Or what?

Heimo Zobernig, now at Simon Lee

Heimo Zobernig, now at Simon Lee, London

Allow me a moment to comment on this confounding binarism I find sandwiched between my toes.

It’s often called “black and white” thinking – the penchant of some people (me) to frame solutions in “either/or” scenarios. Do you want the pink one or the blue? This is either good or it’s bad. It’s the best thing that ever happened, or the worst. Whitman or Dickinson? Male or Female?

I have a major problem with binarism – it’s FALSE. The word “or” should be the warning light – the wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee someone is boxing up the choices. I don’t want cream or sugar – I want both, or stevia, maybe tea. A nice cup of lapsang souchong, perhaps? If we can generate multiple choice in our drinks, what about for other life challenges.

OR limits creativity to generate multiple solutions. I regularly pick up an everyday object (a mug) and think, “what could this be other than mug?” (vase, penny jar, pencil stand, plant pot, light fixture, toad house, soup or cereal bowl, jewelry holder, baling bucket, soil scoop, bug catcher, metaphysical mood meter (is glass half empty/half full?), inspiration piece, homing beacon)

I can see dividing imagined best case/worst case scenarios into a tidy binarism. To envision yourself toward a goal (sometimes frustrating) or  to prepare yourself for the worst. Possibly helpful.

What about in-betweens? Hello! options not mentioned. Consider your job, done in a different way, in a different place. What’s the yellow solution, the blue idea, the green daydream? What if your choosing were colors, we wouldn’t settle for just black or white.

Yes there’s something called option anxiety  – so we distill choices down to two. To short cut an otherwise too lengthy decision making process. Point taken. But.

Do you want limits or unlimited ? I’m kicking OR to the curb.


Keltie Ferris, ¡I! , 2010

Keltie Ferris, ¡I! , 2010

We rented a 14 cubic foot dumpster last weekend, in a grand quest to chuck almost every chuck-able thing in the garage and transform it into a studio. Yes, a studio to paint. Are we talented enough to do this – probably not. Are we trying to recapture some youthful joy of throwing color on paper and letting madness, gravity and some squirrel hair have its way, yes.

Obstacles loomed large. A garage crammed full of 15 years of life detritus. Crap from three houses, three children and rag- tag stacks of DIY furniture from my teens, twenties, thirties, etc. No space to walk to the beer fridge – an American tragedy.

The effort was riddled with cursing and tears. Stuff is hard to throw away. Stuff you will never use again clings to you when you see it. You feel some small comfort, the soft flannel nostalgia of your  former life revisits you. And you can’t throw that part of your life away can you? How ever will you remember?

Sorting through keepsake boxes, mumbling the odyssey of our lives. The aching journals of youth, rampant religious texts, cheap beads from dirty countries. Silk wedding flowers of people now parted. Goodwill got my fifth grade teddy bear collection.

One thing I refused to part with  –  my spray paint. The single most transformative tool – secret weapon of up-cyclers  and street artists everywhere.  I think Keltie Ferris applauded. Her pointer finger transformed the humble spray can into high art.

I love the energy of this painting, the way the spray strokes  fuzz and pop. Layering the sprays atop the other paint creates a plunging sense of depth. Purplenavy past below, present above (a bit amorphous of course but vibrating, full of movement). Downsizing’s gracious reward – the gold shimmer of beginning.


These days I swim in a jellyfish bloom. Quite graceful from an aquarium standpoint, rather hazardous if you’re the one splashing.

People have tentacles and you never know when you’re going to meet one unexpectedly. We float through life, trailing long legs of personal history, swirling them about. Some people call this baggage, but baggage doesn’t twist you around and deliver a red whelping sting if you rub it the wrong way.

I’d be just fine if people lugged around suitcases. Bags would fly free with me too.  I could pile them up in a corner and look through a valise or two when I needed an explanation for a person’s odd behavior.

But no, most people are jellyfish-y.

And when they swear, “That’s impossible,” it’s usually a long tendril of memories past, wrapping around your neck, giving your lips a clamp. You reply, “In your experience, you’ve never seen this happen.” Of course there are obstacles to the “impossible.” Could be the wisened voice of reason; could be hoarse fear. Or both. Untangle yourself from the jelly barb and move on.

I’m rooting for these soaring ones above. They’ve broken the surface of the sea and taken off. Jellyfish rockets. Going for something I can’t see yet. Maybe the “impossible.” Their past history tendrils fly behind them banner-like, in possible propulsion. Foolhardy. Brave.

The sun’s pierced through and the clouds drip, drip, drip. Not ideal conditions for a launch. But I forecast luck and a favorable wind for these few. Cutting the sky with their rising hue.  They have decided to take up flying, a thing once pronounced most definitely impossible. I’m doing a Monday morning cheer (also once thought impossible)

For these wild, color-drenched people. I certainly forgive a sting or two.

High noon

Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960 Blanton Museum, Austin, TX

Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960 Blanton Museum, Austin, TX

It’s a showdown here, folks. Two serious contenders, abstraction vs. realism.  We’re facing off today in Austin, TX on the field of  High Yellow, speaking to Mr. Ellsworth Kelly. Pitting our need for representation against his refusal to represent. Gear up and let’s get it on. Winner takes all.

Round one: the obvious

Us: This is a minimalist landscape, the green is grass, the blue is sky and the yellow is that scorching beast of a  Texas sun.

Kelly: This is greenness, this is blueness, this is yellowness.

Round Two: the memory

Us: Ok, then. This is the yellow ball that finally scored a hole-in-one at Peter Pan putt-putt golf in seventh grade. The night I finally kissed Bethany Mulhaney.

Kelly: This is greenness, this is blueness, this is yellowness.

Us: No fair, you’re using my distrust of simplicity against me. It’s complicated you know.

Round Three: the metaphysical gymnast

Us: This is about the possibility of purity, of perfection – both impossible in life.

This highlights the ironic equation of the cosmos, that blue + yellow=green, every time. But in life inputs rarely equal outputs, anytime.

This is a bridge where representation walks over into abstraction and surrenders to the veracity of color.

Kelly: LOL, this is so simple that it takes a genius to figure it out, huh?

the tie-breaker

Us: You really gonna trash talk me about this fat egg painting?

Georgia on my mind

Georgia OKeeffe Inside Clam Shell, 1930

White is a color. Or is it? Yesterday, a fashionista at the mall told me that white is a “neutral.” I hated to argue with her, because youth is infallibly certain. But white isn’t neutral at all.

White is breathless. When I approach art I usually clamor for stunning color or a nuanced message worthy of prophets. Intellectual vigor of form or composition.

Georgia sweeps all that away in this painting and confounds us with whiteness. White interests me for all its myriad associations.  Purity, cleanliness, godliness.  A white canvas or paper to some of us signals dizzy anticipation or nail-biting terror.  But here, it is divested from  spiritual or moral connotation.

I see an alien landscape, the twilight side of the moon. Craters and ash, shadowy gorges and soaring peaks unmeasured. Is this an internal landscape sweeping and bare or the external in infinite magnitude? Georgia reveals her surprise, it’s the inside of a clamshell.

Oh it’s so much more though. She makes the small and insignificant, grand. With sweeping lines, and hints of color, rivulets of green, glowings of yellow, she elevates white to legendary status. Mythic.

Pair that with your colored denim crops and skinny jeans people.

Cloud nine

Jay Gaskill Triple Stacked Mitsubishi 2011

Jay Gaskill, Triple Stacked Mitsubishi, 2011

It’s a Monday morning and I’ve made my list for the week. Every task has its number and the calendars are synced. I’m set for smooth sailing, for a Monday I’m on cloud nine. Lots to do, but manageable for an A+ manager.

Suddenly, I’m quite irritated at the items defying “the List”. Silent, important things.  “You-can’t-check-the-box” things. Be a good parent. Be a decent spouse. Be content. Be Relaxed.

See exhibit A, this painting by Jay Gaskill. Isn’t there supreme order here? I look at the shapes and say, “my they are quite evenly spaced and symmetrical, bravo for imposing some unity and sensibility.”  The colors are a nice mix of both soothing and energetic. A cheery kaleidoscope. Golf clap.

A brain warning light flashes on. Something’s not quite right- can’t seem to put my finger on it. Looking closer now.

Start to study the forms from the white cloud circle pushing outward. Arghh. You realize that this is not a repeating pattern of pleasing colors and shapes like you hoped. Oh no, it’s a carefully constructed chaos. An un-pattern. A deliberation of chaos, disguised as semi-order. Groan.

Grudging, I admit my tidy list is only a paper boat that I hope will float me though this week’s rapids. Maybe tending to the “unlisted” things will keep the unrelenting chaos at bay. Then the bright idea hits me.

“Darling, wouldn’t this pattern make lovely wallpaper for the guest bathroom?”