Met Faves

Attic white ground vase and oil flask, c. 440 BC

I was very excited to visit the Met in NYC, after a prolonged absence of nearly five years. (Since I moved, there are now two, but I’m talking about the original). This is a museum that lies on the same street as my old apartment; if you turn left out my front door and just keep walking, after about 20 minutes, you eventually end up at those famous front steps.

With limited time, I decided I wanted to visit some old favorites, but also make some new discoveries. The only goal, really, was to find works that delighted me.

Here are two gorgeous red figure/white ground Greek vases/oil flasks. I find the red pigment on the white ground to be much more delicate than the black or red figure/ground combinations. The robes actually look soft and diaphanous and the figures look kinder and softer too.

Five minutes into my visit, and I decided this was my favorite so far. But the day is young, stay tuned!

Invisible Cities by Terri Saulin-Frock

Invisible Cities, Terri Saulin-Frock, 2017

I love going into what I call “real places” and seeing “real art”. For example, there’s an editioned print (not a poster) in the bathroom at the mall, or a quality painting hanging permanently at a bar.

I was in the Philadelphia International Airport recently, and even though rotating art exhibitions are becoming more popular at airports, I was still struck by an exhibition called Invisible Cities by Terri Saulin Frock. Regrettably, I could spend just a few minutes perusing the work before I had to be on my way, but it was technically extremely well made (I’m becoming more and more insistent on that point), beautiful in every sense of the word, and conceptually fascinating.

Small round ceramic vessels transition into one another via a tumbling conglomeration of ceramic matchstick-like bridge structures. Others stand on their own while simultaneously sprouting and supporting an entire civilization of these matchsticks from their tops. Others tilt and bow to matchsticks sprouting from their sides and by their feet. They’re a combination of the lovely – imperfectly handmade, with fingermarks to prove it – and geometrically precise additions, which grow lives of their own as they multiply. The tension between two extremes is fascinating: organic and geometric, stable and unsteady, individual and proliferating multiples, vertical and horizontal.

Invisible Cities, Terri Saulin-Frock, 2017

The source of inspiration is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, called “The Garden of Forking Paths” (“El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan”). I haven’t read this story, but have read Borges off and on; the last time I made a conscious effort was in grad school, and I feel it might be time again.

A synopsis of the story: a Chinese professor, Dr. Yu Tsun, living in Great Britain during World War I, is spying for the Germans and is about to be caught. He desperately needs to communicate an important bit of information – the location of a new armory – before his imminent capture. With British intelligence hot on his heels, he visits another professor, while pondering the thwarted creative life of his ancestor, Ts’ui Pên. Pên had been a respected government official but gave up this post in pursuit of two goals: to write an epic novel, and to create an epic labyrinth, “one in which all men would lose their way”. After his death, anyone who attempted to read what he wrote found it to be nonsense that circled back on itself, and no one ever found any labyrinth. So much for that. Tsun meets Dr. Stephen Albert, who has studied Pên’s seemingly meager output. Albert excitedly reveals that Pên was a genius, not a slacker after all; his life’s work was creating a novel that was a labyrinth in and of itself. The reason it read as nonsensical was because each step in the novel, each character’s decision, simultaneously led to every possible outcome of that step or decision. It was not a linear path, A to B to C, but an ever-expanding network of forking paths, each yielding a multitude of rich possibilities, which circled around each other and sometimes crisscrossed back to an earlier point. Albert illustrates his example by saying that in their current scenario, two possible circumstances are that Tsun visits his home as an enemy, yet from a different series of alternate decisions, also visits as a friend. All possibilities are simultaneously present. Tsun, extremely gratified to learn of his ancestor’s victory, sees his pursuer out the window, takes out a gun, claims he comes as a friend, and deliberately shoots Dr. Albert. He is subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to death. But he also wins, because the Germans bomb the armory during his trial. He has successfully communicated the location of the armory to them – in a town called Albert – by murdering someone named Albert so that the Germans would read about the crime in the news and act on his planted clue.

Yeah, let that sink in.

So these invisible yet proliferating cities, with their contradictory yet completely harmonious natures take on a life of their own. What a beautiful homage to this story. And what a mindblower.

Invisible Cities, Terri Saulin-Frock, 2017

Get Your Art Here!

This place is sort of kitty-corner from my new studio. I have no idea what it is yet, but enjoy the brazenness and simplicity of the sign.

McGurk Mysteries

At my art opening the other night, I engaged in a rather mind-blowing conversation. While I was chatting with a visitor, he idly looked at my business card holder on the countertop, and kind of brushed his index finger along my name. Half to himself, he said he hadn’t heard that name since he was a kid…

As he trailed off,  my brain leapt ahead of his words because no one ever knows my name! It’s a lone wolf of a name…shared by almost no one, not to be found on keychains, in pop culture, or any roster or directory of any kind. You just never – well, almost never – run into it, so I was intrigued. 

He went on to say that he’d read a series of mystery stories as a kid – I practically cut him off to joyfully shout “McGurk Mysteries!” – and then we were off an running on a trip down memory lane about these books. 

I very fondly remember these books from my childhood, and personally owned a good many of them. They featured a ten-year-old boy named McGurk, who ran a private investigation service, the McGurk Organization, out of his basement. I don’t remember how the series came to my attention back in the day, but the main attraction for me was to see my name in print (outside of looking at my own handwriting, that never happens). Meanwhile, my friend said he wanted a window on what it was like to live in the suburbs with a stable family. His memory was excellent, by the way, recalling an astonishing level of detail about the author, illustrator, titles, and plots as if he’d read the series last week, instead of over 30 years ago. 

I was completely tickled by this connection we’d made, which looped back through my childhood and brought us together in the present day because of a shared understanding of my name – of all things. I decided to reread a couple of the books, and checked out two from the library.

I was a little disappointed that the book (it turned out that one was enough) didn’t quite stand the test of time. But, it was funny to see all the detective fiction tropes that were checked off in kid-size boxes:

  • a flawed detective (McGurk is impatient and stubborn, with flashes of risky behavior)
  • a willingness of the Organization employees to shade the truth (especially to those in positions of power)  
  • a strained relationship with local law enforcement (the police chief doesn’t have time for juvenile detectives)
  • good guys working against limitations (curfews, the need to attend school during the day)
  • the unmasking of the villain in dramatic fashion

Moving beyond the books themselves, I couldn’t help thinking that my own love of mysteries relates to my affinity for abstraction…multiple layers of meaning, a chronology that might seem less than straightforward, some red herrings, shrouds, and veils – but ultimately a framework that is flexible enough to tell many tales and engage many topics.

I’m indebted to this art lover for sparking this utterly enjoyable conversation and train of thought.



Public Art – 2nd Avenue Subway

2nd Avenue subway mosaic

I finally got to see the new 2nd Avenue subway! I’ve been waiting for this almost as long as Peggy Olson has! This would be my subway station, if I still lived in New York. It smells new, which is the oddest thing I’ve ever said or thought about the subway. New concrete. It’s airy with a glassed entrance, unlike most other stations, and it has an elevator. I wished I had more time to poke around, but I did take a short, one-stop ride.

The art in some subway stations has fascinated me for years. Here, we have mosaic tile portraits of nearly life-size New Yorkers. I was pleased to note the diversity in the depictions – various professions and demographics. The detail is great, though I prefer the whimsy of the animal and fossil mosaics in the 81st Street station on the C line.

Am I the only one – or was it weird to notice that the closest figure to this gay couple was a nurse in uniform, who was directly looking at them? That juxtaposition struck a wrong note for me because it swooped me right back to the heyday of the AIDS epidemic. Maybe that’s generational, but I still want to say “too soon”. And, I wished a lesbian couple could have been included in addition to the lone gay male couple – if the MTA needed models, we were practically right upstairs!

Nice job on a project only a century or so in the making!

Accumulations, Courtesy of Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, Phalli’s Field

“Accumulations” are what Yayoi Kusama called these multiple soft sculpture phalluses that she patiently sewed and placed in rooms, in platforms mounted on floors and walls, and even in two rowboats. Kusama made these pillow-esque, polka-dotted, cartoon-like, engorged phalluses as a way to get over her fear of sex – and one vintage 1960s photo depicts her lying uncomfortably on top of a patch of them. Much of the wall text at Seattle Art Museum quaintly names them as “tubers”.

By the artist’s request, each installation room was accessible for a timed period, from about 20 – 30 seconds depending on the room. It was fairly disorienting and completely trippy to enter the room, and try to visually make sense of the lights and mirror reflections – literally, the smoke-and-mirrors of it all. The infinity-ness created by multiple mirrors, reflecting yourself in an endless field of phalluses (Phalli’s Field) was reminiscent of being at the Tulip Festival for example…phalluses as far as the eye could see. But I was more interested in the actual sculptures, rather than their reflections. These funny, bumbling things, with their red polka dots scream out as physical comedy. And there was certainly something funny about a lesbian being locked in a room with many dozens of them…

I knew someone once who also made soft sculptures of phalluses. Those were bigger, and more obvious, and clearly were stylized self-portraits of some kind. It was so personal that I was often embarrassed to hear this person talk about his work, because it was essentially like hearing him talk about his own penis. Cringe. (You too, Master of None, bringing your penis’s “gregarious” personality into conversation with women. I wanted to give up watching the show just for that). Kusama’s work was actually smaller (per each phallus), but felt bigger. As flashy as it was, it came from a humble, exploratory place, that was willing to laugh at itself, not a sling-it-around place that needs to stake some kind of claim.

Other accumulations (of memories and associations):

The demand for this exhibition exceeded the open hours of the museum, so we saw this show at about 11:00 PM one evening, when the museum extended their hours. The lines for each viewing room snaked around the larger room of the museum, and because of the wait time and repetitive nature of seeing the same people over and over again as the lines wound around, we found ourselves in lots of friendly conversations. While people had their phones out for photos, it seemed like folks were more engaged with other people in the line, not with staring at their phones. A companion wondered if this was part of the artist’s plan. Maybe it was the festive atmosphere of being in the museum at night. I don’t know why, just an observation.

The comment that maybe Kusama wanted to foster connections among the viewers as they waited to enter her environments made me think of the architect Paul Rudolph, who designed the buildings on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus. They are not attractive or stately; in fact, I’d consider them visually harsh. But I felt my heart soften toward them a bit when I learned that Rudolph deliberately created hidden or off-kilter building entrances and approaches, the better to engage the then-commuter students in dialogue with each other as they tried to make their way around.

We waited in line for several hours, sitting on the floor. Some people brought special stadium chairs and food, ready to camp out for the duration. I haven’t waited in line like that since sleeping overnight in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk in Washington, DC about 20 years ago. My friend Tribs and I went to see the Van Gogh show at the National Gallery. I’ll never forget the police officers kicking us through our sleeping bags to wake us up in the morning and get us vertical again to clear the sidewalk.

So I left this show feeling like I’d been to Infinity, the Tulip Festival, a carnival funhouse, my grad school days, a sidewalk in Washington, DC, and more. I visited in my mind with a couple of old friends (and foes). I made new acquaintances, not friends for life, but friends for an evening, friends I was happy to see again elsewhere in the exhibition. Were these just ultra-personal dots I was connecting, the criss-crossing of random stories that tell me I’m rambling as I’m getting older? Was there something more going on that I was tapping into?

In one of the films, Kusama discussed her desire to add peace and love to the world, saying that each day is a “test for how much I can contribute to society”. If that’s the measuring stick, I believe that all these connections forged that night embody that desire, and prove it true.

The Homely Protestant

Robert Motherwell, The Homely Protestant

I love Robert Motherwell because of his smarts. While so many of his (male) contemporaries were making fools of themselves in bars, he was making poetic work – about poetry – and other big themes, and writing intelligently about it too. I read the wall text for this painting at the Met and was reminded again of why I love him.

To paraphrase, Motherwell was struggling with naming this painting, and finally remembered a Surrealist technique of engaging with chance. He opened a book (Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce), blindly pointed his finger at the text, and upon opening his eyes, saw that his finger was resting on the phrase “the homely protestant”. “Of course!” Motherwell said. “It is a self-portrait”.

It’s amusing to me to imagine the emphasis on different words. Of course, it is a self-portrait. Of course, it is a self-portrait.

Interesting musical footnote #1:

I believe the Beatles used this same technique for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, but they did it the other way around by choosing the phrase first, and constructing the song around it.

Interesting musical footnote #2:

I just learned that Motherwell was from Aberdeen, Washington. Safe to say that he was the most famous native until Kurt Cobain came along?

Terra Cotta Warriors

Terra Cotta general

Picturing this exhibition of 8,000 clay statues, I imagined tabletop action figures, as far as the eye could see. Toy “army men” fashioned for grown-up royalty. But what was I thinking – royalty gets the royal treatment, after all – this army, whose purpose was to guard China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, during the afterlife, was larger than life-size. Yes, these statues towered over me, at over six feet tall.

The size (and conditions) prevented more than ten warriors from traveling for this exhibition, which was just a little disappointing for me (because I love the idea of multiples), but what the exhibition lacked in quantity, it completely made up for in specificity and gravitas.

Instead of royalty playing with dolls on chessboards (or something like that, as I’d imagined) this was much closer in nature to Egyptian art of the pyramids because these warriors were actually buried with the emperor around 210 BCE.

There were several different types of warriors, including generals, cavalrymen, and archers. Their uniforms and hats were so specific. For example, archers had loosely cut pants because they needed to easily kneel and aim. Cavalrymen had specific chin straps to hold their caps on. Generals had heavy armor that left them unprotected in the back, purportedly because they were so brave and noble as not to need further protection. You could identify each warrior by their uniforms and caps, if you knew what to look for. I loved seeing the treads on the soles of the Kneeling Archer – that kind of detail almost makes me pucker up to cry.

Cavalryman’s shoes
Soles of shoes of Kneeling Archer warrior

The fabrication of this army was also fascinating to me. More than 2.4 million pounds of clay were used – incredible. It was an assembly line arrangement that ran from least to most skilled as the terra cotta was uniformly shaped and extruded for bodies and limbs, ending with skilled artists who handcrafted each unique face, down to individual hairs and features. Facial recognition software says that no two are the same.

Terra Cotta Warrior

The army was uncovered in China in the 1970s, and there’s still some mystery surrounding it. For example, there was a pit uncovered that was full of armor, made of terra cotta. Why would the warriors need suits of armor made for them, when they already had protective clothing – essentially built-in armor? And if they had needed it, why was the armor tossed into a pit all together, instead of being placed on each warrior? One theory is that these were offerings to dead comrades or dead enemies. But the explanation that I love is that it was an armory. An armory! An imaginary armory for imaginary soldiers.

This magnificent undertaking was humanized with the sobering information that the workers who made this army were almost certainly slaves who were coerced and tortured. Evidence of shackles, assorted injuries, and cuts on bones of human remains prove this.

What a show. There’s a museum in China with more warriors and presumably, more artifacts. I’d like to someday see the Acrobat figures that were in charge of entertaining the troops.

Studio Sale: 20% off all artwork October 14 only

I’m preparing the new studio for its official opening on Saturday, October 14. In honor of this move, I’m offering a one-time-only 20% discount on all work that evening.

I’m celebrating the new space, a return to my art practice after a serious hand injury, and my wife’s adventures – she is moving to Italy for nine months that very day. So this is a special occasion!

Here are some available works – many more will be on hand at the studio.

If you have any questions, or if you’re not in the Seattle area, but you’re interested in a piece, please feel free to contact me. (Price guide is below).

Thank you for your interest in my work, and for helping me to inaugurate my new studio in this wonderful way!!

Prices below are original prices, before discount; sales tax will be added.

Paintings on wood
Extra large (48 x 48) $1000
Large (48 x 36) $800
Medium (24 x 24) $400
Small (12 x 12) $100
Extra small (8 x 10) $60
Teeny tiny $30

Mixed media paintings (matted and framed)
Includes Italian series, Chicago, Khalidiya
Large (approx 16 x 18) $300
Medium (approx 13 x 15) $200
Small (approx 5 x 7) $50

Digital collages (Matted and framed) $50

Unframed works on paper
Large (approx 18 x 24 ) $110
Medium $80
Small $35

Paintings on canvas
Large (36 x 36) $200

Unframed Paintings on matboard $30

Fish relief sculptures $50

First moments in new studio…

Sitting on the floor in my new studio. Just kind of calmly sitting here in the dust of the unswept floor, no lights on, no company. Plenty of daylight coming in the windows, even though I can see it just started to rain. No sound except some windowpanes creaking, sometimes the sound of traffic – air, train or car. I just want to be quiet for a few minutes. My heart is beating. I can smell paint and wax, faintly.

Old paint, old sills, old floorboards…these surfaces are speaking my language and are already like old friends.

Physicians, Heal Thyselves – with Art!

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, my old stomping grounds, is hosting art workshops for local medical students – dermatology students from Harvard and med students from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The former group is learning to hone their clinical observation skills while studying art, while the latter is learning to bring humanity to their bedside manner. And who doesn’t want more of that in a doctor? This means, among other things, developing their empathy by studying Egyptian sarcophagi and pondering the meaning of death and its implications for their patients and their loved ones. It also means learning about coping skills for themselves, such as studying Buddhist art and learning about meditation to calm their minds.

What a novel concept. Everything is connected. Everything intertwines. Hooray for these programs and for the museum.

New Studio in Seattle!

We’re open once a month, on every second Saturday, 6 – 9 pm as part of the Georgetown Art Attack. Come by on October 14th for the very first one and receive a 20% discount on the purchase of any of my work.

I love this old building.

I share the space with four other artists – incredible energy!

Everything you see here is on sale – some oldies but goodies. Time to start unpacking!

The Oak and the Cypress: Mal di Mare

Mal di Mare, 48 x 36, Mixed media on panel, 2016

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

Nine years ago, the first time I was in Europe with my then-girlfriend, I collected (OK, I may have ripped it down) part of a poster that was displayed on a wall in Sicily. Although I liked the poster for its graphics and colors, its message is a political one about the state of the navy, border control, and various civic concerns related to the waterfront.

I took the title, Mal di Mare, from these graphics. Although it sounds quite lyrical in Italian, it actually means “seasick”. I hope this doesn’t sound too negative in tone, but I think it’s part of the ups and downs of a relationship, the bargain you make in a long-term commitment.

The Oak and the Cypress: Hesitation Change (Waltz)

Hesitation Change (Waltz), Acrylic on panel, 48 x 36

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

My wife is an avid dancer, and the waltz is the unofficial dance of love. My interest is picqued a little more, not by dancing the steps, but watching them being danced, and even by the visual pattern of diagramming the steps. A Hesitation Change is a real step in the waltz, although this diagram depicts the Whisk, and a Natural Turn. I liked the suggestion of the title, related to changing patterns within a relationship.

The Oak and the Cypress: Roadblock

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

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

Being married usually means in-laws, and I’m lucky to have a very good relationship with mine. My father-in-law and I have a special relationship, one that’s humorous and tender. I could be wrong, but I don’t think our relationship would be nearly as sweet if I were a son-in-law. Recently, I’ve been thinking about him quite a bit. As the owner of an auto body shop for many years, he has a love of cars and driving. When I see something related to cars, I think of him.

I’m always on the lookout for found objects for my artwork, and often come home with something in my pocket. Besides the road reflector I found while running (I brought that dirty thing all the way back from Maui in my carry-on; I just had to have it), this composition is based in part on a diagram I saw of a fuel injection system. This depiction is so stylized as to be make-believe, and I don’t think any car buff would see it in there, so I didn’t mention that part to Frank.

But when I told him that I’d made a painting about him, he was quite moved and said with a real sense of wonderment, that no one had ever made a painting about him before. Only because you don’t know any other artists, Frank.