Friday, April 30, 2010

On art and NASCAR (2): Cyril Edward Power

'Speed Trial', 1932, Linocut, Cyril Edward Power

Cyril Edward Power was an interesting man. He was born in 1872 in London, and was trained as an architect. He won the RIBA medal in 1900 (a prestigious architectural award), then worked in his family’s architectural practice, as well as for the Ministry of Works, designing public buildings. In 1912 he published a three-volume ‘History of English Medieval Architecture’ with his own illustrations. He flew with the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, and perhaps this is where his fascination with machinery and movement began. In the 1920s, he gradually turned towards art, particularly printmaking. In 1932, he made the linocut shown above, ‘Speed Trial’.

Power was influenced by the Italian Futurists (discussed in the first post in this series), and their English followers, the Vorticists. This print was made 20 years after the Balla painting I talked about earlier, but it still has that direct, un-ironic admiration for cars and speed, and the belief that these things are symbols of twentieth century modernity. The image is of a very specific car: the Campbell-Napier-Railton Bluebird, the machine in which the English racing motorist Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the land speed record by reaching 246 miles per hour on Daytona Beach. Perhaps Cyril Power created this picture of the Bluebird because he was a patriotic Englishman.  But the way he turned the car and the space around it into a series of parallel swooshing curves shows that he also wanted to create a visual equivalent for what was, at that time, a mind-blowing achievement in speed.

Malcolm Campbell with the 1931 Bluebird at Daytona Beach

Power might have approved of Aldous Huxley’s words: “Speed is the only entirely novel sensation of the twentieth century.”

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

On more student work from the Journal + Sketchbook class

Drawing by Paco Aschwanden

Each week in the Journal and Sketchbook class, we ask the students to hand in photocopies of two drawings that they've completed in the preceding week. Above is something that was handed in this week. I think it's done in oil crayon or water-soluble wax pastels. Considering that these are primarily writing students, the quality of work that comes out of the drawing side in this class is pretty impressive.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On another blind contour drawing

Dinner table

"It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise that you have rendered something in its true character."—Camille Pissarro.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Julia Katz at Addington Gallery: Interview with the Artist

'Boardwalk', by Julia Katz, oil on panel, 48" x 60"

The latest exhibition at Addington Gallery in Chicago (running until June 1
st, 2010) consists of encaustic paintings by California-based artist Howard Hersh, and extremely strong figurative paintings by Chicago-based artist Julia Katz. After I met Julia Katz at the preview, she agreed to be interviewed about her paintings, which depict people in public spaces, either running or clustered together in crowds.

Philip: You work in series, it seems. Is there a common theme to the subject matter of your work?

Julia: I like to work in series because I like to develop several pieces at once.  Rotating from one to another while they are in process helps me to figure out what I am looking for with each painting. I’ve been working with a general theme of the human figure in motion for the past several years, after spending many years painting strictly from models posing in the studio.  The idea of painting motion is continuing to evolve for me.  I started with a focus on dancing figures, trying to indicate movement with the image of dancers and with energetic brushstrokes and marks of color.  That led to the next series of paintings in which I began thinking about the movement of the environment surrounding figures running on a beach and playing in water.  Wind, water and light were the subjects of the abstract, gestural painting that served as the background.  My latest paintings are also people in motion, but the motion has become more subtle in some of these.  People are milling about in crowds.  Light is playing a more prominent role, bouncing and reflecting, creating dramatic shadowing. I am also thinking about other things that fill the air in these, like music and conversation, that are not visible but which affect the scene.

Philip: Your work is very gestural, with heavy use of impasto. Could you describe your working process when making a picture, including the source material?

Julia: I work from my own photographs.  I have two interests when I am painting that I try to make work together.  On one hand, I am very interested in discovering and rendering the uniqueness of each person that I paint.  I want to see and then paint exactly who I perceive this person to be from all the visual clues I can discern.  I want to catch their posture and attitude and features, even if I render them broadly.  My other interest is in painting intuitive abstractions that convey energy and act as an environment for the figures in the paintings.  I indulge myself in gestural brushstrokes, palette-knifed splotches, whatever I can think of, responding and reworking, adding layer upon layer, and in the process I build a lot of texture.  I like to explore the nuances of color.  I try to make an abstraction, derived from visual and conceptual cues, that turns out to be a carefully balanced arrangement of colors, marks and shapes, according to my own intuition.  I want the viewer to feel my energy in the work and I intend for the energetic way that I paint to reflect the subject matter. 

'Marathon', Julia Katz, oil on panel, 30" x 50"

Philip: Do you alter the composition much during the course of painting a picture?

Julia: Everything about the painting is subject to change.  I always have a pretty strong idea about the placement of the figures from the start of each piece, but I never know where the abstraction will lead me. Without a sense of discovery during the process, it would not be worth doing at all.  I love to be brave enough to make drastic changes in a painting when I am deep into it—should I or shouldn’t I paint over something that I spent days on?  If the question pops up, I tend to say ‘yes’. 

Philip: Do you work in any other media? If so, what are they? If not, why does your chosen medium compel you so much?

Julia: I rarely work in anything but oil paint anymore.  Sometimes I use fluid acrylics when I want to do something different.  I find oil paint to be endlessly complex and rich and satisfying. It is important for me to know my colors so intimately that I know exactly what I want to reach for without having to think about it too much. 

Philip: How do/did you go about finding exhibition venues for your work?

Julia: I met Dan Addington in 2006 at a Chicago Artists Coalition portfolio review.  He started showing my work soon after that.  Dan has been really supportive of my work and I appreciate that he gives me shows at Addington Gallery.  I have had my work in the publication, Studio Visit Magazine, and from that I have received calls from a couple of galleries in other cities.  I will be having a solo show in April 2011 at Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina, due to my work appearing in that publication. 

Philip: What are you working on now?

Julia: I have plans to start some panoramic shaped paintings, very horizontal.  I’m interested in pushing the movement idea in the direction of making the viewer move across the picture plane in time and space.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

On old sketchbooks: 3

'John', March 1986

This week, we're in 1986 on the march through old sketchbooks.

“Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worthwhile, and it will do you a world of good."—Cennini (1370-1440).

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

On Richard Wilson's '20:50' (1987)

This week's Meditation is on a stunning installation by Richard Wilson, which is back on show again at the new Saatchi Gallery in London, for which the piece was first created in 1987.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

On Patricia Ann McNair + Aleksandar Hemon at Story Week

Patricia Ann McNair

In March, my wife Patricia Ann McNair moderated a reading and panel discussion between authors Aleksandar Hemon (Macarthur Genius Recipient), Achy Obejas, and John Dale. It was held at Chicago's Harold Washington Library as part of the Story Week festival of writing. The audio has just become available, and it's worth listening to:

Patty starts her introduction at about the 2 minute mark.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

On art and NASCAR

Why do we love cars?

Maybe some of us don’t love cars at all. We have one because we have to, because it performs a function, like a toaster or a microwave.

Some of us, though, love cars because of their machined perfection, because they can go so fast, because there’s something thrilling about the sensation of the human body hurtling through space at high speeds—whether we experience that on an empty desert highway, pressing the foot down hard on the gas pedal when we’re sure there are no cops around; or we go to giant speedway stadia, where we gaze enviously at machines that are permitted, indeed encouraged, to whizz around at nearly 200 miles per hour (all hail fellow car lovers at the Talladega Superspeedway this weekend!).

Some of us love cars because they are simply beautiful objects. Maybe not so much now, when manufacturers have honed and cloned their designs until they all start to look the same, and the minute differences between one model and another are visible only to the true aficionado. But the classic cars, the Ford Model A or the Ford Deluxe Coupe, the Hispano-Suiza (Picasso owned one, though he never learned to drive), the gorgeous gas-guzzling giants of the American 1950s, the Thunderbird, the Impala: these are works of art that an aesthete like me cannot help but fall in love with.

At the beginning of the twentieth century and the dawn of the automobile era, artists, too, responded visually to cars, for similar reasons. The Italian Futurists painters (Balla, Russolo, Severini, Boccioni, Carra) created many paintings and drawings in which they tried to depict the thrill of speed:

'Speeding automobile', 1912, oil on canvas, Giacomo Balla

Leaving aside the links between the Futurists and Fascism (I know, that’s a big omission), what we see in these paintings is the division of space into small shapes, repeated across the picture plane in sweeping rhythms that draw the eye to and fro in a swirling motion. Bits of cars are recognizable in some of the paintings. In pictorial terms, they recognized the potential of abstract painting to suggest movement on a two-dimensional surface. They united this with their worship of the car as the object that most perfectly represented the coming machine age: an age of scientific progress, of “hygienic violence”, of the beauty of perpetual motion, all concepts that made a decisive break from the hidebound traditions of the nineteenth century (particularly in Italy).

It’s interesting how, even though these paintings were made nearly a century ago, the rippling patterns look like that special effect in ‘The Matrix’ films used to suggest bullets flying and bending through the air. Perhaps it shows how they were on to something.

This identification with the car, though, changed over the course of the twentieth century, in ways that mirrored the changes in major twentieth century art movements. In future posts in this series, I’ll look at how other important artists used cars in their art—from Picasso to Philip Guston and beyond. And if anyone reading this happens to like art AND owns a well-kept classic car, please email me a picture and I’ll publish it here on this blog along with a drooling appreciation.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

On old sketchbooks: 2

May 1985: Person leaning on rail on cross-Channel ferry

Another drawing from a sketchbook/diary I kept in 1985. Here is Hiroshige writing in 1834 on the practice of drawing:

"Ever since I was six I've been obsessed by drawing the form of things. By the time I was fifty I had published an endless number of drawings, but everything I produced before the age of seventy is not worth counting. Not until I was seventy-three did I begin to understand the structure of real nature, animals, plants, trees, birds, fish, and insects.

"Consequently, by the time I am eighty-six, I will have made even more progress; at ninety I will have probed the mystery of things; at a hundred I will undoubtedly have attained a marvellous pinnacle, and when I'm a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive."

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Postcard from Lincoln Park, Chicago: 2

The Conservatory, beau jour de printemps.

On Denver artist Lisa Purdy

"Rebirth", oil on canvas, 36" x 24"

Lisa Purdy is a painter and sculptor living in Denver, Colorado. I recently had the opportunity to visit and talk with her in her studio, which is in a lively area of galleries and studios just south of downtown Denver.

Me: Your studio is in the Santa Fe Arts District of Denver. For non-Denver residents, can you tell us about the area?

Lisa: The Art District on Santa Fe is a collection of shops, art studios, galleries and creative endeavors along Santa Fe and Kalamath streets in Denver.  The District has a membership fee that helps promote the area and specific businesses within it.  On the first Friday of every month, large groups of people flock to the area to view art, attend special events and enjoy an evening of dining out.

Me: When did you acquire your studio?

Lisa: I acquired my studio in June of 2009 in the Bolt Factory building.  As may seem obvious, the building sold every kind of bolt imaginable until a decade ago.  Two years ago, a developer bought the building and divided it into 25 commercial condo units.  New zoning this year allows the units to be live/work, an enticing category for the many creative businesses in the building.  My studio is about 1200 square feet with 14 foot ceilings.

Me: How would you summarize your journey through the arts up until now?

Lisa: I’ve been involved in art and design all my life, although the form it took when I was younger was quite different than it is today.  To support myself I worked in the fields of historic preservation, planning, mediation, and interior design.  In all those fields it was the aesthetic, cultural and spiritual aspects that motivated me.  Now, at the age of 60, I devote myself full time to creating works of art in the fields of painting and sculpture.  I often find myself feeling guilty about devoting all my time to art.

I started out my painting career doing landscapes.  At first the paintings were realistic but over time they became more and more abstract.  In the last 5 years my paintings have become unattached to representational form.  The interesting thing is that many of my buyers are still interested in the landscapes, so I still go back to that from time to time.

Me: Tell us a little about your recent work.

Lisa:  My most recent work includes large (4ft x 5ft) abstracts that are almost spiritual in nature but without any specific references.  I’m extremely interested in colors that harmonize and contain some unusual hints of off colors.  Most of the paintings are done in oil on canvas, but I’ve recently begun to experiment with water-based oils and India ink on water color paper.  For some (unplanned) reason, these works on paper have an Asian flair.

"Yin Yan 4", oil + ink on paper, 24" x 18"

Me: How does a work begin for you: planned, sketches, dreams, the unconscious?

Lisa: When working on the large canvases, I usually cover the canvas with a wash of quinacridone violet.  This is a very intense pink that I mostly cover up with the rest of the painting.  I often paint wet-on-wet causing the underlying pink to blend in —in subtle ways.  After venturing out with works on paper earlier this year, I’ve started exploring a looser and less defined style with my larger canvases. I don’t preplan or sketch out what I want to do.  I prefer to put paint down immediately, then “solve the challenge” of making the marks work aesthetically.  I’ve been told the newer paintings have a sensuous quality, but for me the work taps into a somewhat unconscious level of my being.  I let the brushwork, forms, and colors carry me forward. 

Me: Do you rework your paintings at all?

Lisa:  I rework paintings quite a bit.  With the cost of paint and canvas, I will rework anything that doesn’t please me at the highest level!  Once I have a photo of the original work, I have no qualms about making something new out of it.  Only occasionally have I regretted doing this. 

Me: Do you work in any media other than painting?

Lisa:  I also do stone sculptures using a technique I learned from the famous Chapungo sculptors from Zimbabwe.  I don’t use any power tools.  I work very slowly chipping away here and there, filing the stone down, sanding, then polishing it with a paste wax.  I find the process very meditative.  In the last month I’ve been learning to use power tools to sculpt, but I don’t think I’ll continue it for long.  Power tools are faster but I’m not very good at putting up with the noise, dust, and numb hands.  So I’ll probably go back to using hand tools.  I find sculpting to be the perfect counterpoint to painting.

Me: Do you prefer to sell your work through galleries or directly from your studio?

Lisa:  I prefer to sell my work through the studio but of course I’m open to any means of selling.  The online world blurs these distinctions to some extent.  I’m considering signing up with an online company that takes care of all the promotion for a cut in the sales price.  And the First Friday events in my studio have allowed more people to see my work than would otherwise be possible.  Lately I’ve been pulled “kicking and screaming” into the world of social media; Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, blogs, and websites. For me, every minute I spend on the computer is draining— which probably just shows my age.

Me: What strategies would you recommend to someone who wants to survive as an artist?

Lisa:  Nobody has to tell you that earning a living through art is trying.  Some artists will gear their work almost exclusively to what sells.  Others create just for themselves and find there isn’t necessarily a market for it.   The only strategy I know is what I did: work in a job for about 40 years to save enough money to live on making art.  I’m sure there are other more enticing strategies— I just don’t know them.

To see more of Lisa Purdy’s work, visit her website at

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Postcard from Lincoln Park, Chicago

Christian Science building, midday.

On a history painting by Manet

This week's Meditation is on Manet's 'The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian I', a lesser known painting now, but one which I grew to love by regularly seeing one of the three versions housed in London's National Gallery.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

On old sketchbooks: 1

Running late on the blogging this week, but here's a page from a diary/sketchbook that I was keeping in--wait for it--1985. It's a self-portrait. Note shaggy hair, beard, and John Lennon glasses. Good times!

I've decided to start posting a drawing from my sketchbooks, at least one a week, from 25 years of sketchbooks, beginning in the year that Boris Becker won Wimbledon and Wham! were top of the charts, and coming up to the present day.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

On my dear readers who can't really be only my friends but maybe could be new friends one day

Looking at the Google Analytics report for this blog has given some interesting facts about which city the readers are living in, how long you are staying around, whether you are a new or returning visitor. So although I don’t know any of you by name, hopefully you will recognize yourself in the following, providing you’re reading this blog again:

Thank you to the person/s from New York who spent an average of 55 seconds reading a couple of pages.

Thank you to the person/s in Christchurch, New Zealand (is that you, Mark?) who read an average of 1.57 pages and spent 90 seconds doing so.

Thank you to the person/s in Addison who read an average of 2 pages per visit and spent 5 minutes on the site.

A big thank you to the persons in Portland (Oregon or Maine?) and Glasgow, Scotland, who spent 32 minutes reading an average of 6 pages. Please come again.

Thank you to the person/s in Seattle who visited several times, and spent more than 10 minutes reading an average of 5 pages. Despite the rain, Seattle is one of the best places I’ve visited in the USA.

Thank you to the people from Edinburgh, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tucson (again, fantastic place), Sydney, St Paul, Toronto, and Albuquerque (hi, Johnny) who visited more than once and stuck around for up to 11 minutes at a time.

To anyone who recognizes themselves in this list, and to all who are reading this now, thanks for looking at this recently-started blog. And if you take the time to leave a comment after you’ve read a post, I would love to start a conversation with you.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

In the studio

Trying Lazertran on plexiglass for public art project.

On the Interlochen Printmaking Class: rainbow roll

'Tree' by Bob, 2009

One of the great things we do in the Introduction to Printmaking class, which I am teaching at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts this summer, is something called rainbow roll. An example is shown in the image above. First, the student, Bob, cut the image of the tree out of one block of linoleum. Next, he took a block of the same size that hadn't been cut. This gave him a flat, smooth surface to roll the ink onto.

I put a dab of blue ink and a dab of ochre ink at the edge of a plexiglass plate, placing the ink about three inches apart. Using a brayer as wide as the plexiglass plate, I showed Bob how to roll the brayer back and forth so that the surface of the brayer picked up a band of blue ink, a band of ochre ink, and then a gradually blended mixture of the two colours in the centre. He then rolled this over the blank block of linoleum until it was covered in colour that started blue on edge, then graded through green and on to ochre on the other edge. After this 'rainbow roll' was complete, he printed it onto some dampened printmaking paper.

He then inked the tree lino-block in black ink, and printed it directly onto the paper with the 'rainbow roll' print, with the result that you see above.

Do you want to do this and more? Then sign up for the class at the Interlochen website.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On 'Wheat Fields' by Jim Dine

This week's (slightly late) Meditation is on a sculpture by American artist Jim Dine that I saw in the Denver Art Museum. If you have any thoughts on the opinion expressed in this short talk, please leave a comment.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On artists who write and writers who art: Part 6

'Love', Robert Indiana

Throughout this series, I’ve been trying to think of artists who made serious attempts at writing, whether that be in poems or prose. There is of course a large number of visual artists who incorporate text as part of their visual work. To name just a few:

Picasso and Braque.
The Dadaists, such as John Heartfield.
Rene Magritte.
Antoni Tapies.
Andy Warhol.
John Baldessari.
Ed Ruscha.
Gilbert + George.
Robert Indiana.
Kara Walker.
Richard Prince.
Jenny Holzer.

Broadly speaking, these artists use text in the following ways: 

  • As part of a collage (think Picasso’s ‘Ma Jolie’) that plays with painted representations of things, plus snippets of actual things (e.g. newspapers) that traditionally do not belong inside the painted picture. The text is not usually intended to be read specifically for the meaning of the words themselves: they stand as a signifier of the world outside the picture frame, and thus serve the purpose of blurring the boundaries between what is considered art and non-art.
  • As a design element, used because the artist considers that the shapes made by the letters will work well in a particular part of a painting. Some artists, like Tapies or Twombly, do this teasingly—they incorporate marks that look like they ought to be a script of some sort, but really aren’t.
  • As one part of an ever-receding structuralist hall of mirrors. Language has no definite meanings, or even approximate ones. It is simply one set of signs like any other, and how we interpret them is influenced by always-changing historical, social, and psychological factors. Example 1: John Baldessari’s painting consisting only of the words ”EVERYTHING IS PURGED FROM THIS PAINTING/BUT ART, NO IDEAS HAVE ENTERED THIS WORK.” Example 2: Robert Indiana’s sculpture series LOVE, consisting of giant sculptures of the letters L and O on top of the letters V and E. 
Related to the last point, there are the ironists, who use words or whole phrases that appear to have definite meanings, but in a context heavy with a sense of quotation, or the selling-style messaging of advertising, so that we feel the words/phrases are being used sarcastically. Example: Jenny Holzer’s neon word sculptures.

Of the more recent artists listed above, I still respond more to the Robert Indiana sculpture than the Jenny Holzer word pieces. This may be for philosophical reasons, in that I think irony is limited as an aesthetic and political practice. But it’s also that Indiana combines so many ways of using text: his ‘LOVE’ sculptures are a devilishly witty combination of quotation, irony, cultural and art historical reference, and visually sharp art-making. The play of ideas goes something like this: the representation of Love that you are looking at is derived from a 1960’s hippy-script; this sculpture is therefore a cultural quotation of the hippies, who were all about peace and love; peace and love and all that hippy stuff is sort of embarrassing, so therefore this sculpture is a bit silly; but the hippies believed in peace and love because these are, in fact, wonderful things; so maybe this sculpture really is a celebration of love, after all; the words LOVE are about 12 feet tall, so this sculpture is obviously taking a banal word and turning it into a statue in the monumental tradition of Michelangelo and Rodin, thus ridiculing all that heroic musculature and ‘freeing the statue from the stone’ malarkey; yet this twelve foot high steel sculpture in bright colours is in fact rather beautiful to look at, so maybe this is the way we can still do all that old-fashioned big sculpture stuff.

A further contrast can be drawn by considering the work of Kara Walker. The difference between Walker on one hand, and the ironists and quotationists on the other, is that she embraces the narrative form, in her invented and half remembered stories of gruesome goings on between masters and slaves in the antebellum south. Sometimes the phrase-making is artistically crude, and politically a little too easily resolved, but there is always a sense that the words are as much a part of her artistic process, and purpose, as her splendidly delineated silhouettes.

Does anyone have any thoughts about who is a good example of an artist combining text and image?

On artists who write and writers who art: part 5 (Manet revisited)
On artists who write and writers who art: part 4 (Manet + Baudelaire)
On artists who write, and writers who art: Part 3 (Blake, Gauguin) 
On artists who write, and writers who art: Part 2 (Twain, cummings)
On artists who write, and writers who art: Part 1 (Kahlo, Kafka, Faulkner)

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Monday, April 12, 2010

On the beauty of Chicago

Chicago has to be one of the finest cities I’ve ever lived. And that means I’m comparing it to Madrid (1 year), Barcelona (1 year), Paris (six months), and London (10 years). I work two days a week at a magazine based in Lincoln Park, and most lunchtimes I walk for a couple of miles around the neighbourhood. In just a few blocks, I can walk past a tower block designed by Mies van der Rohe, a row of early twentieth century town houses built in red-brick Gothic style, mansions that wouldn’t look out of place on a Paris street, a house with an iron fa├žade that reminds me of a Wild West saloon, churches with curling stone columns done in the Moorish style, and a small museum with a classic Palladian portico. Every street is lined with trees, which are just starting to bloom in these warmer early April days. The grid system of the streets means that it’s an easy city to walk around, but the grid is broken up by these immensely long diagonal boulevards (supposedly following ancient Indian trails) that prevent any walk from becoming too monotonous.

And then there is Lake Michigan, only a mile from the front door of my apartment building, and as immense to the naked eye as a sea. For comparison: England, where I was born, has an area of 50, 346 square miles. Lake Michigan (note to UK friends: it’s pronounced ‘Mishigan’ not ‘Mitchigan’) has an area of 22,400 square miles. As they say here in the US, You do the math. Or I could do it: Lake Michigan, if transposed to Europe, would cover almost half of all the land in England. Which would be OK, as long as that included Sheffield. 

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

A blind contour drawing from the Denver trip

Here is a blind contour drawing, done for the most part by drawing without looking at the page, in an airport lounge while waiting to board our plane.

Thoughts on Denver: attractive city, nice combination of newer and older buildings, a vibrant art community, ranging from museums built by international architecture stars to a district with lots of artists studios and galleries, light rail and shuttle buses everywhere in contrast to many other US cities, decent food options, and of course a view of the immense Rockies in the distance whenever there's a gap between the buildings.

In the coming weeks I'll be posting interviews with two artists from Denver, and also writing about some profoundly good art that I saw.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

On Libeskind's extension to the Denver Art Museum

At the Denver Art Museum, looking at the collections inside the new building designed by Daniel Libeskind. The exterior is very impressive, all exploding cubes, aggressive diagonal prows thrusting into space, shiny surfaces. Once you go inside, it gradually dawns on you what a bad design this is to show art in. None of the interior walls are rectangles, it seems. They're mainly polygons, very often all different within one room. This is no doubt intentional, but it seems to make it difficult to show any pieces with a consistent sightline.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of good art in the contemporary collection. A sculpture by Jim Dine called 'Wheat Fields' impressed me most. It struck me so much that I intend to write about it at greater length.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting an artist at her studio in the Santa Fe arts district of Denver. More later

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On the road

I'll be in Denver, Colorado, for the next few days, and hope to post a few things about artists and galleries that I see while I'm here. In the meanwhile, here's a clip of a singer who will forever be associated with the Mile High City (that's where he got his name from, isn't it?):

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On a portrait of a writer in ink: Interview with Bobby Biedrzycki

One of my colleagues at Columbia College Chicago, writer and adjunct faculty member Bobby Biedrzycki, has an eye-catching tattoo on his arm (shown above). It's such a work of art that I wanted immediately to find out who it depicted. Then I thought I would interview him about it.

Q: Let's start with a question that I bet you've never heard before. Did the tattoo hurt?

A: Haha. The shading made the skin a bit more tender than other tats I've had, but pain is a subjective thing, right? What hurts me might feel like a massage to someone else.

Q: Describe the tattoo for us.

A: It's a black and gray portrait of the writer Hubert Selby Jr, my idol. It's based on a photograph I found of him that I liked very much (and heard that he liked also). He is smiling, and has a small parakeet on his shoulder.

Q: Why did you choose this particular image?

A: Well, I knew I wanted something of him in his later years. He wasn't a very happy person early in his life, but later he really found peace with himself and the world around him. I loved the fact that he was smiling in the image, and to be honest while I'm not sure of its actual significance. I really loved the bird on his shoulder. He seems to be interacting with this tiny, frail creature in a very gentle way. I liked that.

Q: The tattoo is incredibly well drawn. Where did you get it done?

A: Deluxe Tattoo on Irving Park Rd here on Chicago's north side. By an artist named Miles Maniaci.

Q: What makes the difference between one tattoo artist like him, and another?

A: For me it was his portfolio. He had done a good deal of portrait work, and it all looked like what I had envisioned for my piece. Sometimes tattoo portraits can come off as caricature, which might be fine if you're dealing with a recognizable celebrity like Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe, but this was more personal to me, and I wanted it to look like a portrait, something that paid tribute.

Q: It's highly visibly - your forearm - so what response would you like people to have when they see it?

A: That's such a good question. Originally I got it there because I wanted to see it all the time. This might sound crazy or impulsive, but I never considered what others might think or ask, I really didn't. Now I find myself having to explain who Hubert Selby is and what he means to me, sometimes to total strangers who are ringing up a lunch order, which makes me a bit uncomfortable. I like it when people seem genuinely moved by it, even if they don't know who it is. When they just say "Wow, that's really gorgeous."

Q: I think it's a real work of art, actually, which is why I wanted to hear you talk about it. One last question: why does Hubert Selby's work touch you so deeply?

A: Selby told the stories of people who society considered outcasts. Many times that meant poor people or homosexuals, even criminals. I feel like him writing their stories gave validity, made people look and say these people have stories too, and feelings, just like everyone else. That was the initial attraction. I also love the rhythm of his prose, and as I studied him further I became very inspired by Selby the man. He overcame many bouts with physical illness and substance addiction, to really become, at least in my mind, one of the great American writers of the past century.

Say 'hello' to Bobby Biedrzycki on Facebook. 

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On a great art blog

Work in progress by Sharon Butler

East coast artist and educator Sharon Butler runs a fantastic art blog called Two Coats of Paint, which seems to be updated every 2 seconds with great reviews of shows about painting, news about painting. I don't know how she does it - maybe via incredibly complex, continually updating RSS feeds or something. Anyway, it's beautiful to look at, and definitely worth seeing. I'm cross-linking here to her extract from a conversation between stellar painters Cicely Brown and Jacqueline Humphries.

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