Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shifting towards the norm...

I’ve long been infatuated with Jim Harrison novellas. So much so that my oldest son’s middle name is Harrison. You see, I do that… discover greatness in another and attempt to latch myself to it in one form or another. I’m not attempting to usurp the magnetism of a special individual so much as I am trying to pick-up a bit of the magic to drive my own motivations for even one more day.

In one of my favorite stories, a narrative titled, “I Forgot to Go to Spain”, Harrison envisioned a writer struggling with a past of idealism placed in the context of his present situation as a certifiable sell-out to the marketability of his craft. In essence, he writes bios (portraits) as opposed to poetry. There is more money in the bio-writing market, however he definitely questions the reality of placing a price on the soul.

As an artist, I find it amazing that religion believes it can lay claim to something as personal and individual as the human soul. The secrets of the creative process stir my loins unlike anything I have encountered in life or religion. The firing-off of ideas like sparks that send messages to the extensions of my body before my brain – feeds my arrogance as an author and creator of my overwhelming narrative maps and figures. I don’t want to share that spirit that drives my hurried paint-filled brush, you can have the finished product… but the moment within the act of conception that is mine and I refuse to play well with others. There is a reason that Plato believed that those that desire to lead are the least qualified… the thirst for power is invigorating and often blinding. I feel god-like when in the midst of a perfect creation, how else should I feel?

The essence of man is much easier to grasp than blind faith, yet infallibly it is far beyond the scope of organized group activities. As a father preparing his children for the mad mixture of life’s beauty and strife – I realize that the problem with the world is not a lack of intelligent inhabitants, but rather a shortage of citizenry prepared to embrace the ominous reality of private ownership over their thoughts, dreams and lives. Considering the fact that we were born alone and will inevitably die alone, the looming menace of stepping forward to own both the depths and the skin of our individual lives… should be nothing short of natural for a species that has the capacity to deliver genius as regularly as the phases of the moon. – North

Monday, January 21, 2008

What's in a Name?

My three children sitting under Samuel's painting (and enjoying the food!) at my recent Museum opening. Click the image to see an up close view of my young Dylan Thomas contemplating the wisdom of shoveling one more bite into his already stuffed cheeks.

One summer in Santa Fe, I started looking at adobes there, imagining I would become a Southwesterner, cook with chilies, wear squash blossom turquoise jewelry – a different life, the chance to be extant in another version. At the end of the month I left and never have wanted to return… But I keep remembering that anytime I’ve stepped in my own footprints again, I haven’t felt renewed. Though I’m susceptible to the pull of the unknown, I’m just slightly more susceptible to surprise… “The family motto,” he’d say (my father), “is ‘Packing and Unpacking.’” – Frances Mayes, “Under the Tuscan Sun”

Maybe it’s my name… North. Is it something as simple as a surname that has kept me up nights wondering if – “I am where I should be”? I’ve lived in places where my last name was the only title by which I was recognized. At another moment in my life I taught art in the inner city St. Louis schools. My students referred to me, as “Art”… like my profession and my name were interchangeable. I enjoyed those moments. Supposedly that’s the origin of British and Scottish surnames (in which “North” falls)… professions… locales… associations. So is it too much of a leap to believe in an ancestral pull towards reinvigorating the origin of my name for the purpose of direction, travel or just the constant tug I feel to a specific direction on the compass? I currently plan on remaining a few more years in the South, I have unfinished paintings to complete. Regions to return to with fresh eyes. As well as low-rising mountain expeditions I’ve been waiting to trek with my children and a pack full of paint and canvas. – North

Thursday, January 17, 2008


“When you wake at three AM you don't think
of your age or sex and rarely your name
or the plot of your life which has never
broken itself down into logical pieces.
At three AM you have the gift of incomprehension
wherein the galaxies make more sense
than your job or the government.” – Jim Harrison

I have mentioned before that I am a night painter. Breathing the oil-based fumes, without recognition, is the magic elixir that pushes my work past the midnight hour. I’ve painted on wood, canvas, and paper, cardboard, metal and even sand. This morning (last night) I lightly stretched a 48” x 108” section of burlap across my studio wall. A selectively applied light gesso-base-coat to protect from the elements (within reason – hey, it is still just open-weave burlap) and I’m working the tight strands of sparse fabric with a subtle massage of hand-made paint. Forever impressed by the ancient sea maps that displayed the edge of the world and harbingers of death birthed in the deep seas; I continue my own search for a regionalized map of this land from the perspective of a peasant enamored by his toil, yet intolerant of his eventual demise. – North

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Shamrock, Texas

Last spring while driving from southern Missouri to my gallery in central New Mexico, I stopped for a night in the small town of Shamrock, Texas. I stopped because the place seemed quaint and west Texas has a reputation for subtle grandeur (though I have to admit that this probably only barely qualifies as "western" Texas). I stopped because the roadside advertisements boasting their Irish infatuation was prevalent and I easily found a motel room available that allowed me to park my Land Rover full of paintings directly in front of the first floor room and its picture window.

Once I checked-in, I dropped-off my gear on the queen bed and walked out to my truck to begin my search for food. The first sign of trouble was the hibachi grill on the bed of the Dodge Ram parked beside me. The traveling highway construction subcontractors were friendly and even offered me a beer as they grilled their steaks over the smallish flame; however when I asked about the motel’s adjoining restaurant, they snickered and told me to let them know how the food tasted. Heeding their warning I drove directly from the parking lot into “town” and wondered around aimlessly looking for anything to eat besides the lone McDonalds. I found nothing but more empty green-motifed motels competing for travelers with ridiculously low room rates.

I drove back to the motel and settled myself in at the attached diner, not initially recognizing that only one other table was occupied. The menu was a plethora of corned beef in every incarnation imaginable… I chose one that boasted its arrival in sandwich-form… that seemed the most palatable as I whispered a prayer against indecision (leading to death?) and watched the waitress waddle towards me. Ten minutes later, I received two thin bricks that had been substituted for “Texas Toast” and saw my reflection in the greasy (no kidding) corned-beef pile crushed between. I have to give the woman credit she handed the plate to me as if delivering an entrĂ©e at Antoine’s in the French Quarter. That level of false pride takes both practice and inhibition that I have rarely encountered. Partially out of curiosity, but mostly to avoid eating the brick, I asked about the town and its love of all things Irish.

As she described the local business community’s desperate attempt to draw unsuspecting travelers with promises of a cheap alternative to the Emerald Isle, I scanned the restaurant’s walls recalling William Least Heat-Moon’s comment that roadside eateries are best judged by the number of calendars on the wall. Like the prophetic star-rating system… the more calendars (banks, John Deere, etc) – the better the food. Unfortunately this diner had none.

How often does contemporary art fulfill an image campaign but falter in the actual execution of quality? Or even if it does possess a high level of respectability, how often does it fall short of the initial expectation? Lately, I‘ve been rewatching films from the “Christo and Jean-Claude” boxed-set I purchased on Ebay a couple years ago. While I’m sure the firsthand experience, of viewing a finished Christo installation, completely eclipses anything I can watch on DVD… I still can’t help but be more intrigued by his preliminary models and sketches than any of his actual finished projects. Maybe it’s the painter in me that desires that three-dimensional illusion in two-dimensional presentation. - DN

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Not sure if this is something or just more speculation, but it is definitely interesting. Click here to see what happens when Leonardo's paintings are viewed through a mirror. - DN

Monday, January 07, 2008

Academic Cowboy

I've been down this road before from the perspective of "Cowboy Art", but living here has made me consider it again from a purely academic sense of the term "cowboy" (warning some of this is repeated from a post two years ago).

What has happened to the meaning of the title – “cowboy”? Returning to the South after living along the Rocky Mountain front, I have to laugh every time I see a redneck in a cowboy outfit. In the past nine months, I have only met one person that owns a horse and that is an eleven-year-old kid. Yet every radio station is country music, faux-rodeo belt-buckles are extremely common and everyone refers to himself or herself as “country” despite not owning or working land. Maybe this whole “big hat, no ranch” mentality is still hung-over from the “urban cowboy” movement of the late seventies and early eighties.

Looking for a neo-cowboy movement (something for the 21st Century and I’m always looking to coin a phrase) – I googled “academic cowboy”, but simply turned-up physics-nerds-in-disguise. I knew that couldn’t be right; if that were true the term cowboy would now be meaningless. Not unlike the unfortunate turn the term “diva” has taken in the last few years. Thirteen year old girls running around with “diva” on their t-shirt and the current trend of pop-stars sharing a stage with the likes of Aretha Franklin or Etta James. No, I believe the title “cowboy” can still elicit a strong reaction. These days, unfortunately, the media typically latches it to George W. clearing brush at his Texas Whitehouse. Clearing brush doesn’t make Bush a cowboy… it just makes him a day laborer. This guy hasn’t even visited most of the western states for anything other than politicking (much less the glorious national parks of the west).

On another blog I found a post that likened the cowboy mentality to more of a reference of roaming than the media stereotype of dumb “George Bush-types” that only are happy when they are being destructive. Destruction didn’t build the West (well, maybe you believe it did if you were screwed out of your land). The cowboy’s need to roam and ability to adapt formed the world west of the Mississippi. Granted it wasn’t the safest place, but aren’t all vagrants viewed suspiciously for expected rowdy behavior?

So does that mean an Academic Cowboy would be interchangeable with an Academic Rebel that likes to roam around? So is it the term “cowboy” that makes it western? One rarely ever thinks of “California Cowboys”. Is the “Academic Cowboy” possible? Or is it just a new word for an old description? The Taoist concept of a “Sage” comes to mind. Endlessly roaming, no particular direction or purposes… except enlightenment, regardless of environmental intrusions. – DN

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ongoing Obligation to Self

"A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone." - Jo Godwin

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Every year John Brockman asks some of the world's leading thinkers a question and publishes the answers. This year's question: "When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy. When God changes your mind, that's faith. When facts change your mind, that's science. What have you changed your mind about? Why?" - The Edge 01/01/08

What qualifies one for admission into the listing of “world’s leading thinkers”? Papers published, research with results, or simply academic tenure? Below is an article regarding two eminent contemporary philosophers.

It is probably the most negative book review ever written. Or if there is a worse one, do let me know. "This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad," begins Colin McGinn's review of On Consciousness by Ted Honderich. "It is painful to read, poorly thought out, and uninformed. It is also radically inconsistent."

The ending isn't much better: "Is there anything of merit in On Consciousness? Honderich does occasionally show glimmers of understanding that the problem of consciousness is difficult and that most of our ideas about it fall short of the mark. His instincts, at least, are not always wrong. It is a pity that his own efforts here are so shoddy, inept, and disastrous (to use a term he is fond of applying to the views of others)."

And in the middle, there is nothing to cheer the book's author. Honderich's book is, according to McGinn, sly, woefully uninformed, preposterous, easily refuted, unsophisticated, uncomprehending, banal, pointless, excruciating.

What does the man on the receiving end think of this review? "It is a cold, calculated attempt to murder a philosopher's reputation," says Honderich. The review has reignited a feud between the two philosophers that shows how bitter, unforgiving and (to outsiders) unwittingly hilarious academic disputes can be. It certainly makes the bear pit that is journalism seem like sunshine and lollipops by comparison." - The Guardian (UK) 12/21/07

The above “dispute” has nothing to do with high-minded academic disagreements based upon the merits of philosophical discourse. Instead it seems that one philosopher (and considered academic standard for philosophical book reviews) was insulted a quarter century ago when the aforementioned colleague (who’s book he was reviewing) mentioned that the reviewer’s girlfriend wasn’t “nearly as plain as the previous one”. As recourse, the wounded philosopher trashed the book in his recent review in the esteemed Philosophical Review.

One of the funniest books I’ve read in the past couple years was Alexander McCall Smith’s “Portuguese Irregular Verbs”. The novella follows a pompous published-but-unread professor as he places university politics at the center of his existence and trips through the rest of society, rarely aware of his surroundings.

Now despite my tone, the last thing I'm interested in is knocking philosophers, professors or the thinking person, in general. However, I believe society at large is remiss if we fail to regularly question the intellectual authority of the commonly acknowledged intellectual authority. - DN