Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category


at 11 this morning i stopped concentrating. i kicked what i thought was the edge of a box under my desk but actually unplugged the powerstrip and lost all sorts of shit immediately. the final straw came later when i stabbed my finger on the same staple fragment i’ve been stabbing since 2005 that hides fishhooklike in the first nonsensical folder in my drawer. time to clean.

i don’t know about the rest of you but my office at work is part studio, part computer room, part community center, part research facility. i have generous shelving and wall space to put anything anywhere and that’s the problem. i see images i like, cut them out and add it to the layer of crap bordering my desk. when i need to access something like a list or folder there’s never any room because of all the wall pretties. so that shit gets filed. today i pulled 4 folders labelled SORT ME.

my point: i like messy studio spaces with remnants of inspiration, quotes, funnies from friends, entertainment venue stubs, photos, exhibit postcards—any and all ephemera from a life spent accumulating memorabilia—but enough is enough. so today i turned my desk to face the corner (to discourage unsolicited conversation from pop-ins), took everything off the north and south walls, crammed mementos into a space measuring 18×24 inches and allowed myself just two images to look at: an 1869 aerial map drawing of topeka (so clean, sweet and not trashy back then) and two contemporary masai tribesmen. they made the cut because the map is cool and reflective of my work in archiving and preservation, and the africans have so many patterns of fabric mixed with jewelry and are so beautiful, athletic and blackblackblack i never get tired of looking at them.

i cannot concentrate in a cluttered studio space. not anymore. i cannot deal with old files and stacking shit on top of shit anymore. i’m curious about other studio spaces, their condition, what’s accumulated and what the walls have on them.

anyone care to describe theirs? i’m interested. maybe we could all take pictures of our spaces and do a 2009 calendar. i want to be november. 

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Into the Wild.

This is an amazing film that has left me feeling strange inside.

The journey that this young man has taken is a dozen lifetimes compared to my own. it makes me reflect on a lot of different things:

1. Am I living to my potential?

2. Am I taking any chances with my life (am I living or am I playing it too safe)?

3. Am I making the world a better place or am I being too selfish?

4. Am I taking the time to really appreciate all that I am blessed with… family, friends, health, artistic abilities?

5. Do I let “ego” interfere in my own happiness?

6. Do I truly accept “who I am” and “where I come from”?

I guess we try to answers these questions everyday of our lives. And, I believe, we feel the need to answer them more as we get older and reflect on our lives, our past, and that which has made us who we are… good and bad.

The main character, Chris McCandless sets out on a journey to escape the shackles of society, but it really seems he is trying to escape the pain of his childhood. And he makes his ultimate goal, Alaska. And as Hal Holbrook’s character asks him simply, “What are you running from”? The answer, of course, is himself.

He discovers the ultimate truth is, that we all need each other to get through this world.

“You can’t make it on your own”

And I couldn’t help but think about what an amazing job Sean Penn did as a director and a filmmaker. But, it also begged the bigger question… Why do most genius artists seem to be such tragic assholes in their personal lives. And Sean Penn confuses me. He seems to do a lot of good, but I’ve heard enough stories about him that lead me to believe that he believes “his own hype”.

He seems to be working on his image and legacy with every puff of his cigarette.

If you shot him with the “honesty raygun”, he would probably admit to wanting to just play golf, get fat and watch a lot of cable TV.

But he can’t, he has his legacy to think of. James Dean and Jack Kerouac didn’t play golf and they definitely didn’t play by the rules…. because that wouldn’t be “cool”.

Those who pursue “cool”, will never be cool. I’ve tried and failed many times.

So, can a great artist be a nice guy? Not in the dramatic sense… that’s boring, that doesn’t sell books or make for good films.

So, are there are great artists that are also very good people?

Absolutely, and some of them are right here on Pretty Frank.

And I’m glad to call them friends…

Because you can’t make it on your own.

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So I stumbled across a web site in which graphics/designer/animator Cassidy Curtis and friends document the ever changing landscape of urban graffiti. From the site:

Graffiti is the chameleon skin of the urban landscape. Equal parts public art and vandalism, virtuosity and subversion, it is among the most ephemeral forms of human expression. Graffiti walls are repainted frequently, as different writers compete and collaborate on the public canvas. A given piece may last years, weeks, or mere hours. For graffiti writers, this is expected and in fact fundamental to their process, which they perceive as an ongoing dialogue. However, most city dwellers experience this constant change only at a subconscious level.

Is the site interesting?  Absolutely, both conceptually and visually.  Is the subject interesting?  Absolutely, and on many levels.  However… I have always had personal issues with the idea of graffiti-as-art.  I am, admittedly, unschooled on the subject of art history and the connections, both direct and indirect, that may exist between gaffiti and “high art”.  So you’re reading the words of ignorance but also of gut reaction, which can be equally important.

Here are the things I think about when I meditate on graffiti:

1)  I was raised on the Golden Rule.  And that meant showing respect to everyone who deserved it, and if you didn’t know if they deserved it, you gave them the benefit of the doubt.  Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  And graffiti feels like, with respect to being an “artist”, one of the most disrespectful, self-serving things I can think of.  I’d rather be insulted verbally by a performance artist.  I welcome every opportunity to exist beyond my own realm of comfort, but I don’t cotton to people defacing the property of other people.

2) As I mentioned above, one division I draw between what graffiti “artists” (I use that phrase in the same way Subway does) do and the oh-so-nebulous idea of “art” is intent.  Again, I could be completely wrong here, but my interpretation is that most folks using graffiti as some form of expression aren’t exactly trying to interpret the inner workings of human-nature, both good and bad.  I don’t subscribe to the “art must be beautiful to be art” school (see verbal abuse example above), but the impetus of art in my mind is to draw attention to the idea, not the artist.  I realize there are always ulterior motives, but graffiti, in contrast, seems focused primarily on drawing attention to the artist sans concept.

Obviously, I’m making some broad, sweeping statements that I would love to make less contestable had I more room (and interest…).  And there are plenty of artists using graffiti/guerilla style art with some modicum of intent beyond saying, “Dudes…  Check out the size of my balls.”  Banksy comes to mind, here.  But even Mr. Curtis has stated that he intends to keep the locations confidential on his site so as not to get the graffiti-ers in trouble with the law.  And my knee-jerk is to say, “Fine.  Let me spray-paint some genitals on the side of your home and car, and we’ll call it art…  You’re welcome.”

Finally… as a result of my meditation on graffiti, there’s this little part of me that wonders about the importance of it all; about graffiti, art, work, relationships, and so on.  The majority of all the art ever made is now gone.  We’ll never see it again.  And when the sun finally expands to engulf the entire solar system, what will it matter?  And I have to remind myself, that’s exactly WHY it matters.

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I saw this image of a residential development in Copenhagen, and it reminded me of a conversation we had recently on connecting with one another. These angular balconies make for a fascinating facade virtually moving and rotating in on itself while screaming “LET’S ACTUALLY TALK TO ONE ANOTHER!!! What a novel concept…” I’ll admit, I’m a pretty private person, so my knee-jerk to this kind of closeness is an uncomfortable shyness pierced with unending silence. But there’s that deep-down biological side of me where the caveman genes bang rocks and sticks while their developing minds realize it might be easier to take down one of those monstrous hairy things with more than one person. That part loves this idea, at least conceptually.

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art history

yesterday i was at KU most of the afternoon shooting footage of linda talleur setting and running letterpress in the art & design building. 20 years later and that place still smells the same and depending on time of year, the smell can resurrect feelings of motivation and change (fall) or fuck-it’s-the-last-nine-weeks-and-i’ve-skipped-so-much-class-i’m-too-afraid-to-go-because-lois-green-scares-the-crap-out-of-me (spring).

the art department smell equalled anxiety yesterday. it reminded me of how lame i felt compared to the more innovative freshman. the ones who had really great ideas and weren’t afraid to immerse themselves in the whole culture. i thought of how long it took me to get ready for school in the mornings because my clothes weren’t cool compared to the kids from chicago with their boy of london bags and na-na boots. i wanted to be a beautiful gifted art school girl. the one with the super super hot art school boyfriend who never spoke in figure drawing. i hated the walk to campus. all the shit we had to carry. i never felt gayer than when 3D design projects were due and i had to maneuver some bullshit balsa wood structure onto the bus. if george michael’s gotta have faith was playing when the doors opened it just made it worse.

i looked around yesterday. twenty years later and that place was still capable of making me feel totally insecure, gross, uncool. but only for a brief moment. because i am immersed in the culture. i’ve dated the hot nude models and they were dumb and smelly. but at 18 my priorities were surface driven. it depressed me a little being back at A&D but only because i would make a completely different freshman now. i would never skip class to the point lois green would ask me to withdraw. i wouldn’t sleep through art history in that lovely spencer museum theater. i wouldn’t be putting gesso on canvas as the class was starting. i wouldn’t go out on school nights. i wouldn’t care how i measured up physically. that hindsight can make me very sad and plaintive for missed opportunities.

i wanted to go back and start over. that’s what A&D smelled like yesterday. missed opportunity.

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This summer I’m teaching an abstract painting class at the Wichita Center For The Arts. The class is intended to be an exercise in creativity and an ego destroying experience. In other words, I want my students to free themselves from their own preconceived definition of art, and create art without allowing their ego to hinder the creative process. I want to throw away the paint by number mentality and encourage my students to jump out of their comfort zone. I want to completely change how they approach the creative process. I want them to throw paint. I want them to use power tools. I want them to draw with their feet. I want them to throw paint soaked tennis balls across the room. I want them to become children again. Free like Children. Free to create without fear and doubt. Free of rules and definitions. Free of ego.

The majority of my students will most likely be retirees that have taken up painting as a hobby, and have very limited knowledge or exposure to modern art. I’m guessing many of them are fans of Thomas Kinkade or Winslow Homer, and have absolutely no clue who Jean-Michel Basquiat or Robert Rauschenberg is. I want to expose them to artists like Jackson Pollock, Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns, Willem De Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Pablo Picasso, Cy Twombly, Jim Dine, and many many others.

I want to show them that art cannot be be held to any set of rules. I want to show them what is possible when you let your creativity run rampant.

All creative individuals must endure creative blocks and must constantly refuel that creative fire. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get caught in a loop, and find ourselves repeating ourselves over and over again. We become comfortable with a particular method of working and we latch onto our precious rules and ideas, and we refuse to break way from that tried and true formula. But creativity thrives on change and experimentation and happenstance.

Last year I decided to experiment with abstract painting. I was stuck in a loop, and I wanted to break away from my tried and true formula and experiment with the idea of making abstract paintings. This was much harder than it sounds. Abstract painting was the scary monster under my bed that taunted me as I tried to sleep. I had no clue where to start, or where to end. Abstract painting was extremely intimidating because I couldn’t visualize an end product. There was no map to follow. No rules. No restrictions. In some ways this was very liberating because it gave me the freedom to experiment, but it was also frustrating because I wanted to create an end product that I could proudly show in a gallery.

Painting a representational portrait is easy. You shoot a photograph of a model and then you reinterpret that photograph with paint. Your end destination is clearly defined and the path to that destination is very clear in your mind. You might take a detour along the way but the end product is defined from the very beginning. The danger of this method of working is that you can easily get bored or get caught in a loop of repetitiveness. You must have a willingness and a desire to venture away from that predetermined end result. You have to take drastic detours and find a way to bring more spontaneity and happenstance and experimentation into the creative process.

Creating abstract paintings reminded me that I can create art without rules and restrictions. It reminded me that I have the freedom to change styles or work with different mediums.

I am currently working on a NEW series of abstract paintings for an exhibition at Watermark Books & Cafe. The exhibit is tentatively titled “Empty City” and will be on view May 27th – July 28th, 2009. So I have an entire year to procrastinate about this one. But I’m hoping that I will get plenty of time to play with paint doing demonstrations for my class this summer.

We shall see.

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So, a friend of mine was telling me about HBO’s John Adams mini-series, and it got me to thinking. This is by no means a new discussion or line of thought, but I hadn’t really pondered it this hard in my own brain. So, I began to wonder, were these men (our “fore-fathers”) actually “truly great” men? What are the odds of that many “truly great” people gathering in any one spot at any given time? Were the people involved in what was to become what we know as The Revolutionary War truly great people, or were they simply average people responding to extraordinary times? It’s fairly well documented, for example, that Washington was a pretty reluctant “hero”, and every new biography to come out seems to point an accusatory finger at our penchant for revisionist history. People naturally resist any kind of tarnish settling on the brightly polished silver that is our (the U.S.A.’s) history of struggle and overcoming great oppression to become a “free” land. Of course, historians nowadays never fail to mention the irrevocable stain of slavery.

I’m digressing here, but this is another interesting point to ponder for future posts: as we progress in time, do we also progress in our desire for absolute truth? If so, how far into our culture does this desire penetrate? Does it stop at issues of social policy and the wayward loins of our politicians? What does our ability to believe virtually any text written in email form have to say about this desire? Or is it merely the desire of historians to withstand the coals of any future inquisition(s)?

Anyhoo… were the people involved in founding this country any different from people today (notice I did not try to equate them with people RUNNING the country today)? Are there John Adamses and George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons and so on living today, running deli’s, running for public office, and running marathons that simply haven’t had to react to such trying circumstances and times? Are some of the world’s greatest minds and leaders busy plowing fields, spending silent days and nights in monasteries, begging for spare change, teaching our children, drilling for oil, killing the enemy, and on and on and on? Are they sitting in the senate chambers in D.C.? Are they sitting next to you at work? That guy may seem fairly innocuous with his collection of (pick your sci-fi movie) memorabilia, but given the right opportunity and the right kind of fire under his feet, and he very well may rule a world. Maybe two. And maybe neither of them will exist only in cyberspace…

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