Friday, September 29, 2006

Giving Wodehouse the Cheese

At the studio we have a saying we repeat regularly whenever we pay homage to a famous painter. We call it "giving (insert famous artist) the cheese."

For those not reading closely, or without encyclopedic memories, I recently used the phonetic similarities between the words oeuvre and oeuf, followed by the phrase "whichever isn't the egg," to comic effect.

Hopefully this caused a smile to pass over your lips. Me? I love stuff like this. It makes me feel like P. G. Wodehouse. Although one has to ask, does a smile actually pass over lips?

Likewise the similarity between the words homage and fromage. One of these words means praise and acknowledgment (roughly), and the other means cheese.

Thus, somehow, when we pay homage to an artist--in this case, Vermeer--with a painting like this:

We call it "giving Vermeer the cheese."

I bring this up only because I am repairing, as we speak, to the fromagerie, so to speak, and I want you to be ready.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

My Possibly Last Thought On Andy Warhol

If one takes as gospel that Warhol's series of Marilyn Monroe portraits represent the zenith of his art, it is worth reflecting on the similarities between your run-of-the-mill Warhol Marilyn, like this one:

And my portrait entitled Michelle A., which would be this:

Exhibit A. would of course be the shape of their lips.

Exhibit B. is of course the squiggle that defines the underside of their respective noses.

And finally, for your consideration: Exhibit C. --those far away eyes.

So if youre down on your luck
I know you all sympathize
Find a girl with far away eyes
And if youre downright disgusted
And life aint worth a dime
Get a girl with far away eyes

I was driving home early Sunday morning through Bakersfield.

No...that's not right.

I was sitting in a bar talking to a girl so beautiful that to see her in sunlight was surely to see Marxism die. In addition to this, the urge to scratch the back of my ears with my foot and howl at the moon was palpably strong. Then she asked me what I thought the secret to capturing a likeness was.

And I told her.

Thank you jesus, thank you lord

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

From The Archives

Forgiving Nixon, 1991
Acrylic on gessoed glass; found frame.

I wonder if someday we'll forgive George Bush.

Smashing Success

The unveiling of Spikus Aurelius was a smashing success. Lovely time had by all. Spike seemed pleased and I received a round of applause, several free beers and an inquiry from the proprieter about the feasibility of painting a picture of his restaurant.

I quit early, motivated by the waning sunlight and my need to ride my bike back uptown. The truth of the matter is, I shouldn't have been so concerned. The West Side Bike Path remains a safe thoroughfare even at dusk. The best part of the ride was stopping alongside the 79th Street Boat Basin to watch the boats bob in the gloam (gloom? gloaming?) and smell the air.

Smashing Success

The unveiling of Spikus Aurelius was a smashing success. Lovely time had by all. Spike seemed pleased and I received a round of applause, several free beers and an inquiry from the proprieter about the feasibility of painting a picture of his restaurant.

I quit early, motivated by the waning sunlight and my need to ride my bike back uptown. The truth of the matter is, I shouldn't have been so concerned. The West Side Bike Path remains a safe thoroughfare even at dusk. The best part of the ride was stopping alongside the 79th Street Boat Basin to watch the boats bob in the gloam (gloom? gloaming?) and smell the air.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Unveiling

Today is the unveiling of Spikus Aurelius. It's interesting to look at the difference between this recent painting and Self Portrait 2003.

Self Portrait

The nice thing about self-portraits is that they don't actually have to look at all like you. Case in point this one.

Everyone asks me "what's with those nostrils?" The answer is that I wear bifocals and kept tilting my head back to look at the mirror through the lower lenses. This is what came out:

That said, Self Portrait, 2003 is important because it's the first time I ever painted a big head in the drip style. And while the painting itself is problematic in about fifty ways, it did make me think I was very much on to something.

And finally, I stopped painting the damned thing about three quarters of the way through because it reminded me of my dead-ten-years mother, of whom I remain fond.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Girl or The Dog

I have put my portrait of Stephanie C. on temporary hold so that I can paint a picture of my daughter's just-deceased dog Zoe. I had the pleasure of dog-sitting Zoe for five weeks this summer and had the chance to take several photos of her lolling about Central Park.

Now cropped, they all look more or less like this one:

I am visiting my daughter in a couple of weeks and my hope is that a painting of her much-loved dog will ease her pain a bit.

The Greatness of Warhol

Because of his early death, Andy Warhol probably saw only the beginning of the way in which his work influenced the art and design communities. Still, he no doubt saw some of the early trickle-down. I wonder how he felt.

Actually, no... I take that back. I know exactly how he felt. I just can't describe it.

I am referring, of course, to page 190 of the October, 2006 issue of Oprah, The Magazine. It features a photo illustration by a woman named Maggie Taylor and looks like this:

I would now direct your attention to a work with which you are likely familiar--my Woman Adjusting Head--which was painted some years ago; no doubt prior to Ms. Taylor's effort:

This issue is certainly not one of artistic stealing or copyright infringement. I hold Ms Taylor completely blameless. In fact, there is a possibility that she has never even seen Woman Adjusting Head (although that strikes me as unlikely).

No, gentle reader, the issue is this:

We stand here, you and I, fellow journeymen on the Year of Magical Painting, a mere three months in, witnessing the first clear evidence that my quest for greatness is bearing fruit (if greatness is indeed defined as significantly changing the world that follows us).

I stand before you, as naked as a paint stick, tasting the greatness of Warhol. Rolling this heady brew around on my tongue. Doing that thing where you gargle, then squeeze your nostrils shut as you try to blow through your nose.

Now I spit it out onto the cool, sandy floor and am left with just the memory of the moment filling my sinus cavities.

I am playing Jolene by Ray LaMontage as I write this. I wonder if, years from now, when I hear that song, I'll remember everything.

I am Warhol!

God help me.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Terrible Majesty of Painting/Mark The Date

Further to the tiresome nature of most video installations and the now-much-cited Jenny Holtzer Syndrome, it should be said that the miracle and the terrible majesty of a good painting is it's ability to withstand numerous viewings in ways that contenders to the throne cannot.

Sculpture too, but I think less so. Or at least differently.

And for those hoping to be among the first to witness the terrible majesty of Spikus Aurelius at the Peter McManus Cafe this afternoon, the unveiling has been pushed back to Monday afternoon.

I Don't Like Andy Warhol, Part 3

Just because I don't like Andy Warhol doesn't mean he didn't come up with some smashing paintings. I liked a lot of his single-image, silk-screened paintings--Marilyn, Jackie, himself, Mick Jagger, those big flowers. Some of them are stunning. But there was an awful lot of dreck as well (like I should throw stones, but still...).

And the movies. Sheesh. As everyone agrees so tiresomely, Warhol's influence continues to reverbrate through the art community. One might say that the spirit of films like Sleep, for instance, live on in the countless video installations that plague Chelsea these days. Did you get to the Whitney Biennial last year and see the fake commercial for Caligula? Classic Jenny Holtzer Syndrome--cute once or twice, clever, stimulating even, but quickly evolving into tiresome. And that was one of the better video installations.

At one point over the summer, one Chelsea gallery was showing Warhol's blowjob movie--half an hour or so of watching the face of a guy getting a blowjob. There's a website, by the way, the name of which escapes me--terrible agony dot com or something like that--where you can select a similar viewing experience from hundreds of thumbnails. It's a pay site, though, so don't rush out.

In the end it boils down to the ratio of quantity to quality. Country music, for instance, is a leader in this area. This doesn't suggest that country music is without merit; it just means that you have to wade through an alarmingly high amount of complete crap ("She Thinks My Tractor Is Sexy") before stumbling onto something good. Rap music is also a category leader. Warhol's oeuvre (or oeuf, whichever isn't the egg) also scores high.

But the absolute tops in quantity to quality ratio would have to be video installations.

For which we can, in part, thank Andy.

Which is one more reason why I don't like him.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

And Finally, Freud...

One last note for the day; this one on Freud. That would be Lucian, not Sigmund.

Here's a picture of my studio--as humble a place as could be imagined, except for the fun view onto Union Square. It looks a little messy, no?

But hey, sometimes a mess is just a mess.

And speaking of mess, halfway through this post I realize that the painter I want to talk about isn't Lucian Freud at all, but rather Francis Bacon. But hey, that's half the fun of it--starting out wrong then correcting yourself before anyone else can. This would not be unlike the painting process itself--starting out wrong, then correcting yourself.

Of course later, once you actually are done and you (mostly) think you've gotten it right, you get to listen to people tell you what's wrong and how you could correct it.

Anyway... Bacon. That's kind of a Freudian name, isn't it?

For those who wrestle with the level of clutter in their lives, I strongly suggest checking out one of the many books that feature photographs of artists' studios and turn immediately to those depicting Francis Bacon's. This is a man who created some of the most arresting painted images of the second half of the 20th century (I particularly like his Screaming Pope paintings), and he did so while surrounded by a level of clutter that literally defies belief.

Now, for those who like pictures of big fat guys, Lucian Freud is your man. Naked people in general, really, and done beautifully, but I am here to tell you, nobody does fat guys like Freud. Particularly that one guy--Leigh Bowery, the performance artist who became a muse of a sort. I'm trying to think of the name of the person who does the fat women, but it's escaping me. But hey, that's half the fun of it.

Mark The Date

You may wish to mark tomorrow (Friday, September 22nd) on your calendar. The time is 5:00 pm; the location is the Peter McManus Cafe on 19th and 7th. The event is the public unveiling of Spikus Aurelius.

What makes the unveiling additionally special is the fact that the subject--Spikus himself--will be tending bar that very day, blissfully unaware of the joyous event about to befall him. It will be the first time he's seen the painting as well, so you may wish to bring a camera to record his expression.

It should be noted that the day crew at Peter McManus don't know how to work the credit card machine, so all food and drink must be purchased with cash.

I Don't Like Andy Warhol, Part 2

Okay. So I saw Part One of the Warhol documentary last night, and while I feel sorry that he had such a shitty childhood, I still don't like the guy.

I was interested in the line drawn between the religious iconography that comprised much of his early exposure to art and the defining style of portraiture that he eventually developed. One can surely see this, as the producers of the movie point out, in some of his silk-screened Marilyn Monroe portraits, particularly the ones with yellow or gold backgrounds.

This one, entitled "Gold Marilyn Monroe" (1962--if you are counting)...

while not a quintissential Warhol Marilyn portrait, just screams what I'm talking about.

For comparison sake, here's a tiny picture of Duccio's Madonna and Child (@1300, if you're counting) that the Met bought for roughly $45 million a couple of years ago. That's a lot of money for a painting smaller than a sheet of typing paper.

Clear-eyed observers (given the size of the image, eagle-eyed might be more descriptive) will note the alarming resemblance between the baby Jesus and Al Roker, the Today Show weatherman.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I Don't Like Andy Warhol

I don't like Andy Warhol. And I'm worried that if I watch Ric Burns' "Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film" tonight, I'm gonna start.

Certainly most everyone would agree that he is one of the truly influential artists of the 2oth century, but influential doesn't necessarily mean good, whatever good means, and that, I suppose is somewhere in the neighborhood of my point.

Because I'm an old fart, I still very much enjoy the rock music from the 60s and 70s. I was listening to some the other day whilst hacking away at Spikus Aurelius and it occurred to me that one of the things that keeps music from that era fresh is its relative lack of irony.

To my mind, Warhol was as instrumental as any in ushering in the era of irony in which we live today, and I'm far from appreciative. Thanks for the influence, Andy. I'll pass?

Now, if we're talking about influential painters, I'm much more interesting in Robert Hughes' observation in "Goya, Crazy Like a Genius", which I just saw last night, that Goya's "reportage" of a war in Spain (the name of whihc escapes me) actually paved the way for combat photojournalism some 100 years later.

More on Hughes and Goya at some later date.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Existance of God

Certainly no one who makes his living by throwing paint from the end of a stick can claim he's totally in control of the process. I've never been to an AA meeting, but my long-departed mother was the doyenne of the Northern Virginia AA community, so I picked up some stuff. One of the things they like to say in AA is "Don't give up before the miracle happens."

I wonder if Eli Manning goes to AA, 'cause he's certainly on the same page.

Mozart, a man who lived prior to the popularization of simple 4-track, garage-band recording technology, believed his music went up through the roof and straight to God.

But back to the stick business: The thing that annoys me most when people talk about how Jackson Pollock painted is the suggestion that he knew exactly where each drop of paint was headed. Now I'm here to tell you, that just ain't true. I've thrown as much paint off the end of sticks, brushes, lips of cans, holes in cans, hands, fingers--you name it--as the next guy and I'm here to tell you, you don't have the damnedest idea where the stuff is going, give or take at least an inch or two.

That's why you have to paint big. Certainly if you are attempting to create representational images, you have to establish a physical scale large enough to render each imprecise gesture cogent.

Jackson painted big because he had unresolved issues with women (just one man's opinion). He may also have had other, more overtly artistic reasons to do so, but he always struck me as a guy in the middle of a mid-life crisis before they had invented shiny red Corvettes. Thank God they had Pabst Blue Ribbon or I don't know what the guy would have done!

Deion Sanders jumps to mind as well. I'll spare you my complete thoughts on how Deion Sanders, a man with the sartorial sensitivity of a clown but a larger budget and the need to appear on television, helps prove the existance of God until another time, but you do have to wonder why the Washington Redskins have consistently stunk up the joint since they traded for him some ten years ago. I believe the two things are connected.

The answer of course is God. In the case of the Washington Redskins, an angry, wrathful God.

Build a Fort. Set It On Fire...

Now that Spikus Aurelius is finished, I worry that once you start writing on the surface of your paintings you can never go back. Of course, when I say "you" I really mean "me." Case in point: for months I had Lawrence's picture sitting on the wall of the studio, waiting to be painted. It wasn't until I thought of calling it Spikus Aurelius that I sprang to action. If you're a painter, be a painter. If you're a painter and a writer, try your best to separate the two.

You might describe how I'm feeling as the Jenny Holtzer Syndrome. I wonder, as clever as some of her work is, how one reacts to the same enigmatic epigrams and gnomic truths after seeing/reading them for the zillionth time. Likewise, the thinking goes, when I start writing all over my paintings, how fast will they get old?

I've got one buzzing around in my head. It's big--maybe seven by nine--featuring the full figure of a black man, mostly nude, with white wings--the Angel of Death, if you will--holding the severed head of George Bush. Leaning against a tree, his torso and legs form an "L" around the left side and bottom of the painting. Prominent in that same area is the bloody head and a bloody sword. I might not depict Bush in a recognizable manner; instead perhaps having the head lodged in a W Hotels shopping bag. The "W" should be enough.

The rest of the painting consists of an interior monologue by the Angel, scrawled on the surface of the canvas, paint straight from the tube, describing how he was hesitant to call a sitting President away (although obviously there's precedent) until God illucidates the sins of George W. Not the least of which being, of course, invoking the name of God while at the same time behaving in the most unChristian of ways.

I'll spare you the details but suffice to say, it's copy-heavy. I see it coming out in the same heavy patois that Big Jim spoke in Huck Finn. (note: patois might not be the right word, though I know it's not terrine) Something like "God tells me he don hol' no truck wif folks dat do bad, bad tings den say He tole 'em to do 'em."

It needs work, but something like that.

And after that? Who knows. I've also got a set of paintings I'm thinking about called Elena's Basquiat(s). Each one features my friend and muse Elena reclined, painted drip style, in "front" of my version of a Jean-Michelle Basquiat. Given that these are typically word-heavy, you can see this could turn into a problem at almost breakneck speed.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Ahhhhh... After a long rough patch, Spikus Aurelius is finished. This would be it, festooning the wall of my studio. Clear eyed observers will notice the photograph in the upper left corner of the picture of the person hereafter referred to as Stephanie C.--my next subject.

Because Lawrence (Spike) is a new-age guy, I thought it would be fun to just scrawl the words "SPIKVS AVRELIVS" across his chest. Turned out pretty well, at least in one man's opinion.

That said; a moment, if I may, on the subject of cowardice. I didn't know Picasso personally, but if I were to pinpoint one difference between him and me, my bet is that as he got near the end of a painting he felt stronger, protean (as they like to say), god-like, invincible. Ergo, he'd just finish the damned thing and move on.

Me? When I get close to the end I quake at the thought that the next thing I do will ruin the whole fucking thing. This can perhaps be forgiven of one who throws the paint of the end of his stick--an imprecise gesture at a time when precision is important--but still...

So you can imagine my anxiety as I grabbed a tube of antique gold and scrawled the painting's title across Spike's chest.

No. On second thought, actually you can't. But all's well that ends well, and it turned out pretty well, at least in one man's opinion.

This, I will offer in closing, is just the face:

If I erased this damned thing once, I erased it a hundred times. Finally I got the nose right, then the eyes followed (use of the word "followed" here makes it sound easy, which was not the case.). The mouth was its own set of issues, but they too resolved themselves. And all the while I was buttressed by the spirit of Winslow Homer, whispering in my ear, saying: "It's okay to erase. Go ahead, do it again... No one will know unless you tell them."

This from him? Anyway, it is instructive, I suppose, to compare the final face with previous versions shown in earlier post entitled "Spikus Interruptus".

Friday, September 15, 2006

Latte Yea Show Ruby Show

I would have entitled this entry some version of "Where My Painting Takes Me" but I am so enamoured with my phonetic assessment of L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon that I just can't help myself.

You may remember from a previous entry that my friend Chuck took me to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (hereafter LJR) in exchange for my portrait of him. I then promised to post a picture of his portrait. This remains on the to-do list.

Reviews of our experience at LJR were, if I remember, mixed. Chuck's wife picked up the flower vase for a better look and the bottom fell off and water went everywhere, requiring a change of table dressing. The all-black placemats were, to my mind, a great idea until you spilled food on them (which my particular group did on a regular basis as we traded bites from each plate), at which point they look like hell.

On the positive side, the mashed potatoes (which they just give away for free) were really something. I mean REALLY something. I enjoyed my entree (although I forget what it was, which can't be a good sign), was unmoved by my appetizer (baby lamb chops), and found the chocolate cake we all split about what you would expect from this type of place. Chuck and I split a side of the house spaghetti which was also quite good.

Push comes to shove, however, the experience of lunching at LJR wasn't worth the enormous amount of cash it takes to eat there. I would offer the restaurant Per Se as very much the counterpoint--perhaps the best money I have ever spent on lunch; and the price of lunch for the four of us was more than I paid for my first car. Twice as much, in fact. And worth it.

But this isn't about Per Se, it's about Latte Yea Show Ruby Show (hereafter LYSRS; or, as a pronounced acronym, with some license, Lizards).

Now, I believe we are getting someplace. Is there a term for a pronounced acronym?

Anyway, yesterday I found myself at the Lizards, eating lunch again with Chuck, his wife Wynne, her son Eric and her mother, Dolly--one of my favorite people for reasons that will become apparent momentarily. Counting me, this makes five.

You should be aware that yesterday was the last day of their first-come, first-served, soft opening. Today they will no doubt have instituted some loathesome telephone reservation system that will make me want to eat there even less. (Back to Per Se for a moment--theirs is the worst. First you have to get through. Then, once they deign to take your reservation, they give you another number to call to find out about their dress code and the fact that they will charge you $150 per head if you poop out on your reservation at the last minute. And, despite the penalty, you have to call the day before to re-confirm the reservation. I wonder if they still charge you if they fill the table with a walk-in. LOL, as the kids say. Nobody just walks into Per Se.)

Anyway, so there we are at the Lizards, the five of us, and they tell Chuck they don't seat parties of five. Does Warner Brothers know? After much tugging--including the suggestion that we sit as a party of two and a party of three at two adjacent tables which was hurled back in our face the way Andre Agassi used to return service--we were seated at the bar.

This annoyed me. In fact, I'm so annoyed I'm going to go to a bar where I actually like to have lunch and have some. I'm thinking a BLT on rye with mayo. And a Bass Ale. I'll continue my report about our experience at the Lizards in a later post.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Now This, I Want To Tell You...

Now this, I want to tell you, is the real Trenchtown experience!

Actually this has nothing to do with Trenchtown, the Jamaican shantytown that spawned Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston and Bob Marley--the two men and a superstar that formed the core of the Wailers. I am fond, however, of the line itself as it is the first thing you hear on the famous "Bob Marley and The Wailers Live" album as the MC introduces the band to a scream throng at the Lyceum in London on the 18th of July, 1975.

Now this, I want to tell you...

is a 1973 Rolex Explorer II--the so called 1655 Orange Hand version that could possibly be the coolest Rolex in the world. I bought it sometime near Christmas, 1986 and wore it literally every day of my life until last week when I put it up for consignment with Aaron Faber, the vintage watch merchant.

I did so with two purposes in mind: First, the requisite stripping down of worldly possessions as part of suffering for one's art; and second, the need to find alternative financial fuels for my life now that the paychecks have stopped.

On that second note, I was surprised to find that the thing is worth a (relative) potload.

On the negative side, I kind of miss the thing. Sometimes I wake up, realize my watch is not on my wrist and think, "Shit, my watch is missing."

Viewing all this from afar, I'm sure Bob Marley would say: "Dem belly full, but dem hungry."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Deuce

Making ends meet is sometimes no picnic. Thus I find myself helping a friend out with a photo shoot. Easy money, by and large. I'm the food stylist.

Crikeys. the much-missed crocodile man would say, how the mighty have fallen. But that's not the point. The point is that part of the process, above and beyond buying the food, is eating dinner with my friend and her client. As if this wasn't enough, the client brings her husband and six-year old son.

As luck would have it, we're seated at a rectangular table for six, with the adults on one end and me and the kid sitting, facing eachother, at the other. Crikeys, I'm thinking, how the mighty have fallen.

But the kid does have some crayons and that's to be applauded.

So I say to him, "Do you want to know how to draw a face?" I do this knowing that someday, much the way my now quite-old uncle talks about teaching John McCain to swim, this kid will regale people at cocktail parties about the time Geoff Raymond taught him how to draw a face.

He nods, so I hand him a green crayon--emerald green is my favorite color--and tell him to draw the number two.

What he puts down on the page is such a crappy rendition of a two, all lumpy and asymetrical, that I am trembling from fighting the urge to grab him by his little lapels and shake some sense into him. Instead, I lean over the table and whisper: "Listen, you little shit. If you don't come up with something a little better than that, I'm going to poke your mother's eyes out and she won't be able to find you next time you are lost."

That, I can assure you, put the fear of God in him. The next two came out smooth and round and just fine.

All smiles now, I instruct him to put one dot in the middle of the upper curve of the two (which, in fact, forms the bridge of the nose and the eyebrow on the left side of the drawing. When he does that, I tell him to put the other dot where he thinks the other eye should go. Bang--he hits it on the nose, so to speak.

"Now a smile," I add. And he does so, smiling. He's smiling because he knows the secret. The deuce, if you will.

You can see the secret at work in my painting of Michelle A.

You can just see how a big, lush two, with some stylistic flair along the baseline, makes up the left side of her face.

What I like about this painting, though, has more to do with the right side, and the whorl of lines created by the curve of her fingers, her eyebrow, and the fullness of her lower lip. It kind of draws the viewer's eye straight to her left (your right) eye...and I am awfully fond of that faraway look.

Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord ... as Mick Jagger would say.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Places my Painting Takes Me

One of the places my painting has recently taken me is L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, which is pronounced, if spoken quickly, latte-yea-due-show-ruby-show. The key to French, by the way, is a committment to just saying the damned stuff. The vowels and consonants rarely mean what you think they do, so you just gloss over them.

I was taken by my friend, Chuck--a subject of mine--in gratitude for the magnificence of his painting.

Lunch was fine, by the way. Mssr. Robuchon was the youngest chef to nab three Michelin stars in Europe. His first foray into the states was Las Vegas (God help us) and now he is in New York.

I'll post Chuck's painting next week--I'm not happy with the image I have on my computer right now and it will just annoy me to stare at it.

It is hard enough, by the way, to see what the computer and jpeg compression technology do to these images. You should call me and see them for yourself.

Big Arnie

I'm in love with the idea of painting Arnold Palmer, circa 1960, caught in the middle of one of his famous charges. I think I'd push in a lot closer, but this gives you some idea of what I'm talking about.

Certainly one seeks to create the iconic image--not so much a symbol of Palmer but rather a symbol of me.

I think Big Arnie might be such an image.