Sunday, May 31, 2009

Helicopter Ben--The movie

It's actually not a movie, but if you grab your scroll bar and move the images up and down while blinking in a coordinated manner, it can be like a movie...

This is the first shot I took with color on the canvas.

It evolved into this:

Is it my imagination, or is his left nostril migrating towards the right side of the canvas? Too much more of this and we're in Picasso-land.

This, I think, is where we last saw things:

I have just uncorked my big tube of titanium white and had my way directly with the canvas.

Then came this:

And this:

Quick note. I rode my bike to work this morning (I love that phrase "to work." Almost enough to fool the casual TYOMP reader into thinking my life and routines were normal, if that's the right word.). I painted the earlier images then went for a ride in Prospect Park. About halfway around the park all I could think about was little pale blue dots. You can see them above. In execution I might have preferred a paler dot, but hey, what do you do?

And then this:

You can see that one of the things I did here was take a brush of gesso to the background of the thing, obliterating, to a degree, stray drips and drops plus the pencil lines that had originally been part of the four by five foot grid.

I then took my brush to his left nostril and obliterated that as well. If you scroll back up and examine the prior images closely you will have to agree that the nose was a disaster.

And then, finally, this:

I finally knuckled under and pulled out the yellow. I've since toned it down, but this is the last shot I took. That said, at this exact point, both the yellow and the green are a bit of a jolt. That said, the green is not the problem. The whole bottom half of the image is chock full of green. It's the yellow smeared over top of the green that has created this particular bit of nastiness. I would advise you to remain calm.

And, for you completists, consider this pairing:

Very cool, doing the scroll up/down while blinking thing with these.

Me? I think it's going well. The challenge now is multifold. As it always is. But I people to ejaculate words like "Whoa, Nelly," or things to that effect, when they see the hand I've wrought. And so far, it's a bit boring.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

HeliBen Continued

I missed a couple of iterations, but thought you might like to see where Helicopter Ben sits today.

Lovely, I'm thinking. Miles to go before we sleep and all that stuff, of course, but I'm pleased. Certainly the nose needs work, but there you are.

Do you remember the bit in "Hey Joe" where Jimi Hendrix says "aack!"? I might have said the same thing when I was squeezing a little green on the bottom of his beard.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I stole this from somebody's blog...

I've been giving a lot of thought to this whole business of painting Francoise Gilot, followed by the rest of what one might call the women of Picasso. So, in my never-ending efforts to show you, dear reader, what I'm thinking (which is, by definition, hard to show), I stumbled across a blog called Curious Morgan. It's subhead is "a place for curious things, people and places." Take a look here--the James Bond stuff right near the front is also really cool.

Anyway, this from Curious Morgan, to illustrate my point:

The women of Picasso

Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad, or Pablo Picasso was infamous for his illustrious love affairs. Rather than spotlight Picasso himself, let's take a look at the women who inspired him, who loved him, and those who he drove mad.

Fernande was a fascinating woman who inspired many of Picasso's painting in the Rose and Blue periods, as well as some of his earliest Cubist paintings. Her journals have been published a few times and are on my reading list. There is a fabulous article you can read about this Zola-type character here.

left: "Fernande Olivier," 1905.
right: "Nude in an Armchair," summer of 1909.

Next came Marcelle Humbert, whom Picasso called Eva Gouel. She was the subject of many of his Cubist paintings.

left: "Ma Jolie" (Woman with a Zither on Guitar), 1911.
right: study for "Femme en Chemise dans un fauteuil," 1913.

Olga was a ballerina and Picasso's first wife. She introduced him to high society, but Picasso was unwilling to give up his Bohemian lifestyle. They separated but never divorced because he did not want her to gain half of his wealth in divorce. They here technically married until her death in 1955.

"Olga in an Armchair," 1918.

Marie-Therese had a long affair with Pablo. She mothered several children by him and always held high hopes that he would eventually marry her. After his death, she hung herself.

left: "Marie-Theres Walter," 1937.
right: "Marie-Therese Walter," 1937. (I love this one.)

left: "Marie-Therese Walter," 1937.
right: "Marie-Therese Walter," 1937.

Maar became Picasso's companion as she documented his creation of "Guernica." Picasso called her his "private muse."

left: "Portrait of Dora Maar," 1937.
right: "Dora Maar," 1937.

Francoise was a beautiful young art student who took up with Pablo when he was well into his 60s. She mothered two children by him- Claude and Paloma. (Paloma is an artist who has designed pieces for Tiffany's.) Anyway, Francoise couldn't handle all the women in Pablo's life. She left him and married Jonas Salk.

left: "Portrait of Francoise," 1946.
right: "Francoise Gilot with Claude and Paloma," 1951.

While Picasso had several more lovers who inspired his work, this is a nice taste. Isn't it amazing how beauty can both inspire and destroy at the same time? I can only imagine the intense emotions that filled these women's lives...And to have it all documented through the collection of one of the world's most influential and well-known artists...
Although, truth be told, none of this actually illustrates my point. Because I want to paint them when they are old. Like the photo I showed you earlier. Still, it's good to know what the hell is going on.

I can feel it all welling up...

Wow. I can feel about ten paintings really pushing to get out.

This is Waitress #5:

I like the idea of painting a portrait with no eye contact whatsoever.

This is the only woman said to have ever left Picasso (as opposed to being dumped)--Francoise Gilot (at about age 80):

I like the idea of painting all of Picasso's wives and lovers at an advanced age. At the point when they've (hopefully) lost the thousand-yard stare that no doubt came from living with a guy like Picasso. Francoise above looks pretty damned perky, if you ask me. I'd like to give her a hug.

I'm reading a book right now titled "Losing Mum and Pup" by Christopher Buckley (who shares a name with my landlord, oddly enough). The Pup in the title refers to William F. Buckley, Jr., who I must say (having read between the lines of the book as well as one can and being armed with plenty of personal exposure to the public version of the man) was a colossal motherfucker. You couldn't have asked for a more appropriate personality to be the author of modern conservatism--this, at least, is one liberal's theory (that being my own). More on this later, but I've been thinking a lot about what behavioral license greatness gives a person.

Back to painting. You've seen the Thatcher picture, yes?

I'm in the middle of Helicopter Ben.

I'm thisclose to starting this one:

Forgive the muting of the face. The dimensions of this painting will be 18 inches by about four and a half feet (It'll be my version of the Cyclotron, if that's what they call it, at Gettysburg).

And, completely out of the blue, I can't stop thinking about this:

I just shot it from an ad for either the American Ballet Theater or City Ballet that I saw in the times. Those arms ... I mean, really.

Come Watson! The game's afoot!

Scenes from Julius Caeser/Oxygen permeation

Consider this:
Brutus: What, my Lord, do you think it is that causes the paint you store in those one quart plastic Folgers coffee containers to go bad so quickly?
Caeser: O2, Brutus?
So I'm staring at a glass jar that used to hold some Welch's grape jelly, having dutifully rinsed it clean in anticipation of tossing it in the recycling bag, and I'm thinking that perhaps those plastic Folgers coffee containers are letting a bit too much oxygen through and that's why my paint (which I typically transfer from the quart Benjamin Moore container to the Folgers "can" for ease of access) thickens up so quickly.

You've seen them ...

Fun that you can find a massive sized file on the internet of a plastic Folgers coffee can. Go ahead and click on it. I can't confirm as I write this (since I'm writing this instead of confirming), but my guess is that it'll blow way up on your screen. The size of the file is much larger than, say, the ones you see of my paintings here.

Or, better yet, drag it onto your desktop, open it up from there, and keep clicking until it fills the screen. This iconization (often, sadly these days, a function of size as much as deserved mythic resonance) of everyday objects was one of the bedrock concepts of pop art.
Buzz Lightyear: To infinity ... and beyond.
You too can be Andy Warhol. Just keep clicking.

Anyway, the point of the story is that I may start storing my paint in glass jars with screw on lids. That said, I'm stopping typing now and going into the kitchen...

Okay, I'm back.
Brutus: What's that you're eating, my Lord?
Caesar: A pickle, Brutus.
I just ate the last of my Claussen dill pickles and rinsed out what I take to be a quart glass jar. I'm planning on buying a quart of black paint in the next day or so, and, by Jove, I'm gonna put the stuff in here.

Take a look at this:

It's a somewhat edited version of what the main table in my studio looks like. Not to be confused, on any level, with this:

Frankie Bacon's studio on an average day. The man was notorious for his clutter. I'm fond of this one too...

But the point of the thing is that if you scroll back up to the picture of my studio, you can see a small pile of Folgers plastic cans on the left hand side. I count eleven of the damned things scattered here and about. Right now, if I took the same picture, there'd prolly be twenty of the damned things. The photographer from the New York Times said, upon casting her eyes about, something along the lines of "That's a lot of coffee."

If you popped any but a couple open, I bet the paint in them would be the consistency of hoisin sauce. So, getting back to the original line of thinking, it hit me like a ton of bricks a moment or so ago that maybe I'm doing my paint wrong.

So I'm starting something new.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Times weighs in: As it turns out, I'm not Spartacus ... I'm Jean-Luc Godard

Go figure.

On a whim, I've taken the final paragraph of Tony Scott's review of "The Girlfriend Experience" and replaced a few words or phrases with those of my own. They are, in order, "The Girlfriend Experience (2009)" with "The Annotated McCain (2008)"; the entire review except the last paragraph with "Blah, blah, blah..."; "Soderberg" with "Raymond"; "weeks just" with "months"; "10th-anniversary deluxe collectors edition comes around" with "art world catches up with the real world," and "cinematic experience" with "strangely cinematic painting."
The Annotated McCain (2008)

Blah, blah, blah...

Mr. Raymond, like Jean-Luc Godard in the second half of the 1960s, is less concerned here with finish or coherence than with an authentic, on-the-fly recording of a moment, and right now that moment — the months just before the last presidential election, when the financial system was in midcalamity — is at once too close and too emphatically in the past for it to make a lot of sense. But when the turmoil of the last 12 months has receded and the art world catches up with the real world, this strange, numb strangely cinematic painting may seem fresh, shocking and poignant rather than merely and depressingly true.
Wow. I'm honored.

And did I tell you I just sold seven paintings?

El Toro Blanco

The rough plan for the day is this:

--Get up, get out of bed. Drag a comb across my head.
--Read the Times/drink coffee/engage in correspondence/blah, blah, blah til @11
--Don bicycling togs and meet Chuck at the 15th St. entrance to Prospect Park by noon.
--Half way around the park, veer off into the streets of Prospect Park South and Ditmas Park, making a beeline for Difaro's Pizza.
--Order a square with sauted broccoli rabe and black olives.
--Eat pizza.
--Return to park. Continue around for a loop or two, then ride bike straight to studio.
--Confront and engage El Toro Blanco--in this case my pencil sketch of Ben Bernanke.
Quick aside: This is Hemingway engaged in his version of painting Ben Bernanke. A simple man at a simple table performing a simple task. One word follows another. One sentence yields two. Drip drip drip.

Aren't we all, really, Hemingway? Leastways without that whole shotgun in the mouth business?
--Ride home, take a shower. Possibly a nap.
--Meet Bobby the Gravedigger at the Peter McManus Cafe--the thinking being that he and I will later be scooped up by his wife and taken to Blue Smoke, the upscale Danny Meyer BBQ restaurant.
Quick aside: Although I am totally complicit in the decision to go to Blue Smoke, I find the very notion of an upscale BBQ restaurant to be absurd. Bar-be-que is essentially a minor regional cuisine and to listen to people rhapsodize about it as if it were the stuff coming out of the kitchen at Per Se makes me want to vomit. More crap has been written about the relative merits of bar-be-que than society as we know it can possibly withstand. No wonder the traditional print media is in a shambles.
--Repair home. Watch Mets play Sox. God help me in advance on this one.
--Go to bed.
Final note: Hemingway looks a lot like Matisse, doesn't he.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Let, as they say, the spectacle begin

Of late I look back on my photographic records of how a given painting has progressed and I realize I've missed some interesting moments in the journey from Eh to Zed. So I'm gonna shoot the hell out of "Helicopter Ben."


Imagine for a moment if your walls and floor looked like this at home. It'd be like ... like heaven. Spill some red wine? No problem. Got a stray nail in the wall from an old picture? Don't even bother spackling.

If you look closely you can see the words Helicopter Ben written on the back with an arrow pointed up. Close readers will remember how, during my Leesburg period, I became disoriented and painting one of General Lee's eye in the wrong square. The eyeball you see in the middle, below, was exactly one square too low...

Manoman, did that piss me off. Not only because the eye was really good but also because it screwed up my system, I had to re-cover it with black paint, etc. It's been more than two years and it still smarts.

Anyway, to make a long story interminable, I turned it around and then, for reasons that are impossible to communicate photographically, decided that I liked it better flipped 180 degrees. This is HeliBen roughly sketched against a grid.

I must emphasize the idea that this is rough. His right eye (to your left) is particularly problematic, but truth be told I don't really worry about stuff like that too much. Take his right eye, since we're talking about it. I'll almost certainly paint it and screw it up a number of times between Eh and Zed, so why start counting now?

And then there's this:

One of the things you'll hear me say about my paintings is that I never use a brush. That's not technically true. I use a brush for slapping on the gesso (the white primer) at the beginning. And I use a brush to title the painting in, typically, gold. And I also use a brush to white out the grid I used to transfer the image from the photo to the canvas. That's what is going on here.

And, truth be told, it's totally unnecessary. I mean, I end up completely obliterating the canvas that lies beneath the image, so whether I left the grid in or out is meaningless. That said, I like to stare at the thing for a while during the sketch phase and it's more pleasing to the eye without the distraction of the grid.

If you turn your sound all the way up you can hear the Rolling Stones playing in the background. "Shattered" from the "Shine a Light" sound-track.

Me? I'm in tatters.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The briefest of comments on the pop cultural landscape

Did you ever read "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy? Having seen the movie doesn't count, by the way. At its most fundamental level, "No Country for Old Men" was a reflection on how one responds to profound evil. At the end of the book the old sheriff chooses to simply step away from it.

That said, as God is my witness, I will never watch another episode of "American Idol" again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

If you get divorced, is the daughter of your ex-wife's sister still your niece?

For purposes of this post I'm going with yes.

All by way of saying, look at what my niece Natalie painted:

Can You Hear Me? -- Natalie Crane
Wow. The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree does it?
Do you think describing the daughter of your ex-wife's sister as a metaphorical acorn is ... what's the phrase I'm looking for? ... is quality metaphoring?
Probably not. I mean, were it my daughter I think it would be more scientifically apt. Shared DNA and all that.
But I'm trying to be nice. Which in France, by the way, is pronounced like niece.
Wow. What's with that?
Dunno. But Matisse used to paint in Nice.
Wow. Are you saying there's a connection?
No. Just stating a fact. Although the rich oranges and blues in "Can You Hear Me?" remind me of early Matisse.
I might have said Derain.
I might have said the same thing, but I said Matisse. Check this one out:

OMFG!--it's the same freaking picture.
Not exactly, but I can see similarities.
Did she paint that one too?
No. Matisse did. It's either called "Woman with a hat" or "Hey Kyle." I can't remember.
Wow, that's pretty cool. What are you listening to?
Don't know it.
Supermodel Kate Moss's drug-addled, on-again-off-again boyfriend Pete Doherty is the lead guitar player. The Kinks meet The Clash kind of a thing?
Wow. I love how the orange in the lower left hand corner of the Matisse painting matches this red lettering almost perfectly.


Who doesn't like bacon?

Here's somebody checking out the new Francis Bacon show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

What I like about the Met is that you can still pay what you like, as opposed to the fifteen or so bucks they want you to. I once went to see something with an out-of-town guest. After waiting a couple of minutes, it was our turn to pay.
"Two please," I said to the guy, handing him a dollar.
"Do you want change?" he asked, glancing at his nearest colleague.
This, I must tell you, made me laugh out loud. If you're the money-taking guy at the Met, a little good clean fun should be encouraged.

For you keeping score at home, as I see it, post-1975, it's Bacon, Freud, Close and me.

This is my painting of Chuck Close with the nose painted Bacon-style:

Where the hell's my tripod?

So it's all over except for, perhaps, the shouting. Or, rather, the continued varnishing.

Here's "Ophelia's Left Breast (Swart, K./Rt. Breast/05-11-09)" ...

Under the category of "You're-damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't", if you allow the flash to ignite, the newly, almost-completely varnished surface of "Ophelia's Left Breast" explodes with overexposure. If you turn off the flash you get an image like the one here.

Where the hell's my tripod?

Anyway, that asked, it is worth saying that the idea of covering the surface of both the painting and the frame with a heavy level of clear coating is a good one. The darkness of the black is amplified, the otherworldliness of the image is underscored and the heretofore poorly-articulated concept of laminated art (as if anybody, including me, gives a shit about laminated art is certainly a question) is demonstrated with, if I do say so myself, a good bit of panache.

Pronounced pa-NASH, not PAN-ah-CHE.

I bring this up because the guy from ESPN Baseball Tonight--Jon Miller--insists on pronouncing Carlos Beltran's last name with the emphasis on the last syllable. This in the face of everybody in the world, as near as I can tell--including his broadcast-mates as well as Mets management and players--pronouncing it exactly oppositely.

This is either arrogance or ignorance. Being a practitioner of both, I can tell you, dear reader, that I have a keen appreciation for each. Likewise a high tolerance. So I don't know why it bugs me so much, but suffice to say this: for several days leading up to the ESPN telecast I actually dedicated precious moments of serious thinking to how Miller was going to pronounce my boy Carlos' name. Later, during the broadcast itself, I ground my teeth together. This will likely cause dental issues at a later date.

I mean, if I can force myself to relearn how to pronounce P. G. Wodehouse's last name (I grew up saying "WODE-house" when it is correctly pronounced "WOOD-house), this arrogant, overpaid asshole can learn to pronounce Carlos Beltran's last name. Did you see his yellow shirt? Fahhh! Don't even get me started on that.

Anyway, back to painting ...

Note to self: Never paint anything on plywood again.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Maggie Thatcher

I've been invited, if that's the right word, to paint (for a significant reduction in my usual asking price but still a sum roughly [redacted] times the amount I paid for my first car) former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ...

She of the bullet-proof hair.

And although I shudder at the thought of painting her coif (close readers will understand that the portion of a given subject I render least well is straight, carefully-styled hair--thus my penchant for painting bald men), I do love this picture.

Further adding to the delightful piquancy of the matter is the request that the portrait be executed using the Obscured Box Technique (TM). The request was made after reviewing "The Warren Commission 2" ...

The idea is that a collector of mine is going to pay me for the painting and he is then going to donate it to a charitable organization in England. I'll say no more for now, given the fluidity of the situation, other than to to offer an excerpt from one of several recent correspondences:
[Redacted] suggested inviting the artist over for a presentation and organizing the press and also doing a dinner/tea in the State Apartments with Lady Thatcher and [redacted]
Really, the mind reels.

Quick list of items:
--Buy new suit
--Get passport
--Additional items TBD

The prediction on this end? No way this ever pans out. I am not a good enough person to receive such a mitzvah. If that's the right word.

But I do love that photo. I love the visionary gaze.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Brian Young

I just found out that a painting buddy of mine, Brian Young, died. He wasn't a close friend, but he was a good guy and we had some fun at the gallery openings.

I didn't know he was a poet until a little while ago. Here's a poem he wrote:

I am late for work

at the watch factory

where I answer

mail from the customers.
I am on the L train

rereading a letter from a Mrs. Brandt
that I uncharacteristically took

home with me.

To Whom It May Concern:

Enclosed is my late husband's watch. In fact it was the watch he was wearing
the night of his death.

I knew I loved him after first shaking hands with him twelve years ago. I
went with some of my girlfriends to an art opening, not knowing what to expect in the way of art, but hoping for an inexpensive night out after finals. I have to admit I got tipsy and stumbled over something that I wasn't certain was a sculpture or part of the floor in need of repairs. From out of nowhere came a pair of hands to stop my fall.

He looked like Gary Cooper in Fountainhead, although I hated the book.
Sometimes the best movies are made from the worst books. A funny thing happened after we exchanged cards and shook hands. My hair kept clinging to his shoulder, from all the static electricity, I suppose. Any way, it took three tries before I could get my hair untangled.

We were married three months later. I supported him and his art by being a
legal secretary and he painted portraits of urinals. It was while breaking into a gallery to hang his work that he was shot and killed by security.

Please tell me how much it would cost to repair his watch.


Mrs. Brandt

He also painted fish in a lovely Clemente-esque way. Do you remember that movie with Ethan Hawk and Bobby DeNiro where Hawk played the painter? Finn something. Finnegan Bell, actually. It was a remake of Great Expectations? Francesco Clemente painted all the paintings that Hawk's character created in the movie and they always reminded me of Brian's.

This is one of Brian's fish paintings:

This is one of Clemente's paintings from the movie:

There are better matches but I couldn't pull any images off the Fox "Great Expectations" website. It was a pretty cheesy movie, by the way, although Gwyneth Paltrow looked great.

Sometimes the worst movies are made from the best books.

Consider this:

Consider this, dear reader. Consider the notion that what attracted me to painting mammograms was what I called their false abstraction. Their factual relationship to a given breast undone by their seeming visual disconnect. This being the rationale behind changing this...

to this...

Which hurt, because there's something about the first one that got lost in the second. Anyway, then, somewhere along the line, the whole white tape business raised it's head. Which I liked, even though it's fraught with problems.

And then all I could think about was jellyfish.

I mean, who wouldn't? So then I thought, hmmm.

If you paint abstractly, even for a little bit, you come to realize that the biggest cop-out in the world is rotating the painting. The reasons are too complex to enumerate here, other than to say that there's supposed to be an idea, a structure, behind abstract painting, and that as part of that idea you should know where the top and bottom of the goddam things are. By and large.

I say by and large because everything I just said isn't necessarily true. But still, there's an implied cluelessness to the idea that you've finished painting an abstract painting and you find out that you like it better lying on its side than you do upright. If that's even the right word.

I mean, do you think Mark Rothko ever thought of laying this bad boy over on it's side?

All that said, these paintings aren't abstractions. They're mammograms. Or half-moons seen through powerful telescopes. Or jellyfish. All of which makes me think that perhaps the best way to view "Ophelia's Left Breast (Swart, K: right breast. 5/11/09)" [the new, improved title of what heretofore has been called a number of things] is like this:

Interesting. I like the tape better this way. Maybe I should call it "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (Swart, K: rt. breast. 9/11/09)" in honor of my favorite Met ever.