I don’t have OCD. Really

“I’m not in the least obsessive, it just has to be right”.   Sura

I was watching the film “Panic” and the young woman has the middle aged man she met in the shrink’s waiting room stalking her. They’re in her one room apartment. He asks “what’s your favorite color?” “Green”. “Mine too.”

Pretty common response. Short. ROYGBIV. Without the IV. Nothing fancy. Sometimes a pastel; “pink”. But mostly you’re gonna get “blue” or “red” Something simple, basic. Solid.  I would have a different answer.

And if I chose to look closely at that answer, I’d have to accept, that I, as suggested by many of my nearest and dearest, had a tad, a smidgen, a soupçon, a mite of compulsive behavior.

I disagree. I let a lot slide. In fact, if it involves details, you can pretty much count on me having something else to do for the duration. And I don’t seem to feel at all ashamed or culpable. Blithe.

As in, “Really. Shit. Really? You said that and I was in the room, and actually within earshot and agreed? Wow”. And that’s that. Or perhaps, in addition, “How long have you known me? What possessed you to think I had magically and against all odds become a different sort of person? Silly, hopeful mistaken you”.

Not my skill group, no sense pretending, or striving for the impossible. I don’t do details.

Now, is that compulsive behavior? No, it is not. I do chaotic. Disorderly. Pandemonic. Far removed from OCD. My idea of planning is to show up.

Ah, but here’s the rub. My color? The polychromatic dark moss green of architectural brass patinated with formula 5.117 from “The Colouring, Bronzing and Patination of Metal (using a blow torch, not therein recommended), waxed and buffed.”

Monkey Skull Sculpture_Detail Green00010Hmmm. Note to self: mebbe perhaps?

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Quality vs. Quantity: Time to Cull the Herd

From the print comes screaming. Rip. Rip again. Once more, a ripping.

Eugenics in art. All those works in progress, good ideas poorly executed, trite ideas beautifully made. Someone else did it better. I’ve done it better. Intriguing failures, halfway to something. All the way to nowhere.

Too good to throw out, not good enough to survive.Besnotted whelps, misfortunate slunks, step right this way. Your time is now never.

I’ve been wandering into the print storage room and committing mayhem.

Early albumen. Rip. Meh sort of platinum. Rip. Dinged. Rip. Boring. Rip. I’ve done better. Rip. What was I thinking? Rip. Puerile. Rip. Jake the Ripper comes a screaming.

An odd mix of tristé and despair. From wading into mediocrity springs morose petulance; why am I not better? And the joy, and freedom of acceptance. So much just won’t ever be better than now, this is as good as they get. They need to get gone.

Oh, if they were only wine, aging in the dark, patiently towards sublime. But no.

Vinegar then, vinegar now. Rip.



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Building a Weather Hog

I just bought a few Popular Mechanics magazines from 1934.  In the September issue, brim full of essential practical tips on how to do for yourself, there is a brief article, here presented in its entirety, which will inform and delight.

“Fat rendered from a groundhog and sealed in a small bottle will serve as a barometer for forecasting the weather 12 hours in advance. The fat will get cloudy before a storm and remain clear if the weather is to be fair.” 

I’m gonna run out now, get a firearms license, hunting license, rifle, ammo, an orange hat, and head for the woods, find me a rodent, shoot, skin, and render. Oh, and find a jar. I’ll report back.

In the meantime, those curious and impatient can go to the ever useful http://www.noaa.gov. 

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What happens when you’re done?

 There are severals levels to “being done”. There’s done as in “tired” as in “I can’t stand up, It’s nappy time” done. There’s “out of ideas” done, as in I haven’t anything to offer up. I’ll put it away until something comes along. I’m done for now,let the back brain earn it’s keep.

Then there’s the “I’m all out of ideas” done that happens when you’ve exhausted a particular vein. For me it was albumen printing, then Venice, nudes, still life, old architecture, then the dead of night, then winterscape, in sequence, all variations on a particular idea, with several permutations. Some artists can mine a single idea and make a career out of that.

I can barely do something twice. That’s reading from the “I have nothing new to sing, and the hymnal gives up no songs, it’s all gone flatsort of songbook. A palimpsest with so many layers it’s become mute.

And then there’s the big one, the big bang existential “I’m done”, as in I’ve been working in photography as my medium for fifty odd years, and I’m done. As in done with it. I’m not interested. I don’t care. I’m outta here, me, that monstrous, ominous, odious drop the hammer, squish it flat, it’s time to move on,I’m done” done.

Mi scusi, dove la porta di uscita?

It’s like losing one’s faith in the middle of your martyrdom. A bad moment as the flames lick at your feet. “I think there must be some mistake, I’m an innocent man, somebody get a hose, what’s it take to get service around here!”

So, what happened? Just when I was getting good!

I’m tired with the sense of working at a remove. And the limitations of using such an industrialized toolset. That’s a pity. Everything works great. Huge amounts of control. But it’s feeling soulless. Too cerebral. It’s turning into a porn video with a can you move your ass a bit to the right, left cheek is outa the frame, sweety” sort of creation. No sweat. Feels like faking it.

And the smells, I miss the smell of creation, which isn’t on an mp3 with all the nuance processed away. I grew up spending Saturdays at the family business, a sheet metal factory. The smell of hot metal, the star ofa cutting torchleaping forth, and the sputter and bang of a spot welder. Machines that could take off your arm, and vats full of chartreuse and pink foam dripping from newly anodized aluminum.

Not feet up on the desk tappetytap with a virtual pen. Beat it with a hammer, make some noise,make something. Have it fight back. Win.

Handmade did that for a while. Owning the waystations was important. Not just the smell of hypo or stink of rotten eggs, but the dance and attention that sizing a sheet of 30 “x 40” paper with egg whites required. The years it took to learn how to do it. Trusting my hands, leaping into uncertain ground, with no maps. 

Clueless, and joyfully at the start of an uncertain journey. Knowing that no one else could do what I was doing. Mine, all mine.

Then control trumped the wicked or sweet accident. Software to the rescue. Quantifying creative decisions. Determinism, but bent to my will. An oxymoron, wouldn’t my philosophy professors be proud.

Time to move on. Not for any good reason. I’s just bored. It got too easy. (and fuck me for that one).

And lurking underneath, was the problem of the begged question; “Fine Art Photography”. If it were that, you wouldn’t need to call it that. It’s a minor medium making excuses. Ok, so what next, whenfamiliarity breeds contempt?

I’ve lately spent some time throwing out prints. An executioner’s song, an assassin’s lullaby, as I shred all prints guilty of, well, just guilty. See yah. Such such are the joys.

It’s time to do something else, the something else being sculpture. I started in January this year, and just finished the second piece.

Monkey Skull Sculpture_2_sm_00022

I suppose I could have taken some courses, or used a foundry, but that’s way too sensible.

It’s invigorating to hit the fear. About sculpting, I knew nothing. Needed to learn everything; materials, modeling on an armature, mold making, useful alloys and how to pour molten metal, welding, brazing, finishing and patination. Cire perdue. Mouse perdue. Monkey perdue. It’s lost art. So it’s time to start looking, with fresh eyes.

 It’s been sweet. That adrenaline rush when I go into the studio with an idea, or just a desire, muttering, “I haven’t a fucking clue how to do this!” And then, greatly amused (I’m easily amused)with that idea,and with my ignorance for company, go to work.

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Today’s Good Deed; Let’s kill off “Fine Art Photography”

Do some good every day. That’s my motto. For today at least. And for today’s good deed, let’s  kill off the phrase “Fine Art Photography”.

Ever hear of Fine Art Painting? Fine Art Sculpture? Fine Art, Art? Or while we’re at it “Fine Art Decoupage”. And if you did, would that change anything? Would calling scrapbooking  “Fine Art Scrapbooking” elevate scrapbooking above the slime mold category of creativity? Or calling The DaVinci Code “literature” make it good writing, or even readable?  

“Fine Art” anything is an anodyne. An analgesic for an inferiority complex. Usually well earned.

 Get over it. Have some pride. Don’t pick your nose in public. Wear clean underwear (you might get lucky). Lose the adjectives. Just do better work.

If it weren’t a question, we wouldn’t need to beg it.

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Requiem in Pace, Kodak

A case study in how to kill a great company

It took a long time to completely bugger the company, but 2o years ago, a lot of us knew what was in store.

If not for Kodak, I wouldn’t be working digitally, my art would be stuck in a creative desert, and you wouldn’t be reading this blog. It all started in 1991,  and at that same moment, there was the death foretold.

I had reached an impasse; I had had it with The Palladio Company and making albumen prints had lost it’s charm; it could take me and two full time apprentices a month of 16 hour days to turn out a major piece. I was burned out.

Kodak to the rescue! Ray DeMoulin, a corporate  V.P. and GM of Kodak’s Professional Imaging division, took a rather significant pile of money and bought 100 fully loaded Mac FX’s, image recorders, film setters,workstations, scanners, and and assortment of digital output devices, networked everything, and opened up The Center for Creative Imaging in Camden Maine.

Here in one congenial space in this old mill town was everything he could find to work digitally. His idea was that Kodak couldn’t count on being a film company forever. And this was the guy who in the 1980’s created T-Max film, and to produce it built the first new black and white film line in 50 years!

He had made the leap and was determined to drag Kodak with him.

He then extended an invitation to a variety of artists, illustrators, and photographers, gathering a motley assortment of creative types in nowhere Maine, far away from the Kodak culture. The deal was he’d put you up in a hotel, feed you, give you 24 hour access to the toys, and technical assistants to guide you. Your obligation was to tell him what it meant to you, and show him what could be done.  I was lucky enough to be invited. And that changed my life.

When I got the invitation, I asked Ray what was he thinking? I was enmeshed in 19th century technology. My computer expertise was limited to using the two networked Mac’s that Sura had bought to run Palladio. (Note; in 1987, she designed, and had running, a networked digital asset management system that predated the industry by two decades) I had done some of the business and production database work, but that was it. Ray said that was perfect; welcome to the future, see how it fits.

He didn’t know what the future would look like, but he knew it was based on digital technology, not film. And he needed feedback from all, from the ignorant, to the phobic to the already involved early adopters. He was going to find out, and quickly.

Ray’s little experiment spawned my digital career, and that of many others. The Center was seminal, important, and could have led Kodak to another century of leadership.

Kay Whitmore, the CEO, had been given a  mission; cutting costs. This included cutting   R & D, which he said wouldn’t stunt Kodak’s ability to generate new products. Yeah. Right smart that one. Good move. He fired Ray. Two years later, the Center was dead and buried. And the rest is history. As is Kodak.

Ok, to be fair, they’re just bankrupt. Only nine fingers and ten toes over the cliff.

But to those of us at the Center who were passionate and grabbing the future with both hands, Kodak’s demise was easy to foresee, and seen as inevitable.

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Sometimes the Magic Works, and Sometimes it Doesn’t

December 1-12, 2011

London, Brussels, Charleroi, Mons, Amsterdam, Brussels, Charleroi, Mons, Brussels, London

Aboard the Eurostar to London

And so we bid a fond adieu and afscheid to Belgium.

It’s a grey country; not just the grey of December, but a special sort of nationalized cultural acceptance of dull.

The country comes in several shades, all of which contain, as the main hue, grime. Grimy concrete, grimy stone, and grimy bricks. If they got it, it’s grey. Even the brown is grey. If they use paint, I suspect it’s all bought surplus as factory over-run from Chechnya, and blended as part of some EC standards  policy. We’ll give you the Parliament, you give up chroma. No one wants a vibrant bureaucracy.

The sole shot of color is in the signage, and that only the lime green of the pharmacies. I suspect they have such a bright hue to assure you you’re not going blind, and thus prevent an influx of panicked tourists who need to be convinced that things will get better at the border. It’s like Oz; Belgium is Kansas.

After 10 days of incessant moving about, checked out of the hotel by 11, no clear idea of what or where to do or go, I suspect main purpose of travel is to remind you how well off you were before you left home.

But it’s become hugely easier than it used to be. Sorta. Take the general purpose Euro, for the moment. (I do miss the lira; turn in $700 and you were a millionaire.) Your credit card is good anywhere, but it won’t work. It doesn’t have the necessary security chip. The machine will reject your attempt to get cash in any of 5 languages. The rental car has a navigation system that will mislead you in your chosen tongue. Even when it’s right on target it’s not an unalloyed benefit. It gets you where you think you want to be, but you miss the joy of happenstance.

The first clue that Venice hasn’t a monopoly on hoovering visitor’s wallets was the queue at the Bureau du Change at the Gare du Midi. It was largely composed of Africans, and judging by the luggage, the poorer sort of European voyager.

The rates offered were the worst I’ve seen since leaving Czechoslovakia in the mid 80’s, when it was still behind the Iron Curtain.  Then, inbound, there was a tourist rate of 17 krona to the dollar for the first few hundred dollars. Then, if you had more (which you had to have and spend in order to get a visa) you got 12 per dollar. After that tranche there was the official commercial rate of 7. This rate was otherwise referred to as the stupid tax.

The guy outside your hotel, whispering in your ear, looking like he had an urgency of the lower intestinal track, gave 30 or 40, depending on whether he thought the VB were due to make a sweep, and whether he had paid his VB tax this week by turning in some hapless customer for black market currency violations.

You weren’t allowed to leave with any krona. So, when you (good ambassador for capitalism and the honesty of your ilk that you wished to seem, and besides which you had other shit you really didn’t want looked at) showed your handful of non-exportable paper money (made out of possibly used and recycled toilet paper) the exchange rate was unfavorable: to wit, 0. They kept it. You got back nothing but a small smile, impossible to suppress, that said “We eat meat tonight!” But I digress.

The rate at the Bureau du Change at the Gare was about 15% too lousy. Teach you to lack plastic resources. The Hertz counter staff took special care to warn me away.

Belgium is shaped like an amoeba, and is in the process of mitosis  It’s a strange country; two cultures, neither of which thinks the other is intelligent, well-meaning, or honest. Wallonia, the southern part, speaks French. Northerners, the Flemish, speak Dutch. Outside of the major hotels and tourist spots, no one speaks English, which is surprising. Most Europeans speak about seventeen languages, 6 of them well. Here, one will do, and most assuredly, it’s not yours. And not those other fucking Belgians’, either. The only force uniting the country is their mutual dislike of foreigners (not the tourist kind, rather the kind that live there and do the work that Belgians won’t (sound familiar?).

It’s not that Belgians don’t want to be helpful unto you, the rich tourist leaking money like pus from an old war wound. They are eager to please. Disarmingly so. And they often speak a language that has all the trappings of English. Sure sounds like English. English grammar, English syntax, just not any language that you can use for mutual understanding and productive conversations.  It’s like fake tits; just don’t rely on them for the milk of human kindness. It’s a dry well.

The default response to your needs is “Yes, of course”. To any question. “Yes” seems to have many meanings, none of which are what you or I would expect as native English speakers. Yes means anything but yes. It can mean “I haven’t a clue as to what you’re asking”, or “My sister is beautiful, yes, but married”, or “yes what you’re asking is a good question, but I don’t know how to answer”, or “yes, sorry but we’re closed until next Wednesday”. All of the meanings of yes can be safely translated as “no”. Except for the occasional “yes” that is a “yes” but that’s a special case, as in, “yes, but that will be extra”.

I suspect some of the political confusion is a direct result of listening to Euro Pop. It resembles ’70’s porn soundtracks, but not so exciting. Ron Jeremy would have had to take up some other profession if he had to perform to this wilting agent. And it’s pervasive. The car radio had 58 channels, and magically searched out new stations as you moved about.  All of them were tragically void of invention. I think there’s an automated factory in Macedonia that wholesales this treacle by the terabyte. Gack.

Belgians come in two varieties, but neither is of the fat sort. When you nearly get killed every two minutes by speeding bicyclists, hogging the designated bike lanes you’re innocently walking upon, you get a clue why. Even the road trip gas station food is better than any McFatty’s in the US. Oh, and there are exactly two of those allotted for the country; one for each language.

Since it’s an old-fashioned country the unit of length is the cubit, and the two varieties of physiognomy are thusly measured. One variety is 2.6 cubits in all three dimensions. Not fat, really, just solid.  If you leapt to the designation “peasant” you’re pretty close. The other variety is an impossibly tall 4 cubits, minimum. And that’s the ladies; I’m not used to being the short one in the crowd. This type has extended features, long faces, large teeth; I suspect an equine contribution to the gene pool; think Equipoise due to their rather unflappable nature, or Sea Biscuit, due to the slight awkwardness. Definitely not Man o’ War.

Strangely, there aren’t any actual horses in evidence. Nor any roadkill on the highways. Note to self; examine your menu with a keen eye for detail; “potage” may mean it’s time to go vegan.

A surprise is how clean the streets are. Especially when you want to throw something out. There aren’t any identifiable trash barrels. They do have them, however. It’s what you’re standing on. By midnight, the streets are knee-deep in discards. At dawn a fleet of sweepers and mechanical washing devices storm the Centrum and clean everything up, and polish it to a uniform grimy grey (recycled water, or thinned paint, which see?). Problem solved.

My camera didn’t survive the trip over.  The handle, which contains the battery and a lot of the computer, cracked, with collateral damage.  I felt like I was in “The Day of the Jackal” sitting in the hotel room using glue and pieces of a wooden hanger to repair it. Then when I tried to go to work found that the prism was cracked and the mirror jammed, and the electronics fried.

Fotocare in NY to the rescue! Camera to arrive overnight (now”overnight” is two and a half days, but, better than no camera at all). My “industrial shitholes of Europe” tour interrupted, I drove up to Amsterdam to visit “The Kitchen Maid” Vermeer’s masterpiece. The Rijksmuseum is still under construction after about 20 years of steady, plodding, Dutch thoroughness.

The Dutch are a pleasant melding of German efficiency and Italian responsibility. Museum is been here long time, long time to come. We’re working on it, doing a good job. Whenever. Would you like a beer? mushrooms, naked ladies, sex show? The Rijks only has the “highlights” on view and I wound up more than satiated. Bored. I can take only so many self-satisfied burger’s ladies who seem to be smelling something rotten, and groaning boards.  Back to Brussels to pick up the camera.

Thank you sir, you are in our fine country for 5 more days, yes? There is no designation for “here 5 days only”. Please to give 700 Euro’s to import. You will get money back, for sure. When you leave. Hah. (It would have helped on leaving if they had written down the serial number off the camera, instead of off their bicycle, but I’m still working on that one.)

Brussels is the seat of the EC bureaucracy, and it was tough to get a room last week. They all were in town, all 20,000 with voting rights, adroitly dealing with the crisis du jour, plus also the impending collapse of the Euro and the EC.

They managed to pass a carbon tax on cow farts, by a vote of 6,273 to 1,354, with “too many to count” abstaining. That’s an official number, that “too many to count”. Since they’re not voting, who gives a shit, a vote which is expressed by that particularly Gallic gesture; raise one’s shoulders and spread your arms with your palms rotating in to out. Translates as “eh?” Brussels in is the Flemish region, but the lingua franca is Walloon. Perfect compromise for the EC capital. No one understands anyone else.

Having accomplished so much, they then adjourned till February, when they’ll take up the banking crisis. This solved my hotel problem, so it ended well.

I’m of mixed mind about this trip; I went to London expressly to see the Gerhard Richter show. He may be the best painter ever. Certainly in my top ten list.  The candle, a skull, one of the clouds, the landscape of Chinon. The Bombers, the Mustangs in flight. Betty. The nude descending the stairs. My, My. Stun gun wonderful.

The reproductions for sale were shameful; not a simulacrum, not worthy, a lie, a misrepresentation, and an embarrassment. Didn’t anyone bother to compare? So much of Richter is his mastery of subtlety. The postcards, posters and pigment prints were frauds.

Then a tour of every Museum within yodeling distance. Enlightening. Bruegel is amazing. The kid, Brueghel II, is like the Turner classic movies colorized version of Dad. Kid must have stopped off in Amsterdam for the mushrooms. Vivid palate and much more detail in all the figures, to lesser effect. Bosch now strikes me as a more juvenile taste, but, you know, fun.

The Tate Britain has in fact committed mitosis, with half of its self migrating to Liverpool. Throw them a bone, give’m some culture. Bad news, guys. You didn’t have that much to spare, and the Tate Britain is looking pretty thin.

I missed two objects that move me deeply; Jacob Epstein’s Jacob Wrestling the Angel, and Turner’s Slave Ship. They would almost make up for the hassle of a trip to Liverpool, which has, aside from half of the good stuff from the Tate, water.

So, off to the Musee des Beaux Arts. Lots of Old Masters; Three cheers for Hals, the sense of joy leaps out at you, in pleasant contrast to the painters of the pious rich who had the need and the necessaries to immortalize their disapproving sour nature. This museum was a treasure; Fall of Icarus, a couple of other great Bruegels. A good Bosch or two.

Gimme some Cranach, a few Durers (like a baker’s dozen), a Holbein or two, every Bruegel, some Bosch, a few Grien, and I’m done with the OM crowd. Skip to Goya, and not the court suck Goya. the Tres de Mayo and Black Paintings genius Goya.

What else did I glean? The Natural History Museum in London had some terrific minerals for sale, and I did a quick web search (standing in the shop with my phone) of sources of ball-shaped gems that were cheaper than the ones for sale in the museum shop, and less to carry. Fits well with the glass marbles I’ve been working with. See “studio work”, below.

Other than that? What images did I start? Not much. One or two good things from Mons at night, one or two things of an industrial canal in Charleroi at dusk with a rising full moon (a whole saga unto itself to time that one) and again at dawn. But re-energized. Raring to go back to work. Eager to be home.

I’ll try and get something done with the Underground tomorrow morning before heading to Heathrow. I have one image I’m enthralled with that I took in 2008. But maybe not. Maybe that’s for NYC, Boston and Chicago. The station shouldn’t be completely underground for it to work.

But I’ve come to one important realization. It’s getting harder and harder for me to shoot in the field. What I see in the capture is so very far from what I wind up with when I’m done. Which I never am. Working on images is an act of subtraction. Excising everything that can be removed, until there’s nothing to take out. LIke a surgeon after a cancer. Out with it, until the patient will die with one iota less, and won’t live with one iota more.

The last expendable atom is liberated and off into the ether, it can take me months and months. And when I go back to the original, the result is hardly recognizable. The subtractions aren’t obvious. If they work, they’re invisible, but completely necessary.

But when I’m in the field, or in the hotel, looking at the day’s images, they all suck. Every one. Heartbreaking. But hope rises in the morning. I can fix this. (And did. 12/25/2011).

It’s time for studio work. You’d think I wouldn’t have needed 12 days, and 4 countries to figure this out. Sometimes I’m a slow learner, and have a gift for doing things the hardest way possible.

Pulling into St. Pancras Station. And so to bed. Then to Heathrow and home.

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