June 29, 2004


Here are a few keepsakes from the recent surf this weekend:

Every so often, I come across a satellite image that arrests my attention such as this one. I remember a newspaper clipping I thumbtacked to my old studio wall years ago, an aerial shot of a flood. I posted it on the wall, upside down, in a Baselitz maneuver to make the image strange.

This image is of the Sudan documents the Arab ethnic cleansing by the Janjaweed tribe of the black Sudanese.

The question arises: why images of disaster areas? Why not loot a website such as this one, one of many sites that upload satellite images of the earth?

The first reason that comes to mind is that the law of serendipity mandates that one should not go about looking for it. It should present itself to you... kind of like falling in love: those who try to fall in love are a pathetic sight. And I guess that these images present themselves to the attention of the media because the news media sell with the tool of fear, bad news being good business for them. Add to this my aformentioned avoidance of "Looking For Mr. Goodbar" techniques, by trolling for "love" in surfing the earth imaging websites for similar images.

What does this all mean? Then is it only happenstance? Accident?. This is that which is just-what-is-served-up to me? Well, there is the possibilty that we are about to witness death on the scale of Rwanda... again... soon.

Or better, click this link, read to the last paragraph and tell me what the word "interfere" means.



Did you know I have been an active star gazer in the recent past? There was a time when I got serious about my long held desire to learn the night sky. I researched books and magazines and eventually purchased a large telescope (an 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain by Meade) and here's what I learned: you don't need a telescope at all.

In fact, a telescope isolates too much of the night sky if you want to learn the sky, spanning the overall schema to the particular stars themselves. A good set of binoculars are best (and image stabilized binocs are better) and together with a good database (star charts, books and magazines), this is fodder for years of amateur star gazing pleasure. I eventually sold the telescope (thanks be to eBay) and here in Spain, I have the binocs... and now, a very nice terrace.


These shots are of the current fly by of Saturn by the Cassini-Huygens probe. In about six hours, the spacecraft will download information and images of the shot through the rings.

What a wonder this (modern) life is!

Posted by Dennis at 6:48 AM | Comments (1)

June 28, 2004



Here's a shot of the painting I've been wrangling with for a little too long.

And wrangle is the word. Here's a few thoughts, a post-play analysis:

I've had a notion to live-blog, to blog as much in real time as possible. And I almost did that here in the beginning of this painting. But... it would be soooo pathetic for you all to witness the writhing and angst, the heat that flows before the light finally shines. A real time blog would be that only by name; the idea of complete transparency is illusory because there is so much of the rest of life not reported in this blog: private stuff, family stuff, so many fugitive notions that provide the infrastructure of the principle ideas that inform the work, political ideas and news surfing, arcane and peripheral interests. Some of them are blogged, but only a fraction. Yes, this blog has the intention to reflect the life in the studio and the life that frames, forms and supports the studio... but only reflect it, not be it. It would be misleading not to mention to you, this important caveat.

And now about the painting:

I used the images constructed from the AppleWorks paint program (shown in the earlier blogpost) as a handrail... this was a literalization of what I've always done in my head, imagining various strategies of composition, color and massing. It bears repeating that I am aware that this flies in the face of the idealization of alla prima impromptu critique of the predesigned artwork that I have mounted in the past. This I hope, is a testament to my desire not to be strident even as I tend to brandish ideas aflame from time to time. Also, I hope that I am getting across to you an intention to use both modes of thinking: on one hand... the rational, mental previsualizations that anticipate what may come on canvas and what can be variously identified as musclular intelligence, or right brain intentions*1 or intuitive actions.

There was a moment when I thought that all was lost, that the colors could not be reigned in, that what I had on my hands was a complete failure... and I shot a pic of that moment:


There were a few parts and pieces of the painting that I liked, but not enough for a saving grace. It wasn't until I had scooped up two large swaths in the center and mixed the colors together (the light green) and reapplied it that things started to look up. All of a sudden, I had edited a confusing center melange with the cuts and bridged the red and the white/blue with a middle grey tone of pale green... it hung together.


Up until then, much of the painting was a build up of lighter tonalities, a necessary preparation for the dark pigmant to come. With the introduction of black/burnt umber, the ratio of interesting, pristine details to stinky sections had gone up. A suppleness of the paint became predominant.


Then came a second build up of the starry monads*2, flings and dabs to form a base for the punctuating craters you can see in these details. The mix and squish become vivid only when they are impressed upon clearly articulated, intentional forms.


*1 While I think the BBC is guilty of intellectual hubris and listening/watching to it is to regularly punctuate my day with dread and horror... the BBC is also surprising in that it occassionally is capable of a saving grace. In this case, I recall a program about cognitive science where it was suggested that science has identified a right/left brain split where the left brain is the chatterer and possessor of that feeling of the you-are-here self consciousness. What was amazing is that it suggested that that feeling of you-are-in-control is an illusion, that the right brain (even though it's voice is a chirp compared to the operatic left side) is an active participant in directing our actions and the left brain is doing a lot of post rationalizations after the fact of actions taken by the right side of the cerebellum. Many selectively brain injured patients were used as evidence, and the everyday acts of the right's activity were flagged: driving home from work (when we daydream and sustain complex maneuvers simultaneously) or when athletes perform actions that are too fast for the left brain to formulate responses to (which touches on my favorite topic: how we first model the world in our imagination, then we verify the model with our sense organs... kinda like my old job in the Navy in Combat Information Center). Also, the classic Descartian mind/brain, soul/body issues are still alive and kicking... the Kantian (as far as I can figure, I don't claim to be a philosopher here) idea of how we model the world as we live into it are reaffirmed by the research finding that we become aware of the world a half a second after experiencing it... that we are not really living in the world in real time!

The thought that the concept of self as a fabrication, a beard for at least a duo of selves... or possibly a multiplicity of actors or agents authoring action (perhaps even our chatty narrator is unknowingly a legion itsself) is bracing. What does this do for moral accountability, I wonder? I remember a scene in the movie "Little Big Man" (starring Dustin Hoffman who plays a white child who is raised by Cherokees) wherein a drunken Cherokee goes a little gonzo, and later denies it as the actions of someone else- not himself.

*2 Funny now to be seeing so many sea urchins underwater as I snorkle here in this part of the Mediterranean. Sometimes, someone will identify the imagery in my work as a representation of the shallow underwater habitat of the sea. While I have snorkled many times in my youth (Florida, Panama, Philippines, the California coast, and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean), I in fact did not hold this image of a reef whilst I started painting this way. It's a good post facto reference, but it did not factor in my thinking overtly for many years into this project. But now, I see the spinyness everywhere.

Posted by Dennis at 4:14 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2004

out of the head

Sometimes you gotta get an image out of your head...


So I tooled around with the AppleWorks painting program and scribbled a bit, imaging here with a computer whereas usually I do this in my head, like forecasting several moves ahead as one does in chess:

And the first move is how the masses of color cover and relate to the aborted underpainting. Alizarin Crimson is amazing, especially when you shine a light on it. Unfortunately, I was a little confused when I put on these ribbons of color. I subverted the original intention (initial overall masses that scribe flat and fat areas of color and would serve as an oppportunity for smaller episodes of impasto events punctuating and reinforcing the initial figure) with a literal scribbling. In the confusion I did neither direction of intention any justice. So went my thought.

I didn't expect too much when I started this. I often come to a place where I both want to rely on a mental construction and simultaneously, I want to demolish it too. And so I go, alternately relying on a particular strategy, punctuated by occassional intuitive, letting-it-go, stop the chatter in my head and let the knowledge in the muscles take over (muscle head! -shut up, inner voice!-) gift of g-d kind of paintings. Paintings result from lifecycles of thought that have distinct phases (a wonder of birth, a capricious youth, the midlife, the elegaic senior... approaching senility) and the key is move with grace, through them.

And what was a surprise is that this here AppleWorks painting program has a virtual spray can function whose operation bears some comparison with the actual experience of pushing the paint masses onto the surface. Trust me on this. Scrubbing and working the image/material of painting can be simulated in a simple ubiquitous computer program! Wow. Partially, of course. And this software cartoon is only a fraction of what is going on... is going on in the paintings.

And so now a few words are in order as I recall how I would champion the temporal nature of alla prima painting, how I determined to paint in a way that was not pre-planned and known in advance. This cartooning here flies in the face of that ideal. But life is young and I painted a great many paintings just in that way, and now a tide has turned and this mock up prefiguring strategy will be good so long as I like the paintings that come from it.

Where once I flew the alla prima flag, I now add a little banner of the muralist tradition. Funny how that happens: to be so fierce for something to only find yourself one day in the territory of its' Other. Thinking in terms of prepratory sketches and a segmentation of a "picture plane"... that's Diego Rivera territory! Ok, throw in a few revolutionary guns and it would be Rivera... I just want to tip my hat to Diego. Stephanie and I (and friends Jim Brown and Lselie Ryan) had a wonderful holiday to Mexico once, where we saw Rivera's birthplace of Guanajuato and saw Rivera's and others murals in the Palace of Fiine Arts in Mexico City, many moons ago.


I like the blue/white/umber-a.crimson combination The colors are sympatico together and in that proportion particularly And to toss out the schema of landscape (blue above, brown below) was the way to go in the second and third paintings here... but I think this next one whould hang on that armature as in the first.


I've just flashed on the thought: there is a possibility of shifting horizon lines in a two pronged way to go, one as I've just described, this armature (which is simple that risks the simplistic, heaven above-earth below) and the other not as the disappearance of a horizon but an imagined shift towards the top and out of the picture plane... a virtual jump into the ocean.

Ok. Go ahead and make fun of the apparant trivial literalness: "Dennis is frolicking in a beach resort and here come the insipidly boring sweetness-of-life themes of kitch Miro and kitch Chagal"... well, I lay my arms down and stand before you defenselessly.

This place, Tossa, possesses the advantage of being built at a time when human scale was measured from face to face, lengths of human arms. And now we live in a world scaled by human imagination both satisfying and frightening. And with this here internet connection/wireless laptop, I can dive into this little hamlet. I can connect these two worlds. I can shine a spotlight on this place, bring this scale-surpassing-virtual avatar of humanity where so much life courses, this part of the information age... through the older, smaller,tighter channels of a now encrusted human habitation, what I used to call the "Human City".

One last reminder of the caveat: these thoughts are like booster rockets... they serve the purpose of getting the space ship into orbit. They are eventually jettisoned as smaller rockets in progression serve the next segment of the journey. It's not that the conceptualizations, er, rockets are to be discarded entirely, even the space capsule has smaller maneuvering rockets, but that they here serve the payload: the painting that eventually manifests itself, the experience of an actual encounter with painting... standing before art.

Posted by Dennis at 2:43 AM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2004

Octopus Man

Here are some pics of a guy who caught an octopus at the cove. You had to be there, but these pics may approximate it a little.

Octopus is served up in all the restaurants, Pulpos. Muy deliciouso. We see a guy who cleans them at the rocks every morning. He's an old guy with a moped with a plastic bucket sloshing with dismembered tentacles all the way back to the market (I guess, I don't know where he goes.).

It's kinda too bad, I like octopuses, they're so cool. Pero, muy delicioso tambien!

Evidently, you can reach down and grab these suckers. I've never done it before... I have a hands off policy. My motto, "If you love nature, stay the hell away." Well, not really so extreme as that. It's just that we as humans can too destroy with our appreciation as we do with exploitive avarice.
Luckily, this guy dived back in the water and released his playmate.
(I thought he should have run around the beach mock screaming like a B-movie thing.)

Posted by Dennis at 6:18 AM | Comments (0)

First Dive

As evidence that I have been resisting the siren charms of this seaside resort and working away in the studio and on the house and on settling into this new home... I hereby submit photodocumantation of my first dive.

Ok. So the water was too cold for me. I'm a warm water weenie. (That's why I haven't been a diver in California, despite the rich undersea flora and fauna of the Californian Pacific waters: it's too frickin' cold. Unbearable stabbing muscle pain and uncontrollable shivers don't make for a good day.)

The pic above is of the Cove (one of three beaches here, this one is the tiniest. There is a main beach and another that rents out sportcraft), shot a month or more ago. Here's a shot from yesterday:
I got a few good bod shots of Stephanie, but the censors have forbid me to publish them online. Here instead is a shot of these kid divers, all suited up and trooping off to a group snorkle. The topless custom is not yet blase to the young lads here as you might notice:

Knowing that this place would offer formidable distractions both familial and recreational, my strategy to both paint like a crazed hermit and partake of this lovely place is to shoot over to the beach for an hour, mas o menos. Luckily, I'm not a bake-for-long-hours-in-the-sun kind of guy (although it's fun once in a while). Yesterday was a test of this strategy.

This cove is the place where I had scattered my father's ashes a few years ago. It was around seven in the morning and everyone in town was asleep. Only the city street workers were out doing their rounds. I swam out to the center of the cove (where there is a bouy marking the spot) and opened up the plastic bag as the bloom of dust swirled all around me in this pocket of the Mediterranean Sea. I treaded water for a while and thought of my Dad, many mental pictures, especially of the diving we had done together. It was almost as if I could turn around and see him in mask and snorkle, hauling up a fish on a spear or shucking out an oyster for a fresh slurp of nature's harvest. He loved that.

So what I did in this first immersion was to swim out to the bouy, kick down and with the first dive, and grab a handful of sand to send to my brother back in the states. He'd like that, I'm sure.

Then, I jetted back to the studio.

Posted by Dennis at 6:05 AM | Comments (1)

June 24, 2004

Seny and Rauxa

Early on in Robert Hughes book, "Barcelona" he writes about the character of the Catalans in vivid terms. "By tradition, when Catalans reflect on themselves they get absorbed by the differences that set them off, individually and as a "nation", from the rest of Spain."

He then looks at Miro's painting "The Farm", he writes very humorously, observing the components of Catalan character, ticking off an impressive list: continuitat, mesura and ironia... He then comes to Seny.

Seny signifies, approximately, "common sense"; it means what Samuel Johnson meant by "bottom," an instinctive and reliable sense of order, a refusal to go whoring after novelties. In traditional Catalan terms it comes close to "natural wisdom" and is treated almost as a theological virture... Catalans suppose that seny is their main national trait. It is to them what duende (literally "goblin" and by extention a sense of fatalilty or tragic unpredictability) is to more southern Spanairds. Iy is a country viture, rising from the settled routines and inflexible obligations of rural life. In The Forms of Catalan life (1944) Josep Ferrater Mora gave a lengthy disquisition on seny. "The man with seny is, primordially, the well-tempered man; that is to say, the man who contemplates things and human actions with a serene vision." It was the mirror reverse of Castillian quixotism. It was opposed to intellectual overrefinement. Its inherent danger was being lowbrow. The pragmatic nature of seny, he thought, gave Catalans a markedly anti-spiritual stamp and set their collective temperment somewhere between the Puritian and the Faustian. "Faustian man or Romantic man are those to whom salvation and morality matter little; Puritan man is only concerned with salvation and morals. The man of seny renounces neither salvation nor experience, and is always trying to set up a fruitful integratioin between both opposed, warring extremes...


Hughes goes on:

The relief from seny is rauxa. Rauxa means "uncontrollable emotion, "outburst." It applies to any kind of irrational or Dionysaic or (sometimes) just plain dumb activity- getting drunk, screwing around, burning churches, and disrupting the social concensus. The purpose of feast days is to give rauxa a sanctioned outlet: on Saint John's night, in June, for instance, the whole of Catalunya is lighted by bonfires as its towns erupt in the continuous thunder of petards, "fireworks", which go on until five or six in the morning. Not even in New York on the Fourth of July is the bombardment so intense. Rauxa and seny coexist like heads and tails on a coin; you cannot separate them...

(If you get s copy of Hughes book check here where I've left off -p26-and read on to the next paragraph, it's pretty funny... for reasons I'll illlustrate later.)


And Hughes got it right. Last night was like a war zone! The explosions on the street were deafening because of the sound chambered effect. And Juno was freaking out. Even the tranquilizers we gave her had only a moderate effect. We went out onto the beach and the place was crowded. People everywhere were lighting firecrackers, explosions were going off all around us like Normandy, cardboard shrapnal was raining down on us and the sky was choked with the sulphuric smell of gunpowder. It was great!


Posted by Dennis at 7:07 PM | Comments (1)

Talking about Painting

It's time to kick back and assess the situation here. After the fiasco of the past several days, it'd be good to look back at the stuff I've done since we settled down here in Tossa.

A caveat: what follows is a rumination, a blog entry... not a scholarly effort by a long shot, with no pretense to portray something ultimate or final.. certainly this will not be a last word. I hope not. This is my best effort: just me, this here laptop/keyboard and an hour or so to hammer it out. It's almost stream of consciousness, just peel the tab and pour it out.

Well, almost... kinda like that. But better.

Since there will be a few images, I thought it best if you click on the "Continue Reading" linky thingy below here:

This is the very first painting. I was looking at the multitude of landscape paintings and other images of the sea here in Tossa's Costa Brava. I know it was handling high voltage kitch, but since I like to wrench away the armature of representation (ok, the word "wrench" is dramatic, maybe I nudge... or maybe I flip the toggle between abstraction and representation back and forth nervously), I thought it would be interesting here to simply weaken that armature (in this case the schema of landscape), and instead of flipping it upside down like Baselitz or dragging imagistic patches like Bacon or to simply ignore representation like a multitude of artists good and bad, I think here I would just let it sag and crumble a bit.

(I'm visualizing some skeletal thingy that would collapse with the slightest breeze and parts of it already have, bits dropping away as you touch it like a dusty spider's web.)

As so with the landscape, we can summon the parts in a roll call: A blue sky, a white wash, clay earth, the jostle of patches of material articulated against a horizon line.

In this first painting done in Spain, I was charmed. The checklist of a good painting (for me of course):

- I had a rough mental image of it beforehand. This isn't always the case, or at least the initial image is redrawn several times and certainly some very exceptional ones were of that type. I mean, This previsualization wasn't a clear mental image. For example, the two masses of Indian Red (or terracotta-ish) paint on the left did not have a certain coordinate that matched my mental image. I felt a need for the weight that that color delivers and I put these masses on with a Dowser's thrust.

-The masses of initial paint all had a good angular attitude (I know that probably means much more to me than you, but hang in there).

-Everything hung together, each requiring the other. Every imprint of paint left large aspects that were admirable and small aspects that were not, and the activity of what I consider progressive editing (applying succeeding touches of paint onto the parts that are not up to snuff...) followed one after another in a nice arc of dimishing proportions to the end.

-There is a maximum amount of frission, the dynamics of paint forms licking into paint forms in a fragile skein. Entanglement. An entanglement of paint entangled in the entanglement of seeing. (Whew! I had to write that.)

-While there cannot be pure abstraction (we tend to see things into things anyway... or maybe it is that abstraction can only be a conditional, temporary suspension of an imagistic human reflex... see the colophon on the left margin of this blog) and while I imagine my work as retasking the motors of representation in the service of an abstract project (I have the mental image of a car engine being lifted out from a car), this was a painting that hung together without abandoning the primacy of paint for the primacy of image.

I knew the first painting would be charmed. After not painting for so long, with the interlude of thoughts of painting at a distance and enjoying the the freshness of a new place to paint, I could just feel it there. Relief and release. And I knew before, during and after this initial painting, that the ones that follow would have to overcome the pattern of expectations that this painting would provoke in me. There are those patterns which inform a body of work and there those patterns that inform one from the train of paintings of which the body is comprised. I wouldn't want to know the nature of the ultimate body (that would make painting as a verb uninteresting, and I think that it has to be interesting in a way that makes painting as a noun interesting) but it is crucial that each succeeding painting is of interest in and of itself, regardless of where it is on the train.

Yea, I know I'm swooning on my violin (eyes closed, brow knitted, tippy toe...). Let me reel us in thusly:

Like I was saying, I didn't want to paint the first painting again, but I wanted to apprehend any lessons it offers that would... charm (I like that word)... the ones to come. First of all, I stopped relying on the initial background uniform vertical screed I had done before for nearly all the paintings since the beginning of this series. I had started with loads of paint on drywall knives pulled down across the surface, and this provided the initial condition of wetness for the slap-happy highjinks to come. (I'm feeling a little slap happy right now, sorry if this language is getting ripe.)

This first move usually dominated the painting surface and it dominated time. While it was great in the beginning, I had become aware of the limitations too. One limit is size. Once I lay the paint, the clock is on. By scrubbing the paint on with my home made pads in large patches, I realised I was no longer committed to painting the entirety of the surface at once. In other words, I could take on any size panel with a piecemeal strategy... kinda like the way I imagine murals are painted: one section at a time.


Now, I didn't exploit this capability in this second painting. And I tentatively twitched in that direction in the third one. Here in the second one, I agitated against the landscape schema by flipping things; skyblue below, masses left and right that don't service a horizontal narrative. It was almost as if a camera tilts down and the horizon line disappears from the top.

What I had then was a contest of masses and the only way to bring this painting to realization was to increase the pressure of internescine daub, flick and mark of paint. I reach for the words to describe this: I like the word "fission" but it is really about splitting atoms. It sounds like "frisson", a word that's very French and sophisticated but means shudder or thrill. Or better, "fusion" and this is the best because it evokes liquifaction and plasticity. Goldilocks that I am.

In this third painting, I wanted some breathing room again. I focused on the initial masses of paint, white and (French) blue, and I looked for more restraint and tension as opposed to the melee of the previous one. Along the way, I found another painting, so I shot this picture as a souvenir for the possibility of something to come:


Here, you can see the monogram that was sewn into the orignal linen cloth native to this region. This wasn't an original intention but it was something that presented itself and I let it manifest itself with ease. After all, my very first paintings relied on the final inscription of letters and alphabet forms that were twisted and morphed away its' original signifying intention. I thought it was serendipitous. Kismet.


I have begun to let the masses show themselves a little more too. I like the swell of paint and the rivulets and streams of peaks and valleys of the material. And I had this desire to continue to lay in the darker burnt umber masses and counter the creamy white passages.

This painting also was a primitive attempt at sectioning parts of the surface piecemeal. The two images above illustrate this pretty well. I imagine that I could paint any size surface with this method. I wonder however, if the other baggage of the mural technique would apply too? For example, cartoons, or plans that anticipate a final result. The predetermination could be a problem. Instead of intricate drawings, I could work with colors and massing. It could be interesting to do studies beforehand, the "drawings" (I am imagining early Rothko like color studies) could be cool. But you never know.

As I painted past a future painting and brought this one to completion, I saw another possibility in painting in larger panel sizes. I could lay in the initial areas of paint and scrape them off, creating large areas of flat color. This could dominate the surface and scribe a srawing that can be seen in the outline of the initial color form. If you take this large area dominating image of color/shape and combine it with the singular patch (seen in the painting in progress image above), that could be pretty interesting. So I stumbled in that direction in this next panel:


I use the word "stumble" not as a pejorative, but one limitation that I had come to appreciate was this idea of large area color/form as the drawing that would carry isolated, figuring episodes of paint gnashing demmanded larger panels that what I have at the moment. In the last aborted panel, I realized that it might be better to combine two such panels together to make the dimensions I need for the realization of this idea.


(Note: I will probably fine tune this entry as time goes on. If this note disappears, then you'll know I'm done.)

Posted by Dennis at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

The Fourth Floor

Or should I say, la trecero planta? In any case, the top floor of our house has a terrrace and a little room for romping. Our builder, Fransico Noguera (aka Kiko) is midway in the effort to repave it and eliminate the leaks that have begun to erode the walls of the floors below. Being next to the sea, this place is humid and mold is a common problem inside many homes here. Keeping the water out is much more important than it was for us in the dry desert air of Los Angeles.

I wish I took a better shot of Kiko. Here he is in action. He's got a crew of four or five and it is unusual to see the boss get his hands dirty. Kiko came into the building trade from masonry, and I think he likes to get some clay tile action from time to time. Now, he is a general contractor... as far as I can figure... I'm not sure how the building industry organizes itself here in Spain.

Here's an old shot of the building from the promontory that you can see in the first shot of this entry above. We live betwixt the church and the beach. A dream come true. Our place is just below the rose window of the church fascade. And now, the close up;

There were planters atop the terrace that we have eliminated. The windows that you can see here (barely) were damaged so much be sun and rain that they were beyond repair. So we have Ramon on the job, building new ones for us.

You can see the line of the old gable roof that was reformed sometime in its' ancient history, flattened into a terrace. Funny how they kept the lne of the the old eave and gable end.

Now, in the last post, I said that art supplies (paint) are about double the cost is was for me in Los Angeles. After recently replacing a roof on our house in Echo Park, and now doing this in Tossa... I estimate that the cost of construction is about half here compared to the USA. Food here is about three quarters the cost of that in the states. Hmmm, what else?

Posted by Dennis at 7:05 AM | Comments (2)

BCN Crit Trip

Here's a report on yesterday's trip to Barcelona to fetch paint and guest crit Gerry and Paul's architecture studio. But first, a picture of Ramon Gascon, our carpenter, who was lunching at the bus station bar...
Ramon builds my panels and also stuff for our house, our new doors on the fourth floor, for example. He is a connoisseur of wine, speaker of english and very Catalan. Cool guy, very genial.

The bus station is the local hang out. All the workers in town can be found there morning noon and night. This bar is also the place for hard core party people who wouldn't let a sunrise spoil that great evening they had the night before. When the discos close, you can find the partypeople at the bus station bar partaking of that last drink.

Gerry Smulevich and Paul Grove (left to right here) teach at the university I used to adjunct at a few years ago. Gerry plays guitar in a band and Paul is a polymath (photography, cooking, languages)... both have active small architecture practices and of course they teach, full plates. Funny, interesting guys, and it is wonderful to see them in Barcelona.

The students were intructed to select a portion of Barcelona and analyse aspects of its urbanistic configuration and apply what they learned to another portion of the city that is about to undergo an overhaul soon, a part of the city known as "La Mina". The critique was conducted in a building that had historical Roman walls, and so the students couldn't attach their drawings to the interior.

So I slid on my old professor's hat and looked for evidence of curiosity in the students' work. The crit was conducted in multiple teams of two, and Stephanie and I got to team up. Stephanie got into it and it was fabulous to jury with her.

The students were pretty good. Some were brilliant, mostly the young women. Aside from raw intelligence, I prowl for that quirky, unusual take on the world, personality and a point of view. Then I gadfly them into enlarging it.

After the crits, the speaches, the awards, the snacks, we all walked down to a bar (the 4 Gats, a bar which is supposed to be the one Picasso hung out in when he was a pup, I'm not sure if that is exactly true though). Along the way, we say hello to Jesus....

I didn't know the Passion had an episode when Jesus took a break along the way to Calvary. ;-) (we didn't toss coins at the feet of the son of G-d, that seemed unseemly) This is a typical tourista display, living statues. On the Ramblas, there are many assorted varieties.

A good day.

Later, we jet out to "Barna", the best and only local art supply store I yet know of here. I bought a ton of paint and it cost a fortune, double what I have been used to in Los Angeles. This is a problem that must be solved soon.

Posted by Dennis at 3:11 AM | Comments (7)

June 22, 2004


This morning, we gathered ourselves up for the Barcelona trip a little too casually... only to find that the buses to get us to BCN before noon were sold out. We have to wait for the bus that will get us there by the time the crit begins a little before three in the afternoon. That blows our plan to shop the art store before the crit, now we will have to shop afterward (the store closes at 8pm) and scuttle out of the post-crit-cocktail session that we anticipate to be extremely pleasurable. Two hours delayed and an optimised social afternoon gone. Yeeesh. Lesson learned: buy the bus tickets days in advance.

But, I get to blog!

The picture above is of my Tito Bomber and Tita Lillian. Bomber recieved his nickname (aka Ben) from the days in his youth in Japanese occupied Manila. Mom tells me of the kids having to wear aprons which had pockets stuffed with food in case they were separated in the bombing raids at that time. I remember from their stories, mental images of debris from bombing raids decapitating people in the street. One of my uncles said my mom always emptied her pockets as soon as they hit the streets. Mom like the candy, still does. She told me of a moment when while standing in the backyard, an American tank crashed through the wall and a soldier popped the hatch to say hello. He dropped below to reemerge with candy to throw to her. She said that whenever she saw a tank in Manila after that, she imagined the interior to be full of candies. Quite an image.

I hadn't seen much of my family since a trip I took to Australia 21 years ago. That visit became legend and a revelation for me. On a winter break in my third year of architecture school, I decided to visit family in Sydney. My first encounter had to be the patriarch, my granfather, Papang. It was a scene straight out of the Godfather: the sun had just set and the bedroom was dark, save a solitary lamp on the nightstand. Papang's face in the shadows, I press his hand to my forehead, in a formal greeting, on my knees. He asked: "What are you doing here?" Slightly puzzeld, I respond: "To be with the family, Papang." Silence, one beat, two. Finally, Papang speaks: "I forgive you for being half American." I was stunned then and I am still a little amazed today. Later, in that visit, Papang layed out two lectures (in royal style, he was a lawyer and a teacher after all), the first in which he rectified the lies of Philippine history (for example: American culture oppressed and erased Philippine culture, oh and by the way, the Filipinos know english and American history better than most Amerricans anyway... oh yea, the battle of Manila Bay was a farce) and in a party, he held forth on a comparison and contrast of the East versus the West, how a society based on the unit of family is superior to one based on the unit of individuals. That was the precise moment when I realised that I was a Westerner after all.

Thoughts from this experience shown a light on a multitude of issues for me afterward, from city planning to politics, to the internecine wars in the art world, many things. What was wonderful was to finally talk to those in my family who were there in Sydney at the time, and to talk about Papang and his ideas, his legacy in the family. That's too big a topic here, right now... Tito Bomber's take was that Papang was testing me, probing like a lawyer would with provocation, to see what I was made of. Interesting, I hadn't considered that before.

That lunch with Tito Bomber and Tita Lillian was wonderful and it lasted all afternoon. Later that night, we dined with my cousin Patricia. Patsy works in humanitarian relief, initally for the Australian government, later for the Japanese and now, she will be doing a project for the World Bank in Kabul, opening up ecotourism in the northern Territories of Afganistan. Beautiful and intellectually precocious, we had a great time comparing notes on Papang and our upbringing in the house of Pacifico Garcia, aka 'Pang.

Posted by Dennis at 4:11 AM | Comments (1)

June 21, 2004



Scrape off. The efforts of the past few days have resulted in... nothing. Every idea thwarted. New ideas too. End runs, desperate saves, attempts at alternatives... for naught. Serendipity awol.

With the trip to Barcelona set for tomorrow, and Espanol class and dinners framing the next 24 hours... the best thing is to scrape off the panel and store the paint for another attempt Wednesday.

More self flagellation and soul searching to come. Time to clean up, get a little more civilized, and poke my head out of the studio for a bit.

Posted by Dennis at 3:20 AM | Comments (1)

June 19, 2004

Some Paintings

Raining today, a first time in a long time. So we shut the windows, shutters too... good for what I have to do.

New Panel, freshly stretched. Hours pass and I refuse to act mechanically, movement unanimated... so I sit and watch. I sit like a donkey, on my hind, ears back, stubborn. Staring at a blank canvas.

Time is part of the task, something to contend with. Try to be nonchalant, like you don't care. Hours shrink.

Some paintings can be anticipated, nearly all but physical. Such paintings groove on, threaded to manifestation, a ship tugged steadily into port. All paintings require a feeling of contraposto, a shift of wieght and massing. Some paintings insist themselves only after your hands get dirty, after you undertake ways of working with paint that preclude many other ways. Some paintings are painted first in my head, in too many iterations... the thoughts of what I might see kept getting in the way what I was seeing. Some paintings suprise and derail the initial intention, and the drama is deciding when to jump train. And some paintings are sorry ass train wrecks, full of dreadful, desperate, pitiful decisions which nearly always ends up with salvaging actions and many thoughts of when the ultimate scrape off will occur.... and it is precisely this specific type of painting that a final saving act will pull what was once considered wreckage into something that is nearly a pristine, dewy state of nature. Miracles.

Posted by Dennis at 12:23 PM | Comments (3)

La Primera Vez


This is the first painting done since we arrived here in Tossa. I wanted to upload it super quick so you all can see. (Other and more paintings to come.)

This one is different from teh rest in that there are areas of color pushed on in large patches, different from the overall large screeds of paint that form the base in most of or all of the paintings done earlier. By starting with patches, I am not commited to the entirety of the surface as I was before. This will give me some freedom in terms of scale since I will be able to work in smaller chunks (working the entire surface in alla prima, in the manner in which I like: munchy impasto) limited me to a scale that can be taken on all at once. Larger scales- bigger than my outstretched arms- were unpleasant since I can only bring heights of precision and frission within the medium and smaller scales.

Precision con frission. That's sounds like a good descriptor.

A couple of paintings later, I realised that I could start with lighter and larger areas of paint by laying it on and subsequentloy taking it off. Laying it on and taking it off, the lietmotif of alla prima impasto. By working larger areas, I think I might have another strategy for extending the scale. More on this later of course.

Posted by Dennis at 5:31 AM | Comments (0)

Before and After


Here are a couple of shots, one just as we arrived...


And another after we painted the first floor. A fireplace is just to the left of the frame. The kegs might go once we remove the wainscot on the first floor. Such wainscot details are important since the ground water has a propensity to wick up into the walls and flake the paint and plaster off. Covering this with wainscot is one solution, another is to chip off all plaster, exposing the stone as it is here on this wall, from the line of a wainscot on down to the floor (leaving the plaster on the walls and ceiling). Lots of work, left for a fatter future, we're too lean to do it now.

Posted by Dennis at 4:05 AM | Comments (1)

Rainy Day

It's raining today, perfect for studio work! I've got a bigger panel here prepped and ready to go.

A good friend Gerard Smulevich (I've always know him as Gerry), a fellow teacher when I was teaching architecture at Woodbury University, Gerry is here in Barcelona to teach a summer session in Europe. He asked me to come by for critiques in Barcelona next Tuesday. I'm excited to dust off my architecture hat and get some crit on! A BCN (that's Barcelona) trip Tuesday will fit perfectly with my need to take the bus South to buy more paint supplies. Gerry might drop into Tossa tomorrow to stay the night... so I've got to find my stride super fast if I'm to get this painting done soon. I've got some good anticipations about how to start... we'll see how they pan out.

But first, let me show you all some pics of this context. First, this here building we are living in:

It used to be a wine processing building, a bodega, back in the day (built 1703 or thereabouts). It was also know as Can Marcelino, and as Tito's Restaurant. The restaurant was at the dregs of maintenance when we bought it (and we didn't intend to operate a restaurant anyway although a few pals enjoy the thought of flipping burgers and serving quesadillas to the tourists here in Tossa), so we scrapped the kitchen and gutted the interior, improving only the bathroom that is on the third floor. Now, we are replacing the roof terrace, fixing the leaks that have broken into the interior. Let's tilt the lens up:


Four stories. First floor, the living room and kitchen with little courtyard. Second floor, a studio. Third floor, the bedrooms and Stephanie's office. Fourth floor, a terrace and a little family room to chill out in.

That's our place here. We are between the church (a block North) and the beach (a one minute walk South). Bars surround us, together with many neighbors. More pics to come, but this is a good start.

Posted by Dennis at 3:45 AM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2004

Blink, Blink...


Here's a picture of the studio that is several days old. My camera batteries decided to die just as I was shooting the fresh studio shots. I'm having trouble uploading blogentries, maybe it has something to do with Movabletype's system or maybe there's a bug in this here new server... I'm not sure.

In getting all my systems up here, there's a few knots yet to untangle. But thank g-d for this new connection! The service guy had called in the middle of the week and after a few delays, he appeared at our door, router in hand... like an angel he was. Enough carping about local business efficiency, all is well that ends well.

Today is a Friday, and I've just recieved my latest, largest panel yesterday. I've just finished stretching and prepping it... it will need a couple more coats of mat resin before I can get into the painting, and that will take this night. This track of thought is a management of my time, because once I get into the painting, I will be rivited to the studio until the painting is completed. So, it seems that this afternoon is a good time to take in the beach and relax before I take on the 24/7 in the new cuadros (painting panel).

Posted by Dennis at 7:32 AM | Comments (0)


Well, hello everybody!

Welcome to the Spanish edition of Dennis' studio. Give a a beat or two and I'll start the blogging forthwith.

Let's just make sure I can post a blog entry here....

Posted by Dennis at 7:10 AM | Comments (1)

June 15, 2004


June 20th is the latest date for the internet installaton. What day is it today? Without broadband, we don?t interact with our computers as much as before... so I don?t check out the multifarious functions so generously provided by my laptop. Stephanie thinks today is the 19th.

Today, I await a larger cuadros (a wood panel that Ramon is buildng for me). All weekend (and the end of last week), I was all bugged out over the last painting. I slept in my clothes sometime atop the bedcovers, sometimes atop a mat I keep in the studio for such purposes (a hat tip to Louis Kahn, who cat-napped in his office/studio). Stephanie knows the drill. I can?t take a break and divert my attention during the process, it would be like starting over. Three paintings done in the studio (one is feo, trouble with leaking oil into the linen, so I might not show it in August), and another one coming today. I?m soon coming to the point where I will need to buy more paint... a trip to Barcelona next week perhaps.

Today, we go out and buy sardines and a telephone for the third floor. Now, we don?t have to jet down the stairs as if our hair was on fire to answer the telephone. And the sardines... our first time in buyng fish here. There are so many different types of fish to cook. One kind is called "Sons", little fishes resembling worms.... people queue up in big lines to buy it. We hear that they are best fried in oil. Hmmmm.

Tonight, my cousin Patricia (Patsy, as I have known her in Childhood) will be coming into town. She, like most of my family is Australian (Sydney) and she works in various humanitarian aid agencies. Soon, I hear she will be in Kabul. We?ll call my other cousin (primo), Joe (BabyJoe, as he was known in our childhood) and we?ll hoist a cervesa together.

Soon, we hope to be online. Then, I get to bug all of you with blogposts and emails again. Heh.

Posted by Dennis at 4:49 AM | Comments (2)

June 11, 2004


I?ve been holding off with these blogposts, hoping for the arrival of our high speed internet connection in our house... eh. But alas, alack. Yesterday?s phone call (so many made by now that we have lost count) to our prospective internet provider (Auna) had revealed another fifteen day wait... with no promise that after fifteen days, we wouldn?t have to wait again another fifteen. Every time we call, we are asked a variety of questions: our telephone number, our address, my passport number, our bank acount number... and with each set of answers, a relay to another person who asks for this information afresh. At the end of a multiperson Q&A (in excruciating Espa?ol muy rapido), the inevitable response: we must wait fifteen days from the date of that call.

Our patience broken, we called a competitor (Jazztel), but they couldn?t offer us service since we originally contracted our telephone service with Telefonica (comparable to AT&T in the USA)... it was Telefonica who originally informed us that they couldn?t offer us ADSL because we have Apple computers and that thier internet service was incompatible with Apple. That didn?t make sense then, so now we were forced to return to Telefonica and probe more deeply into the conundrum of the apparent incompatibility. Luckily (such as is rare in this case), Telefonica has a departamento de idiomas... they can speak English (although we liked the searing challenge of deep immersion into tech Espa?ol), and we discovered that thier service is compatible after all. The installation price was high, but we figure it will be an insurance to have an installation guy set us up and untangle all potential problems.

The upshot: fifteen days or less. (I bury my head in my pillow and sob silently.)

I get a picture of hidebound bureaucratic systems both in government (customs, the post office, etc.) and in private business (at least in the larger scales... small business seems tight and responsive). It seems that every time we talk to someone in a system, we get different answers, different sets of criteria. It is possible that someone could get a run around if one doesn?t find a back door short cut or at least pursue multiple queries in order to exhaust most of the redundancy and noise in the system. The regulatory world here seems overgrown with weeds. No wonder there is are underground economies ("black money") and people live in parallel worlds of the law in excessivo (the garden oversown and untended) and the law in effectivo (the laws people actually do observe).

Enough carping.

There are many things I have wanted to write and show you all with fotos. I just don?t feel that comfortable in doing it in an internet cafe... or even in the homes of our friends here who have offered us access to thier computers (although we have accepted their generosity to pay our bills online, better to do this there than through the computers in the internet cafes). So as an alternative, let me here try to hammer out a few notes, stream of consciousness style:

-Yesterday, the procession of the Virgins (Corpus Cristi) occured here in the streets of Tossa. It is a celebration of communion of young teens, all dressed in white. The streets are festooned in designs drawn in flowers. For weeks, we saw people sorting flowers in cardboard boxes, mostly done by shopkeepers. Then on the fated day, the streets are colorfully articulated and as the children recieve the body of Christ, they walk through the colorful streets in procession, their virgin feet destroying the flowered drawings as they go, with priests and attendants burning incense and carrying holy paraphanalia along the way.

-Our neighbors (all elderly ladies, three) were preparing for the Corpus Christi by vigorously cleaning the street for days before the event. We showed one of them, Carmen (maybe 68 years?), our huose and my paintings. More than a few Spanairds are painters or poets in the margins of thier lives, and Carmen too, she painted in the top floor of her house. She was excited to see the paintings and she took us into her house to see her stuff. She partcularly like the fact that I used the antique linen that my mom gave me, especially how I let the monograms show in the way I prepared the stretched panels. Her house is like a museum. A member of the patrician class (her family owned a hotel once in Tossa), her house had linens, woven fabrics, paintings, furniture, and notably a few religious decorative artifacts that were rescued from the anarchy of the Civil War, a time when the church in Tossa (less than a block away from us) was sacked and burnt, the priests taken to the countryside and shot. Carmen shook her head as she told us about it "una pena", she said.

-Kiko and his team are repairing our roof at this moment. We have several aguajeros (leaks) from our rooftop terrace, and Kiko will tear out the planters and install an elastometric membrane (an innovation here) and a new tile deck too. Home improvements are rarely singular, so we have to have new doors made for that terrace, a job for our carpenter, Ramon. Ramon is beset with too much work. He?s also building panels for me too, bigger ones next week.

-We are still taking classes in Espa?ol ahora. Through these classes, we are meeting new circles of people:

Peit and Monique, a couple from Holland who have a house in a German community (kinda like a suburb of Tossa) nearby. Peit is a retired polymath his latest incarnation is a director and producer of television shows, some for the BBC. Great people they are, big smiles and curious, great conversation. I?ll have to recount Peit?s history sometime... I couldn?t do justice to it now... stints in South Africa, New York, several careers that he abandoned in succession once his thirst for new, fresh and challenging experiences prompted him so. He has an instincts that are rare and fine... a probing mind. The conversations with them are wonderful.

Elena is our teacher, a Catalan and self employed. She comes from a famliy whose business is in fashion (swim suits) but she wanted her own enterprise, one that matched her prediliction for languages. She?s been helping us negotiate the internet access maze. Yesterday, we saw her on the street after the Virgin Procession and it was great to show her our house. In Spanish class, you talk a lot and our lives are inevitably a subject of conversation, so it was nice to show her of the things we had been referring to lately.

-Emma is a young Brit who is staying here in Tossa with her Mom. Britian and Spain are interlinked over the years through tourism and it is not unusual to find whole comunities of expats here from Great Britian. Recently, we realized that Emma was a friend in a circle of people that included my cousin Joseph (Baby Joe, in Filipino parlance, as I had known him over thirty years ago when we were kids). I had heard that he was living and working here in town but I didn?t know how to find him. Finally, as my Uncle Bitan came into town for vacation (together with his girlfriend Ni?a, and his daughter, my cousin Carmela), we all went out in search for Joe... and since this is a small town, he wasn?t hard to find. What we found was another epxpat community of Australians (most of my family had emigrated from the Philippines to Australia eons ago). These twenty, thirty somethings from "down under" have the art of living inexpensively down to an art form. All have jobs locally, mostly in the bars and restaurants and also in the building trades. The typical pattern is work and play, the beach and the bars.

-I hadn?t seen my Uncle Bitan (Albert) for over twenty years. Our hair thinning, we linked up as if we had only seen each other only yesterday. His significant other, Ni?a, is supercool, smart. The irony of thier conjunction is that Ni?a is closely related to Imelda Marcos and Tito Bitan was manning the barricades, protesting Marcos when he was a student in Manila so many years ago. He was forced to leave the country and emigrate to Australia, and has since come back, a Filipino to the core. They both offer us a place to stay in Manila and the picture of inexpensive fabulous studios and multiple servants who attend to every need in a context of Manila high society is as tantalizing as it is confounding to our imaginations. Who knows? Maybe I?ll post this blog one day from Manila.

Alright, time to get back into the studio. More later, and much more once we get the internet connection in place. June 20th or before?

Posted by Dennis at 4:51 AM | Comments (0)

June 9, 2004


Still waiting for a connection...

hang in there!

Posted by Dennis at 8:25 AM | Comments (0)

June 3, 2004


Now, the internet provider sez:

The date that we will count for your promised ffiteen day period has been moved from May 3rd to May 24th. We are supposed to have dsl next week.

Next week...

Next week...

Posted by Dennis at 12:42 PM | Comments (1)



...hang in there...

Posted by Dennis at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)