Friday, February 24, 2006

Heike Baranowsky

The recent exhibition of Heike Baranowsky, at G Fine Art, is a grand exercise in banality. Her resume and the prices she is attempting to pan her videos off at are far more impressive than the work on exhibit. Five videos consume the space, with four photos tacked to the wall near next to the door. The videos consist of a landscape near Joshua tree where, if you stand around long enough, you might see a plane cross the sky; a tumbleweed dancing down the road in the desert - by far the most entertaining; a zepplin in slow motion; butterflies in even slower motion; and birds in the Illinois landscape. The flier on the work states that an unexpected dimension of geographical and political intrigue of hysteria and militarism is suggested by the four photos in the entry. Perhaps. It is a stretch and at best a lean away from art toward photo-editorialism.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Borf Is Another Excuse.

I recently learned that a street vandal/artist named Borf, was recently given a sentence of one month in DC jail and a $12,000 fine for his acts of vandalism. Some in the community think the sentencing is too harsh and a sign of fascism. Others think it is not quite enough.

The Washington Post published an article on the youth within the past year shortly after he was apprehended.

With a great bit of unbias, they depicted him as a kid who has a basic understanding of some conflicting political models and chooses to go with some mediocre form of anarchy: spray-painting the image of a friend who committed suicide a couple of years back. The last couple of years he has made his mark on the DC area with his stenciled spray-paintings and Basquiat-like sayings. While Borf thinks �Borf is good for your liver,� having seen a number of his ramblings and the copycat marks of wannabes, at best I can argue that Borf is a lazy excuse of a bored, rich brat that thinks he can solve global problems with a can of spray-paint and random tags.

Were his stencils interesting? Yes. Was he a good kick in the ass for DC? Perhaps. Not so much for his politics but more for the brilliant and playful eye-sores he composed on buildings, street signs, and the like. The image, after all, was engaging and stimulating more so than his silly little phrases and slogans. Does he deserve to go to jail for damaging property? Yes.

A bigger issue ensues, however. There is a grey area within some street art. For example, the playful meter pops of Storker, who transformed several DC parking meters into lollipops with colored, transparent tape. Inventive! And bit of a nuisance if you were an individual trying to put some coin into your meter for a couple hours of parking. Did he have permission to do this? It�s hard to say; nothing indicates whether local authorities had given him permission to pursue this project. Certainly a bit more genius than the pseudo-Marxist ranting of a teenage brat who thinks everything is so unfair (like all other teenage brats). Would this guy deserve to go to jail for the inconvenience from clear-taping a parking meter? No. Perhaps a small fine since nothing would be damaged, just sticky.

What becomes the spur in this argument is if the Borf decision has the potential to produce a precedent, which all non-commissioned public artists should consider before engaging in their work. I appreciate the humor of plastering the word �bush� or �the war� below the �STOP� of a stop sign. But art and message has a limitation. This is an obstruction of a functional piece of information. And though the red octagon has worked it�s way into the semiological lexicon as a signal to stop in our culture/country, its obstruction in any form is problematic. The thought of spending a night in county for a cause is commendable. But it depends on the cause. I would not want that cause to be transforming a parking meter into a lollipop, even if executed on a Sunday when quarters are not necessary. Nor would I want to cozy up to some guy on a misdemeanor charge of public intox because I was lamenting the death of a friend by commemorating his life-taking-act by tagging a mailbox with a crude saying that has no relevance to the dead friend.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Today was a day of Eurekas in my teaching career. The first came during a color exercise in my undergraduate class at American University. I asked students to illustrate an emotion through color, something described in Patti Bellatoni’s book “If It’s Purple Someone’s Gonna Die.” I gave students opposing emotions: Love and hate, Sympathy and Indifference, Joy and Sorrow. Some of the students gave me specific illustrations to convey their emotion, but I was most interested in the colors.

Each student picked his or her color out of a hat and no student knew what the other student had. Then they got to illustrating. When a section was called to the front of the class – for instance joy – all of them had yellows in their illustration. Yellow was mixed with various colors, most of them “warm,” but all of them were tone. So if yellow was mixed with a blue, it was like a sky blue rather than a navy blue. If it was with a yellow it was a sunny yellow rather than an ochre. Love was illustrated with light reds and pinks. Hate was illustrated with dark reds and blacks.

I tend not to illustrate a color with a mood or emotion because colors or so varied in association. A green grass is different that a toxic green for instance, and the natural has a more pleasant association than the synthetic. But, noticing how universal these students were with their assignment of color to emotion makes me wish to rethink some of my thinking. I believed color had an influence, but I never realized it was that strong!

The second eureka occurred in my continuing education class in McLean for the Corcoran. This class is filled with people who want to learn how to leisurely paint. The problem is some of them don’t know how to draw. Drawing is not fundamental for painting, but it sure does help!

The major hurdle between painting and drawing is if a person is drawing with a pencil, he doesn’t think about a color. Drawing = Pencil. Drawing becomes a problem for some when drawing = shading, but at its core drawing = pencil. Give a student charcoal and drawing = mess. Now give a student paint. Paint = Color. Line, shape, form, positive/negative, measurement, and proportion – it all goes out the window. How do I get that color? This is what I was asked several times tonight.

We drew with paint this evening to break them out of thinking Paint = Color. The first drawing they all drew the contours of positive shapes. Each student might draw a vase and get caught up on all the intricate details of the vase. The student would draw in the vase behind that vase, but accidentally draw it smaller than what they were observing, or place it in the foreground. Common mistakes.

The second drawing they were told to draw the negative shapes only. This becomes tricky. Eventually the negative shape between objects will inadvertently identify a positive shape. If a candlestick is behind a flowerpot (sans flowers), part of the negative space of that candlestick will be the flowerpot. There is no avoiding it. Black becomes white. White becomes black. Some students couldn’t tolerate going through the looking glass like that. Question: If the flowerpot it positive how can I draw that line? Answer: Because that line defines the negative space of the candlestick and the positive space of the flowerpot. (It also defines vice versa).

The last drawing they could only focus on large forms of shadows and highlights to identify their composition. This process created new problems because they were trying to draw the shadows as linear marks with big brushes. They were also encouraged to build up shadows, moving from light to dark. Smaller and smaller strokes became necessary, as did smaller and smaller brushes. Some were so exasperated with this process. But, despite their increasing exasperation with each painting, the paintings improved with each new approach. They were learning how to see in new ways each time.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Photographic Memory

I recall prior to finishing graduate school, in preparation for our thesis show, we had the option to photograph ourselves which the surprising majority of the group seemed ambivalent and the two decided people saying no swayed the voting. “The last thing we want to look like is a bunch of goddamned abstract expressionists,” voiced one of my colleagues.

Sadly, I admit, I wanted us to. Not that we were anywhere as near as collegial as they might have been. As a group we were fairly disengaged from one another’s work. There were pseudo intellectual discussions about what some writer meant in regard to discussions about class or taste – a misguided approach into something theoretical – which only intrigued a couple of the group. There were formal issues about space and form that interested a couple of others in the group. Never a consensus was reached, nor a heated argument. The only thing that was lamely agreed upon was that we would not look like a bunch of abstract expressionists with our black-and-white-suited-image on the cover of some postcard.

Some months later I was helping Barbara Rose move out of her DC apartment for her return to the Big Apple, and she was remiss about her time in DC, somewhat regretful and somewhat proud of the few things she may have accomplished. One of the accomplishments had in part to do with the success of a group of students whom she helped educate. She told them “get a show together at a gallery in town, put a catalogue together and I’ll write the intro.” They paid attention - so she wrote for them. One of the things that tickled her was the photo: “like the Irascibles,” as she put it.

For some reason I felt a little more certain about our decision not to do that photo. Granted, when I think of black and white photos of groups of artists gathered together in suits, I think of the guys at the Bauhaus, I think of the Dadaists. I think of guys (rarely is there a woman pictured with them unless it’s Duchamp in drag), in a time when wearing the suit was expected, gathered together with common interests. The suit is like a uniform, not of art, but of intellect.

Thumbing through the Guggenheim’s retrospective of James Rosenquist a while back I looked at the pictures of those Leo Castelli represented. All the heavyweights of the 1960s and 1970s are there: Rauschenberg, Johns, Warhol, Rusha, Lichtenstein, Kelly. No suit. No uniform. A haphazard collection of men (except when Ms. Rose might be amongst them). It is as likely to be a reuniting track team from the Waukesha High School class of ’58 photo as it is to be a collection of the most successful artists since the end of the Truman administration. And everyone is all smiles.

The ideas have not evolved greatly since the Bauhaus or Dada. Those artists were doing whacked out installations, collages, decollages, assemblages and paintings that for what was to follow forty and now ninety years later can just as easily be misconstrued as farcical repetition as it can be acknowledged as serious art. Part of it has to do with not being aware of our history. Part of it might have to do with the photos.

As for the graduate photo that never happened, I think I am rather glad. Our ideas never gelled in those two years together into something that could be confused as a movement or a manifesto. Largely I think the ideas are still swelling and relaxing, each going their separate way. I am in search of colleagues.