Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Energy Levels

As I mentioned in my last post, we had a little houseguest for a few days while our friend LoLo was out of town. This is the first time that we have had a doggie stayover and it was fun for all - with a few adjustments.

Bongo (also referred to by us as Bong-Bong, Bongster, Mr. Bongaloid and Toonces)

Bongo is a Pomeranian, weighs maybe 10 pounds and has the energy of about 17 dogs - at least as compared to our laid-back Labs.

Here one of our boys yawns with excitement.

Bongo fit right in with our family of two people, two dogs and three cats. The cats were a bit scared initially.

Bongo went to the studio with me a couple of days, visited my mother and all the other ladies at the nursing home (he was a very big hit), slept under the bed at night and insisted on being held and cuddled.

Having a little dog was a new experience for us. I liked it a lot because he could go mostly everywhere and didn't take up a lot of space. I also liked the cuddling. The sneaky french kisses I could have done without.

We hadn't really been all that aware of Bongo's high energy until he went home. Then we all had a nap.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When Does Art Become Product?

Here's an early peek at the card for the Pick Up the Pieces/Red Dot event that Conrad Wilde Gallery is hosting beginning May 1st. In case you can't read the names of the artists whose work is shown, they are, beginning at the top left and continuing in a clockwise rotation: Emilia Arana, Mo Godbeer, Nancy Natale and Eileen P. Goldenberg. I was pleased and surprised to be included on the card, and I like the blue/orange combo that is one of my favorites.

I hope that Conrad Wilde Gallery is able to make enough from this special sale to reimburse the artists whose work was stolen. The donated works will also be available for purchase online from the gallery. (Click here for a link to Conrad Wilde Gallery with more info on the show.)

How Does It Feel?
Last night I spoke to reporter Yael Schusterman who is doing a story on the Gallery and the show for the Arizona Daily Star. She asked me what I felt when I found out that my work was stolen. I told her that I didn't have much of an emotional reaction about the theft of my own work; I felt much worse for the gallery and for the other artists. I don't know why that is exactly except that I think once my work leaves the studio, I really disconnect from it. It's different when the work is still in the studio.  I remember when I first began making art and the strong connection that I felt to my work. When I first sold a piece, it felt like parting with my firstborn, but that's no longer the case.

I was in the home of my "biggest collectors" last week.  They are friends who have been very supportive of my work and have purchased a large number of pieces over the years. Looking at my work on their walls was a little surprising to me because I had forgotten some of it, and I was pleased that I thought most of the work was successful. There were a couple of pieces that I would rework a bit, but all in all, it was OK. Did I feel a big connection? Not really, although I could envision myself putting down the strokes and making the works. However, I no longer felt that the work was a part of me.

Dumpster Diving
After I got off the phone with Yael, I was (as usual after I talk to a reporter) filled with regret about my runaway mouth. I have yet to learn the lesson that many times less is more and the less you say, the less can be taken the wrong way and come around to bite you in the ass and/or make you look like the fool you (sometimes) are. I guess what got me going was the reporter's revelation that the three recovered works (my two plus one by Deanna Wood) were found not just in an alley, but in a dumpster!

I had visualized them lying picturesquely against a mossy wall somewhere, but the reality of their being tossed in a dumpster along with the tailends of someone's supper, painted a different picture for me.

Marketing Art
Well, discovering that the dumpster was the place where my work wound up, of course made me say that I wouldn't be surprised if all the work ended up in a dumpster somewhere. What I meant by this is that the paintings could not be readily exchanged for the fast buck the way that electronic equipment could be, that they would have to be marketed. How would crooks market art? Especially art by artists whose names are not among those totally recognizable by any household? (The question of which names those would be will be put aside for the moment.) For the most part, this art requires an intermediary to attest to its value. This is the important role that the gallery plays in marketing art. If you are a crook and are trying to sell art on a street corner (or out of a dumpster), chances are you will not hold the same position of critical authority in the art market.

When I first heard about the theft and saw all the stolen pieces together on the reward poster, I thought that someone had stolen a nice collection for their walls. All that work would look great hanging in someone's house! But that's a delusional view based on the belief that someone who makes their living (apparently) by breaking and entering will want to surround themselves with original art. I think that unless the stolen pieces can be exchanged for cash, drugs or some other "valuable" commodity, they are worthless and will end up in a dumpster or out in the desert where they will melt. (That sounds even worse than going to the dumpster.)

Note to Tucson police and/or other interested Tucson resident: map out all the dumpster locations in town and make regularly-scheduled investigatory visits. 

What's It All About, Alfie?
(Unless you are Of A Certain Age, that heading, the movie and the song of the same name will mean little or nothing to you.) So there I was after the conversation with the reporter, thinking how little connection I felt to the art I made and how the art on its own became just so much dumpster filler. Is there a spark that originates in the artist and infuses art with meaning like the finger of God bringing Adam to life on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

So here I am again, brought back to my funk and pondering Life's Deeper Meaning with no result in sight. It's a good thing that I am picking up a doggie house guest this afternoon to cheer me up. But more about that later.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Call for Art - Pick Up The Pieces Show

The Conrad Wilde Gallery in Tucson is calling for donations of art in any medium with a maximum size of 16" x 16" to be sold in their Red Dot "Pick Up the Pieces" show running at the gallery from May 1 through May 29th. Work will be priced below market value for quick sale to benefit artists whose work was stolen from the gallery at the end of March. Get full details at the gallery's website:

Back Story
For five years the Conrad Wilde Gallery in Tucson has been hosting an annual encaustic invitational show. This year was the first time that I submitted work and it was accepted for the Fifth Annual Encaustic Invitational in February. Some time after the show closed on Saturday night, March 26th, the gallery was burglarized. Not only were all their computers and electronic equipment stolen, but so were 13 paintings from the show. The gallery had self insured the artists' work, meaning that they guaranteed to reimburse the artists for their work if anything happened to it while it was in their care.

"Redacted" - one of the recovered paintings.

"Tale of Shadows" also recovered.

The gallery offered a reward for the no-questions-asked return of the paintings, and a few days after the theft, they got a call that alerted them to three paintings that had been left in an alley. Two of those were my paintings. They are slightly damaged, according to Miles Conrad, but probably can be repaired without too much trouble. Deanna Woods' piece was the third piece found, and I don't know the state that it was in. So there are still 10 paintings missing. Here's the link showing them all: If you should happen to see any of them, please alert the gallery.

Meanwhile, please take a look around your studio and see if you have some small pieces that you can donate to the gallery. This is really a worthwhile cause. The Conrad Wilde Gallery is a small but influential gallery run by really fine people. Please help them and the artists whose work was stolen to recover from this contemptible theft.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

From the Mundane to the Ridiculous

Global Warming at Your Service
This year the weather in western Massachusetts has been pretty incredible. Today the thermometer outside our kitchen window recorded 89 degrees. Brandon Butcher, our favorite local weatherman, said that the temperatures have not been so high since last August. In fact it felt like August weather except it wasn't as humid.

So the garden is coming back to life. This week two of our flowering trees started blooming. I tried to figure out when this usually happens and think it's at least two weeks earlier than usual.

Of course we can't really plant anything yet because until some time late in May, there is still the possibility of frost occurring.

We are in zone 5 which has temps down to -20 F in winter. It really doesn't get that cold (usually), so probably we would be 5a (or 5b, I can never remember) which gets down only to -10 F or so.

Anyway, it's pretty unusual to have it be so warm so early. And it makes it challenging to decide whether to work in the garden or the studio.

I figure that whichever one I pick, I'll probably be wishing to be in the other. But, hey, that's me all over.

Contender for World's Largest Brush Pile - home of birds, chipmunks, insects, snakes and God knows what-all.

The ravine and river down behind our yard, just starting to blush pink and green.

Global GaGa
So let me tell you what else I've been doing, I read a profile in New York magazine about Lady GaGa, and since I had never seen any of her videos, I looked her up on You Tube. Well, now I'm hooked and I have those songs running through my head.

She is the love child of Madonna and Elton John and remarkable for the speed of her fame and her daring attack on the pop music world at a mere age 24. The telephone video with Beyonce (9 1/2 minutes long) is pretty mind boggling in its intricacy as well as its themes. It's very entertaining. I find it interesting that she portrays herself as gay (or at least bi) when she is apparently straight. I guess that makes for more titillation.

She is certainly ready to try anything. She has a great team of stylists and a wonderful video director in Jonas Akerlund, who directed 12 videos for Madonna and has now done two for GaGa. The videos are full of product placement and brands - the route to today's success. Here's a link to the New York magazine GaGa Look Book

Still from the Telephone video. (Note the sunglasses made from lit cigarettes.)

Although some say her music is boring and not a match for the uniqueness of her appearance (or should I say styling), her songs are catchy. (Why else would they be rattling around in my brain interminably?) She has been playing piano since she was a young girl and has a much better voice than Madonna.

And just in case you wondered about her popularity:

"In a poll on Time's website, the public can vote on who they think the most influential people of 2010 are. Lady Gaga has skyrocketed from No. 54 to No.1. She is followed by Michelle Obama at 14, Snooki at 16, and BeyoncĂ©, who is woefully underranked, at 19. Also underranked by these standards are Marc Jacobs at No. 99 and Anna Wintour at No. 122. [Time]"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Manna" at the DeCordova Museum

Blogger's Note: In this season of religious celebration for many, I thought I would offer a modest shout-out to the original religion. Apologies to any who are offended. You can stop reading here if you think you were first in line.

While I was walking over to view the Chakaia Booker sculptures at the DeCordova Museum, I spotted this lovely piece nearby.

This is Manna , 2007, Bronze, 6’7’’x 5’x 5’,by Tom Chapin

This striking piece was so evocative of ancient cultures and yet looked entirely contemporary. I just loved it. The form and the beautiful color that came from weathering appealed to me so much.

Here she is in the sculptor's studio before being exposed to the elements.

The DeCordova website has this to say about Manna:  

Although Chapin typically carves from stones as diverse as marble, limestone, and jade, Manna is made in bronze. Reminiscent of Neolithic fertility statuettes like the Venus of Willendorf, Manna makes reference to the duality of base desires and the richness of life sustaining gifts. Chapin uses five sets of five orbs to create this five sided structure as a mathematical reference to pentagonal symmetry. The plump and primal figure reflects the artist’s interest in both the complexity and beneficence of the universe.

Sculptor Tom Chapin, born 1954, lives and works in Phippsburg, Maine.

The work on Tom Chapin's website is just beautiful. I can see the influence of so many ancient cultures in his work, but it has an organic simplicity and elegance that is all his own.

Manna's influences
By this I mean that I assume these are some of the influences. They are actually what I was reminded of when I saw Manna.

"Venus" of Willendorf, found in 1908 by the archaeologist Josef Szombathy above the Danube river near the town of Willendorf in Austria. The statue is only a little over 4" tall and is carved from a type of limestone not found in that area. It is currently dated to around 24,000-22,000 BCE. (All these so-called fertility figures were called "Venus" after the Roman goddess of beauty.)

Back in the 1980s I was heavily influenced by my studies of ancient goddess figures, so of course I saw in Manna not only the Venus of Willendorf, but the many-breasted Artemis of Ephesus

Apparently worship of Artemis was either a very popular religion or the religion was fortunate in having many representations survive as there are many recovered statues similar to this. I saw one in the Vatican Museum and another at the Archeological Museum in Naples. (I like the Naples one because of the black hands and face - see below.)

I really had an LOL moment when I read this description of the breast-shaped objects protruding from her chest: "One of Artemis' characteristics is that she protects fertility. This may be symbolized by the spherical objects that cover the lower part of her chest, but the common assumption that they are female breasts is incorrect. They probably represent the testicles of a bull, although they may also be gourds, which were known in Asia as fertility symbols for centuries."  (

Come on! When was the last time that bulls' testicles protruded from a woman's chest? Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that the priests of Artemis wore bulls' testicles or gourds to represent breasts, and that gourds were considered fertility symbols (just as other melons are) because they represent breasts!

Well, anyway, Manna also reminded of one of my original sculpture faves, Gaston Lachaise, who created buxom statues as inspired by his full-figured wife, Isabel.

Standing Woman, 1932, bronze, 88 1/2"H, Gaston Lachaise. No doubt you have seen this work at MoMA. I always thought it was so regal and imposing. She is truly a goddess.

Here are some other Lachaise figures:

Torso of Elevation, 1912-27, bronze, 48" high.

Standing Nude, 1921, bronze, 11 3/4" high.

Torso, 1928, 9 1/2" high.

In this last image you can see that Lachaise came very near to making his own Venus of Willendorf. Of course he suffered for his daring work and was condemned as vulgar.

Which brings us back full circle to Manna. Tom Chapin referred in his statement on Manna to the "duality of base desires and the richness of life sustaining gifts." I think that in depicting the sexual characteristics of women, this duality is inescapable. Through his indirect depiction or allusion and by invoking mathematical perfection, Tom Chapin avoids getting caught up in this controversy and brings his work to a state of iconic contemplation of the female.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chakaia Booker Sculptures at the DeCordova Museum

I was looking forward to seeing the work of Chakaia Booker in the sculpture park at the DeCordova Museum when New England Wax visited there last Saturday. Booker was one of the sculptors whose work and commentary was featured in a book I purchased recently about Leonardo Drew. Her work was compared to his, and vice versa, because their work is related to but more muscular than the work of Louise Nevelson and also composed of recycled elements; the work of both features the color black dramatically and prominently; and they are both African American. The subject of race and identify has influenced the work of both Drew and Booker.

Approaching the two Booker sculptures

"No More Milk and Cookies", 2003, rubber tires, wood, 14 ½' x 28' x 19', Lent by the Artist, Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York, NY. Image courtesy of the DeCordova website.

I had to get the "proper" image of this sculpture from the DeCordova because it seems that my myopic view of the world causes me to look at things very closely - either that or I'm so curious to see how things are made that I want to be right on top of them. At any rate, I also cadged some info from the DeCordova's site about this work. Here is what they say about the inspiration for the work and explanation of the title:

"The undulating shape of No More Milk and Cookies references the emotional arc of a frustrated child or adult, denied the "cookie" they desperately want. Booker developed this work at ground level—where the seed of desire is planted—the first "cookie." Once recognized as something good, desire is heightened, the craving for more increases, and the sculpture grows due to this response. If gone unfulfilled, the craving can turn to desperation, and selfish motivation can turn to manipulation and deceit. Finally, when rejected, the spirit of longing crashes down in a bitter denouement. Charting these ups and downs in her sculpture, Booker seeks to challenge values driven by consumerism."

Booker has been working with found and recycled tires since the early '90s. I don't believe that she does all this work herself because there is so much to it. (Note: this is not a comment on her gender but rather on the extreme amount of detail and the physicality involved.)

Just look at all these cuts in the thick rubber that give the piece its featheriness.

Then see how many scews are driven into the rubber to hold it to the unseen wooden armature.

This is Booker's second piece at the DeCordova, "The Conversationalist," 1997, rubber tires, wood, 20' x 21' x 12', Lent by the Artist, Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York, NY.  This is my photo.

Here's what the DeCordova site says about this work:

"Like an actual conversation, this piece physically represents a gradual building of elements that climax at a point of tension or harmony. The many angles of this sculpture create negative spaces that represent opposing arguments and varying opinions. Beginning with conflict and disagreement at its base, the form labors to break free of emotional constraints as it pushes towards the sky and comes to a realization. While independently complex, the two segments that define the overall layout of the sculpture arrive at a final point of accord at the apex.

"Symbolically, Booker's sculptural "conversation" explores the potential for unity and understanding that would ideally originate from conversations between those of different beliefs and values. Booker believes that "art is a storytelling, but the story is open, fluid, mysterious." The artist seeks to encourage viewers to contribute to the story and challenges them to defend their principles and ideals while maintaining an open mind towards shades of difference."

View from the side with one of Jim Dine's hearts in the background.

This view reminds me of Stonehenge.

One of my extreme closeup shots showing the enormous number of screws and slices of tires it took to build the form.

Looking through "The Conversationalist" toward "No More Milk and Cookies."

I have to say that when I read the statements about these works, it was evident that Booker's undergraduate degree in sociology reflects her ongoing interest in human interactions. Amazing that she uses these cast-off relics of the highway to discourse about concepts instead of physical entities. 

Having used rubber in my own work recently (although very lightweight and malleable rubber), I can appreciate Booker's ability to transform it into another substance. Her forms are graceful and dignified and the positive and negative spaces work well in the landscape.

Making a Memory
Booker makes a practice of  sculpting her own appearance to be dramatically distinct and memorable as Louise Nevelson did. However, where Louise N. was notable for her huge false eyelashes and haute couture costumes, Chakaia B. actually creates sculptural forms that she wears - notably huge headdresses of fabric and yarn. Creating and inventing clothing was an early form of art making for Booker and one on which she continues to elaborate.

Louise Nevelson in one of her distinctive outfits.

Chakaia Booker wearing a headdress and sculpted costume, posing with sculptures.

The DeCordova Museum is presenting a major exhibition of Chakaia Booker's work later this year, installed both inside and outside the Museum. With a working title of Chakaia Booker: Inside and Outside, the show will run from May 15 – August 29, 2010. It is being organized by Nick Capasso, Senior Curator, and will have a full-color catalog. Here is his statement about the show: Chakaia Booker is one of America’s pre-eminent African-American contemporary sculptors. Her work in steel surfaced with cut and re-assembled auto and truck tires reconsiders the tradition of Modernist abstract sculpture in 21st-century contexts of black culture, identity, gender, and ecology. This exhibition will be the first to present a large selection of her work both indoors and outdoors.