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  • - * 13 DOORS OF X* *Meeah Williams* The Barking Cat Press * 2015 Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA copyright 2015 Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat...

Friday, November 29, 2013

=squirrels & frogs=

=Mail art received: Richard Canard, Carbondale, IL=

"Upon occasion I will either trip over or stumble thru the truth but I certainly try to avoid getting any on me." —Richard Canard

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that correspondent Richard Canard might well be the La Rochefoucauld of mail art. It's still possible, but just as possible, in an American vein and in light of his most recent piece-- in particular, the aphorism extracted above, is that he might even better be thought of as the contemporary Mark Twain of mail art. Aside from being hilarious, the genius of his observation on the "truth" is that it offers wry wisdom in a variety of contexts. For instance, you can as easily imagine these words in the mouth of a Socrates as you can in the mouth of the most cynical, self-serving member of Congress—with diametrically opposed messages!

The card itself, cut from a box of Ring Pop candy, is about as eye-poppingly colorful as you could wish. Actual ring pops, alas, look nothing like those pictured here, but that's the point of advertising, after all, and, often as not, art, too. It makes things look bigger, brighter, tastier than they can ever be in real life. But more than that, this vibrantly-colored card with its promise of impossibly sweet delight makes you happy just looking at it. Even without the exclamation mark, you hear it: RING POP!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

=Books recently read=

Bringing Up the Bodies. Henry VIII is tired of his second wife. He's already gotten into a pile of trouble with the pope and Europe's Catholic kings for divorcing his first wife and forcing her into exile just so he could exchange her for Anne Boleyn. Now, the sad fact is, he's just not that into Anne anymore. She's turned into a rather unpleasant piece of work: a pinched, sharp-tongued shrew. What's more, she can't seem to bear Henry a son, she may be sleeping around with members of the court, and, most important of all, Henry has the hots for a new hottie, the otherwise drab Jane Seymour. So he directs Thomas Cromwell, master of dirty deeds done dirt cheap, to make short work of Anne. No messy divorce or lingering exile this time around. Henry wants Anne's head in a basket. Cromwell, who has his own past scores to settle, sets about orchestrating the downfall of those among the uppity nobility who made the mistake of treading on his toes. He rounds them up, subjects them to some enhanced interrogation, gets the confessions he needs and, before you can say "bob's your uncle," they're all in the Tower awaiting execution for treason. Thunk goes Anne's head, Henry makes a beeline for Jane, and Thomas Cromwell ends up looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. Book Three in the trilogy—Wolf Hall was the first—still to come.  

The Master. Henry James is "The Master" of the 
title, a writer who devoted his life to keeping the world at arm's distance the better to observe and write about it in long novels full of labyrinthine sentences whose purpose seems to further protect James from the very world he describes. Colm Toibin directs the novelistic gaze back at James in this novel and the picture we get is of a man so deeply in the closet one wonders if James himself even realized he was in the closet. His father was overbearing, his older brother William was overbearing, his younger sister Alice was overbearing in a passive aggressive way, and his mother was cripplingly possessive and protective. Covering a few years of James's middle age at the turn of the 20th century, and reaching into the past, "The Master" shows James turning the real-life characters he observed in his own non-life into fiction. James himself pines for a few of the guys that cross his path, but his boy-crushes remained strictly platonic, according to Toibin, anyway. He's reminiscent of Warhol in this respect, who famously claimed he "preferred to watch" than participate. The Henry James depicted here, however, leaves you wondering if he ever had the experience necessary to make an informed decision on the matter. You have to figure that James would be horrified to find himself observed in this way, even if it is, by and large, a sympathetic portrait of a man who elicits in the reader more pity than admiration. Actually, that in itself would probably horrify the dignified, reserved, and almost always in control author.

The Fifth Child. Harriet and David are two of a kind. They both dream of getting married, buying a big house, and having a big family. The first four children arrive in rapid and happy succession; it's the fifth time that proves to be no charm. Ben, as they come to call him, is a problem even before he's born. He feels like he's practically trying to kung-fu his way out of Harriet's body. She's so exhausted, drained, and depressed trying to carry him to term that she practically begs her obstetrician to induce labor. When she finally delivers herself of her burden, Harriet feels a guilty hatred of her baby. He's no charmer either, not in looks or behavior. He's got a ferocious appetite, an unnerving stare, and he's growing by leaps and bounds. Not even a mother's eyes can rose-tint the picture: Harriet thinks Ben looks like an evil troll. Before long, he's terrorizing the family with his roaring demands, bad temper, and overall malevolent aura. Hardly a toddler, he strangles a dog. Harriet is persuaded that the best thing to do is send Ben away to an institution. Soon, though, riddled with guilt, Harriet eventually rescues Ben from this institution where she finds him warehoused with other misfit children. Ben lies in a cell, wrapped in a straitjacket, and perpetually drugged. Harriet brings her son back home and once again, to the disapproval and skepticism of the rest of the family, tries to "civilize" him. The rest of the family is right. Her efforts are of little avail. Ben grows larger, stronger, uglier. He becomes a juvenile delinquent. Harriet's other children decide to leave home, preferring to live  with relatives rather than their brute of a brother. David and Harriet age beyond their years, grow distant from each other, and find that their dream of "a big happy family" now seems like one of life's cruel jokes when compared to the horror of their reality. Harriet comes to believe that Ben is an "alien,"  born as the result of some random DNA still in the gene pool and inherited from a time when other races walked the earth. She's felt this way to some extent all along and slowly but surely, first David, and then others in the family come to feel the same way. Harriet's convinced that the only ones that can't admit such a thing are the professionals—the doctors and bureaucrats and law enforcement officials—even if they, too, suspect something of the sort. On the surface, it seems a crazy theory—that non-humans walk among us, throwbacks from a time of trolls, gnomes, ice-giants, extraterrestrial and underground dwellers but it does seem to explain a lot about the state of the world, the origin and the persistence of evil. It helps explain bank executives, for instance, and such institutions as the U.S. Senate. 

The Heart of a Dog. A starving mongrel on his last leg, shivering in the Russian cold, staggers from the scant shelter of a doorway to accept a sausage from the hand of a kindly stranger. It must be true: every dog has his day. Because in short order, the one-time scroungy cur is now the sleek, well-fed house pet of a prominent physician. But the good doctor has ulterior, less than altruistic motives. He doesn't want the dog for a pet so much as he wants him as a test subject for his latest experiment, implanting a human heart and pituitary gland into the poor beast. The operation is only a partial success: the dog becomes only partially human. By which author Mikhail Bulgakov satirizes the experiment of the Russian Revolution which, in his drolly reactionary, counter-revolutionary view, tried something similar by raising the proletariat up to the status of the educated, professional, and ruling classes with the unexpected and undesired result that equality was achieved all right—everyone was equally miserable. The dog-turned-man is brutish, cowardly, undisciplined, a slave to his baser appetites. As the story progresses, there seems no end to the havoc and chaos he causes in the doctor's once well-ordered and useful life. The moral, as it was in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, is that man had better beware when it comes to fooling around with the natural order of things. Both doctors have created monsters—one from helpless corpses, the other from a common dog. Bulgakov's novel, published in the days when the pros and cons of the revolution could still be discussed without being automatically sent to the Gulag, is a lot more humorous than Shelley's grim cautionary tale, but considering the Stalinist purges that were soon to come, it was Bulgakov and intellectuals like him who had more reason to be terrified of what was heading their way on the day dogs came to rule the world.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Second Coming

I always see him with a dog,
a mid-sized dog
of indeterminate breed,
not a border collie,
but something like that,
short-haired, though.
I see him doing stand-up
at a third-rate comedy club
in a Hoboken strip mall
the room is never more than one-third full;
he’s textbook
at handling hecklers.
I see him waiting out his time on death row,
gaining weight, going gray;
he never files an appeal,
never claims he didn’t do it
doesn’t pen a memoir;
his crime is unspeakable;
when the day comes
he’ll refuse a last meal,
speak no last words.
When I picture him back from the dead
he’s an old man on a bicycle
riding a tottering line
a loaf of bread under his arm;
he’s a Chinese guy collecting plastic empties
on a winter street;
the homeless wreck
propping himself against a fire hydrant
to vomit in the gutter
He’s that old woman picking her way
over the busted-up sidewalk
on Nostrand Avenue
the wind fluffing her cinnamon-colored hair
revealing a bald spot.

—Emily Szabo Birch

Thursday, November 21, 2013

=mail art received from Borderline Grafix, Austin, Texas=

At first glance, I thought this envelope was from some official city agency or other—the water bureau, perhaps, informing us of the importance of saving water, or the sanitation department, warning us to curb our dogs. I thought it was a serendipitous example where art is made accidentally in the course of some nameless, faceless entity doing something mundane, ie. such as sending out a mass-mailing that almost every recipient is guaranteed to ignore. My first instinct—simultaneous to my first glance—was that in this case I could use those Warholian photo-booth style fire hydrants in my mail-art. I was about to go for my scissors. Then a closer look at the envelope revealed that what I held in my hand was already mail-art.

And that is the crux of the genius behind these pieces from Borderline Grafix. They look like art that has come about unintentionally, by accident or chance, art that no one has actually made, never mind contemplated beforehand. They are a manifestation of Fluxus, which, in short, is a way of erasing the line between art and life, so that an envelope from the water bureau or the sanitation department can be as much art as anything hanging in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's supremely difficult to make art that looks like no one has made it at all. One has to be a kind of invisible magician working behind the scenes, bringing together elements while erasing his or her own hand in the conjuring. BG makes it look easy in these pieces, which is the hardest thing of all. 

Here is a page of stickers featuring entirely ordinary objects which, lifted and isolated from their normal contexts, are reinvested with a numinous strangeness. I am reminded of what Max Beckmann wrote about his own work: "I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting." Or what Jesus said in the Gospel of Thomas: "Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed."     

Next comes a collage featuring an encore appearance of the repeat image of the fire hydrant on the envelope. 

These gritty, faded shots, taken from five different angles, suggest a series of crime scene photos. But what is the crime? Does it have to do with the two women in the photo above? The compass gives us a direction, but a direction to where? There is someone present behind the scenes—the guilty party, perhaps?—we can see his or her legs from under the curtain, so to speak, but who do they belong to? And why the fire hydrant? It's an important source of water, especially in the city, both for cooling off in the summer and, of course, for putting out fires in an emergency. It's a place where you can't park, where your dog lifts its leg, where drunks vomit. The fire hydrant is suggestively cruciform; it gives life-saving water as the blood of Christ from the cross is said to save souls. This collage doesn't just tell us a story—it tells us an infinite number of stories.

Finally, here are some "Fluxus bucks"—an ironic conjoining of art and money, a purely imaginary currency that is perfectly beautiful and absolutely worthless. In a culture that commodifies everything it can possibly make a buck on, including what should be beyond commidification, art and love and revolution, to name a handful, Fluxus artists don't wait for their work to become worth something on the market. Like good capitalists, they cut out the middle man. They literally make their art money. They're counterfeiters, and, like all counterfeiters, they undermine the system.   

Again, as the envelope mimicked an official correspondence, so these Fluxus bucks play with the idea of authorized legal tender. At first glance, you might easily mistake these bucks as real foreign currency, something you might be able to spend overseas somewhere... maybe Freedonia? You have to take a second, closer look to see that there's nowhere on the planet you can buy so much as a pack of gum even with a purse stuffed with this paper.

Taken as a whole, this is a fantastic, thought-provoking collection of materials from a talented "invisible" artist. Before now, I hadn't received anything else quite like it and that's saying a lot. Thank you Borderline Grafix!    


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

=paper plate memorial=

The first paper plate I ate off of the morning after learning that Doris Lessing had died, November 17th, at 94. I came late to an appreciation of Doris Lessing, real late, reading her for the first time only two years ago, a novel I picked up on a whim from the Brooklyn Public Library..."Love, Again." Until then, the predominant feeling I had about Doris Lessing could be roughly summed up as "What could this old lady possibly have to say to me?" But she won a Nobel Prize, after all, and I figured as any supposedly well-read, intelligent ex-English major, I should have at least a passing familiarity with something the woman wrote.  "Love, Again" isn't even a major novel in the Doris Lessing canon, but after forty or so pages, I was hooked. What an idiot I was, but if there's one good thing about waking up an idiot is that you have another whole day in which to change enough to be a little less of one by the time you go to bed that night.

Since that first novel I've read "Shikasta" and a bunch of her short stories and, as synchronicity would have it, I "happened" to borrow "The Fifth Child" from the library less than a week before she died. I'm going to read it next, after I finish Colm Toibin's "The Master." At some point soon, I'll tackle "The Golden Notebook," usually considered her defining masterpiece, although Lessing herself didn't think so; she favored the Canopus in Argos series, of which the excellent and thought-provoking "Shikasta" was the first installment.

When someone dies at an advanced age, it's a commonplace to console ourselves and others by pointing out what a long full life they lived, how we were lucky to have them around so long, that everyone should only be so fortunate, etc. But that really doesn't touch the essential thing, the true loss, which is that no matter how long a person has lived—10 years or 10,000-they are gone now and gone forever and the emptiness they leave behind will last an eternity. For better and for worse, we live in the present, we feel in the present, and the memory of past fullness can never entirely satisfy a present lack. A star in the sky is gone, snuffed out, what difference does it make if it shone yesterday or a thousand yesterdays before that? The dark isn't any less dark tonight for that. 

Somehow I got a kind of comfort just knowing that somewhere in the world Doris Lessing—with her acerbic wit, her wisdom, her special brilliance—was still alive. Now she isn't and the world seems a lesser place for the erasure.

I suppose in one sense I can be thankful for the ignorance I showed in not appreciating Doris Lessing much earlier in my life—I now have enough of her books still to read and enjoy to last me the rest of my life, even if I should be so lucky as to make it to ninety-four.

Monday, November 18, 2013

=mail art received, Vizma Bruns, Waitpinga, SA, Australia=

No sooner do I think that I'm beginning to get a handle on what mail-art is then I'm sent staggering drunkenly back to the proverbial--and literal--drawing board my dazzled eyes newly opened (yet again) to the infinitude of possibilities of what you can do--if, as Carl Jung once wrote, only you knew it. Today's instructional came in the form of this absolutely delightful package from artist Vizma Bruns who hails from the land of kangaroos, koalas, platypi, and other dadaistic anomalies...Australia. 

Here is the front of the envelope Vizma sent me as well as a card representing a "layering experiment with my almost dead printer." I love the offset Warholian screenprint effect of this piece. It's cooler, creepier, more complex than if it were done "the right way," meaning, with all the lines matching and the printer working perfectly. It's the little accidents that creep into a work that, I find, make it unique, the random elements that produce revelations, insights, surprises, and that catch the occasional ghost which always avoids a more carefully controlled effort. After all, if you know exactly what you're going to do before you do it and then you execute that plan to a "t," well, congratulations, but what have you learned? To me, the best art, the most meaningful art, is also a record of the artist's journey in the act of creation, which, in effect, recreates that journey for the viewer. 

Above you see the back of Vizma's brilliantly colored envelope--a packet of virtual sunshine--a repurposed "gift tag," and a small pocket envelope folded from a Roma tourist map. All of it bright and cheerful, a kind of mental confetti. Below is a postcard collage titled "We are cool chicks." A wonderful striped effect that reminds me of a rolling television picture serves as the background, the kind of thing you don't seem to see anymore, now that I think of it. Maybe televisions aren't prone to that sort of malfunction anymore? I miss that rolling television effect of my childhood (which might explain a lot) and wish I could get my television to do it again since it would be better, more visually and mentally stimulating, I think, than most of the actual shows that are broadcast--a kind of Fluxus/Dada TV. 

Beneath the postcard is a little doodad that I found in one of the pockets of the handmade notebook you'll see pictured further below. There are all kinds of little stamps and pictures and papers hidden throughout Vizma's mail-art, the discovery of which, as you can imagine, is part of the fun. I'm still not sure I've found everything yet. It's a little like Christmas morning in an envelope.

Next is Vizma's first mail art zine. I've unfolded it so that you can see all 8 pages--and also so I could figure out how she did it without staples, glue, or thread. I've seen this kind of thing described in books and on the internet but I'm so inept at following instructions of these kinds...origami, knitting, tai chi, you name it, basically anything that requires me to know and coordinate my right hand with my left...that it's just hopeless. So it was great to have an actual example of a staple-free zine in my own human paws. But after unfolding it, examining it, scanning it, I couldn't figure out how to put it back together again and was nearly reduced to frustrated tears until my husband arrived and I thrust it at him, saying "Can you figure this out?!" Fortunately he did and I'll be making my first 8-page staple-freemail-art zine soon (so long as my husband is around to show me--again--how to fold it). In my excitement at learning how it's done I almost forget to enjoy Vizma's fun, non-sequential, exuberantly creative zine: 

Finally here is a beautiful little notebook of assorted stitched papers decorated with stamps and stickers and complete with an interior pocket; its, perfect as Vizma writes, for "lists, mail art, tabs, plotting revenge, whatever!!"

 I think anyone taking a look at this cabinet of curiosities in an envelope will easily understand why I'm such a huge fan of mail art and why it has moved front-and-center among the creative endeavors I most passionately practice. 

Thank you so much Vizma for this amazing work!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

=flowers on a plate=

=bird on a plate=

All in all, I rather wish I could finally quit my recurrent desire to paint such sentimental, trite subjects as birds and flowers, but, in spite of my best efforts to be postmodern and beyond all that, I cannot. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

=mail art received: Claudia McGill, Wyncote, PA=

From Pennsylvania artist Claudia McGill comes the eye-popping piece shown above, sides A and B. It is a repurposed card such as Claudia likes to use, often finding these chance canvases among her junk mail or cutting them postcard-sized from cereal boxes and the like. She repaints them, draws on them, collages them and then sends them back into the world as art. I was thrilled to get one of her pieces, which are highly valued, and quite rightly so, among the mail-art community. 

The image at the top features broadly applied strokes of vibrant paint in a series of frames and boxes that enclose the central subject: the diagonal black slash that doubles as a hill upon which a calligraphic human figure seems to be arrested in mid-climb by a contemplation of the sun poised over his/her shoulder. There are various asemic marks and scratches in the paint surface which add texture and mystery as well as a random-spray pattern of black paint that impart a dynamism to the overall composition.

The bottom image has an entirely different feel, with the clear demarcation between the left and right sides of the picture plane. The eye passes from one state (of mind) to the other as if from night to day and back again. The red box  on the right recalls Rothko, doubled, in this case, by the purple box that surrounds it, and departing from Rothko by the bands of color upon which the boxes float. On the left we have a spattered cosmos of starry white milky drops; indeed, a kind of milky way. Bits of text show through the "intergalactic" darkness giving tantalizing clues to a meaning we sense we will never entirely grasp. But take a step backward, so to speak, visually, and unify the image. What you get is a kind of alternative American flag, a retinal after-burn of the stars-and-stripes...glimpsed, this time around, by some Francis Scott Key of the future after a nuclear holocaust? Or, more hopefully, perhaps this can be the flag of the "other" America, the silenced, the sick, the poor, the still huddled, the still yearning to breathe free? 

Claudia's work encompasses a wide range of materials and formats: handmade books, collage, and fabric, to name several. All of it is marked by an exuberance of color, invention, and spirit. You can see more of her work at her blog, as well as links to some of her writing and thoughts on art and life. She even offers detailed descriptions of some of her techniques which you can try on your own. I highly recommend you pay her a visit: 

=landscape with ambiguous figures=

Friday, November 15, 2013

=Being and Nothingness: a dish you make yourself=

Existentialism's master chef, Jean-Paul Sartre.

"Hell is other people."

"There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

=pessimism on a paper plate=

"We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness."

"A man can be himself only so long as he is alone."

--some cheery thoughts from Arthur Schopenhauer

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

=famous authors 2=

America's literary oddballs, H.P. Lovecraft & Edgar Allan Poe.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

=mail art received: Fine Art, Escondido, CA & Richard Canard, Carbondale IL=

Poignant and humorous, the piece above is from Fine Art, the pseudonym of an Escondido artist. The collage has a message synchronous to the short poem in my haiga piece below: "I am here. Where are you?" Mail art is, in a sense, a hope, a prayer, a shout into the valley. It is a symbolic message put into a bottle and set on the waves. It poses the very question asked in this collage: Is anyone out there? All those houses--yet it seems sometimes as if they might as well be uninhabited. Recently, I learned that ladybugs are sold by mail order to gardeners who set them loose to rid their plots of pests. The sociable swarm of insects depicted in the corner of this piece also makes its way to me by post, eating up the distance between me and its mysterious, unmet, and otherwise unknown sender, as well as the anonymity of all the blank-faced houses that lie between us; as the totemic spirit of this card, they brighten, metaphorically, my garden.    

Aesthetically pleasing and playful, this card comes to me from Richard Canard. Elegantly composed, American Mona provides yet another turn on Leonardo's classic painting, draping art's all-time favorite poster girl in red-white-and-blue drag, making her a patriotic pin-up, just in time for Veteran's Day. Is this Duchampian iconoclasm? A pop art homage disguised as cool, Warholian parody? Or is it something darker? A sly political commentary on American Imperialism? A concentrated critique of the all-consuming, all-appropriating cancer that is capitalism at its worst?

Perhaps it is all this and more. Richard proves that Leonardo's masterpiece is still a living visual language; that it remains as fluid, useful, and powerful as ever.

=from kitchen table to easel: paintings on used paper plates=

Because "art is like ham. It nourishes people." --Diego Rivera

Sunday, November 10, 2013

=neither this nor that=

A few posts ago i was identifying these pictures as "etegami," which, strictly speaking they are not. What they are is "haiga," which, to put it crudely, are illustrated haiku. Etegami are sent through the mail and I've been sending these haiga through the mail so they are functioning as etegami. But, wait, they aren't exactly haiga either, since the verse is not a haiku but really a tanka (a Japanese 5-line poem traditionally written in 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, though usually composed of less syllables in English). So what we have here isn't an etegami or a haiga. It's something in-between; in other words, there isn't a specific word to describe what they are: so, in the meantime, they're nothing at all. 

=famous authors 1=

I'm not sure where the notion came from to depict famous authors in this google-eyed fashion--it started with a portrait of Emily Dickinson (still in progress). Maybe it was because Emily was so preternaturally eerie that I thought of painting her with these bugged-out orbits. Which led me to reflect that all writers of a certain quality have a similar "weird" quality: they see. The challenge is to capture a likeness of the individual while giving them all the same bubble-eyes. Actually it isn't much of a challenge; it's simply fun.

On the left is Ezra Pound, whose poetry I always thought I should like, but never really did, no matter how many times I've tried. I feel somewhat justified, however, in not liking it because at the end of his life Pound himself is supposed to have said of his poetry(according to Allen Ginsberg): My own work does not make sense. A mess ... my writing, stupidity and ignorance all the way through ... the intention was bad, anything I’ve done has been an accident, in spite of my spoiled intentions the preoccupation with stupid and irrelevant matters ... but my worst mistake was the stupid suburban anti-Semitic prejudice, all along that spoiled everything .... I found after 70 years that I was not a lunatic but a moron. I should have been able to do better .... It’s all doubletalk ... it’s all tags and patches ... a mess. If this is false modesty, it's about the falsest example I've ever encountered. Although what sensitive person hasn't felt like this about his life from time to time?

On the right is Don DeLillo, whose work I adore. "White Noise" was the first thing I ever read by DeLillo and it is, in my opinion, his best, though critics generally contend his masterpiece to be "Underworld." Well, I find just about anything by DeLillo to be fantastic; some of it a little less fantastic than the rest of it, but all of it on a scale of fantastic. Presently, I've been reading a collection of his short stories, "The Angel Esmerelda." It's in the upper middle range of fantastic. 

Reading DeLillo I realize I needn't bother writing another word of fiction; he's lifted from me whatever I might have imagined was the burden and urgency I felt to put my "vision" of the world into words. He's already done it and done it so much better than I ever could. Of course, this isn't entirely true, but it's almost entirely true. Whatever I might still have to say is just marginalia of the most marginal interest, verbal crumbs under the feast-laden table of letters. Thank you Don DeLillo for freeing me of any sense of obligation to literature! Thank you for allowing me to pursue what I'm more suited to doing: baking coconut bread and drawing bug-eyed portraits of you!

"And what do you remember, finally, when everyone has gone home and the streets are empty of devotion and hope, swept by river wind? Is the memory thin and bitter and does it shame you with its fundamental untruth--all nuance and wishful silhouette? Or does the power of transcendence linger, the sense of an event that violates natural forces, something holy that throbs on the hot horizon, the vision you crave because you need a sign to stand against your doubt?" --Don DeLillo, "The Angel Esmerelda"  

That, as the saying goes, is fucking writing

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

=and they believed they'd received messages from the sky=

My husband calls them "baconheads" and the tag has stuck: "I see you're drawing another baconhead," he'll say as he passes by, looking over my shoulder to see what I'm so diligently working at, and I'll laugh and say, "yup." The house is getting crowded with them. More seem to arrive daily. 

I don't see them as zombies or post-apocalypse survivors or descendants of that poor devil screaming on Munch's bridge or, for that matter, as representations of any particular or even generalized inner torment--or any torment at all, really. To me, they aren't unsettling or disturbing; I find them good company. But then I'm a weirdo and I tend to attract weirdos. I see the baconheads as kind of "happy" characters in an odd sense, which is about the only sense I possess. They're seekers, outsiders, mad monks, perhaps, the sorts of folks who talk to themselves on the street, who live in a world peopled and creatured more fabulously than the one godforsaken "normal" citizens inhabit. If anything, they are transfigured characters living in a transfigured world. 

I don't know why exactly I feel compelled to give "life" to them, or why they're marching through me like a doorway, like I'm the driver of the daily bus from Weirdsville, but I've long since come to understand that "why" is not a useful question to ask, especially when it comes to art. They'll pass out of my life eventually, I suspect. But for now, they are everywhere I turn and I'm throwing out the welcome mat for as long as they care to stay. They've come for a reason; they have something to tell me or show me or teach me. I'll leave it at that for the time being.


Monday, November 4, 2013

=from the unclassifiable file=

=Mail Art from Susan McAllister, Berkeley, California=

This strikingly distinctive piece made its way to me from California artist Susan McAllister. While Susan's work encompasses other styles and themes, these black-white-red semi-abstractions seem to be a regularly recurring motif in her oeuvre, sometimes worked into more recognizably human forms, at other times resisting classification. Her mastery of this simplified palette and her unique working of form is virtually a signature of her work. Once having seen her work, it would be a challenge to do anything that doesn't visually echo what she's done here; her images seem to burn themselves into your retinal memory.

To my eye, I see even the most abstract of her shapes as bioforms. Whether human or alien, plant or animal, there is something undeniably lifelike about the figures populating her landscapes. The piece above can be seen as both rose and/or mythic woman; indeed, the colors are those of the Great Mother--virgin (white), mother/bride (red), crone (black). The dots and lines have a correlation with cartooning and the line-work with tattooing. The color, though restricted as already noted, is applied with great subtlety and for maximum power. The piece aggressively jumps out at you. I submit as evidence the fact that my husband, casually passing my desk, which always looks like a landscape from one of the more violent chapters of the Book of Revelation, spotted it immediately among the ongoing apocalypse. His admiration for the piece mirrored my own. It joins another that I'm already fortunate to have in my collection of mail art. Thank you Susan. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

=more etegami=

Another etegami card--"etegami" literally means "picture-letter" in Japanese and I owe my own discovery of the practice to Amy Irwin from the IUOMA (International Union of Mail Artists). Etegami is a form of Japanese mail-art. The general idea is to draw an informal picture on a card of some everyday, generally overlooked item, add a brief message, and mail it off to someone. As I've seen the practice defined, clumsiness isn't only acceptable, it's even encouraged. The best etegami has a spontaneous, almost doodled sensibility to it. You aren't setting out to create a work of "Art"--and, yet, in that ineluctable, indirect, and oblique way so much of Japanese culture prizes, from the composition of haiku to the preparation of sushi to the drinking of tea--you are. Or rather, you aren't making art: you're living art.

A good etegami blog to visit for additional examples:

Debbie seems to be one of the principle pioneers in bringing etegami to attention here in the U.S.

=mail art from Michael Orr, Atlanta Georgia=

These two pieces come from Atlanta artist Michael Orr, who tags his art "cornpone" for reasons that slip in and out of the wide-cast net of my comprehension. The first piece is a "thank you" for the envelope of stuff I sent him out of a general admiration for his work. It is an intentionally blurred xeroxed photo of Michael himself (or so I assume) which conflates Warhol's 15-minute of fame dictum and the artistic tradition of self-portraiture to its logical conclusion: elevating the artist him/herself into celebrity-status iconography--or, perhaps, "ironicgraphy." It can be great fun and, as in this case, occasionally result in a truly "iconographic" piece. I find Michael's photo really does have the  irresistible charismatic appeal of something like the famous Che photo, for instance.

The second piece is representative of Michael's brilliant collage work, more examples of which can be found at his own site located at, which I highly recommend you do right now.