October 28, 2006

Admin: Mail Call

Ahh, the mailblogsac is bulging, straining under the load. Life's a handfull over here as it is for all of you, I'm sure. It's time to answer the mail. So sorry to have the comment function out of whack. I hope to maneuver into a place where I can find someone who can steward me throught he intricacies of the internet to correct the problem.

Until then, let's open the mail:

***September 26th***

Artist blogger Steve LaRose wrote:

Hey, congrats on the hanging! Good luck at the opening. Two quick questions, 1) is the Mandrake owned by a friend? 2) What is the "Zap Book"?
Mandrake is owned by friends, talented artists and overall good people who have installed what I think is an important social component for any art scene: a place to decamp and talk about the art that you've just seen. Culver City is a recent locus of art galleries (funny that they need to cluster/flock together) and the addition of a bar adds a crucial bit of humanity missing in the Wilshire/Fairfax cluster and the Paleolithic Bergamot Station. (I'm perhaps too hard on Bergamot. At least there is a cafe there.) Without such a component, art viewing in Los Angeles would be inhumanly tough, the vast numbers of galleries and museums scattered throughout this traffic congested city already exceed the ability to see them all in a day/week/month. Without a place to throttle back and reflect on what you've just seen, art viewing would be a grind, requiring more stamina than curiousity.

Plus, there is an arc connecting Alfred Jarry's pistol shots in Parisian bars to Alan Kaprow's Happenings to Rikrit Tiravanija's social art-- this line is extended by Mandrake (and artists bars like it, such as the "Mountain Bar" in ChinaTown... including bars not originally designed to do so such as Hop Louie) , rubbing the boundaries between art and life seems to be the way to simultaneously maintain and blur that distinction.

...like a blog does.

And Zap books? Boy, what a close reader of photographs you are! Zap books are a line of sketchbooks available in Europe. Simple, newsprint-paper-cheap, thick like a brick. Good stuff.

It's good to hear from you, Steve!


***September 26th***

Pierre Chardin Wrote:

So true,
Paintings need to react to the real world for some reason.
They must be compared to reality to be fully appreciated.
More so than drawing or photography.
A book of photos/drawings does not need the real world, it's fine on its own.
I guess it's b/c scale, surface, brushstrokes, actual color, etc. are what make paintings paintings. Those are the reasons to make a painting.
Any more thoughts on this?
Pierre, I think we all need to react to the real world for good reasons. The best reason is about health. It seems to me that the successful management between the internal world (imagination= image+nation) and the external world is a critical and not much appreciated problem especially in our information age time. The inability to relate the two leads to the diagnosis of various illnesses such as catatonia, autism... the list can be long. I write this, thinking of my father who succumbed to PTSD six years ago --flashbacks to his experiences in the Korean War-- the boundary between imagination and reality which he could no longer control. After this horror, I came to think of this boundary as the very definition of sanity. I think we are all suffering from stress applied to this boundary in different ways all over the world, a sign of the times.

It's interesting to note (ok, for me at least) that the idea of mimesis came to being in Greece after the Homeric era, coinciding with the emergence of individualism, philosophically. If you can separate the general idea of art (I mean really general, worldwide and into the mists of time) from the what we call art today, then the western separation of the individual from context begins to define the Oedipal condition (each generation that distinguishes itself by critiquing the previous one) that defines art in our time. Given all this, then is seems reasonable to consider that the modern is not a specific epoch in history but a prevailing condition which I prefer to define as: "to be modern is to reconcile the things you are making with the life you are living". Life in an eternal NOW as we have it today seems necessarily bound up with this separation between the self and the world... and the recurring crisis as which NOW is the real NOW... and the problematic tendency to retreat into the self and renounce the world at large.

However you slice it, everything we do is about the real world one way or the other, art or otherwise. In terms of art, mimesis can be defined along a broad spectrum. The Wikipedia entry on mimesis takes us through a train of them. In an earlier blogpost, I referred to nonobjective painting (absraction) as "mimesis unbound". By this, I consider the laws of representation still to be in effect merely because we are formatted to apprehend the world that way. I guess this is what people might mean when they drop the word "Kantian". A long time ago, Charlie Finch jumped me with a request to expound on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant in his radio show. I declined with an aw shucks "We don't talk about Kant here on the west coast." I don't think I came off too well then. I'm not an academic, so I tend not to drop the big names too much. But this notion probably came not from Kant but from my years in the Navy (Operations Specialist, scope dope, the dark room behind the bridge) where the part of the ship called the Combat Informations Center was very much like being lodged inside a cranium, straining to acertain the outside world; and a particularly vivid read of Gombrich's "Art and Illusion" shortly after undergrad school.

But rereading your email... perhaps you are referring to the phenomena that paint has a specific reality in and of itself... or am I projecting with some hope that you are doing so? There's something about simultaneously apprehending the transparency of mimesis and the opacity of the material reality that is used to convey the representation... as you wrote: "scale, surface, brushstrokes, actual color, etc.", something that I like a great deal.

Paint is reality too.

Looking at the next blogpost (I'm writing these two at the same time), I recognise that Tom Solomon's show "Material Space" is lighted the way I like my paintings to be lit. Spotlights. That's the way I see them in my studio when I paint them. I recall the difference I spotted between the Stedelijk and the Van Gogh museums in Amsterdam: clinical institutional flourescents versus tight framing spots. The Rental Gallery looked distinctive this time not only because the gallerist not only took the detailing of the existing space to another cleaner, polished level... but also because this was the first time the lights lit the floor and not washed the walls. I prefer spot lights on my work because of the sculptural qualities in the paint that I ply. What I'm trying to write here is that perhaps this is a turn away from Clement Greenberg's imperative towards flatness (post-painterly abstraction) . The consequence being the urge towards disembodiment in art, a presaging of the conceptually based postmodern era to come.

In an effort to live up to the Lawrence Wiener's sage words while I was in grad school (Something I read somewhere. Mr. Wiener was not a teacher of mine. I remember this from an interview L.W. had with Benjamon Buchlow.): "To question the answers given to me in school.". The problem as I saw it was how to turn away from disembodiment and not make the mistake of finding refuge in the reactionary (resorting to strategies of any previous epoch). So I started by simply paying attention to paint itself: its' reality, the stickyness, the volume, the fact that it dries, that it is liquid stone...

One of the problems with the equation of art and life is that life will eclipse art in a flash. By emulating life's forms, the moth flies extrememly close to the flame and we can forget the function of artifice that creates the bubble that protects and manifests art itself. Picasso's words come to mind: "Art is the lie that tells the truth." Finally, art is not life afterall. Another boundary management problem of the sort mentioned above.

The word multitude comes to mind. Life is the multitude. And art is a captured subset of that... that is... Until the number of pixels become infinite. Cameras don't select and thus their reputation sticks as you had indicated. But cameras are nothing in and of themselves. Tehy are extentions of us, prosthesis. Like handling a cane, one can transmit a sense of touch at the tip of the tool. The word camera in this context is another name for a human extending their senses and the way they interact with the world, much like a commuter is another name for someone who wants to or has to live very far away from thier work. Tires are feet, extended. Humans create tools to apprehend the world via senses/limbs (a word like space/time?). Didn't the Greeks used to think of art in terms of tools?

That's why I like the Didion line in the colophon:
We tell ourselves stories in order to live... we look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of the narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience." (from "The White Album", Joan Didion)

Stories in order to live. The multitude is the phantasmagoria and every step away is a facet of it's glory.

Thanks for asking Pierre. I hope this answers your question somewhat.

***October 2***

Gary, an old Navy buddy, writes in:


In your recent blogpost, "Ahora (sort of)", I saw the red painting again. It's that ruby red color that really stands out. I was hoping you would give a close up of that one on the blog, but it is probably sold by now.

Welcome back to the good ol' U S of A.


Thanks Gary, I'm happy to oblige:
Its great to be back. And that's something I tend to say now on both sides of the Atlantic.

***October 3***

Howard Sherman wrote:


I'm wondering why you stretch canvas over wood? Is this because you're concerned about stretchers warping over time?



No, unfortunately wood panels can warp as well, although I don't know how much more they do compared to stretcher bars. I suspect that panels don't warp as badly as stretchers, the grain of the stiffeners are probably tempered by the glued plywood luan panel. But warped stretcher bars can be replaced.

Several years ago, a friend poked a finger through a painting of mine, Steve Wynn style. Since then, I provide a hard surface behind the paint.. even though I thoroughly enjoy the trampoline of stretched canvas. But more importanly, since I paint thickly, I wanted to provide a stable and inflexible support. The thick impasto is tricky enough without having to worry about the cracking that would come with flexure.

***October 10***

Longtime blog friend Mark Van Neste wrote:
Dear Dennis,

Just back a couple of days from the annual pilgrimage to Catalunya?were we fortunate and the weather held up, it was an excellent visit all round. Hired a car for 4 days and really got off the beaten track (which of course is so easily done up there), and some of those tracks sure were pretty beaten.

By the way, we were sitting outside Can Pini on our first evening (Sept 30th) and Kiko strolled by looking none the worse for your leaving party. I exclaimed, ?look, there?s the famous Kiko!??and watched him sail off down the road seeming quite happy about life

Anyway over the 700ish kms we racked up I kept seeing a burro?on the rear of vehicles and it did puzzle us ? until (as if by magic) I caught up with your blog and the penny dropped, in fact I felt a slightly thick as I am well aware of Catalunya?s stance in terms of certain mainstream Spanish icons?not least, as my other annual pilgrimage is to Sevilla for the Feria de Abril and now and then the Real Maestranza bullring.

As you say, one of each.

Glad you made the long haul in one piece.

All the best.

Hasta luego!

Mark VN


It's wonderful to hear from you and get a report on your travels in Spain. IT's a small yet knawing irony that for all our travels, my studio practice and exhibition schedule keeps us close to Tossa with no time to "get off the beaten track" as you say. We hope to rectify this someday with a proper road trip to see the rest of Spain.

And Kiko Noguera! I'm glad you spotted him, the finest Catalan who ever lived! For the readers who wouldn't know, "Can Pini" is a restaurant at the base of the castle walls on the road that leads to Codolar Cove, my favorite swimming spot. Kiko's house is around the corner from there, son of Tossa that he is.

And the bull/burro controversy. Catalans don't like bullfighting, for reasons familiar to us here in the states at least. I have only seen one bullfight and it was in Guadalajara back in the late 80's. My wife Stephanie and I travelled with a couple of friends through Mexico City, Guanajuato (a northern silver mining town in mountain country where the auto traffic is diverted underneath the town through the abandoned mine tunnels... we happened to be there for the Day of the Dead, something we didn't plan at the time, and it was magical to arise in the morning and get swept up in the crowded streets, surging toward the town cemetary where families would clean the graves, play and bar-b-que, this was Diego Rivera's birthplace by the way, and his home is a nice little museum now...) and finally to Guanajuato where we bought tickets to our first bullfight. It was an moldering bullring with the seats (sol y sombra) with an old brass band playing oom pa pa oom pa pa like characters in Beckmann painting. Beers and pork sandwiches all around as the ring was swept and raked.

At first, the lightweight bulls and bullfighters came out into the ring and admittedly, our stomachs turned. As time went on, heavier bulls and more experienced bulfighters came out and the beers dulled the pain along the way. Finally, the star bullfighter came out --Miguel-- and he was masterful. Then, with a single blow, he ended the bull's life, slamming the sword into the neck to the hilt and the crowd erupted, us included. It was a mixture of relief for the bull and admiration for the bullfighter. It was the beginning of my understanding of what bullfighting was about.

Imagine what it might have been like in the mists of time, when the village boy was sent out to kill the bull... because it was time to kill the bull. And all you had was a big blade. How would you do it? You would tire the bull out, provoking and diverting the attacks, sapping the strength until you could get into the kill positon. With proper consideration for the bull, the best and most humane work was done in a flash, in the fullness of the animal's intensity. It is not hard to imagine how this would se seen as enobling and fit to remember via ritual.

It would be wonderful to see the Real Maestranza bullring, perhaps with you on your annual Sevilla pilgramage!

All the best,

***October 21***

Artist and friend Doug Henders wrote:

Hey Dennis
I'm having a good NYC art weekend with out of town friends, openings, etc.
Rosmarie Trockel and her husband/my gallery mate Curtis Anderson are
here for her show. Her work remains as enigmatic-provocative as ever,
along-side a city block of galleries with Herman Nitsche, Albert Oehlin,
Peter Saul, Mathew Ritchie, Terry Winters, Barnaby Furnas and Anton Henning.
I think you would like the Oehlin & Winters best. Me too.
Good to see you promoting Kevin's theater on your blog. Go Kev.
I have some new work that is evolving into a powerful whole, keeping it
under wraps before cashing the chips of opportunity.
The postman only rings once around here.
I enjoy checking into your blog, seeing your work and artworld adventures.
Attached is my pic of the day from a series of "hard-core moderns".
Can I be abstract too?
Best Wishes


Hello Doug!

Let's see, that would place you oscilating vertically along the "acculturation" axis with small probing lobes into the "intention" and "relation-to-the-world".


(Winky emoticon --off.)

It's nice to see an artist taking a turn in thier work! I find some pleasure with the brushed line in the bulbous places, comic winks and googoo eyes looking back at you. Mondrian's secret Disney vacation. There's something there in the brevity in the paint application... is there a way to make it more vivid? Thanks for showing me/us the work in progress, especially as you take the tentative first foray into it.

Thanks too for the gallery round up. Would you consider doing a guest blog gallery round up sometime?

I hope to find a spot in the calendar to fly across country and visit NYC soon. Actually, Stephanie and I are going to the Miami/Basel art fair in December. That should be a hoot. Let me know if there is anything you want to see blogged over there (galleries, booths).

Work hard!

***October 24***

Steve LaRose came back from vacation:

I loved the generators of abstraction post. I added a little this morning.

Excellent! We could teach a class with this and this.
And congratulations, Miso is a new member of your family!

Puppy breath, sweet with relentless sharp neddle teeth.
What a great birthday present!

Posted by Dennis at October 28, 2006 1:13 PM

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