Friday, June 30, 2006

The Tryouts for New "Village Idiot " Starts Here!

The Zen Of Air Guitar (It's Really Big) "In recent years, the air guitar has become a cult phenomenon, sparking air-eoke tournaments in cities across the nation. Undoubtedly, the most impressive offshoot of the air-guitar craze is the invention of the Virtual Air Guitar, a computerized pair of gloves developed by students at the Helsinki University of Technology that monitors a player's hand movements and pumps accompanying electric guitar riffs through an amp." Christian Science Monitor

Who sat down and said... let's take something that requires no actual talent, treat it with a hand of faux-respect and see how many morons we can get to participate. This is the type of garbage that leads to art students that spend four years of college avoiding the figure because its "too difficult". - DN

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Personalized Art Conservation Guide

Conservation of art work is a big business. But how do you conserve artworks from the 20th Century whose materials are fragile and prone to disintegration? Well, you can ask the artist... The New York Times 06/29/06

The NY Times has a great article regarding the conservation of contemporary artwork.

Click here to read it.

I’ve broached the subject before and unfortunately my solution has been the same as other artists when told to conservators such as Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, the Whitney's director of conservation – just let “me” fix it. The problem arises when I am no longer “me”. Minimalist artist, Mark Rothko committed suicide in 1970, but didn’t leave instruction regarding the long-term care of his work. I’ve mentioned before the terrible time conservators have had trying to repair pieces by Jackson Pollock. Do you recall those 10 or 15 or 20 year recommendations printed on the exterior house paint cans you bought at Sherman-Williams? Well those cans were pretty similar to the ones Pollock mixed into his massive drip paintings. While those year designations were intended as ratings for outdoor exposure to the elements, the paint was still expected to only have a fairly limited life.

I’m sure our apprehension at telling the secrets of our process is only part self-protective and mostly just lazy. I’m still not keen on exposing my process, just yet; but maybe we should all take the time to write down a bit of our process-oriented background and possible ideas for repairs in a notebook that can be easily found. Think of it as life insurance for your artwork. – DN

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

East Bound and Down... We're Gonna Do What They Say Can't Be Done

On a lighter note…


Germans fear UK going to drink them dry

By Jeremy Armstrong (Mirror, UK)

ENGLAND's massive army of World Cup fans is drinking Germany dry, it emerged yesterday.

Breweries warned beer could run out before the final because of huge demand from our supporters.

In Nuremberg, organisers revealed 70,000 England fans who flooded the city drank 1.2MILLION pints of beer - an average of 17 pints each.


Falk AdSolution

Astonished bar keeper Herrmann Murr said: "Never have I seen so many drink so much in such little time."

His bar at a fans' tent in the city ran out after they drained all 32 of his 50-litre (11 gallon) barrels.

Herr Murr calculated Britons were shifting beer at a staggering rate of 200 pints per minute.

City official Peter Murrmann said: "The English proved themselves world champs. They practically drank us dry."

In Cologne, where England drew with Sweden, bottles and barrels of the local K?lsch beer ran out because so many English took them to campsites and parties.

Stuttgart bar chiefs said an extra 900,000 pints were sunk last weekend where 60,000 fans partied before and after our 1-0 win over Ecuador.

The Veltins brewery also revealed it has produced a record 418,000 gallons in a bid to keep up with demand.

A spokesman said: "It is incredible how much is being drunk but the hardest thing for the breweries is keeping up with the thirst of the English."

In Dortmund, where most fans for England's Gelsenkirchen clash against Portugal on Saturday are staying, the giant DAB brewery is bracing itself by ferrying in extra supplies to boost production.

As they say, find something your good at and stick with it. I've enjoyed a number of German-American "Octoberfest" festivals over the years and have a pretty good understanding of the main attraction at each; so it would be pretty funny if England's penchant for brew forced Germany to temporarily embrace prohibition. - DN

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I find the following disturbing, because literature is such an important influence over my own artwork.

A North Carolina school district has banned the much-lauded Cassell Dictionary of Slang, claiming that the book, which includes some 87,000 entries, is somehow inappropriate for children. Not surprisingly, the impetus for the ban came from a Christian fundamentalist group, which is also seeking to ban many other books, including Maurice Sendak's "Mickey In The Night Kitchen" and Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate War."
The Guardian (UK) 06/24/06

I remember reading “The Chocolate War” around eighth grade. The above article made me wonder what other books were commonly banned throughout history. These are some highlights from the list:

To Kill a Mockingbird
Brave New World
How to Eat Fried Worms
Call of the Wild
Heart of Darkness
A Day No Pigs Would Die
Leaves of Grass

… and my personal favorite…

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Copies used in school literature classes were edited to omit the words "hell," "damn," and "abortion," which is ironic because the central theme is censorship.) – Wikipedia

To read the complete list at Wikipedia, click here.

Monday, June 26, 2006


This morning when I should have been writing, I was instead surfing the net for travel stories. The good news is I found a great website: for interesting travel stories. The bad news is there seem to be an assortment of decent travel writers that have been forced to post their stories online rather than actually get paid for publishing in a magazine or such. Good for us, bad for them.

This is one of the stories I enjoyed:

I’ve been tossing around a lot of ideas lately regarding the similarities between first-person themed visual art, travel writing and how journalism can blur the differences if properly utilized.

Was Kerouac much more than a beat travel writer that drank too much and couldn’t stay in one place? Was Paul Gauguin anything more than an artist that practiced immersion travel living and documented the lives he envied? – DN

Saturday, June 24, 2006

View from My Studio

The cactus are blooming only a few feet away from my studio. - DN

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Greatest Painting in Britain



Last year, David Hockney’s painting “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy” was short-listed for the title of the greatest painting in Britain but lost to Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire”.

Is either painting worthy of the title? Is this the best England has to offer? Can such a title really exist with any level of meaning? – DN

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Arthur Miller was a Communist… or so they say

The FBI investigated Arthur Miller from almost the time of his first production. "A 34-page FBI report, compiled in 1951, states Miller was 'under Communist party discipline' in the 1930s and was a member of the party in the 1940s. The FBI was relying on information from informants. Miller, who died last year at age 89, was a longtime liberal who opposed the Vietnam War, opposed nuclear weapons and supported civil rights." CBC 06/21/06

It never ceases to amaze me that “free will” and the act of questioning authority are inevitably viewed as something deviant. Miller didn’t like the Vietnam War, I suppose not many that fought there enjoyed it either – does that make them communists as well? If I recall Russia had more than its fair share of “international conflicts” while labeled a purely communist state, the same with China. What was the purpose of the Cold War if “communist” and “peace-loving” are interchangeable? Our current good buddy North Korea… now there’s a peace-loving soul.

Mr. Miller didn’t care much for nuclear weapons, either, huh? Well, I really didn’t have much of an opinion on them, myself, until I lived in north central Montana and started to notice the missile silo bunkers intermittently placed throughout what was essentially my backyard. Think about it in terms of horseshoes and hand grenades and you’ll understand my sudden concern. A few locals told me that once the missiles started to fly, they planned to just sit back and get drunk for the final party. That was not reassuring.

Civil Rights now that’s something you can sink your teeth into as pure “Red-Lovin”. Why should freedom of speech and equality of race and opinion ever be considered part of a Republic? In 2005, a political party within Russia demanded that Judaism and Jewish organizations be banned from the country. In June, 500 prominent Russians, including some 20 members of the nationalist Rodina party, demanded that the state prosecutor investigate ancient Jewish texts as "anti-Russian" and ban Judaism — the investigation was actually launched, but halted amid international outcry. Wait, though aren’t they an… ahem… democracy… now? Not really, but neither are we.

One example is the fact that guests to public Presidential speeches are regularly removed from the site or simply not allowed entrance if they have anti-war or anti-Bush rhetoric posted on their vehicle in the form of a bumper sticker. Where is freedom of expression? I don’t believe these types of infractions are particularly new. I just don’t agree that we should sit back and ignore them as long as we are unharmed. Could being tossed from the President’s immediate location due to a bumper sticker be a form of conceptual art? Something was done (whether intentionally or not) that caused a reaction – so maybe it could fall under that classification. I don’t have much patience for Cindy Sheehan, although I agree with much of her message… I just tend to wish for a different messenger. Is it because she has crossed the line from grieving mother to conceptual artist? Gandhi beat the British Empire by speaking rather than lifting arms in battle. Doesn’t he fall under this same category (although, much more likeable than Sheehan)? Is the world recognizing that conceptual art has relevance beyond shocking public nude art photo shoots and Christos’ wrappings? Is the fight for a true democracy ultimately going to be won by conceptual artists? – DN

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Expression is Selfish or It's Not Expression

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Until they found the topless photos, Austin High School officials considered Tamara Hoover an excellent art teacher with a knack for helping students find their creativity.

While I don’t have a very high opinion of the state of Texas (after all they gave us George W.), I have trouble believing that nude art pictures (not even presented in class) would be a reason for termination. The first thing everyone has to remember, in this case, is that the events took place in the city of Austin – a city that takes pride in its eccentricities. The second is the concept of moral ambiguity. The school district states that teachers are to be held to a higher moral standard and that is their reason for seeking termination; but who is to judge the specific attributes of this higher morality? Do we follow guidelines as provided by the Nation of Islam and don’t allow her to teach male students; or do we follow the traditionally southern sect of Pentecostal Christians and require her to wear no make-up, long denim skirts with tennis shoes and long hair with 1980’s feathered bangs? Maybe the Mormon approach is followed so the teacher’s lounge only has caffeine-free sodas and hot water in place of coffee. Then again the Church of Christ standard would ban school dances and not allow faculty to eat at restaurants that serve alcohol. Whose moral compass leads the way?

Or maybe this has nothing to do with art or the fact that this teacher served as a (sometimes nude) model in her free time for an art photographer. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that the art photographer was also the teacher’s lesbian partner… which returns us to the idea of a higher moral standard. Does becoming a teacher force a person to sell their individuality for $30,000/year (often less)? Is that the current going rate for our freedom? Is Ms. Hoover selfish for wanting it both ways? For wanting to teach and share her knowledge as well as live her life in whatever way makes her happy? Of course she is – and that’s her right. Whether it is artistic expression or lifestyle freedom, doesn't really matter. What does matter is her right to make choices based on her own ability to be selfish.

The Sunday Morning show, this week, was obviously themed towards Father’s day. One segment dealt with the changes between generational approaches to fatherhood. A father discussed how he arranged his work schedule to optimize the amount of free time he could spend with his children. Ironically, when interviewed, his own father was worried that his son would feel too much of a sense of loss once his children left home, because he had never spent time for himself. While I agree with the grandfather, I believe it reaches beyond parenting. Each life is our own to waste or spend. When I die, if I missed out on something in life, the only person I can blame is myself. This is true for everyone. The teacher in Austin has a responsibility to fulfill her teaching contract by encouraging students through knowledge and example while on campus or during school-related functions. Ultimately, though, she has a commitment to herself, to live her life in a way that makes her happy. The school district did not purchase her “after-hours” individuality when they signed her to a teaching position. Personally, I would not have released nude self-portraits on the internet, whether I worked as a teacher or not (by the way… none exist). But that has more to do with my own sense of Midwestern modesty, than freedom of expression.

Art is the most selfish thing we can do with our lives. That’s what makes it so addictive. If we didn’t choose to selfishly claim our lives as our own, the work would never come. – DN

Monday, June 19, 2006

To my students as they decide to leave...

Cedar Forest south of the Yaak Valley

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park

Sandia Mountain in New Mexico

The tendency nowadays to wander in wildernesses is delightful to see. Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease. Briskly venturing and roaming, some are washing off sins and cobweb cares of the devil's spinning in all-day storms on mountains; sauntering in rosiny pinewoods or in gentian meadows, brushing through chaparral, bending down and parting sweet, flowery sprays; tracing rivers to their sources, getting in touch with the nerves of Mother Earth; jumping from rock to rock, feeling the life of them, learning the songs of them, panting in whole-souled exercise, and rejoicing in deep, long-drawn breaths of pure wildness. This is fine and natural and full of promise. – John Muir

My family and I had planned a weekend excursion to Ouray, Colorado. At the last minute I backed-out; I’m still not completely sure why. We stayed around the house most of the weekend with the exception of a trek to nearby Sandia Mountain (10,678 ft) on Sunday, to hike the trails. Unfortunately, Sandia was not in the cards either. All trails were closed due to fire hazard.

Our original destination of Ouray was inspired by Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. The town is located in a valley of the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, ten miles north of the more famous community of Telluride, but so difficult to reach, that the drive is nearly an hour long. I say my trip was inspired by Ayn Rand, because I only recently decided to visit after learning that she had used the town as a model for John Galt’s secret hideaway in the Rockies, after she had visited the valley in the early twentieth century. Ouray is also known as “Switzerland of America”, so with those selling points we were more than ready to hop in the car and tour the local “alps”.

Motivation, in general, has been a bear for over a month. Maybe it is the summer heat; perhaps its just having my daughter home from school. I’m outdoors a lot more, which should be inspirational enough, but everything in this high desert is uncomfortably dry and I long for places I loved in Montana, such as the Yaak Valley and Hebgen Lake where moisture wasn’t such a commodity. I expected to feel a sense of return to the alpine lakes of Glacier Park by visiting Ouray. It was this need for return that I believe led to my feelings of dread towards the leaving of Colorado, before ever visiting – and ultimately, my avoidance of the trip.

Now the weekend is over and the chance to experience beauty has passed. I can’t answer for my behavior. Most days my wife follows along with my ebbs and flow, though when I’m out of ear-shot, I’m sure she fields her share of questions from our children. It is said that John Muir’s favorite spot in all of Glacier National Park was Avalanche Lake. At this moment, I’d give anything to have to worry about fearless bears while hiking the path to Avalanche Lake in Glacier. I’d equally love to hop in my Rover and make a path just south of the Yaak near Thompson Falls, Montana. There is a place, there in the Cedar Forest, where you can sit inside one of a handful of leviathan-like trees and smell the rain as it passes through the branches and is absorbed by the sticks and needles along the outside trail. It seems like a place where one can always find the rain. Sometimes a longing for rain is just a longing for home.

Although I no longer teach, I have former students that have now graduated and are making decisions whether or not to leave Montana. I still feel as if they are my responsibility. I still want them be "good citizens". I still long for their happiness. I have trouble telling them there is a better world beyond the Rocky Mountain backbone as it curves an eco-system from Lake Louise in Banff to the geysers of Yellowstone. As much as traveling is a part of my soul, I spend a number of my days longing for the brush-covered paths to the streams and rivers branching from innumerable arteries that preserve the life of my Montana.

Young Kodiak, this section is especially for you. Take your time growing-up, marry late and see whatever it takes to make you feel full of life - but if you ever treasured spirituality, never let loose of your Montana home. It will help you to remain a child as it has all of us that experience it, no matter what moment we choose to embrace it in our lives. – DN

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Granter of Labels

"Neil Simon, one of America's most successful playwrights, has been chosen as this year's recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the Kennedy Center announced yesterday. For the past half-century, Simon has been prolific and often produced. Everyone of a certain age probably can name numerous Simon works, as his plays -- including The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park and The Sunshine Boys -- have translated into film and television and into the national consciousness." Washington Post 06/15/06

I’m more impressed by the works of Neil Simon, than I ever was Mark Twain. Every place has a favorite son that is abused for purposes of tourism. Of everything I miss about Montana, I do not pine for memories of nearly every conversation mentioning the name “Charlie Russell” (obviously it wasn’t that bad, but it often times felt that way).

In the same manner, I grew-up in Missouri all the time hiding a secret… I don’t have an appreciation for the writings of Mark Twain. Now, I always liked “Tom Sawyer”, it was a great piece of children’s literature; but everything else pretty much was lost on me. I realize that “Huck Finn” was a literary masterpiece, but can’t it be argued that because of that book we can blame Mr. Clemens for the unfortunate American tradition of sequels? Missouri-born and bred, throughout my youth I was drilled on the requisite information about his life including such trivia as: Twain was born and died in years in which Halley's Comet appeared. Ironically, I was required to teach similar material regarding “Charlie Russell” in Montana. Including more questionable “facts” such as: Charlie Russell was a better “cowboy artist” than Fredrick Remington, because Russell was a real cowhand and Russell was a typical Easterner; my conscience always made me add a footnote that mentioned the fact that Charlie Russell was not nearly as famous (or important) anywhere else in the world.

Mark Twain’s legendary wit and humor was best displayed in his compilations of numerous short stories… which I also never liked. I suppose my dislike for his work is grounded in the negative light I always felt it displayed my Missouri birth. I was always told that he loved Missouri so much that he immortalized it in his writings; but if he loved it so much… why did he present most of its resident as ignorant backwoods peasants? I dare say that most of the country’s opinion of unsophisticated Midwesterners comes from an ounce of truth and ten pounds of literary backing by Mark Twain. I don’t believe I am alone in these feelings toward Twain. I have mentioned my objections to him to numerous friends from my youth and we all pretty much feel the same - resentment. Granted I knew more than my share of hometown hoosiers, in my youth, but every time, I left the state for somewhere like Florida or the upper East Coast – everyone I met expected that I knew how to milk a cow, because I came from Missouri. That man dropped a major cultural label on his fellow citizens, then set-up residence in another state as soon as he became famous. If he was so “good” for Missouri because of his love for it… why is the “Mark Twain House” in Connecticut? Was it simply that he was bad with finances and his wife’s family was wealthy, so he followed the money? Or could it have been that he “created” this negative image of Missourians and he wanted to distance himself from his creation that had overnight became a standard of American understanding more believable than the truth? This is a fairly popular approach. Is it because it is the “easy way out” creatively? While I was still in high school, my hometown of Poplar Bluff was made famous by television writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (and PB native) in her sitcom “Designing Women”. The show featured a group of smart southern business women making their way in Atlanta. Smart of course with the exception of the not-so-bright character of Charlene who was supposedly from Poplar Bluff, Missouri and written as a classic example of its residents. The show did little to improve the town’s image or the expectations of its resident’s children.

Truth – with a specific interest in the truth of place and the people who inhabit it. Maybe that’s what I like about good travel writing and what I search for in the themes of my own paintings. If we can drop the stereotypes and view each culture from a perspective of immersion, maybe then we can reveal ourselves, as well as others, in a more natural light. Most importantly, though, I believe immersion is the key to understanding. Maybe this higher level of engagement, bred from the actual residence in a place, will eventually transform contemporary travel writing and ultimately the action of stereotyping locations and societies. – DN

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Machines of Flesh and Blood

The peculiar thing about my paintings is that they’re not really mine. They’re 50/50 collaborations with my wife, the mosaicist Emma Biggs. I do the painting but she conceives the layouts and thinks up the colours. We share equal billing. We never vary the roles — she never paints and I never question her decisions about the colour. Often I’m working blind as it were, unable to see why certain sections of the painting are the way they are, and sometimes only really getting the logic long after it’s finished.

“Logic” is perhaps misleading, since the paintings aren’t about ideas, they’re purely visual. On the other hand there is such a thing as visual intelligence. We think about how to make the paintings look good, have a focus and seem to have a light turned on inside them. We aim for something as carefully structured as late medieval frescos. The way they relate to my writing is that they embody the values that I find important and serious in art, which really are visual values — the very stuff that has been thrown out by the art world over the past 15 years or so, as art has striven to become more like popular entertainment.

On my own I never got far with painting. When I went back to art school to do an MA, the tutors said I needed to see an idea through and not keep piling on different ones, which merely resulted in meltdown. Perhaps because of my experience as a critical observer I allowed too many possibilities. With these paintings, though, I’ve separated out the aspect of judging whether my decisions are right and handed it to someone else. – Matthew Collins writing for the UK Times

The above statement came from a British art critic that also dabbles in painting. The purpose of the article was to prove that a critic could also be a working artist. Unfortunately, I believe the concept backfires for the simple fact that the “artist” described above is just a flesh and blood machine. Creating is about making choices and he does not do that in his specific role as painter. He proudly refuses to take responsibility for making decisions in his work. Where is the commitment to an idea? Where is the danger of gambling acceptance for an aesthetic decision? The point of the article was to prove critics are qualified to judge art; instead it seems to justify my belief that most critics are too far removed from the creative process to mandate taste, much less quality. - DN

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Last week, I stepped out of the house for about two hours to pick-up some materials at the local Home Depot to complete my kids’ swing-set and fort. While I was out it had actually begun to rain. I was glad for the moisture and its cooling effect on our early summer heat wave – until I came home to eight fire trucks lining my gravel road and the Sheriff sitting in my drive-way. Lighting had struck the mountain behind my house and studio; starting a fire that eventually burned an area the size of a small home. My place was pretty much the first inline to be evacuated if the fire got out of control. Faced with that sort of situation made me think about what was worth saving and which items would be more easily cashed out by my insurance in the instance of a catastrophe as opposed to an inevitable “for sale” posting on Craigslist or eBay – if nothing terrible actually occurred with the fire. Eventually, nearly everything I own gets resold in some venue. Before I left Montana, I hosted a two-day yard sale that netted $2k in sales by its close. I can honestly say, I didn’t sell anything that I later lamented losing. There was really nothing in that house I have purchased, that I could not easily replace. If it was irreplaceable… well then I still had the memory of ownership. What is ownership? Is it really anything more than a power-trip over inanimate objects? How meaningless is that when you stop to consider it?

I read an article in the Sunday paper about a retired attorney that boasted over 12,000 books in his personal library. He admitted he had not read all of the books – though, he claimed to know what was “in” all of them, whatever that means. The man took pride in his refusal to write-in or “mark-up” his books. Here he had over 12,000 works of literature and not one of those books had inspired him enough to circle a passage, or write a revelatory thought in the margin. It makes one wonder if he had ever really read anything worthwhile. He also bragged that he never lent books to friends. That seemed sad, not having friends that one can trust with something as easily replaceable as a book. Not having friends with which you treasure enough to share a tremendous idea as represented in a great passage of a book.

I have a grand admiration and interest in the philosophy of simplicity – specifically as described in the works of Henry David Thoreau. I read every self-sufficiency story I come across, as well as follow a number of blogs on the subject. One of my favorites is “Compact”. The site is posted to by a group of four contributors with the following mission statement:

1) to go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact; 2) to reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er); 3) to simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

Instances such as my little mountain fire make me reconsider what is really irreplaceable. Naturally, I would have loaded my children and my paintings into the truck, but I’m not sure what else. Ironically, I never use insurance when shipping my art. The added insurance fees are astronomical considering that the shipping companies never payout for damages on artwork. More important than that, though, is the fact that I’m the only one really qualified to repair or replace the work. Why should I pay insurance replacement/repair fees for my own paintings? It’s like saying I don’t have enough faith in my own talent to recreate the work or on another level its saying that an older painting is more important than a newer one. I look at each piece as a continuation of an idea or concept. Each new piece represents a growth in the knowledge of a specific perspective of philosophy I am attempting to further.

Sure, I was prepared to toss the paintings into the truck, why should I throw-out all that work. After all each painting is like a page in a book that gets me closer to a resolution of the central theme, but at the same time, once I’ve completed the work, I’m that much closer to the completion of my own thought pattern.

Should I bemoan the loss of a single work or group of works or rather resolve to celebrate the fact that I can continue the journey in new paintings? - DN

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup Wins Often Reflect Passion

I’ve been in heaven since the start of the weekend, as I follow as many World Cup games as possible. I had to take my kids to a friend’s birthday party Saturday afternoon, so I just pushed record on the VCR and avoided the news, until I could get home and watch.

This morning’s first game featured Japan vs. Australia in a match that was without doubt directed towards a Japanese win. Australia has never scored in a World Cup game, much less won a game. Watching the game, Japan played like a predictable machine scoring then going on the defensive to protect their one goal asset for a “safe” win. Meanwhile, Australia stumbled over itself for 80 minutes without much hope of accomplishing anything extraordinary. Then the last ten minutes changed everything. Australia’s first-string heroes were replaced by the second-string benchwarmers as the manager and team basically conceded defeat. Eight minutes until the next four-year rest, the benchwarmers blasted out three goals to defeat a stunned Japan.

The Japanese team was a model of dedication in their disciplined approach towards securing a win. Unfortunately for Japan, the Australian second-stringers made it a game dependent upon passion rather than purely playbook techniques. At the 90-minute mark, the Australian players just wanted it more.

With a few exceptions (Hokusai comes to mind), Asian art history is rife with amazing work that has seen little change in over 2000 years. Everyone knows the stereotypes of a smart and disciplined Asian culture that can overcome any obstacle. But how often do we associate this culture with passion? Is zeal what set apart artists such as Hokusai from their fellow countrymen? Is his “passion”, the reason most people know his name above all other Japanese artists? I look at my own work inspired by the art history of the Far East and I wonder is it passion that allowed me to take on these styles and ultimately create a new approach to painting while still exploring my own culture and home landscape? Is passion ever really over-rated? I think not. Art historians will always love to study and teach stories of Van Gogh, first and foremost for his vehemence. – DN

Friday, June 09, 2006


A painting entitled "Picnic" by artist Muayad Muhsin, who was both inspired and enraged by a photo of Donald H. Rumsfeld slumped on an airplane seat with his army boots up in front of him, was displayed in Baghdad on June 5. The painting is expected to be unveiled at an exhibition in Baghdad next week. -

Guernica” is often considered Picasso’s most famous work, as it argued against the cruelty of the German bombing of the civilian city by the same name. Is it also the responsibility of contemporary artists to vocalize their opinions of world events via their brush, in the same manner? – DN

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rainbow of Fire

I ran across this online and once I saw it nothing else I could write about seemed as impressive. - DN


Rainbow over the Washington-Idaho border

From BARRY WIGMORE, Daily Mail 10:58am 8th June 2006:

In a breathtaking blaze of glory, Nature puts on one of its most spectacular sky shows. Reds, oranges, blues and greens create a flaming rainbow that stretches above the clouds.

But this circumhorizon arc, as it is known, owes more to ice than fire. It occurs when sunlight passes through ice crystals in high cirrus clouds. It is one of 15 types of ice halos formed only when the most specific of factors dovetail precisely together.

This blanket of fire, covering hundreds of square miles, is the rarest phenomenon of them all. It was spotted in the US on the Washington-Idaho border around midday last Saturday.

Dr Jonathan Fox, of the US National Weather Service in Spokane, Washington, said: 'It was even more spectacular than the Northern Lights. I feel lucky to have seen it because it only forms in very rare situations. This is the first one I've ever seen. It was a breathtaking sight and it hung around for about an hour.'

To create a rainbow of fire, clouds must be at least 20,000ft high and the ice crystals within them align horizontally instead of their usual vertical position. The sun also needs to be at least 58 degrees above the horizon. Then, the magic can begin.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

True Cost of Power... $4 million in New Mexico

Yesterday saw all the joy and boredom of primary elections. It was just another grim reminder to me that every state in the union is ripe with low-brow individuals prepared to take the general public for a ride. There was little else discussed on the radio throughout the day, so I learned more than I wanted to about positions of which I was previously unversed. Supposedly, one of the hottest races in the state of New Mexico is for “Land Commissioner”. This is seen as such an important political position that the estimated coming primary is expected to cost the winning candidate in the neighborhood of $3-4 million. I believe the quote on the radio said, “The name of the game, in this race, is definitely money and the party that spends the most can take the office home.” Now I had a general assessment of what this job probably entailed just from the title, but I had to look-it-up to know for sure. This is what I found in the Albuquerque Tribune:


Duties: Makes rules that govern the management of state lands; considers applications for leases or purchases of state land and timber. Four-year term.

Salary: $90,000

Post held by: Pat Lyons, a Republican.

The race ahead: Two Democrats compete in the primary. The winner faces Lyons in November.

"Makes the rules that govern..." - that's funny I was under the impression that we the people made the rules.

Wow… $4 million dollars to win a position that pays $90k for 4 years for a grand total of $360k. Not a very good return on a $4 million investment… unless of course the politician is dirty and the kickbacks for the party, its friends and the elected official turn a profit well beyond their investment… but that never happens in America, right?

$4 million for a political position that is seemingly small compared to the notoriety of governor, senator and congressman. Who is donating so much money that our ever-honest two-party system can throw it around to minor elective offices throughout the country? I find it hard to believe that “Joe Schlub” complaining at the gas pump with a national average credit card debt of over $9k is writing checks to a political party to piss away at will. Sure a few of the elderly of our society are forking over their social security checks (ironically in an attempt to hold their preferred politician to the promise of keeping those checks coming from the government) – my wife’s 95-year-old grandmother is one of the donors. That amount of money is chump-change, though, in the greater political spectrum. Therefore it must be corporate parties with an axe-to-grind and a promise of profit.

Until this system of corruption implodes upon itself, I definitely have nostalgic feelings of cutting myself off from society. I say nostalgic, despite the fact that I have always been at the proverbial-tit of society and the comforts it affords me and my family. I suppose it is simply the concept of freedom in this current age that makes me feel nostalgic, rather than the fact that I have never lived without the comforts of society. I like my Digital Cable and the opportunity to flip a switch and let the guy at the power company worry about sending me my electricity. I drive an SUV because I appreciate not feeling the bumps on the gravel road to my home and studio, the cost of driving the vehicle has not yet started to pinch enough for me to swap it for a smaller car. However, I don’t like telephone companies handing over records of my phone calls to the government; I don’t appreciate that my e-mail is periodically scanned or that the government under the guise of the “Patriot Act” can search my home whether I am there or not and I may never even have knowledge of the visit. There are many days that I feel willing to give-up my comforts to move “off-the-grid” and start over without a phone (which I never really liked, so I probably wouldn’t miss), without the connection of cable-television and most importantly without dependence on a corporation for my power. Obviously, we are already perceived as children considering the high-level of government surveillance on its own citizens; as well as the innumerable laws created for the purpose of protecting us from ourselves. Having said that, I foresee a time when the corporate entity that has become our government will begin to take it upon itself to punish its citizens for refusing to “tow-the-line”. Bush lost California by a fairly large margin in 2000. A current belief running through numerous media outlets is that California’s rolling blackouts, of 2001, were arranged through a coalition of Enron and the Republican Party to punish the citizens and oust a Democratic Governor prior to the 2004 Presidential election. Now, I’m not saying this definitely occurred, but if this is true, it could be the beginning stages of governmental retribution towards citizens that choose to exercise their freedom.

Artists, in particular, would find these to be very dark days indeed. If I could, I’d ask Michelangelo and Leonardo how much they enjoyed producing under the guise of their religious leadership; I’d also pose the same questions to artists under the control of leaders such as Stalin or our current reemerging Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s all fun and games and not really a problem… until you’re the one told not to speak. - DN

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Purpose Driven Life... A Purpose Driven Love

I spent most of yesterday doing two things:

  1. Trying to get the “Blogger” website to accept my post.
  2. Preparing slides and filling-out prospectus for fall exhibitions with summer deadlines.

I’m usually not big on participating in the “Juried Show” circuit, because I don’t care for the hassle of shipping only one or two pieces at a time and the act of paying small fees to be judged. Every once in a while, though, I find listings for Juried Exhibitions that boast purchase awards for museums or respectable gallery directors as guest jurors. When that happens, it just seems like a waste to not make an attempt at possible success.

Anything can happen to inspire a patron or gallery director to take a chance on just another one-in-a-million artist. If we give-up on ourselves others may step-in and help with the marketing aspects of giving us success in our past works; but no one is there to make new work for us.

In my earlier career as a gallery director, I am most proud of “finding” an 80-year-old artist named Lou Varro. His figure drawings were remarkably poignant, despite the fact that he drew them fifty years earlier. Despite his talent, he gave-up his career while in still in his thirties; he stopped his “life” to raise a family via employment in the aeronautical industry, producing technical plans and blueprints. Eventually, I served as curator for an exhibit within the Smithsonian that featured a handful of his works from his youth. He garnered a bit of local fame and even began to paint again after a fifty year absence – but no matter what I or anyone else had done for him, we couldn’t give him back the fifty years of missed masterpieces. Missed opportunities to experience the rush of being “in the process” of creating.

I’ve learned that the art world is a fickle lover and we never really know the true way to its heart. If we choose to love it unconditionally, it may or may not come around to rewarding our efforts. As a generalization in life, do we ever really care for something simply to feel loved in return, or do we do it because it makes us feel complete somewhere inside, despite the overwhelming odds of rejection? –DN

Monday, June 05, 2006

Art Damage Control

Popular Mural Painted Over In LA - Without apparent warning, an iconic mural by artist Kent Twitchell depicting fellow artist Ed Ruscha was painted over Friday in Los Angeles. "It's always been such a popular piece in the art world and in Los Angeles. I had no idea it was in danger in any way. To not be notified, to have it be a fait accompli…. It will take a while for the shock to wear off. It was sort of my 'Mona Lisa'; I worked on it for nine years."

Works of public art are protected by law, including the federal Visual Artists Rights Act. Zakheim said creators of murals typically must be given 90 days to respond before a work can be destroyed.

"We could have protected the piece, we could have protected the paint, we could have hibernated it," Zakheim said, referring to a technique by which a mural is treated with paint that can be removed later. "There are a whole bunch of options besides destroying it."

It was not the first time one of Twitchell's murals had been endangered. His 1974 "Our Woman of the Freeway," visible from the northbound lanes of the 101 Freeway, was painted out by a billboard company in 1986 and vandalized during restoration in 2000. The first incident led to a lawsuit, which the artist won.

Zakheim said the Ruscha piece was equally important. "The mural is published in about 100 art books and periodicals," he said. "It's probably his most known mural. Career-wise, it's like a kick in the gut." Los Angeles Times 06/03/06

Well, artist Kent Twitchell intends to sue, but as an artist, even winning would feel like an empty accomplishment. Recently, around twenty of my paintings were returned after three months of floating around the country between a museum in North Dakota and a gallery in Boston. Much to my dismay, a handful of the works were damaged. Now as a former gallery director, I realize that mistakes occur and many of the infractions to the works were minor – yet, they seemed to be issues that could have been easily avoided with a bit of common sense. One painting had the show label listing title and dimensions actually still on the piece (it should never have been there to begin with – it should have been on the wall!) and to make matters worse my name was listed as “Robert North” on the label. I was able to remove the label, luckily, without having to touch-up too much of the paint. Another piece was not even covered in bubble wrap, just stacked in the crate between a few other works, which led to some unwanted creasing that needed to be flattened back out (I am a meticulous packer – a stringent follower of museum standards since my 1999/2000 fellowship stint at the Smithsonian). Fortunately, every aspect of my scrolls from the rice paper mountings to the ink/paint is handmade by yours truly – so I can take any level of damage and return the painting to original creation condition. It’s not the act of repairing that is aggravating; to some degree it even gives me a bit of an adrenaline rush to continue the “process” on a painting I once thought complete. My annoyance comes from the fact that someone didn’t respect the work enough to take care of it, properly. Why should I give a damn about showing the work if they don’t give a damn to hang and repack it properly? That, my friends, is the true source of my recent weeks’ funk. - DN

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Meaning of Life... Meaning of Art

I recall from my days in Jr. High that Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy claimed the answer to the ultimate question regarding the meaning of life was “42”. Just as it would have in real life; that answer left characters in the book scratching their heads. It wasn’t so much that “42” was the wrong answer as it was the fact that the question was flawed. When you think about it… how much more vague can you get with a question like – “What is the meaning of life?” Whose life? Whose point of reference for the very concept of “meaning”? Allusions of importance for one person could be far from meaningful for another. The same holds true for valuing the relevance of art in each person’s life.

Yesterday, my mother called and after a few minutes of awkward conversation with sporadic moments of silence – she asked her usual question. “So, are you getting tired of painting yet?”

I never attended a museum or gallery before I left home for college. I don’t believe my family had anything against art; so much as it was irrelevant to the southern Missouri lives we led. The Marines famously have the following “code” of importance:

  1. Unit
  2. Corps
  3. God
  4. Country

In the world which I was raised, there was another certain standard for importance:

1. God
2. Family
3. Republican Party
4. Country

The world I’ve created for my own life follows yet another path:

1. Knowledge
2. Art
3. Family

I’ve only come-up with three so far and I admit my ratings seem somewhat reversed as opposed to what should be most important to me. Therefore, I have to ask – “what should be my number four?” Would my final choice force me to reevaluate life and possibly realign my choices in a manner that makes more sense for a husband and father? I naturally just view my children as these great little people that ultimately have their own lives to live, just as I do. If I choose not to do anything adventurous with my life during the twenty or so years they are living with me… well, that’s my fault, not their’s. I remember an incident a few years back when I was still a gallery director – this artist came in to discuss the pro’s and con’s of diving into the print market and he inevitably turned the conversation towards his two children. He even finished the discussion with the cliché “well, my kids are the greatest work of art I’ve ever made”. Although I just replied with a smile and nod; I immediately thought well at least your happy with them, because your paintings of flowers and puppies kinda suck.

As far as “other influences” in my life, I’ve tried out the “God-factor”, unfortunately so far it really hasn’t worked for me. I can’t imagine a higher-being that would lower itself enough to care about or engage in the bullshit politics of our country. Not to mention I have trouble buying into any religious group that claims to have the market cornered on the concept of afterlife. Fundamentalism just doesn’t have wings enough to fly for me, anymore. I’m not closed to idea of God, I definitely welcome it… I just have trouble with ideas like heaven and hell when they seem to be in place to offset the importance of living for the moment (ethically, of course – one can have ethics without group worship).

Meaning is a touchy subject when it comes to art. Do we make it because we need to explore? Do we make it because we need to escape? What motivates patrons? Is it the beauty of an individual piece or the opportunity to own the brief essence of the artist? – DN

Friday, June 02, 2006

One Life Goal Too Many?

I missed my first two high school reunions. The first occurred after only five years and felt pointless; the second (ten year) was planned during one of my cross-country moves. It occurred to me the other day that I am two years from my fifteen year mark and I’m not positive I want to attend. Despite the fact that every return visit to my southeast Missouri hometown feels like fingernails on a chalkboard; I typically make the trip “home” every 12-18 months out of duty to my kid’s need for grandparents. Do I really want to toss in another visit just for the sake of nostalgia? Unlike most people, I had a fairly inconsequential high school life. I really can’t think of any horror stories. The few people I really could do without seeing have already taken it upon themselves to die… so that’s not an issue (unless of course the event turns into some kind of misplaced-memorial service for the most popular kids that died due to either stupidity or suicide).

So what is my problem with reunions? Is it the same problem I have with returning “home” in general? Or am I stuck in the mode of “still trying to impress my high school friends”? I have a good marriage and three smart kids; own a home not far from Glacier Park (though I currently spend my time in Santa Fe) and make a decent living doing what I enjoy. Why is that not enough? Cripes, I’m sure there are plenty of graduates from the PBHS Class of 1993 – worse off than I. That can’t be the reason for my reservations to attend.

Instead, I wonder if it is the thought of having to stop for a moment and risk taking measure of my personal list of “life goals”. What can I check? What have I missed? Over lunch, I actually caught myself looking online at graduate programs in multiple areas of interest (including philosophy and eastern classics). I’m not changing my focus as a painter (I don’t believe I have much control over that), I’m just curious about expanding it a bit more. I’ve even tossed around enrolling in culinary school, just to “try out” that life for a few years. When I think of reunions I have images of stereotypical balding classmates (I still have all my hair!) and large bellies (well, I got tagged on that one….I’m not exactly as fit as I should be). I believe after the last reunion my childhood friend Vin told me everyone had “swelled”. Unfortunately, I also perceive giant tables where everyone sits and discusses their 401k plan. I’m not much for practicality, so choosing retirement plans tend to scare me more than the fact that Santa Fe County (particularly my backyard) is ground-zero for Bubonic Plague in the United States (one woman recently died and the annual season has barely started). I typically care more about visiting that certain restaurant I once saw mentioned on a PBS documentary, three hundred miles from home; than actually changing the oil in my car. For instance, I now live on a dirt road in the middle of the high desert… so I quit washing my vehicles. What’s the point, when I could use that extra half hour every week to read.

Maybe that’s what art is – a defiance of practicality. I had a professor that often said “why does the world need another painting?” Well from a practical sense, it doesn’t. We, as artists, choose to continue to make something from nothing, because what’s out there isn’t the “masterpiece” within our own mind’s eye. I don’t buy into the notion of scatter-brained artsy types. A person cannot be both an idiot and a true artist – maybe there are artists that don’t articulate so well within the traditional standards of society, but I know their mind is still active and inquiring. One of my college roommates was also an art major. He eventually went into the medical field, just to have more opportunities to study the human figure for his paintings. He once told me that artists have the toughest major, because they have to study every other field plus art, just to survive after graduation. He wasn’t talking about making a living; so much as he was assessing the artist’s need to keep their mind tuned into fresh concepts and new culture. I believe he was right in his assessment of the true artistic mind… just consider the contents of Leonardo DaVinci’s notebooks when compared to the limited number of paintings he created. - DN

Thursday, June 01, 2006


The blog has actually passed my portfolio website in monthly hits as it is now nearing a couple thousand visits on average for the last few months; that said – I need to update my portfolio website as well. I have a handful of new figurative scrolls nearing completion, including a couple of pieces inspired by Gustave Klimt’s “Women Friends” painting.

Above is a sketch for one of the aforementioned paintings. This is a rare view into my ever-important “process”… now everyone say it together ..ooooohhhhhhhhhh ...aaaahhhhhhhhhhh.....

I tend to forget that this blog is no longer just for my own musings. After yesterday’s long overdue post, I received a lovely and supportive e-mail from Pam Tyler of Adelaide, South Australia.

Although I receive few actual posted comments from readers of the blog, I often am on the receiving end of some fantastic personal e-mail messages from readers all over the globe. Since I too am the type of person to typically send personal e-mails, rather than simply posting to a site – I feel I have an even stronger bond with my readership. After I passed 100 posts, I had started to wonder why I was still writing as well as questioning a few other ways I pass my time; thanks again, Pam, for reminding me. Sometimes every little bit helps rein-in the old neurosis. - DN