Friday, December 30, 2016

Sending COALTOWN into the World

I made this short video for an application to an artist residency. It's a pan shot of the interior of my diorama COALTOWN, which I exhibited at Terrain Exhibitions in Oak Park, Illinois, in September. The idea was to show the motorized parts of the models, in a way that can't be conveyed by a still image.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Work by One of My Students

I teach several versions of the Journal and Sketchbook class: the weekend or one day workshop version, and the 15 week semester-long version at Columbia College Chicago. Part of the extra academic requirement of the latter is that the students must create a piece of visual art that is in conversation with their final piece of writing. The final presentations of those paired pieces, writing + visual art, ended last week.

So many good things were submitted, and I'll post images of some of them soon. I'm going to start with this piece by student Sulejman Karic, because it combines a reading and a visual equivalent in the same video. He was born in the USA to parents who were refugees from the Bosnian war in the 1990s. The memoir he began working on is, I believe, the first time he has explored that material at such length. The video still needs some work, but it's so impressive already that I want to share it as widely as possible.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place.

Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations:
  1. Most of this is consumed by the central character, Jake, though the larger quantities (the 7 litres of wine in Chapter 15 or the 15 whiskies in Chapter 19) involve 2 other people. However, the 5 bottles of wine at the end of the book are all pretty much swallowed by Jake.
  2. I have almost certainly missed a few, though the list is pretty comprehensive.
  3. It's not recommended that you turn this into a Hemingway drinking game. A long time ago, some friends of mine tried to have every drink in "The Sun Also Rises" in order, and they were unconscious by the end of chapter 4.
Ch 1:
several fines (brandies)

Ch. 2:
a whiskey and soda
an aperitif

Ch 3:
2 bottles of wine
several liqueurs
a beer
a cognac
"a drink"

Ch 4:
brandy and soda

Ch 5:
a beer

CH 6:
a Jack Rose
"we had a drink"

Ch 7:
"a glass in her hand"
2 brandies
3 bottles of champagne
a bottle of brandy

Ch 8:
several glasses of liquor
"a drink"
several brandies
a whiskey and soda
a brandy

Ch 9:
"a drink"
a bottle of wine
"another bottle of wine"

Ch 10:
two beers
"plenty of wine"

Ch 11
2 bottles of wine
several swigs from a wine skin
one aguardiente
four unspecified drinks
a pitcher of rum punch
several bottles of wine

Ch 12
2 bottles of wine

Ch 13
3 bottles of wine
3 more bottles of wine
several drinks
several more drinks
"much wine"

Ch 14
a vermouth

Ch 15
a sherry
a gallon wine-skin
7 litres of wine
a bottle of anis
one "big leather wine bottle"

Ch 16
several glasses of wine
a bottle of Fundador
"a big glass of cognac"
"another glass of Fundador"
a bottle of Fundador
a glass of amontillado brandy
3 cognacs

Ch 17
a Fundador
a beer
"three more bottles of beer"
"another bottle of beer"
6 bottles of beer
a bottle of Fundador

Ch 18
several bottles of beer
"another big beer"
bottle of wine
several bottles of beer
4 glasses of absinthe

Ch 19
a bottle of Fundador
a whiskey and soda
15 whiskies
bottle of wine
glass of liqueur
2 brandies
a whiskey and soda
2 cognacs
2 martinis
"two more martinis"
"two more martinis"
3 bottles of rioja alta
2 more bottles of rioja alta


Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Centennial Day With Picasso

If you're not the sort of person who becomes obsessed with your favourite artists to the extent that you lap up even the tiniest details of their biography, then read no further: this post is not for you.

If, however, you get a kick out of that sort of thing, then here's what I want to talk about. Roughly twenty years ago, I found a short book that became a valuable addition to my collection of biographical materials about Picasso. It's called A Day With Picasso, and it came about when a researcher called Billy Kluver decided to track down all the photographs taken by Jean Cocteau during a single afternoon lunch session with Picasso, in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, some time during WWI. You can read the full story in his own words in the essay that prefaced the book. A brief summary: photos like this one were known to biographers and cultural historians...

L to r: Kisling, Ortiz, Jacob, Picasso, La Paquerette.
... but no-one had tried to track down all the photos that Cocteau took that day, and no-one had ascertained even the year that the photos were taken. Kluver's method involved talking to collectors, biographers, museum people, and other related parties; hunting through archives; and most ingeniously of all, matching meteorological charts from the time to arrive at an exact day when a) all the people in the photos were in Paris at the same time, and b) to judge by the angle of the shadows what time of day the photos were taken. 

The result: Kluver named the day as Saturday, August 12, 1916, and the shooting time was from about 12:30 in the afternoon until about 4:00 pm. Cocteau met Picasso at the Rotonde on the Boulevard Montparnasse, where they were joined by the poet Max Jacob, the writer Henri Pierre Roché, the artists Moise Kisling and Amedeo Modigliani, and the model La Paquerette. A few other members of the Montparnasse artistic demi-monde dropped by at different times. Cocteau took a series of relaxed, candid shots of his friends outside the restaurant, at the junction of the Boulevard du Montparnasse and the Boulevard Raspail; inside the Rotonde; outside on the street again, fooling around next to a vegetable seller's cart; and (after Picasso had gone home) outside the church at the western end of the avenue.

Standing, l to r: Jacob, Roche, Picasso

L to r: Ortiz, Jacob, Kisling, La Paquerette, and Picasso inside La Rotonde
There's nothing particularly dramatic about the photos. It's entirely possible that the conversations, locked forever inside the silence of the still image, were about banal things like the price of coffee, or what they were doing for dinner later. They were almost certainly joking around about people they knew, art dealers they were struggling with, and perhaps talking about weightier matters like the terrible war that was taking place a few dozen miles away to the north of Paris. But it's precisely the informality of the shots, and the fact that Mr. Kluver tracked them down to a particular day in a particular order, that gives the extraordinary feeling of sitting next to people in a cafe, a whole century ago, as they go about the work of creating the milieu that lit the starting fuse for twentieth century art.

Some other related biographical information that pertains to the photos:
  • It's likely that the reason they were all meeting was because the artists had work in a show at the nearby Salon d'Antin. Picasso exhibited his 1907 masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon -- the first time the painting had ever been shown in public:

  • Picasso's studio was less than a kilometre away, next to the cemetery on the Rue de Schoelcher ( the red marker on the following map). I wrote a previous long post about Picasso's association with that address. The meeting and photos all happened close to where it says Vavin metro stop on the map:

  • La Paquerette was actually the lover of two of the people in these photos, neither of whom seemed to mind. She was a model for the fashion designer Paul Poiret, who in turn was one of Picasso's patrons beginning in the Cubist period of Picasso's work (about 1911 onwards).
  • In the second photo above, the chap in the military uniform is Henri Pierre Roché, a journalist who about ten years earlier had helped introduce Picasso to Gertrude Stein, who in turn became Picasso's first significant patron. Roché would later write a memoir about a thorny love triangle he had been part of, which in 1962 would be turned into the film masterpiece Jules et Jim by director Francois Truffaut:

  • I was born in 1962.

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