Skip to main content


Rare footage of Dimitri Shostakovitch in rehearsal

There are many people around the world who no doubt are looking at the USA and wondering what the hell is going on, and there people looking at Russia and thinking the same, and now we have the two countries on a collision course again due to the meshing of two authoritarians taking advantage of a sizeable lunatic bloc in their respective electorates (or "electorate", if you will). 

I'm so shell-shocked by the pace of recent events that I'm having to remind myself of how much of my artistic development was shaped by the art/music/literature produced by these two countries. Every one of the people in the following lists made works that hit my like a bolt of lightning when I first encountered them, some as early as my fourteenth year. You can imagine the worlds that were opened up to me as I scoured these books (et al) while reading in an underheated bedroom in a draughty building in a mining town in the north of England, during what seems in memory to have been the permanently grey and drizzly mid-1970s. Many of these artists are still people I return to for listening/looking/reading.

First, the USA:

Mark Twain
Herman Melville
Emily Dickinson
Henry James 
T. S. Eliot
Ernest Hemingway
Saul Bellow
James Baldwin
The entire history of blues music
The entire history of jazz music
The entire history of rock and roll/rock music
(All three were American inventions)
Frank Bridge
Leonard Bernstein
Joan Mitchell 
Willem de Kooning (technically a US artist, though he was a Dutch immigrant)
Andy Warhol

Russia/Soviet Union:


Let's not despair of these two countries just yet. They have given so much to the world, despite their contemporary aberrations.


Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.

A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

I Did Nazi This Coming

Metropolitan Opera, New York: Parsifal Act III
Despite being a lifelong lover of and listener to opera, I've never had the ear for Wagner's music. I love hearing everything from Gluck up to John Adams, but skirted around or jumped over Wagner whenever the temptation presented itself.

I used the provocative 'N' word in the title of this post because one of the things that has always made me wary of the Bard of Bayreuth is the stain laid on it by its National Socialist admirers. That's not the only reason.

Reasons why I never liked Wagner:
The enormous length of his operas, often five hours plus. And my objection was not to the length per se, but to what it said about his musical language. For example, if like me you are steeped in Mozart's operative language, with its brilliance and variety and liveliness, Wagner's music can seem turgid and static by comparison.
The ridiculous medieval stories. Given the chance to watch Mozart or Puccini or Richard Strauss…