Thursday, February 16, 2017


'Nostalgie V' (detail). Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel.

Ok, it may seem a bit ironic that I am in a lot of ways somebody that is concerned with everything that underlies a surface to the detriment of the surface itself and then go about making work that for all intents and purposes is almost nothing but surface itself. These are mere appearances I claim.  And yes, to be completely truthful here, I love the surface when there is something to look at.  What am I talking about here?  

Let’s suppose you take a drive through LA or New York City. What do you see?  Probably lots of buildings, people, concrete, streets, windows, neighborhoods and so on.  There is a lot of industry and industrial areas, places that are on the upswing and on the downswing, gentrification and lots of grit.  Yes, it’s the grit that is most often ignored and later romanticized once it’s swept away, that’s the march of culture through the streets and that was the march of civilization through the ‘wilderness’ of the uncharted territories.  The grit is here and now, but how seldom that gets shown is almost staggering. Though there are obvious purveyors of grit, one may not know or realize this when casually thinking about the concept of what constitutes a New York or LA art scene.  There may in fact be the opposite happening, the slicked surface treatments of a once flashy popism, the ‘controversial’ application of household goods and foodstuffs to canvases, or the somewhat tried and true but tired soft sculpture fiber arts turned painting that betrays its homages to Oldenburg.  I saw a kind of ‘grit’ on display during a Trecartin show at Regen Projects that was anything but a cleaned up attempt at authenticity coming from experience that read more like a high fiving session after a viral video campaign aimed at helping the ‘underprivileged.’ This sounds cynical, and it should, because the new cynicism is exactly this, a gentrified version of the real thing for the safe consumption of the moneyed classes. 

But this is not all there is and surface does have a redeeming quality.  Even a slick surface is rife with meaning when handled properly and not for its all too obvious function as a ‘comment’ on pop culture.  I am more closely aligned with the distressed surfaces of a Leonardo Drew installation than the supposed roughness of Sterling Ruby (though I do enjoy some of his work).  

The roughness of my paintings is seductive in some way, at least I’ve heard as much.  It’s hard to be one’s own critic sometimes and very easy on other occasions.  In these pieces I wanted to have the surface speak for itself while giving it air to breathe.  The paintings sit on top as much as they are a part of the surface itself.  The images are taken from local fires, sometimes of ruins and landscapes.  The clouds themselves have a surface that is bulbous and almost opulent in appearance but this gets betrayed by the fact that the surface is itself an illusion, you can’t actually touch it.  The smoke or ash clouds are represented on the surface of the painting by actual ashes rubbed into the surface after burning, a redoubling of the subject as such.  But ashes are much more than this too.  They are remainders and a type of memory of the objects they once were. Something about ashes is very powerful t the mind because within are housed memories and emotions tied to events of fire and the type of reverie that spring from it.  It’s this remainder that one has to question.  What was it that gave it its form, what had to be burned down to make this possible?  Of course the answers could be anything since most materials will burn down to this substance in a high enough blaze.  Alchemically, the ashes also hold all of the necessary information, an imprint, of its previous incarnation resulting in its ‘salt’ or seed. And just like the fire that burns down anything into ashes, it’s a force that can heat food and keep us warm.  The ashes become the ‘seed’ for the next generation of plant life and so on.  Perhaps Gaston Bachelard summarized fire in the best possible way by saying that fire ‘shines in heaven and burns in hell.’

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Why do I paint?

 'Nostalgie IV', Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel.

I do not subscribe to this idea that one medium is inferior to another, that because of personal preference or belief in the superiority of a medium one can privilege one over the other.  Typically this kind of privileging has to do with one’s belief in commodification or authenticity or even identity (gender roles or otherwise). Within each medium is a notion of the pure and authentic vs the commodified and naturalized, the radical vs the reactionary, the medium of action vs the reactive medium (if you like Nietzche for example).   I also don’t subscribe to the notion of radical art as coming only from the ‘less privileged’ or the ‘marginalized’ mediums.  This, in a complete 360 degree turn manages only to privilege those forms of art vs the others, not in any sort of radical shift, but rather in a totally normalized way.  Privileging certain forms of art turns those forms into the ‘Other.’  Given the amount of time, space, media attention that these ‘other’ mediums receive in the institutional system and outside of it, this argument is completely out of its own element.  What am I talking about specifically?  Since the late 1960s the ‘marginal’ mediums have historically been performance, video, installation, conceptual, and ephemeral art.  Institutions typically refer to the university, the museum, the gallery.  Interestingly however, because of the institutionalization of theory via its embedding within the university in the 1970s, these marginal mediums became the preferred mediums of the institutions themselves.  This did not happen overnight, but to be certain, video art is today no less inferior than painting, and sculpture is not less superior than performance.  The institutionalization of all these media made certain that the edge that each once had have been thoroughly blunted and the radical was turned into the merely consequential.  What seems like an innocuous enough notion of levelling of the playing field appears in actuality as a push for the privileging of a different form of art. But why?  If identity politics is to be believed the reason for this privileging of the ‘other’ media is not because of what they are but because of what they represent.  Painting and sculpture represent the old world, the conservative, hierarchical, patriarchal system of oppression while performance and video represent progress and inclusivity.  The strangest operation is at work here however.  While ephemeral arts seem to operate in the realm of equality and universality while contending that painting and sculpture might in some way be elitist because of their ties to money, such as corporate funds, private collections, and so on (and this is in fact true, but this is not why they are elitist), they themselves focus on particularity in the forms of identity as opposed to the universalist ideals of their earlier incarnations, becoming elitist in their own right.  

Personally I believe that identity theory is anything but a usable theory for going forward.  Identity politics with its focus on the body, gender, orientation, race, only deflects the issues without solving any of them.  It is a dead end in the institutionalized knowledge and commercial structure of the art world.  While I understand the urgency and vehemence of the proponents and I am absolutely behind the struggle for equality for all races and genders, I believe that this is a fight that cannot be fought and won in the realm of art, at least not until major ruptures and cracks appear in the institutional system.  We must remember that systems are created to absorb and nullify dissent.  What are we accomplishing by creating an institution out of identity politics?  Only an arena in which individuals must prostrate themselves within a guilt ridden spectacle of a type of struggle session that leaves everyone equally guilty and equally culpable.  

So this is why I paint.  It is not a political or social belief, but rather a belief in the medium itself as a vehicle for a deeper truth, and this goes for all other mediums.  Each medium has within it the potential for a deeper meaning and a type of truth that is masked by the false consciousness that we give it when we make it into an institution.   The new paintings are a result of years of trial and error, thinking and experience and lots of reading.  By going through many mediums I’ve arrived a point in which I was able to get rid of a lot of excessive ‘stuff’ like color and the need to say everything all at once in every piece.  The work is narrowed and shows bit by bit the whole picture.  While these paintings are mostly of smoke clouds from local wildfires, painted from photographs I took myself, they refer to much more than that, memory, nostalgia, the terrible and the beautiful sides of nature and so on.  The truth is somewhere in there, but very difficult to dig out.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Memories Cabins Tiny Houses

'Nostalgia V', Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel. 

If the last post was an indicator of what is to come, I can only assure you that what I see on the horizon is not very pretty.  We are living in interesting, if chaotic times, and not only due to the election of reality star and megalomaniac Donald Trump whose track record is the sucking of money out of the environment and culture that supports him and then making the banks, and us who support the banks with our labor and value, pay for it.  To be absolutely clear, former president Obama’s track record is equally abysmal, with the escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan, the bailout of banks and creditors instead of the people, caving in to the corporations and insurance mafia to produce a dysfunctional system of healthcare, that is neither used for health or for care, rather for the enriching of the few providers who now have a virtual monopoly on healthcare in every state, for the continued and growing debt of the student population, that will only get worse with the installment of Trump in office whose entire modus operandi circles around a ritualized belief in the markets and business as the panacea for all national ills.  Why do I mention this?  Isn’t this the absolutely homogenized narrative of the supposed ‘liberal’ media that want you to believe that their way is the only way, or the opposite of this narrative brought to you via Alex Jones, Infowars and the normalized conspiracy theories that more and more reflect the state of affairs as such? What, if anything are we learning by exposing the lunacy of our supposed leaders? I am always of the opinion that if there was a choice between voting for candidate one or two, the obvious choice for me is always option number three, nobody.  I’d rather not be led anywhere.  The idea of a leader is a sure fire way to be led into disaster or oblivion.  But again, why do I mention Trump or Obama when there are literally hundreds of thousands of hours of media regurgitation devoted to this subject?  The answer is simple, tiny houses.  

Some years ago I was predicting that the tiny house movement is doomed before it even begun.  These days the reality of my prediction is slowly coming true.  Ok, I realize I’m not Nostradamus and when I say ‘predicted’ I really just mean ‘inferred.’  I simply saw the idea and movement of the tiny house as untenable.  What I hoped for was to be pleasantly surprised that such a thing would not happen.  Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case.  I am not at all surprised by the turn of events, but let’s just go over a few examples of what’s been going on.  As you might know the tiny house movement was started by a few enthusiasts that wanted to simplify their lives in the face of the growing discontent and bloating of capitalism.  The movement stood against the marketization and monetization of particular lifestyles.  Inspired in part by Henry David Thoreau and E. F. Schumacher’s book on economics ‘Small is Beautiful,’ the movement eschews all that is sacred to modern capitalism, desire for money, possessions, growth, domination, and instead focuses on a return to a modest or moderate state of being and living in harmony with the surrounding environment.  There are issues with this type of romanticism, but at its core the movement’s heart is in the right place.  Reduce the footprint, reduce the amount of stuff, downsize, pay less, enjoy more, think more, believe more, that is the formula of the endless numbers of little Thoreaus that attempted to live this kind of life style.  The one particular issue that I tend to pick with the tiny house dwellers is that, like the modern so-called ‘minimalists, they are unfortunately taking the issue to its absolute opposite and unsustainable end, in a very traditional American fashion, and in this very traditional American fashion some are not above attempting to sell their belief to the rest of humanity as not just a way to be, but rather as ‘the’ way to be, engaging in another type of emotional blackmail similar to the greenwashing of globalist corporations some ten years ago.  

Consider this, there are tiny homes for sale for the hefty price of $72,000 at less than 200 square feet, actually making the tiny house more expensive per foot than its larger counterpart.  What you get for this price is a ‘luxury tiny home’ with all modern amenities, wifi enabled lights and appliances, high end materials that will leave you wanting nothing of the civilization that you are supposedly leaving behind.  Two years ago I saw a Craigslist ad for a tiny house for rent in the back of someone’s property in Asheville, North Carolina for $1500/month.  There are dozens in not hundreds of architects and corporations working on mass producing and commodifying tiny houses for simple consumption.  High profile magazines like Dwell regularly print articles on middle to upper-middle class families ‘escaping’ the grind to their tiny houses. If Thoreau was alive today, surely he would puke in his pantaloons.  

The problem I see is that among the countless articles and documentaries on the wonderful world of tiny homes and their occupants, there are virtually no longitudinal studies of the effects of long term habitation of small, foundation-less homes on those that live in them.  There is no clear picture here of what will happen to the children that will be one day born and will live crammed in with their parents.  The lives of the occupants are human after all, and with this type of humanity come interpersonal and emotional issues.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with tiny homes, what exactly is wrong with the idea of just a small house?  I’ve studied cabins and cabin life for some time so I think I have a little to say about this phenomenon.  I grew up in a mountain cabin that was shared by my family, but it was big enough to accommodate something like 10 people at a time if need be, thick walls, wood stove and all.  I am a big proponent of simple living but not at the cost having it sold back to me as a commodity.  

Memory is a tough nut to crack.  We don’t remember what generations before us had to go through or endure and that is why we must endure ourselves. We are the cause of our own anguish and happiness, and even if someone from the future travelled to meet us and tell us exactly what we should change about ourselves and our behavior so as to avoid certain outcomes, we would not be able to do it because we are creatures of habit and purveyors of the now.  There present is all there is and the ramifications of the past or the future hold no sway over the actions of the civilized.  The clouds are closing in and as during the Dust Bowl we are able to see them coming but have absolutely no way of holding them back.  

Friday, February 3, 2017

Clouds of Discontent

'Nostalgie III', Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel

The beginning is always the worst.  How does one start speaking about anything?  This may have to do with the sense that when one starts talking or writing about anything there must be some impetus or a reason for them to do so.  What’s worse is when one has nothing else to speak about but oneself.  Obviously not everybody has this problem, no celebrity I know about has this issue of having to talk about themselves ad nauseum.  It’s a bit different with art.  I’m not necessarily here to write about myself, rather about my work, yet this will somehow have to relate to me in the end.  Why did I make this, or how did I go about doing that?  Further one down the road the inevitability of rational explanations for the existence of the work as such come up, what are the theories, inspirations, drives, motives, who are you looking at, what do you read?  Perhaps to talk about nothing but oneself deflects the uncomfortable questions and more uncomfortable answers one might give when one isn’t quite sure why and how and for what purpose one’s work exists.   

To talk about oneself can be a tactic.  It says this is how I feel and you, as audience, cannot or should not be able to criticize or find fault with what I say. That would be akin to discrimination.  The self is highly vulnerable.  It is the last bastion of freedom in this over-connected confessional culture we find ourselves in.  And I’ve noticed as others have, that ‘freedom’ is rarely talked about and isn’t as much of our vernacular as it used to be some 10-20 years ago.  There may be lots of reasons for this.  We may be freer that we ever were, but are we?  What does our freedom mean, what does it contain, how do we experience it, and above all, what is it?  I deal with nostalgia the way I deal with freedom as a phenomenon of the mind and spirit. Freedom comes from being able to act of free will.  One can be free even if one is locked up in prison, at least in theory.  If Foucault is correct then even the freedom to one’s mind is being deliberately sabotaged through a system of discipline and punishment.  The prison is designed to break one’s spirit, to break one’s mind, when in the past it was designed to break one’s body leaving the mind more or less intact.   

Scientific research today is countering with forays into mind control devices that make it appear as though one is still in control of one’s mind and body, even though one is being manipulated remotely. Will it be possible for the modern prisoner to be simply wired up like an automaton, rendered harmless though 24/7 remote manipulation that the prisoner will not even notice is happening, if anything, the prisoner will remain ‘free’ in his/her own mind while under total control of the manipulator?  How far are we from this reality ourselves on the outside? The clouds of discontent are hanging over the horizon.  The more we believe ourselves to be free the more our culture sees to it that we understand our freedom as something imposed by others.  Maybe nostalgia is a vestige of freedom, a glimpse into the unreality of supposed freedoms, a yearning for a freedom we thought we had.  Nostalgia offers us a replacement for our freedoms, it says ‘see, things used to be much better like this or like that.’  It tries and fails to recuperate the loss of the self in the abyss of the greater good.  That’s why the huge projects of the past strike us as spectacular failures today, the ultimate nostalgic projects of history like Stalinism, the Industrial Revolution, Manifest Destiny, Modernism and countless others.  They brought with their triumphalism and short term victories the horrors of contemporary society running on the debts to the environment and future generations.  Evolution in reverse.