Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Hardest Part

As the residency has progressed, time became compressed and like the gas at the center of a star, it burns with more intensity. Time for leaving approaches and everything I want to do before I leave needs to happen in just one day and that includes spending time with my fellow Fellows. We’ve been on parallel metaphorical journeys and those who have been travelling alongside have become dear friends. And soon we’ll say goodbye.

I am grateful for these last days because their value is so evident. Really, every day is important yet time is so easily lost in the quotidian flow. Times like this are wonderful for they are illuminated with an awareness of how fleeting they are.

My friend Bea (the one who shook Barack’s hand) said yesterday, "Hopefully you’ll take some of it home with you." I certainly will do that. What is more, many of these fellows live in New York and even Williamsburg. So I will certainly enjoy some of the camaraderie back home...along with all the good things waiting for me there...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Strange blossoms. Charcoal on painted birch ply, 24" x 24" 2008.

The last piece I will do during my VCCA fellowship. I really like the free-wheeling Dr. Seuss quality it possesses. It's medium sized (2 feet by 2 feet) but I think it would also work well as a big, ceiling-mounted work.

[More new work]

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lurking Menaces

untitled (plastic) ink on paper 9" x 12" 2008.

untitled (bag) ink on paper 9" x 12" 2008.

untitled (undies) ink on paper 9" x 12" 2008.

Hanging out in Virginia with a bunch of New Yorkers has reminded me of a basic Citymouse/Countrymouse tension: the more people become divorced from Nature, the more frightening it becomes. VCCA has many great places to walk, including over a mile of trails right on the property. Yet my colleagues here are largely unwilling to venture onto them for fear of lurking menaces: bears, poison ivy, wild dogs, and (most fearsome of all) ticks. To no avail, I remind people that if they stay on the grounds and on the path, they have absolutely nothing to fear. In fact, we are walking menaces and the woods are rightly afraid of us--we pose far more danger to them than they do to us. Let me say this officially: I would much rather have wildlife than garbage lurking among the trees.

That's a long-winded and anecdotal introduction to this new series of drawings about some of the negative consequences of the Human/Nature interface. In Williamsburg (Brooklyn) almost every tree has trash in it. And why not, when every corner and crevice seems to be full of human detritus.

Still, I hope there is at least some gritty beauty in these drawings...

[More New Work]

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Sentinel. Oil pastel on painted birch ply, 24" x 24" 2008.

This is a midsummer's response to my earlier Solstice song. If the earlier work possesses a mid-winter austerity, this one is a midsummer dream. My greatest challenge was to marry the tree's shockingly bright with the fecund mass that adorns its crown, all while staying both loose and specific. I love the result.

[Source Photo | More new work | Earlier Tree Portraits]

Dream Catcher 2

Dream Catcher 2. Charcoal on painted masonite 18" x 40" 2008.

This is a companion to the earlier (one week older) Dream Catcher drawing. Both hang high on the wall and both have a serene, meditative feeling. While the earlier work has a Vespers-like melancholy, this piece is meant to signify an unfolding, a harbinger of renewal. They look great side-by-side and amount to a whole that is much greater than each individual.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Close Encounters of the Obama Kind

Campaign website

Although we didn't have tickets for Barack's Lynchburg appearance, a group of us took a van ride from VCCA to see the candidate--or at least to see the scene.

There was a huge line of people waiting to get in--very mixed, black, white, old, young, rich, poor. Very friendly, very heartening. Not surprisingly, there were more people than space, so not everyone (ourselves included) got into the auditorium. The secret service set up an outdoor listening area and Barack and Jim Webb came out to apologize personally. My friend Bea got to shake his hand and I was about six feet away.

He looked, sounded, acted exactly the way that we see him on TV. It seems that one reason why he is telegenic and such a star is that his normal appearance and behavior translates well for the media. Some of us photograph better than others and he's enormously blessed in that way.

The speech was great, the usual stuff. It was a great experience--not one I would do every day, but very much worth the time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dreams from My Grandmother-in-law

Something about this place gives my dreams extraordinary vividness...

For the first time since her passing, I dreamed of Margery last night. She was ancient and needed help down a winding staircase--so much so that I practically carried her. It would have been easier for our combined ungainliness nearly caused us to tumble more than once teetering on the brink. Whe we reached the bottom I set her gently down on a stone floor but she was folded like a heap.

Her sigh that closed the dream are imprinted on my mind: "Oh the burning..."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cocktails with Virgil

This time in Virginia has been a great source of inspiration--both visual an conversational.

After taking a day off to attend Margery’s memorial service at Springtree, I troopered over the mountains to Blacksburg to attend Suzi Gablik’s monthly salon.

Last summer I spent a week in a little cabin literally perched on the edge of the Catskills under the auspices of the Catskills Center for Conservation and Development. In that program, artists each get the cabin (with no running water but a huge waterfall) to themselves for a week to work, read, hike, or do whatever they want to do in total seclusion. One of the previous fellows had left Suzi’s Conversations Before the End of Time, which is a series of dialogs with artists, thinkers, and other visionaries. Although it was written two decades ago, the themes addressed (such as environmental degradation, civilization clash, and the war on dissent) therein are absolutely crucial today.

The artist who had left the book at the cabin suggested that those who follow read and discuss the book via the cabin’s log and a lively dialog ensued via notebook, with one artist leaving their impressions after the next. Conversations made quite an impression on me as it hit me at the right moment, as had some of her other books such as Has Modernism Failed? and Re-enchantment of Art so I wrote to the author to tell her so.

I was surprised to hear back right away in the form of a detailed and very expressive letter, in which she mentioned that she hosts an informal discussion/salon every month that I should visit some time. A year went by before I could link create a little free time while in Virginia and when her salon was taking place. My residency at VCCA was the perfect opportunity and allowed me to take a much-needed day off from the studio. It was a big day with Margery’s service, the salon, and about 5 hours of driving in between but it was well worth the trip.

It turns out that although she had hosted many salon’s before, it was another writer—Mary Campagna—who convinced Suzi to host this monthly gathering. She (Mary) was moved in a very similar way by both the content of Conversations and it’s unstructured dialectical form.

The attendees were varied, including writers, artists, thinkers, pilgrims, and a sociologist. Many points of view and a wide range of topics awakened me to many ideas and connections I had never imagined before. Topics like distance learning, cultural extinction, moral courage, and the essential energy of Life were tied together though by the conversational form itself.

Humans have the capacity to be shockingly destructive, but we also possess the ability to enlarge ourselves through conversation and collaboration and there was some high-level thinking going on in that circle of chairs. I feel very invigorated and galvanized. It reminded me how discussion can be fuel and how available it is—all it takes is a group of interesting people and perhaps a bottle of wine. I hope to take full advantage of the amazing minds around me here at VCCA and perhaps Cole and I will revive our old salons when we get back to New York. And I hope to revisit Suzi’s group sometime—maybe if/when we relocate to Virginia.

I plan to blog more about some of the topics we discussed, but in the meantime, you can get a sense of what Suzi’s about by reading her blog or by picking up some of her books, which are extremely influential, well-written and on-point.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Close Encounters for the Third Time

The amount of wildlife here is phenomenal.

I can’t believe it happened again!

This time Cole and I were taking a break from a little hike on the Appalachian Trail and were sitting on a pile of rocks, engrossed in an intense discussion. There was a little rustle that I figured to be a squirrel, when suddenly Cole jumped up and got behind my back, as bear cub ambled onto the rocks near by (a few feet).

Boy was he cute! Boy were we startled! He was even more spooked—and went tearing off down the mountain at lightening speed. The next logical question, of course, was the location of his mama. Though we hiked the rest of the way with a big stick in one hand and rock in the other.

Happily, we never did meet the rest of his family.

Weekly bear sightings? What is this place; Alaska?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Close Encounters Part II

I’ve logged a gazillion running miles on country roads, so I’m well acquainted with the dogs and other forms of aggressive wildlife one encounters there. This morning, I had one such run-in of the most dangerous kind: with a human being and his truck.

Though I stick to low-traffic or nearly-deserted routes, I’m always super careful to stay safe. When I’m alone, I’ll run in the middle of the road (because it’s level there) but as soon as I see or hear an auto (which is generally about half a mile in advance), I move off the road completely and run on the shoulder or even in the adjoining fields. This morning I saw a pickup truck zooming toward me so I eased over to the left-hand shoulder—standard procedure—and gave my usual finger-wave to the driver—also standard procedure in Virginia.

Instead of waving back (as usually happens) and instead of giving me a little extra room (as almost always happens) he swerved toward me (which happens about twice a year). I was never in real danger as I zipped across the ditch to safety faster than a deer but the aggression and the speed and force at play was utterly terrifying.

I shouted some expletives after him as he zoomed away, which startled a nearby cattle herd and sent them stampeding away from the road faster than I could have imagined possible. That amusing sight helped me get past my anger and I continue on my way.

A little while later, I heard another sound behind me that sounded like the same truck. Not wanting to show fear, I did not look back, but being smart, I hopped the ditch again completely off of the road. As the vehicle approached, it slowed. Just as I looked back, he pulled alongside and it was the same guy.

He rolled his window down and instead of yelling at me he apologized in a very contrite and humble manner. Apparently he came around a curve and was blinded by the rising sun. His perfectly plausible explanation diffused my simmering anger and I instinctively assured him that it was ok, no harm done.

Although that sort of situation is rather frightening, I should be careful about attributing motives. What I had seen as aggression was actually terror in his eyes. He might have been more shaken by the experience than I was. Living is a dangerous business but it only gets harder if we see boogie-men in one another. Life is too short to live without that faith.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dream Catcher

Does this image look familiar?
(Dream Catcher. Charcoal on painted masonite 18" x 40" 2008)

I arrived here with four panels painted and ready to go for specific works. This is the first, completed in record-time-four days. Right away, there are two things that appeal to me about it: the elaborately prepared background (which took considerably more than four days) is really active. It's as if the air itself is in motion, which is of course what I was trying to do. Second, it has a looseness, which my tree drawings sometimes lack. The trees are treated in a way that is no less, shall we say, thorough than usual. However, by using a longer tool and by forcing myself to work quickly the marks have a loose but decisive quality that appeals.

Dream Catcher detail. Click for better view.
This is my favorite piece in a while. I know, I know: artists often love their latest work best. But this one really seems to reflect the good emotional place I'm in right now. I've been drawing so much my arm is getting sore. So watch for much more work and more thoughts and reflections soon!

One more quick thing:

I'll be having a show this October in Fort Green (Brooklyn), thanks to the unstoppable Anders Knuttson.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

So much to do, so little time (but a little more than usual)...

My first 24 hours were particularly eventful, as someone's wise-cracky bulletin board note highlights.

Since I’ve been at "the colony", I’ve provided abundant sensory information, but what have I been doing?

In no particular order, here’s what I’ve done in my first few days:
  • Created two new pieces: a large shoes-and-wire piece and a small trash-in-trees drawing (images coming soon!)
  • Collaborated and performed a 15-minute installation/performance piece with three fellow artists (youtube coming soon!)
  • Taken lots of photographs
  • Run—alot with some serious hills
  • Swam several times a day
  • Early to bed and early to rise
  • Watched the sunset nearly every night
  • Hiked up a mountain (not on a trail)
  • Communed with nature
  • Made surprisingly many phone calls and emails
  • Eaten yummy food and met some great people
  • Been the author of (and occasionally the butt of) more than a few jokes and wisecracks.
It’s amazing what a guy can do if he’s used to not having lots of time—and then suddenly has some!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The things you retain

The VCCA grounds are full of public art, much of it designed to facilitate contemplation.

This one is variously known as "the sunset bench," "the kissing bench," and "the pot-smoking bench."

It’s easy to talk about the beauty of this place in visual terms. The rolling fields and quiet forests, the golden hills and the distant mountains have a soothing effect on the eyes. But the other senses are the ones that trap memories and they’re the ones that will haunt me when I go back to Brooklyn: the sweet smell of the Earth, the warm sun on my face, the wind and the wall of cicada-sound, the gentle rocking of the pool-mattress as I watch the clouds slowly break apart and re-form...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Close Encounters of the Animal Kind

On this morning’s run, I encountered deer, rabbits, horses, birds, and cows. As I ran by the Sweetbriar barns, of course a bunch of dogs attacked. Most were up to the usual dog-on-runner tricks but one of them was super-aggressive and it went straight at me—and bit me! Fortunately, his teeth happened to land harmlessly on my watch and I was not injured. Here’s the shameful thing: it was a big white...poodle(!). I’m almost too embarrassed to write it.

But the highlight of the morning happened about 2 minutes into my run. As I headed down the mountain on a back road, who should cross my path but a big black bear. YIKES!!! And he was really close—about 40 yards, which a bear can cover quicker than a sprinter. Clearly escape was impossible, so I waved my arms over my head and clapped and yelled real loud. Fortunately, he crossed the road and into the woods in a bear’s ambling way. I guess the wild blueberries were probably more interesting than my tender flesh...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sweetbriar Seriously Sweet

VCCA is even more wonderful than I had expected. I have a great studio. Great studio—big, sky-lit and well-appointed. Nice cozy room with plenty of books and a shower/bathroom I share with just one other guy. Beautiful grounds, couldn’t be more typically Virginia: big hills, hay fields, horses, shockingly much boxwood. Hot and steamy but everything is air conditioned. Then there's the old-style and surprisingly deep pool. It’s all very beautiful and refreshing for the soul.

So I’m looking forward some serious productivity and the usual Krebsian journeys of personal discovery.

More on that soon!