Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thinking at a Walking Pace

by Drew Martin
In the early 1990's my friend's car broke down on a road trip in northern California, so we were stuck in Berkeley for a week while the engine was being fixed. I passed the days walking around. One morning, I came across a schizophrenic homeless man who was talking to a spaceship in the sky through a telephone receiver, cut at the cord. My thought at the time was not that the man was crazy but that one day people would be walking around talking into mobile phone devices, and this act which seemed absurd would be common.

There is a great interview in Inter
view (February 2013) with the sculptor Charles Ray, by the writer Will Self. Part of their conversation focuses on my prescient reaction to the man chatting with his mothership. Self writes,

I remember flying to Sweden in the '90s, before there were handsfree sets for cell phones in England. I landed in the airport in Stockholm and saw these middle-aged businessmen wandering around the terminal talking to themselves. I couldn't even see a cell phone. I thought, "This is schizophrenia. It's a form of electronically produced schizophrenia."

Ray and Self are big walkers. The first time I encountered Self was in an article (that I read while walking to another town) about how he flies into big cities and walks from the airport to the center, i.e. JFK airport to Times Square. Much of their interview is about walking. Self recalls a line from Rousseau's Reveries of the Solitary Walker, "We think at a walking pace." I like this a lot because there is movement to thought. Thought standing still is meditation. Thoughts racing, are just that. But our meandering thoughts do have a pace to them that share a tempo of a decent walk.

Pictured here is Sleeping Woman (2012) by Charles Ray.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

This Can't Be Love

by Drew Martin
I am in the middle of a major closet cleaning/reconfiguration in an attempt to restore my mini home gallery. I have piles of clothes everywhere, which include old leather jackets I will never wear again, and a stack of suits that never really fit me well in the first place.

In my grand vision of the universe, everything has a purpose so it is hard for me to throw something out without thinking about how it might fit into a future art project. Last time I tried to throw out an old suit it turned into my homeless self-portrait project.

Looking at a pile of my clothes brought back memories of the former Your Hit Parade star, Dorothy Collins (1926-1994).

When I was 10, we moved out of a tiny house in Montvale, New Jersey and into a new, bigger home across town. For a few years one of our immediate neighbors was Dorothy Collins and her third daughter, Melissa. Dorothy was born Marjorie Chandler, in Canada, and adopted her stage name in her teens. At that time she lived next door, she went by Holgate, after her second husband and father of Melissa, actor Ron Holgate, who she was divorcing at that time.

Dorothy was a bit eccentric. She lived in a beautiful old house and said there was a ghost in it that would open up the dishwasher door at night. We did not see her much but as young boys we liked her because her driveway had a roundabout, around which we would race our bicycles, and we all had a crush on her daughter.

The most memorable day at Dorothy's place was after her divorce when she decided to get rid of her ex-husband's clothes. She piled them all up on the part of the driveway that stretched between her house and some woods, soaked them in lighter fluid and lit them on fire. It was just her and every kid in the neighborhood, fascinated by this adult torching her past.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Lying Game

by Drew Martin
About fifteen years ago I went to a pow-wow of the Ramapough Mountain native Americans of the region that is now northern New Jersey. A speaker of the tribe complained about how people use the word believe in place of think, know or understand. He explained that to believe something is to have a belief in something divine or supernatural. A couple months ago I saw a comment online about Lance Armstrong, which read, I do not believe Armstrong but I believe in him. At first I understood this as, sure he doped, but I still believe in him as a man who overcame impossible challenges. But now, considering the tribesman’s comment, the word should not be split in such away.  You can know he is lying or think he is telling the truth but to believe him is to believe in him.

I am writing this while watching the first of the two-night broadcasts of the interview of Armstrong by Oprah Winfrey on He admits to doping. Everyone doped in that period of professional cycling, and everyone repeatedly lied about it. What interests me is that people want to believe in sports as a field where hard work and dedication alone win titles. That is a nice idea but professional athletes are essentially entertainers and they do whatever it takes to keep their edge.

What I find remarkable is our level of acceptance of lies across the arts and entertainment industry. Authors dedicate their lives to lying in fiction, and might even write under a pen name to hide his or her identity.  The Winfrey-related controversy of A Million Little Pieces, was a situation when the author, James Frey, was lambasted for successfully passing off this book as a memoir after shopping it around as a novel that none of the publishing companies wanted. Random House published it when they thought it was real, after turning it down as a work of fiction.
Movies are a lot like literature. They are typically reel to reel fiction. I just rewatched Good Will Hunting the other night, which received an Academy Award for best screenplay. Matt Damon cowrote it and played the main character; an orphan from the wrong side of Boston who works manual jobs but is a mathematical genius, far from the actual truth on both accounts. So why is an open lie like this applauded? It is that a closed lie makes us feel duped, while an open lie permits us to feel like we are in on it?

In music, the rock world is ripe with stylized personalities like Bjork, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Prince, and David Bowie (and his Ziggy Stardust). These are performers and when they are not performing there is an assumption that they have a certain lifestyle but are not expected to live a life as if it is a musical. Their fiction is regulated in song and video.

The artworld is probably the most interesting case of lying because its audience wants the artist to live by the myth. There is no director calling Cut! or end of the concert, or Terry Gross Fresh Air interview about how he or she got inside the head of the character. Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol are probably the two most saturated in this way. Dalí was so consumed by his artist nature that he considered artists who used drugs for creativity as cheats.

Pablo Picasso said that art is a lie that makes us realize the truth. And Francis Bacon said that the job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery. He also said that art is the lie that returns us to life more violenty. These artists believed in the lying of art. This is quite different now. There are artists who are showman, such as Damien Hirst, who produce their work not from their heart but to simply bring a product to market, or like Maurizio Cattelan who see art as some extended Duchampian joke. There are also a handful of artists like Banksy who have completely turned themselves into a character, which he extended into the farcical artist Thierry Guetta in Exit Through The Giftshop.
A couple who are both in the arts, sent me this TED Talk link to Shea Hembrey: How I Became 100 Artists. Hembrey is a contemporary artist who grew up in rural Arkansas, and had never stepped foot into an art museum until he was in his 20s. But his imagination flourished and served him well when he decided to not only create his own biennale, but to dream up the 100 participatory artists and to create their work. For example, the artist collective, The Sober Dobermans, did a piece to comment on how we are over-cottled in today's society, so they affixed thousands of little "Warning: SHARP" notices to the barbs of an extensive barbwire fence.

Hembrey's open-lie art projects are fun and witty, but having done similar projects, I would have to say they are not soul-fulfilling because they are not real. At least, they do not feel real and there is that gnawing feeling of lying in some regard.
The lie that Picasso and Bacon spoke about is very different. It is not about a quick hoax but about the fundamentals of what we understand about art.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Addo-bis: A Commuity for Artists, Gallerists, and Collectors

Check out the newly launched Addo-bis, a site dedicated to fostering partnerships between everyone engaged in the creative process: artists, collectors, galleries, and businesses.

Each month Addo-bis will not only feature a new artist, but will infuse the site with his or her work. I really like this concept and it is true to the philosophy of the founders, Jessica Browdy and Joy Harris.

I contributed an article to the new site, Owl Witness, which is about how we navigate space in art.

The image for the splash page is a photo by Alex Prager, who is featured throughout the new site. As explained on Addo-bis:

If I had to choose a favorite photographer right now, it would be Alex Prager. Why? This self-taught LA photographer understands how to create ambiguous narrative.

Ambiguous narrative is a structure where an artist sets up a scene with enough detail so an observer can begin pulling together a story but not enough information for a definitive conclusion to be made. For ambiguous narrative structure to work, an artist must lure a viewer into the work and hope that their imaginations run away with themselves. That interaction completes the work itself.  (read more)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

July in January

by Drew Martin
I recently watched two of Miranda July's films, Me You and Everyone We Know (2005), and The Future (2011). The great thing about her movies is that she comes to cinema as a performance and video artist, and has a sensibility in these films that you do not find elsewhere. In The Future, July plays a character who cheats on, and leaves her boyfriend. She moves in with an older man and his young daughter. An extra-large t-shirt (possibly a nightie she slept in with her boyfriend or one of his shirts) crawls across Los Angeles to find her, like a cat seeking displaced owners. It represents the shelter cat the young couple was supposed to adopt before it was euthanized, and her boyfriend. She crawls inside the shirt and performs a slow, mesmerizing dance, like she is intoxicated by its scent. Her faceless, armless body expresses her emotions. It is a fascinating scene and it ties back into her initial plan, to do 30 dances in 30 days and post them online. None of her performances pan out, not even after holing up in her apartment in order to concentrate on the dances. This scene yields a brilliant dance, which is born not out of determination but from the emotional experiences of her relationships. She dances alone. We witness it unnoticed, and then her lover interrupts the scene. The end of the dance is the end of their relationship, and she returns to her boyfriend. The Future, as with Me You and Everyone We Know is full of unique scenes and great lines. My favorite from The Future is a comment July makes to her boyfriend when contemplating her looks:

I wish I was just one notch prettier. I'm right on the edge, you know? Where it's up to each person to decide for themselves. I have to make my case with each new person.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Creating Reality by Andy Kaufman at Maccarone

If you are in New York this evening, I highly recommend attending the opening at Maccarone, On Creating Reality by Andy Kaufman.

January 12 - February 16, 2013
Opening Reception
Saturday January 12, 2013
5:00 - 8:00 PM

630 Greenwich Street, NY, NY
(between Morton and Leroy in the West Village)

This is one of my favorite spaces in New York and I like the shows the owner, Michelle Maccarone, has put on here. I just read an older interview with her in VICE magazine - still worth reading...

I got a sneak peek of the Kaufman show going up last night and it looks really great. The gallery is filled with white table showcases of mixed memorabilia. Here are two shots from the same case I took, Andy Kaufman Plays Carnegie Hall, 1979.

From their press release:

The show presents an extensive collection of ephemera and artifacts from Andy Kaufman's personal and professional life: photographs, correspondence, performance notation, scripts, props and costumes including the original Tony Clifton jacket, record collections, transcendental meditation materials, hand written drafts of his novel "The Huey Williams Story," hundreds of pieces of hate mail he received from women challenging him to wrestle, in addition to numerous personal effects. The exhibition will act as a portrait of an unclassifiable figure in American cultural history whose work has been seminal in the evolution of performance art, new media and relational aesthetics.

In lieu of explanatory text labels accompanying these materials, a rotating series of Kaufman's friends, family, and collaborators will be physically present in the exhibition at all times, for all 25 days that the exhibition is on view, representing the diverse range of relationships, which span Kaufman's life, work, and interests. A central table and chairs within the gallery space will allow these guests to interact and talk with visitors, offering the opportunity for intimate and unscripted conversations about Kaufman with those that knew him, a rare opportunity to engage with primary sources of this particular history.  (read full press release on the Maccarone site)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hello Lonesome

by Drew Martin 
Following my take on Obselidia a couple days ago in my review Love is Obsolete, which was a bit of a rant against “love propaganda,” is this review of Hello Lonesome. Equally quirky, Hello Lonesome has a broader scope of relationships and truer meaning of loneliness. While the main character of Obselidia, George, was not actually lonely until his state of being alone was rubbed in his face, the five main characters in Hello Lonesome are alone and incomplete. They are all looking for a connection to someone else, and we see how this can be satisfied on many different levels.

For a manly voice-over artist, whose wife and daughter have left him, it is hang time with a young delivery man. For an elderly widow and her middle-aged divorced neighbor it is about maintaining the normalcy of a relationship through grocery shopping, sharing a bottle of wine and snuggling in pajamas. For a guy with a crappy job and a dumpy apartment it is fulfilled not by scoring with a professional Manhattanite with a swanky apartment, but in marrying her after she tells him she is terminally ill, and being her care taker as she dies of stage four breast cancer.

Love in Hello Lonesome  is neither obsolete nor is it the center of the universe. It is expressed in simple gestures that boomerang back with more momentum. The voice-over artist teaches the delivery man to shoot his pump-action shotgun. In one of the final scenes, the voice-over artist is stuck in his soundproof, airtight recording booth at home. The delivery man comes to his rescue, shooting the lock off the door to free him. 

I liked this film as soon as I saw the opening credits. The look is a kind of augmented reality; all the text was laid into real pictures, which were given a short range of depth by blurring out the edges. The effect of block letters, with shadows that match their surroundings is playful and it makes all the real-world environments look like miniature sets.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Part of Virginia

by Drew Martin
I grew up with this map. The title of it is, A Part of Virginia showing Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, with historical  events from 1585 - 1781. The start date is entered on the map underneath the curve of the text, Chesapeake Bay....First explored with a view to colonization by Ralph Lane, 1585-1586. The end date is slightly below that, to the right - The French Fleet, Comte de Grasse blocking the Channel September 5, 1781.

This print of the original hand-colored map was designed by Robert Ball in 1939 for the Williamsburg restoration. It is the kind of image that Edward Tufte, the information graphics guru, would love because is functions as a detailed map of the York River and the James River, and it is embedded with 200 years of history, including battles and massacres as well as the establishment of settlements and the burning of towns.

Captain John Smith is all over the map for different entries: John Smith trading with Indians May 1607...John Smith captured by Indians May 1607...Smith led captive through a great part the Tidewater region and finally brought before King Powhatan...his life save by Pocahontas January 5, 1608.

My first relative to America came over from London in 1619 and was one of 347 English colonists killed during the fist major Indian massacre. This is noted here too: The great Indian Massacre March 16 1622. He was on the Berkeley Hundred, shown here on the top of the smaller image.

When I was a boy, the James River on this map looked like a dragon. The Jamestown settlement (directly above the flags of the British artillery) looked like an eye next to a smiling, open mouth. All the creeks down river looked like Tyrannosaurus Rex-style arms.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Drawn to the Fantasies of Toshio Saeki

by Drew Martin
Four months ago I posted EAST vs. WEST: The Graffiti Paintings of Gajin Fujita, which began:

I went to Japan several years ago looking for unique illustrations. What I found was a lot of run-of-the-mill anime. What I was seeking was actually much closer to home, in America.

This is not entirely true. When I was in Japan, I was on the lookout for unique illustrations and most of what I saw was run-of-the-mill anime, which ranged from manga for kids to adult porn. But one night I was looking over boxes of used books in an open-air book market. I found one beat up book with very bizarre drawings. They had strong lines and a limited palette of flat colors. The content was pretty raunchy but they were so interesting and surreal. I did not have any Yen on me so I tore out a few pages and stuffed them in my coat pocket. I kept them under wraps since then. I never tried to find out about the artist or his popularity. Last year, however, I saw someone’s posting of a similar piece, done by the same artist.

Toshio Saeki is the 67 year old creator of the strange world I had glimpsed. Saeki is known as Japan’s master of erotic and a great influence some of his country’s most known contemporary artists, including Aida Makoto and Takashi Murakami.

Saeki's paintings often feature men and women as well as demons, animals, corpses, and other creatures in various erotic or violent settings. His work has received warnings from the Japanese government, though it has never been officially banned.

A 2010 solo show of Toshio Saeki's drawings at the Minna Gallery in San Francisco, inspired the following comment from Fecal Face Dot Com ("a content-rich, comprehensive, multidisciplinary art and culture website supporting the art scene in San Francisco and beyond since 2000"):

In a wacky mixture of classical Japanese woodblock style and contemporary Hello Kitty kitsch, Japanese illustrator Toshio Saeki challenges just about every taboo you can think of, and a few you probably never even considered. Some might call Saeki's potpourri of extreme sexuality warped, but this skilled and inventive artist has the kind of following in Japan that comic-book genius R. Crumb inspired in this country during the seventies.

Saeki’s name came up again a couple days ago because, to my utter surprise, he was listed by the Huffington Post's 10 International Artists to Watch in 2013. Ironically, I just threw away my Saeki prints. I thought, these are not something I want anyone digging up in my closet when I am gone.

The Post shows a full version of the top image here and the following writeup:

WHO: Toshio Saeki, a Japanese artist who mixes traditional Eastern imagery with Otaku subject matter, to create vibrant and erotic ink drawings.

WHY: He is showcasing his first UK exhibition at the Print House Gallery... at the age of 67. The show will be on view March 8-31, 2013.

Saeki is one of the most fascinating artists I have ever encountered. He stirs up the feelings I had when I first saw the paintings of Salvador Dalí, as a kid, and also brings to mind Henry Darger's posthumously-discovered 15,145-page fantasy manuscript The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.

What I admire most about Saeki’s art is his total lack of inhibition. There is no holding back from his sexual fantasies and violence. He is completely free. I do not think I could create such work while I had living relatives.

I also like how Saeki makes use of his medium. He draws in a realistic manner and uses perspective but his consistent line weight and flat colors keep the drawings on the surface of the page, in your face. He takes you places that would be hard to follow in any other medium. With a lot of effects and a lot more effort you could probably recreate some of his images with photography and computer graphics but you would lose the human touch. Saeki's images flow from his mind, down his arm to his pen. What could be simpler or more direct?

Despite the extreme content in most of his work (pictured here are the most benign), Saeki maintains a normalcy in each picture. They may be grotesque but they are not horrific like Goya's The Disasters of War.

From Saeki’s Memories of 1970:

During preparatory school, my Uemura classmate had discreetly shown me erotic paintings from the Edo period. I believe to remember that they were prints printed on Japanese paper. The colors were bright. At the sight of the scenes represented, perfectly shameless, I was astounded then conquered by confusion. In regard to when girls and boys test each other's embarrassment, I “had already played doctor”, an experiment which returned a little of my senses to me at the moment. However, I was not at all able to understand this grotesque tangle of bodies. I had been doubtless convinced that they were drawings skillfully carried out by the insane, applying an indecent imagination to unreal scenes.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Love is Obsolete

by Drew Martin
I recently saw Obselidia, a love propaganda film that suggests a man should have a woman in his life. It is about a young, Australian-twanged intellectual, complete unto himself, whose finely braided soul is unraveled by a needy woman.

The famous Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian, the master of colored squares and father of balanced asymmetry, believed in the spiritual hermaphrodite.

“The artist is asexual. The man-artist is female and male at the same time; therefore he does not need a woman.”

The main character of Obselidia, George, is such a person. He has a beautiful, simple life. By day he is a librarian at a Los Angeles public library. The rest of his waking hours are spent compiling entries for his life’s work, The Encyclopedia of Obsolete Things. He uses a clunky VHS camera to record people whose jobs are becoming obsolete or who are knowledgeable about dying objects. In the comfort of his modest apartment, filled with humble treasures from the past, he transcribes the tapes using a round-keyed manual typewriter.

George is attractive in his own way, and politely declines the advances of women who are interested in him. For one of his encyclopedia entries he meets up with Sophie, a projectionist at a silent movie theater in Los Angeles. He does not take the bait she casts in his direction so she shows up unannounced at his doorstep and starts to chip away as his armor.

In one scene Sophie convinces George to go to the low-lit Museum of Jurassic Technology in order to draw him out of his comfort zone. She uses the malfunction of his audio unit at one exhibit to get closer to him, and continues her seduction, which slowly softens him up like a chicken in a crock pot. In another scene, Sophie drags him out to the desert and forces him to sleep in a tent, which is actually a big, vinyl extension of her womb. In it, she comforts him like a little boy scared of the rattlesnakes and coyotes outside. 
During their second night alone, they kiss, and Sophie infects George with cooties, which attacks his heart.

Sophie and George return to Los Angeles, and she leaves him high and dry for her boyfriend. Six months later, the cooties parasite spreads to his brain. George becomes delirious and tears up weedy thistles around his yard to present to the absent Sophie in a desperate attempt to reach out to her, only to be cruelly rejected. In the final scene, after a burst of pathetic crying, we see George back in the library putting the books and his life in order, but a passing women triggers the dormant cooties parasite and he becomes paralyzed.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Saga Singularity and the Digital Art Scrolls of Will "Red" Blozen

by Drew Martin
Will “Red” Blozen is a middle-aged outside artist who lives in Boonton, New Jersey, a post-industrial city that saw its economy come and go with the production of Packard cars during the first half of the twentieth century. Red’s art combines pixelated video-game-like creations with pictographs and semiotics to create handheld epic sagas.

The first thing you should know about Red is that his initials WRB (including his nickname – he has bright red hair) mean a lot to him. He explains that his graphics can only be White, Red, and Black. When I mention the industry standard abbreviation for black, is the letter K. He replies, “The car industry? I thought it was T?” There is a pause, and then he looks out his window at the old Packard factory, where a rusted body of one of their earliest models sits like a billboard on the rooftop. “Cars are dying. It’s so sad. They could not adapt because no one wrote a future for them into their stories.”

The “stories” are the creation myths he is obsessed with and has been reading since he was seven years old. One thing he noticed early on was that although they share many types of characters and concepts, the characters themselves never appear in each others’ stories. “Where is Medusa in the Old Testament? Where is Moses in Greek mythology?” He asks with such a straight face, you could plumb a door with it.

The titles of Red’s stories reflect his mythological world vision. The picture here is from one of his gadgets (which he refers to as “chapters”). He has titled this chapter POed Medusa bears Moses for Topless Siren. In it a wild, red Medusa, with white arm-length gloves and a head of white snakes has impregnated herself with spores from a mushroom-sprouted phallus of a dead, armless albino Cyclops. She gives birth to a pale baby over a pipe that drops deep into the ground, where it empties into a subterranean canal full of a red liquid. It is simultaneously the blood of life and the lava of inner Earth. A topless, but full-skirted woman (the Siren) has lowered her bucket into this river Styx. A small, white ghost with red horns mounts her as she goes about her chores. This devilish conception will end with her lifting the baby boy from the well.

Boonton, is no longer a wealthy town. Red is not well off. In fact, he is dirt poor. He has never owned a new computer; all of his gadgets were picked out of the trash or picked up for the change in his pocket at yard sales. His room on the second floor of his father’s house is pack-ratish and smells of burnt solder. There are storage containers full of old adapters, joy sticks, and mother boards of all sizes. His shelves are stacked with mythological adventures and encyclopedic books about ancient cultures: Mayan, Incan, Aztec, and Egyptian. There are also a fair number of do-it-yourself plumbing books. Plumbing is a big part of Red's work. Canals, wells, drains, sewers, and fountains are the veins and arteries of his worlds.

The most impressive part of Red’s creations is that he makes the systems for creating his art. He writes the codes, creates his worlds and characters pixel by pixel, and he customizes the gadgets to limit their functions. Typically, a gadget’s input is limited to W, R, B keys, arrow keys and a few other select buttons. These are not slick devices; you would not mistake them for a Mac product. Red wraps them in tinfoil, clear packaging and black electrical tape, and details them with silver acrylic paint. They are so clunky looking that it is a wonder they work at all.

Red’s stories, such as POed Medusa bears Moses for Topless Siren, are created as if he is playing a video game but you cannot play them as such. They function more as ancient Japanese narrative picture scrolls, which continuously crawl into the story. The viewer can only control the speed.