On July 4th, 2006, I embarked on a quest to become the pre-eminent American portrait painter of the 21st century. This blog chronicles that journey. With apologies to Joan Didion, I call it THE YEAR OF MAGICAL PAINTING.
The word 'Happy' is used advisedly here. But still, it's Easter and it's a beautiful day. If you are one of those people who drop by several times a day to read this blog, there's a fair probability that this will be the only post. So just re-read this one several times.
This was the title of a quickie piece about one of my Bernanke paintings from New York Magazine several years ago. Read it here. But it holds even today ...
The Annotated Uncle Sam is finished. I think. Actually no.
I wrestle with the idea of inscribing, verbatim, as much of the beginning of Moby Dick as will fit on his blue pants. More significantly, I wrestle with what to do with the face. I tried a life-like paint job, only some of which you saw here, and I changed his hair from white to gray. But I didn't like any of it.
Now, and please forgive me, the thinking is to paint the whole head and hair a lovely gloss white, then scrawl across the forehead the words "Don't Write On the Face". Which is not so dissimilar, really, from the above.
But wait -- there's more! Although a few people have written on the underside of the brim of the hat, I'm considering moving those annotations to the jacket and painting the underside of the brim red. This will do two things: first, it will nicely echo the blue pants and, by doing so, lock in the red, white and blue color scheme.
Second, and this is lovely just to think about, the pearly white of the face and hair will reflect some of the red of the underside of the brim and take on the sort of rosy demeanor one would expect from Uncle Sam himself. Thus, at least conceptually, I will have painted the face.
It's like when you install red carpet in a room with white walls, they then appear, to the eye, as being the very lightest shade of red rather than the white they used to be. At least that's the theory.
Did you hear Tim McCarver was retiring after this season? Do you even know who he is? Thought to be the John Madden of baseball color commentary. Outstanding, knowledgeable broadcaster. And I'm not gonna miss him for a second.
When was the last time you saw Al Pacino in a movie role and forgot, for even one second, that he was Al Pacino first, character second. Don't get me wrong -- the guy's a great actor. But you never forget.
Same with McCarver. I started watching the Mets in the mid-Eighties and he was the color guy for them. Some of the best commentating I ever heard. And his legend grew. And grew. Then he left the Mets and went national. For Fox maybe. And honestly, enough is enough.
The good thing about football is that there is a lot of stuff going on. A bit less so with baseball, so you spend a good bit of time listening to the broadcast team just chat about stuff. And I think McCarver became just a bit to fond of being Tim McCarver and lost his way a bit.
I'm not expressing myself particularly well here. But I'm not going to miss Tim McCarver.
I mean that in a good way. He's been dead five or six years and there's hardly a day that doesn't go by that I don't think fondly of the old bird. But he was surely a little odd.
For example, my friends Dave and Jerry (with whom I went to both high school and college) and I might be sitting downstairs at my house, probably on some college vacation, drinking beer and watching a basketball game. Dad would wander down around 9:15 and announce that he was going upstairs to check his eyelids for leaks. Meaning he was going to bed.
The three of us would say goodnight, stare at each other, wait long enough for him to climb both sets of stairs (I lived in a townhouse), then burst into laughter. Somebody might offer an imitation, but it was done with such genuine fondness that it was all good.
Me? I always loved the guy, but it wasn't until years later that I really came to fully appreciate him. Likewise Jane Austen.
Dad loved Jane Austen. The complete works of JA were what he would choose to have with him were he stranded on a desert island. If you were allowed two picks, his other one would be P.G. Wodehouse. Me? I always loved Wodehouse but didn't figure Austen out til I was in my 40s. Which was a while ago.
But now I hold her in the highest regard. Truly, the highest regard.
Which brings us to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Go here to get to the main web site, then click through to the U-tube link. The idea is a reinterpretation of Pride and Prejudice, done as a contemporary vlog by a contemporary version of Elizabeth Bennet.
Caveat: This stuff might not be for everybody, but what is amazing is that the U-tube series lasted one hundred episodes. A hundred! And although the cinematography is exceedingly basic, the scripting was not. And shitloads of people have watched every single episode.
I only know about it because the Daily Beast ran this article.
I'm now still only a few episodes in, but it is not without it's pleasures. To judge if you can handle it or not, here's a two minute version of the whole thing ...
Caveat: This stuff might not be for everybody. In fact, one could argue it's so precious it makes you want to peel your skin off and roll around in a bunch of salt. Me? I kind of like it.
Imagine brackets I know you guys love the videos close brackets
Okay. Picture yourself on a train in a station.
Okay. Imagine no possessions.
Wait. Don't imagine that. Imagine the opposite. Imagine instead that you've just purchased a genuine Geoffrey Raymond annotated Wall Street painting and the nice man from UPS, or whatever, has dropped a six-foot tube in your living room. You carefully open one end and pull out the rolled up painting (they're usually shipped rolled, just the way I take them to and from Wall Street, but if you're feeling particularly flush you can have it shipped fully stretched and ready to hang).
Imagine that, my friends. Roll it around on your tongue like the best box wine you've ever tasted.
Now imagine going to your computer, pulling up an email from me and opening the U-tube video that I've attached. Because Gordon Willis was unavailable, my daughter Elizabeth served as cinematographer. It goes like this ...
Check this out. By sculptor Sandrine Pelletier, it's horses made of wool thread dipped in tar and latex, then hung from the ceiling ...
First, I'd love to go see this show. It seems quite wonderful. Except it's in Geneva.
Second, I'm deeply engaged by the idea of tar and latex as a coating/binding agent for my own purposes with the PeaceWorks Project. Because there are two major challenges to my current work:
1--getting the materials, site, permissions, etc. from the City of Troy.
2--actually putting the thing together.
This second one is a topic that occupies my mind for a good part of the day. My current thinking is to bind the guns into a ball using black-pigmented fiberglass resin. But latex is interesting too. And so is tar. Which has an almost medieval aspect to it.
I wonder, when you walk into the gallery, if you are immediately confronted with a tar smell? I also wonder what the durability of tar is. It works great for roads, obviously. But sculpture?
And a final point: I spend all my energy trying to talk Troy into giving me enough weapons to make a PeaceWork. Which we're currently defining as a three to five foot in diameter abstract ball of guns, bound together by polymer resin. In one of my recent meetings, somebody asked me how many guns I might need. I said I couldn't tell until I was actually making the sculpture, but that I thought 50 rifles and 50 handguns would suffice.
But what if that's more than enough, and I find myself with a surplus of medium (by which I mean guns)? Such a problem a man should have, but still. Maybe something in latex and tar.
Being a structuralist, rather than a colorist, I love a good line. The very saying of which brings me to leafy Charlottesville, Virginia -- site of a particularly putrid basketball game last night; the less said about the better -- and a piece of land owned by the Faulkners.
Yes those Faulkners.
Me? I'm a big William Faulkner fan. So, apparently, is Sotheby's, since they're about to auction off some significant Faulkner memorabilia, including a recently discovered short story by the man himself.
Who, after all this time, would have thought there was anything left to discover about Faulkner? Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating the cessation of Faulkner scholarship. I don't mean it that way. But an undiscovered manuscript? Really?
Anyway, a line from the story goes ...
"He was just a plain man," he wrote. "She was everything else except just a plain woman."
Even though he's a bit over the hill, and his constant yammering about money was annoying, it was with some sadness that I found out Osi Umenyiora was leaving the Giants.
I remember watching every game of the 2007 playoffs, including the Super Bowl, at the Peter McManus Cafe. Not sure why -- usually I hate watching football in bars. It always feels like the raucous atmosphere diminishes the sanctity of the thing. But I watched the first one at the bar and felt like I had to keep going. Like lucky underwear.
You know how something wonderful happens to you and you attribute it to your lucky underwear? And you decide not to take them off until the streak, or whatever it is, comes to an end? This, I could imagine, would be particularly troubling to Miami Heat fans. Anyway, I went to the bar and I figured I had to keep going. Like lucky underwear.
And one of my buddies, who also attended every game, wore a Umenyiora jersey. Every time. See what I'm talking about? And we smote the Patriots as they rightly deserved, and we won the Super Bowl. And the bar went crazy, as you might expect.
What you might not expect was that when the Giants beat the Cowboys en route, the celebration wildly exceeded the Super Bowl celebration. Which should tell you something about the Big Blue Nation.
The smoke was still rising as Rabbi Herschel Schacter rode through the gates of Buchenwald.
So begins an article in The Times about Rabbi Herschel Schacter, the first rabbi to arrive at Buchenwald after the American tanks had pushed through the gates.
It was April 11, 1945 [just days after Passover] and Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army had liberated the concentration camp scarcely an hour before.
I would describe it as required reading, although it's sobering stuff. Click here.
In the camp, he encountered a young American lieutenant who knew his way around. "Are there any Jews alive here?" the rabbi asked him. He was led to the Kleine Lager, or Little Camp, a smaller camp within the larger one. There, in filthy barracks, men lay on raw wooden planks stacked from floor to ceiling. They stared down at the rabbi, in his unfamiliar military uniform, with unmistakable fright. "Shalom Aleichem, Yidden," Rabbi Schacter cried in Yiddish, "ihr zint frei!" -- "Peace upon you, Jews, you are free!" He ran from barracks to barracks, repeating those words. He was joined by those Jews who could walk, until a stream of people swelled behind him.
Rabbi Schacter died last week at the age of 95. I doubt, in those long years after, that he ever forgot a moment of what he saw that day.
My loins are girded, whatever that means. I've baited my hook for Leviathan. Somebody asked me last night if I was anxious about this meeting. "When one goes into the woods to hunt the bear," I replied, "You're a fool if you don't feel anxious. You also feel a certain exhilaration as well. But mostly what you feel is the taste in your mouth of the blood of the last bear."
When I start a painting I first draw a grid on the primed canvas and a corresponding grid on the photograph I'm going to use. I then, in the most ancient of traditions, roughly transfer the photographic image to a charcoal sketch. I then take more primer and white-out the grid lines.
I do that most of the time, although you can argue that one of the most exciting parts of Black and White Krugman is the visibility of the grid ...
Leaving the grid in place seems to work better with the black and white paintings. With my more typical paintings, the build-up of pigment would end up obscuring most of the grid anyway, but I like to get rid of it in the beginning because I find it to be a distraction while I paint.
Whiting out the grid is the subject of this video. Disregard the singing, please ...
Or don't. I don't give a damn. The painting, titled Helicopter Ben, ended up looking like this ...
It should be noted, I suppose, that despite my frequent assertions to the contrary, I do, in fact, sometimes use a brush. But, barring the most unusual of circumstances, I only do so at the beginning of the painting and at the end, when I'm inscribing the title.
I came across this fairly odd item. Shot in Brooklyn, pre-Troy, using a small video camera called a Flip-something or Snatch-something that I think I had just bought and was testing out. Given inroads by video-capable smart phones, I wonder if they even exist anymore.
The video, I can assure you, is strong. I call it "Self-portrait with Monopod."
I remain of two minds about box wine. The one that speaks most loudly in my ear asks, over and over again, "Why do they all have to be so sweet?" Even the cabs and the merlots are a bit too fruity.
Note about Dad: I think this was shot prior to the "Sprinkle the rest of Dad in all the key places" world tour. Or maybe I still have a bit of him somewhere.
Or maybe you snorted the old bird up, thinking, in a moment of weakness, that he was, perhaps, cocaine. Perhaps.
Modern-mountaineering-for-money theory (defined as short-roping rich people up the side of Everest) suggests a couple of weeks at 15,000 feet before taking the plunge. Which might be the wrong word for an Everest assault, but we're talking metaphors, not actualities. Ideally.
I bring this up because I just walked into the studio, half my mind thinking about Hubert Humphrey, and was startled by the presence of Uncle Sam. Standing there. Staring at me. Accusingly, one might say, but that could be me layering my own baggage on top of an already alarming situation. Startled as in saying "Oh shit!" and noticing a significant change in heart rate.
For the record, he's bigger in real life than the photo makes him seem. He's the size of a very small adult human with a massive hat. But he's been in my studio for at least a month now, and still, every once in a while, he scares the shit out of me.
By the way, do you read Jon Krakauer's stuff? He's up and down for me, but when he's on his game, as he was for his Everest book, "Into Thin Air" -- from the reading of which I learned the term 'short-roping' -- he's really good. Likewise Vladimir Nabokov, although he's in a different league than Krakauer.
I have a shortish bit for you to read. It will make you laugh. It starts ...
I wandered into Lit 311 at the beginning of my sophomore year at Cornell in September 1954. It was not that I had any interest in European literature, or any literature. I was just shopping for a class that met on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings so that I wouldn’t have any Saturday classes, and “literature” also filled one of the requirements for graduation. It was officially called “European Literature of the Nineteenth Century,” but unofficially called “Dirty Lit” by the Cornell Daily Sun, since it dealt with adultery in Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.
The professor was Vladimir Nabokov, an émigré from tsarist Russia. About six feet tall and balding, he stood, with what I took to be an aristocratic bearing, on the stage of the two-hundred-fifty-seat lecture hall in Goldwin Smith. Facing him on the stage was his white-haired wife Vera, whom he identified only as “my course assistant.” He made it clear from the first lecture that he had little interest in fraternizing with students, who would be known not by their name but by their seat number. Mine was 121. He said his only rule was that we could not leave his lecture, even to use the bathroom, without a doctor’s note.
Professor Nabokov, with his distaste with rubbing shoulders with the younger generation, should not be confused with Ms. Rubeo, the graduate student who taught me calculus at The University of Virginia. The Nabokov story can be found in its entirety here. It's not very long and it is a chuckle.
The best line from Lolita goes ...
“It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”
But the most famous passage, which is also a massive winner, goes ... “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.”
Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. Wow. Of course the best line about girls ever written goes ... To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die. A line about which Nabokov had nothing to do.
The good thing about Passover is that it's one of the happy holidays. No atoning; more of a "Whew, we dodged a bullet!" kind of a thing, except they didn't have bullets back whenever. A week or so ago I wrote about heading to Brooklyn and having an Indian Passover with Chuck and Wyn. Because, as another friend wrote, musing about the holiday on her blog ...
What stayed with me, regardless of whose table I was at, was the importance of gathering with people you care about – be they family, friends or co-workers.
Unfortunately, I'll be just hanging out on my own this year. I cancelled because I have a meeting tomorrow and another on Wednesday, both related to PeaceWorks, and I didn't feel like I could make Brooklyn happen this time around.
Don't cry for me, Argentina. It's not even my holiday. And the meetings are important.
"Meetings," I said to a friend earlier today. "I can't remember the last time I've even been to a meeting."
For the record, I'm talking here about the kind of meeting that has an agenda. And some written material. I wish I owned a suit -- I think that would be a help.
He asked me if I had a plan.
"Of course I do," I replied. "I'm gonna lean in and fix them with a stare. Like the Ancient Mariner. Then I'm gonna say 'Thank you for coming' -- which I think is strong -- and kind of wing it from there."
I couldn't tell if he was nodding or not, given that we were on the phone. But then he said "I was thinking I might buy a map." Which shows you the kind of friend he is.
I'll close, as I usually do, with Hubert Humphrey. My father, who worked for the Department of Agriculture most of his adult life, had several meetings with Humphrey, and his take was this: Humphrey came across as a bit odd in the public arena. Not very good, for example, on TV. But when you got him behind closed doors, in a small group, he was absolutely scintillating.
I should have a button around here someplace that enables people to either 'like' or 'recommend' on FaceBook posts from The Year of Magical Painting. I tried it with The PeaceWorks Project website (which I think will benefit greatly from exposure through the vast social web) and -- call me an idiot -- I found it to be impossible for a layperson to do.
Hell, I created the entire PWP web site. You'd think I'd be able to put a FaceBook 'like' button at the bottom of the first page. But no.
I read several tutorials and watched a u-tube video about how to do it, and -- call me an idiot -- I still found it to be impossible for a layperson to do.
For the record, I was able to put in a PayPal 'Donate' button on my website. That was easy, and somebody just used it (Godblessum) so I know it works. Why should FaceBook be more difficult than PayPal. You'd think PayPal would be harder, actually, since they're dealing with money and are all lawyered up in the encryption department.
Massa is back, by the way. He came in fifth, but sometimes, particularly in the rain, fifth is the best you can do. After doing so, he does lead his teammate in points, which must be satisfying for him.
Consider this as a given: the digital recording box that companies like Time Warner give you to watch and record cable TV are some of the cheapest, crappiest machines on the face of the planet. They are the exact opposite of a Formula 1 race car. And the longer you use them, the more disfunctional they get. No matter how many times you unplug and reboot them.
All of which brings us to 11:00 am today, when, filled to the brim with a duck, spinach, goat cheese and macerated cherry omelet, I plunked myself down on the sofa and decided to watch the Malaysian Grand Prix. Except that the goddam DVR didn't record it. And I can assure you, I gave it explicit, unambiguous instructions that it should do so.
It did record the post-race show, so I watched that. Vettel first, Webber second, both in Red Bulls, and Hamilton third. Which is a blow to the head, let me tell you.
The good news is that the race is being rebroadcast at 3:00 today, so I haven't actually missed it. And since the outcome was not to my liking (Alonso somehow drove over his detached front wing, which I guess is something like swallowing your tongue, so he was out after the first lap), maybe knowing the outcome will allow me to manage my expectations and just watch the race for the glory of the thing.
Like watching Swan Lake. Exactly. I mean, once you've seen it a couple of times, all that Odile/Odette suspense is taken out of the equation.
Which is not what you might say about the growing animosity between Vettel and Webber, what with both drivers being told, near the end of the race, to back off and preserve the one-two finish and their engines as well. Which Webber, who as I understand it was leading, did, only to have Vettel shoot by him to win the thing.
Which is bad sporting in anybody's book. I would describe Webber in the post-race interviews as being fit to be tied. Whatever that means.
Maybe it'll be like Prost and Senna, with Vettel and Webber taking turns driving the other into the guard rail. One can only hope.
You know me. I don't like to talk up other artists' work. I do this out of fear I might eventually come to think they're better than me. But still, check this out ...
By a guy named Aron Demetz. Who, apparently, used to spell his first name with two As.
The site I saw it on didn't give a lot of detail, but as I understand it, he takes a big log, leaves a certain amount of it intact to serve as the base, then carves a series of very similar looking standing female nudes out of the upper 80%, then shreds the wood to create the texture you see here. Here's a closer look ...
Which, really, is pretty unbelievable.
For the record, I'm less moved if: a) he carves the figures and then attaches them after the fact to the bases, and/or b) he attaches the rough filigree (wrong word, but a fun one) using other sources, etc.
But I'm assuming he doesn't do either. Or.
I saw this at thisiscolossal.com. Which is a lot of fun in general. The exact entry is here.
Ink and paint on paper. Signed. 20"x26" but they fill a room.
The work itself is complex. Somebody asked the other day where the river was. I said something along the lines of "Dog--we're all lost. Knowing where the Hudson is ... or 2nd Street ... or Broadway ... or Washington Park? None of that's gonna help."
I think I said it better than that, but the point is that, for most purposes, this map will do just fine.
I understand that many of you don't live in Troy. But for those of you that do, can you imagine going another day without one of these? I say 'one' because I'm doing a whole series of them, each original, but each very much along the lines of what you see above. The color of the dots will vary. This one is either a study or painting No. 1.
I think it's a study -- I'm not happy with the 'Map of Troy' lettering. Maybe I should get one of those sheets of stencils and stencil the letters in.
Oh! And this is important: Were you to, say, live in Lansing, Michigan and wanted one that said Map of Lansing, you are totally golden. Just let me know.
I'm undecided on the price, but the idea is to keep it low enough so that anybody can get one. Perhaps $125. Which is the lowest price you will ever see for a painting of mine.
You're saying it costs $125? Yes. That's it? That's unbelievable. I'll take one. You can't take one; you're me. Oh. It'd be like taking a hundred twenty-five dollars out of one of my pockets and putting it into another. Same trousers? Yes. Ahhh. I think I understand. Good. But I want one desperately. Sorry, but I can't help you.
The Pride of Mount Vernon High School. Brother of Gus Johnson. Knick exemplar. Nickname "Sugar."
I moved to New York around 1979 and, being a pragmatist, started watching Knicks games like it was religion or something. I still rooted for the Bullets, but the Knicks were a cool team to watch. Once the Bullets traded Phil Chenier, it didn't take long for me to dump Elvin Hayes and his Bickering Band of Renown and become a Knicks fan.
Earl Monroe still played for them, but he was no longer the main event. The main event, my friends, was the backcourt of Michael Ray Richardson and Ray Williams. They were, at the time, considered to be the best backcourt in the league. Richardson was amazing in his own way. One of those stick-thin, tall guards (think Kevin Durant). Williams was built like a half-back (think LaDanian Tomlinson). Or a middle-weight (think Marvelous Marvin Hagler). Together it was something to see.
Things Fall Apart, as Chinua Achebe might say. Did in fact. Neither became quite the stars they might have been, but that's an old story, told over and over again.
For a couple of years, though, they were really something.
For those of you who don't care about Formula 1, be patient -- in another three months I'll be posting incessantly about the Tour de France. So just go watch the basketball tournament, or scroll down to the Modigliani painting, which continues to haunt me.
Otherwise, let it be noted that it was a good four years ago when a two-pound spring popped off the back of Rubens Barricello's car and hit Felipe Massa in the head. The dent in the side of his helmet was all you needed to know about how hard that spring hit him. At 150-plus mph, Massa's shiny red Ferrari, its unconscious driver slumped at the wheel, slammed into the tire wall at the end of the straight. Very scary.
The good news? Massa is back. He pipped his teammate Fernando Alonzo in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix and now sits second on the grid, behind only Sebastian Vettel. Who always seems like he's on the pole, so forget about him.
This is wonderful news. Massa has been cast as the second driver at Ferrari for a long time; first behind Schumacher, then behind Alonzo. Which is as it should be -- both men were towering talents. But it should be noted that if Lewis Hamilton (an annoying whinger) hadn't grabbed fifth place by passing Adrian Sutil on the final corner of the final lap of the final race of 2008, Massa would have been a World Champion.
He came in first in that race and the pit camera showed his father -- thinking his son had won the championship -- burst into tears of joy. Then, seconds later, somebody shook his shoulder and shouted "Here comes Hamilton!" and that was that. Hard to watch -- I'm still slightly queasy at the memory of it all.
The next year came the spring to the head.
This year Massa's back.
Ferrari are back too.
I'm enjoying your use of Britishisms when you talk about F1. Like what? Pipped? Whinger? The use of Ferrari as a collective plural, if that's even the right term. Oh. Hadn't noticed. I'm just saying. No criticism intended. We all wish we were Stirling Moss. Yes we do. Where, by the way, have you been? Haven't heard from you in several posts. We've been inciting riots in Cyprus, but it doesn't look like it helped. So we're back. Smart move. We thought so.
He died earlier today. 82 years old. He was the author of Things Fall Apart, which I read in high school or college and which made quite an impression on me. It's probably inaccurate, but he always struck me as the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Africa (although Achebe described Things Fall Apart as a response to Heart of Darkness -- which is a different kettle of fish altogether).
But the issue I refer to is the post below, where, in the middle of the editorial process, my computer had a bit of a hicchup, if that's even how you spell it, and rendered all the type a dark dark gray.
Apparently there's no H. I was thinking of ketchup.
... borne back ceaselessly into the past. Daughter #2 burns easily too. But that's not the point. The point, here at TYOMP, is that you see the process unfolding. Me? I just wanted to put a little tone into the dude's face. So i started with this but can promise you it won't end here. I'm shooting for a lovely cream, with a healthy glow. Currently all you see is the healthy glow.
Disclaimer: This is serious banking stuff, so if you're just looking for the usual fluff, pass through quickly.
Floyd Norris, chief financial correspondent of the Mothership, otherwise known as The New York Times, wrote an amusing, in a troubling sort of a way, piece about Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.
Which, as you have probably already guessed, is code for JPMorgan and the London Whale debacle. Lily is Ina Drew. Rosemary is Bruno Iksil. The Jack of Hearts is, of course, Jamie Dimon. Although it's possible that Jack is Iksil and Rosemary is Dimon. Regardless, I'll call your attention to this masterpiece ...
The whole piece is here. The gist of the thing is that massive amounts of the formal documentation coming out of JPM's CIO was complete gibberish. So laden with arcane jargon as to make it incomprehensible.
In a better world, somebody would have sent these memos, etc., back to Iksil and told him to rewrite them. In the world we actually live in, everybody just nodded their heads, approved the strategy and moved on. When they were eventually dragged down to Washington, several JPM senior people were literally unable to apply any meaning at all to what Iksil had written.
The kicker comes at the end, when Norris makes reference to the demise of Barings Bank (1762-1995). He writes ...
Nearly two decades ago, one of the great names in international banking, Barings, disappeared. It was destroyed by a fraud committed by Nick Leeson, a trader based in Singapore, who became a star by reporting huge profits from a trading strategy involving derivatives that, by today’s standards, were remarkably simple.
In reality, there were no profits, just big losses that he managed to conceal until the firm collapsed.
When auditors and bosses asked how he was making all that money, Mr. Leeson later explained, he responded with meaningless but impressive-sounding jargon.
“Luckily for my fraud, there were too many chiefs who would chat about it at arm’s length but never go further,” Mr. Leeson wrote in his memoir. “And they never dared ask me any basic questions, since they were afraid of looking stupid about not understanding futures and options.”
Gaaaah -- you do the math. I should have painted Iksil while the soup was hot, although the whole JPM thing seems to have a continuing life of its own. Perhaps there's still time.
And standing over all this, like a halo, is what Jeremy Irons' character in Margin Call said to a young employee who has just discovered the company is completely in the shits.
"Maybe you could tell me what is going on," Irons' character says. "And please, speak as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever. It wasn't brains that brought me here; I assure you that."
I'm going public with the PeaceWorks Project. Have added a FaceBook Page. Have begun fundraising in earnest. Twitter is next. I'd urge you to click through and make a donation at the "How Can You Help" page. To do so would be to join a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires. Although anybody, no matter what their net worth, is allowed in.
Herewith the words from Alice's Restaurant ...
Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on - two years ago on Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the Restaurant, but Alice doesn't live in the restaurant, she lives in the Church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and Fasha the dog. And livin' in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of Room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin' all that room, Seein' as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn't Have to take out their garbage for a long time.
We got up there, we found all the garbage in there, and we decided it'd be A friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So We took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW Microbus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed On toward the city dump.
Update: I originally had all the words here, but there are several thousand of them and I decided, after staring at it for a while, that it was too annoying. Even for me. So I pruned them way down.
Full lyrics, if you're of a mind, can be found here.
I am looking for a couple of local art students to come to my studio and transcribe as much of the beginning of Moby Dick onto the trousers of my Uncle Sam as will fit. The idea is that one reads and the other writes. Then switch. Because, honestly, I'm not gonna do it.
Each will receive a modest stipend and have their names written on the sculpture. If you know anyone, ask them to contact me. Neat penmanship is the only criterion.
If you're reading this in Kuala Lumpur or some other far-flung place, pay no attention and just scroll down to the Modigliani painting instead.
We actually already covered it below. In a nutshell, it's my Hamlet-like stance on my crowd-funded European painting initiative. But quick, scroll down to the post below the one below this one and double click on the Modigliani painting. I don't know about you, old sock, but it never fails to make me feel a little bit better about the world. The color of the background -- the sofa on which she sits -- is enough to make me cry with joy.
Which makes me think of this...
Anybody who paints knows that sometimes the biggest moments are the littlest things. For me, it's the moment early on when the woman with the bassoon (which, at first glance I thought was a RPG launcher -- but that would be a different video indeed) comes out of the door. Because that's the moment when you realize the game's afoot.
And of course there's the moment when the little girl on the lamp post puts her hand over her mouth. And when the chorus really kicks in hard. Honestly, the whole thing is so wonderful that you can even step past the obvious fact that it's a public relations stunt for a Viennese bank.
I say Godblessum.
And as regards "The Ode to Joy" in general? I would rank it right next to The Floating Men's song "Poacher's Daughter" as one of the greatest accomplishments in Western art.
Do you see a shared theme in these two photographs?
Today, as God is my witness, I'm re-saddling the Horse with No Name and striking out for oblivion. I'm gonna put some paint on the Goddamn Astronaut if it kills me. I'm just gonna scrawl and spurt and smush and put my fingers in my mouth so the toxic pigment doesn't penetrate the skin of my fingers and poison me.
As God is my Witness.
It should also be noted that there is a direct correlation between the general state of my painting table and the general state of my mind. So, looking at the top photo you can perhaps sense that I'm troubled.
This too shall pass. But if we, as the collective known as The Year of Magical Painting, acknowledge that living in fear of this Goddamn Astronaut isn't helping, then one part of the solution is as plain as the hand on the end of our leg.
Then, Goddamn It, I'm gonna apply myself to one or more Kickstarter initiatives designed to get me to Cyprus and Greece with a painting of Angela Merkel. Which, to be honest, is what's really bothering me.
I'm a Member of the Tribe only through the societal osmosis peculiar to New York City. That said, I'm looking forward to spending Passover in Brooklyn with some actual Jews -- something I try to do every year. This time around, the bonus is that the seder will feature Indian food!
"Who knew?" someone like Fred Sheldon Greenfield might ask before he changed his name.
So it's fair to say I'm pro-Israel. Although I'm not a maniac about it, and I hope that Barack takes Bibi aside at some point during his visit to Israel and slaps his face five or ten times. Just to show him how inappropriate Netanyahu's vocal support of Romney in the last election was.
"What a putz," someone like Milton Berlinger might have observed before he changed his name.
This from Berlinger, after he changed his name ...
A man is hit by a car while crossing a Beverly Hills street. A woman rushes to him and cradles his head in her lap, asking, "Are you comfortable?" The man answers, "I make a nice living."
I'm not sure your attempt to phonically render the MC's Jamaican accent in the title of the previous post was entirely successful. No. I don't believe it was. Nor do I believe that's the correct use of 'phonically'. No. I don't believe it is.
We're predicting 16" inches of snow here in the Northlands tonight. At least that's what I hear, although Troy consistently disappoints me (although, perhaps, nobody else) with it's tendency to underperform in the inches department. The smart money says nine inches.
Wow! What? That last post? The excerpt from last June? Yeah? It's magnificent! It, surely, is why people pay so much money to read your blog. Yes, it must be. I mean it has everything in it. It's like one of those diamonds under glass in Tiffany's "statement jewelry" section. My only regret is that I couldn't wedge Marianne Faithful in there somewhere. Hey -- shit happens. You're only human. Nicely said. But the post is a masterpiece. Even without Marianne. Thank you. I'm humbled. No you're not. No I'm not. But it's nice to hear it from you. You're welcome.
The question really should be should I paint Jamie Dimon upside down, given the shit he continues to get regarding the whole London Whale business and the cover-up slash hijinks that ensued thereafter?
As regards whether he's richer than Bob Dylan I would suggest that he shouldn't be. But that he probably is. The fun thing about a blog this big is that eventually everything intersects with everything else. Consider the intersection of Jamie Dimon and Bob Dylan in a post titled "They Told Us You'd Be Coming", which went up on the First of June of Last Year.
The key passage is about two thirds down, when I question the air of self-importance adopted by JPMorgan employees and suggest, scornfully, that it's not like they're going upstairs to write "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands."
Extremely strong, if I do say so myself. Be sure and watch the video, just for the song.
So, as I typically do, I sent a nice note to JPMorgan corporate communications a couple of days prior to showing up in front of 1300 6th. Or whatever the address is. Just to tell them who I am, what I plan to do, offer to answer any questions, etc. I'm a lover, not a hater.
The silence in return was deafening (although, given the timing, this was not surprising).
Fast forward to last Tuesday when I actually do show up. There, parked in front of the building, is a shiny white NYPD vehicle. It was, perhaps, a Taurus (the sheer insufficiency of which makes me miss Crown Victorias all the more).
I wave at the cop through the window and he rolls it down. I tell him who I am, what I plan to do, offer to answer any questions, etc. I'm a lover, not a hater. And he says, "They told us you'd be coming."
Savor this, my friends.
They told us you'd be coming.
Hah! A wave of warm feelings washed over me. Consider for a moment all the shit that was involved in the simple act of a New York City policeman telling me he knew I was coming. Dog! As he said it I knew, for a moment, how Gandhi must have felt when he brought the British Empire to its knees. That kind of a feeling. Exhilaration tempered by great humility.
Great humility? Really? Sure. Why not? I dunno. You do the math. You're not a very humble person. I'm as humble as the next guy.
Okay, so maybe humility isn't my strongest suit. But I did have an enlightening conversation with a pretty scraggly looking guy who walked by the painting and decided to stay a while. Definitely not homeless, but a man clearly at loose ends. And damned scraggly. A black man about my age. Gray hair in a kind of Don King electric doo. And he and I stood there for a pretty long time, just shooting the breeze, watching perhaps a hundred JPMorgan employees walk by us, a subset of which looked at us with such scorn and disregard as to be palpable. The kind of look that, if you had to withstand it on a daily basis, might change your life for the worse.
Then he turned to me and asked, "Do you want to know something interesting?"
"Sure," I responded.
"All these people walking by us, looking at us like that? They all think they're better than we are."
"And you know what? It isn't necessarily true."
And with that he shook my hand and walked off into the afternoon.
I report this as fact, although perhaps not verbatim. But the thrust of the conversation is accurate. The gist of the thing is fact. If a gist can be a fact.
Me? I've spent most of my life thinking I'm the smartest guy in the room. It's a character failing that I still wrestle with. And what he said kind of annoyed me. Who the fuck are these people copping a superior attitude with me? Or my scraggly friend for that matter? What are they doing, really, to move the world forward? To make it a better place? What, of importance, are they really doing?
It's not like they're up on the 43rd floor composing "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." Which I'm listening to right now.
"The creation of wealth," they might answer. Wealth. Wealth, I would suggest, is a good thing. But creating individual wealth at the expense of societal wealth? Not so much. And that, my friends, is the business of JPMorgan Chase.
It would be fun, just once, instead of being extraordinarily polite, if I started to verbally harangue them. To call their bluff, if you will. To challenge their sanctimonious belief that what they are doing is important, quotation marks, with bits of spittle coming out of my mouth as I shout at them. Like a legitimately crazy person. Like the crazy person they take comfort in thinking I am.
Makes me think of that Kinks song about a well-respected man, but instead I'll leave you with this:
... because it's so strong. The song, if you're curious, is called Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlife by A-3. Same group that did The Sopranos theme song. So not chopped liver, even though you've never heard from them since.
In the Formula 1/St. Paddy's Day post below, I misquoted the famous Irish blessing about the road, suggesting that it rise up to greet my boy Kimi Raikkonen. I find this to be, upon further research, wrong. The real blessing goes like this ...
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Which is lovely.
One wonders if Bob Dylan was thinking about it when he wrote Forever Young. Probably not, because that's not the right song. But there's some Dylan song where he writes "May your ..."
This is really annoying -- not being able to think of the right song. I can imagine. You look like an idiot. I know.
Hey wait. It is the right song.
Crikeys, now you look like an even bigger idiot. Yeah, but the song's lovely, isn't it?
The lyrics go like this ...
May God bless and keep you always, May your wishes all come true, May you always do for others And let others do for you. May you build a ladder to the stars And climb on every rung, May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young, May you stay forever young. May you grow up to be righteous, May you grow up to be true, May you always know the truth And see the lights surrounding you. May you always be courageous, Stand upright and be strong, May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young, May you stay forever young. May your hands always be busy, May your feet always be swift, May you have a strong foundation When the winds of changes shift. May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung, May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young, May you stay forever young.
Cindy Crawford, upon breaking up with Richard Gere, observed this about their relationship: "The difference between Richard and me is that I don't think Bob Dylan is God." Which shows you how much models know.
There are 32 ingredients in a package of Cheese-Its Gripz. I think.
So I was thinking of artistic renditions of individual PeaceWorks a while back and reflected on a ball comprised of the serial numbers of the weapons used to create the ball. Just scrawled on the canvas, in charcoal maybe, packed in a circular shape kind of like the sculptures themselves.
This remains an idea.
Then I read an article about a book called Salt, Sugar, Fat, or something like that. And saw that there are thirty two ingredients in a package of Cheese-Its Gripz. And I thought that might be an interesting painting too.
Gripz. What a horrible word. If we're going to bastardize the English language, let's do it for a good cause. I'll report back.
Today's the 45th anniversary of My Lai. Nobody's idea of our finest hour. A sobering article in the Daily Best begins like this ...
Forty-five years ago today, March 16, roughly 100 U.S. troops were flown by helicopter to the outskirts of a small Vietnamese hamlet called My Lai in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. Over a period of four hours, the Americans methodically slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese civilians. Along the way, they also raped women and young girls, mutilated the dead, systematically burned homes, and fouled the area’s drinking water.
Me? I think it's a bad idea to point fingers at people's behavior in extremely-high-stress situations. I like to think I'd be the guy who stood up in front of the platoon and started screaming, shooting my CAR-15 into the air, preventing my brothers in arms from committing atrocities. But, when push comes to shove, I'm not the least bit convinced I'd be that brave.
If you're curious, I (and I refer here, of course, to the fictional me) am using a carbine because the M-16 is too bulky for the places they ask me to go and the things they ask me to do.
Choice of arms aside, the whole article is here, and there's a good chance it will throw you off your game for a while. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't read it. Attention, to quote Willy Loman's wife, must be paid.
And lastly, there's some question regarding the number of people killed in My Lai. Not sure where 500 came from. The official number was 347. But really ...
The new, bearded Blankfein is a tempting subject. God knows I've painted the guy enough before. He looks something like this ...
Painting the guy's easy enough. For me, it's always about coming up with the right title. I'm thinking "Smiling Blankfein; Inverted."
Something like that.
Philosophical question: Does this look like a man who's getting ready to leave his job? I say no. I say he's been through the crucible and come out the other side with a little bit more hair. Good for him.
I Suppose the Only Thing Worse than Being a Virginia Basketball Fan is Rooting for Syracuse
UVa -- remember when they used to spell it that way? -- got its ass handed to it by NC State earlier today in the first quarterfinals game of the ACC Tournament. A demolition. An utter drubbing. I would describe myself in the aftermath as catatonic. In which condition, dear reader, I would have likely still have played better than at least three of the Virginia starters.
Anyway, believe none of the bubble talk. Virginia will miss the Big Dance. And this, thankfully for you, will no doubt be the last college basketball post of the year.
It might have been the first. Yes it might have been. I don't post about NCAA roundball that much. Maybe something about me and Skully going to the Carrier Dome with those Boeheim masks. Don't be blue. I'm not blue; I'm catatonic. Is that like a gin and tonic, but with a cat? Blow me.
Under the category of lashing out angrily at the commentariat
Not one but two readers have suggested the picture of my sweet child with Pope Benedict XVI is a fake. Either one of those cardboard cut-outs or some photoshop thing. On one level I can understand this. We live in a cynical world, and photography is so manipulatable these days that anything is possible.
BUT SHAME ON YOU. THIS IS THE REAL POPE.
At least he used to be. Show some respect. If not to me then to my daughter. What's she ever done to you?
And while we're talking about the old boss, consider this:
Once they hit a certain age, you really have no idea what the hell your kids are up to. Here's Daughter #2 chillin' with Benedict #16 ...
What I'd like to know is this: Shouldn't there be like a hundred people in the picture? Security? A gaggle of Cardinals? Somebody? I mean, does it work like this: D#2 and her buddies are walking the campus grounds, rocking their sundresses and sunglasses, and they see some old guy coming towards them and one of them says "Look! Isn't that the Pope?"
Then they all stop for a chat; have a picture taken; and then everybody just continues on with their stroll?
I think the word you're looking for is radiance. Come again? The collective noun for a group of Cardinals is a radiance. Oh. Gaggle is geese. I'd rather be a lark. Who wouldn't?
A cynic would now insert the lyrics for Won't Get Fooled Again. Me? I'm going with Baba O'Riley ...
Out here in the fields I farm for my meals I get my back into my living. I don't need to fight To prove I'm right I don't need to be forgiven. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Don't cry Don't raise your eye It's only teenage wasteland
Sally, take my hand We'll travel south cross land Put out the fire And don't look past my shoulder. The exodus is here The happy ones are near Let's get together Before we get much older.
Teenage wasteland It's only teenage wasteland. Teenage wasteland Oh, yeah Teenage wasteland They're all wasted!