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

The Little Prints

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

The Pink House

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.

A dark and quiet resting place

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.

PostScriptum (12/9)

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

Coach Kiki

Editor's Note: This is part of our occasional series of profiles of people who are finding success through approaches that defy the conventional wisdom.

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