Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2012

Ok, so I’m a geek that likes to compile lists. I have been putting together a Top 10 list of albums for a few years and this year it was extremely hard to narrow it down. I’ve even cheated by calling a tie for tenth place because I could not decide which one to leave off. The two main factors are: how much do I listen to the album and do I think I will still be listening to them in a few years. Here they are (drum roll please):

1. Eno: LUX
2. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan
3. Neil Young: Psychedelic Pill
4. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
5. Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth
6. Dan Deacon: America
7. Grizzly Bear: Shield
8. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory
9. Bob Mould: Silver Age
10. (tie) Byrne/St Vincent: Love this Giant
10. (tie) Bob Dylan: Tempest

My list may appear overly eclectic with a mix of older guys and younger groups but this year, so many musicians that I grew up loving somehow managed to remember how to make great music. I seriously put Young’s Psychedelic Pill among his best albums- maybe not as good as Tonight’s the Night or Everyone Knows This is Nowhere but damn close. Bob Dylan at his best is…well…the best. His new album Tempest is no Highway 61 or Blonde on Blonde but falls somewhere in the Blood on the Tracks/Desire range. While Eno has made good music over the past 30 years, LUX is possibly his best ambient album. It’s the follow up to Thursday Afternoon that I stopped waiting for 20 years ago. Likewise, David Byrne has been hit or miss in his solo career with his best work usually being part of a soundtrack project. Here he teams with one of my favorite younger artists, St Vincent to craft a fabulous album of quirky, off-kilter songs.

Closer to my age, Bob Mould has been spotty since Husker Du broke up with nothing that I found compelling in years. Silver Age is perhaps the record every Mould fan has waited for. The playing is urgent and the sound is great. The songs may not have the bitter bite of his best Husker Du work but since I’m much older now too, it hits the sweet spot for me.

I’m generally very forward looking and there are plenty of newer bands/musicians in my Top 10. Dirty Projectors are one of the smartest, most accomplished bands out there. At first I was disappointed with Swing Low Magellan since it seems more “normal” that there last couple of albums but the songwriting is so strong as is the playing. Japandroids, a guitar/drums duo, has probably spent the most time playing in my studio this year. It's a fun, short set of great punk tunes. I’m a big fan of John Darnielle/Mountain Goats and think this is his best album to date. His band has really come together as a unit and the addition of horns to some track fills out the sound. Dan Deacon is one of the most intriguing artists out there. He studied classical composition and now drives around the country in a custom built bio-diesel bus playing crazed electronic music with a large collective group out of Baltimore. The first 5 songs are well-crafted pop/dance pieces that really aren’t very commercial and the multi-section suite, America, makes me think of what Aaron Copeland may have done with computers and synthesizers. Grizzly Bear has another album of amazingly beautiful songs constructed to allow plenty of space to breathe. The production is absolutely perfect in creating a somewhat precious atmosphere. With Steve Albini recording the Cloud Nothings album, the sound is again, perfect for this raggedy punk-ish group.

Here are a few albums that I ultimately left off of my list:

Swans: The Seer
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Beach House: Bloom
The Walkmen: Heaven
Antlers: Undersea
Bang on a Can: Big Beautiful Dark & Scary
Sigur Ros: Valtari
Regina Spektor: What We Saw From The Cheap Seats

Sunday, September 30, 2012

DC Galleries 9.29.12

As a practicing painter, I know that don’t get out to galleries enough but lately, I have been trying to get better about that. I haven’t been very active with my own blog either, so providing a wrap up after one of these tours feels like the right thing to do.

Yesterday we needed to run into town for a couple of things.  Our first stop was Dupont Circle to take care of some details for Lori Anne’s upcoming solo show. Just down the street we stopped into Cross MacKenzie, a little hallway like gallery that I had never noticed before. Massachusetts-based artist and writer Lyn Horton was showing a number of small to medium-sized drawings on paper with a large wall drawing installation on the back wall. Horton, who received her MFA from Cal Arts in the mid-70s, spending some time executing Sol LeWitt’swall drawings. Horton is also a noted jazz writer, covering some of the contemporary improvised music’s most challenging performers such as Leo WadadaSmith to others on the fringes like DJ Spooky and Thurston Moore. Her drawings feature looping, interconnected white and gray lines on black surfaces. Many of these works have long, tangled strands while other consist more of interlocking shapes. There is a looseness that does provide a link to LeWitt and the improvised music Horton writes about but something about the marks suggest a more studied, deliberate nature. In checking out Horton’s blog, The Paradigm for Beauty, I became more intrigued since she covers a lot of the musicians I was listening to in the 90s and still play in the studio from time to time. Unfortunately, yesterday was the final day of this show.

Next stop was Gallery Plan B and a show of new work by Sheep Jones. Plan B is one of my favorite area galleries. They consistently show work that surprises me. Often the images online will lead me to expect something different that what I actually find. In this case, the images used on the gallery’s website, had that sort of boxy, pallet knife look that I generally run away from as fast as possible. In person, nothing could be further from the truth. The surfaces of these painting were simply gorgeous. There were a few botanical paintings, some figures, some paintings of roads and intersections and a grouping on the back wall which surrounded a good-sized painting of a beehive with numerous small paintings of bees. We’ve all seen shows where an artist has some sort of style and then tries a bunch of different themes playing to a wide variety of possible interests. For me, I quickly associated many of these paintings with the dreaded human activity of working. Work can be direct, hands making things or working the earth to help produce its bounty. For most of us though, work is less tangible. We get up early to drive to our jobs then drive back home again. I get this feeling from the wonderful paintings of roads and power lines. The intense activity of a beehive, where everyone has a job to do, illustrates on a micro level the interconnectedness of human activity.

Across the street, we stopped in at Hemphill for William Christenberry’s show. Christenberry tends to mix a lot of elements and you're never quite sure what he will show. This exhibition contains paintings, constructions, found objects and of course, photography. There is even a holographic Klan Room piece on view as well. Though I never met him during my time at the Corcoran, I’ve always been intrigued by his work.

In the same building, the lush digital photo-imagery of Karan Knorr was on view at Adamson. The large-scale images collaged animals and birds into interiors in Mughal and Rajput palaces, mausoleums, and holy sites in India. I was particularly drawn to Witness at the Tomb of Humayun. 

Our final stop was Civilian Art Projects where Dan Tague’s show: "Independence in the Age of Decadence" was on view. I didn’t know anything about Tague but thought his pieces that use folded and crumbled paper money to have its printed text to spell out such phases as “The Kid are Alright” or “Resistance is Futile” looked pretty clever. Now, I generally scoff at clever since once you’re on to it, its over. Tague’s work had more going on than simply witty messages.  I spent a little time looking at Tague’s US Department of Civil Obedience work that was shown in New Orleans, where he lives and works.  The video that accompanies the show has Tague coming off like a Stephen Colbert-like community organizer. It is unclear how much of this may have actually been done and how much is just made up and in the end--it didn’t really matter. We were surprisingly drawn into this show. It must have been an odd sight to see a family of three standing in small bathroom listening to Tague’s audio installation of statements being read in a straightforward manner. Check this one out.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

First Art Teacher

I often joke that the only thing I ever learned from an instructor about technique was how to draw with an eraser from Franklin White. There are plenty of things I picked up on regarding how to be an artist whether from direct interaction or through the way instructors approached their own work. In preparing a bio, I thought about some teachers that did affect my work in different ways.

At about 15 years old, I began taking classes with Robin Clair (Partin) at Kempsville High School in Va Beach. In a way, I think she appeared to be a “real” artist. She definitely seemed nuts. She was always running to the cafeteria to refill her gigantic coffee mug- this was long before Starbucks would offer more coffee than one person should drink. By chance (or perhaps by design) the women’s faculty restroom was right outside the art studio door. She seemed to visit frequently and tended to smell of cigarettes upon returning.

Ok, she may have been crazy but the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk had purchased a large painting from her and it hung near the old entry. She told me that she had to use a standard corn broom as a brush because it was so large. Sensing my interest in art history and appreciation for the New York School, she would constantly go in the back room and pull out materials and tell me to do something with them. By my senior year, I was making 6’ paintings with plaster gauze intended for use in making casts affixed to  canvas which was then covered in casting stone to create a wonderful mixture of textures. From there I would cover the surface with chalk marks and then, at various consistencies, apply gloss medium to the chalk to create color fields. Did I mention that her work was somewhere between second generation Ab Ex and Minimalist? She also turned me on to art journals, sending me home with copies of Artforum, which given the amount of nudity in those pages, would get a teacher in serious trouble today. Through Art in America and Artforum, I discovered the Neo Ex painters and until recently I had given up abstraction.

She would frequently “quit” her job, disappearing for a few days only to return, so when she pulled out a work on paper by her friend Michael Goldberg (yes, that Michael Goldberg) and gave it to me because she wasn’t coming back and she had nowhere to keep it on the boat she was living on- well I knew it was temporary. It was a work on paper with various metal leafing and powders that had definitely been compromised being rolled up so long. I did some things to gently try to get its shape back but I knew my “ownership” would be short lived. After less than a week she returned and said she really should not have given it away. I knew she’d be back and the piece should be returned but it was nice having for a short period of time. For some bizarre reason, she traded me one of her pieces for the Goldberg, which I still have and cherish today, though I need to clean a small bug out of the frame.

The last time I saw her was at the Chrysler Museum. I had taken a year off from school to paint and figure out what I was going to do with my life. At that point, I was riding high. I had just received a Fellowship Grant from the Va Museum in Richmond and was getting ready to head off to the Corcoran School of Art in DC. I had a piece in the Irene Leach Memorial Exhibition at the Chrysler and being the young punk that I was, it was somewhat sloppy with a frayed string of canvas hanging from the corner of the piece. After congratulating me on the exhibition and the rest she literally started hopping around the gallery in front of my piece yelling, “Pride in Craftsmanship, Pride in Craftsmanship!”

It’s hard to quantify what I took from my experiences with Ms Partin (as we called her then) but it definitely shaped the artist, and perhaps, the person I would become.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Artomatic Top Ten (and a few more)

I had no problem coming up with a top ten this year so I'll have a few near misses at the end. I've seen quite a few other top ten lists and it is pretty clear most of us have preferences that lead to our choices. I don't usually find myself interested in a lot of work based in Relational Aesthetics or relying on the participation of others in its creation. It is not that these strategies can't produce great, profound art but usually these works tend to elicit a "so what" out of me. Often these types of works are simply too obvious to me, and others just are not executed very well. I'm not all that interested in realism and/or virtuosity for its own sake. I also don't find that some elaborate "installations" helped the work that was being show. So I find that works employing the strategies above tend to garner a lot of attention and even appear on a lot of Top Ten Lists. I guess my lists run more to work I would be drawn to in a normal gallery setting, even want to own. So ironically, many of the artists in my Top Ten do appear in other Top Tens. I would guess my outliers are based on my own agenda.  For the most part, I have included links to the Artomatic Artists Profiles, when available.

Top Ten in no particular order:

Elizabeth Martin Brown

Great glass artists David D'Orio, Joseph Corcoran and Sean Hennessey could have easily been included but I ended up just picking one and it is no secret that I'm a fan of Michael Janis' work. Many 2-D(ish) artists including Andrew Wodzianski, Shanthi Chandrasekar, Lucio Palimieri, George Goetzke and Zofie Lang are also excellent. Erin Antognoli's new work looks great and I really liked Sherrill Anne Gross' non-objective pieces. There was plenty of good photography but the room shared by Julie Wolsztynski and Angela Kleis stood out for me. There was even some standouts that I wouldn't normally be drawn to such as Melissa Miller's landscapes and Dana A Greaves' portraits which offered something more than the norm. I'm sure I missed a few good things and probably forgot a few too.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Thoughts on Artomatic

With three shifts completed and some additional touring of the show, I'm ready to compile my top 10 list for the latest installment of Artomatic. The work is generally better this time than in 09, which was better than 08. There are probably 50-60 artists making really good work that would fit in at better galleries. In fact, many of the participants do have representation at these galleries.

There is a whole lot of work that seems pretty close to being there but for me there was something missing. A large percent of this group made ambitious work that was competent but lacking either a level of polished craft or originality. There were so many works that were well crafted but the content was so obvious that I just couldn't get interested. The inverse was true with really good ideas not crafted appropriately to convey the content. In short these came off as good student work to me, regardless of age or experience of the artists.

I find it interesting that there are a number of artists making what I would consider commercial work such as landscapes and portraits that I found really nice, often compelling. Stuff I think I would usually walk right by. There is still good territory to mine in those fields.

As expected, the glass artists were some of the best in the show. A few will make my top 10 and a couple may not just because I don't want most of my list to be glass.

Art blogger Lenny Campello has noted that there seems to be less porn and nudity this time around (he also noted the quality of glass). There is still plenty there and, except for a few exceptions they do nothing for me. It is amazing to me just how unsexy some of this work is. I keep thinking, just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD do it.

There is a lot of bad work too. I get the same feeling sometimes at Artomatic that I do with the opening rounds of American Idol. Don't these people have friends that say, "No way man- You're just not any good." Its interesting that music is such a part of our lives and there are certain qualitative benchmarks that most people understand like playing/singing in tune that we can easily provide that "No Way, Man" speech. But perhaps, since art is not as much a part of our everyday lives- at least on a conscious level, these qualitative factors are simply not understood by most. This may be why folks will look at a Pollock and think they could do it. There seems to be a need for some to express themselves and there also seems to be a ready and willing support group in the visual arts field (and I would add poetry). A lot of bad art could look like "Art" to the layman and I would guess the entire support network.

Another bad art observation, why would someone pay $110 dollars and spend time working shifts to write or post a bunch of crap on their walls.

Overall, its a pretty good showing- hell, a day in Chelsea will usually only net about 3-4 shows that were worth the time so having 50-60 in one place is quite good.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Artomatic Crystal City 2012

I am excited to have my Artomatic installation completed. This is the first time I will be showing the new non-objective pieces and I believe they work well in this space. There are 2 large paintings on canvas and 3 small paintings on wood panels. As noted in my statement, these pieces are related to musical composition. Though I'm a big fan of many musical genres, these paintings touch on the work of minimalists such as Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Brian Eno and David Lang. The use of space, where notes are placed and where silence is left, is a crucial element for these composers. This was also my main concern with the representational paintings that I had been making for a couple of years. Earlier this year, I decided to explore this more directly by dispensing with imagery altogether.

Grace Finds Beauty in Everything (Eno) 70" x 60"
Grace Finds Beauty in Everything was one of the first two paintings I worked on in this new series. I was thinking of Brian Eno in putting this together. Eno is most known for his compositions such as Discreet Music, Music for Airports and On Land which he called "Ambient Music." He would often set up patterns and allow them to play out on their own. As an early proponent of synthesizers, he found ways to take these simple patterns, using electronic means to create music that was very organic sounding. This is clearly what I was striving for with this piece. The background uses a grid to set a pattern of many layers of very dark blues over which cloud-like shapes were painted, not with a brush but with my hands. It is important to note that I was not trying to paint clouds, just undefined amorphous shapes to create a middle ground. The red rectangles, which are also tied to the grid, were taped off and painted in layers until the red was quite opaque. The title comes from the lyrics to a U2 song, which happened to have been produced by Brain Eno.

I've Read Somewhere That Every Wall's A Door (Ligeti) 72" x 96"
I've Read Somewhere... is the most recent in the series. I had done a similar smaller painting that was more densely covered with the dashes. Here I was thinking of Ligeti and his microtonal style best known in his vocal piece Lux Aeterna which was used in Stanely Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here the grid is more pronounced with the open shape tightly locked to it. The dashes range from yellow-green to blue-green, at times bunching up and leaving more space in places. The title is from the song Hain's Point by the legendary DC punk band Rites of Spring.

Clouds Unbound By Laws (Etudes) 7" x 5"
The Etude pieces are painted on small wood panels. These are generally not based on a specific composer's work. In these, I tried out some techniques I have not used before. Clouds Unbound By Laws was an attempt to see if I could recreate a thick, juicy textured red on my palette. After laying down the grid work and ochre/naples yellow background, I literally mixed up the red on the surface as I would have on my palette. Again, a cloud-like shape emerged. I used the taped squares but then added a dot element using a plastic template. The template did not allow for a clean circle but I like the effect and left them rough. The title comes from a rare Bob Dylan song, Lay Down Your Weary Tune.

New Day Rising (Etude) 7" x 5"
New Day Rising began with taped off squares with alternating blends of quinacridone crimson and red oxide. Again the dots where painted using the same ineffective template. I had better luck getting a smoother edge with an ellipse template on the green and purple ellipses but decided to draw the orange ellipses and paint them freehand. The title is taken from a Husker Du song.

As He Rose Above Reason (Etude) 8" x 10"
With As He Rose Above Reason, I played around with my earlier thin layers on the grid shapes, adding in some direct hand painting. Then I applied some darker browns which I wiped away quickly leaving a splotchy residue in places. The ellipses were draw using a template then painted in three variants of red. The title is a lyric from one of Brian Eno's rock albums Before and After Science.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

First New Post in a While

It is hard to believe that I haven't posted anything yet this year. I have transitioned from representational painting to non-objective. I still like this series and may come back to it but I felt I needed a change. Here is the latest (last?) one (I'm Embarrassed to Admit You Hit a Soft Spot In My Heart 44" x 60").