Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Artist, Thinker and Builder (all or nothing...)

Briton Damien Hirst is considered by many critics to be artistic royalty. The following is a fairly accurate description of his process that I ripped off of Wikipedia (hey, sometimes they get their facts right):

Although Hirst participated physically in the making of early works, he has always needed assistants, and now the volume of work produced necessitates a "factory" setup, akin to Andy Warhol's or a Renaissance studio. This has led to questions about authenticity, as was highlighted in 1997, when a spin painting that Hirst said was a "forgery" appeared at sale, although he had previously said that he often had nothing to do with the creation of these pieces.

Hirst said that he only painted five spot paintings himself because, "I couldn't be fucking arsed doing it"; he described his efforts as "shite"—"They're shit compared to ... the best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel. She's brilliant. Absolutely fucking brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel." He also describes another painting assistant who was leaving and asked for one of the paintings. Hirst told her to, "'make one of your own.' And she said, 'No, I want one of yours.' But the only difference, between one painted by her and one of mine, is the money.'" By February 1999, two assistants had painted 300 spot paintings.

Hirst sees the real creative act as being the conception, not the execution, and that, as the progenitor of the idea, he is therefore the artist: Art goes on in your head," he says. "If you said something interesting, that might be a title for a work of art and I'd write it down. Art comes from everywhere. It's your response to your surroundings. There are on-going ideas I've been working out for years, like how to make a rainbow in a gallery. I've always got a massive list of titles, of ideas for shows, and of works without titles.

I realize that Hirst’s work is exactly the type of stuff that the Stuckists hate; but I think we differ in the reason for our disdain. I have no problem with the conceptual nature of his work, but I do have a bit of a problem with the concept of “factory art” or the promotion of work not actually created by the artist. Similarly, though I love the work of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, I take the same issues of authenticity with his work. In my mind, “made by the studio” does not equal “made by the artist”.

In 1994, Hirst curated the show, Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away, at the Serpentine Gallery in London, where he exhibited Away from the Flock (a sheep in a tank). In May, a disgruntled artist poured black ink into it, and was subsequently prosecuted, at Hirst's wish. The sculpture was restored at a cost of £1000.

How can Hirst philosophically deny the actions of another artist on his conceptual pieces? They are conceptual, constantly-changing, and continuously alive (even in their representation of death). Personally, I believe he should have left the work (as it was dyed by the offending artist) as a testament to the living nature of conceptual art and as a stab at the disgruntled artist that attempted to destroy it (by ironically contributing to it's ever-evolving creation, instead). – DN

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Time is closing-in... and this town isn't making it any easier on me

So... someone tried to steal my Land Rover out of my driveway Sunday night. Monday morning when I walked out of the house to drive my daughter to school – the hood was open, the silent alarm was activated and the transmission was locked-out. I was able to just pull a fuse and bypass the alarm with the original key so I could drive it around, yesterday. I was so grateful that it wasn't stolen that I didn't mess with getting it into the dealer for them to reset the computer, I just figured I had fixed it well enough to drive (I drove it all day yesterday without a problem) and I didn't want to waste a couple hundred dollars at the dealer.

This morning it would not start at all, and the horn alarm went off every time I tried to bypass it. So I yanked more fuses and unhooked the battery and then reconnected it, but still no luck. So I called the dealer and the service manager said, their was no way to bypass the alarm at this stage, because the Rover still believes it is being stolen, so I am now waiting on a $110 flatbed tow truck to come get it and take it to the dealer who can hopefully fix it by Friday… when I plan to move.

Time is closing-in, only a few days till the next big move. It’s been nearly a decade since I lived within proximity of extended family, so it is with mixed emotions that I return my children to the place of my birth. I want them to acquire the same loves I recall from my youth:

Open fields against the bastion of the Mark Twain National Forest. Dry-rub barbeque ribs from the Hickory Log restaurant. Saturday evenings eating deep fried catfish, frog-legs and cornbread, with a side of scratch flat dumplins. The slight accented language that is not too deep to drop, but still impossible to forget. The brief drive to neighboring Memphis in anticipation for an afternoon and evening of true blues music. Hot summer evenings in St. Louis cheering the Cardinals from a cheap nosebleed seat at the ballpark. Mostly, though I’ve come to miss that southern Midwest mentality that shares everything between neighbors without a thought of returned obligation.

I mentioned in a recent post that I felt:

There is a certain amount of solitary reward that emerges when one is left to ponder the merits of self-reliant resources in an environment not designed around the common acceptance of fine art.

I have now lived in both renowned art meccas as well as small hamlets that waste little time on the seemingly inconsequential. I found the art centers to be less inspiring; the business of art, in these places, to have little to do with the creative process. I look forward to returning to the small town environment, where living well does not always equal living wealthy. I cherish the opportunity the citizens grant me to make my art amongst their lives.

Mostly, though, I just look forward to the freedom of exploring the familiar places of my youth… so many years ago. - DN

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Land of Overreactions

SANTA FE, New Mexico (AP) -- Three CD players hidden under a cathedral's pews blared sexually explicit language in the middle of an Ash Wednesday Mass, leading a bomb squad to detonate two of the devices. Authorities determined the music players were not dangerous and kept the third one to check it for clues, said police Capt. Gary Johnson.

The CD players, duct-taped to the bottoms of the pews, were set to turn on in the middle of noon Mass on Wednesday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The recordings, made on store-bought blank discs, featured people using foul language and "pornographic messages," Johnson said. He would not elaborate because of the ongoing investigation.

Church staff members took the CD players to the basement and called police, who sent the bomb squad, Johnson said. The bomb squad blew up two players outside and kept the third one to test for fingerprints or DNA and trace its components, he said.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, which marks a 40-day period of fasting and penitence before Easter.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

They blew them up… definitely time to move. – DN

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Life is just a long commute.....

Life has been a bit crazy in preparation for my early-March move to the southern Midwest. My blog has been on the back-burner most days, while I finalized situations with galleries/museums, collectors and the family.

In this fast-paced word of instant information and unparalled travel capabilities; I have realized that the “travel artist” is confronted with nothing more than a long commute between the site-specific studio and the exhibition of works. It no longer seems a requirement for the visual artist to live in metropolitan centers to promote and exhibit work. Certainly, the “travel artist” may desire to live in such places for the purpose of artistic community or even urban influence; but it is no longer a necessity for survival.

There is a certain amount of solitary reward that emerges when one is left to ponder the merits of self-reliant resources in an environment not designed around the common acceptance of fine art. – DN

Friday, February 16, 2007

I Move In Two Weeks... But Tonight I Live My Final Time, In Santa Fe

A movie about Milli Vanilli is in the pipeline, according to reports emerging from Hollywood. The film will detail the rise and fall of the late-'80s duo, who became international stars only to be exposed as pop frauds.

Jeff Nathanson, writer of Catch Me If You Can, is understood to be behind the biopic, which has the backing of the group, claims the Daily Variety. Both Fabrice Morvan and the estate of Rob Pilatus, who died in 1998 of a drugs overdose, have apparently approved the project. Nathanson admitted to being "fascinated by the notion of fakes and frauds, and in this case, you have guys who pulled off the ultimate con." He describes Milli Vanilli, who sold 30 million singles and 11 million albums, as "the biggest laughing stocks of pop entertainment." The group was awarded a Best New Artist Grammy in 1990, only to be stripped of the award after it was revealed that they hadn't sung on their own recordings. – Yahoo News 2/15/2007 (Can be get more newsworthy than Yahoo?)

Everyone loves a good fraud story. Although my own idea of “how to become a master criminal” does not include dressing-up like a pop music flavor-of-the-month; I am intrigued by the concept of alter-egos. Over the past ten years, I’ve bleached my hair, gained and dropped substantial weight, worn only glasses, worn only contacts, worn my hair nearly shaved, and worn it past my shoulders. Inadvertently, these drastic physical changes have always coincided with relocation. Two weeks ago, I walked into the barber for the first time in two years. After some arguing, they were convinced that I was serious about ordering them to shave my full-beard and cut-off my curly eighteen inch locks in preparation for a return move to the south.

I don’t set-out to create these new personas, it just happens. Santa Fe is the type of place that encourages alternative styles and radical approaches; so it wasn’t long after moving here that I let myself “go with the flow” of the city. Is it fraudulent to look one way in a place such as the southern Midwest and like Grizzly Adams somewhere else? My paintings require a certain intimate knowledge of a region’s residents in order to recreate a visual impression of actual immersion in the area’s society. I search for those momentary opportunities to acquire the casual intimacy of everyday interactions with long-time residents. Being allowed into the comfort-zone of a society allows me to see the hidden gems of a landscape, as well as understand the reason why someone would spend a lifetime in only one place. In Santa Fe, I took the most radical approach yet to try and understand the people where I lived. This city contains the most drastic class differences, I have ever encountered. There is essentially no middle class, here. Everyone is either very wealthy or poor bordering on destitute. It is a trend that seems to be spreading across this country.

I reluctantly admit that with the rare occasional exception, I am preparing to move again and have primarily spent the last two years hobnobbing with the rich. It was with this realization that led me two months ago to take a minimum wage night job working the docks at FedEx. I wanted to understand why the “working poor” members of a community continue to stay within the region. I haven’t worked for minimum wage in G-d knows how many years (though sometimes, I believe teaching wasn’t too far a leap). The men I have worked with consist mostly of former military, are staunch Republican, and desperately in love with a place whose innocence they view only in memory. They live a daily fight with the illegals for work, while the wealthy outsiders (mostly transplants from LA and NY) decide their fate. Everyone has at least two jobs, though many have three. They utilize paid vacation time from one vocation to gain overtime in another. While on one hand I feel that I nearly missed the hidden truths of Santa Fe, I wonder if I had lived these interactions any sooner than I did – would I have been able to stomach the reality enough to stay on for two years? My affection for the high desert has been fickle and sporadic. I love the unending line of Chile-infused cuisine, but hate the soulless class-system. I adore the clear, cool night sky, but despise the constant fight for water rights among inhabitants of low-rising trees.

The following quote was passed on to me by my old friend, Gaelon:

The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people
who can write know anything.
Walter Bagehot
English economist & journalist (1826 - 1877

While I agree that it sums up the ongoing state of publishing, I dare say it encompasses all of creativity and the process of accurately representing life. I now know my recent crops of paintings searching for Utopia were directly inspired by these moments of harsh reality. Enduring freezing desert night temperatures in the open doorways with my fellow unionized dock workers, waiting for the seemingly endless line of trucks, unloading packages while discussing the loss of the city from their youth and the small joys they still garner from their family’s traditions and recipes.

Tonight is my last night of work, before the move. I believe I will miss the interactions I gathered from my minimum wage job, more than the collective whole of this state. The images it granted were of the true price of citizenship. This opportunity furthered my belief that it is essential for me to emulate the inhabitants of a place in order for my paintings to better present the mindset of the long-time resident. An action that is no more wrong than attempting to become like another man so that I may similarly comprehend the unique fight for love, hate and passion in that person. A painter, an actor, a fraud… all to become someone or something that can feel true? – DN

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Art... any way we can get it

Serbian village wants to erect a statue of Rocky Balboa as an inspiration to residents. "Zitiste has suffered serious damage from floods and landslides, earning it a reputation for being jinxed. Many of its residents have left the village in search of a better future." BBC 02/12/07

My friend, Ohio Greg, used to despise the mention of Bob Ross, not unlike my common reaction to Thomas Kinkade. I believe both artists to be the worst form of kitsch, as many of you have heard me spout intermittently throughout the past 300-some-odd blog posts. However a few years back, Greg changed his tune about Bob Ross’s “happy little trees” when he encountered an old woman at a University Museum exhibition, whom adored art and visited museums and galleries more regularly than even most professional artists could probably claim. She was in her early-eighties and wanted him to drop-by her home to see her collection of self-produced paintings. Greg scheduled an appointment and walked into a shrine to Bob Ross. After he lifted his jaw from the floor, she admitted that she was not much of a painter and it had taken years just for her to be able to copy Mr. Ross from the television; but she loved art so intensely and felt that if she could at least put paint to canvas she could for a moment understand the artists’ work she visits nearly everyday at the museums and galleries of Chicago. Years later, while discussing the strange encounter that threatened to tear the very fabric of the universe we understood; we agreed that if Bob Ross’s seductively influential afro allowed her this small moment of success – his work finally had a hint of respectability… or at the very least relevance. – DN

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


A well-known San Francisco street performer quits the city, saying it's changed. "When the $460 million expansion of the Westfield San Francisco Centre is positioned as a major cultural event, and the downtown landscape is redefined by a Four Seasons Hotel and the Apple store and other high-end establishments, it's inevitable that a lot of hand-to-mouth artists like Edward Jackson get forced out." - San Francisco Chronicle 02/11/07

If the elite of our society invest in art, where do the artists invest?

I’ve read for the last few years that the art market is flying high and making money like artists are printing it themselves. While I do alright, I haven’t seen the never-ending windfall that major galleries, city-centers or auctions claim. Is this just another case of the rich getting richer? Or the common moniker - one has to have money to make money? I tell people outside the art world that the typical gallery commission is 50% and their mouths hit the floor. I’m so used to the standard, I don’t even think twice about it. Now I don’t believe all galleries make huge profits; in fact I believe the fast majority spend most of their time trying to just keep their heads above water. On that same note, I also recognize from the artist’s standpoint – representation does not grant access to the golden goose. Profitability within the New York gallery and auction scene is rare and elusive. Even in Santa Fe, I can name a number of popular established artists that have abandoned the local bustling gallery scene, because their profits are better outside the structure. The average professional artist has to find solace with investing in their career over time.

I’m self-employed which translates to zero retirement fund. I choose not to get involved in the stock market (though I came pretty close a few months before the dotcom crash of the ‘90’s – WHEW!) Everything I have basically goes back into the art. It isn’t always the prettiest situation, but it is my own little way of investing in the future. I’ve mentioned before that I push myself to complete an average annual production of 200 paintings… that gives me a minimum of 8,000-10,000 pieces out in the world over a forty year period; with those kind of numbers something’s gotta give. - DN

Monday, February 12, 2007

Green... Over There

I knew my Land Rover needed new tires as well as a long-overdue rear brake-job for the vehicle, and I even had four beautifully aggressive Bridgestone Duelers on special order at Sears, but two weeks later… they still had not shown-up. Driving to Albuquerque on Friday, a steel belt broke in my rear passenger-side tire, actually pushing the broken strap’s metal strings through the sidewall. Thus, I spent the majority of my weekend at the tire shop.

The tire swap took three hours on Friday evening, because I had to wait around for them to receive four matching-spec Goodyear tires from their warehouse outside the city limits. Saturday, I returned for a four-and-a-half hour rear brake job that started at seven and ended at eleven-thirty. While I hate waiting for much of anything, I did treasure the idea of a few hours peace to think, read and generally ignore those around me. At five minutes to six that morning, I selected a great book to reread and walked-out the door.

The early morning repair brings out the most interesting human-assembly-line cast-offs. I am able to gather from intermittent cellular calls that the man next to me is a CPA feeling the pinch of the onset of his busiest season. Between distant conversations, he pours over a photocopied binder of updated tax-law; bouncing up and down in his faded blue running suit, he seems annoyed that he has to wait for others to work. The bleached-blond Hispanic woman across from me is more than slightly overweight, but still expensively-dressed. I noticed she drove a rather new Saturn SUV when she pulled-in to the parking lot. I only noticed the vehicle because I had wondered what kind of work a new car would demand. If I saw her out somewhere that would allow only a momentary glance, I wouldn’t assume much about her social standing, but here in this limbo called a waiting area, I simply see a woman reading Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and I am intrigued. I mention the name “Mr. Darcy” and her face lights-up. She has read the book eleven times, I find it interesting that she’s kept track. A moment later her mobile rings and she is consoling her nine-year-old daughter. It sounds as if the two of them continue to live with parents/grandparents and I wonder what events could have led to such a decision for a woman with expensive clothes, a new car and an interminable fascination with Jane Austin.

I turn again to my book and read from…“The Stars, the Snow, the Fire” by John Haines.

It is strange for me to find him here, so far from where I have been used to seeing him. It seems to me that there should be woodchips and straw on a plank floor, kindling and a pan of ashes by an iron stove. But the room is carpeted, neat and clean, and there is neither woodbox nor stove in the house.

I think back to the onslaught of the internet and the strange manner in which it allows casual connections of long lost friends; the ability to instantly recognize success and dismiss failure in acquaintances from our youth. Tommy has become a lawyer; Vin is a radiologists; Todd is a pharmaceutical research scientist; Hank is a physicist specializing in laser design. Tucker manages a bank; Melissa works as a marine biologist; Chad became a CPA; Craig is an electrical engineer; Jon does something that combines water conservation, engineering and consulting – I’m still not exactly sure what he does but I see from his “MySpace” page that he drives a newer Mercedes. I know of a few others working as professionals in their respective field, but the others… the non-success stories don’t typically make the “google-search” cut.

The woman reading her romantic comedy has left and a small man with pale rough skin is now sitting across from me working intently on a math problem spread over a series of spiral-topped notebooks. I ask him if he is a professor and he laughs. Then in a thick undeniably German accent he states that he works at Los Alamos National Labs. I momentarily wonder if he is allowed to bring his work home. He tells me that he is in town for a high school science fair, where his son is an entrant. He decided to have the car repaired while waiting on the judging. Like father, like son, I suppose. The news continuously tells me that America’s schools are falling behind the rest of the world, yet it seems as if nearly everyone I know is some sort of professional. The heart pulls the body where it needs to go. My parents wanted me to become an architect, instead I chose to paint my little pictures and do my best to change the world without too much interruption to my insatiable desires. As I prepare for yet another move, I wonder how much longer that sense of doing “the right job in the right moment” can last for any of us. I wonder if the grass over the next hill is ever greener than the plot I left behind. – DN

Friday, February 09, 2007

Opportunities, Moving and Fate?

I spent Wednesday morning in Albuquerque at Palette Contemporary making final arrangements for my upcoming show scheduled May 4th – June 30th, 2007. I need to drop by Home Depot this weekend for wood to build new shipping crates for my solo show at the Bill McIntosh Gallery in Billings, Montana scheduled April 2nd-May 1st, 2007.

Somewhere along the way, I have to remember to produce/select another thirty scrolls for this fall’s solo show at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka, California. I have over two dozen more paintings to post online, but lately time has been getting the better of me. My blog postings have dropped from daily to spotty; and somehow I passed my 300th post, last week and never realized it.

In more pressing news, we decided not to take the studio/house I posted last week; but we did purchase a similar one only a few days ago - so having said that… it’s now once again time to relocate. I plan on being out of New Mexico no later than the first week of March. I have a solo show at the Margaret Harwell Art Museum, in southeast Missouri, December 2007 and have the rather daunting task of producing fifty large scrolls (7ft) specifically for the exhibition. As always I prefer to make the works site-specific (hence the life of a travel artist), so we have decided to move to the area. Our new studio/house is located in the southern region of the state, specifically in the town of Dexter, where I was born and which is only roughly thirty miles from where I was actually raised. It’s a rather strange feeling returning to the space I occupied as a child. It’s been fifteen years since I left home and seven since I lived anywhere remotely close. In an ironic twist of fate, I learned only last night that the house I recently purchased is on the same street as the house in which I was born. Fannetta Street, it seemed like such a familiar name; but I couldn’t imagine where else I would have heard such an strange word. Fate is an odd little bitch, but I must admit she always keeps life interesting. – DN

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Leave to Learn

Teaching in the U.S. recently, playwright Mark Ravenhill encountered a Christian student who was allowed to opt out of course material he found objectionable on the basis of his Christian beliefs. It's not just an American phenomenon, Ravenhill says; it's happening in the U.K., too. "Surely the university should declare itself a liberal organisation, and insist that those joining it must abide by its liberal values? ... There should be no opt-outs when it comes to culture." The Guardian (UK) 02/05/07

Is the act of learning - by it's very nature a "liberal-only" concept? I've never heard colleges or professors labeled as anything else (and always in a derogatory sense). I proudly proclaim myself as liberal on the majority of issues. I believe in unbarred free speech, etc; but is the very act of self-improvement “liberal”?

Why go to college, visit a library or even travel – if you have no interest in opening your mind to new ideas? Why leave home if your moral compass is incapable of adjusting its factory settings? While I feel it is noble to uphold one’s beliefs of their youth; I tend to hold more respect for a person that makes a conscious choice towards a system of ethical, religious and philosophical ideals after studying and experiencing concepts foreign to the initial upbringing. If a person searches outside the world of their youth and still finds their comfort zone back where they started – than at least their life hasn’t been wasted, because they made their own choices, rather than having them dictated by another power.

I hold similar feelings toward viewing art and the process of art-making. If one holds a preference for one form over another, that’s fine – obviously, I hope that a large number of people choose my style over that of fellow artists. These preferences decide movements, establish collectors and breed exhibitions and ultimately sales. However, I realize that a person mesmerized by barn paintings on saw-blades is less likely to view and appreciate the nuances of my own paintings if the saw-blades kitsch they dearly love is their only exposure to the art world. Similarly, if an art student spends their entirety in a program focused on conceptual and kinetic structured art, what knowledge will they have regarding an appreciation of rudimentary (yet vital) painting and drawing techniques. The building blocks of aesthetic techniques and ideas are equally as important, today, as the upholding of free-thinking religion and civil rights to our modern society. – DN

Monday, February 05, 2007

Aesthetic Eco-System

Some of the most beautiful works of art humans make aren't found in museums but out in the real world; so maybe a car should win for best piece of contemporary art? The Observer (UK) 02/04/07

Click here to read the entire piece.

While the above article primarily concerns itself with the beauty of modern cars; I wonder if the same theory can be put forward for other examples of modern technology. The majority of Apple’s products over the last ten years have been breathtaking in their simplistic color schemes and use of minimalist lines. Is this type of appreciation for the aesthetic quality of everyday objects, an evolution of the basic premise behind Duchamp’s Dadaism (the art we love to hate)?

In 1998, the Guggenheim held a successfully received exhibit titled “The Art of the Motorcycle”; in this ongoing onslaught of industrial and commercial art, where does the lone painter fit-in? How does the painter find continued relevance in the information age? Replicating the trend of innumerable religious groups down through the ages, small bands of artists (including some I’ve mentioned here recently – wink, wink… nod, nod) have taken the stance of refusing the acceptance of socially-influenced artistic progress and intellectual growth. How long can these artists stand against progress? What achievement is made on the painting front without a common recognition of multiple art forms? From a financial standpoint, I would be screwed if every artist in the world were to decide to drop their respective mediums to pick-up the brush. I’m grateful for the ideas I can cull from my exposure to fellow sculptors, architects, industrial designers and conceptual artists. We are all part of a greater aesthetic eco-system that feeds the artistic needs of one another. – DN

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize

Rush Limbaugh has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; for the first time in my life I am actually considering a belief in Armageddon. Click here to read the article. - DN