Buon Natale!

Canaletto, Venice: The Bacino di S. Marco on Ascension Day, c.1733-4.

Buon Natale from Venice, where I’ve gone to meet my wife over the holidays.

Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent, 2017

Some thoughts on the movie Loving Vincent

It is both spectacular and maddening.

The plot is ridiculous: Armand Roulin, twenty-something son of the bushy-bearded postmaster whom Van Gogh painted so memorably, is tasked by his father with traveling to Paris in order to deliver Vincent’s final letter (to his brother, Theo). Armand has reservations about doing this, and ponders his obligations while drinking too much, but eventually goes to Paris, where he discovers that Theo has also died. Armand quickly decides that he must travel to Auvers, where Vincent died, in order to deliver the letter to a friend with whom Vincent was close in his final months (Dr. Gachet, also memorably painted by Van Gogh).

First plot objection: Why didn’t Armand even consider locating Theo’s widow, Joanna, in Paris? If I were her, and I found out this drunken punk decided to give my spouse’s final letter to a friend of approximately one year’s standing, I’d be furious! [But of course, if he’d attempted to find Joanna in Paris, this would be a different movie].

Here’s what I loved about the movie:

The most engaging moments were the first ones of the moon, and of Arles, and then late in film when Dr. Gachet appears. I actually caught my breath when I saw him leaning on that famous table, with his head propped in his hand.

The film correctly and nicely recreated the flatness of many of Vincent’s paintings, particularly the portraits, with little depth between the figure and the wall behind.

It was probably at its best depicting landscapes.

It was visually stunning in many ways. I caught my breath several times. It was clearly an accomplishment, but that being said, it was clear that the original paintings were the real triumph here.

The opening credit sequence was magical; I could have watched that moon shapeshifting all night.

The film recreated 74 Van Gogh paintings, and it was a complete thrill to recognize them.

Loving Vincent was first shot as a live-action film on sets recreated from Van Gogh paintings. The film was then broken down by frame and painted, each painting (65,000 of them) was then photographed, then painted over for the next frame. Eventually, all of the frames were animated. This way of working reminded me of William Kentridge’s charcoal drawings that turn into films. In both types of films, you can see the results of this way of working in images like the windmill turning – you can see the track of the blades in the impasto of the oil paint.

Here’s what bothered me about the movie (in addition to the overarching plot):

I questioned sub-plots too, finding it hard to believe the suggestion that Vincent may have been romantically involved with not only the young Marguerite, but also flirting and chatting with several women by the riverbank. Vincent was way too awkward, and that just wasn’t his style.

The accents were off-putting. Both Roulins, father and son, have two wildly different accents.

The film’s title is a little much…it becomes more palatable when you realize that was the way Vincent signed all his letters (“Your loving Vincent”). But still. Too literal and cloying for my taste.

Sometimes the film felt a little CGI (related to the figures), and a little slick…and Van Gogh was the antithesis of slick.

The end credits reveal that some characters were not real people, but rather “inspired by” people in Vincent’s paintings. Vincent’s life was dramatic enough; I’m not sure the film needed to invent additional “characters”.

SPOILER ALERT:
No one loves a good mystery more than me…but if I heard this correctly, the final analysis is that the bullying teenager basically committed manslaughter by fooling around with a gun…while Vincent committed a suicide of sorts, by stoically not accusing the teenager, and letting it be assumed the gunshot was self-inflicted…meanwhile, Dr. Gachet, who acted as Vincent’s confessor and entertained his deathbed laments that he was a financial and emotional burden on Theo, essentially granted Vincent’s suicide wish by not removing the bullet and allowing Vincent to die (slowly)…sounds like murder!…especially since, as another character points out, Gachet had been a military doctor in a war zone; he should have been able to easily remove the bullet, particularly since it wasn’t immediately fatal. Physician, do no harm!! Would a doctor really have allowed a healthy man in his thirties to slowly and painfully expire like that?

The murder theory comes from a biography by Naifeh and White. Maybe there is a case for that, but knowing that the filmmakers have invented some (silly) aspects of the story and smoothed over others to make for a tighter film, I feel like I need to research for myself before I can believe this.

Final analysis:

The film is beautiful in many places. Not many films can make you catch your breath – and not just once, but over and over.

I want to keep watching it…but maybe with the sound off? Yes, I’d like to see it again. There is real magic in this movie, even though you are also a little too aware of how hard the magician is working to produce the rabbits.

Home Sweet Home

Domicilio, at home

It’s always exciting to see where your creations end up! I just received this photo from a new collector. He told me that the painting greets him and his wife whenever they come home; it’s the first thing they see when they come through the door. For a painting called Domicilio (“home” in Italian), that’s beautiful to me.

Arrival!

My painting!

My painting arrived safely, and one day early! Washington state to Brooklyn!

I didn’t realize how much I was on pins and needles until now.

My understanding is that the drill is charging, and the painting will be hung tomorrow….more anticipation!

Real Art in Real Places: The Bye & Bye, Portland

Real art from The Bye & Bye – bathroom mural!

I absolutely love discovering REAL ART out and about in the world…not poster prints, and not “featured artist” stuff at local bars and coffeehouses, but real art made by a real artist. Something that has been purchased, framed, and is clearly loved.

The Bye & Bye in Portland, OR was exciting because they have real art all over the walls! Every room has several pieces that are framed and/or featured in a special nook that complements the piece, including a large showpiece that defines the entire bar area. All of it is well done, and well, cool.

Real art from The Bye & Bye – permanent and framed!
Real art from The Bye & Bye – permanent and framed!

Power of Art, Part 3 (Puppets!)

The Donald puppet, January 2017

I ran across this photo on my phone recently, taken at the Women’s March in Seattle in January 2017. So much that I could say, but I feel that others are saying it better than I can, so I’ll stick to the role of art – and its power – here.

When I first saw this giant puppet, my first instinct was to laugh. Second was to admire the craft (it’s very well done in terms of likeness, but also technical ability, and lastly, standing up to the Pacific Northwest weather). From a little remove, I can also appreciate its place in a long line of protest art.

This will be an abbreviated, overly simplified commentary, but here goes. Puppeteers have always been able to comment more freely on social matters because they moved around. They usually took their show on the road, and so were able to comment more or less as outsiders (and I suppose, if the heat got turned up, they could leave town pretty quickly!). Puppetry was (and is) fairly low on the totem pole of the art world (patrons and curators are rare, for example, and there is no money in it), so puppeteers weren’t dependent on keeping powers-that-be happy, or romancing wealthy collectors. Part of the entertainment is a sort of brash, anything-goes schtick that seeks out laughs based on crude jokes and physical humor…we see and expect this with the Muppets, say, and can see how this easily translates to commenting on dirty goings-on in local government.

Anyway, the best education on puppets has to be at the Bread and Puppet Museum in Vermont. NYC sanitation workers to Latin American despots are proudly represented, from a protest stance, to the left of many.

But back to the idea of power…can you imagine how this puppet would get right under the Donald’s skin?! That’s power! A picture is worth a thousand tweets!

Painting Goats?!

But what does that mean?!

Driving along the Long Beach Peninsula in our beautiful state of Washington, I saw the above roadside sign, and had to pull an immediate U-turn. “Painting Goats” raises more questions than it answers.

Yes, there really are goats who paint with real art materials on this art studio/working farm. We took a tour with one of the owners. While I would have loved to have seen a painting goat in action, we did see various artworks, and learned about individual painting habits…apparently, some goats are more invested in painting than others. They generally like to imitate their humans, which is how this talent came to light in the first place, but some persist in painting, while some are very quickly ready to move on. We met some of the goats too.

We bought a small painting for a Christmas tree ornament.

Another first-time experience: we dug up our own potatoes, onions and carrots!

Power of Art, Part 2

I saw this sign at an art gallery/studio in a beachside town in Oregon and felt a little zing of recognition. I felt it in my body to be true.

Artists are shapeshifters. We work with our hands; we get dirty. We read, absorb, and digest. We watch and listen. We feel, deeply. We philosophize. We attend cocktail parties and auctions. We sell expensive work, if we’re lucky and work very hard. We sell no work at all. We donate our work to people or causes who have less than we do. We will often do whatever it takes for the sake of the artwork (even if that means doing without in other areas, if only temporarily. Read as you will: scrimping on sleep/food/rent/non-studio experiences…most artists have done it all). We’ve been insiders. We’ve been outsiders.

Maybe much of the above is buying into the myth of the artist (that noble, poor, misunderstood creature). But I’ve been all of these things, and I do believe that this ability to shapeshift, the way we can be everywhere, is important, even strategic. We can make people slow down, and we can make them feel.

Today, that’s a superpower.

Ginevra

Tess Martin, Ginevra

This fantastic, animated cut-paper film at Bellevue Arts Museum has very neatly intersected two trains of thought that have occupied my mind recently.

One is the issue of domestic and other violence against women. #MeToo; Harvey Weinstein and all the others who were unmasked after him, not to mention before him.

The other is, very simply: what happens after death? I’ve been thinking about the energy and physics of life quite a bit recently. As an off-and-on atheist/agnostic, I have been fairly certain (and then again, not certain at all) that nothing happens after you die. I’ve begun to change my mind recently, to consider other, energetic, possibilities. Where does the energy go? What does physics say about energy? And then with the recent death of my father-in-law, this question has recently shifted from a philosophical to a personal one.

This film by Tess Martin is based on an unfinished Percy Bysshe Shelley poem (which was based on a legend of an Italian woman of the Middle Ages, who allegedly woke up a day after she died).

I had to arrive at the end before I truly appreciated the film. At first, I was overly critical of the animation, thinking it too primitive (South Park viewers would see similarities in production values), but by the end, I came to believe that the simplicity actually enhanced the magic and feeling of the story. (Later, when I saw the set, which was approximately 18 inches square, I found myself amazed by how expansive the film actually felt. Beyond impressive).

Tess Martin, Ginevra

The action unfolds slowly, detail by quiet detail. We see a woman murdered in her bedroom, presumably by her husband, and then watch her mother pacing the quiet house with grief. These scenes aren’t played for drama, but with maximum feeling. The mother mourns with the body, which lays in state on a canopy bed, near floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a balcony, and then, the countryside. The mother is surprised to see the body rise, cross the room, climb the balcony railing, and surprisingly, sprout feathers with which to fly away. Which she does, with a sense of utmost grace and freedom. The last we see of Ginevra, she has joined a community of owls and other large birds who slowly circle the countryside, alternately flapping their wings and resting in the draft.

A beautiful ode to mystery, and freedom.

Cut Up Cut Out

Charles Clary, Double Diddle Daddle Bereavement Movement # 1

I have a soft spot for paper. While my hand was injured, I kept sane by sewing papers together with a sewing machine, and this show at Bellevue Art Museum, about all the ways you never thought to use cut paper, really spoke to me.

I’ve been thinking about how to expand my paintings as I move forward, and this show was certainly full of options. The piece above was one of my favorites, and gave me something to think about, as I consider adding dimension and edges to my works.

Donna Ruff, 10.28.13

It took me a few moments to realize all of Ruff’s work are front pages from The New York Times.

Simone Lourenço, My Universe, Blue

Simone Lourenço uses thread (a love of mine) along with her papers. This, along with the explosion of color and edges, was one of my favorite pieces.

Adam Feibelman, Security (detail)

More sewing here (love!), with multiple sheets of paper making a detailed whole. A true depth and elegance.

Gratitude

As the end 2017 approaches, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you. This has been a momentous year for me in many ways, with a hand injury to work through, new projects begun, a move into a new studio space, and more. I’m grateful for the flowers brought to openings, the kind words about my work – through emails, guest books at shows, phone calls, and heartfelt conversations. I’m grateful for everyone who dropped by the studio, and their friends for coming along. I’m grateful for new collectors, longtime collectors who continue to support me, and fans who root for me from afar with clicks and Likes.

I appreciate all of this, and more. I’m deeply grateful. Thank you.

Power of Art

Roadblock, 24 x 24, Acrylic and mixed media on panel

I’ve been thinking about the power of art recently. As in, the real power and energy it contains.

This piece, for example, I made with my father-in-law in mind while I was working through some ideas on marriage. The stylized diagram of an engine part or process (it was Greek to me, but he would know) came through my hands as if I knew it inside and out. The road reflector and red plastic – both broken – that I found on the side of the road. Even the last bit of blue lace from the roll, too small to really do anything with. All these things, destined for the garbage, but I saw something else for them. Frank, the self-proclaimed “junkyard dog”, would understand that.

After I sent Frank a photo of the painting, he asked me about each component, how I made it, how big it was, and so on. He kept repeating variations on his astonishment and pleasure: “No one ever did anything like that for me before”.

I’m fairly certain he never had any use for abstract (or any) art, and never had the desire to think about communicating visually. But he was genuinely moved by this painting, and the act of my making it.

Frank and I both worked with our hands. Sometimes what I do doesn’t appear to be very important; I’ve never fixed anyone’s car to get them to work, for example, built a house for my family, or even converted an old cooler into a shelter for rescue cats – that’s all Frank. But when I get a reaction like his, I realize the power I do have in my own hands.

I can make people slow down, and I can make them feel. In this day and age, that’s plenty.

For you, Frank.

Debut – Isolier as Knight

Isolier as Knight, Acrylic on wood, 8″ x 10″

This painting is inspired by the character Isolier in the opera Count Ory by Rossini (the recent production by Seattle Opera was called The Wicked Adventures of County Ory).

Isolier is what is known as a “trouser role”, meaning that the conventions of opera dictate that the audience is supposed to assume that the character is a young man, when it is in fact played by a woman. [Back in the day, the roles were played by castrati – yes, young men who were castrated before puberty to retain their higher vocal range. That practice thankfully became illegal, and the roles then went to women, usually mezzo-sopranos (not too high in the vocal range)].

In 1828, when Rossini wrote this opera, Isolier would have been understood, absolutely, as a young male. But, to our 21st century understanding, the role can perhaps best be described as “gender fluid”.

Recent productions have used costumes to suggest a rabble-rousing – and dare we say *butch* – side to the character, dressing Isolier in clothing inspired by 1970s rock androgyny (think Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones), as well as punk, and female rockers like Joan Jett and Chrissy Hynde. The costumes use tight-hugging leather and popped collars, mixed with tall boots and well-placed spikes. Isolier sports an enormous codpiece, yet the tight costumes show off female curves. Isolier’s hair is long, tending toward the layered and shaggy. In short, there is something bad-ass and butch about Isolier that is worn right there on the sleeve.

Isolier is in love with a woman, Countess Adele, and in fact ends up in bed with her. Shortly after, Isolier ends up in the same bed with both Adele and Isolier’s own boss, Count Ory. (This scene is played for comedy, and in the opera, no one cares one way or another).

This work was also inspired by my recent trip to the Met…and someone asked me if my currently bald head had anything to do with this depiction…am I Isolier???

I don’t know where this work is going…all I can say right now is that this character intrigues me.