Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stood up, thank God

My 11 AM client called at 10:30 this morning, to tell me she'd be late. Lovely! More time for me to linger over tea and journal.

At 11:45, though, I called her cell phone to suggest she reschedule. What was she thinking? I have a life.

At 12:15, the doorbell rang. I graciously invited her in, explained that I was unable to bump her appointment up AN HOUR AND A QUARTER, and booked her for next week.

Thank God. I have three and a half more sessions scheduled for today, for a grand total of four hours and fifteen minutes of hard physical labor, and if this girl had made her appointment, that would have been five hours and twenty-five minutes. Always assuming that I ended on time. My friend RA says that I could hold back a lot, since he says I put about ten times the energy into a session that his other MT friend does, but that's the way I do it. I was not looking forward to feeling like I'd been run over by a truck.

I'm glad business is picking up, though, right in the nick of bankruptcy. Spring is like that. I'm noticing that it seems to take about a year and a half of consistently doing business in the same place, to develop the community recognition that you're there, you do a good job, and they should call you. I'm now getting phone calls from people who say, "I found your card, and then a friend of mine said you were great, and another friend, and another, so I called."

It also makes me realize that it was literally true that my ex-boyfriend sabotaged my livelihood right when I was on the brink of solvency. He operates wholly in bad faith. In order to accomplish anything significant, you have to first set your intention, then plant the seeds, then nurture them to fruition. He chopped me off at the roots just as I was beginning to blossom; I can see, now, that this may not have been his conscious intention, but it was definitely his unconscious agenda. Lord, I'm glad that loser is out of my life.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Oculus Arts

Check out the very awesome new project headed up by my friend RA Friedman. Also check out the very awesome photos on the splash page, taken by yours truly. I had no idea I had such talent as a plein air photographer--it just Seized the Moment.

It was really fascinating, last year in Philly, to see how, when you give random passers-by some props and the opportunity to express themselves, the vast majority of them will rise to the occasion with astonishing creativity and aplomb. People would literally grab a costume and assume an entirely new personality almost instantly. I was particularly impressed when one very large young lady grabbed a very small silver top, one that I myself would not have attempted to fit into, and unhesitatingly pulled it over her head. It fit. Very large young ladies evidently know more about stretch fabrics than I do.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Out of hibernation

To all the lovely people I enjoyed fabulous conversations with, last night: I am not actually a babbling narcissist. It's just been a long winter, during which I haven't left my studio quite often enough. Or hardly at all. It was really, really, really great to talk with you.

The BAG party and auction Came Off, I believe; the food was great, the band was great, we had a quorum and managed to unload all the art. Auctioneering was more difficult this time around, because I had a reputation to maintain. Thank you, Danny and Jack, for showing up and smiling encouragingly.

My only major screw-up was totally spacing out on discussing the 'relic' photograph by the upstate artist, who chisels Homeland Security signage on rocks and leaves them out in nature. He propped it on the floor, and despite the fact that I spent half an hour before the auction picking his brains, in the stress of the moment I forgot to look down. This may have been for the best, since the top auction price fetched for the figure drawings was $50, and this was his break-even point on printing and framing. Much better to wait until we have some actual collectors in the gallery, as opposed to other starving artists.

I swear that I did not forget to push his photo just because he told me that Andy Goldsworthy was "spurious." I may not agree with him at all, at all, but I have more integrity than that. I gracefully held my tongue when he ranted that Andy Goldsworthy is an over-marketed simpleton with no sense of context, whose only contribution to art history is the coffee-table photography book.

This is the sort of thing that my painting T.A.s used to say about people like Georgia O'Keefe. "Just a coffee-table art book," they would sneer.

I ask you: what in the world is wrong with coffee-table art books? I have dozens. They refurbish my spirit. They provide a gentle reminder of the transformative experiences I have had, in those moments when I was fortunate enough to be in the Louvre, or the D'Orsay, or the Tamayo Museum, being knocked upside the soul by the actual art. Most people are not so fortunate; their budget for plane tickets to the Louvre is limited. Coffee-table art books are the only way most middle Americans ever get to experience art. They sneak their grace into people's lives, quietly, of a Sunday afternoon after brunch. They occupy the cracks. I am all for coffee-table art books.

I am also all for Andy Goldsworthy, as I have mentioned in the past. In fact, Andy Goldsworthy is on my very short list of twentieth-century artists who humble me, inspire me, and make me want to be Just Like Them. (The others, in case you are interested, are Isamu Noguchi, Lee Bontecou, Anselm Kieffer, and Rufino Tamayo.) You will notice that none of these artists live, or lived, permanently in Manhattan. They are not Scenesters; they don't give a rat's ass for 'contextualization,' at least not as a primary concern, when articulating their muse.

And calling Andy Goldsworthy 'over-marketed' struck me as disingenuous, to say the least. I mean, the man gets up at 3:30 AM to stick icicles together with his saliva. Every day. He's been doing this for twenty-five or thirty years; he was doing it for a good dozen years or so before the first coffee-table book hit Barnes & Noble. I have no idea how he fed himself, let alone his family, before that. I think his wife must have done it all. This man is not a Cynical Pragmatist. He does what he does, and viewing the detritus of his goofy, pointless little process brings peace to my soul, in a way that rocks with Homeland Security messages on them never will.

It wasn't that I didn't like the anti-Andy guy; he was a fine person, and had some sound things to say about life as a community-college art professor. But I believe that the concept that Art is primarily about defining one's Position vis-a-vis Modern Society, and Culture, and Art History, is a dangerous and paralyzing one. I know it paralyzed me, back in my art-school days. When one is in the studio, one has to go forward primarily on one's own energy, skill, knowlege and intuition. Having a sense that every move you make is relative to the moves made by all other artists past and present, and to all the sociopolitical problems of the current era, is far, far too much pressure. Every move of your elbow is subject to the burden of Infinite Relevance, and the sensitive twenty-four-year old is quite likely to crack under the strain. I nearly did.

So that's my two cents.

Later, after the auction, I moved on to J. H.'s party in Greenpoint, where I monopolized curator David Gibson's entire evening. I felt sort of bad about it, but he assured me he didn't mind, and he knew all the people in the catty stories I regaled him with, which was comforting for both of us. I checked out his blog, and I highly recommend it, although if you're on dial-up like me, be forewarned that it takes about twenty minutes to load. He appears to know a whole lot of very good painters; I am humbled and will have to spend some serious time tracking them all down.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hitting the Wall

I hate it when this happens. I am NOT posting a picture of the current mess on my studio wall. Perhaps it isn't such a mess. It's just stuck. I fiddle, I tweak, I scrape, I glaze, I scrub, and the thing remains intractable.

When this happens, it's like the Zen screw. I feel like my entire life's work will founder on this one Waterloo of a painting, and I will never do another one. There's a brand-new blank canvas right next to it, which will stay blank; there's a 95% finished one on the other wall, which will stay not-quite-done forevermore. Yaaaaaargh.

Perhaps I have reached my limit for Leaping Round, this week. After weeks of plodding, working weekends, suddenly my social calendar is full; figure-drawing session and Brooklyn Lyceum arts festival on Friday, auction and Janice's party on Saturday, clients booked in the cracks. New yoga studio, which is a half-hour walk away, so that going to class takes up an entire morning. Expanding client base. Spring arriving. Suddenly I feel as though a non-working moment is a moment Not Lived. The pressure is unbearable.

Evenings like this are what on-line horoscopes were made for.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Advance Warning

Usually when Serena makes a fool of herself in public, it's a spontaneous thing. You either happen to be there, to laugh and point fingers, or you don't. This time, she's giving you the heads up.

The Brooklyn Artists Gym is throwing a Grand Re-Opening Party this Saturday, March 18 from 6-9 PM, in their new digs at 168 7th St. below 3rd Avenue, in Gowanus/Park Slope. The new space is bigger and better and features floating walls and a rotating exhibition space. As always, you can rent shared studio and locker space for a heck of a price, giving you instant community and peers, with whom to share inspiration and competition. If you are as lazy as I am, this is a big plus.

At the party, Serena will be doing a re-cap of her Spontaneous Auctioneer Act, where she stands in front of a pack of people and spouts idiotic stream-of-consciousness hyperbole about art. This works better if she's had a couple of glasses of wine beforehand, so Peter is thoughtfully providing food, booze and live music. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz will, of course, be in attendance.

So Come On Down. It will, I guarantee you, be fun.

Field trip

to the mosaic mural at 108 Wycoff, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

The lady who lives here has been working on this thing for like, eight years. Her neighbors have started bringing her their broken plates.

She says she needs to do some spring maintenance--cleaning, repairing, getting a new ladder so that she can work ever higher. It looks pretty good to me.

It's worth a look-see. Run by and tell them we sent you.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


This was on 3rd Ave at the highway entrance (17th) . A glorious moment was when the piece and the traffic jam at the entrance coincided.

and post D.O.T.

In this case, the D.O.T. gets an "A" om their artwork,


After seeing "Et Voila" (is that a French Shaman's chant?) and your wax talk....I had this funny flash that you could do a pretty cool and very funny "This Old House" type show on art and get funded for it. My god, one wouldn't have to go to school to learn that stuff. I know Bric has all kinds of cable shows that they sponsor (I think).
In any event
Who Says Men Can't Change?

(Well, they have to really, really want to.)--Ed.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Et voilá

This, I think, is more or less the completed version. Perhaps I will make some more fiddly bits in the center, or some swooshier parts around the lasso, but I won't tell you--you'll have to come to my open studio to find out. Which will be May 20 and 21. Park Slope Open Studio Tour. Starting now with the advance publicity.

I recently received a question about my wax technique, so I am posting the answer here, so that the world may be enlightened. For the last several years I have been using a beeswax medium that I make myself; it is similar to Dorland's Wax Medium, but the Dorland's is expensive, white, smooth and bland. Mine is made by melting pure yellow beeswax over a double boiler (actually a tomato sauce can standing in a pot of boiling water), and mixing in Damar varnish (Damar resin dissolved in turpentine) and pure turpentine, to make a soft yellow paste, about the consistency of room-temperature butter. The Damar resin adds toughness, so that the painting doesn't melt in hot weather; the turpentine is what makes it soft, unlike pure encaustic, which has to be applied with a sautering iron. It is lumpier than the Dorland's, smells like candles and turpentine, and occasionally has bits of bees still in it.

I mix this paste with my paint on the palette, with the palette knife, and usually put it on the canvas with the palette knife as well. The wax does four things; gives the paint a matte surface when dry, makes the paint dry faster, gives it a bulky texture, and adds a certain amount of translucency. The yellow of the beeswax slightly alters the color, but not much.

When painting in a lot of layers, I will sometimes add a certain amount of stand oil medium (oil, turpentine, and Damar varnish) to the upper layers of paint, with the wax medium. This makes it increasingly soupier and more translucent, and adds a slight sheen. If I use only the stand oil medium, without the wax, the surface of the paint will be shiny and reflective, and you can see down into it as though you were looking into water.

Occasionally I will use both mediums on different parts of the same painting. This creates a radical difference in optical qualities in those different sections. I did this in "Poppies," using the wax in the sun and the sky, and the oil in the poppies, to create the feeling that the sun and the flowers were occupying two different realities. I wanted the flowers to be dark, deep and bottomless, and the sun to be glaring and opaque.

And now, on an entirely different note, I just came across the Ken Wilber quote that describes what I'm trying to do with my painting.

"Schopenhauer had a theory of art that said, in effect: bad art copies, good art creates, great art transcends. And by "transcends," he meant "transcends the subject/object duality." What all great art has in common, he said, is its ability to pull the sensitive viewer out of him- or herself and into the art, so completely that the separate-self sense disappears entirely, and for at least a brief moment one is ushered into nondual and timeless awareness. Great art, in other words, is mystical, no matter what its actual content."
Or, as I wrote last year:
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.
It is, of course, not for me to say whether I'm succeeding or not. However, I will say that all this mucking about with wax and linen and composition and technique is in service to this notion of creating a physical object with this kind of spiritual force.

What it seems that most people don't understand about painting is that a painting is NOT a 'picture'. A picture is merely a symbol that connotes an idea; no special technique is required to get this idea across. A stick figure will suffice. A great painting, in contrast, is engaging the viewer on a level that is much deeper and broader than any one particular concept, such as "house" or "sun" or "flower." At the very least it is punching you in the gut with the overwhelmingness of BLUE or SUN, much more assertively than simply reading the word on the page.

In that way, I think that painting has much more in common with music than it does with written language, except for really great poetry. It's trying to get you to transcend your rational mind, and see the world from all perspectives at once.

Imm4culate c0nc3ption

So today's investment of bits and bytes is a piece that was on the corner of 3rd Ave and Prospect expressway/17th st near the entrance to the Gowanus Expressway East Bound.
This one actually made my heart pound and took my breath away. And when a breeze floated by, everything moved and shook and was magnificent. Then the DOT came along of course. But again, on this one they left the adhesive which I was surprised about and gratified for.

The "petroglyph" left by the D.O.T.

UPDATE: This post is a freakin' spam magnet. So I have taken the drastic step of titling it in l33t, much as I abhor the style. Anything to avoid 'word verification'...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

the Foot Bridge

This one was on the other side of the overpass on Fourth Ave......if you would have accidentally...... in a day dream......walked past the subway entrance to the other side of the overpass, then walked back, glancing would have seen.....

the Foot Bridge

Monday, March 06, 2006

Letter from Anonymous D.

Hey...Serena, thanks for the posting.....Especially thanks for keeping it anonymous, I like that a lot. ANd super especial thanks for writing so well and connecting the personal dots all the way to the work on the walls.
Out of courtesy for people who were helpful and turned their eyes sideways.....the pieces were torn down by the D.O.T. not the Sanitation department, and some of them connected me to a couple of pieces and just suggested I not give out my name as well. ^Talk about a Fifth Column within the D.O.T. (5th column as the inside saboteurs and spies).
You made me smile big with your writing.
About 50 of these were up on 3rd AVenue between 24th and 31st streets.....about 3 months.
Early evenings were the best viewing time on west side of overpass, and at night, the profiles cast the most ghoulish profile shadows.

Raindrops on the freeway wall

Last summer, I think it was, I was on my way to my own bleak subway stop, at 4th Avenue and Prospect. It's a horrible corner--freeway overhead, freeway off-ramp to be traversed in one direction, six lanes of 4th Avenue to be traversed in the other, vacant lot on the corner, not a single plant or tree anywhere. The subway is only a block and a half from my apartment, but getting there feels like an ordeal akin to crossing the Sahara.

Then I looked up at the freeway wall. Glory be.

I thought, "Gosh, that's the most graceful and appropriate art installation I could possibly think of, for this particular place. Simple, subtle, not trying to make the wall anything it's not, but softening the bleakness in a completely natural way, and making it magical.

In case you can't tell from the photos, the drops are slightly different shades--silverish, copperish, and bronzeish. I couldn't figure out how the artist got them to stay there.

Then, two weeks later, they were gone. AAAAAAAAAAAGH! WHAT THE FUCK! Stupid goddamn fucking stupid city. As if they were hurting anybody. I mean. And I hadn't had the sense or the foresight to take any pictures.

A few months later, I was at an opening at TablaRasa Gallery. I was idly thumbing through one of the artist's portfolios, and came across something that looked sort of familiar.

Now, sometimes I can jump the gun, and be wrong in my attributions. But this, to me, looked like a Smoking Gun. I butted into the artist's conversation. "Are YOU the guy who did those teardrops at 4th Ave. and Prospect?"

He was. Whoopee. She jumps up and down, and up and down. The metal pieces are stuck on with very strong glue, so that when they get (!&@^) ripped down, you can sometimes see the traces of glue left on the bricks, if you look closely.

And now this artist, whose name is Danny, is on my mailing list, and on my blog, and has sent me these photos by request, which I am now sharing with you. I am so proud. The installations are a planned series of 30, of which 9 have been accomplished, and duly torn down by the frickin' NYC Department of Sanitation. He is taking a break for the winter, but informs me that 'round about April or May, more will be forthcoming. I can't wait.

Guest columnist

Serena's most wonderful of sisters wrote her this letter, which was so awesome that she had to post it in its entirety.
The review & pictures from the Whitney Biennial remind me of a grim, sore-footed afternoon I spent at the new Tate in London - a lot of things that made my teeth grind, with a very occasional thing of beauty stuck off in a corner somewhere. I spent some time wondering what the people who made those things were thinking. I was sad that they seemed to live in such an ugly and disturbing world. What does it say about our era, that our "high culture" equates creepy with relevant?

It's as if they believe that our era has invented new enormities, thus the job of our art should be to process and decry them.

But I don't think there's a single terrible thing going on today that didn't happen at least as much 1000 years ago. Genocide? A long-standing human tradition, starting in prehistory when we wiped out our nearest evolutionary relatives by throwing rocks at them (for millennia, the latest archaeological records show). Natural disasters? Um, duh. Climate change? Well, the desertification and re-greening of the Sahara has been cycling back & forth since Africa got where it is today. Sure, the scale of disasters has increased, but that's mostly because our population's gone up so much. And why is that? Because people don't die of regular epidemics anymore?

People are still being sold into slavery and mistreated by their fellow humans at an unbelievable level, and I don't want to downplay how awful that is. I am glad that technology is giving the bottom rungs of society a voice, at last - like that "Born into Brothels" movie that came out last year. I think those efforts are amazing and noble and transcendent. But so much of today's "edgy" art just seems whiny and depressive to me.

Maybe we will find, given time, that all this glorification of the ugly is a developmental phase, like adolescence. Maybe in 20 or 50 years, our culture will blossom into a new kind of maturity that embraces the"ugliness" that our cameras and industrial processes have given us a new perspective upon, and finds the beauty in it again. It could happen.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Who left the junk in the hallway?

Urs Fischer's "Intelligence of Flowers" (holes in the wall) and "Untitled" (branches dripping candle wax). The painting in the background is, indeed, a painting.

Thank goodness the New York Times got to it first. It means I don't have to go back and take a lot of tedious notes on specifics, like the names of all the artists and curators who produced the monstrous pile of crap that is this years' Whitney Biennial.

(Can't quite believe that it's already been two years since the last one, which I loved--and that my life hasn't changed all that much since then.)

So anyway, this Biennial can be summed up, so: the art students across the hall got evicted, couldn't afford a mover, and left their discarded works-in-progress, plus all the furniture they picked up off the street, their collection of album covers, and a lot of random debris, piled up in the hallway.

The New York Times is only slightly more diplomatic about it:
This typically huge exhibition is very much an insider's affair, a hermetic take on what has been making waves. It will seem old hat to aficionados and inscrutable to many others...The whole ethos of the show is provisional, messy, half-baked, cantankerous, insular — radical qualities art used to have when it could still call itself radical and wasn't like a barnacle clinging to the cruise ship of pop culture.
Old hat! Well, yes. Anyone who has been an artist and hung out with other artists will recognize the aesthetic--that of a chaotic, collective studio space inhabited by a bunch of poseurs under 30. There were very few of what I would call "finished works of art" in the show, and those were so badly hung, swamped by the mess around them, that they were difficult to find and harder to enjoy.

In fact, it was genuinely difficult to tell what was intended to be art and what wasn't. A chained-off corridor on the 5th floor stairwell had a bunch of old desks with office supplies on them, wrapped in packing tape, bearing Post-it notes that read, "Do Not Move Till March 2." In the stairwell between the 4th and 5th floors was a piece of discarded sheet rock, with the words "Holy Shit" in red spray-paint, upside down. My suspicion is that the first was debris and the second was art, but I could be wrong.

Very early on in my browsing, I started reading the text on the walls before looking at the 'art,' which should give you a rough idea of how unprepossessing the art was. In my view, a work of art has failed if it cannot provide any arresting aesthetic impact upon first viewing. In recent years, artists have been producing art that is like a Zen koan; a bunch of seemingly random objects, assembled in a way that produces no obvious functionality or coherent association of ideas, accompanied by ten pages of explanation nailed to the wall next to it.

Lisa Lapinski's "Nightstand," the Zen Koan of sculpture

When I go to Chelsea, I pop in and out of the galleries that show this stuff, faster than you can say "Jack Flanagan." Which means that I got through the Biennial in well under the three hours I'd allotted.

The curatorial statement, painted on the wall, explained the title of the show, "Day into Night." It discussed the ambiguous nature of Art Today, involving a continuous international dialogue among artists, the blurring of boundaries between traditional media like painting and sculpture and avant-garde stuff like video, installation and sound art. As the NYT points out, this sort of thing has been going on for quite awhile; long enough for some artists to have figured out their media and produced some focused, powerful, stunning work. Those artists were not included in this show.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Swoon links!

Someone finally answered my plea for Swoon info. Thank you, Gerardo!

She's 27 and female, and I am a big jerk for thinking she was old and male. The stairwells at PS 1 are full of her work, but unfortunately on my last visit there I forgot my camera.

My opinion of Jeffrey Deitch has gone up a notch, despite the abysmal work I saw at the "Artstar" exhibit last weekend, which I have not yet had the stomach to write about. The write-up of her show there last summer (which I will never forgive myself for not knowing about) contains my new favorite quote:

galleries give me some more options, because, say,
it doesn’t rain in there.
but for some reason, I couldn’t make art for the sole purpose of
exhibiting in these comatoriums.

Also, I have all these other photos of her work which I haven't yet posted:

UPDATE: This piece is by WK Interact. Thanks to Gammablog for the info.

Whoopee. This almost makes up for this year's Whitney Biennial, of which the scorching review is on its way.