Monday, January 31, 2005

inspiration slowdown

Just stopped painting, abruptly, when I realized I no longer had any idea whether I was making it better or worse. No longer had any idea WHAT I was doing, in fact. Time to call it a day.

Camilla called unexpectedly at 8:30 AM on Friday, wanting to go to the MoMA. Camilla is one of those long-term acquaintance-type friends with whom I continue to be on equally friendly terms, no matter how much time goes by. The last time I saw her was in August of 2001, which would make it three and a half years--ten years since we started work together as brand new Information Ladies at the P.L. of SF. She was the OTHER younger blonde chick who slouched in slightly late, carrying an illegal cup of coffee. We never became deeply close, after she once stood me up for a weekend camping trip by infinitely drawn-out degrees of postponement. Thereafter I decided never to depend on her for any sort of long- or short-term plans, but to fully appreciate her whenever she happened to be present. And lo, on Friday she was.

Camilla is now an "older" law student at Syracuse, in Buffalo. Yikes. She says she has wanted to be a lawyer since she was five--Things You Never Knew About People. I'm really excited for her. Over the last ten years it has been library school, and incompletes and extensions and unfinished papers, and buying a typewriter to write the novel that never quite got started, and torturous drawn-out affairs with men who were too old or too young or too phobic or married. And various political blow-outs at the library where she was invariably the scapegoat, I could never see why. Now she tells me that in her first semester of law school, at least one evil law professor made her their personal scapegoat. She could't say why.

The patterns of karma and personality are infinitely mysterious. Camilla is one of those people who gets into conversations with drab little old men at the information desk, and busboys, and workmen on the subway who are covered in mud, and cranky old women in wheelchairs and shy, unattractive children. She finds things to fascinate and admire in the most unlikely people; she is a populist, an egalitarian and an open-hearted humanitarian. She has little ego, little envy and no malice. It's hard for me to imagine why various people over the years have suddenly decided she was Satan, and screamed at her in the children's reading room or hissed at her in the hallway or tried to run her down with a book truck. Except that maybe once she slept with their husband or stood them up for a camping trip or spoke out loudly against corruption when all the rest were silent. But you've got to forgive these things.

One odd thing I always noticed about Camilla--no matter who she was dating, young guy or old, married or player, she was always a mistress and never a girlfriend. Not an expensive mistress with diamonds and furs and an elegant downtown apartment, either--a hole-in-corner, drunk-3-AM-booty-call mistress, an it's-over-except-that-it-isn't woman, a get-out-of-here-quick-my-girlfriend's-coming-over girl. She was always the rebound relationship even if the affair lasted nine years; the guy would always marry the one after her. I never understood this, either. She puts no effort whatsoever into personal appearance, but this generally fails to conceal a certain jaw-dropping stunningness of face and figure, to accompany the sharp and well-informed mind. For ten years I have diligently fought the impulse to drop her in a bathtub, scrub, apply hairbrush, mascara and contact lenses, stuff her into a slinky black dress and let her loose in a room full of French diplomats. It would be a rout. I have never understood why she has never bothered, but such is the nature of political idealists.

So it seems that someday, Camilla will be a drab little public defender with a crushing caseload of society's derelicts, underpaid and underappreciated, and this will be her dream come true. I'm so glad she's in my life. When she passes the bar I will be there cheering.

The MoMA was good, if only to serve as a reminder that no, I'm not a crappy artist and should not give up and go run some non-profit arts organization instead of wasting my time and more expensive linen canvas. It cost twenty dollars to get in or I'd go more often; fortunately I finally sent in my artist's membership application to the Whitney. I will go to Member's Only openings, schmooze, and remind myself regularly that there are lots of worse artists than me out there who get a lot more attention than I do. On good days I find hope and encouragement in this fact. Camilla and I saw about half the MoMA, nearly passed out from exhaustion and low blood sugar, restored ourselves in the café for two hours over beets, cheese, olives and two carafes of wine, then zoomed through the second half with arrogance and vigor.

Tally of favorite artists, this month: Egon Schiele rocks. He's even better than Klimt. Picasso and Matisse are idiots, Brancusi is a god, Rodin is boring, Hopper rules, Wyeth is anal but competent. MoMA curators do not have a SINGLE CLUE about Mexican art, they include the worst of Frida, Diego, Siquieros and Orozco and do not include Tamayo at all, a heinous, unforgivable oversight IMHO. On the lower, more contemporary floors--what IS it with Twombly? Video, don't TALK to me about video, even the "89 Seconds at Alcazar" that I missed at the Biennial and, surprisingly, found again at the MoMA was, well, unenlightening. Jasper Johns holds up less well than one would think. Richard Serra forgot to clean up after himself. Jeff Koons ought to be squashed like the cockroach he is, and not given surprise fiftieth birthday parties at Deitch projects that get written up with all due seriousness and a suspicious lack of irony in The New Yorker. There is no justice in the world.

Well, maybe I was getting tired toward the end, there. But somebody should put Brice Marden out of his misery.

At least I was able to come home and look at the half-completed "Unravelling of Grief" in my studio, and instead of shriveling up in shame and misery I thought--there's hope. Today as I was working on it, I had the revelation that my paintings should work to subvert linear logic, in the manner of a Zen koan. Ideally, a viewer should look at one and think, first, "wow, that's beautiful," and then, upon examination of this beauty, think "wait, what IS that, exactly," and then, upon trying to figure it out, mental circuits should temporarily jam, leaving a second of mental silence which opens the floodgates for the vastness of creation to enter, assisted by the deep beauty and cogent vibrations of the painting, and voilá! Enlightenment. THAT'S what I should be striving for.

Unfortunately this was an awfully big burden for "Unravelling of Grief" to shoulder all at once, which may be why I had to stop for the time being. I'll try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Renaissance of wonder

Against all odds, I may get involved in another Project. I know I said no more galleries, no big ambitious business plans, just monastic solitude and painting, painting, painting.

Or maybe not. Two weeks ago someone forwarded me a "craigslist" posting. "Wouldn't it be fun to renovate a derelict building and make a non-profit artspace out of it?" Well, yes, it would. It was posted by a girl from Austin with little brown pigtails, and job experience with Half Price Books and Habitat for Humanity. She suggested that we meet at 6:30 on Sunday, then emailed that she had another commitment on Sunday and would probably be late, so could we please wait outside in the 17 degree wind for fifteen or twenty minutes till she got there?

This is why I swore off doing fun non-profit collective art projects.

BUT one of the other people who responded had sense. A lot of sense. Equally important, he was an Oxbridge-educated international investment banker with experience founding cool, creative projects that actually worked. He offered his apartment for the meeting; if I were him, I'd want to show off my apartment, too, with the windows facing Central Park, the antique oil lamps lining the window seats, the slate-blue paint job, the orchids. When he plugged in the sound track from "Amelie" and offered us some Chateau-du-something-or-other that he had lying around, I decided to consider the project a little more seriously.

First meeting, four people. We exchanged notions. I mentioned my former gallery, my "Lighthouse" plans that I filed when Grace moved to Philadelphia, and I realized that I was just too tired to get a degree in real estate management and find a way to finance a multi-million dollar project all by myself. I mentioned healing, restoration, community and synergy. Surprisingly, everybody liked this. We assigned research, writing and networking homework and adjourned.

Second meeting was just me and banker-dude, due to blizzard, with one phone-in and one had-to-work-late. This was fine, since our homework was "draft mission statement together" and we had not done it.

"So, what is art FOR?" was the opening sally, and we were off.

Part of the reason I am leery of collective projects is that I have very, very strong opinions about what art is for, and very strong ways of expressing those opinions, and enough mental organization and commitment to put those views into practical manifestation. What happens, then, is that people with differing views, who might be timid about expressing them, and slower to put them into practice, start feeling railroaded and get pissed off. So as to avoid this, I make a big effort to solicit everyone's opinions and integrate them in practice. This only works, though, if everybody is equally committed to the process, which hardly ever happens.

For example, when I first opened the gallery I was pushed by ex-boyfriend into working with a curator, since he had no faith in my abilities and wanted to push the responsibility off onto somebody, anybody, who wasn't his girlfriend. In his view, this would lessen the stress on our relationship. He dredged up a curator who was a friend of one of his tenants and had happened to mention, in passing, that the storefront of his building would make a cute little gallery.

So I set up a series of meetings with her, to which she arrived, invariably, late and under-prepared. She expressed an interest in curating a series of shows, since 'a series attracts more interest.' Pushed by ex-boyfriend, I agreed. I set up deadlines and loose parameters, which she consistently ignored. I drafted a mission statement, which included the phrase, "we seek to exhibit art which shows a mastery of medium and a transcendence of subject matter." She took exception to this statement, since the art of her preferred artists demonstrated neither of these qualities. I removed the phrase and substituted something more watered-down and equivocal.

The curator's first proposal included:

1) a Mexican artist whose project required me to foot the bill for four DVD players, four large LCD monitors, and four professional framing jobs for four banal photographs, unlikely to sell to our nonexistent collector base, thus unlikely to recoup the overhead that the curator explicitly disclaimed responibility for covering;

2) an Italian artist whose gallery forbid her from exhibiting anywhere else;

3) some drawings done by a guy who was making the transition to considering himself an avant-garde video artist, and had no interest in exhibiting his drawings.

Of course I should never have been working with this person at all. The only reason I tried was because of boyfriend's paranoia, which is a terrible compass with which to guide a project. I allowed this curator to continue making proposals, even after she failed to show up for the grand opening, which consisted entirely of my own work, this being the only thing available when her show failed to materialize. After the opening, which she spent at the beach with her boyfriend, she emailed me, "Perhaps we ought to set up some deadlines."

Forthwith we set up more deadlines, which she continued to ignore. I interviewed an artist she suggested for a show in December. The artist asked, "Do you have collectors?" "Not yet, we are brand new," I said. The artist agreed to the show in December, then three weeks later, when I asked her for some digital images for the website, she emailed the curator and said she was having second thoughts about showing. She never told me personally, or responded to my request in any way.

Meanwhile I accepted the curator's proposal for a show in September, and set deadlines for press release, promo etc. On the press release deadline the curator had a party at her apartment; I met the artist whose promo was scheduled to go out that day. He did not seem to have heard of me.

The curator's next idea was that her boyfriend should curate the September show, since she was too busy to do it justice. The boyfriend's proposals consisted mainly of vague references to friends of his, who were mostly still in art school and who mostly failed to return phone calls or show up for meetings. Out of desperation and necessity, I curated the September show myself, without much press or promo since I had a week and a half's notice. The September show was Libby's. Enough said.

The alleged curator then emailed me, suggesting that we 'sign a contract for her to curate a series.' Ex-boyfriend suggested that I give this notion some serious consideration. I suggested that I let her suggestion lie where it fell with a thud. After mature reflection, ex-boyfriend agreed to this. Wonders never cease.

About a year later, a friend of the alleged curator's mentioned to me, "Did you hear about Alleged C.? Her boyfriend beat the sh*t out of her." I saw her at a party about a week later. She had two black eyes and didn't seem to want to chat. She started her own gallery this year; I know because, for whatever reason, I'm still on her mailing list. The latest featured artist is eating a sheetrock wall in the 'gallery' (which, as far as I can tell, is Alleged C.'s new apartment in Chelsea, where she evidently moved after getting the sh*t beat out of her in Brooklyn), at the rate of 1.9 inches per day. She's feeding sheetrock cake to her patrons. I am not making this up. I'd ask to be taken off the mailing list, except that I am incurably prurient.

So anyway. How did I get into that? It was a story I thought I'd never tell. I think, perhaps, it's an illustration of the fact that to succeed with a collective project, or any project, all members have to be equally committed. All members have to be committed, period. The further away I move from my erstwhile boyfriend, the more clearly I see that I cannot blame myself AT ALL for failed relationship, failed gallery, financial struggles, or even sleeping too much. When you try to work with a 'partner' who is in doubts about the very notion of partnership, and requires proof of success in order to sign on the dotted line, it's like trying to walk on one leg. It doesn't work; it CAN'T POSSIBLY work. Commitment is a necessary tool for solving problems, not the prize you bestow after all problems have solved themselves.

"Trying to walk on one leg" is not entirely a metaphor, either. It is astonishing how literally the body can manifest the imbalances of the mind. For the last four years I have been dragging my left foot, which has gotten increasingly weaker and more painful no matter how much I alternately rest it, exercise it, or do yoga. Finally, at Christmas, I found the miracle chiropractor, who told me that the problem was actually in my hip, did some phenomenal adjustments, and recommended Pilates, which will strengthen my abdominal muscles, support my sacro-iliac joint, and allow it to heal.

I've been doing Pilates for a couple of weeks now, and am starting to rediscover the countries of territory contained in my left side. I had forgotten they were there; the pain was simply a final manifestation of a shutting-up and closing-down process that has probably been going on since I was eight years old and my ballet teacher told me that I was too young for toe shoes. According to mystics and astrologers and irritating New Age energy healing types, the left side is the feminine, receptive side; according to Western scientists, the left side is governed by the right brain, the intuitive, creative side.

So in essence I am a female artist with a fundamental weakness, instability and insecurity in my creative, feminine foundation. Perhaps this explains the grant rejections.

Last week I went to the Brooklyn Museum for the Sargent exhibit, and found myself spending more time with Marilyn Monroe than even with Sargent's glowing, casual mastery of his medium. I studied every photograph and read every biographical note all the way through, in a state of beglamoured wonder. I looked through the guest book--hundreds of people had written notes of love, support and adoration, to Marilyn PERSONALLY, as though she had taken all the photographs herself, curated, planned and mounted the exhibition, and were alive to read feedback. A few things I noticed about Marilyn that I'd never taken the trouble to notice before:

1) In nearly every photograph taken of her she is smiling as though she has just caught sight of the person she loves most in the world, home from sailing around the world, and horny as hell.

2) Her public image is meticulously constructed, sustained by incredible consistency and force of will, and done so by a smart, complex mind that knows exactly what it is doing.

3) People love her not just for her sexiness but for her heart, included in and integrated with the sexiness. Madonna, who co-opted the look and the sexiness, replaced that love with naked ego, verging on narcissism; I think this makes Madonna less vulnerable, but much less lovable.

4) My own figure is, astonishingly, hugely similar to Marilyn's. Perhaps even more so than Madonna's, for all her crazed diets, workouts and body-sculpting.

This last revelation was no more and no less significant than the other three. Perhaps this information is too personal and, paradoxically, common and banal for public consumption, but my last boyfriend was not nice to me about my body. He said things like "You've almost got a 'thutt,' that's when your thigh and your butt are practically contiguous" and "Oooo, when you lean over like that your stomach is like, all droopy," and other original, twelve-year old remarks like that. Such teasing can be guardedly tolerated when a man is consistently enthusiastic, expert and adoring in the sack, but my ex-boyfriend was crap in the sack and I no longer care who knows it.

I knew, usually, that my boyfriend's juvenile and stupid remarks stemmed mostly from his own unhappy juvenile experiences, and that generally he loved me and thought I was beautiful. So usually I didn't take them personally. But I think the ligaments connecting my sacro-iliac joint on my left side took them very, very personally. They stopped thinking, "wow, we're a gifted artist with the brains of Erasmus and the build of Marilyn Monroe" and started thinking, "we're fat and ugly and stupid and weak, and we'll never get the grants or the shows or the marriage proposal of our dreams, and will always play second-fiddle to people with no talent and less responsibility." And they kind of Gave Up.

So, in addition to the Pilates classes, and soon the reinstated hot yoga classes, and longer bike rides and walks around beautiful Brooklyn in the snow, I am doing my sacro-iliac joint the favor of not allowing mean, irresponsible people a second chance. The artists who did not RSVP my Christmas party do not get on the curatorial consideration list for the glorious interdisciplinary art space in Chelsea that the investment banker and I are busy planning. The ex-boyfriend and the alleged curator do not get on the mailing list for anything, ever. Any potential future boyfriends who make one juvenile, stupid comment in my hearing do not get cut any compassion slack at all, ever again. I used to hate those self-righteous California brats who stuck their noses in the air about every minor difference of opinion and said, "I don't NEED that," but now I'm one of them. I don't need that.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


I actually looked forward to this. When the blizzard hit, I was SO READY. Took the last of the summer blueberries out of the freezer and started the day with blueberry-buckwheat pancakes and a huge pot of freshly-ground organic Guatemalan coffee. Then I put the rosemary-raisin brioche out to rise and made a tuna-noodle casserole, complete with bread-crumb-parmesan topping, oooo, white trash hyper-carbo comfort food, the blizzard a perfect excuse! I might have to eat this ALL WEEK! Then I read my new Dean Koontz novel until, against all odds, a client called and braved the drifts for a massage. Which means I get to eat next week, hooray! I have three faithful clients who do not mind about the change of venue one bit--three. An airport security guard from Jersey City, an old-Brooklyn martial arts instructor, and a workaholic fashionista. Go figure.

After the client left, I O.D.'d on tuna noodle during "Prairie Home Companion," baked the bread, finished the novel, and read a friend's girlfriend's blog, which always makes me feel like I'm spying on things I have no right to know about. But she posts stuff like "I gave M. an ultimatum--get a job or I'm leaving you," and he posts links on his blog to hers, so there it is and I read it. I told her, rah, rah, as a friend of HIS I think this is a good move for BOTH of you. As I have so recently learned, enabling someone's negativities and dysfunctions does not actually help the other person, and becomes an impossible burden on YOU. Her blog was also full of long descriptions of impossible work deadlines and inconsiderate co-workers that require her to arrive early and leave late and work weekends, and I wondered, why? I could understand working these sorts of hours for, say, tsunami relief, or center for disease control, or child-care for kids abandoned by heroin-addict mothers. But this girl is a graphic designer. It seems to me that when one is a graphic designer and a co-worker shows up with a last-minute idea for a postcard they want to hand out at a conference on Tuesday, the only sane, responsible, healthy reply is "No." No, I can't do that by Tuesday, it is 6:30 on Friday and the printer turnaround time is two and a half days and I have plans for this weekend. No. You'll have to get it to me sooner next time. And you go home and have a nice weekend and don't feel guilty.

Anyway, I don't know why I am writing about all this, except that it bothered me. I told her what worked for me, when I was in office-job hell--act like you are doing people a favor. Do your job elegantly, efficiently, graciously and well, but do it as though you are a duchess who has decided to do a little office work on a whim. Works like a charm. People are grateful and worship you and cry when you leave for a better job, instead of loading you down like a Mexican burro and never thanking you or raising your salary. You do not get what you deserve in this world; you get what you expect, and what you tolerate.

Earlier in the week I went upstate with Neneng-girl and did more baking and fire-building and cooking of wholesome meals and cleaning and organizing. She kept thanking me for all the work I was doing until I told her to stop, I do this like I do breathing. I can't help it, I enter a space and start making it cozy. Neneng-girl said I should put this in a personal ad: "Compulsive Cozifier seeks..." well, what DO I seek?

I seek a sexy man of God, is what I've decided. I got that from "Raising Helena;" it was spoken by that adorable actor who played the DJ on "Northern Exposure" and whose name I always forget, oh, John Corbett, I think. I don't necessarily want to marry a priest, but I want somebody conscious, somebody kind, somebody spiritual. I always thought that "spiritual person" was redundant and a tautology, since I consider all beings to be essentially spirit, but COME ON. "Aggressive, wilful negativity" is what I have been getting, and it's time for that to stop.

My problem is that I like complicated people, and complicated people are frequently complicated because they're FUCKED UP. The trick is to find complexity that doesn't involve the wild gyrations of a confused mind which will do anything to avoid confronting its own fucked-uppedness. Unfortunately I have a visceral horror of being bored. My tolerance for "spiritual" people who lecture me earnestly about the oneness of everything and how everything happens for a reason is about half a toe-tapping, grinning, nodding hour. I want someone who takes this for granted, and then explores the specifics and wondrous adventures contained therein.

Okay, then, so why don't I like geeks? Badger likes geeks, Badger IS a geek (she admits this herself, it's not an insult) and she likes them for the abovementioned complexity and lack of boringness. As they say, it looks good on paper.

Well, for one thing, I don't have a geek-brain. I take those online "nerd" tests and score low, not "you're unbelieveably dumb and boring" sort of low, just "you must be one of those Cool people we don't know what to do with" low. I read somewhere that to be a true hacker, you have to have the sort of mind that absorbs immense amounts of arcane, detailed and unrelated information like a sponge. My mind does not do that, and furthermore has a horror of having too much arcane, detailed and unrelated information thrown at it too quickly. My mind is an integrator, a simplifier, a streamliner. It wants to grasp the essence and the implications of every bit of information it receives, and fit it into a Whole, perhaps into The Whole. The vast majority of geek-brain fascinata, such as gaming, l33t (I only just this week found out what 'l33t' was, and was mildly disintrigued by the notion), subtle political machinations, Star Trek, programming, and most science fiction strikes me as mildly interesting but essentially trivial and Beside The Point. At the same time, I am even more uninterested in mainstream, non-geek things like iPods, cell phones, video games, cable TV, fashion trends, and most particularly competitive sports (except for gymnastics and ice-skating) which I consider the least interesting, most agonizingly trivial thing any doofus ever got pointlessly obsessed with.

So then, I'm really a very boring person. I am only interested in art, music, theatre, healing (particularly 'alternative' healing, more particularly mystical, esoteric, light-drenched 'energy' healing, which earns snorts of contempt from many intellectuals), dance, meditation, literature, film, philosophy, psychology, physics, Really Good Stories, and spirituality. Most importantly spirituality as it relates to all these other things. Also economics, an interest which has come upon me latterly and out of dire practical considerations. Also gardening, interior design, and architecture. Also, sort of, cooking.

Possible ad: "Cultured Farm Wife Seeks Gentleman Farmer." Or, simply, "Duchess seeks Duke."

I think the underlying puzzle piece which I have come to understand about myself is that I am primarily kinesthetic, not intellectual. How things *feel* is of central consideration in my understanding of the world. Things need to be centered, balanced, grounded and have a sense of continuity. They need to not go spinning off in random tangential directions without an underlying form or purpose. They need to reveal Truth and not get hung up on Ego. In essence, for me to find something interesting, it needs to assist the cause of inner peace.

Also, you know, I'm a creature. A female creature with a limbic brain that wants a mate who will keep the mountain lions away from my babies. Too many geeks, sadly, are housed in weedy little bodies that couldn't snaffle a mountain kitten. I can't help it, it's biological.

So I don't know what this adds up to. My friends all say that they are absolutely positive I will find a proper mate and settle down to being the cultured, nurturing, artistic farm wife I was designed to be. Still, I worry--nobody married Jane Austen! Maybe I blew it by not walking away from the fucked-up ones soon enough. Maybe all the good ones are married already, or too young, or too poor, or too old. Maybe I'll grow into an intimidating old lady with cats.

Ad: "Former Courtesan Seeks Dignified Hovel In Which To Disappear."

Neneng-girl is spending a lot of time upstate because of her dog, who has cancer of the head and whose oncological prognosis is virtually nil. He can't manage the stairs to her apartment any longer, but as long as he is at the big country estate with no stairs and acres of snowy wilderness to romp around, he appears perfectly happy. His head is all cocked to the side and one eye is no longer functional, but he still fetches indefatigably, and tries to pick up fallen trees, and leaps up in ecstasy when you throw snow in his face. It was actually rather beautiful, spending time with him--I'm not a dog person, but we played "fetch" for hours, and took walks in the snow, and played snow-in-the-face, and bonded. I could see how his clear, enthusiastic mind held sway over his deteriorating body, and how he was not going to let that body get in the way of one seconds' worth of fun.

I told Neneng-girl that I think the oncologist is wrong, that as long as he's upstate playing "fetch" with his favorite person, he could last indefinitely. This is hell on her, of course, because she has a life which involves things other than playing "fetch." But it's better to go through these agonizing decisions with an animal first, I suppose, before it's mom or dad or sister or husband.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Today I finally whacked into the painting of the bird unravelling the city. The background is an abstracted version of the view out my window, and as I painted the gray of the snowy sky and dirty buildings turned bluer and bluer until it was jewel-like and the shadows were deep purple. Then it faded to black.

Irrational rage

Okay, my biology is currently waging war against my Higher Self. There is no good reason for me to be mad at the poor hapless French girl. She would be mortified if she knew. If I met her in person I am sure I could never be so mad at her. She just misunderstood me. She's going through a rough time, too. This is an opportunity for me to practice loving others as myself. I am not mad at her. I am mad at myself. I am making a mistake, I am not seeing things clearly, I am projecting, externalizing my inner split, projecting the conflict in my inner self onto an apparent Other who is really me.

I was just thinking, this afternoon, as I left my apartment for the first time in three days, having been moping around with a low-level respiratory infection all weekend, that I should make Libby a CD of her show at my gallery. I have about 80 high-resolution JPEGs of her fabulous installation, and she ought to have them to make into slides. I was thinking this because when I checked the mail on the way out the door, I discovered my slides and rejection form letter from the Smack Mellon residency program, the one that Libby was applying for last year, during her show. According to the letter, there were 430 applications for six studios, so neither I nor Libby should feel too bad about not getting one. I felt bad anyway. But it occurred to me that if Libby had some really high-definition slides of that installation, she might have better luck, next year.

Lest you think that I am some sort of psycho creepette with the inability to distinguish where Self ends and Other begins, let me hasten to add that Libby is about the only artist who showed at my gallery on behalf of whose career I would still cheerfully put in dozens of hours of unpaid labor. Libby, bless her, deserves it. All the others can go to hell--the ones who didn't hang their show by the deadline or pick it up when it was over, the one who spurned a Really Good Offer because she thought her piece was worth five times as much (it wasn't), the ones who showed me engaging, vibrant work in their studios and then brought lame, unprepossessing crap into the gallery, the ones who assumed I'd promised them a show because I was polite and actually looked at their portfolios, the ones who never even got as far as SHOWING me a portfolio but STILL expected a show, the ones who still owe me money.

Oh yes, I'm touchy, I admit it. Just because I can empathize with gallerists and college professors who are horribly rude to art students and ex-art students who want everything for nothing, doesn't mean I espouse rudeness, though. It hurts my feelings when gallerists and college professors snap at me or worse, completely ignore me, and I try not to behave this way toward other people. So when friends of friends write to me, telling me the Story of their Life, and wanting me to look at their Art, I say thank you, how lovely of you to write, send me some images, how nice. The hapless French girl, a friend of a friend, wrote to me half a year ago, and I wrote back to this effect.

I didn't hear back from her until today, when she wrote to ask if my offer to post her art on my website was still open. Huh? What art? What offer?

The proper response to this was, of course--I'm terribly sorry, my memory, dreadful, must be approaching decrepitude, but--who are you, exactly, again? No reason to be profoundly enraged. She just misunderstood me. It's a language problem, nothing more.

I know that the fact that I felt like someone had just injected essence of habanero chile into my carotid artery was just a symptom of stress. It is stressful when strangers pressure you to give them what you cannot give yourself. Earlier in the week I got a phone call from a guy who seemed to be under the impression that I was still running a gallery; he asked me how my "new shop" was going. "I don't have a shop, I'm working out of my apartment," I told him. "Oh, have you got room for art exhibitions, then?" he asked. Huh? "It's my apartment. I don't have a gallery. I don't intend to have another gallery, I'm working on my own art," I said, to be explicit. He went on to explain that he had plenty of galleries lined up to show his work, he just needed to schedule a show with one of them, only he hadn't, quite, yet. There was a hair salon in Jersey City that prominently displayed his portrait of the owner, though.

Compassion. That's the ticket. I need to feel compassion, we are all struggling, I need to focus on my blessings. The copy of Dante's Inferno that arrived as a surprise gift from friends in California, the other morning, blessing! Blessing! The friends even more than the Dante! The supportive family, the warm apartment, the new dishwasher that actually arrived the day after I gently teased Phil the Neanderthal about it! (I seem, bizarrely enough, to have gotten under Phil's skin--he actually behaves as though he likes me and wants me to be happy. Miracles never cease.)

I'm just going through a Phase. A phase of misanthropy, guilt, and self-doubt, one symptom being--putting an ad on with the headline, "Courtesan seeks Patron. Wastrels need not apply." Obviously I'm not ready to date, yet. But still I must wreak my wrath on strangers.

Why do I DO these things? Why can't I just be content, and accepting, and not totally fall to pieces when I discover that somehow I managed to assemble a 4' x 5' canvas stretcher with two corners at right angles and the two opposing corners about two degrees off, and did not discover this fact until the glue was dry, the canvas stretched AND gesso'd, and it was completely impossible to rectify, so that now the masterpiece that was to win the Onassis competition looks as though it is about to lurch precipitately off the wall? And thus completely lose my will to continue?

My dear friend Caroline returned from her spiritual retreat all glowing. She finally understood that reality as we perceive it is an illusion, created by madness. She keeps urging me to access the bliss of eternal oneness. This week I haven't managed this, quite. I'm still struggling with my imaginary boundaries, trying to gently correct the lines without totally flipping out.

I wrote to the French girl, "I encourage you to create your own website; it's not difficult or expensive. There are probably a lot of people in your town who would help. At the moment I'm not designing pages for other artists. Please send me the URL of yours when you get it posted, and I look forward to seeing it!" Was this harsh? I hope this wasn't harsh.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Unofficial new years' resolution #1:

Do not enter juryings that lever fees, at least in the months immediately preceding the holidays, when precious cash is better spent on gifts anyway. Or you might be checking your email on Christmas Eve, and open the one that says "Muckety-muck Biennial Shortlist" just as your beloved siblings are arriving at the front door, and be fruitlessly searching the list for your name as your favorite sister comes bursting in all full of joy and hugs, and you will feel hugged and slapped in the face simultaneously, and realize that you PAID some clueless curator to ruin your Christmas Eve, and it will Mar the Moment.

This was, of course, before the tsunami hit, and made such petty concerns seem rather worse than meaningless. But I moped anyway.

I saw the Andy Goldsworthy exhibit in Austin, though, and was restored. The important part of the exhibit was the 1 1/2 hour film about him, because most of his work doesn't translate to galleries, being in and of nature, and usually quite ephemeral. It surprises me how many people actually do know about Andy Goldsworthy, but in case you have not been in a bookstore that sells coffee-table art books during the last ten years--Andy Goldsworthy makes snow sculptures that melt, or leaf circles that blow away, or lines the tops of ancient, crumbling stone walls with sheep's wool, or suspends fragile webs of reeds and thorns from trees until they collapse in the wind. He does this most of the time. How he supported himself in the twenty or so years before the publication of his first coffee-table art book, I have no idea. But his work inspires, in me at least, a deep, wordless peace that reminds me why I make art in the first place. It's easy to forget, amid the frenetic ego-mayhem that is survival in New York.

Andy, talking about his work, does not irritate me in the way that, say, Jeff Koons does. He's not a glib fellow. His work he says, is about the struggle to understand the place he lives in. He wants to understand the way the river meets the sea, the way the sheep affect the land, the flow of the tides, the cycles of snow and sun. The forces that energize his work are the same forces that destroy it. It doesn't bother him when a sculpture that took hours of back-breaking frustration to create is carried out to sea with the tide, or melted by the sun, or taken by the wind; this is what connects him with the world, and makes the work larger than he ever could alone. "I know the world doesn't need me," he says.

This helped me articulate, once and for all, my frustration with my Basic Sculpture professor and that goddamned video about Spiral Jetty. One or two of my faithful readers will recall that during Basic Sculpture class, I was branded a reactionary for preferring Picasso's "Guernica" over Spiral Jetty, the famed Earthwork by Robert Smithson. The video about Spiral Jetty involved painfully long clips of dust blowing out behind a truck, and bulldozers pushing rocks into a lake, and endlessly twirling shots from a helicopter, coupled with overblown references to the ubiquitousness of Spirals in Nature. One of my more sensitive classmates referred to the work as "solipsistic;" I failed to appreciate the full, simple aptitude of this criticism until now.

For the meaning of "solipsistic" is "the notion that one is the only conscious being in the universe," and damn, wasn't that the case for Smithson. Spiral Jetty was about big, stupid ego and lack of understanding, ego perhaps greater than Picasso's. Yes, there are spirals in nature, duh; there are much more elegant and beautiful ways to convey a spiral, however, than bulldozing the shit out of a landscape selected for the cheap and uninhabited nature of its real estate. Smithson did not live for decades within the ecosystem of Spiral Jetty, as far as I know; he did not "watch the children lining up for school, and see them grow up and have children of their own" before he considered himself mature enough to comment upon it. Spiral Jetty tells us nothing about the movement of tides and seasons, the complex interrelationships of light and leaf and bedrock, the magic of frost and the cycles of living and dying. It's just about big, stupid men going apeshit with their big, stupid trucks and bulldozers and helicopters and video cameras.

I see it as no coincidence, now, that the professor who inflicted Spiral Jetty upon us was the same professor who utterly failed to comprehend why I wanted to "understand" my medium. In fact, I was feeling rather humble and abashed about my own klunky, literalistic paintings in the face of Andy Goldsworthy, until I realized that I, too, have embarked upon an adventure of understanding.

Because I really love to paint, not just in the ego-crashing-into-the-world manner of thousands of wannabe painters, who fling the pretty colors around at whim, thinking "look at me, I'm an Artist, I'm Painting, I Don't Understand Myself--I must be a Genius." In Williamsburg, I met about four of these a week. I was forced, by pressure of circumstance, to represent a few of them in my gallery. They're one of the major, major reasons I don't intend to open a gallery ever again. They can be ebullient, charming and fun, but they don't further the causes of peace or understanding, or anything at all but themselves.

No, for me, as I look back upon my obscure career, painting was always my wedge to create understanding--first of the human face and form and emotions, then of light, composition, color and texture, finally of energy and spirit, and the pursuit of the ineffable. I will say this for myself, that I pursue these things with more humility and singlemindedness of purpose than I have ever hounded hapless Williamsburg gallerists. And thus I don't need to feel like a total failure when Muckety-Muck Gallery leaves me off their Biennial shortlist. There will be other Biennials, as many as there are bi-years.

So, in case you care, amended resolutions:

1) Get up earlier (I will not tell you what time, lest you sneer, and anyway I'm so far failing on this one.)

2) Get into shape, meaning getting centered. On a visit to the Miracle Chiropractor of Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. David Estes, who is ALMOST as good as the Lord-High Shaman Chiropractor of San Francisco, CA, Dr. Dennis Millward, I discovered that the reason that I have been limping for the last several years, heavily favoring my left foot, is that I have an unstable sacro-iliac joint, and my whole left side has been progressively shriveling up on itself. There are infinite theories as to why this might be so, but the upshot of it is that I need to give up any hope of running marathons in this lifetime, but focus on Pilates and yoga, and work on balancing the energy in both halves of my body. This is a great relief, since the high-impact workouts I had come to expect of myself were getting too painful to continue with. Now I have the fun, hopefully attainable goal of stretching, breathing, balancing and not hurting so goddamn much.

3) Make each day a meditation, whether writing, making art, doing bodywork, or just cooking and watching movies. Continue to apply for grants and muckety-muck biennials, but make this a part of my OWN documentation process, an end in itself, and let go of so much attachment to outcome.

4) Nurture connections with people who love me back, and let the others go without rancor.

Really, I have noticed that there are two types of people in my life--the ones who disappear when I no longer have anything they want, like a gallery to show their art in, or a body they want to screw, or money or social status or ego-blandishment or WHATEVER. These are the ones that, say, don't even bother to RSVP my ingenuous Christmas party invitation, or return my phone calls when I'm valiantly striving to overcome personal catastrophe.

Then there are the ones who cat-sit and car-sit while I'm away, and call just to say hey, and send business my way, and show me their art even though I don't have a gallery anymore, and show up for my Christmas party with wine and gifts and cute little cards. These are the ones who deserve nurturing. I know this should be obvious, but I seem to have a messianic complex almost as big as Christina Ricci's. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, go rent "Buffalo 66," "Pumpkin," and "Monster" in succession and tell me if I'm wrong.) I have this semi-articulated assumption that if people are mean, selfish and inconsiderate toward me, they must be tormented souls in need of healing, and thus I should track them down and go heal them.

Well, to hell with that. I tracked down an old sculpture professor last month, discovered she was living in Williamsburg, sent her a warm, ebullient note, and did not receive a response. I tracked down a guy I had a crush on in high school, sent him a funny, flirtatious note, and received an uncomprehending and incurious reply. This January 2 would have been, and in fact was, the two-year anniversary of the date that I invited my now-ex-boyfriend to dinner, after he'd been unconscionably rude and inconsiderate toward me, and not only forgave him but invited him with open arms into my home, my heart and my life. He did not fucking deserve that, and, more to the point, did not know how to handle it when it happened. From now on the Rule is--don't be mean, but don't cut these people any slack. They hurt my feelings and I can't afford it.

There are others, but these are pretty much the gist. And a Happy New Year to you, too.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Armies of friends

The first thing I thought of when I saw the tsunami headline was, "I hope Neneng-girl's friends are all right." They are not my friends yet because I have never been to Indonesia, but I feel as if I know them. Turns out that when she called to find out if everybody was okay, they didn't even clue in as to why she was calling. "Oh, that was miles away from us," they said. "We're really busy with this art festival." Neneng-girl thanked me for asking. She said that it didn't even occur to most of her other friends.

I suppose I had better attend the $20 yoga class to benefit tsunami victims this Sunday. I do not have much money but I have more than just about everybody in Indonesia.