Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Artist Fellowship and Dying Newspapers

A couple weeks ago I received word from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities that I will be awarded one of the FY11 Artist Fellowship awards. the excitement that underlies this award is the potential (and hopeful achievement) to open "The Gun Store," a work that examines the second amendment and the practicality (or lack there of) of gun bans and restrictions.

Already this idea has gained some traction, and as I learned in the days leading up to the grant announcements, I am not the only DC artist who has this idea in mind. Cory Oberndorfer, another DC artist and American University alumnus who has made a name for himself around town by painting murals of roller derby girls at an incredible scale, was conceiving of a similar idea, except he wants to open a gun store that sells nothing but toy guns... or is it a toy store that sells nothing but toy guns? Either way, the stream-lined direction of his store, I must admit, is enviable.

Maura Judkis caught wind of the news of these "dueling" gun stores and wrote about it on TBD.com. So, the ante has been raised in terms of perceived expectations and accomplishments. Time to get the ball rolling!

An exhibition of grant recipient work will be on view in the Corcoran's Gallery 31, which is typically their student gallery, October 21-31. I believe admission is free. No gun work will be in that show, only newspapers from my series of erased newspapers in honor of the dying medium. For this exhibition I have acquired the final editions of the Honolulu Advertiser and Star, and the first edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The papers merged in June signaling the death of two and the genesis of one. For many cities around the nation that have two newspapers, the market place is like the thunderdome: two papers enter, one paper leaves. Such is the death of print journalism in the past and future decades. It probably won't be long before newspapers have dwindled into state newspapers, rather than city newspapers, with regional inserts to cover local news. I know I am not helping; we haven't subscribed to a paper in several years. If we had more time to read the Washington Post we would still subscribe. Or if we had a parakeet.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Conspicuous Absence? Not Really.

Previously, on absent postings on this blog, I was remiss to post anything because I was too busy writing content for Washington City Paper's Artsdesk Blog. Now, I have a new excuse.

The good news: I was recently hired as an Associate Professor at Prince George's Community College (PGCC) in Largo, Maryland.

The bad news: my writing for Washington City Paper, like this blog, will languish. CP will actually get more stuff from me because this blog does not pay (though, some might argue the pay at CP is almost like not getting paid... hey, they admit it too! So, it's not like I am revealing anything new.).

The worst news: my daughter is now in day care. Heart wrenching!

Future posts will mention upcoming shows or some thoughts (like the long overdue "how passing out buttons at Metro stations is art" posting... I have not forgotten). For now, know the following:

1. Three of my erased newspapers are in a show at Pittock Mansion, Portland, OR, through November.
2. I'll be installing "America's Grave," a collaborative work with Randall Packer first installed in 2006 at the Katzen, at Zero1 in San Jose, beginning September 11.
3. I'll be in the PGCC Faculty Show in October
4. I think the Post Conceptualist show is still on for March '11 at Univ. Maryland (organized by Mark Cameron Boyd).
5. I was in an exhibition at Healing Arts on U Street (DC), which comes down on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
6. Speaking of the gallery PGCC, you should check out the current National Sculpture show. The gallery is open until 8:00 Mon-Thur. In the words of Cartman, it is "pretty kick ass."

Thursday, July 08, 2010

An Introduction to Conceptual Art

A few days ago we (here in the States, anyway) celebrated the birth of our nation 234 years ago.

Though, there is one fact we tend to overlook. July 5th, 1776, most of the citizens in the United States awoke as subjects of the crown. Only a handful of guys, who were present in the room during the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, awoke with hearts lightened with the murky vision of what America might look like (as well as a lump in their throat for the potential penalty worthy of treason: beheading).

Actual independence as a nation state did not come until the Treaty of Paris in September of 1783. Or, some might argue it didn't come until January of 1784, when our Continental Congress was able to ratify it, or April of 1784 when the British King did the same. But, as true Americans, we celebrate our initiatives, not the initiatives of those aided by the French (thanks during the Revolution, BTW), or the blessings and acceptance of foreign kings. It's like celebrating budget surpluses (which are projected).

We celebrate the idea.

But, my question is, if it is possible to unify 300 million people around July 4th, 1776 as the birth of our nation, why is it so difficult to get even 1/10th that number of Americans to embrace some of the simplest conceptual works of art as "works of art."

Perhaps we should take up arms and fight it out for seven years. Though, as F.T. Marinetti discovered after his Futurist Manifesto, artists make lousy soldiers.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

An Interview with Chuck Close

As June has become July, with projects in various stages of wax and wane, and with the knowledge that I will remain only a semi-finalist for the Trawick Prize (i.e. I was not selected as a finalist), I began writing for Washington City Paper as their new art critic. I use the term "art critic" loosely since it is difficult to be overly critical of anything in 150 words, which is the ballpark figure I have been given for writing one gallery pick a week for the print edition (plus a few more for the on line version).

I started writing for City Paper in mid June, and have managed to churn out about 10 pieces since then. But, to my surprise one week into the gig, I was asked by my editor if I would be interested in interviewing Chuck Close. Uhm... SURE!

The Corcoran and Close had arranged for a handful of press to come and receive individual 20-30 minute tours of the show with Mr. Close as guide. At least, that was the idea. The result was a little different. Most members of the press requested to walk through the show prior to their appointed times, and as a result, Mr. Close was barraged for over an hour starting at 9:00.

When 10:30 rolled around, and it was my official turn to meet and speak with Chuck Close, I almost did not get a chance to do so. He was clearly fatigued, and concerned about his lecture later that evening. He agreed to a few more questions, and Janet Anderson (no relation, writing for Washington Print Club Quarterly) and I began firing away.

Prior to interviewing Mr. Close, Janet and I had been going over some questions we had in mind, and discussing our research leading up to the interview. Both of us wanted to avoid the answers we had heard repeated, so we quickly abandoned questions about abstract painting (he didn't have any angst), his process (golf and inverse Pollock metaphors), and so on.

The net result of my interviews with Chuck Close, and later with curator Terrie Sultan, can be found at Washington City Paper's Arts Desk Blog. These were trimmed down from a 4200 word piece, and a couple things got removed in the process (for instance, Close laughed when I said his work is indirectly a record of aging, and he offered that his birthday was "next Monday" (July 5))

And, unfortunately, the net result also yields nothing new, as I have learned from watching his interview with Charlie Rose, and reading an interview with his biographer, Christopher Finch, on Guernica.

Oh well. Below is a list of links of most of those who had a chance to speak with Chuck Close and Terrie Sultan.

Sophie Gilbert at The Washingtonian
Brendan Smith at Pinkline Project
Philippa Hughes at Pinkline Project
Frances Chung at Brightest Young Things
Jordan at Ready Set DC
Max Cook at We Love DC

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mid June Odds and Ends

All right: recent happenings.
Kate Mattingly wrote about the JOB Creation Project for The Pink Line Project: here

My website is finally redesigned with new content up, including documentation on projects (Building Blocks for Child Literacy and Out Of Print) and notes on recent events.

I've also had a couple pieces on The Pink Line recently: one on Daniel Dean and the Container Space, and one on Elisabeth French's exhibition at the American University Museum.

The Daniel Dean article was started in February. Then came snow storms and a snowbound house guest, which was followed up with projects ramping up (Maintenance Required at Arlington Arts Center, JOB Creation Project), teaching, and that full-time stay-at-home dad thing.

Friday, May 07, 2010

JOBs Article in Washington City Paper

A couple weeks back I had a conversation with Maura Judkis, who writes for Washington City Paper, about my JOB Creation Project. Nearly 2 hours of conversation have been distilled into this linked article.

The American University Museum in the Katzen Arts Center has a couple of shows opening tomorrow (May 8). One Hour Photo, a project conceived by Adam Good and curated Chajana denHarder and Chandi Kelley, has been getting a lot of buzz of late (articles have popped up in The Washington Post and Pink Line Project). The concept: each photograph (of the 128 photographs created by 128 photographers) will be on display for one hour during the show. Each of the artists have signed a (moral) contract never to exhibit the work publicly again. I am one of the artists, and if you are interested to see my image of the hotel and opera sign across the street from the Amargosa Opera House, you can view it on June 1st between 2 and 3pm. (After which I can show you a print, I can e-mail you an image, I can sell a print (I think), but I can never exhibit it).

I love the concept of this exhibition, which is why I submitted a work. I don't consider myself a conceptual artist any more than I consider myself a political artist (see the WCP article). But, I do know my work rubs elbows with those labels from time to time, since it might comment on something "political," or it might be concept-driven. Since I don't consider myself a photographer, just an artist who happens to use photography as a medium of executing and articulating an idea from time to time, I have no qualms with exhibiting and then "destroying" the image of the opera house sign.

The other exhibition to mention is of Emilie Brzezinski's Family Trees. Last November I had an opportunity to see this work first hand; Barbara Rose had contacted me looking for someone to make a video of the work and of an interview about the work. I spent two days out at Ms. Brzezinski's home and studio and had a pleasant and interesting time. Of course, between the time I was asked to do the shoot and the time I got out there, I completely forgot that her husband, Zbigniew, was Carter's national security advisor. So, there I was, meandering around the home seeing these photographs of her husband with Carter and the Pope (J.P.2). Kind of a Twilight Zone moment of the fish-out-of-water scenario... the kind where you have to ask yourself, "how did I get here?"

Side note: Emilie grows her own mushrooms and makes w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l mushroom soup. We had a bit of wodka with lunch. So, I can say I've done shots with Barbara Rose and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Long story short, the intention of the video documentation was so that it would play inside one of the trees of the installation when it exhibited in New York in February. Barbara didn't think my rough cut set the right mood or was in the appropriate direction for her vision. So, I mailed all of the video files to her around Christmas and haven't heard boo about the project since. I am curious to see if any video is included in this installation. And, I'd like to see Emilie again, too; she's a sweet woman.

Finally, I look forward to seeing "Convergence" one last time. I happened upon the exhibit as it was being installed, and Jack Rassmusen gave me a sneak peek of the show. The shows Jack has been able to assemble in his tenure at the gallery never fail to impress me, either for the work on display or for the unusual nature of the work exhibited.

What do I mean by unusual? When was the last time you saw a group show of Lebanese artists? The fact that Jack is willing to go to Peru or Norway or wherever to put together a show is fabulous, and far more interesting than the National Gallery of Art having another exhibit of Jasper Johns work. So, stepping off the elevator, onto the third floor, and seeing a video triptych by Jean-Pierre Watchi blew me away. I walked into the rotunda and scattered around the floor was Mario Saba's "The Temple," with a projected blue screen on the wall, noise - noise - noise, and a couple of assistants tasked with the busy work of putting it all together. He graciously spent a few minutes discussing the work with me, though the chaos of sound and the erosion of memory make me recall only this little bit: an allegory about the collapse of the Tower of Babel, hence the noise.

Why do I mention this now, one week before the close of the show? I heard the exhibit reviewed on NPR. That sort of takes the steam out of writing about it on this little blog. But, the show is quite remarkable, and a public needs to be reminded it is still here, even if for only a little while longer -- and that it is worth seeing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Maintenance Required at Arlington Arts Center

Early last autumn I learned my work, Maintenance Required, was selected for the Spring Solos, on view through June 5, 2010 at the Arlington Arts Center, Arlington, VA.

Beginning in late March, 2009, I began taking walking and driving tours of various neighborhoods throughout Washington, DC, documenting my tour and the various broken hydrants I found along the way. Since 2007, Washington has come to grips with the state of repair of its fire hydrants, determined which organizations were responsible for testing and repairing the hydrants, and set out a plan to replace about a quarter of its 10,000 hydrants in the next five years. According to a message I received from the DC Water and Sewer Authority, as of the beginning of March, 2010, DC WASA has replaced approx 3100 hydrants, which is well ahead of schedule.

189 Hydrants, 2009-2010

While my tours were initially devised to find as many hydrants as I could, I very quickly realized that though I had been in these neighborhoods many times before, I knew nothing about them. The work became as much about getting to know the neighborhoods as it became about finding the hydrants.

Seeing the educational possibilities of the work, for this installation I wanted to turn the gallery into a classroom. I painted a 70' chalk board across four walls of the space and framed it with base board. A mini gallery (of sorts) existed in part of the space, and I thought it was a fitting location for a bulletin board closet for 189 of the nearly 200 hydrants I had documented since the beginning of the project. (Why 189? Well... the 190th probably got misplaced along the way by the printer between the cutting mat and FedEx.) The bulletin board is nothing more than wrapping paper and some cheesy border trim I found on line through a teacher's supply warehouse.

Throughout the building are fire hydrant sculptures in various states of repair (tacked together with wood, duct-taped, stapled, stitched, filled with HVAC foam). Located near each hydrant are call boxes. People walking through the building can push the call box buttons and listen to a little clip about my reflections on the project, DC, and hydrants.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reflections on JOBs at the Capitol

What a disappointing day!

Question: how many JOBs did law makers and their staffers make today? None. And, the sad thing is they didn't have to debate, didn't have to vote, and didn't have to worry about deficits or tax-payer money. They simply had to pull a lever twice – more times if they wanted to make more JOBs.

I set up my little stand on the corner of Independence Avenue and 1st Street, SE, between 7:55 and 8:00 AM this morning. "Business" was at a trickle. Eventually a walker passed and asked a few questions. "Is this some sort of right wing thing?" "No, sir." I replied. "No right wing. No left wing. Just makin' JOBs."

See... if you drop your Gs, people think you are folksy and can relate to you better. At least, that's what I've heard.

He chuckled and made a JOB, and then took another JOB for a friend.

Then the Capitol Police showed up and asked me for a permit. I stated that I did not have a permit, but that I did receive permission from Officer... McDonald, was it?... on the phone last week.

"You mean O'Donnell?"

I suppose that was her name, I responded, and fiddled with my audio recorder, trying to get it in my pocket.

"Can you please keep your hands away from your pockets, sir?"

So, there I was chatting with one officer, arms akimbo (or on my pedestal), while the other officer radioed in. Fun times. I was told about the things "I wouldn't believe" people do while they are on patrol. Apparently one time this officer was asked for directions while he had a gun on a suspected felon, patting him down for a firearm.

I had to move. I could not be on the sidewalk. I had to be on the grassy area. So, I moved away from the street into the land of little traffic and no interest. A couple of staffers, when asked if they would like to make a JOB, declined saying, "No thanks, I already have one."

Nice. The JOB is for you to make and give to someone, not for yourself.

To paraphrase James K. Polk, people in Congress busy themselves with making jobs, and then hurry to fill them themselves.

Other Capitol Police approached. Some walked away. Officer Gallagher talked to me for a while and told me where I was supposed to and not supposed to be. However, since I was one person (and since I was leaving at 9:30), I could kind of be wherever, so long as I was in the grassy area.

There seemed to be a lot of foot traffic near the middle, and I asked if it was okay to move over there. Sure! Then, Officer Gallagher made a JOB and took another.

I moved toward the middle, and once there people were a lot friendlier. Of course, by then I was calling out to passersby like Dan Ackroyd with a Bass-O-Matic (minus the cocaine buzz). People smiled, laughed, said "good one!"

Still... only one other couple made a JOB. Vacationing tourists are more interested in making JOBs than people walking past with badges and pins on their lapels.

So it goes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Next JOB action: Wednesday, March 31

We'll have two JOB distributions this week. A future post announcing location two to follow.
This Wednesday, if you want a JOB, look for me at Farragut Square, most likely near the NW portion of the square. Again, JOBs are available while supplies last.

In the mean time, images from last week's JOB (laissez) Fair(e)

photos by Jesse Kimes

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

JOBs at Gallery Place Metro

Today represented the second artistic act of job distribution, this time at the Metro entrance at 7th and F streets, NW, Washington, DC (Verizon Center/Gallery Place/China Town).

Because of a slight snag in my commute, or my planning, I started about 5 minutes late. Interestingly enough, more people took JOBs at Gallery Place, despite coming up the escalator at a trickle. They were friendlier than Dupont Circle's audience, and within 30 minutes 200 people had JOBs.

Photos will be posted by Saturday. And, at some point, I'll have a response to a criticism questioned by a granting committee that denied funding for the project: "What is the definitive artistic merit of this project?"

To put it another way, as a friend of mine once asked, "what makes this art and separates you from any other ass hole handing stuff out?"

An answer to come in the near future.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pics from Job Creation Project, March 17

Dupont Metro Station, Circle; March 17, 2010
photos by Jesse Kimes

Thursday, March 18, 2010

JOB (laissez) Fair(e) - rehearsal notes

Yesterday, March 17, between 8 and 9 am, I handed out JOBs at both entrances of the Dupont Metro Station in Washington, DC, and at one point also near the fountain.

The responses of passersby were interesting, and in some respects, expected.

At 8:00 in the morning, anyone headed to work is in iPod Land, even those without earbuds plugging their external auditory canals. iPod Land is easily identified by the haze that only one cup of coffee alone cannot cure. It's like a hangover, only without the alcohol. Essentially, it is an aura, projected by the passerby that sighs, "leave me the f--- alone."

I stood at the Q-Street entrance saying, "JOBs?"

I got the following responses:
ignoring downward glance
the polite no thank you wave
the second glance
the hesitant grab
the oooo free stuff grab (sorry. no coupon. enjoy the button!)
and the get-out-of-my-way or I am going to run you over while I clutch onto my rolling briefcase and triple-shot-tall-soy-mocha-no-whip.

Conversations I had with people include:
"What is this?"
It's a JOB.

"You gave me two."
Give the second to someone else.

"Can I have one?"

"You gave me two. Now I am over worked."
Laughter (this was from the woman handing out free copies of contemporary Irish literature... I regret not grabbing one)

"What are you doing?"
Handing out JOBs.
"Damn right!"

When I got bored, I moved locations.

One of the people handing out Washington Examiners looked a little irritated by my action.

Two (illegal?) immigrants thought about getting JOBs, until they realized they were JOBs and not jobs.

Some people received the JOBs with a smile. A couple people gave thumbs up, or said "all right!" Some people laughed out loud after reading a quote on the card clipped to the safety pin. Those who were awake, and paying attention, seemed to embrace the spirit of the project: a mildly intelligent critique wrapped in dumb irony.

What is missing is the pitch. That comes with the next action.

In other news, Congress just sent an $18B Jobs bill to President Obama, and it has been signed in the Rose Garden. One Republican lawmaker is quoted as saying it is "an $18B debt bill, adding debt, debt, and debt." "And the beat goes on," as Sonny and Cher once sang.

To learn more about the JOBs Creation Project, and to see images from the actions (as they become available), go to www.jobcreationproject.info The FAQ seems to be popular.

Why (dot)info? Because the utility of my money spent on a (dot)com is better spent elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

JOB Creation Project

Sometime in 2007 I came up with the idea of distributing Jobs on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This artistic action would have been under the umbrella of the US Department of Art and Technology. However, after some procrastination (largely due to conflicts of time), the idea was dropped.

Until now.

Beginning tomorrow, March 17, 2010, I'll begin distributing JOBs to anyone who wants one (while supplies last) at the Q-Street entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro Station (Washington, DC).

This will be the first of several artistic actions to take place on successive Wednesdays (while supplies last), which I am calling JOB (laissez) Fair(e)s. Each action is a part of the JOB Creation Project.

Each JOB consists of a 1.25" button, and a card with quotes about government, labor, and economics from various politicians and economists.

The motivation for the project is two fold. First: Politicians fondly champion job creation, yet opposing parties have different perspectives on how it is done, reducing the process to incoherent and conflicting sound bytes, and reducing the word "job" into a platitude. The JOBs I create are, therefore, worthless; they are buttons, after all.

Second: (as often is the case) is the pun – a reference to the book of Job, and the thinking that those who keep searching for work, in the face of adversity (high unemployment, recession, etc), must have the patience of Job. And, considering some of the jobs numbers are padded by those who are underemployed, the idea that a person has a job can also be relatively meaningless if that job does not enable an individual to pay the bills.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

There Is Nothing Original

In an effort to merge procrastination and productivity, I took a break from preparing work for my upcoming spring solo at Arlington Arts Center and took a look at boingboing.net, segued directly to the art/design section, and discovered a poster for the ingredients of a pizza pocket. Immediately I was reminded of my friend's work at Ork Posters, and was so charmed by the work that I clicked on the artist/designer's (Justin Perricone) website. Lo-and-behold! After navigating to the blog section I discovered (much to my pleasure and chagrin) that he too delves in the appropriation of typography from product logos.

His Alphabet
My Alphabet

More are in the works on my end, and I can assume the same is true on his end. Truth be told, this was a project I hoped to have completed mid 2009 - but with a rejection from Flashpoint to exhibit the work (on the merits that it was too "graphic designy" (their words)), I postponed the alphabets project because others took priority.

The other night I made a list of projects in process and projects I have conceptualized, just haven't started. At present, the total hovers near 20, discounting the Maintenance Required project (to show at AAC in April - a continuation of broken hydrant documentation within our nation's capital), and my Jobs Creation Project (hopefully I'll get in gear and begin distributing Jobs in mid March (more on that later)).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Exhibitions, Guest Blogging, and the Website

A few months ago I was invited to a meeting with The Pinkline Project, hosted by its founder Philippa Hughes, gathering arts writers together to write about art for her new site. I haven't written about art for anyone else for a couple of years (with the exception of a couple failed efforts to get reviews and crits published in local papers... correction: failed efforts to get responses from editors or publishers of papers or magazines after submitting work... details), and I was rather gunshy of writing any kind of review. Fortunately, Ms. Hughes didn't want reviews; she wants to create a culture of enthusiasts who seek out and attend arts events, and maybe even increase the number of art collectors. It took a while to piece an essay together, and another while to get it up on the site. But, the essay is up. To summarize, it basically says that you don't need to buy art at Target, you can get affordable art at a number of venues in town.

The spring is/was getting to be incredibly busy. Before the new year I shot a portion of my work of Homonyms off to The LoDi Project in Raleigh, NC for an exhibition on the use of letters in art (judged by a graphic designer, so the topic makes sense, it runs through Jan 30). last week I was asked by the gallery director at Prince George's Community College if he could include my work in an exhibition on the subject of time. He wanted to include Moment of Zen, but I suggested work from Maintenance Required instead, since Zen showed in a faculty show in Fall '08. Meanwhile, in preparation for a new installation of Maintenance at The Arlington Arts Center in April, I was getting a new work ready, Job Creation Project, for a group show at The Stamp Gallery at the University of Maryland (more on that "project" later). However, due to some miscommunication, it turns out that show is Spring '11. The Job Creation Project will be on hold for a couple weeks so I can reschedule and get work ready for Arlington.

Meanwhile, I redesigned my website, making it a lot sleeker and easier to update, only to have problems posting it. As it turns out, I was having a server hosting issue. So, I contacted the host, switched servers, and apparently am still in the process of switching servers 96 hours later. Maybe the issue will be resolved by Monday afternoon... maybe. I was excited because I finished my first web piece. It's a simple piece of HTML, but it also falls into the art-about-art category, which I know is less interesting for some people, and kind of functions like a joke on Conan where only a select portion of the audience gets it... just like art.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Memory of Ken Noland Leaves Little to Remember of Washington

Today the art world begins to mourn the loss of Kenneth Noland, who died yesterday from Cancer at his home in Maine at the age of 85. As the art world mourns his death, DC can mourn the near omission from the memorial record. The New York Times does manage to note his settling here in the 1950s, and his teaching at Catholic University and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. It was also at this time he befriended Morris Louis. The article omits that Noland also taught night classes at the Washington Workshop Center of the Arts, where Louis was teaching. Most other publications omit his having lived in DC. Most of the DC information is a foot note upon a footnote. However, that does not mean his time in DC was inconsequential.

Tibor de Nagy is given credit for giving Noland his first solo show in 1957. Some keen writers note that it was his first solo New York show, which is more accurate. Noland had his first solo exhibition in the Watkins Gallery in December of 1950. For those unfamiliar with it, Watkins was a little bowling-alley closet of a gallery located in the Watkins (Fine Arts) building on the SW corner of American University's campus, before the gallery was rendered obsolete by The Katzen Arts Center in 2005. Today, not even the footprint of Watkins Gallery remains in tact, as the space has been restructured for classrooms and offices. I presume what Noland exhibited in 1950 was work from Black Mountain.

What I find fascinating about Noland is his work ethic. While he was teaching and painting in DC, he was also driving a cab to make ends meet. As some painters chase the ghost of Cezanne or Picasso, Noland chased the ghost of Paul Klee and emulated his style in the pursuit of abstract painting. (Image pictured left is a Noland c.1950-1953.) At one point he sold the little abstractions for $50 a piece in order to buy Christmas presents for his three kids.

The legend has it that Noland and Louis were swept away to New York by Clement Greenberg. They saw Frankenthaler's studio, abandoned what they were doing, and changed the course of painting history. Washington, DC remained as little more than a sleepy backwater footnote to the history of Noland's development. This is the fable handed down through the abbreviated histories. Such a fable is not far from the truth. What becomes more interesting are the relationships.

Noland met Greenberg as a student at Black Mountain. Some accounts suggest they remained close. I suspect Black Mountain operated somewhat like Chautauqua Institute, where, if not in residence, respected artists and critics might journey away from Manhattan for a couple weeks, or a month, to lecture, teach and critique. This kind of interaction does foster friendships, but I cannot imagine the two became really close until after Noland married Cornelia Langer. His wife had remained friends with her former professor from Sarah Lawrence, David Smith - who Clement Greenberg had been reviewing (for publications like The Nation) since 1937.

The trip to New York with Greenberg, Noland, and Louis did not occur until 1953. Shortly thereafter Noland abandoned his pursuit of Klee and worked in an all-over style, producing canvases that echoed Pollock, de Kooning, Frankenthaler, and Still. It would be almost another decade before Noland would leave DC.

By 1955 Noland started working with the circle, for which he has become well-known, and by 1956 he had established how useful a hoola-hoop was in the execution of his work - it helped true-up what were once very sloppy circles. When he had a solo show at The Jefferson Place Gallery in 1958, the other artists who exhibited with the gallery were stunned by the size of his paintings, some of which were as large as 8 feet square and needed to be unrolled and stretched in the gallery before they were hung. Some of the other regular artists even protested that his work was no longer art. I think some of them recognized that art, as they knew it, had officially changed. Eventually, the writer Tom Wolfe (former writer for the Washington Post between 1959 and 61) would refer to Noland as the world's fastest painter in the book The Painted Word, because of those circles.

DC enabled Noland an opportunity to find his direction. It is what DC does for artists. There is little pressure in this town because of its distance from New York. There is also the opportunity to accelerate into the lime-light, provided you have the right relationships, because of its proximity to New York.