Friday, November 29, 2013

My Work on CW's Carrie Diaries, Last Week

You really couldn't ask for better placement: upper right of the title.

In September I was asked if Warner Bros. Pictures could purchase a work for the set of The Carrie Diaries. As you see above, I said yes. Back then I was told it would be for a show on the CW called The Carrie Diaries, a prequel for Sex and the City. Ever since I became one of those "pretentious people" (#15) who only seldom watches TV shows, and when he does it's on the Internet, I'm a bit oblivious to... well... what's on television. (Seriously, why pay for cable when you don't really have time to watch any of it? Actually, why pay for that digital converter thingy when the appliance you call a television I call "the DVD-viewer" works quite well without it?)

Still, I lived a childhood existence much like Martin Tupper from Dream On. So, needless to say, I was excited to be asked.

It turns out, this was the second time this particular work was requested for exhibit on television. The first time was for a show called Georgetown, which was supposed to air on ABC in late 2011 or early 2012. Unfortunately, the show got canned before the pilot aired. As such, the painting of Homonyms never saw its transfer to moving image.

And, technically, it still hasn't. What was on display behind Adam Weaver—the character to whom Carrie Bradshaw eventually loses her virginity in the episode (unfortunately not in front of my work)—was a digital print of the painting. The original, which first exhibited in Alexandria, VA's Athenaeum in 2008, was composed of 64 separate, eight-inch canvases: hence the lines on the image above (the CW was given an option for without lines).

The full episode can be viewed on line. We'll see if the work pops up in future episodes. And, if you want to own the work, contact the gallery that represents me in DC.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Last weekend my latest exhibit opened up at Adah Rose Gallery in Kensington, MD. If nothing else, the exhibit represents how awesome and supportive Adah Rose is about her artists, because the exhibit represents a clear departure from one of the two directions I take with my work.

Yeah… two directions: implying a third. The first is a more conceptual socio-political commentary—a vein of production I'll attribute to time I worked with Randall Packer and the U.S. Department of Art and Technology. While Randall had no direct influence over pieces like Note 2 Self, JOB Creation Project, or Acting Presidential—and to some extent the DIY Conceptual Artist—working with him gave me the permission I needed to explore veins of operation outside of painting: interactive works that were somewhat performance-based, and using everyday objects or familiar design methodologies to fool the mind into receiving and then question the work: trompe l'esprit. The second direction was text-based. And though some of my socio-political projects rely heavily on text (bumper stickers, campaign posters, books, printed newspapers), these works were simply text… or the absence thereof. The work of mine that Adah Rose typically exhibits are four letter words, alphabets, and erased newspapers.

The alphabets have been highly successful. Several prints have come close to selling out, and there is demand to add to the series. And though few want to own an erased newspaper, or a single from a suite of four-letter-words, each series creates conversation. So, I think it is pretty awesome that Adah Rose was willing to take this brand that I have developed within her gallery, put it aside for the time being, and let me explore a different body of work. Though, the work was not entirely alien to her.

When we first met in 2011—about five months prior to my first exhibit in her gallery in Feb. 2012—I showed her a series of shaped paintings I was thinking my way through, and mentioned this other body of work. It was a series inspired by a staircase in Hurst Hall at American University.

In 2006/07 I was working for the Center for Teaching Excellence at AU, and my job was to oversee the Faculty Corner, a lunge where faculty could checkout laptops, podcast equipment, edit videos, and seek some help with Blackboard. It was located in Hurst Hall, a building that only had bathrooms in the basement, and I worked on the second floor. So, I was regularly going up and down the stairs during the time of my employ. And, the stairwell did something to my perception. Inspired, I photographed the stairwell up and down. Eventually, I started composing from the photographs with the thought that these could become shaped-canvas paintings. And, then, I discovered the work Frank Stella accomplished after his protractor series. About 100 photographs and over 50 drawings were immediately shelved.

When I shelved the series it was less than two years after I finished graduate school, and one of the ghosts of grad school was the fear of making derivative work. Anytime I thought I was advancing in my work, I would later discover that I was bumping into Jim Rosenquist or Robert Rauschenberg or someone else. And I was typically ignorant of the works of those artists (as I was of most work of artists after 1940) throughout graduate school. There were several critiques where i was lambasted for making works that looked like this, that, or the other—or why wasn't I using some medium other than oil paint— and I eventually threw up my arms and threw out my paint brushes (both figuratively, of course).

After shelving the project I would start reading more about Elizabeth Murray, and Al Held. Pile up enough influences (after the fact) and at some point it seems credible to ignore the superstitions of graduate school. While it is essential to be knowledgeable of the works of other artists, it's also pertinent to—at some point—acknowledge that it's okay to move forward. I probably came to that conclusion a couple of years before 2012, when I began to give consideration to starting the works.

The Hurst Series, or the Staircase Series—a series of untitled paintings, some of which have received kitchy nicknames after the fact—does what it set out to do: upset the conventions of looking. By no means can I claim that these works are ground-breaking. Shaped canvases go back to the Renaissance, if not further back in history. Works that deal with spatial imperfections probably precede Escher. It is doubtful that the confluence of both is anything new. Regardless, there is still something magical about a work that can visually pop off the wall thanks to the shift in paint values or because of how it is shaped (or both). This happens to me when I see some of Ellsworth Kelly's work (from the right angle): simplicity jumps off the wall and tickles my mind. It's what I love about the works of Robert Irwin and James Turrell. Elisabeth Murray doesn't do that for me. Stella's work never did it for me either. Al Held's does, but he was mostly beholden to the rectangle. And, the work of Lee Bontecou does the inverse of what I'm trying to accomplish with these shaped paintings.

If anyone is doing this kind of work, I don't know it. That's not to say it isn't happening. There are probably 100 graduate students across the U.S. doing something similar, as well as another 100 in a few art programs I am unaware of, at universities I have never heard of, in some huge city in China that I have also never heard of. Quite frankly, I could care less. Because, the series represents one of the first times I have used art to make a problem and then solve for it, rather than using art to try to solve a problem, comment on problem, or comment on a problem in an effort to make more problems (for the recipient, not for the art). It feels authentic: which is not to say past works have felt inauthentic. There are times that past projects and works have felt gimmicky (art masquerading as bumper sticker… or perhaps the other way around), but the gimmicky was more-or-less embraced as another medium of the work (Art can be cheesy). Perhaps that authenticity comes from the fact I was pushing some paint around. Art always feels better when its possible I might get dirty or injured in the process of making.

The show runs through December 28, 2013, at Adah Rose Gallery in Kensington, MD.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Images from the DIY Conceptual Artist

On March 16th,  my latest art project, the DIY Conceptual Artist, opened at DorisMae. Formerly Harmon Art Lab, the space is dedicated to a curatorial project run by Thomas Drymon... and he hesitates to call it a gallery.

The scope of the project is a game. As pictured above, it has a rule book, some art materials, and it comes in a box. Players can choose whether to execute one of several projects, and the projects are based on works by several archetypes of conceptual and contemporary art of the 20th Century. 

Exhibiting one room over is Rachel England, who is showing the work she made for her senior thesis at the Corcoran, only with a twist. Instead of it being some inert installation, visitors are invited to destroy the work, pulling the crocheted scarves apart - skein-by-skein.

Creation in one room. Destruction in the other. All work is participatory. 

On March 24th, the space was open for an artist talk. Only, we didn't talk. We just directed people through the act of participating with our projects. Pictured above are people diligently working on their pieces. More images on DoisMae's website.

This idea has had an odd life. Initially it was proposed to Transformer near the end of 2010. In a reply to the submission I was told that review of proposals sometimes takes a while. I guess the proposal is still under review. Then in late 2011, the curator from VisArts Rockville approached me about a 2012 exhibit. I introduced the idea, he liked it, the exhibit was scheduled, contracts were getting signed, and then someone higher up the food chain explained they no longer agreed with the curator's vision, released him from his contract, and along with it all of his exhibits (I guess he wasn't showing enough community plein air hobbyists, or something).

As with many of my projects, there are a bundle of ideas converging.

  1. After nearly a decade of teaching, I've had a lot of students resist contemporary art, and with it conceptual art. I wondered if there was a way to make the ideas and processes more accessible.
  2. Then there is the idea of traditions: old masters had apprentices, and sometimes the pieces of mature apprentices look nearly indistinguishable from the old master. At the very least you can see the relationship. Think early Raphael as compared to Perugino. 500 years ago, the practice of teh student looking similar to the master was more desirable. Now it is derivative. Anyone who drips paint on a canvas clearly echoes Pollock, and that's a bad thing, I guess, unless it's a slipcover for the couch. 
  3. Additionally, I think Art should be affordable, everyone should make art (so, I don't really poo-poo the plein air painter), and everyone should have "original" art to display in their homes and offices (i.e. something made by had, not by machine).  Clearly I don't think this should be everyone's living. I think it should be something they know how to do. That they shouldn't be limited to avenues of representation. That they should be open to a broad range of ideas, disciplines, and work. (I fully accept not all art made from my project will be good.) 
  4. Of course there are some notions of subverting the function of the gallery space: Of making the gallery space interactive and collaborative: Of changing convention and expectations. Working with Mark Cameron Boyd opened me up to some of these ideas. And I can't ignore how popular the ideas has become to others, for example Reuben Breslars' Sketch (ironically, at Transformer), and Eames Armstrong's Smutty Valentine, artists leading artists in community art-making activities is nothing new. However, I (and I assume they also) don't want this to be limited to just artists. 
  5. Finally, I've been wanting to write a book. I've been wanting to make a game. This project is a convergence of those two whims.

The game is selling for $30 ea. Half of all sales will go to the Tulk Family Education and Assistance Fund.

Monday, January 21, 2013

An Inaugural Story

A few months ago, Washington City Paper put out a call for fiction, published in an issue at the beginning of the year. My submission was not accepted for publication (and after a quick re-read, I can see why -- the accepted stories were better). And, it isn't entirely fiction: most of it happened. First the story, then the summary.

"I think we might miss the inauguration," Mark said to Franz, pulling shut the door behind him. Snow fell throughout the evening, and both men were making fresh impressions on the back patio.

Franz smiled. "I suppose we could walk there."

Mark scowled at the thought, and replied, "No." The two were staying in a home near the National Cathedral, and the day before they had walked down Massachusetts Avenue to the Phillips Collection, which worked a blister into the sole of Mark's foot.

Mark lit his pipe. Franz dragged on his cigarette and softly chuckled. As he sucked the flame into his pipe, Mark’s eyes shifted towards Franz. "The look on that guard's face!" Franz reminisced.

Mark smiled. Duncan Philips had acquired several of his paintings since the mid 1950s, and he wanted to go down to see the new room that housed them. Upon seeing how they were hung, he wasn’t happy. So, he decided to rehang them. A guard yelled at him to step away from the work, not to touch the Rothkos. In kind, Mark glared at them: an old man with sore feet. "I painted the goddamned things and I'll rehang them as I see fit." He then forced a smile in the direction of the guard and added, "It would be helpful if you could fetch me a hammer."

The guard didn't budge until a woman arrived, touching the guard on the arm and addressing him by name, “Oh! Hi, Frank. I’ve been looking for someone.” The woman managed a little cooperative gallery nearby, and frequented the Philips Collection often enough to know the staff by name. She was playing host to Mark and Franz for the week. "Can you help this gentleman rehang his work, please?"

The guard looked at the woman in disbelief. "You know these men?" He asked. "Oh! Of course,” she exclaimed. “This is Mark Rothko and Franz Kline," she said, gesturing to the two painters. The guard’s jaw fell slack. "They've been invited to town to attend the inauguration," the woman added. Many people come to see an inauguration. Not as many are actually invited. "I'll see if I can find a hammer for you," the guard responded before slinking away.

*   *   *

In December, Mark and Franz received their invitations. Both men were surprised by the gesture. To their knowledge, they had never heard of a painter attending any of Eisenhower’s inaugurations, let alone Truman’s or Roosevelt’s. They asked around, and after talking with their colleagues, they were equally surprised to learn who hadn’t been invited. De Kooning sulked in Kline’s studio when asked about it. “Why the hell wasn’t I invited?” His accent thickened from drink. “Gee, Bill. I don’t know,” Franz replied, shrugging his shoulders. “What do you say we grab some breakfast?” Why artists had been invited at all was still unanswered.

“I have a friend who is high-up in the Democratic Party. She’s a friend of Jack’s,” their hostess explained over dinner. “She has his ear from time-to-time.” As their hostess recounted, Jack asked the friend, who asked a collector, who suggested the woman hosting the painters. Shortly after the election, she had been invited to the president-elect’s office. “What can I do to help support the arts?” He inquired. The little gallery she managed was moderately successful, and out of sheer chutzpah she had managed to create tremendous connections to New York for her artists, and exhibited national and international artists in Washington. In a later era she might have suggested policies or museums. Instead, she focused on the same kind of exposure she sought to give her artists. “Why not invite some artists to the inauguration?” It was all she suggested. Kennedy agreed, and later asked her for a list of artists to invite.

*   *   *

Eight inches of snow were on the ground. Prospects of making the inauguration were grim. The army had been called in to clear the streets for the inaugural parade. The radio reported that the nation’s elder statesman, Herbert Hoover, was unable to make the flight to Washington because of the weather. And, there was still no word on whether a car would make it up the hill to pick up the two painters.

As they stood out back smoking, they appreciated the construction of the National Cathedral. “It’s incredible to think they’ve been working on that thing for fifty years,” Franz thought aloud. “At the rate they’re going it looks like it won’t get completed in our life time,” Mark replied. "How was the attic last night?" Franz inquired. "Okay. Better than having to stay out in the country," Mark replied. "Did you and Betsy sleep okay in the basement?" Franz nodded.

"I suppose if we don't show we won't be missed. Just faces in the crowd, I imagine," Franz thought aloud.

"Yeah." Mark replied before drawing more smoke into his mouth. "But we'll be seated in the crowd behind the president, Franny. Not the crowd in front of the president."

Franz smiled and looked at Mark. "I hate when you call me Franny." He dropped his extinguished cigarette into the snow.

The two men returned inside from their morning smoke, removing their shoes at the door. “Keep your coats on,” their hostess said. The home was alive with activity as her children played in a nearby room. While the men were outside smoking, their hostess learned that no car was being sent. “My husband will take you downtown in our car.” Franz took off his coat. “I suppose we should change first.”  He tossed the coat over a dining chair and poured himself a cup of coffee before returning to the basement to change. Mark looked at the hostess through heavy-set eyes. Her perky smile receded and she apologized for the inconvenience. A sly grin turned his mouth upward as he removed his coat and placed it over the back of a dining chair. “To think, we’ve been invited to the inauguration of the President of the United States. And we’re going to it in a station wagon.” He shook his head. “Who would believe it?” He turned to the stairs and walked up to the attic in his socked feet.

In 1960, John Kennedy invited a few artists to the inauguration. Two of them were Franz Kline and Mark Rothko. While in town, Rothko rehung his paintings at the Phillips Collection, and according to one first hand account (which conflicts with the Phillips website of "suggesting changes") he did not have permission to do it. (Also a note: Kline was not actually there to witness the rehanging, and Rothko didn't walk down Mass Ave to see the work - that's fiction.)

Because the two men were staying in a home near the National Cathedral, and because it snowed a bunch, they were driven to the inauguration in a station wagon, and dropped off.