If you are in NYC on June 21, please go to Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and participate in the art auction organized to benefit Pat Berran’s fight against cancer. Bid on art. Do some good.
Ben Lamar Gay’s Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun
Working towards fall.
Listen to an episode of Sound & Vision featuring my friend , Matthew F Fisher.
originally published: June 21, 2017
If you lived in Hendersonville in the 1970-80s, in all likelihood, you have a Johnny Cash story. That story weaves you into a reality to which very few others can relate. This was a town where an Oak Ridge Boy was your neighbor. The best Halloween candy you could get was from a wrestling promoter’s house. The entire world showed up to your town for Roy Orbison’s funeral. To see Johnny or June running errands was not unexpected because they lived in your city and there were no pretensions about them. Here are a few stories that circulated in my little adolescent world:
1. I saw Johnny at Eckerd buying something for a cold he was nursing. The Man in Black got the sniffles.
2. My friend, Will, sold him mulch at Wal-mart.
3. My mother saw him pull up to the Coke machine outside of K-Mart, put in 2 quarters, get nothing in return and then started beating on it like it took his last dime.
4. My mother-in-law and June seemed to have similar shopping schedules at the Kroger.
All of these stories mean nothing. June needed some chicken. She went to the store. She did not pull an old lady out of a burning building. She was just buying groceries like everyone else. But these stories do mean something. I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they…all saw Johnny or June somewhere. Somewhere that we all went on a regular basis. And that is strange. If I see a person in real life that I have seen on television, it takes me a few seconds to adjust to their three-dimensionality. Add on top of that discombobulation that you are sneaking sausage samples from a tray that was left out at the deli of a grocery store and it all doubles down on the weird.
Brady Haston- Burden, oil on linen mounted to panel, 15x18", 2016
Everyone knew where Johnny and June lived. It was not hard to find their house. You drove past it on your driver’s exam. The house appeared approachable enough to my friend, Esther, that as a 16 year old, she walked down his driveway, expecting to get to the door, talk to him and find out how to meet Larry Mullen, Jr. “Why c’mon in little lady. Can I get you some tea? How can I help you?” Instead, she was met on the driveway by a very large but nice guard that heard her plight and said, “Well, you’re not going to meet Mr. Cash today, but here is Cowboy Jack (Clement)’s address. Maybe he can help.” Esther did eventually meet Larry but not because of Cowboy Jack, however he did invite Esther and her friend inside to watch home movies of U2 hanging out at his house over a Christmas holiday.
A person’s Johnny story (or your Johnny’s big security guard story) is tied to a place. Tied to a very ordinary place- a store, his house, the DMV, etc. It’s not like we lived in Rome and saw him at the Pantheon. That would not be as unexpected. Who would not want to see the Pantheon? Even Johnny is going to be impressed with the Pantheon. Seeing an American icon buying Robitussin while you are buying a pack of Hubba Bubba is something different.
Brady Haston- Plateau, oil on linen mounted to panel, 14x18", 2015
All of this is 25-35 years in the past. Hendersonville has about 20,000 more residents than when I lived there. Johnny is gone. June is gone. Their house burned to the ground while renovations were being made by the next owner. The Wal-mart where Johnny bought mulch moved to a new location. The K-mart where he beat up a Coke machine is now Kroger. The old Kroger is currently nothing.
These ordinary places, ubiquitous and reproduced in every other midsize town, are still around but gone at the same time. That K-Mart was my record store growing up. We did not “go to Nashville” when I was young. My mom acted like you needed a wagon train and three months provisions to get to Nashville. We went to Rivergate Mall. So my music stores were K-Mart, a Cat’s Record and whatever was at Rivergate…Camelot, I think. Camelot. Mercy. This was not just a K-mart to be tossed aside for me. It is understandable to mourn the loss of a mom-and-pop business but I am not going to argue with you if you have to make your peace with the closing of the chain store where you bought Kiss’s Destroyer album or a $20 Pole Position game for your Atari that you and your brother had to save 3 months of allowance to afford.
The Kroger had a video store in it. There was a pizza kiosk where someone had to make and shrink wrap the “ready to bake” Kroger pizzas on site. The store was in a strip connected to a Subway and a Baskin Robbins. My wife and I got engaged in the parking lot before going to see the Big Lebowski. Not romantic but that is how we do things. We could have gone on a hike or to a nice restaurant, but we are ice cream and Coen Brothers people. The roads of much more romantic proposals have ended at law offices.
Brady Haston- Stratification, oil on linen mounted to panel, 15x18", 2016
I drove out to Hendersonville this week to see that parking lot. The old store sat there, newly emptied, with a decent traffic still present for Subway and Baskin Robbins. I had a selfish “how dare you?” moment. I got engaged there. Where’s my plaque? June Carter Cash bought peanut butter here. Where is the plaque? If I walk across the street to the Methodist parking lot, where is the historical marker that says, “Here in 1992, Rob Matthews sat in the back of David Heeks’ pickup truck and listened to the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head for the first time. It has never sounded better, even in headphones, than sitting in the back of that truck.”
One day that Methodist church will not be there. One day, Maple Road will not intersect with Indian Lake Road. It does now and will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Thousands of people drive past it everyday. But for me, as a 10 year old, in 1984, it is at that intersection, sitting in the passenger seat of our family car that I felt SOMETHING. Something massive. Something bigger than Michael Jackson or UNC basketball or Atari or anything else that ruled my world in 1984. I felt the Holy Spirit move upon me. My first mountaintop experience was in a station wagon at a random intersection in a town whose biggest claim to fame was that there was a brick wall with “Hello Darlin” laid into the patterning of the brick. I cried, not from pain but from joy and I cried hard. I do not even remember if I was able to explain to my mother why I was crying. I assume that I did because she did not take me to the hospital.
Prone to nostalgia, these are the things that welled up in me when reflecting on Brady Haston’s show at Zeitgeist. Keep in mind, the show has nothing to do with the Big Lebowski, the Beastie Boys or the Holy Spirit. It is abstraction derived from the history of an area though, specifically 18th-century frontier Nashville. There is a language developed by mining the past and elaborating on that. The truth becomes legend when it is abstracted. Haston’s palette gives both the residue of something past with moments of contemporary clarity laid on top. That is how I walk through half of my life. This is not an abandoned building. It is where I got engaged. This is not a mall parking lot. It is where I rode the Flume Zoom. This is not a baseball park. It is an empty void behind a soccer field where I would watch trains pass at night. This is not a road. It is where the promise of an eternal covenant exploded in front of me.
Brady Haston- Corner Meander, oil on canvas mounted to panel, 72x96", 2017
originally published: April 9, 2017
It has been a month since the last entry on this site. Fortunately there are no advertisers to satisfy or much of an audience desperate for the next bite of art musings. Writing about Kate Krebs' show at the Red Arrow Gallery sat on a to-do list for four weeks. It kept getting bumped down the list, passed over by a variety of matters best described as "life" and "artist's block".
The review was going to be great. You have to believe me. It would push past the obvious references someone would come up with in 2017: Darger, paper dolls, etc and push deep into the medieval and the Northern Renaissance. There was going to be a reference to Colorforms and Karel Zeman. I missed the deadline. The show is gone. The wind has been removed from the sails. Apologies to all. Even if there is less incentive to do a deep dive on this show now, let us at least acknowledge a couple of things about the exhibition that are lacking in a lot of shows in the current art world.
First, this show was unafraid to be overt, obvious, on-the-nose, or whatever phrase you prefer. It was blatant and direct in its use of imagery and its intentions. That's a rare quality in art. "Brave" is a misused word in the art world. This was not brave. For the most part, in the United States, you are under no threat as a result of the art you make. You are, at most, in danger of having your ego wounded by criticism. To not protect your ego is not brave. It is principled but not brave. That said, there is pleasure in seeing a show that dismisses pride in order to communicate more effectively. For example, there is this detail (on the left) from Awakening of Cosmic Consciousness.
Let us recognize that the title ranks right up there with Bruce Nauman's The Artist Helps The World By Revealing Mystic Truths and Paul Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Overall, the piece sets up a medieval composition with a basic argument of good versus evil and Paradise versus Hell. Stuck in Hell are the Vanderbilt football players convicted of rape, depicted as being in the act. They sit amongst other figures that you would expect an artist to identify as evil: capitalists, the military industrial complex, violent police officers, Trump fans and so on. And the cynical part of current art posturing wants to address these direct use of images like "capitalist demons" and say, "Come on...demons. What is this? A march or an art show?" But Dante did not pull any punches for the sake of subtlety and history has been good to his work. What is astounding, from the perspective of a Nashvillian looking at this piece is that in the center of all of this global mayhem is a direct, local condemnation that is unavoidable. That is the power of art. It can address life at a macro and micro level if an artist is willing to be bold. What other local artist has gone after this subject? No one comes to mind. If the work is there, drop me an email so I can update this post.
You could be "that guy" and start picking apart the Paradise section as being full of idealized versions of the female from a male perspective: Renoir, Botticelli, etc but you would be missing the point to satisfy that art school desire to be "right". You can be "right" and still miss the boat. Don't be "that guy" standing at the dock wondering what happened to everyone else.
The second point to consider about this show is that it is surreal in a way that precedes Surrealism. It is not a brand of surrealism coming out of Dada and a continental meltdown of war. It is more internalized than that. It is visionary. Krebs' approach to making art is not bound by limitation of ability. Every solution in the show looks like a workaround. Pursuit of Unconditional Love appears to have been created with the intention of depicting the "divine feminine" referred to in the artist statement. That "divine" depiction ends up being a giant vagina in the sky, which under closer inspection, is made by painting the sections of a knot of wood on the plywood substrate with reddish flesh tones. Out of limitation comes unpredictable visionary images. All the training in the world would not lead to such a simple, successful solution. An artist should not decide what art they can make based on what skills they possess. They should decide what art they want to make and then figure out how to make it based on what they are capable of, what they can learn and what they can live with in terms of compromise. It might end up that a compromised artwork is a lot more interesting than a masterful piece.
As previously stated, this is not meant to be a thorough examination or reflection on the show so we should put a bow on this. To quickly summarize, My Love Divine was a fantastic ride. The statement for the show addresses a number of issues that you would assume by looking at the work. It is somehow simultaneously visionary and direct so you know what it is about even if it is dragging you around the cosmos. There is a search for the "divine feminine" and a critique of Deep South Christianity. One piece punches the viewer in the face. One piece might be too heavily indebted to 50s clip art but the next is beautiful and tender. A few weeks removed from the show, all the missteps are forgotten but all of the oddball magic is still there.
originally published: March 7, 2017
I have a list in my head of concerts where the crowd was more interesting to watch than the band. A sampling of this list includes:
Weezer at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville during the Pinkerton tour:
Teenage abandon. Life could not have been any better for that sea of high schoolers. I watched them from the balcony. They swayed. They sang. They hugged and kissed and pumped their fists. They were so much more prepared to be there than the band that would have been lost without their distortion pedals.
The Allman Brothers at the World’s Fair Park in Knoxville in 1993:
1/3 hippies, swirling around
1/3 fraternity, guys high-fiving
1/3 Harley dudes, to insure that the swirling and the high-fiving were kept in check
Soul Night Sunday at the 5 Spot in Nashville in the summer of 2013:
A bachelorette party spilling out of a party van and throwing down some amazing drunken “woo girl” energy with no regard for anything around them, then like a comet they were gone.
I also have a list of shows where one member of the audience defined the show more than the band. Key moments include:
1995: The owner of a club in Knoxville emerging from backstage during a set by The Grifters twirling a gun above his head and screaming words that I could not process. I am not sure what happened after that because I am smart and I left.
2013: A woman standing on her seat at a Nick Cave show in Philadelphia screaming, “WHERE IS MY HUUUSBAAAND…IN THIS MUTHAF*CKIN’ PLACE!!!” for so long and with such great force that Cave started singing “Where iiiissss my huuuuusbaaaand…in this muthaf*ckin’ place” like it was a b-side from The Boatman’s Call.
It is always important to remember that the band is directing a show but only because the crowd allows them to be in control.
The beginning of a DIY movement is usually a group of people (with less in common than they understand) with a shared desire to be seen or heard. The end of a DIY movement is usually defined by a patrol car showing up to an event and shutting it down for code violations and a lack of permits. Exercised properly, shutting you down is meant to protect you from your own stupidity. Codes can, from time to time, be misused to prevent a controversial act from performing but, for the most part, even if you do not like it, getting shut down is doing you a favor. Your life is preserved and you have a story to tell. I got kicked out of Rivergate Mall in 8th grade for sliding down a handrail. Silly? Yes. Good story? Depends on the way that I tell it.
A person need not have experienced the 10 years of DIY shows that Lance Conzett has documented in his Fort Houston exhibition, Don’t Lose Touch, to fully appreciate what he has captured. I have never seen Bully. I have never seen Diarrhea Planet. I have never seen Husband Stitch. If I had to put money on it, I would say that I will never see Bully or Diarrhea Planet or Husband Stitch. I am old(er). I go to the symphony. Conzett’s images will eventually define one of an endless number of underground music movements. Why? Because he was probably one of the only people smart enough to be taking pictures with equipment that is better than a smartphone.
The decades may be different and the cities may change but every town has this spirit. They all operate under the same premise and yield similar photographic results. That in no way diminishes the impact of these photos. Instead, they are universal. My scene is 20-25 years and 180 miles removed from this but I would be hard-pressed to deny you if you said that this was my crowd. Photographs of this subject capture something that is gone almost as soon as it happened. They are nostalgic as soon as they are printed. People move away. People get “real jobs” or have kids. Little by little, one period unravels and a new one emerges in its wake.
This particular grouping of photographs, more so than others, bends under the weight of loss in a post-Ghost Ship period where the crackdown on DIY spaces is swift under the pressure of not being the NEXT Ghost Ship. No one wants that on his/her conscience.
The best images in the show are not of the band, but of the crowds. Photographing a band is not easy. But a band hopes and acts like they are going to be photographed. A crowd? Not so much. These pictures capture individual and collective release. The audience represents the moment more than the band. The band is the catalyst. The crowd is the show.
The “audience” was at the reception for Conzett’s exhibition, finding themselves in the photographs and talking about the shows in the pictures like they happened 30 years ago. In some cases, the shows just took place last year. That is the power of time, frozen; of the decisive moment. You saw a band last week but a photograph of the event can reveal to you that you are already a different person. You were not even at that show but looking at the pictures, remembering your scene, your shows and the photographs someone was smart enough to take reminds you that you are a different person, too.
originally published: March 2, 2017
*Unable to take decent photos of this show. Apologies for lack of good images*
The Hendersonville Arts Council presented a survey of recent work by Ted Jones that places Christian iconography in dialogue with imagery related to the African diaspora. The majority of subject matter focuses on figures, narratives and parables of the New Testament. A small number of wooden sculptures and metal repoussé reliefs relate to African religious practices, but the bulk of the show consists of block prints and reliefs dedicated to New Testament ideology. It is not a subversion of either pursuit; instead it is a reciprocal relationship common within the diaspora and less acknowledged within the larger canon of Western Christian art.
Repoussé and block printing require similar approaches in execution. Both focus on a practice that works in reverse. With repoussé, the artist hammers down on the back of the metal surface to raise it up on the front side. The process of block printing requires carving away what is not wanted. Both techniques reverse the image upon completion. Jones has a deliberate, finite language of marks and pattern that he engages in both print and repoussé. This continuity helps connect the two bodies. All marks made by the artist are sculptural, whether hammering away or carving into a block. The differences are found in the results: metal relief versus a print on paper. His mark-making is almost wholly pattern-driven, in the form of steadily-paced, vertical hatch marks, irregular circles arranged in grids and controlled waves. There is an even hand at work and patient execution. This is not emotive woodblock gouging like Emil Nolde or Tal R.
The visual language of art in relation to the Gospels is firmly established at this point. There is always room for interpretation and invention but there are almost two millennia of influence pressing upon artists that take up the subject. Whatever decision an artist makes in visually interpreting the Gospels more than likely has a precedent. Jones’ depictions of the apostles are medieval in proportion and created by a system of pattern that could be derived from something akin to a Mande tradition of textile patterns. Each apostle is presented in a stoic, closed pose fashioned in a mathematical palindrome of measurement (51x15”). Each pose is frontal, looking out, not to be worshipped but to be respected and followed and “listened to”. Within a small vocabulary of marks, Jones is able to individually distinguish one apostle from another, not only in their iconography but also in their manner of dress. The robes of the apostles are unique. Examining the bottom half of each garment reveals a different, minimal composition- symmetrical and totemic.
Jones’ visual organization changes between icons of saints and Biblical narratives and parables. Even in his depiction of Pentecost, the apostles are presented frontally, in this case as a collective unit receiving the descent of the Spirit. However when dealing with story, Jones more often than not uses a single figure in the foreground facing away from us, towards the action. Whether it is the miracle of the fish and loaves, Jesus walking on water or the raising of Lazarus, the figure of Christ or someone is placed with their back to us and the event unfolding further beyond them. They act in ruckenfigur-fashion, as mediators between the message and us. These figures, turned away, do not block our view or distance us from the action. They remove the fourth wall and place us in the scene. We are given access to the Word and the miraculous and not reduced to passive observers.
The installation in the second floor gallery allows for parallels in the narrative works to emerge. The black sun in The Sower is balanced on the same wall by position of the white moon illuminating Jesus walking on the water. The wrapped figure of the risen Lazarus is mirrored further down the wall by the positioning of fish and loaves in another print. The gift of life is presented in two different forms balancing one another. The miracle of resurrection equaled by the miraculous provision of sustenance.
originally published: February 16, 2017
This site was established to respond to work made by regional artists so there will not be a full response to this exhibition.
On view until March 18th at OZ Arts in Nashville is a site-specific wall drawing by Heeseop Yoon, titled Hide and Seek. It is worth the effort to see this installation to absorb the massive scale of the piece and the materiality of its creation. The overwhelming size and density present a fine balance of commentary on a saturated consumerist society and a drawing style which allows the process of the piece to remain visible in the final product.
The drawing is created with black tape on mylar, which is then mounted on the wall and the floor. There does not appear to be revision in the sense of addition countered by subtraction or correction. Instead of that traditional push/pull, the piece feels entirely additive. Lines search and miss but are left to work in tandem with the more "accurate" line or shape. That visible search feeds into the jumbled chaos. More information piles up. More disorder is created.
Also on view in the hallway are a series of drawings and prints that hold their own as individual works of art but also provide insight into Yoon's practice.
Tickets are available online but visitors can pay upon arrival as well.
originally published: February 10, 2017
Legend has it that architect Bruce Graham was asked to explain the stability for the design of what would be the Sears (Willis) Tower in Chicago. Graham gathered a fistful of cigarettes and pushed the interior cigarettes upwards, “higher” than the exterior pieces. The bundled tube system for a 108-story building was demonstrated with a handful of cigarettes at a lunch table. Simple gestures, executed properly, can allow us to dream big.
Picasso’s Guernica started with this 8x10” sketch. It is easy as a viewer to reverse engineer Guernica to arrive at this sketch. The key elements are roughly established in what will be their final compositional positioning. It is another thing altogether to look at this sketch and move forward to the mural-sized masterpiece. Picasso made Guernica. Someone else could make a giant painting of a basketball court.
A recorded gesture is evidence of a human at work. It is a result of a specific, hand-driven thought process. We think differently when our hands are in motion. Thought moves beyond theory to action and therefore receives feedback based on what the hand is doing. We assign value to what is being created and respond accordingly.
Hans Schmitt-Matzen’s exhibition at the David Lusk Gallery, The Leviathan, uses this initial flash of thought and movement as a jumping-off point for a series of white neon sculptures, black or white wall-mounted wood sculptures and prints. Leviathan, the mysterious sea creature of Biblical and literary legend, serves as a symbol for the unknown at work “deep down” in our mark making and gestures. Is there something unconscious guiding our motions, something at our primary source of being human?
Rather than use his own gestures, something that might be too self-conscious as a methodology, Schmitt-Matzen borrows marks from his son’s artwork. He curates, isolates, freezes and expands upon his son’s marks. In the same way that Picasso had to expand upon his first sketch of Guernica, Schmitt-Matzen does have to impose a certain “adult” logic into the process. His son’s sketches are data for sculpture. A child’s concept of line is not going to be accurately captured in the bending of neon tubing or wood. The decision to create something from these drawings demands an act of translation. Decisions have to be made and directions in marks have to be interpreted and refined. The show is also achromatic, devoid of the overt emotional pull of color. This decision can keep the work at arm’s length. It is successful in removing the childlike nature of the work’s inspiration. This is not art made with a youthful spirit. It may start in the hand of a child but it is, at its heart, an interpretation of primal instinct, not juvenile dexterity. Negotiating that space between immediacy and logical reconsideration is what makes the work both approachable and unknowable. The language is familiar but the expression remains mysterious.
Schmitt-Matzen also assigns meaning to the works through their titles. A bottom-heavy swirl with extending, upward-moving “appendages” is titled Hydra. To the informed viewer, yes, the abstracted hydra is there. Other sculptures reference additional mythological creatures, mushrooms or animals. Perhaps a little cloud spotting is necessary as a preliminary way of defining something that we cannot easily measure. Our desire to find images in forms that are otherwise spontaneous and irregular is a simple way for us to wrestle with larger ideas out of our reach. We assign names to complex ideas, almost as placeholders until we are smart enough to truly understand it. This injection of meaning to what is beyond our comprehension brings us back to the Leviathan. Yes, the Leviathan can be a part of the larger unknown. It can feel like a mystery that should be pursued but, ultimately, Leviathan is dangerous. Chapter 41 of Job describes Leviathan as a creature with no earthly equal and possessed of no fear. It rules over all that are proud. Job could not defeat Leviathan if challenged and Job certainly cannot defeat Satan. He possesses neither the intellect nor the strength. God can defeat Satan. God can defeat Leviathan because God created Leviathan. What is unknowable to us as humans is not necessarily unknowable to something smarter than humans. Job can comprehend of Leviathan and name it but never wrestle with it and succeed. We can analyze our mysterious depths but there is a risk of stumbling upon a monster more powerful than us when we get too deep.
John Calvin, in Institutes, explains our relationship to God as an all-knowing force adjusting His language, dumbing it down, so that we might understand: “For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children?” A handful of cigarettes can be used to “lisp” to a less knowledgeable partner. Our children’s untrained drawings can be reimagined by an adult mind as a complex sculpture. These exercises make the complex simple and conversely can also add layers of meaning into what might be dismissed as elementary. What can help save us from the Leviathan, what can keep us from being subject to the one that is “king over all that are proud” is to remember that our most glorious skyscraper is merely a handful of cigarettes to someone that lisps to us but also finds glory in our simple marks.
originally published: February 6, 2017
Leia: But why must you confront him?
Luke: Because there is good in him. I've felt it... I can save him… I have to try.
- Return of the Jedi
Is Luke not expressing himself fully or does the dialogue for Return of the Jedi exercise restraint and assume the audience understands the subtext? Luke wants there to be good left in Vader- for Vader to have a shot at redemption. Is that all? No. Yoda wants Luke to confront his own fear that he is capable of evil and has the potential to misuse his gifts. Luke wants Vader to be good so he himself can be good. Can Luke own his fear and conquer it?
Reading Alex Lockwood’s statement for the Awful Things exhibition at Zeitgeist Gallery suggests that similar issues are at work. Can Lockwood confront his past, control it and speak beyond it?
Awful Things is dark, pathetic, comical collection of larger-than-life sculptures where no figure is left undisturbed, unmolested or intact. Each figure (aside from the killer and the next, terrified victim) is gutted, bisected, impaled or strung up with fishhooks. It is reminiscent of Goya’s Disasters of War but Lockwood is not a painter or a printmaker and is not reflecting on observed events. There is no war, no Napoleonic invasion. His chosen sculptural mediums are everyday consumer objects. Figures are constructed from colorful trashcans, containers, cups, bowls and a larger, less immediately recognizable palette of mass-produced plastics. Fecal matter, urine, tears, blood and entrails are made from thousands of strung together plastic caps and circular bits. It is not messy or gory. It is rhythmic, playful and somewhat craft-like in its construction. The material and bright colors disarm the viewer.
From a distance, the installation appears to be whimsical. The first figure that greets visitors is a relaxed, reclining large red figure. He appears cheerful and inviting. It is not immediately apparent that his satisfaction is based on the actions that lie behind him and that you potentially are the next victim. Instead the work, at first, could read like something from a children’s museum or an ambitious Christmas installation for a department store window. It is too late for the viewer when the subjects and action come into focus. The audience is already seduced by the material and has no choice but to confront the content. The smile slowly retreats.
Each figure is subject to a unique style of torture and there seems to be no escape from a painful death. We are aware that this has all happened and continues to this day. We know of modern torture from the news - depictions of Abu Ghraib being most Westerners frame of reference. ISIS/ISIL, Boko Haram and C.A.R. militias go beyond that on a monthly basis. We know of ancient torture from illustration and historical documentation. There are museums dedicated to feeding our hobbyist curiosity for how real people were torn limb from limb centuries ago. History shows that this behavior is our inescapable nature. Humans are capable of awful things no matter the level of morality that our civilizations project.
Not only are we capable of these actions in our darkest moments but we also enjoy these things as entertainment in our most peaceful hours. Why? Spy movies usually build up to a scene of torture. In Spectre, Bond has a miniature drill driven into his neck and temple. The Passion of the Christ turns the one verse of the Gospel (pick either Matthew or Mark) of Christ’s beating and bathes in that flogging almost to the point that the viewer cannot bear it anymore. It is a joke among Coen Brothers fans that Steve Buscemi’s characters are progressively more destroyed with each movie. In Miller’s Crossing, Buscemi is shot and his eyes and face are destroyed. In Barton Fink, he dies in a hotel fire. In Fargo, he is fed into a wood chipper. In The Big Lebowski, he is cremated, reduced to small coffee can of ash.
"I'm not surprised to learn that some anxious individuals find horror films therapeutic," he said. "The genre allows us to voluntarily—and under controlled circumstances—get experience with negative emotion." - Dr. Mathias Clasen
Abby Moss’s Vice article “Why Some Anxious People Find Comfort in Horror Movies” touches on the studies of Dr. Mathias Clasen’s that might explain our attraction. Long story short: fictional horror is safe horror. It is a controlled environment to deal with our real fears and emotional damage. At any point, you can walk out of the theater or turn off the television or device. In essence, this is what Lockwood is doing for himself and for us. Lockwood indicates that his interest in horror is connected to deep emotional wounds suffered from painful life experience for which there is no real quick fix. Lockwood benefits from an isolated, safe space in which to confront this damage. At any point, he can leave the studio, lock the door and none of it will follow him. It is sculpture as both containment and release but it is not a selfish pursuit. The final product is not solely beneficial to him. His address is not direct, nor personal. It is larger than one person and his scars. By dancing around personal specificity, Lockwood taps into a subject that invites us into a tableau ripe for the soul-searching that we all need. We can all come to this exhibition, laugh uncomfortably, inspect our fears and leave a little less burdened. It is a generous and even entertaining creation- setting aside the basic desire to be understood to, instead, carve out a space for others to understand themselves.
(originally written in March of 2015)
I have had the same color photocopy of Picasso’s Pipes of Pan hanging in my studio since 1998. It is so old that it has paint splattered on it. There’s a piece of white tape covering over where I wrote Picasso’s statement, “If there is something to be stolen, I steal it.” I have no memory of writing that down nor covering it over with tape. I routinely revisit this painting for inspiration. I am not even subtle in the way I do it. Why should I be? It is a Picasso. Did he run away from his influences? Hardly. He jumped in with both feet.
I found the image in a book after a professor suggested that I look at Picasso’s neoclassical works. My instructor said, “Look around 1923.” I went to the library and found a book called “Picasso 1923” or something that direct. The book was in French (?) so I could not read it. More than likely if I were a student now, I would have taken the book and scanned the images into my computer and immediately forgotten about them. But in 1998, I did not own a computer and I would not have known how to work a scanner anyway. So I did what I always did: took the book to Kinko’s, ignored the postings about copying protected material and made copies.
I once read that Philip Guston kept a copy of Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation hanging in his kitchen for years. He wrote an essay centered around it as well. There is something unknowable about that painting that makes you return to it repeatedly. Pipes of Pan does that for me as well. If the painting did not baffle me, it would not still be hanging on my wall.
As it stands now, this painting is my favorite painting…that I have never seen in person. I have had the good fortune to visit Paris. The Picasso museum was not open while I was there. One day, hopefully, I will be able to see it. As it is, this color photocopy is enough. I cannot even make a drawing as good as this photocopy. To me, this 17 year old piece of Kinko’s paper is the best work of art in my studio. Second to that is my computer print out of Hugo van der Goes’ Portinari Altarpiece. The only difference is that I have stood before the van der Goes. What is my motivation in the studio? To come anywhere near either of those paintings or the preparatory study/drawing that Dürer made for his Adam and Eve engraving, now at the Morgan Library.
All three of those works address my longtime use of symmetry. The van der Goes maximizes that concept in ways that I have yet to address. Picking apart the compositional structure of that massive work makes me consider quitting art altogether because it is hard to imagine conceiving of something so involved, directional, complex, yet restrained and relatively static. That is all best left to another post.
The Picasso and Dürer are in my wheelhouse. Two figures posed against one another, either at odds or in harmony. Sometimes I will put a tree between the two like Dürer. I think of every tree as a crucifixion. There does not need to be a body on it to imply it. Picasso put the Mediterranean between his men. After all, this painting is classically-inspired.
Dürer’s study and Picasso’s painting flatten space, making great use of the shapes in the negative space of the figures. The slivers of sea under the arms of Picasso’s left figure. The strange patch of blue under right figure’s arm that interrupts the step formation behind him. Both Picasso and Dürer utilize the spaces between the figures’ legs. Where the two separate is the statuesque solidity of the Picasso versus Dürer’s back-n-forth energy between Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are interacting, fully engaging in original sin together. Adam has an apple in his hand in the drawing, missing from the later print. The arms angle at one another, passing the viewer’s eye between them. Eve’s arms form a line to move you across from one hand to another. Eve’s foot and hand form one part of an X that Adam’s leg crosses.
By contrast, the legs of Picasso’s figures and buildings also create an X, not necessarily to move you around but to put your eye in the center of the piece, at the corner of the top step and sit you there, feeling the stone-like weight of everything. The left figure’s arms hang there, almost pulled downward by their own weight. “Pan” is lost in his music, seemingly unaware of his partner. The bottom third of the painting is heavy with meat and stone. Even their garments look dense, less like fabric and more like a cast.
These are issues in my head while I am working but this is not really about style for me right now. What I find myself thinking about more than anything with this Picasso for the past couple of weeks is the Mediterranean. Picasso visited Pompeii around 1917. No doubt this trip planted the seed for his move to his classical works. There is an ideal embrace of the heat and intensity of the blue water.
But for me, the Mediterranean coast is not Greek for me these days. It is Libyan. It is not blue. It is red. The beheadings of the Coptic prisoners is beyond our concepts of modern warfare. It is ancient. We grew up reading about such events, foolishly thinking about ourselves as being evolved beyond such action. I guess we are the only species that can trick itself into thinking that it is getting smarter. These beheadings were martyrdom on a level we rarely read about even if it is more present than we realize. In no way does any previous execution mean less to me. I do not mean to imply that. The Coptics’ executions are simply the ones that finally made things click for me in terms of what is happening.
What does an artist do? Picasso made Guernica. No one “heard” it, not until it was too late anyway. Despite Guernica being ignored, it was still powerful enough that it needed to be kept away from the Nazis. It was dangerous enough that they would have destroyed it. So what is an artist supposed to do? I think we are supposed to start making Guernicas.
(originally written in August of 2014)
Olivier Messiaen is my favorite 20th century composer. I say that yet I had no idea who he was while it was still the 20th century. Aside from a Mark Eitzel lyric, I did not even know the name Messiaen until I was about 30 years old when I accidentally crashed a memorial service at a church in downtown Philadelphia. Friends of mine asked my wife and I if we would like to go see a performance by their friend, a pianist. My wife and I agreed and, I guess, decided on our own that this was a casual event. An hour later, I walked into a church dressed in jeans with a patch on one knee and a worn out flannel shirt, holding my worn out, puffy winter coat, to find myself staring down the aisle at a memorial service. Needless to say, we sat about 10 rows behind everyone else and tried not to draw attention to ourselves.
The quartet was already on the stage. A clarinet, a violin, a piano and a cello. If you know Messiaen’s work, you know what is getting ready to happen. Soon after our arrival, the clarinetist stood to explain that they would be performing “Quartet for the End of Time” in dedication to the passing of his father.
I am going to give anyone that reads this a few links. One link is somewhat irresponsible but I will make up for it with two other, responsible links:
There is a mythology that surrounds the creation and debut performance of the Quartet for the End of Time. You can read about it on this Wikipedia entry. There are factual errors about this performance, promoted by Messiaen, allowed to grow over the years and are now part of this Wikipedia entry. “Print the legend” as is said in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. However, when finally interviewed, surviving performers gave a different version of the story that really is no less compelling. The story as promoted is the same but some details have been exaggerated for effect. I prefer the contradictory account. Rebecca Rischin documented the alternate version in her book, For The End of Time.
My favorite recording of this piece is this one . I do not know why it is my favorite. Why is the Clash’s version of “I Fought the Law” the one I prefer over Bobby Fuller? I guess I find more soul in The Clash. Bobby Fuller had a strange life and death surrounded by rumors of the mob and Manson but he sings “I Fought the Law” like he had never even received a traffic ticket. The drums on the Crickets’ original version have more passion to them.
Some might see the phrase “end of time” and be drawn into an apocalyptic vision of destruction that Hollywood has been churning out for a generation. Mayhem, violence, explosions, etc. Messiaen was not composing from that place. Messiaen was a mystic. He was beyond his current circumstances. He did not have time for your movie. He was surrounded by the worst human evil of the 20th century and yet his eyes were on the redemption and grace of the Lord. The end of time and the beginning of joyous eternity. Time is a restriction; a gift but still a restriction. When time truly ends, the glory of heaven will be upon us. This is what Messiaen is celebrating. The music is unwavering faith. All Christians should aspire to this dedication. Messiaen seems to have lived fully aware that he was constantly inside of eternity even when temporarily bound by the dimension of time.
The composition’s third movement, “Abyss of the Birds” is a solo clarinet performance. It is a slow, sad piece even if Messiaen uses birds to revolt against the limitation of time and to set us heavenward.
Abyss of the Birds was the first part of the Quartet to be composed. It was started before Messiaen was captured and imprisoned during World War II. When Salinger hit the beach at Normandy, a few chapters of Catcher In the Rye were in his bag. When Messiaen was taken prisoner, Abyss of the Birds was in his possession and, even almost naked, he clung to it and defied his Nazi guards to keep it.
He and his fellow prisoners were marched for dozens of miles to their “prison camp”. Upon arrival they were placed in a field and told to wait…until they could build the prison camp. It was there, in an empty field, completely exhausted, that he asked a prisoner and friend, who somehow was in possession of a clarinet, to practice the Abyss. That was the debut of part of a landmark 20th century composition. A movement, inspired by birdsong, played in a field by a prisoner of war, while held captive by one of the most destructive evil forces in recorded human history. Time will lose. Evil will lose. God will win.
Can you fully appreciate the intended purpose of this music without some version of the faith that inspired it? I don’t know. I have heard historians, composers and musicians interviewed about this composition. I have met a great composer that professes a love for Messiaen even though he doesn’t “believe in all of that mystical crap.” That “if you are into that sort of thing” expression pops up a lot in secularists that appreciate Messiaen but do not want to be mistaken for Christian. The art history/theory equivalent of that is acted out daily, jettisoning the inspiration of an artist and reducing it to formal analysis. A critic can read a few verses of Revelation, know the backstory of the piece’s creation and talk about it in a competent manner, but does it hit their gut? It can. It will not hit all of the time, but it can. Maybe that is what common grace is all about. Nonbelievers can play it. People can listen. All of us can partake of the gifts of God. Some of us will worship the Lord. Some of us will worship His gifts.
My favorite Four Tops song is “Bernadette”. It is the most desperate Motown song and my favorite Motown lyric. Please do not leave me, Bernadette. I know all of these men look better than me but we have something deep.
“They long to persuade you from my side”.
“Keep on loving me…keep on needing me.”
Can that song punch you in the gut unless you have also experienced that insecurity? Yes. It can. But I will say that I feel that song as a middle-aged man with the experience of some loss in my pocket much more than I ever did as 12 year old boy wondering what it would be like to be heartbroken. Time and experience have given me a deeper appreciation.
That night, at the memorial service, a son played a mournful, solo tribute to his father who had fallen victim to time in the same way we all will at some point. I did not know anything about the work while I was listening to it but I understood the basic concept of a son playing a solo clarinet tribute to his departed father. The abyss was purely abstract to me and not named for me but still the abyss was there. I understood that pain and sadness and I imagine most of us would because we all lose someone at some point. My prayer is that people also take hold of the promise of the Quartet. The promise of redemption and grace, the end of time and the end of loss.