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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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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Drawings on the Wall


Despite the slate sky and chilly temperatures, we had plenty of help with our chalk-mural wall.


During our annual Holiday Open House, the McGuffey artists provide hands-on opportunities for children (or anyone) to make things. Because of the December date, most artists choose to holiday-themed projects—potato-print holiday cards, for example.

I couldn’t think of what to do, but then I remembered the last time I worked with masses of kids: StoryLine. In that successful project, kids went wild muralling all over the downtown Free-Expression Wall. McGuffey is surrounded by some surprisingly inactive spaces—one might not guess it’s an art center if you couldn’t see through the kaleidoscopic colors through its huge windows. A mural, full of youthful exuberance, was called for.

So I gathered as much sidewalk chalk as I could find, borrowed some hand-wipes from one of my gracious neighbors and that was all my preparation: I didn’t want to plan too much but rather see what would happen if I just turned people loose. I didn’t want to be too loose however, there had to be one rule: no words, just pictures. While StoryLine resulted in something beautiful to behold, the Free Expression wall, which must obviously be completely unregulated most times, is normally a visual black hole. Left unprodded, most people’s expressions are of the “Go Cavs” or “Johnnny {hearts} Sallie” category. I wanted art, not tags.

It turns out that blank canvas syndrome is basic human nature but it is easily overcome. No one did anything when I invited them to just draw. But, when Sebastian and I started in with a garden theme of flowers, houses, balloons, and flowers, people knew what to do and went right to work.

In an hour’s time, the wall was completely filled. Sometimes small children made only wandering lines or squiggles but with only a word or two of guidance, even they were channeling imagery. Parents and children took part in equal measure and as you can see from the photograph, the fruits of their labors were nearly indistinguishable.

Only one family frightened me with what they drew: all three kids, with blank acquiescence from the parents, calmly and systematically drew X’s through every drawing they could reach. What’s with that, I wondered? I challenged them to contribute something positive rather than simply trying to destroy what others had done. Even they came around after a few minutes.

It was a fun adventure and just like happened with the StoryLine, a driving rain quickly eradicated our efforts. It was an ownership stake, even if temporary, on the space and on our ability to create something visual and physical from our abstract thoughts and aspirations.

Next year, maybe we should use paint instead of chalk.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fair Enough


This view shows one quarter of one of the two dozen art fairs. Granted, it's the largest but that's still a lot of art!


The circus of art fairs that happens every year in Miami can be daunting on many different levels. It’s visually overwhelming to visit a thousand or so galleries in a weekend. The schlepping is almost as taxing physically. Perhaps the hardest part for an artist, however, is the in-your-face assertion of social hierarchy and market-making. It can feel like a punch below the belt.

Because there is no objective way to measure the worth of a work of art, the market is largely built through social jockeying that established hierarchies within each Art World constituency—galleries, artists, and collectors. Position is power and while there is much that is wonderful about such a vast assemblage of creative talent, this event is a market foremost and ugly emotions such as pride and envy are not necessarily discouraged.

I went to Miami to see and be inspired by amazing art, to catch up with friends I see less frequently since moving to Virginia, and—let’s be honest here—to advance my own position within the hierarchy. How does one do that without feeling inferior or without behaving crassly?

These are standard concerns within any marketplace, but with a pretty big dose of salt for an artist since I am my business. There can be no firewall between my soul and that which I produce and sell. A least that’s how I feel. So I wanted to do well but also to stay upbeat despite all this sausage being made around me and I wasn’t sure how I would do it.

In truth though, it’s really just a decision toward the kind of person I want to be: generous, serene, joyful, and the active application of those virtues in my every action. Thinking that way made the whole experience a lot more fun, and probably more successful too.

It’s the only way to live anyway and that’s how I approached it. And you know what? It was a good weekend.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Movin' on up to the West Side


That gray dot in the distance is my 3-foot tall sculpture Niobe. That gives a taste of how vast the new space is, and we're only half-way down this one corridor, of which there are several.


I knew Annette Aaron was up to so something special when she told me that she had news that couldn't be told over the phone. But I was still floored when I learned about the coup she pulled off when she relocated the gallery her mother had established, and where I had shown since the early nineties.

Aaron Gallery was a long-time fixture on the Dupont Circle art scene but the rent has only increased over the past twenty-five years while serious walk-in traffic seriously plummeted during the harsh economic times. Every gallery is feeling the pinch.

Couple that with the headaches that come with prime real estate, such as when a car crashed through her storefront, and Annette was wondering how (or if) she could keep going. Clearly a change was needed, but how?

Moments like those can break us, or--depending on our character--propel us to great things. Annette took the latter course and struck an ingenious deal with one of her commercial clients, one of the nations's leading entertainment law firms.

They would provide her an office and allow her to hang exhibitions in their gorgeous West-End office space, have receptions, and allow visitors through on an appointment basis. This answered several needs at once: it provided a stable, low-cost base for her consultancy operations, which were always far more important than walk-in gallery traffic; it freed her from having to maintain retail-style office hours, and guaranteed a flow of culturally-aware viewers for the gallery's artworks.

The law firm is uplifted by the first-rate curated artwork that now adorns the walls of their public spaces, corridors and several conference rooms. It really looks phenomenal in the light-filled and gorgeously appointed tenth-floor location.

Annette had to make a change, but instead of folding the tent, she did just the opposite: she grew the gallery in a new and spectacular way that will redefine her entire operation and open many new doors. One can only admire the creativity and hope she succeeds.

So far so good.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Coolest Dude in the Marathon


If I do my job properly, you don't see any of this stuff--only what they're seeing through those lenses down below. This shot was taken by our second photographer specifically positioned to capture the overall spectacle from wide (this is a crop so we can see Edison better).
Photo: Errol Anderson, Courtesy New York Road Runners.


Some people are in the spotlight because they are completely mobilized toward getting there. Then, there are those who are renowned for what they have done. Edison Pena (aka the Chilean Miner) is in the second category. Here's a guy who overcame all kinds of adversity and we brought him to New York as a guest so he could bask in some well-deserved attention on the press truck.

That wasn't what he wanted: after running to in the mine to keep his sanity, he wanted to run the Marathon to prove that, in spite of his insufficient training and many hardship, he could do it and that we can too.

The man came to New York with an agenda and we got far more than we bargained for. How fortunate that his message was exactly in line with what we preach all day long. He set the tone for the whole thing and we could not have found a more credible (or it turns out eloquent) spokesman.

Yet another way in which we are so very fortunate: not only do we not have to toil far below the Earth; we have occasional messengers who come up and remind us of what is important and what we are capable of doing if we try. [More Pena Photos | Viral YouTube Elvis Clip]

Monday, November 1, 2010

Date Selected for Monticello Road



Monticello Road will debut in at the Bridge PAI in the Spring of 2012. The Bridge is the perfect venue for the show not only because it's literally in the front yard but also because we share a fundamental belief about what art can do.

This will be much more than pictures on the wall: it will be a coming-together for the community. There will be story-telling, films, discussions, a childrens's neighborhood walk, hopefully a school program, at least one party, and a discussion series.

This project is larger than me; it belongs to the whole neighborhood and the city. There are many ways to grow the project through collaboration and I'm wide open to suggestions.

For now, there's a small selections of early photographs for the show on Facebook.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Orange October


When I'm not swimming in a sea of orange jackets at the ING New York City Marathon, it's the abundant splendor of the autumn trees.


When I agreed to continue working the ING New York City Marathon after moving to Charlottesville, I had this fantasy that I would live an almost normal life at home, then parachute into New York at the last second to save the day. The opposite has been the case: for the last few weeks my focus has been much more on New York and my very demanding employment.

But Life continues unimpressed with workaday dramas and concerns. In fact my art career is undergoing a major growth spurt at the moment and I simply cannot lay it aside for a few weeks. Consequently, the past three days—my last shore leave before ten straight 10+ hour efforts at the Marathon—have been just this side of insanity. These days it feels like I air-drop back into my life to take care of things in a major hustle.

If you’re curious, here’s a bit of my agenda during this Virginia trip:

Thursday
Arrive home from New York at 1:00 am. Sleep a few hours.
Laundry, breakfast, take Sebastian to school
Go running through the stunning golden forest on Carter’s Mountain
Conference call for work
One hour of photography (Monticello Road) while autumn splendor lasts
Quick meeting at The Bridge PAI to discuss Monticello Road
Meeting at McGuffey to discuss First Night Virginia
Work emails
Clean studio, water dying plants, etc
Pick Sebastian up from school, playground for an hour
Conference call
Make dinner for family, Sebastian to bed. Early to bed myself

Friday
Up early to take a sculpture up to my gallery in DC (Aaron Gallery). Fortunately the drive was very smooth and in this season, it is incredibly beautiful.
But first about an hour and a half of Road Runners work
Book it back to Charlottesville in time to winterize my garden ahead of upcoming frost
Pick up Sebastian from School
Stand in half-mile line to see Obama. Thankfully Sebastian’s grandma got a good spot for us.
Obama!!!
Ham sandwich dinner then as early to bed as possible.

Saturday
Up REALLY early for sunrise time trial. Ran adequately well but with moderate expectations due to insufficient sleep and second-rate nutrition
Woke Sebastian, fed him and took him to the Farmers Market
Office hours at McGuffey while Sebastian played cars, boats, and pirates on the playmat we made. I fell asleep at my desk
Home for lunch, more laundry, various household chores
Pack for extended return to New York
Work emails
Finally that nap I apparently needed
Playground with Sebastian and a tightly contested basketball match
Make dinner for family and our visiting Aunt Virginia
Date with Meredith: premiere of Danger. Zombies. Run. Q&A and afterparty
Left early to get decent sleep

Sunday
Up early for 7:00 am train
Breakfast in dining car followed by blogging
Multiple meetings await this afternoon in New York

It’s enough to make my own head spin but you know what? It is invigorating and it feels good to be busy. Somehow, I’m managing to do the bread-and-butter part of my job, grow my art career (meetings with 3 separate galleries in 5 days—one more next week), make some art (lots of photos), keep up with my running (not improving but maintaining for this spell), do some fun things, and hang out with my family as much as possible.

That last part is the rub: during the rest of the year I’m very spoiled in that I have nearly unlimited time with Sebastian but the toll of being away from Sebastian so much is becoming very apparent to me. I don’t get to take him trick-or-treating and I never have. This weekend he stayed very, very close to me and has come into our bed every night, which is uncharacteristic. He was extremely attentive and hopped to my every request and instruction. He has always been a very easy child and a pleasure to be around but you can tell he’s insecure about losing me and that bothers me.

Fortunately, this craziness only lasts for a few weeks and I am in the home stretch. The rest of the year, I enjoy unusually much time with Sebastian and my family, am really present in the neighborhood, and a nearly unfettered studio practice.

This period is exhausting. And exhilarating. I enjoy it but I will be glad when it’s over.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Monticello Road


I will have four full seasons to capture the neighborhood in all its costumes.


Update: The exhibition is scheduled for Spring, 2012

I'm very excited to say that The Bridge Public Art Initiative has agreed to host my Monticello Road exhibition. It's a wonderful opportunity and a tremendous vote of confidence from an institution that's doing some terrific work.

The exhibition will examine the people and places along one of America's most historic byways. Monticello Road is an ancient trail that has been in use since Paleolithic times and, as its name suggests, the principal route to Monticello and points south. At the same time, this is a place where people (myself included) live their daily lives. Any exploration of a place so steeped in history must necessarily mine the past but this project is firmly seated in the present--it's about what is there now.

Due to the inevitable changes that history brings, only about a mile of Monticello Road still exists, which is actually good for my purposes. It will be quite manageable for me to explore its entire length in some depth.

We have not selected a date or scope for the exhibit, so check back for more details. I am quite excited though: this is a project with many possibilities and broad support within the community itself.

It will be alot of fun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

California Dream


I love that the Golden Gate refers not to the bridge but to the passage between the golden hills.


Wow! I didn’t know that I needed a vacation but my little sneak-away weekend was a a dream.

I really love California and although I’m happy with where I live, it certainly is uplifting to step away from time to time and check out a new place and a new way of living. That’s just what I did: explore, observe and absorb.

I was there for three days and all I did was cruise around from place to place, neighborhood to neighborhood. On the first day I took a very long urban hike: five hours of walking, cafes, stores, shops, parks and plenty of urban landscape. The second day, I drove into Marin County and walked among the redwoods, and ran along the spectacular Headlands. The third day was both on foot and in the vehicle—culminating with a little drive south along the Coastal Highway.

Difficult to imagine three better day: no specific destination, all senses wide open and well fed. It was like fuel for my soul and now I’m back to the normal routine, but fresh and full of energy and ideas.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Getting Steamed and Cooling Off


I guess I've grown too accustomed to my serene Virginia meditation spots.


The autumn is always a stressful time for me. Many deadlines in the Art World, ungodly amounts of travel and, of course, there’s the beast of November: the Marathon. I thought it would be a good idea to head down to the 10th Street Baths for a relaxing steam.

It was a cold and damp Monday and many others must have had the same idea. In fact, it was packed—not enough room to stretch and very claustrophobic. Sweaty, damp tiles, hot, with many people, and no room on the benches: it turns out that there’s a very fine line between a relaxing spa and a bad subway commute. I was starting to get steamed alright. Really stressed out, the opposite of why I go there.

Finally, I snapped at a guy. He was telling me not to steal his friend’s seat when I was actually just reaching for my water bottle; and I let him know that with a very sharp rebuke. He was rightly shocked and I apologized right away. He didn’t deserve my venom and I told him so.

Then I slinked off and found a quiet corner and forced myself to take a deep breath and accept my surroundings and enjoy the company of so many interesting and obviously healthy people. It was what I should have done right from the start.

As time went on, it started to seem less crowded. Either people left to go have dinner or something inside me changed. In any case, I had a very relaxing visit with plenty of deep breathing, good stretching, and healing dips in the cold bath.

I can still feel the benefit a week later.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On the Block


Filling the road with sun required the street to be closed. Why not have a block party too?


Meredith told us that she saw some kind of block party on her way home through the neighborhood on Saturday and Sebastian and I set out on foot to investigate. We had to walk his two friends home anyway. The balloons bobbing above a sawhorse in the middle of the road promised family fun and Sebastian set off at a run to investigate.

We walked into a full-blown neighborhood party: half a dozen grills blazing, tables full of food (ever try Frito salad? Yum!), music, kids running around everywhere, and many of our friends. I phoned Meredith and she hopped on her horse and joined us moments later. We met many new people and had a great time. It was a perfect fall evening with golden, puffy clouds and clean, cool air.

As daylight faded into night, an impromptu walkup movie theater opened up, with kids movies projected on the side of one of the houses. The children piled up into a big snuggle, with their little glow bracelets, and the adults pulled lawn chairs around a fire that somehow materialized.

We finally took our leave when the moon was halfway across the sky, tucked Sebastian into bed without a fuss and went directly to sleep, exhausted from fresh air and laughter, with the smell of woods smoke in our hair.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Fabulous Double-Header


The wonderful weekend started on a very inspirational note: the Clark Elementary 4th graders. Photo: Meredith Cole


What a weekend of racing! Although it was all about running, this past weekend was a pretty good illustration of my wacky Citymouse/Countrymouse life.

Saturday morning was the Clark Super Achiever Buzz by Belmont, a 5K race that I co-directed. It’s an old-school informal people's race organized by the Clark Elementary PTO to benefit the school and to bring the community together.

It started at 8:00 am, with the Clark 4th Graders singing America the Beautiful. Nothing could have been sweeter: the tinkling piano that we wheeled out into the street, the little voices so soft that we brought the runners way up past the starting line to hear them, the big round of applause as they finished strong.

The race had about a hundred participants—serious runners, families with children, kids in strollers, and the mighty 4th grade Road Warriors, who had spent the night at a lock-in organized by the popular gym teacher Mr. Massie. We didn’t bother with race numbers or a timing system—index cards and tick sheets worked just fine.

It was fun but there was no time to relish success: by 11:00 am I was on a train to New York to work the Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile, which took place Sunday morning.

Now in its 30th year, the Fifth Avenue Mile is one of the world’s greatest races. I can still remember watching it as a kid on Wide World of Sports: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat…

The event takes all day with thousands of runners in about 20 age-based heats. It takes so long, in fact, that I was able to sleep in, jump into my 35-39 race, run a mile down Fifth Avenue, add 13 more miles along the Hudson and still get back in plenty of time to help manage the later heats.

The last races on the schedule were the Professionals—Olympians, National Champions, and World-Class athletes. We staged the race in a very spectator-friendly way so the crowds were thick and highly energized. The athletes didn’t disappoint: as is typically the case, both the women’s and the men’s races came down to furious sprint finishes, with great and gracious champions winning in fast (but not record) times.

Back to the office for a few hours of editing—I think it took me and our new assistant editor about five hours to process around 10,000 photos and get them on the web. The results were terrific: see some highlights here.

At day’s end, I staggered back to John’s house for what might have been the best part of the day: a nice little dinner party with him, Anki, and our friend Heather.

I slept great and woke the next morning ready to give the world a high-five.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Caballero


Matt Kleberg. The Transformation Of A Dead Sparrow oil on canvas 48"x84", diptych 2010. Courtesy the artist.

A new studio-mate and new energy—lots more energy, and very positive! I wasn’t unhappy with who I had before but I couldn’t be happier that Matt Kleberg, aka Caballero, has moved into the other side of Studio 28. He’s a great guy, a very talented painter, and he’s cool with Sebastian. So he’s cool with me.

I came up with the nickname when I saw one of his recent paintings of men on horses: Stetsoned and eating plates of messy food on tin plates—cowboys I thought. On second glance, those are vaqueros, which makes perfect sense given Matt’s South Texas provenance.

Recent issue from the University of Virginia, he literally is a Cavalier. We’re visited frequently by a host of men and ladies from his days on the Grounds. But if it’s a posse, it’s a cheerful one, on a mission to support the local artists, which again is alright with me.

The man works as hard as a ranch-hand and has an unaffected modesty that only adds to his charisma. He’ll certainly do well and McGuffey—and Studio 28 in particular—are better for his presence.

Ride on, Caballero!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Friends with Rockstars

Huge thanks to Anki, John, Wellington, Jen, Laura, Rachel, Pamela, Splinter, Amelia, Liz, and the other Amelia for hosting me recently.

There's no way I could handle the back and forth to and from New York without my amazing friends.

Not only would it be cold sleeping on the street but much more importantly, my mental state would not hold up well at all. It's not easy constantly saying goodbye to my family but these guys and ladies do alot to cushion the blow.

Their loving presence creates a warm and very safe cocoon in which I feel very comfortable away from home. While I'm in New York, I mostly want to hang out with them, so it's a good thing they're such fascinating people.

In fact, hanging out in their living room or at a quiet table in some artsy cafe or bar is just about my favorite thing to do in the City.

I've been to many shows and seen some amazing things, but I'm fortunate to have some seriously interesting friends, and they're really coming into their own as artists and creative people. I feel lucky just to spend time with them and they're as generous with their time as with their hospitality.

So, a great conversation in a comfortable environment with people who care about me. At night I sleep like a rockstar!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Seasons Passing


There’s nothing I enjoy more than a stroll through a field alive with the sound of cicadas.


This weekend officially marked Summer’s passing and I cannot help feeling a little melancholy every time. Sure, it’s 90 degrees out but the signs are unmistakable: the edge is gone and the season is changing. For all that the fields are golden with wildflowers and the trees are still clothed in green, you can feel it in the cool shadows, the chilly nights, and the freezing water. The calendar has turned a page.

I love all the seasons but let's face it: summer is the best. I don’t mind the sun or the heat and I just love the way the plants (and consequently the animals) thrive. Although every season is interesting and has its charms, the best thing about summer is the way it makes us live—relaxed, easier, and closer to our primal selves. It feels so free: the scant clothes we wear, the trips we take and the places we go, and the outdoorsy things we do. It’s undeniably better away from the city where the natural world is so accessible.

These past few months had an added advantage in the form of a little pint-sized sidekick riding along with me on the tandem bike, in the garden, on hikes, and in the studio. Instead of sending Sebastian to camp, we thought it would be interesting for him to tag along with his artist dad and it was certainly more affordable. It wasn’t always easy and we may not do it again but he was really good company and always very lively. I’ll cherish the memories of the many fun things we did together.

Seasons pass and kindergarteners become first-graders. As summer slowly fades into autumn, it’s impossible not to see how time runs away from us. Good times pass, surely to be replaced by others, but this time of year really brings that home to me and I sigh as I fold up my bathing suit and put my flip-flops away.

Hello Autumn.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Running Into--and With--Old Friends


Courtesy New York Road Runners


Last night, I set out for an easy run at my old striding grounds at McCarren Park and I decided to represent the home team by wearing my North Brooklyn singlet. As usual, I started by cruising past the track to see if there was anyone I knew.

Not surprisingly, Coach Kiki was in the house, with a very full training class and that made me very happy. I was even more pleased to find a huge group of runners milling about the starting line, and they turned out to be my old buddies, the North Brooklyn Runners, along with some guests from the Dashing Whippets. They were about to start a track session and I was glad to join in.

McCarren Park has a beautiful track but almost always full of human obstacles—adults, children, soccer balls, bikes, strollers, and the like. Nevertheless, it was a quality workout and much, much better for the company. They had runners of all abilities and many, many interesting people to talk to.

Even though I live in Charlottesville, North Brooklyn is still my team for the time being and it was very amusing to explain my arrangement over and over during the recovery jogs.

Runner: “So you live in North Carolina?”

Me: “No: Virginia.”

Runner: “But you’re wearing the shirt.”

Me: “Well, I still live here part time. I used to live in the ‘burg but I still work for Road Runners so I’m back in the neighborhood on the regular.”

Runner: “I remember you: welcome back.”

Without fail, they all said that last part. I could not imagine a more friendly group and it really made my day to happen upon them.

The fellowship got even better when the group went to the Turkey’s Nest to rehydrate with huge beers served in Styrofoam cups. They can all run but some of them are dangerous pool players as well.

Running into friends is one of the very best things about the City. It can be a very lonely place but company often materializes in surprising ways, refreshing like a desert oasis. Those human interactions are a big, big deal for me.

It was an unexpected way to spend the evening: spontaneous and fun, and very healthy. What could be better?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cabin Fever


Measure my life in dips in the "Pool of Men" and I won't complain.

Every summer, we make at least one pilgrimage to our friend James' cabin on the Maury River in the Goshen Pass, a remote backdoor to the Shenandoah Valley.

The most amazing thing about the place is its spirit, impossible to describe. It's a bask on a rock, a dip in the cool mountain water, a hike under the trees, or an amazing rocks-to-loaves feast where the food appears out of no where and it's incredible. It's blue grass on the porch and a breeze down the valley folds. It's the people who go there and the way your cares stay at bay while you're there.

I have described the experience at length before and will spare the long diatribe, but forgive one last gush: I love it there and I'm very grateful to be able to go.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Story|Line


It's all about the kids and unfortunately I don't have waivers from the kids for this blog. I DO have permission for the PCA web site though, so go there to see lots more (and frankly better) photos.


Last week, Sebastian and I got together with a big group of rising sixth-graders and volunteers for a walk through a part of Charlottesville and its history. The following week, the kids made a mural and told stories about their experience at the Free Expression Wall (Community Chalkboard). It was fun and really inspirational.

The walk started at the Jefferson School and wound through the once-vital-and-now-disappeared neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, the one-time heart of Charlottesville’s African-American community. The walk proceeded down Main Street, with a stop at the historic Paramount before concluding at the Free Expression Wall. All throughout, we studied the urban fabric and heard about what was there before, and helped the kids record their observations through both words and drawings (field packs provided).

The chalkboard drawing was a wonderful outlet for the kids to record their impressions and dreams for the city. It is worth noting that the children did not generally draw anything specifically related to the history lessons the adults had recited to them. Theirs was a more generalized vision that ranged from green to fairly dark, channeling memories, hopes, and dreams—often quite abstract.

The project reminded us that there are many layers of meaning in the places we inhabit daily. It was intended to awaken the latent and very human urge to share—through whatever means at our disposal—our own thoughts and impressions. Free expression is a right that must be nurtured and protected: not only against suppression or censorship but from our own fears and inhibitions that silence us. We have some interesting things to say and if we make an effort to share them, we will inspire others.

The children certainly inspired me and I hope our efforts helped some of them as well. From what I witnessed, I think there’s reason for optimism.

Forty-eight hours later, the mural had completely disappeared under the sea of commentary passersby write on the chalkboard. Perhaps it was victim of an afternoon shower or squall. It doesn’t realty matter for all expression is fleeting. It’s not a durable product anyway: it’s a process and one that needs to be exercised.

Story|line is a collaboration between the Piedmont Council of the Arts, the Bridge, Charlottesville Parks and Recreation, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

Lots More Photos | Project Description | More Info

Sunday, July 18, 2010

57N


Where I once carved marble statuary now sits a crate full of toilet-paper and towel rack fixtures. The dust is familiar though.


On a hot afternoon visit to DC, I undertook to visit my old studio at 57 N Street. I knew it would be different--all the old places have changed. I still wasn't prepared for what I found.

I didn't think I would be able to go inside. The fancy condos I expected are not usually welcoming to sentimental artists. That's been my experience with my other ex-studios. They don't want to be friends.

This time, the door was open and I went inside.

Now the place is warehouse (open to the public) for an architectural salvage store. The space was opened up and stuffed full of old doors, mantlepieces, tile fragments, clawfoot tubs, and the like. Without the warren of plywood walls that defined the old spaces, I was able to walk about freely and I was actually able to appreciate the old building's industrial past a little better.

I had to concede that this is an appropriate use for the facility, not really that different from the way we used it. I was a little sad to see the art gone but it would be unjust to cry "gentrification" in this case and that fact left me oddly chagrined.

All of the spaces in the building we had inhabited so intensively--the gallery, the printing room, the roof garden, my studio, my friends' lofts--were all being used for something quite different, but honorable. There was a strange dissonance between my very real memories, which were replaying in the present tense, and the objective, undeniable reality in front of me.

The real eye-opener came on my way out. I stopped at the counter and explained who I was, how I was an artist there and how we transformed the building. The clerk did not even look up. "Yeah, ok," was all he said. Buh-bye.

Time waits for no one.

postscriptum

Having made my primary point, I'll indulge in one gratuitous yarn about how much things have changed--and how much harder life was for me than the current whippersnapper tenants.

Although Shaw still has its rough edges, like all of DC it's slightly less gritty there. In my temporal dissonance I was reminded just how bad it was when I was there. The present-day entrance to the warehouse is made of wood and glass without any discernible gate or bars. That would have been ridiculous back in the day; I'll never forget the time when someone tried to force entry by ramming their car into our medieval style loading dock gate.

Time does march on.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind



I was editing photos for my next project on the train ride up to New York. I liked the above image and when I zoomed in to check focus I had a delightful surprise, enough to make me yell out in the Quiet Car.



Look who’s lurking in the silo window. I love surprises like that—small things that change the photo’s atmosphere. Well, she’s probably not all that small, but you know what I mean.

T
his is the scary house where the vulture bum-rushed me from that upstairs window.


That’s the second consecutive photo safari that included a vulture. Maybe I should stop combining long runs with photography?

The Next Thing


To get to this spot, I had to outrun a security guard in a go-cart, wade through a waist-deep sea of vegetation, cross a stream, and squeeze through a barbed-wire fence. A safari within the boundaries of my town.

Before my Scratch show at McGuffey had even ended, people started asking me what I’m doing next. I have a couple of projects in the early stages, and although I can’t yet say what physical form they will take, I can tell you what I’m thinking about and what I’m looking at.

I’m really interested in the process by which Nature reclaims human spaces. I still love trees and vegetation but rather than looking at the landscape from a distance, I’m starting to really focus on the mechanics of that reclamation. The project will be called Succession and will probably be limited to Virginia ecosystems. The vines and brambles interface beautifully with the state’s abundant human history.

I’ve been hiking and exploring, snooping around (often in places where I shouldn’t!), running from security guards and wildlife, and taking many photographs. I’ll shoot thousands of frames and keep a few from each safari until I have about a hundred images that I really like. I’ll spread them out and see what I find in them. Then I’ll know what to do, what kind of art to make.

I’m still making scratch boards from my considerable image bank but I’m also actively cultivating my inspiration. It’s a very physical search that leaves me with cuts and scrapes, bug bites and some beautiful images.

It’s worth it: blood, sweat and toil makes for better art.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sources and Inspirations


Amherst, VA 2008.


A few years back, I went to the show of one of my art heroes Glen Rubsamen. He paints silhouettes of trees (black) on either a white or vividly-colored background. I love his work for many reasons and the exhibition was amazing. Of course I couldn’t afford any of the big oil paintings but I had to have something so I bought the catalog. It was entitled Those Useless Trees” and it featured a strong black and white painting on its cover. It was shrink-wrapped and I didn’t open it until I got to the subway.

I was in for quite a surprise. There was not a single image of a painting inside. Instead, the book was full of his source photos: unusual-looking trees, mostly—though not exclusively—in his native Los Angeles. I had never seen anything like that before and it was very interesting not only to see his working process, but a bit more objective view of the origins of his inspirations. In that spirit, my upcoming exhibition Scratch will include a section dedicated to the source photos from which the scratch boards and prints derive.

As I edited the images on my computer then arranged them on my work table, I was impressed at how strong they are as works of art. I probably shouldn’t be surprised: I have been playing with a camera since I was a child, and photography represents at least as much time and effort as the entire rest of my oeuvre. Not only do the pictures hold their own in the exhibition, they might well be its strongest leg. In the exhibition, they will be presented mostly as small, poloroid-sized, prints with a few enlargements to show detail.

There will be a companion to the exhibition catalog dedicated to these sources and inspirations. Perhaps I should call it “Those Wonderful Trees!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Scratch


Two of a Kind (scratch board) Oil pastel on inked mat board, 4"x6" 2010.


I have never been the type of artist to hitch my career to any single set of materials or techniques. For me, art is about a way of seeing and I will employ whichever media come to hand or whatever makes the most sense for the project. That approach will be on display in my new show at McGuffey Art Center, in which I explore and re-explore images of my familiar subjects—tree and sky views—through three different media: dry point prints, scratch boards, and photographs.

Untitled dry point. 2" x 2" on 10" x 10.5" Tiepolo paper. Edition of 6. 2009.

Last autumn a friend of mine who is a master printer suggested that I try my hand at dry point, a very simple and direct engraving process wherein the artist scratches lines on a copper plate with a nail or stylus. I began with the expectation that I would feel constrained by the tool’s sharpness and its seeming irreversibility. The opposite happened: I felt completely liberated and in spite of the deferred gratification inherent in the printing process, it felt free and spontaneous. I worked with her to produce the eight small (2”x2”) prints in the exhibition.

There has always been one big limitation to printmaking for me however: the images are black and white (or with a very finite set of colors). I set out to discover a way to combine the dry point’s linear poetry with the kaleidoscopic spectacle that is my visual experience and my scratch boards are the result. I make them by inking a piece of mat board, coloring the background area with luscious Sennelier oil pastels, then scratching through the pastel with a stylus to reveal the dark board underneath. There will be about twenty small scratch boards (approximately 4”x6”) and a few of them reverse the technique by using dark pastel on a bright board.

My creative approach begins with photography—I carry a camera around like a sketchbook to record the ephemeral and visually stunning moments that fill my life. I wanted the exhibit to include at least a glimpse of that part of the process by showing some of my sources. Something larger started to emerge as I arranged the dozens of small Polaroid-like pictures—a few which have been enlarged to reveal details and hidden surprises. The images carry a strong sense of my particular vision of the world and they each stand on their own merits as creative expressions as well as being part of a cohesive whole. They comprise the third and perhaps strongest leg of the show.


Scottsville, VA 2006.


Though the three sets of pictures employ three distinct techniques, all originate from a single library of images. Indeed, some sources appear in two or all three of the groups. A few of them are tributes to artists whose work I admire. The collected works, all created in the past few months, reveal a vision that is specifically my own. They profit from multiple looks and the strengths of multiple approaches, unencumbered by the parameters of any specific technique.

Scratch is on display from June 1 to June 27, with an opening reception Friday, June 4 5:30 to 7:30. McGuffey Art Center is located at 201 Second Street NW Charlottesville, VA. Hours: Monday through Saturday 10 am – 6 pm, Sunday 1-5.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wet Paint


San Angelo
(scratch board). Oil pastel on inked mat board, 4" x 6" 2010.


When I was first getting started as an artist I planned to donate a sculpture to an auction to benefit the homeless of Washington, DC. Unable to decide which piece to give, I asked one of my mentors for advice. His response: “Give your best piece.” It’s always hard for an artist to give up their work, so the idea of giving away my favorite was a bitter pill to swallow.

He was right though: it’s only a donation if the piece actually sells. So if you wish to benefit a cause, you need to make the sacrifice and anyway the business reasons for making the donation redound the most if you put your absolute best foot forward. The desirable audience that attends the gala is impressed with your strong work and the art shows—and moves—well. Everyone comes away happy.

I took his advice and the piece sold and I gained a new patron as well as good karma and a tax deduction; an example of doing well by doing good.

I have that advice in mind as I prepare for this weekend’s Wet Paint gala to benefit the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). VCCA is one of the nation’s most established artist communities and a beacon for the visual arts in Central Virginia. Like so many other artists, VCCA holds a special place in my heart and I made some of my best work while I was there. Much that I have done since was inspired by that magical place.

I wanted to contribute something worthy that would be a response to my residency there. I am proud of the result and you can see it this Saturday night. Buy a ticket, make a bid. The cause is more than worthy and hopefully you’ll walk away with an important and resonant work of art.

Event Info | VCCA Info | VCCA Blog

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Pond


Baker's Branch is an Eden forty-five miles from my front door.


Yesterday I got up early and harvested the first greens from my garden. I was making sandwiches for my father-in-law and myself. We had a special day ahead.

He owns a share of a large and mostly undeveloped piece of land about 45 minutes from town that is divided up like a pie with a pond in the center. The only permanent structure visible from the pond sits on a communally shared tranche. It is a small but beautifully crafted cabin consisting of a porch and a dry sauna.

The routine is always the same: first we heat up and stretch in the wood-stove-heated sauna, then dip in the chilly (though no longer frigid) pond. Afterward we sit on the porch and enjoy the woods, then repeat the cycle four or five times.

The pond occupies a space in my life akin to the Turkish Baths back in New York. We go there to rest and rejuvenate. We sweat out—and I stretch out—the toxins that slowly accumulate in daily life. The pond’s water and its many subtleties inevitably recall Thoroeau. The open spaces, soft treescapes, and primeval purity couldn’t be more different than the delightful skank of the Turkish Bath grotto.

During one of his visits to New York, I took the old man to the Baths and he fully appreciated its many—and consummately urban—charms. Breathing the fresh air and hearing the natural sounds, we reflected on that other place and how we love both places equally well, but in different ways.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Open for Business?

I recently attended a seminar at McGuffey for artists about connecting to the outside world. The speaker placed much emphasis on the notion of being ”open for business.” By that she meant being easy to find and employing transparent and consistent business practices. These themes echoed much of what was said in my “artworld as high school” session, so they have been at the front of my mind of late. During my most recent scouting trip to DC, I witnessed two very good examples: one positive and one negative.

The first place I visited was undergoing installation, which usually means a sign in the window and a locked door. Not here: they had propped the art so to be easily visible and I was welcome—specifically invited—to look around. One of the gallery’s co-owners gave me a quick tour and answered my several questions. Although I didn’t know much about the place before, I left the gallery quite impressed and I would be glad to be a part of what they do in the future.

I knew about the second place from multiple encounters at art fairs and I had long admired their program and their unique approach. Despite the obvious handicap of an off-the-beaten-track location in Anacostia, I was intrigued to see their home base, but would end up flummoxed by horrible customer service.

Two red flags that had me leery should have made me think better. First of all, their web site, which is otherwise quite good, includes only driving directions, even though they are a short walk from the Metro. Of course, it’s not in one of the city’s finest neighborhoods, but to outright discourage pedestrian visitors seems foolish. I was wise enough to call before schlepping out there, but not wise enough realize that the answering machine is never a welcoming receptionist—even if it does say that the gallery is open.

Always a glutton for punishment, I made the trip anyway, and it took about two hours from downtown due to a “medical emergency” in the metro system. It was a long journey and I was pretty cranky when I finally got there and found the place dark. There was a sign on the window that said the gallery was open (oh, really?), with a phone number for admittance, which I called. A woman said she would be right down to let me in, I figured she must have been upstairs or something.

Seriously ten minutes passed before someone who looked to be the super from the building next door took pity on me and called her again and received instruction to let me in. The space—and the art—inside was OK, but nothing too special; certainly not worth the hassle. On the way out, two police men who had seen me waiting asked jokingly if I had figured out the magic word.

Apparently, it was not “Open.”

Written April 6, 2010.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Getting it all down in 150 words

Few prospects are as daunting for an artist—or yield as predictably sub-mediocre results—as writing an artist statement. At one of the #class sessions I attended last month, writer Sarah Schmerler co-crafted a working artist statement for a quasi-volunteer in real-time.

It was an interesting way to lay bare some of the reasons why it can be so difficult, and although there are no easy answers, understanding the obstacles makes them easier to overcome.

Most people reading this blog are aware of my deep appreciation for excellent writing and my consequent disdain for the majority of artist statements, issue of authors who have never studied writing with anywhere near the seriousness of their chosen métiers—if at all.

To be fair though, fixing an artist statement is not just about improving one’s general writing skills. The form is difficult because one must translate into words ideas and emotions that are inherently non-verbal. Writers employ language and artists visuals.

An artist statement must cover a lot of ground. It needs to describe the physical nature of the work, including the size, scale and materials—the what and how. Then it must tackle the more difficult question of why, while placing their specific work in the broader arc of art and civilization.

Every genre has its conventions and an artist statement should really be 150 words or less—far fewer than I have already devoted to this post (we’re currently at the 225 mark). So it is easy to understand why artists are so vexed at the prospect of baring their souls in such a way, and why they understandably fail more often than not.

For my part, I have traditionally ignored the hard word count and simply tried to be relatively concise. Before Sarah and Jen’s session, my statement weighed in around 600 words—four times the recommended length. Clearly I had work to do.

With the goal of creating a more perfect—or at least acceptable—artist statement, I challenged myself to craft something better than before, while being brief enough to honor the 150 word convention. Here’s what I came up with; an ever evolving essay but ready to share.

Comments are always welcome.
My drawings, prints, and scratch boards probe the membrane between Earth and sky, terrestrial life and the vast beyond. Tree canopies, silhouetted treelines, and occasional human interferences such as telephone poles act simultaneously as intermediaries and embodiments of the aspiration toward that infinite mystery.

Ranging in scale from tiny to gigantic, and often designed to be presented high on the wall or on the ceiling, they recall childhood afternoons on the grass, gazing upward through a net of foliage, or a glance toward the darkening horizon when it is time to run home for supper.

Our shared affinity with trees predates history, reaching back to primate ancestors who lived among them. Even still, forests and reforestation hold the key to our species’ survival. I can feel that synergy when I work and I’m glad to be part of an endless chain of precedent that will always be contemporary and relevant.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March Madness

March is a time of emergence and stepping forth. The sun passes over the Equator and will stay with us for a few seasons. Lives that were thriving but hidden under the fallen leaves burst into the open bold and vigorous. Renewal is in the air in the countryside, and in the city too!

Back in old New York, Jen Dalton and Bill Powhida closed the book on their month-long #class extravaganza. They were kind enough to allow me to moderate the discussion on Artworld as High School. My session was fun, but my strongest impression came from the overall experience of being inside the larger exhibition—albeit for a short time.

I needed surprisingly much reflection to settle on the word exhibition to describe #class. Although there was technically some art on display, it was marginalized to a secondary room. #Class was not about the presentation of visual artifacts, as is typical in most gallery shows, but rather the pure exchange of ideas, usually ephemeral, in the larger conference- (or classroom-) configured main gallery.

On the night I was there, it started with a two-our table discussion about similarities between the Art World and a clique-infested school cafeteria. I wore my letter jacket, which I am proud to say still fits and we talked about how to penetrate the small group that inhabits the top of the social pyramid (for sake of discussion, we accepted the metaphor as valid) and the ways that art explodes stratification. It was a very worthwhile conversation, but it was just the beginning.

Following that session, the tables were rearranged and there ensued a 15 minute audience-inclusive performance that linked drawings of genitalia in a gender-crossing way with the names of respected public figures. The presenter took the drawings with her and no questions were accepted.

Immediately after that, the tables were re-shuffled again and an art-critic wrote an artist statement in real time. Poor Jen was shanghaied to be the guinea pig and, as her art is exceptionally personal, the process resembled open-heart surgery. Perhaps open-soul surgery would be a more apt description.

Then everyone left and we downed some much-needed beers in the back room. The three sessions were enough to make the head spin, more for the diversity of their offerings than their individual emotional intensity, which was considerable. I can scarcely imagine how it must have been for Jen and Bill to repeat the cycle every day for a month. I hope they’re able to retreat to rest and reflect for a while. I won’t even ask for their impressions until some time has passed.

Although the show was not visual, musical, lyrical, or many other things one expects from an art exhibit, it was most definitely an exhibition: a putting-on-display of ideas and artistic information in a discombobulating whirlwind that neither artists could have anticipated. A reshuffling of the creative deck in plain sight.

When I got back to Virginia a few days later, head spinning with thoughts about the non-visual things that an exhibit can do, Nature greeted me with gusting winds and torrential squalls. Neither coming nor going, March was behaving more like an indecisive lion than a lamb.

And green shoots were shoving aside Winter’s blanket.

Full #class thread

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Primavera


Crocus were just the first salvo in Primavera's surprise conquest of my backyard--and my heart!


I confess to a raging crush on Springtime. When Zephyrus blows the pollen around and the three Graces start dancing in my yard, I just want to run out and join their frolicking.

Bulbs are coming up all over the place, some that I planted, some cached and forgotten by squirrels, and many busting out from under the leaves with purely voluntary enthusiasm. I want to roll around among the crocus and the daffodils and lose myself Emily-Dickenson-style in the living hummus and the perfume and the warm sun.

This is the reason I moved to Virginia. I can throw open my window on a March morning and smell Life bursting from the ground. I can see the Earth sending its woody tendrils toward the sky. I can wear the same thing outside and in. Just a few degrees warmer than New York brings this rapture a full month sooner. I definitely wouldn’t roll on the ground there.

Sadly, as I write this, that’s exactly where I’m headed: northbound on the Regional and I’m watching the gorgeous Piedmont roll by—and away. I won’t be able to welcome the Equinox as I had hoped on the porch of a cabin in the woods by a lake. Equinox means something different in the City and my rites will have to wait.

First a short exile and I will be very glad to see my friends. Sprintime has undeniable charms there but throughout the sojourn I will be thinking about the trees in bud and the many green shoots in my garden. Soon I’ll be back and Primavera will be there and although she won’t wait for me, she will welcome me back to her embrace without reservation.

She’s good that way.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Status Deferred that won't be Denied

I was gathering input for my Art World as High School discussion over coffee the other day with an artist friend of mine when she raised a very interesting point.

She pays a great deal of attention to personality types (as do I). She observed that a great many of her artist friends/colleagues are people who had frustrating high school experiences from a status perspective and are now (over)compensating by seeking the approbation the feel they missed back then. Because they’re trying to make up ground, it is not enough for them that their work be simply good, effective, or respected. It (ergo, they) need to be loved by a large audience.

Unfortunately visual art is not a pathway particularly well suited to broad-based approbation. To say so is not a knock against the quality of a given artist’s output or a dismissal of the public as visually ignorant. Those are weak shortcuts.

Rather, it is simply a question of whether someone can relate to a stranger’s intensely personal message. Perhaps the more leaden a work, the smaller the audience. The result is a maddening tension between a hunger for big-time adoration and a life journey that is paved with small “aha” moments, most of which the artist does not even get to hear.

A better path, to my mind, is to find a way—through meditation or whatever—to be happy with oneself. Torment does not make better art; obsessive, hard work does. Life is too short to spend being unhappy, and art is too important to waste by tilting at chimera left over from who sat where in the high school lunchroom.

But that’s just me.

[View full ThinkTank thread]

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Scratch boards


Tufton Avenue. Oil pastel on inked mat board 4" x 6" 2010.

Is it possible to combine the beautiful, varied lines one finds in dry point with the rich painterly color of oil pastel? My new work is a marriage of the two forms--one that I've recently discovered and one that I've long-since mastered and always loved.

I have embarked on a new series of scratch boards, small (4"x6") unique drawings made by inking a piece of mat board, drawing a background with Sennelier oil pastels, then scratching through the pastel with a stylus to reveal the ink underneath.

Detail (magnified 10x) of above image.
I love the decisiveness of the lines--like drawing with a ballpoint pen--but with a vast arsenal of subtle variations obtainable by varying the pressure and angle of the stylus. The line can be micro-thin and nearly invisible, or by turning the tool sideways, I can remove wide swaths of material.

Combine that with the luscious almost juicy quality oil pastel, which can be blended or moved around freely and with rich, saturated colors--the results can be quite gorgeous.

I have nearly completed the first set of twenty images. They will be priced very affordably and will be exhibited, along with my prints and source photos this June at McGuffey.

Here are a few more images to preview. A whole lot more here.
(all images 4" x 6" oil pastel on inked mat board 2010)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My New Camera


I took this shot while walking down my in-laws front walk in the middle of the night, in the middle of the country. No tripod, no **flash**, or anything. I just pulled the camera out of my pocket and shot. Unbelievable.


It was a real setback when I lost my second-generation digital elph a while ago. I try to always carry a camera with me and it was so easy to just slip it into my pocket. Replacing it was a big priority but I wanted to be smart about it.

My friend Briscoe recommended that I try the Canon S90, a performance-oriented successor to the elph. The reviews looked good so I picked one up.

Everything I read turned out to be true but I still cannot believe how well it performs in low-light conditions. It almost never needs a flash (good-bye red-eye!) and allows interior shots with ambient light, which look much more true. Of course, the variety of types of light in indoor settings creates some white-balance issues, but it's a nice problem to have. Some would call that freedom.

The camera truly astonishes in ultra-low light, thanks to an available 3200 ISO and some very smart noise reduction protocols. I have always loved nocturnal photography, which can be very challenging. With the S90, it's much easier and that will open new possibilities.

I also love the manual focus option (which I've never seen in a point-and-shoot), the flexible controls, and the wealth of settings and filters. On the whole I love it and it has already produced some amazing images, and it's always thereL right in my pocket.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Art World as High School


Front portico of my high school, Montgomery Blair--an amazing place I stumbled into and marched out of with a high chin and mortarboard. Image pilfered without apology from a nice article in Open Salon.


When Jen Dalton asked me if I would like to take part in her table discussion “Art World as High School” (March 17) I had misgivings. I felt the description painted high school—and the art world—as a closed environment ruled by cliques, where acceptance and status are all-important and all-consuming.

Not only is this analogy incorrect—the world of art is infinite, as big as the collective imaginations of the millions who make and love art—but that line of thinking is unhelpful in the extreme. It seemed the opposite of helpful, actually.

As one who spends his days on the front lines of the art market, I constantly hear the voices of the excluded sighing predictable fallacies like “If I were an art collector…” “If I had money…” “If I had taste…” as justifications why they could not step deeper into the universe that art has to offer.

The absolute last thing I want to encourage is the idea of art as province of some elite cadre of insiders. That benefits only small-minded people jealously guarding an inflated market, while stifling innovation and depriving the larger world of art’s innumerable benefits. I don't think it's true but the perception is out there and it's devastating and part of me felt that to even debate the topic lends it credence.

Thoughts evolve and the only way to purge a demon is to flush it out into the open, so I decided to join the discussion: is the art world (if we can agree what that is) like high school? If so, is that a good or bad thing?

Let’s start with the profile of an Artworldling; how would they fit into the imagined cafeteria-table system? In my experience, the art world is full of former outcasts—people who were probably not sitting at the “cool” table in high school. They would be pretty nerdy, or natty, sitting with the “creative types.” If that group has morphed into a bunch of exclusionary snobs, it would be pretty depressing. Perhaps it is inevitable but those who have suffered should not make others to suffer at the first opportunity, especially when there’s not even a pretense of redistributive justice. I, for one, will not tolerate that on a personal level. Life is too short.

There is also the idea that those who peaked in high school have probably declined since then—the 20-year reunion phenomenon where the former cheerleaders are fat and the football players are plumbers, and the geek has a great life. While not a universal phenomenon, it does ring true to me. So if the art world is indeed full of closed doors, and the logic holds up, then it’s actually better to be excluded from the clique-du-jour. Those obsessed with status today will be pathetic tomorrow.

Maybe Art World High School is not so bad after all!

There is second way to approach the discussion. Instead of viewing high school from a hypothetical anthropological perspective, what if we look at it in terms of personal development? Then the analogy gets really interesting.

The high school years are a time, terrifying for many, when one begins to make consequential decisions about how to live. What we do not realize at the time, however, is that what we do matters much less than how we do it. Fashion and cool mannerisms are important not because they indicate some Darwinian capacity to keep up with the pack, but because of what it says about our relationship to our fellow humans. Will you follow or will you lead? Indeed, a terrifying choice and few choose the latter.

For me—and I can only speak of my own experience here—high school was a triumphant time, not because I was the most popular kid, but because I came to understand over the course of those four years that I didn’t have to play that game—couldn’t and mustn’t because it wasn’t my path. There are infinitely many ways to live and each person needs to do what works for them. Ultimately, that realization brought a measure of popularity by the end of high school and I’m well situated now with an interesting life, beautiful wife, and the same body I had back then.

That’s what art is for: it’s all about trying to make sense of a mysterious life and putting things together in new ways that somehow just work. So, from the standpoint of personal development, the life of this Artworldling is exactly like high school, and I love that.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The White Tempest


The New York Times description of this weekend's blizzard noted its sharply-defined shoulders. Last entry led with the sundog that announced the storm's coming. Today we see its tail as it roars away to the northeast, leaving Charlottesville cloaked in a thick white blanket.


It is easy to dwell on the hassle created by 20 inches of heavy, wet snow being dumped on our heads in a very short period. It was back-busting just trying to keep up. Many of our friends lost electricity and therefore heat. The sounds I've been hearing on my roof do not set my mind at ease.

I have to say, however, that I am glad about this white tempest in some ways. First of all, it's shockingly beautiful. More on that, and tons of photos, in the next entry. Something about these events brings people together. During this storm and the last, we have really come to know our neighbors quite well, even better than before. Last time around, no one was prepared and we were forced to rely on one another for a few shared shovels and the occasional cup of sugar. Pushing cars and shoveling out the elderly neighbors replaced my usual daily workout.

This time, we were more or less prepared and dealt with the weather more appropriately but the cool thing is that we still seemed to need one another but in a softer, sweeter way. Instead of pushing their marooned Honda Civics through and over snow drifts, we joined with our neighbors in drinking wine or tea, eating yummy treats they made and watching the beautiful storm outside--and speculating about where we would seek refuge if we too lost our heat.

"I think Ivanna has a wood stove. Not sure if she has dry wood. I hope we don't have to burn the furniture!"

Today is bright and beautiful and the lights still turn on. The walk's all shoveled and we're looking forward to a full day of sledding with our fun neighbors. When a 50-meter trudge qualifies as an exhausting workout, it certainly is nice to such great people nearby!

Note to Citymouse: Just because we love our neighbors and praise the comraderie here, it doesn't mean that it wouldn't be like that in New York. We all know that the City has a special spirit that binds people together. Who knows: we might feel even warmer and fuzzier if we were there. So don't get get all indignant about how New Yorkers all pull together in a crunch: we know that. We're just saying that we like having cool neighbors here, like the ones we had back there. It's the only way to live.
-Countrymouse

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Regional 171


I always enjoy pushing the limits of my camera phone. This one shot with at the sun, from a moving train, with the "Lola" filter from CamerBag. Many photographers use their cellphones the way they might have used a poloroid. Now they offer an aesthetic that nods very self-consciously in that direction.


The scene inside the café car on the southbound Amtrak 171 Regional service from New York to Lynchburg was animated and bright. I came in to get a coke and shake the lethargy from my legs and decided to sit and look out the big windows at the enclosing winter landscape. A vivid sundog told of ice crystals high in the atmosphere, vanguard to a immense winter storm.

It was a good situation to push the limits of my cameraphone, as I like to do when I travel. The photographic act opened the floodgates of dialog with the fellow café car passengers. The man at the table with me turned out to be filmmaker Patrick Webb, who like me was returning home from a work stint in the City. The guy behind me with the Ricoh was Sebastijan Jemee, formerly of Charlottesville, now coming down from New York leaden with photographs of his own for a show at the Garage. He had a sidekick who I never formally met.

Conversation swirled from table to table and took on the tempo of a Virginia Reel with the advent of a garrulous bank manager from Roanoke, our unofficial M.C. He introduced himself to everyone in the room with a bright smile, and though I do not remember his name, I could recite his itinerary from memory: Philly to Roanoke via Lynchburg, then back to DC then back to Lynchburg and finally home to Roanoke.

A few other guys in the lounge—and they were all men this time around—nodded or injected the occasional insightful comments but largely kept their cards close to their chests. As we zigged and zagged through the Piedmont and cocktails came out, connections were made, business cards exchanged, and human experiences shared.

Travel can be the act of simply getting from one place to another, a tunnel with an entrance and an exit. The train can be that way too, a bubble rocketing through a straw at a hundred miles an hour. But it is a bubble of oxygen; a social space that encourages interaction. On Amtrak there is a unity between people that is quite special and sometimes the journey can be rewarding time well spent, much more than a necessity for reaching a destination.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Love and Cold Water


Plenty of cold water in my neighbor's yard. Actually, this photo is not germane to the post--I just included it because I like it.


A since-departed mentor of mine once told me, “All an artist needs is love and cold water.” That two-part prescription is problematic on both sides of the equation but lets take them in the order they come.

For an artist, appreciation and approbation can be powerful motivators but their pursuit can be ends unto themselves. I actually don’t know too many artists whose ambition is to be wealthy through their art (not much danger of that) but very many would like to be appreciated, influential, respected within their field, remembered after they’re gone. Reasonable enough but when you think about it, those are pretty big requests, beyond the reach of most who are not lucky enough to have a bridge or a park bench named for them.

One blessing artist enjoy is that if they work real hard and are lucky, they create living talismans that alter perspectives and perhaps carry their name into the future. That’s the goal but I am repulsed when someone pushes that agenda too hard—their ego, their need to be loved eclipses the work. That’s just me though: I am much more interested in real, impactful work than keeping track of who’s famous at this moment.

In order to be loved, an artist must love their work in a giving way and love does not carry a quid pro quo: I love thee that I may be loved. The artist needs love but he must give it out, not knowing whether it will redound.

What about the business with the cold water?

There has been a debate through the ages—and I’m not going to answer it on this blog—about whether artists need to suffer to find inspiration. Consuelo didn’t simply tell me that artists need the universal solvent for its life-giving, thirst-quenching properties. She wanted me stay out of my comfort zone, away from complacency. I think she was right: I work best when I’m challenging myself and taking that terrifying leap from bathtub to freezing waterfall.

There’s a second, more sinister interpretation that also holds some sway: that artists should not get paid; that suffering, privation, and tragedy are somehow good for the artist’s work.

Believe me when I say this: my work is not better after a poor night’s sleep. My work is not enhanced by shaking and baking out in the marketplace so the mortgage gets paid—I simply make less art during those periods. Spiritual hunger is good, and perhaps a little gnaw in the belly can get you off the couch but starvation does not yield up good art.

Basic respect and appreciation, subsistence, and the occasional splash on the face—that’s enough to keep most artists going. The good ones find a way to keep going even when those basics are not forthcoming.