Thursday, March 30, 2006

Time to Renew

What magazines do you read? Professionally, I read ArtForum, Art in America and New American Paintings. A few years ago, my favorite of art periodicals stopped production – New Art Examiner. It was the Midwestern-America answer to the international perspective of ArtForum (although, I believe ArtForum is more LA-influenced, these days). I subscribed to ArtCalendar for a year, but the horribly-written articles and piss-poor marketing advice grated on my nerves a little too much. By the time my subscription ran out, I was prepared to commit an act of eco-terrorism on my mailbox, due to the innumerable articles in the magazine promoting a marketing scheme based purely on “painting to the market”. That deep and intuitive advice was right at home with the editor’s endless supply of contrived choices for cover art and heart-shaped bullet points. Finally, all of the “exhibition opportunity listings” (the reason anyone subscribes at all) are easily available for free online.

I’m debating taking on a subscription to Modern Painters. It used to be a pay-to-be-shown vanity magazine, but was bought-out a few years back and has been making some interesting headway in the legitimate art world. I may just continue to cheat and read it (in the café at Borders) for a few more months before making any decisions – it’s $56/year which makes it hard to commit to a subscription although its not as bad as the insane amount of $80/year for ArtForum.

Under the heading of muse - my subscription to Montana Outdoors is forwarded to my studio in Santa Fe; which always causes a rollercoaster of mixed emotions when it arrives in the mail. As much as I love the high desert, there really is no comparison to the sense of instant belonging I feel each time I cross the Montana state line. I’m also an avid fan of National Geographic, particularly the regular “ZipUSA” column; something I’ve mentioned in previous posts with both love and regret for the editing decisions.

I still pick-up the occasional Paris Review. It was the Paris Review that first introduced me to the writings of Rick Bass via his short story Her First Elk. I have considered a subscription to the book for ten years, but always recoil from the idea when I read the list of “donors” which is a “Who’s Who” of elitist. I wouldn’t mind anyone from that list buying MY work or even having the occasional person believe I am part of that club… but I don’t want to ever actually BE elitist. Look at what it did to Truman Capote (granted he had multiple issues but the elitism definitely was the stimuli). It just seems that once you cross that line and become one of their gang, you lose the option to leave and return to your true-self. - DN

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Teaching Blind Obedience

Judge: Teachers Don't Have Free Speech In Class

A judge rules that American teachers "do not have a right under the First Amendment to express their opinions with their students during the instructional period. The judge ruled that school officials are free to adopt regulations prohibiting classroom discussion of the war." The Progressive 03/24/06

When I taught High School, I often held frank and open discussions in my classes. It was practically my trademark. I wanted to hear students’ opinions on politics, war and ethics. At the same time I always made it clear where I stood on such matters. While I did not expect them to agree with me or anyone else – I did demand that they take the time to try and understand the unique perspective of each person.

It is ridiculous for a judge or school administration to say that they employ a person for their knowledge but not for the opinions that shaped their understanding. How could I teach art, without teaching inspiration? My inspiration is literature, philosophy and religion – all of which have political inferences and implications.

So when I produced a scroll painting depicting a harsh landscape interacting with symbols of personal survival during preparation for war and a student saw this work and asked about it – they were told the truth behind my motivation. I can’t tell you how many times a student would accuse me of being Left-Wing or Right-Wing and I’d have to clarify that the label is meaningless when the two representative parties are so similar. This would inevitably lead to a lesson on Plato’s approach to rulers, which in modern terms basically states – if they want the power so bad that they spend $40million to win a $150k/year job – they’re just in it for the power and not the best choice to honestly rule the people.

For the most part I had a largely positive response from students in my classes, because they always knew how I felt about real-life issues. Teenagers are very opinionated and not shy about giving it. They usually respond best to adults that they recognize as also having and projecting strong opinions, with a bit of life-experience thrown-in for good measure. Don't silence the teachers just because they encourage children to think, rather than blindy follow. - DN

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Muse from Literature is Often Based on Life

"A Wisp of Gossamer, About the Size and Substance of a Spider's Web" – Monica Baldwin in her autobiography - I Leap over the Wall

In 1941, Monica Baldwin left the convent she had lived in for 28 years. If you want to know why some people shut themselves up in religious communities, and can spend more than 20 years working out why they made a mistake, this book will supply plenty of answers. Moving from the midwest Ozark hills of my youth to the glorious Rockies of northern Montana changed my perspective of this nation.

Above is the scroll painting I did based on her story as it affected me and my journey to Montana – DN

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Spirtual Journey is No Picnic

I spoke last evening to my lone remaining college friend, Hank. He is making plans for retirement, something that sends a chill down my spine. I’m happy for his success. As a military officer and research scientist, he’s definitely earned the opportunity for quiet happiness. But our discussion reminded me of an episode of the television show Northern Exposure, when the free-loving, Harley-riding “Chris-in-the-Morning” learned that he had to start taking blood-pressure medicine. The news nearly destroyed him, because it made him face the reality of maturity. Sure, his character was basically the town guru and a notorious learner of everything psychological and metaphysical, but even with all this knowledge, he never really imagined he would grow old. That is how I feel; I honestly never believed I would live this long.

Somewhere in the past few years my life seems to have taken a turn from “just living” to “Spiritual Journey”. But the possibilities of my "Spiritual Journey" are a little daunting because people like Kerouac, Emerson and Thoreau just don't come across as joyful once they had the opportunity to bask in the results of their great search. Some of my friends have said my change had to do with teaching urban poor in St. Louis, others point to over-exposure to the harsh beauty of Montana. Personally, I blame my children.

I grew-up without much understanding of enlightenment or spiritual quests. My parents and church leaders told me what to believe and I followed – it was just easier that way. Now though, I am older, married and have three children; the oldest of which is an eight-year-old girl. Something shocking occurred when she was born – I became a feminist. It was pretty-much an immediate reaction. While holding her in my arms at church, I looked around and for the first-time realized the ramifications of the Apostle Paul’s male-centered style of worship. I was horrified by the notion that mankind could be arrogant enough to place a limit upon her potential. For this reason, my primary motivation with raising my daughter has been based on insuring that she has all the available opportunities to prove her value above the traditional expectations of society. However, my two young sons have summoned another reaction. I have innumerable questions about this life the most important being the ever-clichéd, but simply asked question of “Why?” I have utter trepidation at the thought of not being able to answer my sons when they ask questions of a metaphysical nature. I never want them to feel my sense of loss while thrashing in the wind of deeper contemplation.

After many years of exposure to unflattering examples of worldly-measured success; I have adjusted my focus to the self-exploration of religion, philosophy and literature for examples of purpose in this life. This has inevitably led to anger and hurt feelings amongst those friends and family from my past that take my unique approach to life as a form of disrespect to their own choices. It is my estimation, as a father, that I should want my children to succeed beyond my own level. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson that said – “We are farmers, so that our sons may be teachers, so that their sons may be artists”. But I was raised in the southern Midwest and the thought of success is often wrongly gauged. Garrison Keillor is not far off the mark when he spins his stories of Lake Wobegon and alludes to the mediocrity of Midwestern expectations. I’m not too sure that those whom knew me in my youth are not just awaiting my return to their “way of thinking”.

So as my search for significance continues I approach new questions. Can one return to the place where the original insignificant decisions were nurtured and somehow retain the new outlook on life as well? Can a person leave home, find meaning and return to the old place, without falling back into the old life? Will the old acquaintances allow this return on new terms, or will there be resentment that can not be overcome? Furthermore, will I ever find out if the return on my own terms is feasible? Each journey to answer questions of existence seems to only bring new inquiries that quietly gnaw away at me demanding a new search, in a new place, for resolution. - DN

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How to Best Use Our Traditional Arts

I watched a beautiful foreign film on Tuesday, titled – “Himalaya”. It was released a couple years ago and I believe it may have been an Academy award nominee in the Foreign Film category. On the surface the movie is the story of a Tibetan tribe torn between an allegiance to an old chief and a well-loved upstart, attempting to take control. However, the actual heart of the story was revealed near the end of the film – it was the story of a Lama trained to paint and pray in traditional fashion without any regard for change or outside inspiration.

In the film, the Lama “took a journey” through the world and returned to the monastery to paint his inspiration. The new paintings told stories of survival and change in a difficult world.

While my own work draws heavily from Asian influences both in painting and philosophy; I have always felt emptiness to the beautiful yet unfulfilling motifs of traditional Buddhist paintings – such as Tibetan sand painting. I’m sure my ego-centric Western Civilization approach to life makes assumptions of waste when viewing the selfless paintings of traditional Asia – but how can I fully respect those influences while continuing my own journey along their path? The Beat Generation more often than not seemed to miss the ‘dharma boat’ due to a lack of discipline, yet at the same time it was the “lack of discipline” which offered the first alternative entry into the strict eastern perspective of Zen and Taoist thought for the rest of us.

The authentic American problems faced by Kerouac’s characters and genuine friends are the meaty-references we need to further our own understanding of enlightenment while surrounded by the intrusions of the “information age” and the western life in general.

Just like the Tibetan Lama in the film, “Himalaya” – we must utilize the traditional as a tool for interpreting the common place tribulations facing society. – DN

Monday, March 20, 2006

Art for Profit or Profit from Art

Vettriano: Who Cares About Critics?

Jack Vettriano's paintings are wildly popular with the public, and his work fetches huge prices. But he takes a workman's attitude to art: "It's wall decoration for me, I don't regard it as this big meaningful thing. My subjects are men and women getting off, that's all. Mind you, some people don't think sex is serious, but I happen to think it's terribly serious."
Scotland on Sunday 03/19/06

I touched on Vettriano, a bit, in an earlier post. This guy is interesting because he is shameless in his straightforward honesty of “just trying to make a buck”. Of course he is making plenty of pesos while the rest of us fight for breath, makes you wonder who is smarter? – DN

Sunday, March 19, 2006

When does an artist make his ideas "public domain" for the sake of the greater movement?

Picasso's Daughter says, “They're Fake!”

Maya Widmaier-Picasso, the artist's daughter, who authenticates his work, says that drawings sold on Costco are not by him. "Those two works, photographs of which were shown to her by The New York Times, were offered by the dealer with certificates in French saying that Ms. Widmaier-Picasso had authenticated them. Pointing to anomalies in the certificates — grammatical errors, wording that departed from her style, handwriting that did not match hers and the placement of words on the page — the artist's daughter said both documents were forgeries." The New York Times 03/18/06

This is an obvious attempt at forgery of a famous artist’s work for profit… I won’t even get into the ridiculous nature of a cost-saving-club and big-box-store being involved.

However this occurs at a very interesting moment in the modern “information age”. The publishing world is inundated with issues of plagiarism and misrepresentations. It now seems to have spread into the art world. Forgery has certainly always been an issue for artists – but now Picasso is being forged and this is a man that prided his thieving tendencies with the following phrases:

  • If there is something to steal, I steal it!
  • Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.
  • Bad artists copy. Great artists steal!

So by his words what do these actions of forgery really say? Are we at such a loss artistically that pseudo-collectors will pay $39k for Picasso drawings, when they could get an entire collection of work by contemporary artists for only a portion of that sum?

Forgery though, is not the real issue of importance to me – as a working artist of as-yet-undiscovered consequence. I have built a body of work upon a foundation of themes, style and unique material presentation. My immediate reaction to anyone taking these ideas (which I have cultivated) and using them to present their own work – is that this act is an abomination. I undeniably stole many of the basic principals of materials and style from the ancient Chinese and Japanese cultures; but at the same time I nurtured the primary roots of these cultures to produce a new breed of “hanging scrolls” and Sumi-e style. I found a manner of establishing modern relevance in the ancient styles via modern or local site-specific materials (such as my Tamrisk sticks harvested from the Rio Grande) and hand-made inks (my recipes are of my own creation and the mixtures are known only to me).

So if I consider the acquisition of these ideas by other artists “an abomination” – how do I defend my notion of formulating an aggressive and relevant art movement? How else can an art movement exist except with the open rule of distribution – without limits? Under what circumstances is the liberation of intellectual property good? I know better than to naively believe Michelangelo single-handedly created his style of realism during the Renaissance. Likewise, years later – I know that not all the artists of the Impressionism movement cleared their designs with Manet (often considered the father of the movement), prior to executing a painting.

So the question is this:

When faced with the beginning acts of the institutional acquisition of my ideas and style by other artists – How should I react in a manner keeping with the concepts of initiating a new art movement? – DN

Friday, March 17, 2006


Indeed in general I hold that there is nothing truer than happiness and nothing happier and sweeter than truth. (Leibniz, 1670)

Hemingway’s most recent “unfinished” novel that hit the stands a few years back was titled, True at First Light. (Ironically, I question whether the book was anything but "true".)

In the eighties, the one-hit-wonder band, Spandau Ballet, produced the song True. Here is a sampling of the lyrics:

With a thrill in my head and a pill on my tongue,
Dissolve the nerves that have just begun.
Listening to Marvin all night long.
This is the sound of my soul. (This is the sound)

Always slipping from my hands,
Sand's a time of it's own.
Take your seaside arms and write the next line,
Oh, I want the truth to be known.......

One of my favorite lines from the film Wonder Boys was when the greatness of James Leer’s unpublished novel was simply described as “true”. (James Leer was the Tobey Maguire character – the newest member of the “Wonder Boy” club.)

Why are so many people searching for truth? Isn’t it something that should be fairly obvious to find? If something is actually “true”, it should be anything but hidden. I’m sure that’s why there is only one true religion, right? That’s why the last two President elections have been landslides, am I correct? That’s why everyone makes the same type of art, eh?

TRUE - the meaning seems pretty straightforward. So maybe what complicates it is more the insinuation or essence of the word rather than the basic direct meaning. What implications are set-up by describing a feeling or object as “true”? What are we saying about ourselves when we describe something as “true”? How does this reflect in our personal philosophy for life and work?

“True” is one of my two favorite words, the other one is “lovely”… but more on that one later. - DN

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Films that Inspire

Continuing on the topic of inspiration - this morning, I was thinking about films and their influence. Born in the seventies and raised during the John Hughes eighties, I am naturally a child of popular culture. I watched a LOT of television in my youth. I was in elementary school when VHS began to be the standard in homes and weekend movie rentals first started. I remember the first video store in my town of 19,000. I even remember my friend, Howard Short, mostly because his dad owned a Beta machine and had to rent a VHS player, just to watch rented movies.

I list a number of films that I enjoy on my blogger profile. Oddly enough, none of them fall too heavily in the “inspiration” category. Sure “Pollock” and “Life Lessons” are great to watch when you need to do something to get motivated; but they don’t do much for me personally in terms of defining my muse.

The films that changed my outlook on life are typically the ones that affected my notion of travel.

- Shane (This was my father’s favorite film, I still remember the first time I saw the Grand Tetons in person, at the age of 29).

- A River Runs Through It (I actually saw the film, before reading the book)

- Off the Map (I have long been infatuated with simplicity, but this made it seem more than just right – it made the movement seem like a necessary part of life)

- Italian for Beginners (An odd choice… it was shot like a documentary but with acting and distinct narrative, the premise is multicultural understanding; Dutch adults learning Italian, with English subtitles, and somehow not confusing)

- The Good Life (no not the 1970’s BBC comedy; but rather a 1997 Documentary made in Wales about people leaving London to live simply in the Welsh countryside)

Kind of a reoccurring “back to nature” theme, throughout, with a bit of understanding for those of different cultures and societies tossed in for balance.

I know there are many more, but this is just off the top of my head. What films inspire your muse? - DN

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


NPR has a good story regarding Christo, Jeanne-Claude and their latest project: a plan to horizontally suspend panels of fabric in a rural setting over sections of the Arkansas River in central Colorado. It seems that everytime these two do a project, there is a group ready to protest it.

Click Here to read more about it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Using your Muse

If the word "inspiration" is to have any meaning,' TS Eliot wrote, 'it must mean just this, that the speaker or writer is uttering something that he does not wholly understand - or which he may even misinterpret when the inspiration has departed from him.' Eliot has a slight doubt about whether the word has any meaning, or any meaning now, because inspiration is something that only originally made sense in a religious context. If you are a religious believer of any denomination you know, or at least you have words for, where your inspiration comes from, however mysterious it may seem; and you may even have an idea about what you can do to invoke it - make sacrifices, do ritual incantations, live ascetically, take drugs, sit down at your desk at the same time every morning, and so on. But for the more secular-minded there is not much language to talk about inspiration without beginning to sound a bit mystical, reliant on some powerful source or force that can't quite be named but can't quite be ignored. – The Observer (UK), 3/12/2006

I believe now would be a good time to clarify my “search for enlightenment” concept. My own work is directed toward the landscape and its social implications from a philosophical and religious viewpoint. This does not diminish the importance of individual models and the like as they may equally serve the need of “muse/inspiration” for an artist. Majority of my early work in and after college was centered on the representation of my wife. It is simply my present choice to go for the landscape as the most easily identifiable subject (muse) in my work.

I believe the “search” aspect of the Post-Beat Movement is indifferent to the subject of the work. The process of creation is, in essence, a process of discovery of the subject. This discovery regardless of whether it is positive or negative will lead to some form (major or minor) of enlightenment. If the process of creating new work does not bring new discoveries – then it is time to reevaluate your process and subject and try a new path. - DN

Monday, March 13, 2006

Basic Principles of a Post-Beat Movement

Originally, I began this post as a reply to the great comment by Greg Humes on the “Post-Beat Movement” post. After thinking about the importance of some of the observations, I decided to turn it into a regular post for everyone.

Like all movements I perceive mine as the one to "end all movements" (one has to imagine Charlton Heston's voice booming down from Mt. Sinai, as those words are read).

But I take that stance from the perspective of generally ignoring stylistic influence and control. I believe most serious artists involved "in the great search" are process-oriented and already fulfilling the basic-requirements of the movement – which is in essence the “search for enlightenment”, however it may present itself. I’m just calling the “process” a “movement” and giving the “movement” a title for issues of permanence.

I agree with Greg Hume’s statement that essentially said Picasso was interesting, because he wasn’t held to a comfort zone. Ironically, I make the following statement on my own website:

The best description of my artwork is the following quote from Ben Shahn - "I believe if it were left to artists to choose their own labels, most would choose none."

While I believe the work is greater than the era or the place in which it was created; I realize there must be certain steps taken (without encroaching upon individual style) in order for the work to survive beyond the time of just the artist or originating individual collector. These steps, I perceive, to include belief in the following:

1. The process as the most important stage of the work; placed higher in importance than the completed artwork or even the individual artist.

2. Belief in the process as the search for fulfilling the muse. This in itself is unique to the individual artist. It can be peace, transcendence, clarification – whatever form takes the muse of the artwork to the level of distinction beyond both itself and the artist.

3. A first-person narrative vision of the work from production to completion. This personalizes the descriptive perception of the work as translated in literature, visual and performance arts and music.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Edward Abbey

I've been on a bit of an Edward Abbey kick, lately. I'm sure it has something to do with my new home, this desert where Abbey worshiped a god of his own making - life.

"Beneath each stone I find more stone; under the skirts of beauty I find only her delicious thighs; peeling an onion to the core I end up with nothing but the perfect complement to my hot skillet of fried eggs, diced chiles and hashbrown turnips. Appearance is reality, I say, and more than most of us deserve. You whine and whimper after immortality beyond space-and-time? Come home, for God's sake, and enjoy this gracious Earth of ours while you can. You tell me that that pretty girl yonder, lifting her dress to wade into the stream of love, is really nothing but a transient vortex of organic energy? You can sit here and tell me that? Okay, you contemplate the underlying relationships; I'll take the girl." - Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

God, I love diced chiles. - DN

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Post-Beat Movement

Like many of my contemporaries (well, those that bother to study art history beyond the required college courses); I have an equal affection for both Raphael and the Pre-Raphaelites. Now considering how much time and effort the Pre-Raphaelites put into disparaging artists like Raphael… that’s quite a conundrum. But this is a perfect example of the cliché: ‘Hindsight is 20/20’. I can observe both of the previous mentioned movements from a rather safe distance and draw from them what I need to continue my own personal growth as a painter.

But who do I look to more recently as inspiration? I have stated before that I feel a new movement needs something stronger than just an exact individual style to hold it together - to sustain itself as a movement of enduring significance. Personally speaking, I have put a tremendous amount of effort into developing my own very unique style and handmade inks/paints. I am guarded about the exact recipe of my mixing formulas and even as to the specific manner in which I apply paint to paper. The purpose of this secrecy is the fact that I have spent a number of years developing my work and style and I would prefer that someone else didn’t come along and copy my process and whip out some competition. The art market is cut-throat; my unique style is my edge. So from both a guarded position and a realistic approach I realize that relying purely on style as a measure of direction for a new “art movement” will eventually be its undoing. The path to a new movement is in essence the path to enlightenment. The current status of the art world is “Contemporary” which is nothing more than a universal avoidance of the real issues at hand. Everyone everywhere is finding their niche in former artistic styles and creating their own comfort zones. These comfort zones may or may not include making a profit. I’ve been witness to artists that lock themselves into this dodge zone after the first sale.

Even the non-conformist artists that express themselves through new electronic media or anti-art conceptual projects are just rehashing the Dadaists via updated materials. The art world is in recycle mode and we must choose to step out of line.

My choice has been to pursue the path of the Beat writers. Most modern narrative travel writers would no doubt admit the influence of Beat artists such as Kerouac and Ginsberg. Furthermore, twentieth century philosophers such as Alan Watts (who was in conflict with the Beat generation, but so valuably acted as the Yin to their Yang) are markers in the path to enlightenment. There is no one true way in life, just as there is not a specific correct path in making art. We can look at previous artists, poets and philosophers as an indication of the path that will take us off the interstate of mediocrity and on to the blue highways of elucidation and revelation. - DN

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My Evolution

I have slowly begun to wrap my Midwestern mind around the concept of evolution. I guess one could say I have evolved to the idea.

I was raised to believe that dinosaurs were make-believe and those that promoted them were liars that wasted their college-years studying something that never existed, but were “in too deep” once they graduated, so they kept the story going in order to have gainful employment. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well just remember that the next time you vote for a religious right-wing conservative.

George Dubya doesn’t believe in evolution, yet in his speeches to stir public fear of the Avian”Bird” Flu he promotes the fact that it can evolve into a strain that jumps species into humans and could ‘become’ resistant to drugs. Sounds like evolution to me, George.

… but this post isn’t really about the biological evolution of the planet. This is about evolution as a general concept.

Recently, I was thinking back, trying to figure out where my ‘asian-influenced’ style started. In 2000, I began teaching art at an inner-city St. Louis school. My students ranged in ages from five to fifteen. Across the board, they were quite talented artistically, but the majority of them could not read (it was actually worse for the older students). This faced me with two major problems:

1. I worship knowledge and reading is one of the best ways I have found to introduce myself to foreign concepts (as well as how I encourage students to grasp new ideas).

2. I was required by my school administration to encourage reading/writing skills in my art lessons.

After a few months of beating my head against the wall, I resolved these problems by teaching the students Chinese calligraphy. They learned how to form words, then stories. It was drawing, not ‘writing’ – in the conventional sense. They took to it immediately. They loved the ink and wanted to illustrate their stories – hence, we began intensive lessons on Japanese Sumi-e painting.

Three years later, I found myself living in Montana, at the doorstep of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains. I was trained as a photo-realist painter and had spent the last few years breaking the barriers that presented. I instantly hated the ‘traditional Western Art’ of the region. I appreciated and understood the heritage of the style – but I could not tolerate the legions of followers that continued to try and ‘make a buck’ off 100-year-old-ideas. The mountains and rivers encouraged me to reread the ancient Taoist and Zen poets. Suddenly the land around me was within the same universe as the mountains and alpine lakes described by Li Po, Po Chu-I and Cold Mountain. I left my pencils in the drawer, picked-up ink and brush and went to work amidst the mountains and prairies. The first eighteen months were a mesh of hundreds of ‘black & white-only’ works. I experimented with handmade papers and discarded every semblance of preliminary sketches. After I felt a re-mastery of my skills under the tutelage of sky and brush, I ventured back into an exploration of monochromatic color.

The first of my small scrolls soon followed as a succession of intensity developed from my increasing interaction with land and people. Symbols were created as stand-in representations for my children and the places I wanted to protect for their love. After two years I was ready to move south and explore the cultures of societies further down the face of the Rocky Mountains. Although still under the shadow of the Rockies’ influence, I have found the people of New Mexico to be an open and unrestrictive citizenry - joyful and comfortable with the sharing of their culture. My scrolls quickly grew larger in direct relation to my growing love for the region. Beyond just size, my work here has equally flourished in response to the amazing high desert light. It flows like blood across the sky with each setting of the evening sun and the commitment of the ever-present night constellations is the world’s lone miracle to a man that has trouble with faith. - DN

Monday, March 06, 2006

Kincade fans prove via idiotic statements that ignorance truly is bliss

I have been trying to understand what makes one a fan of Thomas Kincade and all I can come up with is blind ignorance. Below are some examples of actual statements by fans of Thomas Kincade “The Painter of Light”.

- "It's mainstream art, not art you have to look at to try to understand, or have an art degree to know whether it's good or not," said Mike Koligman, a longtime fan who with his wife owns Kinkade galleries in San Diego and Utah.

- Karen de la Carriere feels the same way. Framed Kinkades fill her living room walls and have transformed a long hallway into a veritable gantlet of glowing lithographs. Kinkade's art is both a personal passion and a business for the Los Angeles resident, who deals in the resale market for Kinkades, selling more than $25,000 of his works each month on eBay and her website.

"This is God-given talent," she said of a favored print, "Sierra Evening Majesty," with its snowy peaks, red-gold skies and smoke wisping from a cabin chimney. "He is a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci or Monet. There is no one in our generation who can paint like that."

I assume the majority of his market is based around his “born-again Christian” values. But it seems that is just a marketing ploy as well…

In litigation and interviews with the Los Angeles Times, some former gallery owners depict Kinkade, 48, as a ruthless businessman who drove them to financial ruin at the same time he was fattening his business associates' bank accounts and feathering his nest with tens of millions of dollars.

Kinkade — whose solely owned Thomas Kinkade Co. is based in Morgan Hill, Calif. — denies these allegations.

- Last month, however, a three-member panel of the American Arbitration Assn. ordered his company to pay $860,000 for defrauding the former owners of two failed Virginia galleries. That decision marks the first major legal setback for Kinkade, who won three previous arbitration claims. Five more are pending.

It's not just Kinkade's business practices that have been called into question. Former gallery owners, ex-employees and others say his personal behavior also belies the wholesome image on which he's built his empire.

- In sworn testimony and interviews, they recount incidents in which an allegedly drunken Kinkade heckled illusionists Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas, cursed a former employee's wife who came to his aid when he fell off a barstool, and palmed a startled woman's breasts at a signing party in South Bend, Ind.

- And then there is Kinkade's proclivity for "ritual territory marking," as he called it, which allegedly manifested itself in the late 1990s outside the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

"This one's for you, Walt," the artist quipped late one night as he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure, said Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Kinkade's company, in an interview.

- In testimony and interviews with The Times, Sheppard and other former employees said they often went with Kinkade to strip clubs and bars, where he frequently became intoxicated and out of control.

John Dandois, Media Arts Group's senior director of retail operations from 1995 to 1999, testified in a hearing that the artist was a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde character, whose behavior worsened as the alcohol flowed.

"Thom would be fine, he would be drinking, and then all of a sudden, you couldn't tell where the boundary was," he said. "And then he became very incoherent, and he would start cussing and doing a lot of weird stuff."

Dandois, who left the company to become chief executive of a group of galleries owned by Kinkade's brother, Patrick, recounted that about six years ago the artist was so intoxicated during a performance by Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas that people seated nearby moved away from him.

"I think it was Roy or Siegfried or whatever had a codpiece in his leotards," Dandois testified. "And so when the show started, Thom just started yelling, 'Codpiece, codpiece,' and had to be quieted by his mother and Nanette."

And the true proof that this guy is an ass…
"He approached [her] and he palmed her breasts and he said, 'These are great tits!' " Ernie Dodson, another Cote employee, told The Times, adding that he drank no alcohol that night. "I was just standing in the corner in amazement. It was like, holy cow!"

The woman whom Kinkade allegedly fondled confirmed to The Times that he touched her breasts without her consent. She spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she was embarrassed and concerned for her family's privacy.

"She let out a yelp and backed away," Kopec said. "That's when I knew he had actually touched her."

Kinkade testified in a deposition that excessive drinking and "some normal rowdy talk" had taken place, but when confronted with the groping allegation, he denied touching the woman.

"But you've got to remember," he said, "I'm the idol to these women who are there. They sell my work every day, you know. They're enamored with any attention I would give them. I don't know what kind of flirting they were trying to do with me. I don't recall what was going on that night."

Maybe this guy knows that he has become a hack and is trying to throw some nutty behavior in the mix “seem artistic”. -DN

Friday, March 03, 2006

Where is the Outrage

My latest issue of the National Geographic magazine arrived in the mail, yesterday. I'm sure it should have been here a week or more ago - but Santa Fe mail is famously bad.

I immediately turned to my favorite section, in the back of the magazine - "Zip USA". Maybe I enjoy its similarities to Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways and anything by Charles Kuralt; or maybe I just like meeting new people and cultures as they look on paper – hence my subscription.

So there I was reading the article about a wealthy Houston subdivision and its ‘ladies of stature’ - as written by an obviously enamored ‘non-journalist’. I was appalled at the decadence. The heart of the story revolved around the “grande dame of Houston’s elite” which is “a woman of a certain age, but she looks great: She’s still blonde, still appears at charity galas, and is still featured in the pages of Vogue and W.” She is a billionaire. She is also the wife of Oscar Wyatt – recently indicted in the UN oil-for-food scandal. One look at the full-page photo of her in smiling regal glory and anyone can tell she is unfazed by the ethical dilemma.

Another woman is a former litigator that made her money as a trial lawyer in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case – defending Exxon! My personal favorite was a former publicist that married a billionaire (that is actually the majority of the candidates’ claim to fame) and is now known for throwing the most extravagant fetes where “the chic are fussed over, the overweight not permitted…”

Meanwhile, across town I’m sure life is no different for the working class… or maybe it is just like Santa Fe, where I hang my hat and toss the occasional ‘fete’. Maybe the Houston wealthy, like my neighboring Santa Fe citizens, hire the massive illegal immigrant population to do their day-labor (construction, gardening, etc) for an average rate of $13/day.

In two previous states, before stepping-up to self-employment in Santa Fe, my wife and I were teachers. Both college-educated spouses with three young children, working in the education field and we qualified for government assistance (though our pride refused to allow us to accept it). We have since pulled ourselves up from the “poverty of working in public education” to where we are now – self-employed. I am an artist and she is a speech-pathologist. We have become our own American dream – and neither of us married for money. Where is our story in National Geographic magazine?

Better yet; where is the story of the migrant illegal workers? The reality of their story is the very fact that they are ‘not counted’. The most recent US Census states 76% of Santa Fe is white, yet they refuse to count the additional 40% of the actual population that are non-white illegals – because they are illegal. My Midwest upbringing would typically make me believe that these immigrants should do everything possible to ‘become citizens’. Now though, as a resident of an affluent southwest city, I am awakened to the reality that our economy would crumble if these workers left. Not ONLY because they are cheap labor, but because they are some of the hardest workers I have ever encountered. Long days, few breaks and grateful for every bit of employment they can attain. But National Geographic doesn’t want their story. Your ‘society’ is too busy placating the egos of the Houston affluent for future endowments. - DN

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Uncle Norm

Well, there are these two kinds of patriotism. There's blind patriotism, unflagging patriotism. And then there's the patriotism that says I live in a democracy and it's very important for the health and the life of this democracy that it get better all the time, not get worse. Because when a democracy gets worse, it can get worse and worse and worse. And the nightmare in every democracy, the very nightmare, is if it gets worse and worse and worse, we could end up totalitarian. - Norman Mailer

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

OPEC President Says Oil Priced Fair

The assessment by Nigerian Oil Minister Edmund Daukoru in an interview with The Associated Press provided an indication that the OPEC producers may pull back on production levels when they meet March 8.

He called $60 a barrel for oil a "fair price" and said oil prices should be kept at "an equilibrium with global economic growth." He cautioned if prices are allowed to edge toward $70-a-barrel "everybody gets nervous" about the impact on the global economy.

On Wednesday, light sweet crude for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange edged close to $62 a barrel.

"A fair price is what markets can sustain," said Daukoru, who is in Washington for a round of visits with administration officials including Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman later in the day. Associated Press, Mar. 1

I have trouble trusting anyone from the same country (NIGERIA) that is responsible for 99% of internet scams and spam. This is not really art-related, unless you count gas prices cutting into my art supply fund and shipping costs (to galleries/museums). - DN

Collector's Passion

As I await the workers to complete the renovations on my studio, I want to pass on a pretty good story about the power of art and an example of the type of "collector's passion" I was trying to explain in my last post. - DN

"The face that launched a thousand questions"

By Mark Archer
Published: February 28 2006, Financial Times

I loved the painting as soon as I saw it. Entitled “Portrait of a Lady with a Red Scarf”, it was being exhibited at the London Art Fair two years ago.

There was a haunting, melancholy quality about it, with the impassively sculptural face contrasting with the arrangement of the woman’s hands, clasped in a seemingly symbolic gesture. The period influences in it – the Bloomsbury Group’s attention to decorative design, a palette that suggested the Scottish colourists, the sculptural face reminiscent of art deco portraits by artists such as Tamara de Lempicka – were all clues waiting to be solved. Intrigued, I bought the painting for £2,800 and set about discovering what I could about it.

Rebecca Wilson Stephens, the gallery owner, told me the artist was Jessica Dismorr (1885-1939). The portrait, painted around 1927, was of her friend Rachael Levy, an anthropologist and secretary to the Hellenic Library. Rebecca directed me to Quentin Stevenson, from whom she had bought the painting.

When I contacted Stevenson, he refused to disclose anything because he was working on a biography of Dismorr, but he directed me to his introduction to an exhibition of her work held at the Fine Art Society in 2000. In this Stevenson argues that Dismorr had a traumatic love affair with Wyndham Lewis, that this profoundly influenced her work and that it led ultimately to her suicide in 1939. He quotes Kate Lechmere, a former lover of Lewis, who remembers Dismorr and her fellow artist Kate Saunders as “little lapdogs who wanted to be Lewis’s slaves and do everything for him”. Another friend recalls Dismorr in a “wild phase of her life”, determined to trample on her “puritanism” with alarming psychological results. One example may have been when Dismorr decided one day to take off all her clothes in the middle of Oxford Street. According to Lechmere, this was to prove she would do anything that Lewis asked her.

Was this the Jessica Dismorr who lay behind my portrait – a mentally unstable artist with a talent for disastrous relationships? Or was she a victim of the sexual politics of the time? I spoke to Jonathan Ody, son of Robin Ody, Dismorr’s close friend and the executor of her will. He repeated his father’s view that Dismorr “personified the Edwardian phenomenon of the new woman”. The daughter of a wealthy businessman, she enjoyed a private income and lived a varied and cosmopolitan lifestyle, visiting France frequently and maintaining a studio on the King’s Road in Chelsea. But it was hard to be an emancipated woman artist when painting remained a largely male preserve. At the inaugural meeting of the vorticist group, which Lewis founded in 1914, Christopher Nevinson is reputed to have retorted: “Let’s not have any of these damned women”, whereupon Lewis confessed with embarrassment that the Rebel Art Centre, where the group was based, was entirely financed by Kate Lechmere, his former lover. When the affair broke up, Lechmere’s hostility towards Dismorr can perhaps be explained by the bitter legal battle she mounted against Lewis to retrieve the debts he owed her.

That Dismorr and Helen Saunders, the two female members of the group, were regarded as outsiders by the other vorticists is captured symbolically in the painting by William Roberts, “The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring 1915”. In the painting, Roberts installs Lewis, himself and six other figures in a frieze-like frame in the centre of the picture. Dismorr and Saunders are treated like a late arriving couple (Dismorr is the furthest female figure in the doorway), compositionally separate from the inner circle of vorticists.

Critics have tended to recycle the view of Dismorr as a minor figure in the vorticist circle. But the first complete catalogue of her works, which I discovered in an unpublished PhD thesis on Dismorr by Catherine Heathcock, reveals that she was critically acclaimed in her day. She studied at the Slade in 1902-3 and in 1910-13 at the Academie de la Palette in Paris, where she worked with the group of fauvist painters associated with John Duncan Fergusson, one of the Scottish colourists. Indeed, she exhibited with Fergusson and his fellow colourist S.J. Peploe, at the Stafford Gallery in London in October 1912, an exhibition that prompted the Observer’s art critic to wonder why no place had been found for these painters in Roger Fry’s second post-impressionist exhibition, which had also opened that month.

The letters between Dismorr and Lewis, collected at Cornell University, give little indication of an affair between them. In one letter in 1924 Dismorr indicates that she regarded the whole businesslike process of marriage bethrothal with considerable humour:

“I have also been amused in watching the tentative efforts of a titled French family to secure me and my prospective thousand a year for their fils à marier – I have just watched them from afar as it were, with the malicious knowledge up my sleeve that should I marry a Roman Catholic I would lose half my fortune, which would suit neither party. It is all too funny for words.”

For much of the first world war Dismorr was in France nursing the wounded and, later, working as a bilingual field officer with the American Friends Service Committee. In common with many of her contemporaries, she did suffer some sort of nervous collapse after the war and around 1920 she had a nervous breakdown. Lewis’s letters are typically cordial:

“I was glad to learn of your recovery from your breakdown, and hope soon to get more and better news of you still. I think that the doctors’ theory that you should not paint is all rubbish. They probably think that your paintings are very funny and pathological and that had made you ill. I should think that a bit later on when you are stronger, that the best possible distraction for you would be to paint. But you will ultimately decide for yourself.”

Dismorr contributed illustrations and poetry to many avant-garde publications of the period. She was an acquaintance of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and remained at the heart of London’s artistic world into the 1930s, when she made a series of portraits of poets such as C. Day Lewis and Dylan Thomas. In one contribution to Wyndham Lewis’s Blast magazine, she describes a solitary nighttime journey through London, at a time when, even in the 1920s, women were often unable to eat out after 10pm in restaurants and cafés without a male escort. In this she responds imaginatively to the architecture of the city, an urban landscape that she later translated into an entirely abstract idiom in her surviving vorticist oil paintings:

“Now out of reach of squalor and glitter, I wander in the precincts of stately urban houses. Moonlight carves them in purity. The presence of these great and rectangular personalities is a medicine. They are the children of colossal restraint, they are the last word of prose. In admiring them I have put myself on the side of all the severities.”

Dismorr continued to paint and exhibit every year until her death. She exhibited from 1926 until 1938 with the London Group, whose members included Charles Ginner and Barbara Hepworth, and the Seven and Five Society, where she showed with Ben Nicholson and Ivon Hitchens. Her work shows a search for new forms, through landscape, abstraction and portraiture, the latter centred around a close- knit network of female friends that included Rachel Levy, the Lady in the Red Scarf, and her sister Gertrude Levy, whom she also painted. Indeed, Robin Ody’s conjecture that her relationship with Lewis “was almost certainly platonic” was amplified by his son Jonathan, who repeated the family view that she “was more inclined to prefer women to men”. The role female friendship played in her life is perhaps illuminated by her will, in which only females are recipients of her estate. Was this a political choice? Her close friend Kate Saunders was twice proposed to by Walter Sickert but later in life told a relative that she thought it was unwise for artists to marry each other as, in every case she knew, the woman had subordinated her artistic needs to those of her husband. Certainly, there is a sense of isolation and personal sadness that emanates from a portrait such as “Lady with a Red Scarf”, conveyed by the staring, unsmiling face of the sitter. It is tempting to conclude that this mood is revealing of Dismorr’s innermost feelings and psychological make-up. Whether to do with this inner loneliness or with the onset of another world war, on August 29 1939 she hanged herself. To one who had simply bought one of her paintings, this finding was a sad conclusion to a fascinating journey of discovery.