, there were the occasional porn magazines hidden in the older neighborhood boys' forts in the woods but those were protected harems of the alpha males and I was simply the adolescent chimp on the periphery.

My mother had assumed I was looking at such smutty material when she barged in, but the idea had not even crossed my mind at that early age to actually possess such contraband. Needless to say, I have a very interesting mother and had a unique perspective of the human form early on, especially since I gravitated to surreal eroticism of Dalí.

The incident seemed to be part of a pattern in my life. A year or two earlier, in middle school, I was sitting at a big square table in art class with some other boys. One of them, who is now a doctor, drew a very graphic picture of a naked woman. It was not a good drawing but it had all the juicy parts. The little-lady art teacher, who had probably not even seen herself naked in several years, caught him and crumpled up the sheet in her bony-wrinkled hands. Her knuckles were white.

With disgust, she said to him and the others lads present that they were not worthy of drawing the naked female body. Then she turned to me and added, in a sweet voice, that I, the little natural artist, could render whatever I fancied because I would show respect and taste. It was an awkward and titillating moment at a time when I was only thinking about drawing cats and penguins and my reprimanded peers gave me looks, like "Well, go ahead, draw something for us to look at!"

Although my upbringing had a lot to do with my pioneering feminist mother, I was also saved the initiation of cat-calling, whistling-up-women by a very decent father who always, and quietly, pointed me in the right direction, as he still does to this day. He has never said anything inappropriate about a woman in front of me.

A few years later, while I was still in high school, my mother signed me up for a life drawing class, which she thought was going to be of still life. She dropped me off at the Protestant-proportioned barn-building and then left, saying she would return at the end. By the time I got up to second floor and set up my newsprint pad, a roaring Harley Davidson motorcycle pulled up outside. Minutes later, a leather-clad-biker-chick appeared. She stripped down rather abruptly and posed nude in various poses for the long session. She was the first naked woman I had seen in the flesh and she was kind of tough: not pleasant like Goya's Maja or Dalí's Gala.

Looking back at my sketches and studies, I see what my art teacher meant: what I drew was softer than the model's reality and transcended her human flaws. My mother was a little shocked when she asked to review my work, expecting to see fruits and crockery, but my parents allowed me finish the course.

The female nude and the male gaze are controversial and continuing themes in art. The human form and representation are loaded topics to begin with. Looking back on these experiences and how they made an impression on me, I would say more of this kind of educated exposure would be helpful to youths, especially in a culture where pornography is so much more accessible. That being said, I would save Schiele for a later age/lesson and probably dismiss Koons on this topic. The Greek sculptures are not a bad place to start.