Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kerry James Marshall Drawing

Study for Blue Water, Silver Moon, 1991, Conte Crayon and Watercolor on Paper, 49 3/4 x 38 1/8 inches, MoMA collection

I love this drawing by Kerry James Marshall -- it has a masterful play with value, solidity, liquidity, flatness and space all in a narrative context. As I get images ready for a new semester, this stopped me in my tracks as it has many times before.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Maximilian Vanka

Still life tabletop with vegetables and vessels
I ran across a few paintings by the painter Maximilian Vanka(1890-1963) recently.  They were really nice compositions and odd takes on color and perspective.  I can't find much on him online but this painting above is a nice example.  It's echo of the teapot in the painting pinned to the wall behind the painted teapot references dimensionality in such a 2015 meta, ironic sort of playfulness.  I think he has some work in Pittsburgh, I'd really like to see more.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Murakami and Language


I've gotten around to reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami finally.  It has been on my to-read book list for years now.  I think it is really exceptional so far (still have about 1/3 left).  

I keep finding myself thinking about the fact that it was originally written in Japanese.  So many of the passages are exacting to experiences or thoughts I have had.  Like someone finally put words to it in just the right way.  Like this one:

“I decided to make spaghetti for lunch again. Not that I was the least bit hungry. But I couldn't just go on sitting on the sofa, waiting for the phone to ring. I had to move my body, to begin working toward some goal. I put water in a pot, turned on the gas, and until it boiled I would make tomato sauce while listening to an FM broadcast. The radio was playing an unaccompanied violin sonata by Bach. The performance itself was excellent, but there was something annoying about it. I didn't know whether this was the fault of the violinist or of my own present state of mind, but I turned off the music and went on cooking in silence. I heated the olive oil, put garlic in the pan, and added minced onions. When these began to brown, I added the tomatoes that I had chopped and strained. It was good to be cutting things and frying things like this. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that I could feel in my hands. I liked the sounds and the smells.” 

The way he switches from the empty act of cooking to his semi-conscious thoughts about the music to a reflection at the end is so true to actually living in that moment. 

I wish I could read the book in Japanese because I keep wondering how two languages that have different structures and words could relay the same feeling to a reader.  But maybe its even better in Japanese?  But that seems hard to imagine, the words seem so well picked.  I guess what I keep turning over in my mind is how universal the human experience is even when miles and languages should make it seem more distant.  

Which ultimately brings me back to painting and a particular painting I keep looking at recently.  Its a Fairfield Porter and it conjures up a feeling in me that has no english equivalent I'm aware of.  I guess nostalgia is the word closest, but its nostalgia without the sickening, sweetness. It's the way looking at a summer night sky, something supposedly ordinary strikes a sublime chord and makes it feel like a lightbulb is in your stomach.  

Someone sent me this link to words with no english equivalent a while back.  And the Japanese word "aware" stood out to me, the article says it means "the bittersweetness of a brief and grading moment of transcendent beauty."  Maybe english is just too dry to contain all that in a single word, or maybe it exists and my vocabulary isn't good enough.  But either way I am thankful that paintings and visual experiences need no translation.  Nothing is lost or mitigated when looking.

But even if something gets lost in translating The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle there is enough power in it to overcome the gap and express that universal transcendent beauty.  Highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Heavy Animation

 This is an animation of a story told between mother and son on StoryCorps.  I've listened to these recordings for a while but this one blew me away and continues to devastate me.  At the end of the audio episode they explained that StoryCorps has recently partnered with POV to create an animation set to the voices.  It is poignant and depressing and disgusting and timely.  I think the visual is well done and the use of a medium that is usually light and humorous in such a contrasting way heightens the devastation of the story. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Resources and Renovations

We moved a few months ago and a big part of why I have been semi-absent here and stressed out in other areas of my life and feeling like its all pointless anyway because there are much more important things going on in the world (previous post) is because I've been spending way too much time trying to make this new place feel good.  

I think its getting to that point.  While I love the creative energy that goes into design and composing little nooks, I am totally spent in that department.  After 20 nooks, they get a bit old.  So I figured a way to put a stop, or at least a pause on all that is to post a few of the best resources I found in the process and maybe that will make me feel like some of the universe's time that I wasted at 3am looking for a pillow online can be saved if other people don't have to repeat that same slog. 

I did find a pretty sweet pillow though.  The kilim pillow pictured above came from the Decolic Kilim Pillow shop on Etsy.  As I write this there are 1,797 beautiful items in the shop that come directly from Turkey and the prices are way better than many similar shops -- they range from about $15-$30.

Another thing I spent way too much time trying to find is furniture.  I refuse to buy new dressers, tables or other items made of wood.  There are so many beautiful old pieces at thrift stores and on craigslist and keeping them out of the waste stream for cheap is really necessary when you see the shitty shitty crap crap that Overstock or Target sell for 4 times the price.  

The best stores I found like that are: Bryn Mawr Thrift (so much furniture!  I got a dining set for $140 with 6 chairs and two leaves)  
All Things Shoppe in Hatboro (its a little further out, like 45 minutes from center city, but so worth it, the prices are actually good unlike so many similar stores in northern liberties)
Craigslist -- where I got the above deco dresser painted this beautiful blue for $100.  
Estate Sales (if you sign up at they send you a weekly circular of sales nearby.  Again the city ones are priced high but we drove out to Springfield and got a few great things including this chair which was $20.  Also the email usually has links to hundreds of photos so you can see if the type of things you are looking for might be at each particular sale)

I guess I can't save anyone time on this one, but ebay was a place I figured out how to work way better for interesting things.  I got a pair of these sconces above for $25.  I basically started typing in weird combinations of words one night: tole + candle + flower or lamp + poodle + milk glass and got results that didn't come up in more general searches and were not being 'watched' by 200 people.  It seems like there are weird corners of ebay that don't get picked up by the search and its kind of like the slot machines you have to get three random terms to line up and get lucky.  Sort of fun when you have nothing to do and two glasses of wine -- a game I won't be playing for a while though...

Another thing I've been doing a lot of is refurbishing old things I have.  The mirror next to that sconce was gaudy gold and I painted it a bright green which seemed to give it new life.  And then the nightstands above which were Alex's brother's growing up --  I totally hate for their clunky wood and top heavy ways (literally they fall over sometimes) but I couldn't rationalize buying more so I painted them and put a rope handle on, and I think I can live with them for a bit longer.

I'm back to dying things with indigo dye -- had half a packet left and figured what the hell?  I think this lampshade looks a bit less generic.

Last thing we decided was living in South Philly, it is so densely populated and concrete, more plants inside would be a good idea.  They are also pretty inexpensive and good quality at places like Produce Junction or Home Depot (the one on Columbus has a weirdly great nursery) so every time we go there for something random, which is about every night, we buy a plant.  A friend taught me how to make the hanging planters above, it takes 5 minutes (google it) and I've been using chairs (Alex's sister's growing up -- why don't they take any of their furniture -- I don't know perhaps we are the most desperate) as plant stands.  

So that's that for now.  I am resuming my regularly scheduled life with teaching and painting, a few exciting shows and such upcoming -- I'll be back here with details asap.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mirka Mora and Creative Lives Lost

Mirka Mora
An artist can only hope to live to the place that Mirka Mora is in this picture.  Standing in front of a wall size painting wearing a matching sweatshirt.  She is triumphant.  One of the few to make it out of a Nazi concentration camp alive and go on to spread so much energy and effusive joy through her work and life.

I've been thinking a lot recently of all the life and also artistic brilliance lost to war and circumstance.  How many paintings never made and books never written and impacting lives never lived.  Here are two remarkable stories I heard recently: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram, a woman in the Vietnam War on KCRW's Unfictional and Abdi and the Golden Ticket, a Somali refugee's struggle on This American Life.  

I wonder if anyone reading who knows of a good way or organization to aid refugees, immigrants, or other most vulnerable populations would post or email a comment to me.  I feel so lucky to be able to spend so many of my days in the studio and am looking for ways to be supportive of others.  It's a seed of an idea but I'm always surprised where the conversations that come from this blog take me.  Thank you.