Monday, October 31, 2011

One year ago ...

I can't believe that it's exactly one year since the conclusion and opening event of the Mount Carroll Community Memoir and Public Art Project -- the unveiling of four giant luminaries, imprinted with photos and phrases from community participants:

There were four luminaries, constructed out of wood from a sustainable tree farm, put together by a local furniture maker. They are currently being displayed indoors at four locations around Carroll County in northwestern Illinois. Looking at the pictures again, I remind myself that too often I rush on to another project as soon I've finished something, too quickly, sometimes. In 2012, I intend to make a better effort to bring the luminaries together again to find a permanent display site for them.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Interview with me on Patricia Ann McNair's blog

My wife and stellar fiction writer Patricia Ann McNair interviewed me for her writing blog. It's a good piece, in which we talk about the relation between text and image in my work, and the process of cross-discipline art in general. Linky-poo here:

Do follow the link if you get the time, and don't forget to leave a comment (sorry it didn't work for you, Carol!).

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Friday, October 28, 2011

6 reasons artists should use social media

When I started this blog, twenty months and 760 posts ago, I didn’t imagine that it would take so much of my time, nor that it would drag me even further into using other social media, such as Twitter. Nearly 100 people have subscribed to this blog in one way or another, so by definition if you are reading this, you are using social media even if this is the only thing you do.
Perhaps you use Facebook, and nothing else. Perhaps you use Facebook and Twitter, and you’ve decided that anything else would be too much. Perhaps you read and send messages via these things, but wish you didn’t, and you plan to go ahead with that thing you’ve wanted to do for a long time: stop using them altogether.
If you’re an artist, you’ve probably said: This is really wasting my time, and I need to get back to my studio.
If you’ve had any of these thoughts, you might roll your eyes at what I’m going to say next. Not only are there very good reasons why you should use social media – there are good reasons why you should use more of them.
1. It’s true that most of the people you ‘meet’ online will never turn into physical friends. But every person you’re in contact with is a potential pair of eyes for your work.
2. If you add comments to blog posts, or Facebook threads, or Google plus posts, or you retweet a Tweet, you’re leaving your signature somewhere on the internet, and you’re spreading your name around. So the more media you use, the wider you cast your net.
3. Online conversations can lead to real-world results. I’ve been using Google Plus for months now, and it has led to contacts with several very successful artists, some of whom allowed me to interview them; and lately it led in part to my being asked to blog for an art website.
4. You are building up a potential mailing list for your next show or event.
5. If you engage in a discussion and leave a comment, or if you write something longer, perhaps on your own blog, you are thinking at length about things that matter to you (art and the world it connects to) and you are writing about your own work. Any time that you write about yourself, you are reflecting on your own process, always a valuable thing for a visually-oriented person.
6. You don’t have to spend hours and hours every day looking at the torrent of information on Facebook or Google Plus (although believe me, you can!). I find that if I’m disciplined, I can do everything I need to in about an hour. That’s one hour a day on self-marketing and promotion – and it’s never wasted time.
My personal preference at the moment is for Google Plus – and in a future post I'll talk about why it's a much better platform than Facebook for artists.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hartigan @ Hyperallergic

I've been visiting shows and events in Chicago the past few weeks, and writing about them on a trial basis for "Hyperallergic", a great art blog based in Brooklyn. I've been reading the blog regularly since about the beginning of 2010, so I'm very pleased to announce that my first piece was posted on the "Hyperallergic" blog yesterday. Here is the link.

The main reason that this came about is because of this blog, and the fact that I've been sticking with it for 20 months and trying to write something every day. This new avenue makes me feel that the effort was worthwhile.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Katey Schultz on film

The photo shows writer Katey Schultz, whom I interviewed back in July, working with a film crew from a local PBS affiliate in Virginia, relating to a book about mountain footbridges that she worked on with a photographer a few years ago. The full story is here:

The Writing Life: Lost Crossings Shoot: Day 1:

Congratulations to Katey.

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Grayson Perry says ...

...that the art world is disconnected from the real world, as reported in the excellent Brooklyn-based art blog, Hyperallergic:

As Hrag Vartanian writes, if you've ever seen photos of Perry, you might think it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Is Jenny Saville any good?

Jenny Saville is a British artist who paints chunky, bruised looking nudes in a manner reminiscent of Lucien Freud, or so say many people:

She sometimes uses colour harmonies, and the visceral potential of oil paint, to make images that seem to play with suggestions of violence:

Jonathan Jones, art critic for The Guardian newspaper in the UK, wrote something on his blog last week asking a form of the question that I asked above - what to make of Saville's work? It sparked an interesting discussion on Alan Sundberg's G+ and Facebook page amongst different artists (link here).

Most people in the discussion so far come down on Saville's side. I'm on the contra side, mainly because I think she uses her great skill in the service of quick effects. As I write this, I think that traces her line of descent not only from Freud, but also from Euan Uglow, another twentieth century British painter:

In each case, both Freud and Uglow have much more patience with their subject matter than Saville has. Yet I accept that there are people who love her, and would completely disagree with my response. Like all value judgements concerning art, how does one move beyond entirely subjective positions?

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Lucerne Project: Special Event

Here are some pictures from the special event for The Lucerne Project last night. A nice number of people came along to: write a message on a postcard printed especially for the event; affix an address label to the card, chosen from a list of names from the Lucerne phone book; 'mail' the card into a box installed in the studio.

Many thanks to everyone who attended and who participated.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Meditation on work by P E Sharpe

Meditation number 85 discusses the work of P E Sharpe, an artist who I encountered on Google +. Click her name to go to her website. She also has a Vimeo channel.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Swiss Mailbox

The box wot I made for the Lucerne Project: Special Event on Friday night. When people have finished writing their card and affixing a Lucerne address to it, they can pop it into this box, and the card will later magically be sent on its way to Switzerland.

Materials: cardboard, tape, ppost paper, glue. Thomas Hirschhorn, eat your heart out.

And here is the card that I had printed (front and back):


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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review of "The Lucerne Project"

"New City", the Chicago newspaper, has a decent review of "The Lucerne Project". It's somewhat more rebarbative than the article in "The Columbia Chronicle", and the reviewer slightly misunderstood the piece of writing that he refers to. But it's under the heading "RECOMMENDED", and he describes the prints in an interesting way.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Article about The Lucerne Project

The Columbia Chronicle is the campus newspaper for Columbia College Chicago, where I teach part-time and where Patty is Associate Professor in Fiction Writing (and currently Acting Chair of the Fiction Writing Department). They interviewed me last week about The Lucerne Project, and the result was a very fine article about the show and my work that came out yesterday. I was especially grateful for the nice things said about me by the other people quoted -- thanks, Julia Borcherts and Deborah Doering.

Click on the images to display them at a larger, more legible size:

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Magic Michigan

Ten days ago, Patty and I drove to northwest Michigan for the weekend. Things were so busy last week that I didn't really get time to write about it, and I wanted to write more than just a few words. Patty was invited by the Michigan Writers Association, based in Traverse City, to do a reading and a workshop. It was also an opportunity for us to visit dear friends who live near the Sleeping Bear Dunes. They teach at Interlochen Arts Academy, and were responsible for getting us the opportunity to teach summer classes there.

We stayed with Anne-Marie and David for one night at the house in the woods, that they built themselves fifteen years ago:

Even though it was nearly the middle of October, it was hot during the day, and stayed warm long into the night. After dinner, we went walking through the woods and out onto the lane that leads back to the main road, the only light coming from the brilliant moon that made everything visible and yet occluded at the same time. I held my hands up at one point, and it looked like the moment in a club when they turn on the strobe light. I've been locked up in cities for so long that I'd forgotten what it's like to walk in a landscape with absolutely no illumination, not even from a single house.

The reading and workshop on Saturday went very well, with nine people attending, one of whom was the lovely Jo-Anne, who came to the Journal and Sketchbook class at the Interlochen Writer's retreat in June (link here to an interview she did on Patty's blog). After the workshop, we drove up to a resort in the Leelenau Peninsula, a place of hills, dense woods and lakes, surrounded on three sides by the waters of lake Michigan and the Grand Traverse Bay. It was a very Michigan-ish sort of resort, all wooden houses and cabins, with the main house originating in the early twentieth century. We were there to celebrate Anne-Marie's sixtieth birthday - hard to believe, if you ever see pictures of Anne-Marie:

There were nine of us: writers, an artist, teachers, a musician, a chocolatier, two psychotherapists. We had a long, Big Chill-style evening of food, wine, another walk in the moonlight across the lawns to the lake, midnight kayaking (for some, not for me), and talking, talking, talking. In the morning, we took a walk around the grounds, along a trail through the woods with the light slanting down and creating several layers of shadows on the sides of the trees and the canopy of ferns. The celebrations for Anne-Marie's birthday were set to continue throughout the day, with a lunch for nearly 100 people. Sadly, Patty and I had to head back to Chicago.

But even though we were only there for two days, the intensity of everything that happened made it seem like longer. Despite the awful political climate in Michigan, and its reputation not just of industrial production but also of lunatic right-wing militias, we always think of this colony of progressive artists whenever we think of that state. Maybe its the beautiful landscape, too, the nearby presence of that ocean-sized lake, that harmonises life a little more, and provides a space for these creative people to thrive. Maybe it's something in the air, or something in the drinking water. Whatever it is, we always come away scratching our heads and trying to work out some way that we can spend more time experiencing the magic.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meditation on Joseph Cornell

Number 84 in the series. This time, I recorded the audio speaking impromptu into the recording device. It's a little longer than normal, more informal, but hopefully not too awful to listen to.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

How did that happen?

Whoa! It's been about a week since I checked the stats for the YouTube channel that houses all the Meditations on Art. When I looked today, the one I did on Bill Viola has suddenly shot up to more than 3,000 views, with others in the series seeing a big rise, too.

Again, compared to a great video making the rounds of a baby monkey being bathed under a tap, these numbers are insignificant. But in my own little world, I was gratified to see this sudden change.

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Photos from The Lucerne Project opening night

Thank you to everyone who attended the opening night of The Lucerne Project last night. Special thanks to Glen and Deborah Doering, the gallery directors. And further thanks to the newspaper reviewer, with whom I had a stimulating conversation, and the museum gallery director, who may provide another venue to display this project.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Lucerne Project opening tonight

If you're reading this and you're in Chicago, and you have a spare hour tonight, consider joining me for the official artist's preview of my exhibition "The Lucerne Project: People I've Never Met, in a Place I've Never Been." It's from 5pm till 9 pm at Finestra Art Space, on the 5th floor of the Fine Arts Building, 410 S Michigan Avenue. Get a ride in the gilded brass and glass, polished wood, human-tended art deco elevators. Drink some free wine. Get a close look at the 100-page accordion book:

Read excerpts from the imaginary Lucerne travel diary (or listen to me reading them via your smartphone):

from an imaginary Lucerne travel diary
We were halfway up the mountain, hanging almost vertically off its side in the old cog railway, when the person sitting next to me in the train said: “I’m going to be sick.”
I wasn’t feeling too well either. The ascent had been fun at first, with a great wide view of the town below the mountain gradually emerging through the clouds, as the carriage pulled up and away from the boarding station. The train inched upwards at a steep angle, but it was no worse than other funicular railways I had travelled on in other parts of the world. The chain car that takes you up to Pest, as in ‘Budapest’, is pretty steep, too, and that didn’t give me the vertigo that everyone had warned me about.  Like the other twenty or so people in the carriage, I was enjoying the sights, snapping the occasional picture, listening to the murmur of the engine and the ‘tock’ of the gears as they moved the car closer to the mountain top.

And maybe shake hands with the Swiss Consul General (well, I did send him an invitation).

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pandora's Box

"Cockatoo", Joseph Cornell

I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon to see an exhibition that displayed Joseph Cornell's box constructions alongside works from the MCA archives that are (supposedly)  inspired or in sympathy with them. The main pleasure was seeing some good pieces, like the above by Cornell, and some things that aren't always on show, such as this classic Rauschenberg:

P.S. Thank you to the new people who subscribed to this blog recently.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dianne Bowen: Dismember the Night

Following up on my interview yesterday with artist Dianne Bowen, here is the link to a book of her writing, with accompanying photographs, that just came out via

Monday, October 10, 2011

Artist-Writer-Artist: Dianne Bowen

"Deep Sound", oil, pigment stick, pigments, wax pencils on canvas
Accompanying poem:
pacing downtown loft, bare window views, burial ground reconstruction, listening for signs, her own music she pins to the wall, catalogs blood lines, New York Abstraction sewn to her feet, two generations across the wall, floor to ceiling, pigment pencil, we have killed ourselves with concoctions, surrendered gladly to our possession, time tick tocking another dimension

Dianne Bowen is a New York artist who uses paintings, drawings, words, installations, videos, to create a set of complex visual responses to internal and external space. At a conceptual level, her work originates in a fascination with systems, of communication and miscommunication. At a visual level, her work in all media is  just incredibly satisfying to look at. I was delighted to discover that her use of words is as skilful as her manipulation of the material processes of art. In this interview, she answers some questions about the relation between word and image in her work.

Philip: When I read your note poems, I am struck by the flowing rhythms of the phrases, and the way each one contains a vivid, crystallized image or action. What strikes you when you re-read them? 

Dianne: The flowing rhythms are directly related to the rhythm of the mark making process and the act of drawing. Daybreak in New York City is really an inspiring time for me to write. Text and image are flowing together like two rivers parallel towards the ocean. In many ways the experience of reading them afterwards is akin to walking in the streets without my skin. 

Philip: When did you first start writing them, and why?

Dianne: When my family found out my younger brother had cancer, I began a series of works titled, “Passages and the Price of a Ticket”. The first piece directly incorporating my note poems was for my brother who died shortly after. Grieving my brother’s death, I embarked on the next series “A Hard Winter” which spanned over seven years. These were large-scale paintings exploring the process of death and loss. Poems were written directly into the work or the pieces were inspired by the poems by W.B. Yeats, Audre Lorde, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath and several other poets I had gone to hear read in New York City. It was at this time I began to read out at open poetry mics. The writing became an element in the works but was also separate with it’s own direction of thought. In 2006, I turned to drawing, exploring how we hear and listen. Music as a language connected to drawing as the most basic marks we make as human beings to communicate. After clearing my studio wall in 2008, I sat for hours thinking about how we hear and listen to all the information bouncing around us. Again, thoughts of my brother stirred. How could I hear him? Could he hear me somehow? I started noticing ambient sounds, grabbed a pencil and began jotting down a loose Morse code. The first words translated from these sounds were: Listening-message received. What I now call “code poems” are created from these translations. 

The two acts of writing note poems and drawing continue to run parallel. Each bears influence on the other.

"Rousing Dreams from Storms", oil, pigment stick, pigments, wax pencils on canvas
Accompanying poem: "Brimming Empty"
give me your hand, gentle touch needed, the empty space of dreaming, watching for lightening, dark roads healing marks, document the journey, warehoused dreams, beat against doors, thunder warns, unforgiven words, silence vibrates leaving traces, listening to mountains, marking time, solitude of years spent, red wood forests turn to stone, seeking shelter, widows walk waiting, calling to sea, light house blinking, recorded messages unanswered, resting by the last well for miles
Philip: Who are the writers that you like reading most?

Dianne: I have quite a few, writers and poets I continually go back to: Audre Lorde, Marge Piercy, Anne Sexton, Medbh McGuckian, Pablo Neruda. At the moment I’ve been re-reading the book “Out of This World”, a compilation of Beat Poets. I’ve been particularly interested by Burroughs' fragments. 

Philip: At a practical level, how do you bring together a note poem and a drawing/painting? Or are they parallel but separate?

Dianne: The drawing and poem develop simultaneously through process. The poem’s final edit is done after spending a few days contemplating the finished drawing. As stated previously, the two acts of writing and drawing run parallel; while influencing each other, they express two ideas of thought and exploration. 

Philip: At a more abstract level, what relationships do you see at a deep creative level between the act of making visual art, and the act of writing?

Dianne: Writing and drawing are both a form of language and mark making. The drawings and writing have cadence, weight, flow and texture. In a sense I’m weaving both with a visual image in mind. I consider the poems an extension of my mark making process conceptually.

"Across Your Land", oil, oigments, pigment sticks, wax pencils on canvas
Accompanying poem: poem of the same name inspired by Pablo Neruda
blue lines from fingers swing, hard and soft over my heart, across your land, silent cadence, a secret whispered repeating now I want them to say what I want to say to you to make you hear as I want you to hear me

Philip: Is there anything you haven't tried yet in terms of text and image that you would like to explore in future? 

Dianne: I’ve been experimenting this past year with video. Drawing and performing note poems that are made up on the spot in the same way as quick gesture drawings for recent work. I keep the time length to 1-3 minutes but there is no editing of content. It either works or it doesn’t, a brutal editing process. The videos are something I see as a third medium working in and associating with the drawing and poems.

You can read more of Dianne Bowen's work in "A Fragile Conversation", an 80 page full color book released today via With foreword and essay by Leah Oates, of Station Independent Projects, an archival edition of the book will also be released on line November 10, 2011 through Adorama. And if you live in NYC, Dianne will be reading on October 28th at a collaborative event with theater director/writer Kofi Fosu Forson, at Gathering of the Tribes, 285 East Third Street (between Ave C&D).

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

My work on the Google Plus Art Walk

An artist on Google Plus called Samantah Villenave is doing great work making contact with artists, via writing and video. She's also started something she calls the G+ First Friday Art Walk. I am honoured to have been included in the latest one, along with three other very fine artists. Link here.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

In the Studio: Day 67

Still trying to put book cloth on the trays for the clamshell box, which will contain the 100 page accordion book for The Lucerne Project.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Interlochen 2011: Revisited

This coming weekend, we're going back to northern Michigan because Patty is giving a reading there, and because our friend Ann-Marie Oomen, who teaches at Interlochen Arts Academy, is having a Significant Birthday. And last night (Wednesday) I read from "The Lucerne Project" imaginary travel diary at Reading Under the Influence, a monthly Chicago literary event. Coincidentally to all this, my friend Viki, who was at the Interlochen Writers' Conference in June, sent me some of the photos she took at the reading there. Here are a couple (which I'm posting despite the fact that I look about 83 years old):

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