Monday, September 29, 2014

Gee Vaucher and Crass (2)

Gee Vaucher
9" x 8", oil on wood, 2014
Less than two weeks after I painted a portrait of Gee Vaucher, I painted a second one, softer, yet nearly identical to the first. The song from the top 100 it illustrates is Nagasaki Nightmare, a single by Crass from 1981. The softness of the painting is in stark contrast with the rawness of the song. Yet the song, and the music of Crass in general have something sweet to it. Sweet as in human honesty, some kind of universal sweetness. The musicians of the collective that were Crass at the time of Nagasaki Nightmare, were Steve Ignorant, Penny Rimbaud, N.A. Palmer, Joy de Vivre, Eve Libertine, Pete Wright, and Phil Free.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Bangwe Raft-Zither
9" x 12". various drawing materials on paper, 2014
That it's not all doom and gloom in the top 100 is proven by this humorous song sung by Pancras Mkwawa. It was recorded at Iringa in Tanganyika (Tanzania). Mkwawa belong to the appropriately named Hehe people that speak the Hehe language which is a Bantu language. Mkwawa is accompanied by his small son who taps a rhythm on the gourd that is the resonator for the zither that Mkwawa plays. The Hehe Song, recorded in 1950, is track #18 from Volume X of the by John Lomax compiled series The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music. The volume is called Bantu Music from British East Africa. The recordings on the record, as well as the liner notes and photographs, are by Hugh Tracey. The Bangwe raft-zither player in the illustration above is not Mkwawa but an anonymous individual from Nyasaland who plays on track #19. Pancras Mkwawa plays a Ligombo tube-zither on the Hehe Song. Of course I do not understand the lyrics but track #17, a Muganda dance song from Nyasaland, seems to contain much more humor to my ear than the Hehe Song does. Oh well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Let us dance, before we lose our youthful hearts

Two Serbian singers
9" x 8". markers on paper, 2014
Each country has its history, traditions, and folklore. Every year I really get into reading, looking, and listening to several of those. Now it appears that several countries have more history, tradition, and folklore than others and it also appears that my own country of origin has very little of it. I mean that someone like Alan Lomax, working on a vast archive of traditional music the world around, would have never even considered to visit to the Netherlands in search for gems of traditional music. There simply isn't much of it. I remember when I was a child in the late 60s, I owned a song book of old Dutch songs. I was really intrigued by it. I haven't seen that book in 40 years but I remember vividly what it looked like and what songs were in it. There were a few children's songs in it—I remember Kortjakje: "Altijd is Kortjakje ziek, midden in de week maar zondag's niet. Zondag's moet zij naar de kerk." (Kortjakje is always sick, except for Sundays. Because on Sundays she has to go to church.) There weren't really any religious songs in it though. (There must have been other books dedicated just to those.) I also remember that there was a whole section of South African songs in the book. Lots of traditional songs in the Afrikaanse language must have originated in Holland. I remember most of the lyrics to the song Sarie Mareis. There were sea shanties, and of the course the Wilhelmus, the national anthem. Lots of the traditional songs were racy at best, but not like those murder ballads that have been so much written about in literature, they seem to have originated mostly in England and Scotland, and some in Germany. There wasn't much singing going on when I grew up. People sang in church and people sang 'Sinterklaas liedjes' before December 5th. I didn't sing in church, I tried but was kicked out of the choir for not being able to hold a key. (I was more interested in leaving church before the singing anyways:)) My favorite song was this lengthy ballad called Drie Schuimtamboers. I can still recite most of the song, it was more than two pages full of lyrics: Drie Schuimtamboers, die kwamen uit het oosten, van je rom-bom-wat maal-ik-er-om, die kwamen uit het oosten rom-bom. Een van die drie, die zag een aardig meisje...etc. I grew up traditionless, nothing to be proud of (except for the national soccer team reaching the World Cup final in '74 and again in '78.) The culture I grew up didn't regard music, or art for that matter highly. "Och die kan toch zo mooi zingen" ((S)he can sing so pretty, can't (s)he?) they would say in a tone as if they felt sorry for you. So to me they'd say "Och die kan toch zo mooi tekenen." To this day I still feel that way, like that child who could draw pretty pictures. "Och ik heb nu toch ook weer zo'n leuke tekening gemaakt. Twee schattige meisjes uit het oosten. Zijn ze niet lief"? (I did such a pretty drawing today of two pretty girls from the east. Aren't they cute.) The singers are two girls from a group of seven from a village near Prijepolje in Serbia. The singers (in the photo on the cover of the album Serbian Folk Music) are named but I don't know who is who. The singers recorded before 1981 in Serbia, which still was Yugoslavia back then. Very much unlike the Netherlands, the former countries of Yugoslavia have a rich history, traditions, and folklore. I've been enchanted by the music of these countries for quite a few years now. The song in the top 100 the drawing illustrates is called Hajde Dano, Da Igramo (Come Dana, let us dance—before we lose our youthful hearts). Reading through the translations of many a Serbian song I can't help but notice that the lyrics have none of that belittling, racy, and ignorant quality the Dutch songs from my book do.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Picasso Baby"

5" X 5", 4-color stencil on paper, 2014
"That was actually really cool" was my response upon watching a video documenting Jay-Z's performance of Picasso Baby at the Pace Gallery in New York in 2013. My art appreciation students watched the video and later we discussed it in class. The discussion was good. You know what the best thing was that came out of it? It was that the class really responded well to the work of Marina Abramović, that I showed along with Jay Z's video to deepen the context of the discussion. Yes, it was a great introduction to the topic of performance art.
Jay-Z then was a natural pick for my semi-annually edition of stencil prints that I trade with students' stencils (see also for earlier versions of the art appreciation stencil art project.) I printed the stencil in an edition of 82 in four colors. A plate for each primary color and one for black.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gee Vaucher and Crass

Gee Vaucher
9" x 8", oil on wood, 2014
Gee Vaucher is a visual artist who made a name designing graphics for the English punk band Crass. It is interesting to note that, without being involved in the musical process, she is listed as a band member of Crass. It shows the band's intention to be more than just another punk band. What it wants is to be a total 'action' collective. I have to say that Crass is really one of the more advanced bands that came from the punk era. Certainly one of the more sophisticated and 'Art' of the punk bands that were around that time. Crass was formed in 1977 by Steve Ignorant and Penny Rimbaud. According to the Wikipedia page the band name came from a David Bowie lyric but I think that it's 'cross' with an 'a' superimposed on the 'o' resulting in the anarchy sign in the middle of the name. This is further reinforced by the album title Stations of the Crss. It was actually Vaucher's artwork that made me pick up an interest in the music, thirty-five years after Stations of the Crss was made.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dear John

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash
12" x 9", oil on wood, 2005
Johnny Cash did not make the top 100 list this year. It's actually been seven years since he did. I just realized he's not even represented in the archive (to your right). And now this has to change, I have always liked Johnny Cash and he never stopped scoring points for songs I'd listened to. Through repeated play over the years, Hurt, a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song from the album American Recordings IV, entered this year into my "All Times" list. In a week full of things breaking down and dying, one positive thing happened: I was able to get everything I wanted from the hard drive of my old, long dead, computer. That includes a full set of images from three top 100 years, as well as a lot of the music that were in those lists. The Top 100 2005 included five paintings featuring a chicken. I know it's very silly to put one on top of June Carter Cash' head but hey, at the time I thought it was a good idea. (Ouch) I have a Johnny Cash 45 titled The Chicken in Black.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Etten (NB)

Sharon Van Etten
11" x 8.5", markers/white out on paper, 2014
Rewind to May 15, 2011. A concert of the Nationals at the Music Hall in Cincinnati. The memory is a bit hazy as that whole month happened in a daze. The Nationals were awful, I hated their music, no other words, but the opening act I liked. It was a singer songwriter called Sharon Van Etten, whom I had never heard of (I had never heard of the Nationals either, mind you). Her name brought up the memories from train station Etten-Leur, a place I've seen many times on my travels from my home to my adopted studio in Antwerp. My own name comes from a town in the same province. Townes Van Zandt's name most likely originated from the town Zandt (in Germany—Ronk, as a town, I have never heard of.) Anyway, I got free tickets to the concert and an after-show party invitation to go with it (a perk, I guess, of doing this thing right here, right now.) The party never materialized. I was there with my friend, having a few beers, but the Nationals and Van Etten didn't show up and neither did my contact. (The story of my career it seems!) I forgot about Sharon Van Etten for a while but a good year later, after moving to the South, a friend brought over a cd of hers to listen to. (I copied it.)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Raincoats Society

Gina Birch
11" x 8.5", pen and pencil on paper, 2014
The Raincoats were formed in 1977 by Gina Birch and Ana da Silva. Palmolive and Vicky Aspinal joined a year later. Then another year before the quartet released their first LP simply titled The Raincoats. After that it took twenty-plus years ere that historical disc found its way to my turntable, and it never strayed too far since. Since 2000, the band, the LP, and songs from it (especially Fairytale in the Supermarket and In Love) have been climbing all my various all time favorites' lists steadily. This year is the fifth year the song In Love makes the annual top 100 list. Needless to say that I'm quite a fan. Not that I will start any Birch Society any time soon but I do love her, especially early Birch. (I love the rest of the band too—actually The Raincoats Society sounds better than Birch Society, doesn't it.) With that in mind I believe I should forward here this one reproduction I found on line. It was painted by Pang Hsiao-li, a nine year old girl from China, the title of the painting is We Sing "The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Is Fine."

Monday, September 1, 2014


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!