I have recently returned from ten incandescent days in New York City. Or rather, eight incandescent days and two with thunder and lightning and flash flood alarms. It’s that kind of world. Although I have been to New York many times it had been fifteen years since my last real visit of any length, and I had never committed that primal rite of passage, The Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge. Over the years it had evolved in my mind into an epic solo journey with only myself, the wind, and ancestral vertigo as company.
Ahh, those 10,000 other people, what did I know? And all of them walking home from Manhattan against my little tide. I can’t say enough about the beauty of tarps, and tarps with boldly censored grafitti which, for a person who makes their livelihood decoding the alphabet, is very close to bliss. I traveled well-protected in this billowing crib, although several Brooklyn-bound bicycles nearly took out my camera arm.
I would like to thank my dear friend and talented photographer Teresa Morani for showing me the Wonders of DUMBO and in general guiding me through the circuit overload of this astonishing city. (“Why,” asked a new acquaintance on the tarmac at La Guardia, “do they keep re-naming parts of the city that we already know some other way? What the hell is Dumbo?” I feel her pain, but I can’t really resist an acronym that stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” It pretty much lets you know that you are entering a city where people live steeped in place. They notice things. (And of course, once noticed, things become very expensive……) Here are a few of the 1,734 moments glimpsed as I mostly walked Manhattan and Brooklyn, avoiding Google maps and asking someone new every few blocks where I was and where I was going. Many of these images will be available as prints at a later date and will be posted in the prints or photography section of my website. (Click each image to see larger.)
Last night I went for a walk to see if I was happy to be home, and I was. This city is so quiet people whisper in restaurants and you can hear the clouds scrape against the sky. There is the occasional disturbance, if you look for it. As I walked towards the bay I heard a raucous shrieking and looked up to see nine crows chasing a bald eagle. They kept going until I lost sight of them far beyond the edge of the park. Here at the frontier there is time to think and recollect. Every night I am dreaming of buildings, and then I wake up and plant peas and divide the baby lettuce. If you would like to know some of the places I went while in New York and the things I recommend here is a short list:
The Highline (Oh Seattle City Council, please please please, can we do this with five feet of the viaduct??)
The Met, Most especially the exhibit of Civil War photography, best viewed after getting lost for a few hours in the Cycladic art collection, just for historical perspective
MOMA, especially Dieter Roth’s “Later this will be nothing.” Also, I suggest having lunch there in the cafe for several hours while reading a novel, perhaps Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad”. People will be having very interesting conversations one eighth of an inch away from your elbow, mostly in “foreign” languages, but you may hear about the custom fireplace that very nice looking man is installing for those people with the third home on Fire Island. It’s taken him two years and it’s not yet done.
Gagosian Gallery, Anselm Kiefer’s new exhibit “The Morganthau Plan” And while you are there will you please pick up the book for me? It wasn’t in stock the first week. The other book, Next Year in Jerusalem, is crazy wonderful so I have to assume this one is too. If you see the stereoscopic displays of the Civil War scenes at the Met first it will make these paintings look very different. I think anybody planning to wage a war might want to stop in to these two exhibits before firing up the drones.
Rosanne Olson’s “Rapture” at Robin Rice Gallery. Sublime.
Central Park on a sunny day. There is no greater bliss. Blow a bubble for me.
This is the last week to see “Painters Under Pressure” at Phinney Gallery. The show comes down May 1. “Bird” is one of a dozen prints I have in the show. I do hope you will come by and see the work!
First formed as a Seattle Print Arts Salon Group, Painters Under Pressure has met for over 10 years to discuss and support the development of each others’ artwork. Each of us approach our printmaking from a painterly background and use the pressure of printmaking techniques to produce our varied styles of work. This exhibition brings together works resulting from the last 10 years of critique and camaraderie from these 6 artists: Ruth Hesse, Stephen MacFarlane, Tracy Simpson, Jon Taylor, Iskra Johnson, and David Owen Hastings.
Phinney Center Gallery Hours:
Monday – Friday 9am – 9pm
Saturday, 9am – 2pm
The Phinney Gallery
6532 Phinney Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
I have been looking for an opportunity to interview Tracy Simpson about her extraordinary potato print “calendars” for quite a while. As a member of the six-person print arts salon Painters Under Pressure, I have watched her work grow and evolve over the course of a decade. Just after opening our current salon exhibit at Phinney Gallery we had the time to sit down at length and talk about her process. What follows is a combination of conversation and correspondence.
From the beginning I have seen connections between your work and that of John Cage. Cage’s work evolved to be the product and process of impersonal systems of chance. This is one way in which he expressed his own sense of spirituality or “zen”: as a path of divorcing his work from the normal sense of self and identification of self with personal preference and personal history. Did this lead to automatism? Coldness? Abstraction only? Hard to say. His music can be aggressively difficult to listen to. But what always comes through to me in his writing, his visual art and his persona is not the automatic or the “no-self,” but a sense of empathy and embrace. There is a kindness in letting go of the personal identification with making art. It can be liberating.
Also, Cage’s work in music is all about time, and not-time, noise and not-noise. In marking time with the structure of a calendar you are indirectly noting its absence and its impending endings. Every month ends on a note, so to speak. The grid structure is not unlike a musical structure, a grid/signature/score with notation. The calendar is scoring the month, even as you physically score the paper. I am interested in how you have chosen a very impersonal structure, the eternal unchanging numbers and grid of the calendar and made it your system. Can you talk about that, about what is impersonal and what is not?
You are right that time is about as impersonal as it gets; time stops for no one, it’s inexorable. And while we may individually have the sense now and again that time is standing still or speeds up for a bit, we know both are illusions or tricks of attention. You are also right that the way time is traditionally organized in terms of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and so on, is impersonal. We really don’t get to say hey, I think I’ll step out of time in general or, I’m tired of how we collectively organize time and, really, my way is better so I’ll do that for awhile. For the most part, to exist in the world along with everyone else, we have to surrender to how our particular culture relates to time. So yes, in our culture there is a very set, impersonal structure that developed a long time ago that is partly related to the sun rising and setting and how the moon travels around the planet and partly related to what the collective consciously or unconsciously decided works.
I do like thinking about all that, stepping back and considering what is “natural” in terms of how we as humans relate to time and what we have constructed or imposed for convenience. And what I find even more interesting is how we interact with time. Not only is time the context in which everything happens for us as individuals and for us collectively, but I think there is nothing more personal than how we confront the inevitability of time passing whether it is during a given day or over the uncertain length of a lifetime. What has evolved for me with my art is an ongoing conversation about how I relate to time, its passage, anniversaries, the future, its apparent infinity and my obvious finiteness, how a moment in the morning may color another moment in the afternoon, how a moment in the evening may color my memory of a moment in the morning.
Tonight is the opening for “Digital Art: A New Generation” at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts. I will be showing two transfer prints from the Natural World series and two prints from Construction/Reconstruction. Above is the image used for the postcard, which is the largest print I have done to date. It is inspired by the idea of walls, and the drama of inner and outer space that construction sites evoke before they become completed buildings. The University of Washington dormitory project has been a subject of fascination for me for months. This image was developed from photographs taken on the University Bridge while the scaffolding was up and the building was draped. Gotta love a multi-story building with a veil.
Last night I went for a long walk on Easter Eve. I came home at dusk and sat by the pond in the near dark to watch the dogwood tree. It has just this year fulfilled its promise. Every branch but one holds the shape of embrace so characteristic of cornus, and at the end of each twig is the spring-shaped tear which doubles as a single hand, reaching towards the sky. If I were more Japanese I might fret over the wrong branch that sprouts with no awareness of proper social skills or courtesy or the long tradition of arboreal beauty straight up in the midst of graceful arcs. I might know what to do with it and stand for an hour with my honed shears and change this tree’s life.
But the beauty of sitting in the dark is that there is no work to do. At dusk I have no pruning shears, no hoe and no spade. All I can do is sit helpless surrounded by a garden being its untamed self. In one ear the gargoyle spouts a water melody and in the other traffic starts and stops and purrs the comfort and annoyance of civilization. Between the two a flock of some kind of bird drifts overhead with the sounds of ripples beseeching. I cannot locate these birds by continent or season; their mysterious v-shaped song makes a wake between pond and highway and leaves me in a place of perfect peace.
This morning light dazzles every wall. I will set the table with ceremonial bowls and offer bright colors to the day.
This week I am reading Rebecca Solnit’s provocative new book “A Paradise Built in Hell” about the upside of catastrophe. It seems to be affecting my color palette and sense of composition. We are at the burnt gray edge of March here in Seattle, where the only blue you will see is on a broken plate. Or the telephone poles. Praise be for the precious scrap of cyan.
“The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise now arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.”
–Rebecca Solnit, from A Paradise Built in Hell
Well this is exciting! It is a rare and wonderful thing to have work reviewed in a real live paper newspaper. Check out Michael Upchurch’s piece here. It is good to see Norman Lundin’s Prographica get the appreciation it deserves, and I am pleased to be mentioned. Here are two of the pieces he discusses, from my Construction/Reconstruction series. The show continues through March 9th, open Wednesday – Saturday 11-5.
Postscript: I had some time today to visit Dianne Kornberg’s work online. Her pieces in “Bleak Beauty” are all gelatin silver print photography, but she has a an entirely different body of work on her website. It is intense, adventurous, and technically brilliant. I love her printmakerly sense of surface and color. Take a look at Dianne Kornberg’s body of work here.
I also am very drawn to Steve Costie’s fine graphite drawings and have been enjoying seeing his work in exhibits around town. His work is very rigorous and at the same time poetic within its constraints. His sensibility and interest in structure feels very congruent with my own. His work inspires me to keep following the architectural muse.
Additional artist website links: Sandow Birk, David Bailin. Both of these artists draw like angels, with a deep and highly skilled apocalyptic vision. Very real, very reflective of the darker sides of the world today.
Over the President’s weekend I have been working on a series of street collages. Background reading that hovers, a guiding helicopter as I shuffle shards of color and type, is a book I just picked up at Elliott Bay called “Rapt.” Who could resist a book written by “Winifred Gallagher”? The name alone gives her instant credibility, but if that isn’t enough for you, she does have a thesis, and hard-won: “The quality of our lives is determined by what we pay attention to.” If you are a cancer survivor and you decide to write an entire book about this, I will most definitely tune in, with undivided attention. Although a quarter of the book is already dogeared with turned corners and notes in the margins, this passage in particular struck me:
“Just as bad feelings constrict your attention so you can focus on dealing with danger or loss, good feelings widen it, so you can expand into new territory — not just regarding your visual field, but also your mind-set. This broader, more generous cognitive context helps you think more flexibly and creatively and to take in a situation’s larger implications. …….when you feel upbeat, you’re much likelier to recognize a near-stranger of a another race — something that most people usually fail to do. “Good feelings widen the lens through which you see the world,” …… “You think more in terms of relationship and connect more dots. That sense of oneness helps you feel in harmony, whether with nature, your family, or your neighborhood.”
This idea affects me on many levels. February marks the recent passage of a marvelous Northwest artist and teacher, Alden Mason. I was privileged to take his last class at the University of Washington, when he was just beginning his artistic prime at 63. I remember working on a dreary watercolor of a nectarine, a plank of wood, a teapot and god knows what else on oatmeal paper in black gouache when I wailed to him to come and help. I don’t recall his exact words, but I will never forget his generosity and his wide yet intimate view. Each inanimate and dispiriting object in my still-life was a character, in relationship — the plank with the fruit, the teapot with the slanting light from the window, the floor with the paper and its hundreds of tiny fragments of non-archival woodpulp (oatmeal paper! bring it back! humble us as we work on 100% acid-saturated disintegrating fragments of trees, and teach us to be free!). Alden was not a painter who was trying to “make good compositions” or even good paintings, for that matter. He paid attention to each blob of color, each squiggle of paint, as though it was a friend to carry on with, to converse and conspire and perhaps float down the Amazon with, looking for birds. He passed this jubilant anthropomorphism on to his students. In that moment as he stood by me looking at my watercolor what had been a “problem” to “solve” became a cocktail party full of fascinating characters who’s story I wanted to hear. With that frame of reference the painting took off, and in a quiet way my life changed.
Composition is, in essence, the practice of paying attention, and becoming conscious of what you pay attention to. When I walk down the city street an overwhelming flood of sensory imagery pours towards me. How do I order it? Do I look for signs of the modern saber-tooth? the predator of worry or an actual assailant? for signs of rain or for police who will tell me to buckle up whatever untoward sensibilities have gotten loose? Or do I follow my native tendency to read the random like a book, and to connect the dots of the particular into the bigger unfathomable poem, as it changes, as I walk?
After these urban walks, when sitting at my computer with (conservatively speaking) — three to five thousand collected images of a lifetime of walking — I am confronted with the question of how I choose and arrange and then navigate the variations available in Photoshop’s magic trunk. How wide is the net, and how deliberate is the choice? Do I focus on color, or shape, or opposites, or harmonies or atmosphere or conversation or pathos or humor? And in choosing, what balance do I also choose, how do I weight one over the other? Lastly, or more properly firstly, how can I access a spirit of open good will that rewards possibility and does not punish the hours of blind alleys and disasters? “Rapt” is the state I have always sought in making art, and yet the process of decision making can easily shatter it.
Sunday I took a break from the studio and went to a demonstration against coal trains at Golden Gardens. At the end of the demonstration, when the polar bear with claws made of recycled tires had slunk away and the men with daisy heads on stilts had gone back to normal height I paused with a friend and watched the trains rush past above the playground. I instinctively started photographing the moving graffiti, which is as much a part of the landscape of the park as volleyball or the grebes. My friend’s daughter shouted after each train, “Is that coal?” “No, just oil,” we said. And although I was standing there and being sociable I was also transported to trainyards in another time under the dark of the moon: I’ve ridden the rails, climbed on with a backpack at four AM long before the invention of fancy spray cans. Politics and aesthetics gives me a lot to think on. In scavenging the street there is this paradox: the graffiti artist defaces the wall of the property owner, the artist captures the defacement and…..offers it back. Yes, it is for sale. You could call this the art of revenge. Or poetic opportunism, if you are feeling generous.
Recent walks have been under deeply pessimistic skies. Seattle is known for its one hundred words for bleakness, and Paynes and Davey’s Grey would be among them. Yet a person’s mind turns to possibility. And hope. These collages are composed of pieces of the world bordered by Seattle’s Fifteenth Avenue East and First Avenue, and north to south, Eighth and Aurora and Jackson Street, with a lot of time spent in the parking lot at 2nd and Pike.