Double Moon

Robert Motherwell, Blue Elegy, 1987, National Gallery of Austrailia

Robert Motherwell, Blue Elegy, 1987, National Gallery of Australia

Blue Moon Friday. That’s right, a second chance this month to see that spacious pearl rise and reflect more glowing light to love by. Due to the calendar we’ve concocted and the actual lunar cycle, we get a bonus full moon today –  happens every 2.7 years. Ok, so that’s mildly interesting. A good time to concoct a love potion perhaps.

This month’s two-moon tango reminds me of Blue Elegy by Robert Motherwell. I did a double take on this one. Only a pair of marks here, not an eye pleasing threesome. It’s repeated but not repetition. Just tandem. Why?

Powerful strokes that were originally the work of chance and subconscious, are now Motherwell’s signature mark. The strong downward stroke with the affixed oval shape (art critics say rectilinear and ovoid, ugh). He did about two hundred paintings in his Elegies series, mainly this same repeating mark in graphic black. A protest against the atrocities of the Spanish Civil war, as Picasso did in Guernica. See one here.

But this Elegy’s in blue. Takes on celestial feel instead of the dark, stagnated fury of the black ones. The stroke now softened by sky blue and gilded by a gold top line. This mark usually told of senseless death and war’s vengeful repeating.  Now, it speaks of something more heavenly and I think more hopeful. The gift of second chance.

You struggle to say something important but you can’t quite get it out. You try again. You do something brilliant and then try it again –  fear of failure be damned. You attempted life, but it didn’t quite work out. You look up to see that second beautiful chance you thought you’d never get.

Blue moon shining.

Pollock is as Pollock does

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Convergence, 1952. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Convergence, 1952. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It’s only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”  

Jackson Pollock

I don’t believe Pollock on this one. He has no fear about making changes to his work? That would be extraordinary indeed. I tend to shy away from Pollock because of the unnerving visual chaos. I understand this explosive change (dripping paint on canvas) skyrocketed Abstract Expressionism to sparkling mid-century glory. Today many artists drip in Ab-Exstasy.

I appreciate his process a bit more after reading John Yau’s poem inspired by Pollock’s work. Am I layering esoteric upon esoteric by mixing in a contemporary poem with a Pollock to bake a giant heady souffle? Yes. But hell, here it is.

Notice how the words mimic the energy of the paint. How the repetition and redirection, indirection and circumnavigation of words whirls you around like you are a streak of yellow or red inside the painting. How Yau ravels and unravels the mystery of being in the flow.

830 Fireplace Road
John Yau

(Variations on a sentence by Jackson Pollack)

“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing”
When aware of what I am in my painting, I’m not aware
When I am my painting, I’m not aware of what I am
When what, what when, what of, when in, I’m not painting my I
When painting, I am in what I’m doing, not doing what I am
When doing what I am, I’m not in my painting
When I am of my painting, I’m not aware of when, of what
Of what I’m doing, I am not aware, I’m painting
Of what, when, my, I, painting, in painting
When of, of what, in when, in what painting
Not aware, not in, not of, not doing, I’m in my I
In my am, not am in my, not of when I am, of what
Painting “what” when I am, of when I am, doing, painting.
When painting, I’m not doing. I am in my doing. I am painting.

Diminishing Returns

Andrew Masullo, 5244, Whitney Biennial 2012

Andrew Masullo, 5244, Whitney Biennial 2012

Called the “law of diminishing returns,” its graph looks pretty similar to the humps in this art. Well, one hump that is.

According to the “law of diminishing returns,” as you shovel more effort/time/energy/money or other resource in – the better your outcome will be (other variables held constant). A lovely linear correlation of effort and output, until you get to the top. That’s the sweet spot. Where you put in just the right amount of effort to get the best possible result.

After that, as you pour more into the project, suddenly your outcomes sharply drop. I’m working harder and getting less.

Imagine you love homegrown tomatoes.  You plant 2 rows of tomato plants. Your friend tells you, “put on a pound of fertilizer.” Presto – more, bigger tomatoes. Then, you put on three pounds of fertilizer – ahhhh. . . even more juicy, ripe tomatoes. You think, let’s up it to 4 pounds. No noticeable change. Hmmmm. . .  at five pounds of fertilizer you just root-burned your plants to death due to excessive fertilization. Nice!

Gotta love that sweet spot. The Win/Win spot. The point where all that effort is maximized and working at optimum efficiency. Does this economic law work in art too, or in life for that matter? Maybe there are some things which return on investment (ROI) just isn’t a consideration. Or are there?

What’s the least amount of discipline needed to produce the most well-behaved children? What’s the maximum amount of thoughtful things I need to do to get the most sex? Is spending more time on this writing just wheel-spinning perfectionism?

Feel free to make another interpretation of the above forms, as many colorful ideas spring to mind. But its non-objective art and you’re really not supposed to draw representational comparisons, though it seems Masullo is gleefully baiting us on this one.


Rudolf Herman Eisenmenger, Runners at the Finish Line, Silver Medal 1936

Rudolf Herman Eisenmenger, Runners at the Finish Line, Silver Medal 1936

Whew!  The week’s almost over and Friday’s finish line ribbon flutters around the bend. I hear the wheezing huff of fellow teammates pushing to finish deadlines. The flop of others who put their projects off until next week, pens tapping like seconds ticking.

But we still have a bit of time, so let me interrupt your programming to remind you of some obscure Olympic yore.

As it turns out the Olympic Committee did award medals for painting, sculpture, architecture and literature  from 1912-1948.  Artists weren’t too keen on the idea. The subject matter had to be sport and the competitions were held alongside sporting events. Imagine the feverish writing in the Olympic literary salon. Or paint splattered spectators in Olympic stadium. Surprise – not a lot of takers.

I imagine this picture above is a portrait of most artist’s reaction to the idea. A pack of panicked artists sprinting away, in droves.

Finally, in a fit of reason, the Committee converted the “competitions” to “exhibitions” for the 1952 games in Helsinki. But the few medalists from the brief, well-intentioned but frightfully misguided period were scratched from the Olympic games’ official record. What? Removed. Delete buttoned. I’d love to pull that move on my epic fails.

Where will you find me in the Friday PM pack? Panting to the nearest happy hour for a tall pint of bronze or maybe a glass of gold (chardonnay please).


Tick Tock

Sarah Morris, Big Ben, poster for  London Olympics 2012

We didn’t see the official London Olympics posters much here in America (not sure about my friends in other nations) but Londoner’s reactions to them were decidedly negative.

From the classically British

Oh dear… not very good are they?

to the scathing

Thought this may have been a joke at first, still have a hard time believing this is actually tied in to the Olympics, or anything respectable really. Does being a “well known” artist mean you don’t have to try anymore?

I’m featuring my pick from these slim pickin’s. Sarah Morris’s Big Ben 2012. 

As you might realize from the onset, she features London’s most iconic time piece as a double entendre for both the city and the reality that the Olympic machine turns on seconds and milliseconds. Gold and silver decided by a razor edge of time, seconds sliced down to decimal places incomprehensible.

She’s plucked the minute and hour hands from their traditional place and multiplied them.  Stretched them into taut bolts, arrows both coming and going. Time as a weapon? A severed dream. Arrow – can you hit the mark? On your marks.

The concentric circles tell the story of  the clock face and suggest the Olympic rings piled one on top another. A flag-like diversity of color embraces the panoply of countries gathered.

It’s cool, strong and graphic with layers of meaning. Will it be a winner in the art legacy of Olympic posters? Only time will be the tell.

Banksy ballyhoo

Banksy, Going for Mould, 2012, undisclosed location

Banksy, Going for Mould, 2012, undisclosed location

Let me introduce you to Banksy, hooded British street artist turned red-haute art star. The museum crowd lauds him; the Tate Modern hearts him. Art collectors around the world shell out the big bucks for his indoor work, but his graffiti (outdoor murals), recently set the Olympic Committee’s and British Transportation Police’s teeth to grinding.

According to British law, it’s a punishable offense to use the Olympic rings if you are not a sponsor. The Olympic committee aggressively protects their brand. For months they’ve harassed British small business owners and artists. The Olympic Cafe is now the Lympic Cafe. For a time, only McDonald’s (major sponsor) was permitted to serve fries in the Olympic village. Using the words, “summer”, “gold”, “silver” or “bronze”  in your advertising will court cease-and-desist letters or $30,000 fines from the street roaming brand police. The Olympic committee even hand slapped Kate Middleton’s sister for “copyright infringing” website content. (No time to touch on the story of the sanctioned knitters or the store owner threatened suit for configuring hula hoops like Olympic rings.) Now they want to white wash Banksy.

This mural sports no Olympic symbols. Instead, on-site structures like the decrepit chain-link fence and the molding mattress add clever satire to the story of the unnamed-games pole vaulter.

Its location is secret.

Does this image honor athletes from small underfunded countries who don’t have the resources to compete with wealthy nations? With similar talent but no funding, they have little chance to metal (81 countries attending the Summer Olympics have never metalled). Or is it a dig at the Olympic committee itself? Way to high and mighty, headed for a rotten-mattress face plant. Scoring the lowest mark in court of public opinion.

For more gritty details


Inagaki Tomoo (1902-1980), Yellow Faced Cat

Inagaki Tomoo (1902-1980), Yellow Faced Cat

She nibbles at your stoop,

studies the open door, its yellow shadows play.

Steps in, steps out.

Nibbles again.

Vanishes into indigo wild night.

Run the Experiment

Patricia Qualls, Mystery of the Margins, courtesy of Patricia Qualls

Patricia Qualls, Mystery of the Margins, courtesy of Patricia Qualls

I’ve collected Patricia Qualls art for several years now, and I am in good company. Beyond being an artist whose energy, empathy and clear vision speaks through her canvases, she’s a smart-as-tacks person and arms-wide-open kind of friend. Patricia is hidden gold in Carmel Valley.

California recently tried to outlaw gold mining in these mountains, but you can follow a lovely winding road down to her gallery/studio and uncover it still.

Her favorite phrase is “run the experiment.” She told me this as I held a hair pick slathered with color over a blank piece of canvas (too chicken to pick up a brush). Her twinkle eyes convinced me to paint one day while on a studio visit. We were at the point in the process when the white paper yawned wide and my hand hovered in midair, paint dripping, stuck in a fear struggle between desire to create and ominous-cloud certainty that the outcome would be total crap. I listened to a silent thought croaking, I have the talent of a toad. A warty toad. A talentless warty toad.

She said, “run the experiment.” And the pick finally careened toward the canvas. See, I am the sort of person that demands a beautiful result every time. Like Venus rising from the waves. In my imaginary Pintrest life.  Forget the wild impossibility of this thinking -of catastrophe courting  this high-stakes perfectionism. Venus rising is a myth, an ancient lie.

Forget beauty. Damn expectations.

Run the experiment. Try things out. See what you like. What pulls you forward? Swirl it all around and do it again, and again.

Do thousands of them –  Patrica did.  Play outside the margins of myopic judgement. Run the experiment. Let’s just see what happens. . .

Haystacks for the gold

Claude Monet, Grainstack at Sunset near Giverny, 1891, Museum of Fine Art Boston

Claude Monet, Grainstack at Sunset near Giverny, 1891, Museum of Fine Art Boston

Today I made a collection of oh-so-delightful chubby haystacks.

In Monet’s vision, the haystack stands to the side, giving full deference to the atmosphere. And the sunset in turn, halos the hay in gold. We watch light’s magic, glorifying, coloring and blanching things. And though the colors sizzle, the haystack casts a prosperous cool shadow, holding down the foreground with calm aplomb.  Prepared.

Roy Lichtenstein,  Haystack, 1969, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein, Haystack, 1969, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Haystack pops front and center in Lichtenstein’s study of pattern creating form.  A braille stack redux.  I want to reach out and touch the dots, to push them together so they don’t hurt my eyeballs, which constantly try to connect and reconnect them. I give up and decide to study their shape and configuration. Like a nervous-tic they continue to addle my eyes, needling my subconscious. Scatterbrained haystack please stand still, please.

Will Klemm, October, 8x8 inches, pastel on paper, courtesy Wally Workman Gallery, Austin, TX

Will Klemm, October, 8×8 inches, pastel on paper, courtesy Wally Workman Gallery, Austin, TX

Ahhh, now my favorite, Will Klemm’s hay bale. Here we return to an atmospheric piece like Monet’s. And though reposed in stillness, there’s a tremendous amount of emotion rolling around. I want to give this hay bale a big squish hug and tell it everything’s going to be all right. But maybe it’s not lonely. A buddha bale that has reached peace, stopped rolling. With compassion it listens to my tales of woe. The shadow stretches impossibly long from a bright light source at an extremely low angle.  Is it physically possible? And then you realize he’s painting some hidden soul-field in your mind.

Or today your noggin (like mine) is the Lichtenstein.


You will be tossed. Which way would you like it?

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa from "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji"; 1823-29, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa from “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”; 1823-29, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Hmmm. . . big fan of the Japanese version, tense. Heroic. But my vote’s for Hambling’s fearsome sensuality. No explanation needed on this one friends – you are on your own.

Maggi Hambling, Rising wave, 2009 © Maggi Hambling

Maggi Hambling, Rising wave, 2009 © Maggi Hambling

I am the shifting shingle you approach with stealth

then in the dark moons of you curves I am tossed, lost, displaced with greedy lover’s tongues and lips

You suck me in and in again we rise together, we rise together, then float safe on liquid breasts until the dance begins again and you thrust deep and my resistance is low

dissolve, dissolve

no defence against your relentless advance

I am but a ghost of the shore disappeared in you

Hambling, 2008