Enigma (Teal Grill), Gouache on paper, 12 inches in diameter. 2013.
I’ve been looking at this teal grill for the last six months or so. It’s situated in a little courtyard common area for students who live in nearby residence towers here at the University of Missouri. A few months ago when I moved into my new office/studio space I became even more enamored with this thing. It’s awkward. It’s got a glorious, alchemical color that changes with the weather. I’ve never seen it being used, and yet it’s got a presence and sort of commands a section of the courtyard wall. Situated on an East-West axis, the sun gives the grill a dramatic polyhedral shadow that tracks out, under, and around its gangly legs. Vaguely alien, dingy and unused, and having physical proportions and angular relationships that allow for formal play, it was only a matter of time until I painted it. The exploration was worth it… I might have to dive right back in.
On May 22, 2013, I gave a public talk at the Boone County Chambers Room in Columbia, Missouri that addressed the question, “What is a great image?”
Below is audio from that talk synced up with the slide show that I used. If you’ve got an hour and are interested in how art, history, and human experience interconnect, you might appreciate this talk. Obviously it’s by no means exhaustive and has to skim over many issues, but I think it’s got some quality observations. I would greatly appreciate any questions, comments, or observations you might have after watching through.
And here’s a picture of me and my girls during the Q&A session after the talk :)
It’s been nearly a decade since Shane Carruth’s Primer came out. The movie is an unconventional time-travel* film and extremely low-budget ($7,000) project that delivers on every level. On a whim, I watched it again yesterday and was pleasantly surprised at how well it holds up. In some sense, it’s even better now.
One of the things that makes it feel better to me in 2013 is that it is clearly from a time before social media really took off – the computers are as big as Buicks, the pace of life and modes of interpersonal exchange are still face-to-face, and the technology is less ubiquitous, more alchemical. The film plays on ethos of now-tech giants having started around the kitchen tables and in the garages of 70s, 80s, and 90s suburbia. The film also succeeds in bringing the human equation – the brokenness of human nature and the contingencies of our perceptions of reality – to the fore, never cramming the sci-fi down viewers’ throats. Even the technical jargon, which actually seems to bear some relationship to real science, is presented as asides rather than lame attempts at pseudo-explanation (I’m talking about you, Prometheus).
The filmmaker also presents compelling and simple camera work. Nothing flashy. Useful cuts. Good pacing. Subtlety. Nice compositional balance. All the basics of fundamental visual dynamics where the audience doesn’t need to be firebombed to understand what’s happening. We never focus on the technology, we focus on people.
In an era where lame reboots and aimless, mindless sci-fi films are a dime a dozen, it’s gratifying that a well-executed, thoughtful movie can be made in the genre and stand the test of time. To me, Primer holds a position similar to films like Donnie Darko or Brick (both of which also happened to be made in the first half of the 2000s). These are noir-ish, psychological films that ask big questions and mix realism and surrealism in such a way that they feel like lived experiences. The dislocations, paradoxes, neurotic turns, and seemingly inconsequential points of aesthetic and conceptual concern upon which these films pivot put the big-budget/shoot-em-up/blow-everything-up/summer-block-busters to shame. What Shane Carruth did with seven grand makes Michael Bay (with his hundreds of millions) look like a chump.
That Primer won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004 makes complete sense. If you haven’t seen the film, do it now. It’s streaming on Netflix.
*People who know me know that, in general, I HATE time-travel movies – they’re usually bogus and annoying plot devices that offer little in terms of real narrative, conceptual, or emotional meaning. But when it works, it works.
I just recently picked up a fantastic new Diebenkorn book, and it turns out to be very impressive. No, I’m not talking about the new Berkeley Years catalog (though I did buy that a few weeks ago and am enjoying it). This is a volume out of a small California publisher called Kelly’s Cove Press.
The book, Richard Diebenkorn: Abstractions on Paper contains 88 full color images and a few black and white shots of Diebenkorn’s studios. There are a few points that make this paperback book exceptional. First, it contains dozens of works that have never before been published. This isn’t because they were lacking in quality; many of the pieces shown here really display Diebenkorn’s quintessential processes very well. Secondly, the book shows abstractions on paper from all of the major locations where he worked throughout his life: Sausalito, Albuquerque, Urbana, Berkeley, Ocean Park and Healdsburg.
The Healdsburg works contained in this book make it indispensable for aficionados of Diebenkorn’s work. I’ve followed every Diebenkorn publication, traveled to see his work in many states, and searched widely to find examples of his work. There simply is no other publication that contains as many Healdsburg-era works that I know of.
The book lacks any scholarly essays, which is a virtue. The only words are short quotes from the artist interspersed among the images and a short biography at the end. This gives us nearly 125 pages of beautiful artworks, printed nicely in an 8 by 6 inch format. I’ll definitely be keeping this book close to me for informal browsing. But don’t let the small size fool you – the overall feel and color quality is excellent.
Authorized by the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation, the book was produced in support of what should be a fantastic traveling exhibition titled The Intimate Diebenkorn: Works on Paper 1949-1992. The exhibition starts at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery (Kentfield, CA – 9/28/13-11/21/13) and then moves on to San Jose State University (4/15/14-5/17/14), American University (Washington DC – 11/8/14-12/14/14), Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (6/6/15-8/23/15), and ends at The University of Montana (Missoula, MT – 9/24/15-12/12/15).
This book is well worth the mere $20 it costs to pick it up. If you’re into Diebenkorn, it’s essential. If you love Abstract Expressionism, works on paper, gestural painting, collage, West Coast art, or the California art traditions, you’ll love this book. Click here to buy it.
I’ve had the chance to write about Diebenkorn’s work a few times. My most recent essay about the artist is Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park: Provisional Action, Provisional Vision, and is available to read here.
Above: One of my favorite pictures of Alison from our wedding day, ten years ago today.
I wanted to do something special for my wife for our tenth wedding anniversary. Last year I wrote a short remembrance piece about some music that was with me on the day Alison and I were married (read it here). After that, as a gift to my wife, I made a commitment to write nine more stories and present them to her today. I wanted them to be personal, funny, quirky, and timely. More than that, I just wanted to be able to follow through and actually complete the project. I’m happy to report that I did it – 10,980 words, 8 pen and ink illustrations (converted to vector graphics in Illustrator) – 40 pages total. Just for her. Just for us.
I’m deeply thankful that I’ve always been a person who writes and, beyond this, a person who remembers through writing. Human beings – across all seeming barriers of creed, race, and historical context, desire narrative. We want a story that makes sense of our experiences. It’s crucial that we have a place in setting that narrative structure in place. I write, and have always written, to – as the old Christian hymn says – “raise my Ebenezer.” I write to sight the lay of the land, to set the landmarks, and to cite past precedent. The stories I’ve written for Alison are by no means exhaustive of our life together, but they are “Ebenezer” landmarks for us. They are our story. I’m glad I’ve written them down, and I think the importance of taking the time will reveal itself more and more as the decades pass.
As of right now she has not seen the book. That will come a bit later tonight. But I’ve already given her Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino for us to read aloud (I love his story “The Distance of the Moon” and can’t wait to read it together). Here it is in it’s wrapping earlier today :)
For dinner I handmade Chinese style pan-fried dumplings. I found a recipe last month, researched the ingredients, and then went out today while the girls napped and Alison worked to get all that I’d need. Once home I began the process. Here are a few shots taken along the way (!!WARNING, #foodporn AHEAD!!):
Prepping the ingredients…
Pinching the dumplings…
Laying them out, ready for cooking…
Post pan-searing, a bit of simmering in the broth…
Today was such a good day… time in the back yard with the family. Then good food, good books, a nice walk in the evening, a chance to chat with my mom (her birthday is today, too!), and now sleeping kids and time to kick back. I’m planning to reveal the Anniversary Stories ~ 2003-2013 book to Alison soon, and then maybe we’ll look back over some of our pictures from the honeymoon. And tomorrow we have good friends in town, so it’s Indian food for lunch after the standard Saturday morning Daddy-Daughters-Date!
So good. I’m so thankful. Ten more years, please. And ten more after that…
I’ve been trying to find the right words to talk about the opportunity and honor I had to be involved with the wedding of my friend Keith and his bride, Amanda, last week. I’ve been speechless about it, and maybe that’s for the best. Instead, for now, please click on the image above. This is a dodecahedron lamp that Keith and Amanda got for me. I finished putting it together today. Just now I put it in my pitch black studio and took this image. For a few minutes my studio was full of stars.