Monday, September 1, 2014

Slick!

Grace Slick (rear) w/unidentified girlfriend
9" x 5", ink on magazine photo, before 2007
I kept thinking about this image that I produced around 2006 or 2005, or even earlier. It was definitely before my vow not to paint gratuitous nudity anymore in 2007. To easy my thoughts I went through my archive and unearthed it. It is a print on top of a magazine photograph of Grace Slick and another (unidentified) woman. I remember I cut out the photo from a Celebrity Sleuth magazine but that's about all I remember about the piece. I can't even retrace the process I used to produce the image even though I know I made a bunch of plaster prints around that time. But the image doesn't bear witness of any matrices I may have produced back then. It looks more like it's an exercise of a surrealist technique called decalcomania (of which I had never heard of at the time). Moreover I don't recall Jefferson Airplane being in the top 100 for at least twenty years, so the reason why I made it is rather mysterious to me as well. There are two reasons why I was thinking about this old picture. One is that of reference to a current news item involving a cache of nude celebrity photos (selfies mostly) that were hacked and published on line. Second is that in my painting class we discussed the use of actual photographs in a painting. In a critique a student showed a work he made using a newspaper photograph of an unidentified guitar player. Typically I transcribe photos freehand onto the canvas and do not use actual photos in my paintings. I think that within the 2,500 paintings in my top 100 archive there may be 4 that contain an actual photo (and I'm not even sure the Grace Slick was made in this context.) I did however produce a series of experimental works between 1997 and 2006 in which I did use actual photos as the ground for art pieces. Whatever the context was I wanted to share this with you. I think it's worth it.

The Idler Wheel...

Fiona Apple
8" x 5", markers on paper, 2014
The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You Better than Ropes Will Ever Do is the title of a 2012 Fiona Apple cd. It is known abbreviated as The Idler Wheel... The title is from a poem penned by Apple herself while the sleeve features art work of her own hand too. The relationship between poetry and music is a much more natural one then than that of the relationship between art and music. I once wrote a lengthy article on the latter category that I will reproduce here within the next week or two. It needs an updated rewrite which will come to you too. In the meantime my head is preparing to conjure up some thoughts on poetry as well. I've dabbled in poetry myself but my relation to it is as full of anxiety as I had (in 2009) described the relationship between art and music to be. Reading the lengthy full title of The Idler Wheel... I find myself inadequate, not able to catch the metaphor presented in the title. I spent an hour deliberating, focusing on a meaning but to no avail. All I could come up with was, by free association, Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even of 1923. I would also like to investigate, if only to examine my own stance, the relationship between poetry and art. That said, it is sometimes maybe better to not write thoughts down because they then become rigid. It can determine and cement an opinion that may or may not be truthful. For politicians flip-flopping is a sign of weakness but I think it is the opposite. The stigma on flip-flopping is a hindrance to creativity. Recently I looked back at the top 100 lists from 1983, the first top 100 year. Needless to say there wasn't a whole lot there that I still consider meaningful in 2014. I don't think I have to flip-flop anytime soon when I state that The Idler Wheel... is nothing short of a masterpiece though...

(A bit of commentary on the drawing above: The process of making the Fiona Apple portrait took several hours and is different from the usual straight forward portrait drawing process. It is in fact the accumulation of several drawings in which I worked with issues of symmetry. I made the first portrait freehand as usual but then I mechanized the  drawing process. On the back of the first drawing I traced the visible lines projecting through the paper (which makes it reverse, as one would see oneself in the mirror) while adjusting the drawing looking at the original source photograph. I then, on a new sheet tracing the second while referencing the photo anew. The fourth drawing then was a reversal like the second. The final drawing was the twelfth in the process, making it more a scientific face study than an artist's personal expression. The Fiona Apple drawing on the cd-sleeve, mind you, is, while using similar drawing tools, precisely the opposite approach: total expression.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

In Memory of Vladimir Lenin

Dmitri Shostakovich
8.5" x 8", oil on wood, 2014
Wikipedia barely has a good word for Shostakovich's 12th. It calls it programmatic, traditional, workmanlike, naive, infiltrated by Soviet politics, patriotic, a creative slump, an overblown film score, academically correct, and so on. True, the words are the result of what critics have said about the piece, but still. I don't think I've ever read such a negative Wikipedia page. The 12th Symphony has been with me since 1987 when I found a set of Soviet printed discs on Melodia. The 11th was also part of the haul. They introduced me to Shostakovich and the 12th especially has been one of my favorite pieces of classical music ever since. Thus despite Wikipedia's analysis, the 12th Symphony belongs to my list of the 100 favorite recordings of all time. The symphony is subtitled The Year 1917 and is dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Lenin, who, according to the composer, "is the greatest man of our epoch." The symphony (opus 112) was written in 1961, a year after Shostakovich had joined the communist party.
I chose to paint a younger Shostakovich this time. (This is my 4th.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Jan van Leiden

Johnny Rotten (John Lydon)
6" x 6", marker on paper, 2014
Johnny Rotten is a seminal figure in the history of pop music. On my thirteenth birthday in 1977 I was given a record player. In eager anticipation I had purchased Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols a few days earlier. It was my first record ever. Johnny Rotten was the singer of the band and as such the face of a whole new movement. Punk's influence on our culture goes far beyond the history of pop music. The contemporary art scene of the here and now has a direct link to punk music. Some of the most important artists of the 21st century have direct roots in the punk movement and almost all came of age during punk and the decade following. Some played in bands before they became artists (Mike Kelley for example.) Punk did not just change the sounds and visuals of our culture but changed its character, its being. Punk opened up the world for a generation, and generations to come. Punk is an attitude; it is DIY, it is equality, it is freedom. Johnny Rotten personifies all this. In his 1989 book Lipstick Traces music critic Greil Marcus sketches an analogy between Johnny Rotten (whose real name is John Lydon) and the 16th century Dutch anabaptist Jan van Leiden. In a marvelous piece of criticism Marcus compares the year in which Jan van Leiden was the king of Münster (1534-5) with 1976-7 of the Sex Pistols. According some historians Jan van Leiden led the city state of Münster on the precepts of social equality, political democracy, and communal living. John Lydon, of course, is practically the same name as Jan van Leiden. The top 100 song of the Sex Pistols this year is Pretty Vacant, not from Never Mind the Bollocks but a live version found on the compilation The Greatest Punk Album of All Time. Timeless!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Cat Power

Cat Power
10.5" x 8.5", oil on wood, 2014
I don't know how many times I've painted a portrait of Cat Power, it must be up to thirty by now with only half of that, at best, living up to my self imposed standard of quality. This image, taken from the cover of Moon Pix, I've painted four times, this one I believe is the most interesting of them. One day I'll show all Cat Power portraits together with all the writings accompanying those paintings. I think it would make a nice exhibit, dedicated to this one "celebrity" as an ultimate expression of fan-ness. I never met Cat Power. I contacted her once, attempting to meet after a concert, but to no avail. The closest proximity of me meeting Cat Power, besides from being at the front row of a concert, is in this book called You Should Have Heard Just What I've Seen, in which both my work, and the Moon Pix cover are featured. The Moon Pix cover is a work by renowned photographer Roe Ethridge. 
The painting reproduced here must be attached to the Moby Grape cover Naked if I Want to, the third Cat Power song in the list from her 2000 The Cover Album release, as both Metal Heart (from the Moon Pix album), and Names have already been designated. On my mind however, as I painted this today, were the lyrics to song Names, and to some of the commentaries on YouTube I read while listening to the song just yesterday night. One thing I never noticed before in the lyrics is that there is a pause after the line "Her father came to her in the night." It's a rather shivering pause at that, but the one comment that affected me the most was by a listener who added another verse to the lyrics: "Her name was Imogen. Her momma died when she was 16. She was so sad she was nothing but grief. I hope one day she'll come back to us." I can only assume that this is the commenter's autobiographical anecdote. Heartbreaking!

Note on the painting: The purple background is an outline of Sly Stone's afro in a painting that I abandoned (and started anew—see previous post).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I Want to Take You Higher

Sly Stone
10.5" x 8.5", oil on wood, 2014
The year must have been 1969, I was five years old and it's when I had my first experience of art criticism. My sister, who was then ten, was coloring in a coloring book. She complained about how you could see lines when she tried to color in an area. I suggested she should color in circles. I could not have known that I would, forty-five years later, be doing just that while painting an afro. I had never seen an afro, not even heard about it, yet I Want to Take You Higher by Sly and the Family Stone was already released, and a big hit at that, but I don't think it made it onto Toppop, the hit TV show on Dutch television that my older siblings watched religiously. I could sense though that I was to become an artist. I could draw cars better than anyone in class and my father too. "Boom laka laka laka boom."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dastgah Systems

Mr. Ahmad Ebadi
11" x 8", markers on paper, 2014
Awoken by the flashing lights of police cars and a helicopter overhead, and after a peanut butter sandwich and a cup of coffee,  I felt I had to something positive with the unexpected available hours of the early morning. I decided to spent time with my #1 hobby so I pulled up the top 100 list and looked for an image for the highest number not painted yet. This was the Iranian master of setar Mr. Ahmad Ebadi. Plenty of images to choose from, from all stages of his long career, I settled for this image of Mr. (or Ostad—master) Ebadi that shows him late in his life. Ahmad Ebadi was born in 1906 in Tehran and died in 1993, also in Tehran. The piece in the top 100 is titled Dastgah of Mahour, and is after Dastgah of Shour the second piece from the album Classical Music of Iran: Dastgah Systems, Vol. 1 on Folkways Records. Picking up random markers from a box without a concern for artistic integrity I filled up the page in my sketchbook before daylight struck, put it on the scanner, fiddled around with the tools in my photo program, and voila...It is 6:00 am now, the police have left, and I might have an early morning nap. Enjoy your weekend y'all.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

...It!!!

Busta Rhymes
24" x 16", oil on canvas paper, 2014
A year before I started blogging the Top 100 was published in book form. At #92 that year appeared the song Touch It by Busta Rhymes. The video for that song is beautiful as a group of high school girls out-rap Mr. Rhymes. Before that song hit the top 100 I had already collected a list of songs whose titles consisted of only two words, the last one being "it." It sure makes for a good hit!
  • Twerk It – Busta Rhymes
  • Work It – Missy Elliott
  • Touch It – Busta Rhymes
  • Whip It – DEVO
  • Rock It – Herbie Hancock
  • Push It – Salt 'n' Pepa
  • Pump It – Black Eyed Peas
  • Beat It – Michael Jackson
  • Eat It – Weird Al Yankovic
  • Hold It! – Eddie Cleanhead Vinson
  • Bump It – Erykah Badu
  • Doin It – L.L. Cool J
  • Doin It – Herman Brood
  • Bring It – Judge
  • Shake It – Metro Station
  • Lick It – 20 Fingers (a much better lick it song is by Khia but it's called My Neck, My Back—"My neck, my back, Lick my pussy and my crack.")
  • Fake It – Seether (really bad song, I really expected to find a song with this title by a female hip hop artist)
Let me know if there are other its I need to listen to (I always appreciate a comment :) Busta Rhymes then; Twerk It (a second twerk song in the list—see Big Freedia) is the second "It" song by Busta Rhymes in the top 100 (the other one is the aforementioned Touch It. Busta Rhymes, according to MTV "one of hip hop's greatest visual artists, is a rapper originating from Brooklyn. His real name is Trevor Tahiem Smith, Jr., Chuck D (from Public Enemy) gave him the moniker Busta Rhymes after a football player. The background in the painting, the shadow that is, or shape, is the image of Sylvester Stone. His painting will be next. Why? Just because I want to...I want to...I Want to Take You Higher.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"I am a Cliché"

Poly Styrene/X-Ray Specs
16" x 10", oil on canvas, 2014
Among painters it is a cliche that you paint in similar colors as the clothing you wear. To keep up with the cliche I even went so far as to paint exactly what I wear, I am the cliche! It's been too long since the X-Ray Specs were in the top 100, and I haven't painted their singer Polly Styrene in six or seven years. When I painted her again, just today, I decided to use the image from the Oh Bondage Up Yours!/I am a Cliché 45 sleeve. Exactly the sleeve that is reproduced for the t-shirt I'm wearing in the photo below. You can't really read what it says but it is—in yellow "X-Ray Specs", in green "Oh Bondage Up Yours!", and in red "I am a Cliché." Now the top 100 contains neither Oh Bondage nor I am a Cliché but yet another hit of the punk band The Day the World Turned Day-Glo. The X-Ray Specs is truly a family affair as Emil gave me the t-shirt while I provided Maria with a picture disc version of Germ Free Adolescents on which The Day the World Turned Day-Glo appears. The Day the World Turned Day-Glo is also a single for the band.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

:o)




Cover photo of Mississippi Girls: 1928-1931
17.75" x 10.75", oil on roofing felt, 2014
For blues aficionados like myself the Document label is where it's at. The Austrian label has the ambition to release all blues music recorded before 1945 in chronological order. It released nearly a thousand records thus far. I own about twenty-five of them and my favorite is the cd Mississippi Girls: 1928-1931. It contains the complete works (in chronological order of course) of Geechie Wiley and Elvie Thomas (see an earlier post), Mattie Delaney, Mary Butler, and Rosie Mae Moore. Mattie Mae Moore recorded 4 sides in 1928 accompanied by Charlie McCoy on guitar. Staggering Blues and Ha Ha Blues stand out most. Ha Ha Blues makes the top 100 for the second time: "Papa, I'm slipping out tonight, I'm going ha ha ha. All you men, you may go your way. I'm sick and tired, of your low dirty ways". There is no known photograph of Rosie Mae Moore that I'm aware of but the cover photo on the cd-jacket provided a more than appropriate alternative to illustrate Ms. Moore. It's painted on a piece of roofing felt, left over from my roofing job, as a challenge from one of my students who recently started painting on such surfaces. (I don't think I'll do more than one though!)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

John & Yoko



Yoko Ono
8.5"x11", markers on paper, 2014

The source for the two drawings presented here is the same photograph in which the illustrious couple is divided by an American flag. Separated here in two drawings to represent Ono's song Air Male (1970) from the Fly album recorded with Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band and Helter Skelter (1967) from the Beatles' White Album which was actually written by Paul McCartney. I made the drawings last night experimenting with a new set of designer markers my wife gave me as a present. Yoko was the first drawing I did with these markers, and it's better than John's who came second. The American flag in the iconic photograph of the two is actually an art work by Ono and the stars of the flag are represented by skulls, the stripes are lines of texts, political anti-American statements. I played a small part earlier this year in the preparations for the Yoko Ono exhibit Imagine Peace at the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery. The videos in the show and the lectures accompanying it were to me the most interesting part of the exhibition.

John Lennon
8.5"x11", markers on paper, 2014
  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rebel Girls

Tobi Vail (Bikini Kill)
24" x 16", oil on canvas paper, 2014
The first painting class in the new season at the Alliance for the Arts I named A Means to Meaning. Usually I introduce the class with a slide lecture, and for the occasion I had prepared a talk in which I would introduce the theme of meaning through the topic of punk rock. The second second class then I brought with me a selection of my punk rock records, and especially those that come with the customary artwork insert. I brought with me all my Bikini Kill records along with the Dead Kennedys, Huggy Bear, and some others. Included was Bikini Kill's album Pussy Whipped (which features Rebel Girl) as well the single version of Rebel Girl on which Joan Jett makes a guest appearance. The previous class had the (Bikini Kill's) artwork for the song embedded in the presentation, and I was actually flabbergasted to find precisely that image (but in the color red) tucked in to the 45 single. Rebel Girl is a sort of anthem of the Riot Grrrl movement and the song yet again made my list of 100 this year. Most paintings I've done for Bikini Kill songs featured a portrait of Kathleen Hanna, but this time I chose (drummer and sometimes singer) Tobi Vail. I had just watched the documentary movie Her Noise (a nice anagram of the word "heroines") about punk rock music and art made by women. Tobi Vail's current band The Spider and the Webs make an appearance in that movie. See for yourself: http://ubu.com/film/her_noise.html
Bikini Kill, Rebel Girl