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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Monday, December 28, 2009
Untitled dry points. 2" x 2" on 10" x 10.5" Tiepolo paper. Edition of 6. 2009.
I have not written about new work for a while but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening. In fact I’ve been chomping at the bit to reveal my secret projects and here is one of them.
This set of eight two-inch square prints fits into a hole in my body of work—small, affordable edition work. Printed by master printer Judy Mensch, they’re arresting objects in their own right or could be a complete set; very collectible either way. There are six of each image, a very small edition.
Having started as stone carver, I have the utmost respect for technical mastery of an ancient craft and that is why I have hesitated for so long to start serious printmaking. I did not want my imperfect command of the medium to diminish the impact of my ideas. For some, craft is a end unto itself and for others it is a barrier to entry. In this case I was in the latter group but that’s where Judy comes in.
The experience of working with her has been a liberation from my own limitations. She is an expert on all technical aspects of print-making and while she is an excellent artist in her own right and her work is quite different from mine aesthetically, she has guided me expertly through the drypoint process and her printing has given life to my ideas. She has excellent taste and sound judgement. She couldn’t be easier or more helpful to work with.
The only problem with Judy is that she lives in New York--nobody's perfect, right?--which is not exactly convenient. We’re managing ok so far, but first things first: we must finish this run before I ponder too much what to do in the future. So far five of the planned eight images are ready.
For now, let’s enjoy what we have, far enough along in its gestation that we can speak about it openly.
Preview of what's to come
Here's a quick peek at the remaining three images in the suite. These are artist proofs but they will be printed in the same format as the other five. Enjoy!
Three dry point. 2" x 2" 2009. Artist Proofs. Future edition of six.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Better put some curtains on those big windows...
I couldn’t be happier with my new studio. The possibility of space in McGuffey was a big factor in our decision to move to Charlottesville and I have to say that so far it has definitely met my expectations.
The studio itself is really good and conducive for working. High ceilings, big windows, lots of light, nice floors, easy logistics with an elevator that doesn’t demand bribes…what more could anyone want? Outside of my own little studio, there are plenty of great resources such as a gallery, a classroom, and a little library. The place is spacious, relaxed, and dignified and in a great location, right in the heart of town and a short bike ride or walk from where I live.
Impressive as the facility may be, the community there might be even better. I’ve been in some great studio buildings, been part of artist co-ops, and artist residency programs and McGuffey combines much of those situations. It’s some impressive company and an environment where people really seem to be looking out for one another. It’s a pretty social place; I think the open-door requirement all but assures that it will be that way. Yet we do not need to have our doors open all the time and we can—and do—close them when we really need to concentrate.
My raging studio-crush on McGuffey does not take anything away from the Tree House or anywhere I was before, nor do the other communities suffer in comparison to this one. We’ll simply say that I’m happy where I am and that I’m very glad that I applied and grateful that I was accepted.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Layhill's Last Farm House oil on canvas 30" x 40" 1992.
When I was a child the little subdivision where I lived was an island of suburbia in the middle of the country--or at least it seemed that way. In every direction, fields and forests: a small Eden for a boy to explore and proving ground for a thousand childhood fantasies.
I learned to run crosscountry by chasing deer and I found out that I was fast when I caught one. I helped my father chop wood in the autumn and my mother taught me where to find rare wildflowers in the spring. Sledding was an embarrassment of riches and summer was a toy boat in a bubbling stream. Open space and unstructured play with the many children nearby made me the person I am today.
Passing years could be measured in bulldozer tracks as one farm after another was sold, razed, and replaced my more culs-de-sac until only a few parks remained of what had been a pretty wild place. By the time I was in college, the winding country road was a divided highway and you could walk to the Metro. The Real Estate market even claimed a nearby golf course.
By the time I came back from junior year in Europe (1992), only one farm house remained, and it didn't seem long for this world so I did a painting of it, illustrated above, to keep at least some record of how things were before.
All this time later, the pink house is still there. My brother lives in the house where we both grew up and the painting is hanging on his wall. He emailed me the other day with a link to a blog he had found. It was about the pink house.
It turns out the owners are musicians who are methodically restoring the house after a fire in 2005 (now I'm really glad I did the painting!) and blogging about it. The account is extremely detailed and is links the their other, more personal, blog so I've been able to learn quite alot about the pink house and its residents.
Standing in the tall grass in the hot Washington summer and feeling like a vanGogh/Hopper hybrid (I had just been to Arles) I wondered a lot about the people inside and their lives. When I finished the painting I think I went to show it to them and I don't remember if anyone was home.
Thanks to their blog I was able to learn more about them, and now thanks to my blog, they can see the painting.
Photo: Sebastian. No one in this world was nicer to Sebastian or more patient with him. They were good friends.
December 6, 2009.
Creepers always had a flair for the dramatic. For the third time, he went on a water-only fast lasting for weeks and weeks, diminishing his body down to a mere shadow. The first time, we dragged him back from Death’s door at the cost of extraordinary effort and lots of money. The second time, he came back on his own. Something was different this time though; we knew he was serious.
He never withdrew from us emotionally, he was pretty cheerful, even as he refused to eat anything whatsoever—not wet food, tuna, anchovy paste--nothing. The other day, he went out for a walkabout, which is pretty rare as winter is gathering. Without any body fat he had a difficult time maintaining heat even indoors next to the heater, in the sun or under the covers so I gasped when Sebastian told me he had gone out. We looked all around for him as the sleet changed into snow. Now, thirty six hours unsurvivable hours later, the signs do not look promising.
They say that freezing is the best way to die. It’s a strangely warm embrace and painless. As cats usually do, he probably wanted to find a dark cave or hollow to return to the Earth quietly. If he will not to come back home, I hope he found some place peaceful to rest.
This entire blog is dedicated to suffering/thriving in the country/city. Since leaving New York, our cats have taken different paths, not necessarily the ones we had expected. Creepers adjusted well to every previous move and was never prone to the anxiety fits that Beevis had. We thought he would adapt well to a slower paced life, particularly the ability to go outside at will. After all, he rushed out of the apartment at every opportunity.
Yet, he never seemed to fully adjust to the new space and our six months in Charlottesville were a slow decline for him. If I had to finger a single decisive moment, it was when the neighbor’s pit bull escaped from the leash and chased Creepers around his own yard. He was never eager to go out again after that…until the end.
We’ll never really know what was wrong with him. His health problems were undeniable and they began in the City. At the same time, he seemed stricken by a malady of the spirit as much as of the body. When people ask me how I adjust to life in Charlottesville, I know how to answer. They sometimes ask about the cats and my response cannot be as pat as it once was. Beevis likes it better and is calmer and healthier. Creepers’ transition might be not have been so easy.
That Citymouse/Countrymouse dialectic must apply to cats as well. CityCat/CountryCat anyone?
Thursday, December 3, 2009
When I sit on the edge of the track and take my shoes off for a freezing jaunt through the puddles of McCarren Park or to pan-fry the soles of my feet on the same artificial turf in the summer, I'm glad to know I'm not alone, nor the most intense guy out there.
It always cheers me up to run into my friend Coach Kiki, who can very often be found teaching his unique fitness program at the track's high-hurdle starting line. Kiki (Kwesi Morris) is usually surrounded by a diverse group of enthusiastic students who follow his rigorous full-body program that uses only the body itself to build strength, power, and flexibility. “The body is its own machine,” says Kiki who utilizes the body's weight and geometry to generate resistance.
His group runs through a fast-paced series of sprints, lunges, medicine ball passes, stair steps, planks, high-steps, and the like and it is not at all unlike what the top Kenyans do for cross training. Kiki brought the seeds of his innovative yet timeless approach from Africa's opposite coast in his native Ghana but his outlook has a Rasta inflection. In fact, Kiki was a pretty well-known Reggae DJ until his fitness business grew so large that it crowded other things out.
“I had to give up the music because my training requires me to get up very early in the morning,” he said, “so I couldn't stay out late.” Not only does Kiki rise early in the morning, he does much of the workout along-side his clients-over and over all day long. He's zonked when he hits the pillow at night.
I'm pretty sure anyone who works out with Kiki will have very significant results as his program is quite serious, yet available to many thanks to a sliding rate scale. It's great just to be near the guy; he has a force of character that is palpable. His presence there in the park has a very positive effect.
For my part, I always cruise over and shake his hand. I jog away feeling a little bit stronger.
Kiki's Web Site | NYTimes Profile
Saturday, November 28, 2009
We're all migrants, one way or another.
I’m rolling back up to New York today on a mission to pack and retrieve my studio. It’s a perfect—if chilly—fall day, two days after Thanksgiving and the day after Sebastian’s 6th birthday.
The early hour (I’m on the Starlight Express) plus the exquisite light makes it a perfect day to work on my Starlight photo series but the bus is packed and I’m not by the window, so I’ll have to remember the beauty with my mind instead.
As usual, the trip is fraught with emotion; more than the usual separation anxiety and the oddness of instantly transforming from Countrymouse to Citymouse over and over. I’m stressed about the usual worries of moving (and moving artwork to boot). Too many details are unresolved two days out: haven’t heard from the truck company; don’t know if I’ll have elevator access (long, tiresome story there); not sure if I’ll have anyone to help me. Yikes!
The big thing in the background, though, is that this will finally cap off my move from New York to Charlottesville. Of course I’m sad to give up the studio but I’m totally pumped to get going in my new space, which is great. Most of all, I will be very glad to have definitively completed my move, which has dragged on for six months now, keeping me in limbo and effectively without a base of operations. I am a very nimble guy, but it will be wonderful to finally have my feet on solid ground.
Moving is like breaking up with someone—best to do it decisively and without hanging on to something that’s not there anymore.
But will New York want to be “just friends?”
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Not our house but one nearby. I love the harmony in the neighborhood between landscape and architecture.
I was talking to a fellow Brooklyn transplant this evening as we were hanging the holiday show at the McGuffey Arts Center. We were comparing notes about why we each left New York and why we picked Charlottesville.
“People always tell me that it must be hard to adjust to life in Charlottesville,” she told me. “I’ve actually found it very easy.”
I think a very big reason is because people here are so welcoming and are very gracious with their hospitality and glad to make lasting connections. They see value in meeting new people and are confident in opening their circle to new people.
There’s a social stinginess in the New York art scene that is quite unpleasant, where people look at each other as resources to be tapped—or potential exploiters to be guarded against. It’s curious to find that attitude in a place where most everyone is an outsider, and outcast or an immigrant.
But that’s precisely the problem: New York is a city of 7 million people who are hungry for something. It is a basic fact of living in New York that you are constantly meeting new people and bombarded with their points of view—wanted or unwanted—and you cannot open yourself to everyone.
The crush of humanity there requires a strategic approach to social networking but there is a razor-thin line between caution and calculus. And insecure, calculating people are so tiresome! It’s too Latin (as in ancient Rome) for me.
This past weekend, we received several spontaneous invitations to cocktails, to coffee, to playdate from various neighbors we hardly knew. These were interesting people too: a writer, a designer, an architect, an economist. Busy people with a lot going on, but somehow able to make time to welcome a new family to the block.
Don’t get me wrong: we have many wonderful generous friends in New York, who are full of grace and whom I admire greatly. Of course you can carve a wonderful life out there, but it will assuredly be a lot of work. We left because basic tenants of a good life are unnecessarily difficult (or expensive) in New York, and they’re mostly easier here
So when people ask me if I’m finding it difficult to adjust to life in Charlottesville, my answer is always the same, though never simple. I’m happy to be here and I miss my friends back there. But almost everything is easier here, even for a new arrival.
Friday, November 13, 2009
VABC, which amusingly shares an acronym with the Virginia bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control, is a cooperative studio specializing in printmaking and hand-made letterpress. Housed in a former industrial facility within a very easy walk of downtown, the Center is a great resource and very smartly run. They’re not pretentious but they do great work. It’s the virtuous cycle: excellence builds confidence and confidence is cool.
Their fundraiser was the place to be this evening with terrific catered food and wine and a very lively atmosphere. Those ingredients, plus excellent artwork on offer seemed to telekinetically loosen all the purse strings and I was not exempt myself.
There were many prints that I would have loved to add to my own collection, but there was one item that far outshone everything else. A collaboratively-made deck of 45 cards called “Infinite Stakes”, with card each printed by a different artist, was offered in a unique “reverse auction,” where the price is set at a given amount that went down with each commitment to buy another number from the edition. When all fifteen sets were purchased, the price landed at $150, which was an amazing bargain. The room sold out and I'm quite sure it was a successful night for the organizers.
I couldn’t be happier with my purchase except for the fact that it’s $150 that I really don’t have. That’s why credit cards exist: to buy things that we really should not. I’m not sure if the Recession is over or not but there is optimism in the air, quite possibly unwarranted. It [the optimism] is a condition that cannot be easily cured.
For now I’m going to spread my new set of cards on a clean surface and look at them carefully. Maybe they will contain some answers.
Friday, November 6, 2009
What a privalege I had, to witness Meb's triumph from up-close on the photo truck. Check back for a cool sequence where Errol Anderson caught Meb's decisive move.
Photo courtesy New York Road Runners.
What an experience! As always, working the ING New York City Marathon was a grueling experience, more exhausting in its way than running. For some reason, subject for a future post, this iteration was harder than any other. Obviously, orchestrating the largest marathon ever held anywhere will be a very taxing experience. Fortunately, something truly special happened on race day, in the person of a certain man with a three-lettered name.
Meb Keflezighi’s victory on the streets of New York was a big deal for American running and it was huge for us at New York Road Runners. Despite his Olympic silver medal, he was not many people’s pick to win the race. He was not even the most heralded American to toe the line. Meb has a huge heart and in the days before the race he was all business. His one-word answers at the pre-race press conference hinted to me that he had big ambitions in mind.
Meb’s a legitimate champion, boasting numerous national records and the afore-mentioned Olympic hardware. Yet he had struggled through a multi-year stretch of injuries and some sub-par performances, leaving many to wonder if, at age 34, he was done. With this year’s string of personal bests, including this huge new triumph, Meb is not ready to hang up the waffles quite yet and he won’t be anyone’s underdog anymore.
It’s not just his underdog status that made him a favorite around the office, however. Meb is a truly beautiful human being, which is quickly apparent to anyone who meets him. Two years ago after a disastrous 20th place finish in the five boroughs, he did something I had never heard of before or since: he bought lunch for the entire Road Runners staff. That’s a hundred people. If you want to measure a man’s quality, look to how he responds to defeat. It’s easy to be graceful in victory, and Meb has certainly met that standard as well in the past week, but his goodness is fueled by something deeper than the circumstance of the moment.
Meb’s victory is a redeeming gift to the sport and to America; it would not be a huge stretch to call it an Athletics equivalent to the ascendancy of Berack Obama. Like with president Obama, the lunatic fringe is wringing its hands about whether Meb Keflezghi, born in Eritrea but an American citizen and resident since early youth, is truly an American.
There should be no doubt however. Only one of the scores of runners lining up for the USA Championship, which took place within the larger marathon, wore the letters USA on his chest, right above the three letters on his name bib. He knows and appreciates better than most what America is all about and as he cruised to the finish line, Meb pointed to the nation’s abbreviation and gave thumbs up. He brought the victory home to all of us, for the first time since another child of immigrants, Alberto Salazar who was born in Cuba, did so way back in 1984.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Countrymouse in Paradise at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
A whirlwind trip down to Virginia.
Those less-than-two days were packed with Autumn delights. I carved a pumpkin with a five-year-old--does it get any better than that? I raked leaves, which the same child was only too happy to “smush down.” We hiked through a golden wood and alongside sparkling waters under a pure blue sky. I slept for two nights in my own bed, under my own roof, with my own sweetheart; and it was wonderful. I was like a prisoner on furlough, the kind where he’s sent home for the weekend to breed, except my life in New York is not a prison and I'm no Willie Horton.
More like an exile. (Does that mean that Meredith is under house arrest?)
In a way, it was an example of how lucky I am. I worked like crazy all week in a job that is exhausting but quite interesting. Then I go home and someone paints the mountains all crazy colors and puts pumpkins on all the porches and a smell of autumn on the wind. The art direction was perfect, and everyone was gad to see me.
We were all sad when it was time for me to get back on the bus and head back up to the granite island. It’s fun but I’ll be glad to go back to having just one life at a time.
Friday, October 23, 2009
When I talk about the darker parts of my nature, I'm mostly thinking about the compulsions we all feel to do things that are obviously self-destructive. Why drink too much? Why not sleep enough? Why say foolish things that we know will rebound to hurt us in the end? I want to understand the devil that makes me do these things so I can beat it.
I had a little revelation while I was swimming the other day so I paused to write it down:
Brooklyn, October 21
So I'm starting to understand my desire to flirt with the dark side. It's about proving one' fortitude--mostly to oneself. In this book I'm reading (The Third Chimpanzee), Jared Diamond describes a Kung Fu challenge of drinking Kerosene. Quite impressive to your adversaries if you survive to kick their @$$ with that handicap. There's a ritual version of it but the masters also do it when no one is around. Who are they trying to impress? There can only be one answer...
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Here's a picture Sebastian caught of my dad and me--and an early tree painting. He was four at the time.
It's difficult being away from Sebastian. This has been a good trip so far, but saying goodbye to him only gets harder. And he's starting to suffer a little bit too.
This past weekend, I met Meredith and him at my parents' house near Washington, DC. While we were there my dad told me that he had to spend a year away from my mom and my two sisters (I was not born yet) while he completed his graduate studies in Saint Louis. Our little struggles are familiar to many, maybe even universal.
That made me feel better. I really respect my dad and it was a great message because it combined sympathy and a gentle reminder that I wouldn't lose Sebastian while I'm away.
To comfort me just a little more on my return to New York, he sent me off with pancakes he had made, each wrapped in wax paper and packed in groups of four into sandwich bags.
Monday morning, I threw those puppies on the griddle and thought about my dad as I had breakfast.
A nice way to start the week.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Enormous thanks to my friend Daphne for letting us stay in her beautiful home, and for providing the porch from which to watch this moonrise. [Photo Gallery]
Last weekend I took a roadtrip with my friend Rachel up the Hudson Valley. Proximity to this magical region is among the greatest pleasures of living in New York City, and one that I will miss the most. It’s also one that is easily neglected in the frenetic life of the City. That feeling of liberation is exactly what makes such a trip so wonderful yet the rush of the City is like the emotional kind of addiction. It seems impossible to simply step away, even for a weekend.
We wrenched ourselves out of the rat race and scurried up the Through Way to the Rondout Valley, between the Gunks and the Catskills and across the Reservoir from Woodstock. That whole mid-Hudson region is a treasure with formidable natural beauty--strange geology, folded glades, mossy rock formations, abundant clean streams, dark woods, and surrounding mountains.
Nature has reclaimed the Nineteenth Century’s crumbling infrastructure (railways, canals, docklands, quarries, millworks, tanneries, and on and on), which adds a whole lot of romance and moss-covered mythical quality. The Hudson River School predisposed us to that way of seeing the world and a veritable army of well-funded conservationists and preservationists have locked it in for us and many future generations of travelers and pilgrims.
Many places are beautiful but the Hudson Valley also happens to be blessed with an absurd cultural abundance as well. There are countless art centers, drama troupes, and musical venues. With just a short two days to explore, Rachel and I focused on the Art of Living and just two towns: one small (Hudson) and one tiny (High Falls).
We walked from shop to shop, each full of beautiful things and so tastefully curated. Not everything will appeal to every eye (although most of it looked good to me). The quality and coherence of the selections were undeniable. I am no materialist but I could really do some damage in the majority of those shops, armed with the right expense account.
High Falls, with a population of about 37 has half a dozen furnishing stores that I could only call top-shelf in terms of quality, though not necessarily price. Our favorite was a slightly-hidden gem called Spruce. Turns out the proprietor lives in Greenpoint. Only figures, right?
The City of Hudson flows down the east side of the Hudson Valley from Olana to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. The downtown, which must have at one time been devastated by job flight has become a gauntlet of antique stores in lovingly restored storefronts, bank branches, movie, theaters, soda fountains, and other Rockwellesque settings. Surprisingly enough, it seems really cool. There wasn’t any of kitsch, schlock, sentimentalism or cloying tchotchkism you would expect in such a place. Nor was there a smell of decay or feeling of decrepitude. Whoever is doing their scouting and buying has some serious eyes and it’s very consistent from one place to the next.
Again, an expense account would be nice up there as some of the shops are a tad pricey but not outrageous. The merchants were super-friendly, knowledgeable and eager to deal. It couldn’t feel more different than East Hampton, for example, or Santa Fe. It’s a fun, friendly place, not annoying at all and well worth a trip. Even I did not escape empty-handed: I found a nice mirror in great condition at a very fair price; and of course a bag of apples.
We finished our visit with a two-hour ride down the Taconic, with the perfect autumnal lighting of late afternoon. My friend Daphne calls it “the Magic Time.”
Magic time, magic place.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
The mist was gone by the time I got home to my camera, but here's a view from the top of one of those mountains, where we hike later in the afternoon.
It is not terribly unusual for me to have near-misses with telephone poles or lampposts while running—usually on account of some super-attractive female going the other direction. On this day, however, I nearly drifted into traffic while ogling a different sort of beauty.
I was finishing up a long run and booking down West Main in Charlottesville, near the railroad bridge. When I topped the rise, I saw the mountains that surround the city all cloaked in high fog, with the sun streaming all around them.
I had been back C-ville for three days and it had done nothing but rain, and this morning started without precip but not entirely promising either. During the course of the run, the Heavens seemed to be mulling their options between bright sun and black clouds.
By the time I hit Main Street though, a decision had been reached: Sun in full force. It would be a glorious day, like the one after Noah’s flood. It was primeval: the mists drawn away from the mountains as curtains from a window. A bright sun was shining through.
Sunday mornings are quiet in Charlottesville—the better to keep one eye fixed on the mountains, needing just one for navigation.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I am already mightily blessed, and not in wealth or talismans. You see, I have powerful friends--not the you'll-never-work-in-this-town-again or break-your-kneecaps-if-you-mess-with-me types. I have that kind of friend too but now I'm speaking of two radiant and wholly benovolent souls in John Adaster and Anki King, who have been hosting me this autumn in New York. More than providing me with shelter, they have been great sources of emotional strength.
They have made me feel very welcome in their midst. How often can anyone say that they feel truly and positively welcome in their environment? Moreover, this is not simply a "make yourself at home," situation. Anki and John actively project an aura of goodwill that invigorates.
I knew it would be pretty great to spend time with them, but I had no idea that they would be such food for the soul. Even though they are extremely serious-minded people, there is a nimbus of joy in their home which is positively invigorating, like the oxygen-rich air you find next to a waterfall. It is a waterfall that has its source in a very deep pool of kindness.
They have many interests and are fascinating conversationalists and we have stayed up late talking about art and a million other things. They're dedicated workers and accomplished artists; one cannot help being inspired by their example. They motivate me to be a better artist and a more graceful host when the opportunity arises.
Being away from home and family is emotionally taxing, and anyone associated with the marathon knows what a crazy atmosphere it can be. Despite it all I have felt calm and steady throughout, ready to thrive, largely through the graces of my angelic hosts.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Everywhere I looked I saw work related to my own. When it wasn't the trees, it was the chairs. More invisible connections, more elegies for Arcadia...
On September 10, a horn sounded that was audible only in the Art World and the hounds went abounding over to Chelsea for the season’s first Thursday Gallery Crawl as the annual beacons of light thrust into the sky above Ground Zero
I went to see my friend Simen’s opening at Yossi Milo. It was packed, just like the streets outside. His work re-imagines naturalist taxidermy of the kind one finds in the Natural History Museum. It’s a great show, though far too many of the people there were just sprinting from gallery to gallery and not really looking at any of the art along the way.
It’s true that there was a lot to see, and it would be impossible to more than scratch the surface of an abundant ocean of art. I saw quite a few friends swimming along as well. It was a beautiful evening with an electricity that is reserved for Opening Night and this was the unanimous—if undeclared—premiere of a season of opening nights.
If what I saw was an indication, I will have plenty of company as an artist interested in the Natural World and in trees in particular. I saw very much work quite related to my own. See, for example, this. I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’m no slave to fashion and many of the others would state the same thing. So, we’re working together on something and it’s comforting for an artist to know that he is sawing on a string that has some resonance.
With my love for growing things fully aroused, I figured the best way to close the evening would be to stroll along the High Line, for I had not yet been there. It was just gorgeous but it also gave me a strange sensation that I hadn’t felt since Christo’s Gates. For some reason, it felt like I was in an architectural rendering of the High Line as much as in the actual place. There’s an extreme cleanliness of fabrication as if there’s little--if any--deviation from design to execution. Which begs the question: Why not just look at the designs and save the trip?
I would not go so far as to say that the High Line is not worth the trip, quite the opposite, but the over-the-top (if you’ll pardon the pun) attention the detail in execution seems misplaced to me. The place is supposed to be a garden, a little strip of Nature drawn across the concrete grid of the City. But without disorder, what’s left of Nature?
As I reached my stepping-off point at Fourteenth Street, I caught a glimpse of a short film playing up there on the High Line. It was Andrew Zuckerman’s “Bird,” which shows a series of beautiful and regal birds posed (or perched) in front of a white backdrop. It’s quite lovely, if heartbreakingly clinical. Kind of like the High Line really: a little piece of Nature, brought from someplace else, inserted neatly into a space that is so clean as to be nearly sterile.
If you can get past the American Apparel aesthetic, it is a lovely elegy for the Natural World, and it fit perfectly with the other art I had seen that night. I cannot think of a more fitting way to close the evening and perhaps the most beautiful thing of all is how all the experiences fit together without being coordinated or planned.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I'm really getting to know the Starlight Express. Photo Essay.
I’m back on the bus to NYC to work the Marathon. One would think that it would get slightly easier each time. That is true on the logistical side: I know the ins-and-outs of bus and train travel and I’m getting to be a very speedy packer. In some ways it gets harder. I was extra-sad to say goodbye to my family this time around. Maybe it’s partly my annual end-of-summer blues. Maybe it’s watching Sebastian progress through school that reminds me that he’s getting older, and so am I. I don’t know why I am so sad this time.
Fortunately I’m going to be staying with my friends Anki and John and I’m really looking forward to being around them. They’re cheerful and hard-working artists full of fun ideas and lots of positive energy and big reservoirs of inspiration. I’m really grateful to them for taking me in.
And let’s face it: I’m not exactly going to Cleveland. New York in the autumn is a wonderland for an artist. And the reason I’m going there is extremely cool too: the New ING York City Marathon is an amazing event. It’s extremely energizing (and exhausting). Plus I get to work in my studio for a change. I will have a lot of fun in the City and work hard and earn my keep.
And then I’ll scoot back home.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Notwithstanding its porn-star title, Dick Woods Road is a beautiful and wholesome place to run--and a very challenging Long Run.
Maybe it's just the time of year but I feel like I'm living in some kind of Arcadian Paradise. Simple pleasures like the morning run seem simply sublime during these last days of summer. It doesn't hurt of course, that Piedmont Virginia is stunningly beautiful. And the region is living up to its hype as a destination for runners.
Take, for example, my most basic can't-be-bothered-to-think-where-to-go run. It's an eight miler out-and-back that winds up the side of a mountain to Monticello. Half the run is through the lavishly (and expensively) landscaped Saunders-Monticello Trail. That portion is crushed gravel and about a mile of boardwalk, which allows the many seniors in the area to enjoy the Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, and towering oaks. There is one gnarly interstate cloverleaf to negotiate at peril and a killer hill back to the front door. But on balance, what better way to start a day than a prance through the woods and a sip from the fountain at Thomas Jefferson's place?
That route is one of dozens in my quiver, each with its charms and challenges.
Today I needed a long run and I wanted to try something new, so I rode out to Dick Woods Road, a dirt country lane where the UVA runners like to train. Outrageous. Rolling hills and winding curves through the horse stable, pastures, and pocket woodlands that make this region so special. Up and down it meanders to the very feet of the Blue Ridge--a magnificent backdrop for training. The soft gravel surface leaves the body remarkably ache-free at the end, yet it also adds to the strength required to traverse its length (eight miles out and eight miles back).
All inspired from being quoted in Liz' piece referenced above (yes, I want you to read it), I decided to practice what I preach and stash a fluid bottle at the quarter-way point, which I would revisit and retrieve at the three-quarters point on the way back. That sets up a nice epilogue, quoted straight from my follow-up email to Liz:
So I did a long run today on a breathtaking dirt road that ended right at the toes of the Blue Ridge. On the way back I caught up with a fairly hot female runner and chatted with her for a while as we ran. Soon we pulled up to a crossroad where I had stashed a fluid bottle, I offered her a drink as it's a beautiful but very dry day and we had both already run about 12 miles at that point. Just then, she pulled up short, stooped down and seemingly out of nowhere she produced a bottle of her own from the tall grass alongside the road. We both laughed and went our separate ways (or, rather, paces).All charged up from the lovely symmetry of life, flush from an invigorating run, and delightfully mellow with endorphins and some shockingly good Mexican food I picked up at gas station on the road to Ivy (who would have expected that?), I came home, cranked out this blog entry and am now ready for a delightful day full of beauty and happy surprises.
Later, after as I drove back along the course to take pictures (I would not be caught dead running with a camera or cell-phone), I saw her going by in her super-dusty truck, fresh from retrieving her hidden bottle. We both smiled and waved.
Monday, August 31, 2009
It is difficult to imagine a more relaxing or wonderful weekend than the one I just spent in the Goshen Pass. Looking back on it in retrospect, I see that it was special for reasons far beyond the fun and interesting things we did. It was a time when Life really opened up for us in all her beauty, and with a quiet message to embrace it now.
Our friend Rachel was spending the week with us and she brought all kinds of enthusiasm, music, good ideas, helping out around the house and playing with Sebastian. After school on Friday, we all loaded up and drove alongside the Blue Ridge to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. We visited some studios, took a gorgeous swim (I can never help myself), and had a lovely dinner with the fellows. It was great to taste once again Chef Rhonda’s offerings but also to reconnect with the chef herself. She lives in Charlottesville, very close to us, and I hope to get together with her here in the near future.
After dinner, we drove into the sunset and through the fog of a high pass over the mountains and along the Maury River to the Cabin. We’ve been going to “the Cabin” for many years and it’s a major reason why we moved back to Virginia, so we could be closer and go there a few times a year rather than every few years.
Our friend James had a family place on the Goshen Pass, one of the most beautiful places east of the Mississippi. When his family’s lifetime lease on their cabin turned out to be considerably shorter than agreed, James landed on his feet by acquiring an even more beautiful piece of land with a cluster of Civil War era cabins, right across the river, just this side of where the pass closes in around the Maury and a narrow winding road. He and his friends have been renovating the cabins slowly and lovingly for the past ten years. Though the precise locale has changed somewhat, the atmosphere has been constant. So, the Cabin is more about the place, and a state of mind, than a single building. It's about the way we breathe there, and who we spend time with.
In fact, we had thought that we would be sleeping in a tent this time, but since most of the cabin owners were away, we were able stay in possibly the most beautiful one. It was the best of both worlds: completely rustic but tightly constructed, beautiful and bug-proof, with a boys’ room that was paradise for our Sebastian.
Morning and afternoon, we skinnidipped in the Maury River, one of the cleanest rivers in Virginia and even from atop the tallest boulder, with which the valley is strewn, we could not see any signs of civilization. To the west, the Allegany Mountains came right down to the water, in an unfurling of ridges and laurel-filled pocket canyons. To the east, the Shenandoah Valley spread in Jeffersonian splendor. The water bounced through the rapids, clear and glistening in the last rays of August, the air so fresh and with a little hint of coolness. It was bliss to dip my head in the water and warm on the rocks.
After dark, we had a communal feast with James, his partner Marni, and our long-time friend-in-cabin-fun Nancy, who is renovating another of the cabins. We toasted Virginia with some champagne we had been saving, a house-warming and farewell gift from our friends Amelia and Mark. After dinner, a beautiful fire—another part of the cabin tradition. By the fireside, we reconnected with the man who lives on the adjoining farm, a bluegrass musician named Cochran and his artist wife and their artist friend who was visiting from (where else?) Greenpoint.
Other highlights included, in no particular order, bare feet in the dewy grass, morning sun on Castle Rock, a run through the silent and misty pass, chatting with old man mushroom hunters, a photo expedition with Sebastian, Lincoln Logs in a log cabin, a beer run that included getting lost (maybe the best part of the trip) and brunch at the Mill Creek Café, the kind of place that’s neither extraordinarily good, nor particularly cheap, but that must be visited.
We drove home through the perfect summer afternoon, with dry air, blue sky, hills all around—Virginia was showing off her full splendor. We stopped by Springtree (the communal farm where Meredith grew up) just long enough for cookies and to show Rachel around the place. She had a bus to catch, so no time for a dip in the hardware, a garden tour, or peaches on the way back. We’ll save those for a later visit, which I sincerely hope will be soon.
After a sad farewell to Rachel back in Charlottesville, I felt a desolation much stronger than I have felt in some time. It is always sad to say farewell to a friend after a wonderful visit, and it’s always harder to be left than to leave. It was an amazing weekend and I was sad for it to be over, yet it is only as I am writing this that I understand the contours of that bittersweet feeling.
As I sat with my friends on the river that last afternoon, that slight chill in the air was important. It hid in the shadows and whispered in the breeze and it would be easy to miss it while baking on those rocks or swimming in the stream, which was still quite warm. But the message was there: Summer was beginning to take its leave, as it does this time every year and it is something that I always sense very acutely and it always leaves me a little melancholy.
Summer is my favorite season, it is when I feel most alive. Although I like the bustle of back-to-school and the brisk Fall air Summer’s passing always makes me a little sad, whether its about the changing of the Seasons or the Passage of Time. I am grateful for the winds’ whisperings because I hear in them an alert to be sure to embrace the Now, for it is fleeting. We still have plenty of time left, but we had better use it well, for it will not be around forever.
One final note: Thank you James. It's good to be back.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
During my periodic visits up to New York, my lodging consists of a cobbled together collection of couch surfing, spare bedrooms, house- and pet-sitting. There are some clear disadvantages to this approach but there are some great benefits, many quite unexpected.
For example, this current time, I wasn't sure where I would stay so I listed house-sitting availability on facebook. Right away my friend Patty said she needed a cat-sitter and the dates worked out pretty well.
It's fair to say that I knew Patty somewhat but not nearly as well as I would have liked. I was in for a very pleasant surprise when I first encountered her space.
From a realtor's perspective the place is very good but not amazing--big one bedroom in a nice building on a still-interesting block of the Upper West Side. But the way Patty inhabits the place is truly extraordinary, a real lesson for one such as me who is thinking about his own new space.
The apartment, with its many shelves and surfaces, is full of artifacts, talismans, books, mementos, and works of art by her hand and others', almost like a museum.
Here's a small example. Her shower curtain is made of clear plastic with many pockets, each with a postcard, from exotic places, with birthday wishes, vintage dime novel covers, or watercolor reproductions--a lot to look at and quite expressive. And that's just the shower curtain.
This is a place to spend some time looking around, a place that lifts me up simply by being there. In arranging to house sit and take care of patty's cats I was hoping to find a place to sleep between working, running, looking at art and all the many things to do in the City. I think that's how many New Yorkers view their dwellings.
Patty's place is about something more. It feels rewarding just to be there, to explore the many treasures she has collected and actually curated. It's a wealth that comes from within her, a very physical expression of the artist she is.
It's a gift she has generously shared with me and one I did not expect.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Like our President, Sebastian finds himself in a gigantic hole, not of his own making...
It has been ten years since I’ve been back to Chincoteague, where I had had been every summer as a youth and I was surprised how little had changed. There are a few more beachy-schlockity shops crammed along Beach Drive but hey, it’s a beach town, right? Everything seems to have a fresh coat of paint and it feels more, well, prosperous. Of course we’re all upset that our favorite seafood buffet is replaced by “that Mexican Place” (actual name of the joint) but everything changes.
I always felt like it was a sleepy and depressed fishing town overlooking a once-spectacular-but-played-out fishery that resented the beach combers bunking in their spare rooms. Embracing the new reality has made the place feel more fresh and vital, while providing a reason to preserve what makes the place so different.
The nearby beaches on Assateauge, on the other hand, have changed a lot. There were once an elaborate network of bath houses behind formidable dunes. The dunes have washed away leaving a wide beach and two rows of oyster shell roads with parking and temporary facilities for showering, dressing, and answering nature’s call. Seems a lot more sensible actually and the beaches are flat and wide.
There was also something visual going on that took me a while to appreciate. The umbrellas and bathing suits and even the ocean seem much more vivid than what I am accustomed to seeing on Long Island. Finally, I understood: the light is much more intense. Northern light is filtered by more atmosphere, which gives it a pale, fleeting quality, whereas further south the light is more direct and brighter.
I suppose John Singer Sargent would prefer Nantucket or Montauk but I’m pretty sure van Gogh would chose Assateague.
Monday, August 3, 2009
This lovely Beaux Arts building on the edge of a vast and wasted brownfield made me feel like I was inside a Hopper painting. I was feeling that Hopper loneliness on the inside as well...
Mere hours after writing that last bit about not feeling strange to be back in the old neighborhood, I lost it and started sobbing like a little girl. I was in the studio packing up Sebastian’s area and when my iPod served up “Coney Island Baby” by Tom Waits it hit me like a truck: the hours Sebastian and I spent at the Treehouse studio are gone forever. No more shark mask, scribbling on the chalkboard, “Play Tom Waits Daddy,” or bouncing on his tummy on the yoga ball. Nothing illuminates the relentless passage of time quite like a child growing up—except perhaps packing—and packing a child’s things can be downright deadly.
I quickly stuffed his past of the studio away as much to get it out of sight as the need to get it ready for transport to Virginia. Sebastian will probably never enter that studio again but I still need to keep working there through the autumn. I can’t be spilling tears on my drawings every time I notice his empty chair.
When I left the studio and went back to Mark & Amelia’s to go to sleep, I kept seeing the neighborhood in double-vision, always oscillating between was and what is. Walking down Bedford to the old apartment building, I couldn’t help thinking about the first morning Meredith and I woke up there. We were incredibly glad to be there and walked hand in hand down the avenue to Verb café for breakfast. Croissants in a sidewalk café felt like a little piece of Heaven to us.
We had high hopes for the neighborhood and for the life we would make there. I don’t mean to say that our hopes were betrayed or that our dreams did not come true; they did. More so, perhaps, than we had bargained for, as the single café multiplied faster than rats. I still prefer Verb and its contemporary Read/Rabbit Hole which were there when we moved in. Perhaps a good thing run amok, but Williamsburg is still fun and our life there was still good all the way up to the last day. And the time I spent there this past week was lovely. I don’t particularly begrudge the place what it has become. Everything changes.
Whether dreams live or die or come true or not, there’s something priceless about their wide-eyed early days when everything seems possible and we give Life the benefit of the doubt. The things about the neighborhood that came to drive us crazy were very present back then: noise, stink, bugs, crime, poverty but they were easy to overlook in favor of a more beautiful vision. So it’s not really about how the neighborhood was, as how we were.
Awareness of the passage of time can be a very troublesome thing, the source of many heartbreaks. I’m sure every parent sometimes wishes their children were young again and we occasionally wish something quite similar for ourselves as well. I think it’s sweet and it keeps us connected to something gentle and pure inside. Like any indulgence, nostalgia should be taken very sparingly but it can be a real treat from time to time.
Even when it hurts a little bit.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
My last post talked about using my cell phone as an at-the-ready replacement for my lost elph. Turns out I'm not alone. One of the blogs I follow on the NY Times (Lens) has an excellent posting about cell-phone photos as an art form with tons of great submissions from readers. This shot is from Amelia & Mark's front window, where I've been staying. Thanks for putting me up guys!
Many people have asked if I feel strange to be back in New York. Same block, same building even! But no, it’s all very straight-forward and like when I lived here it was daily business: eating bagels, riding the subway, working the job I’ve had for ten years, annoying crowds on Bedford Avenue, subterranean studio, navigating (surfing, really!) the City’s complexities. It feels quite normal, really.
What does feel odd is being separated from my family and my home and all its comforts, even if many of them are still packed in boxes. I’m eager to get back to the projects I have begun back in Virginia. But no odd sentimental here-but-gone feeling I would have expected. I felt that way before I moved.
What is strange is the feeling that far more than three weeks have passed since we pulled up the stakes. That’s less time than I usually spend away during the typical summer. Maybe it’s because, as I just mentioned, my heart had moved quite some time ago. Maybe it’s because Time flows at different speeds; Hawking’s proposition that time flows in proportion to a body’s velocity. And my body has been in serious motion.
Interestingly, it’s not just my perception, everyone I talk to says the same thing,
“I can’t believe you only moved three weeks ago!”
I guess I’m living in a singularity.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
This is a special moment for the blog: the first time I'm venturing into the City after setting up shop in Virginia. In a way, it's what we've all been waiting for: the CountryMouse gets his turn in the City.
I just got here and need to digest a little bit before I can say how it feels to be back (maybe it's the huge pork burrito I just inhaled?). The return trip was certainly momentous, beautiful and precipitous.
If I had very jumbled feelings about returning to the City that Never Sleeps, it was nothing compared to what was happening in the stratosphere.
Instead of the typical I-95 route, I prefer whenever possible to drive up I-81 through the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley to I-84 through Pennsylvania Dutch country. It's just as fast (if not faster) and so beautiful as to make the trip itself almost a pleasure.
Anyway, it was a perfect summer day with that golden light falling softly over blue mountains, green forests, and tan fields of wheat and mature corn. All the way up, there were huge mounds of storm-bearing clouds to my right, the East, as I traveled North. When I turned East just past Harrisburg, I was exposed to a full-frontal view of a spectacular meteorological show. Those huge anvil clouds let loose in front of me with tons of lightning and black skies beneath the towering thunderheads. Never on me, mind you, always in front of me. It was like a show (or demonstration) set up specifically for me.
As I crossed the Lehigh River and then the Delaware, the most amazing and huge rainbow opened in front of me and stayed there for almost two hours, all the way into New York.
I-84 in New Jersey was a scene of post-apocalyptic destruction. An interstate strewn with huge trees and underpasses so badly flooded I was grateful for the gas-guzzling (but 4WD capable) vehicle I drive. I found out later that tornadoes had passed through.
Nearly out of gas
Man #1: “Muy Humido!”
Man #2: “Yeah, soon its gonna start to stink like Hell.”
Now I'm back in Williamsburg and the air is sultry with clothes clinging to bodies, suggestion in the air like the honeysuckle and wild rose smell back in Central Virginia. So it's not all bad.
That's why summer is my favorite time of year. I love the sweaty bodies and not needing (or wanting) to wear much. I like the long days, the dramatic weather, and the languorous erosion of the membrane that separates us from the Natural World and from one another. Not a complete dissolution-just a little bit closer and more connected.
A Shout Out to you, the Readers
Because there are so few comments on the blog, I had assumed that no one is reading it. Turns out, au contraire!!! I've been getting lots of feedback lately through other channels: Facebook, emails, even phone calls thanking me or commenting on something I've written. It means a lot to me to know that there are others relating to what I'm writing. THANK YOU!!!
Sunday, July 19, 2009
We're starting to feel quite relaxed in our new environment. Note: that glass of wine is not bigger than Meredith's head--it's a trick of photography. We're not that relaxed--yet.
Maybe the best thing about moving to a new place is the joy of exploring a new environment. We‘ve been taking plenty of long walks all around the neighborhood. As a runner, I have an extended range and can poke my head all around the city and some of the environs, which are very runner-friendly. Charlottesville is very hilly and full of surprising little hollows and great views of the surrounding countryside which, at its best, can truly be called idyllic. It’s like the area around Woodstock or the Bay Area (without the ocean).
Like those lovely places, there is a wonderful appreciation for living life well. That means an amazing food scene, lots of great music, amazingly much public art, and a general desire to live life in a creative way. Those strolls around the area have provided plenty of ideas and inspiration in the form of gardens, creative color schemes, and front porches with swings.
I have a terrific studio lined up at the McGuffey Art Center, which is an old school converted into art studios—think PS 1 with studios instead of exhibition spaces (although they have that too). It’s a nice space, subsidized, and within a great community.
My lease starts in September but their board and director have been incredibly accommodating and have found me a subletter until after the marathon. I won’t be able to work there much until then (and residents are required to use the space on a weekly basis). They’ll take care of all the details such as payment. So I’m guaranteed a studio but I effectively start on December 1, which matches perfectly with what I’m doing with my New York Studio. They tell me that it’s because of the strength of my candidacy, which makes me feel pretty good. Perhaps that’s part of the payoff from the dues I paid in New York.
I haven’t really begun to explore the art scene here too much, being so focused on the house and the garden. I’m OK with that actually: I’ve taken a few weeks away from making art and from Road Runners (with occasional check-ins) in favor of setting up my new life in this new place. Hitting the ‘reset’ button is not something one can do too many times, it takes a lot of time and money. It’s perhaps even more rare to have a period of time in which so many of the usual concerns of day-to-day are put on hold in order to allow a real focus on setting things up in a smart way, just the way we want them.
So a few more weeks of intensive installing, gardening, unpacking, and arranging in our little house and yard, subjects of near-future posts.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Wow, that was intense. Two weeks of preparing to move, moving, preparing to receive our stuff, and actually doing so has left scant time for blogging. It has been a whirlwind of motion and I’m only now getting my breath.
The reality is starting to sink in: I’m here now; I’m a Virginian. No more asking my in-laws about their state or their town. They’re our politicians and this is our somewhat off-beat place.
I have to say that I love it. I love the fact that I fall asleep to strange animal sounds, yet can walk to City Hall (where people are super-friendly) or to a concert or to an art opening. I love that I can see mountains from my street and that I can leave my bike on the porch. It’s Southern but there’s nothing strange about my rusty push-powered mower, my compost or my free-spirited ways. Organic living is at a whole ‘nother, sometimes over-the-top level here, yet there’s also the Virginia gentility. I feel quite at home here and that knot that resided in my chest in the City is gone.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m incredibly intimidated by the challenges lurking in my mosquito-infested yard, the mountains of boxes that need to be unpacked, and the sheer enormity of work I want/need to do on the house. But there’s something rewarding about pouring sweat equity into your own place.
Sebastian loves it. He has a yard to play in, a playground across the street, friends (already!) including a boy next door. He has an upstairs and a basement and his school is steps away. And it's a lot nicer than PS84. The pools around here have giant waterslides and couldn’t feel more different from the prison-like public baths of New York. Grandparents nearby.
He says: “I never want to move from this place.” I think it’s because he loves it so much but it could also be because moving is such a monumental hassle! (written 6/10)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
With the clock ticking I have a "bucket" of things to do and see before leaving.
On this day, it was Leandro Erlich's cool Swimming Pool at PS1, followed by a Solstice Celebration at Socrates.
Bucket metaphor courtesy of J-Dalt.
These last days before setting sail feel super-saturated. Each experience—a ride over the Williamsburg Bridge, a swim in the Met Pool, a drink with a friend, a trip to the health food store—feels like it could be the last of its kind. In some cases, it’s the literal truth. It is a blessing because it forces me to really pay attention, to take every interaction seriously. There’s no time for messing around.
The impending move is like a Sword of Damocles and it’s quite good really, forcing me to do—and say—the things I should have a long time ago. I too often chose to bide my time, luxuriating in the knowledge that whatever it was could always wait. Perhaps a riper moment would come along later. While each thing has its season, that can be a dangerous posture, an excuse that can be extended over and over until offerings are taken off the table, or we’re no longer in a position to accept them.
So it’s better to do things right away and not wait unless there is a very good reason.
Besides, an urgent life is richer, as I am now seeing so clearly. Small things take on a special value—an importance that is always there but too easily overlooked or taken for granted. Even my dreams have been really beautiful, rich and memorable. They make sleep an even greater pleasure than normal. Yet, when morning comes, I don’t want to miss a thing so I wake up super-alert and ready for another day and the sword that much closer. That’s how I live all the time, but the sword certainly clarifies things.
Maybe it’s not for everyone and I couldn’t always live like this but for now I like it. I am very excited about where I am going, but it also makes me happy that the place I am in makes me want to stay for one last song, one last dance, one last sunset…
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The reasons for this go deeper than the current economic troubles. It looks to be more generational in scope as the audience figures are also skewing steadily older. I hope this is part of a macro-trend away from being a nation of consumers to a nation of makers/builders. That orientation between making and consuming is a pendulum that has swung back and forth throughout history and we’ve recently seen it go so far to the right it’s nearly brought the whole machine down.
I applaud the growing desire to create home-spun, living, neighborhood-based culture just as I do the explosive flowering (pun intended) of the home gardening movement. I am convinced that as Americans take more ownership of their own cultural experience, the more we will also appreciate the excellent work of art professionals.
That takes me back to the NEA study. If younger Americans appreciate art so much, (and what better way to show appreciation than by making a go at it oneself?) why are we not choosing to fund the arts by spinning the turnstiles at mainline cultural institutions?
Americans are not like Europeans: we do not particularly trust elite institutions with the decision-making or with the guardianship of our culture. We feel (rightly or wrongly) that we know our own needs better. We have a bias for mom’s oatmeal cookies over the critically-acclaimed fare at the bakery in town. It’s not a specifically about quality though: it’s about what feels right, what feels like home, what feels fresh.
A really dynamic culture needs both oatmeal cookies and delicate soufflés and while I applaud this sudden desire seize ownership of one’s own cultural landscape, the dedicated arts professionals contribute in important ways. Foremost, they (we) set a standard of excellence that no weekend painter can match owing to significant investments in education, awareness of best practices, professional-grade materials, and—most significantly—full-time attention and effort.
I envision a culture where everyone participates. Everyone sees themselves as culturally empowered, creative souls working to make all of our worlds more beautiful. At the forefront of this endeavor, professional artists light the way, inspiring the rest. That’s what a vanguard does right? But a vanguard only makes sense with an army behind it.
There’s been a lot of gloom of late about the decline in arts funding at the macro level, deflation of the Artworld bubble and justifiable questions about how that vanguard will pay its bills. The NEA study shows that from an institutional standpoint, those concerns are well justified.
But let’s don’t get too stuck on the institutions. They come and go like the tide. The real surprise of the story—the man-bites-dog part, if you will—is the real evidence that the roots are very much alive. The task before us then is to find the types of institutions and funding models that make sense in the moment we’re in to bring fruit from that healthy soil.
I have many thoughts on the subject, enough to merit a whole new thread on this blog. One idea that hit me right away was this:
I am fortunate to work with professional runners for my day job. That’s right: there are people who get paid to run. Everywhere you go, you see hobbyists running for a thousand reasons. Current science indicates that it’s a fundamental part of human biology. Kind of like art. At the front of this teeming host of runners, there is a pack of frontrunners who have dedicated their lives to what for many is a very admirable hobby, and they are making it work. There is a professional infrastructure facilitating them and the result is an inspired, healthy population chasing after them—and funding them.
Professional athletics is participant-funded, which sets it apart from other spectator-driven leagues. Sounds like there are some parallels to the cultural landscape I just described. The economics under girding professional running—race fees, subscriptions, shoe and apparel sales, corporate sponsorship, charitable foundations and development—may not be directly applicable to the arts and the model is not a perfect one but it might provide some ideas. In a future posting, I shall endeavor to investigate some parallels and glean some lessons.
For now, know this: the more people out there making art, the more excellent art we will have as a result. And the evidence looks good.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
When the sun's out, the City's grit can be beautiful. Other times it's plain ugly.
Leaving New York is going to be extremely bitter-sweet. I have no doubt that the decision was correct and I’m very excited about my new horizons (for example: being able to actually SEE the horizon!) and I know the next chapter will be great. I have been blessed with many notes from friends supporting me through the curiously difficult process of stepping away. I am very grateful.
Still, I cannot help but be wistful about the chapter that is now closing. The life we have here is simply wonderful, as if we have been somehow favored by angels or some divine force. It is somewhat counterintuitive to contemplate changing something that is working so well. We have many wonderful memories and the exact moment we’re in right now is very beautiful as well. But I know that the future-present will be very cool as well, if perhaps different.
This is not the first time we have pulled up stakes or thrown the cards in the air and they have always landed well and I’m sure they will this time too. There is something extra about leaving New York however. New York is all about potential and promise and it is easy to think that by leaving, we are throwing away some irreplaceable opportunities.
Yet that is precisely one of the things that bothers me most about New York. There is this collective mentality about this being the place to be and the idea that anyplace else is by default inferior and that the bold and ambitious can only get what they need here. The idea of Opportunity (as opposed to actual opportunities) is dangled in front of dreamers, idealists, and those who want to better their conditions like carrots before rabbits on treadmills.
I have been fortunate (and this time the angels have human faces) to have been engaged in some very meaningful pursuits and I have so far avoided going completely nuts with frustration. I got a lot more done and had more success before I came here and always I always profit enormously when I step away. I’ve never met so many unhappy people as I see when I look around the neighborhood streets and one ultimately has to ask, “Why slide backward and rarely get in the studio?”
I obviously cannot guarantee that I will be happier elsewhere but I am looking forward to not having the City at the table with me at all times, demanding constant attention and with an unquenchable voracity.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the City and I could write more than a thousand pages about its wonders and the amazing people that make it so special. I probably will do exactly that. What is more, I am not completely stepping away. In fact I will be in New York about the same amount of time in the as I will in Virginia during this next cycle. That says volumes about how much I love the place.
I foresaw this stepping-away quite some time ago and this split has always been there, which is why I started this blog. I now imagine many long bus rides where I will be blogging about how much I love the City versus how happy I am when I am away from it. It’s completely ambiguous and there will never be an answer. In absence of definitive clarity, I shall endeavor to sketch out what is in my heart from moment to moment and always keep searching.
That is what artists do.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Sebastian has his wings unclipped and is flying high!
Finally Sebastian has his casts off. Whew…what a relief.
Between that, getting ready for a move, Meredith’s book tour, and a very sick cat that wouldn’t let us sleep at night, plus a job and an art career that don’t go on vacation, I must say that I had about all I could handle.
When life hands us a crisis, we just deal with each thing one at a time in the best we all can. That’s what I did and at the time although it was often annoying or tedious, it was always obvious that there were many out there with much more on their plate. For example, one reader wrote me a nice email of sympathy and she really knew what she was talking about: her child became paralyzed in a very similar mishap. So yeah: we’re pretty lucky.
It’s very good to be reminded of that in a way that is not permanent. After all—all the things that bothered me will soon pass or will do so very soon. Many people stepped forward and helped us out or simply offered emotional comfort and I’m hugely grateful for that as well.
I was gifted with a new understanding of what an impressive human being Sebastian is. He handled his predicament with astonish grace. I must say that before becoming a parent, I had no idea that my child could be a sort of role model is many ways. Parenthood is a two-way street in almost every way.
So you might say that Life’s dilemmas are gifts in many ways but I must say that they can also be quite exhausting. I’m quite relieved to have Sebastian back fully restored to health. Grateful for the lessons and looking forward to moving forward. Hopefully along a slightly easier path.