Sunday, October 30, 2011


Last night, I went to the opening of "Rise Of The Underground" at the Mark Moore Gallery in Culver City. The show features the work of Jeremy Fish (and Kenichi Yokono).

I can only tell you what I see. I can only attempt to describe how I feel about it. Jeremy Fish might very well contradict me. He might say I'm way off the mark, but his paintings feel like the point where tidy folklore and modern clutter meet. His paintings seem to sing Americana. Banjo and fiddle music pour out of the wood, and tell dark stories with a playful grin. Think less Blitzen Trapper and more Louvin Brothers (if performed by Beck). Woodland creatures are trapped in a frantic maze of  highways. Skyscrapers explode around bear skulls. Other critters are easily unzipped, only to reveal sad angels standing sentry to discarded bones.

Jeremy Fish typically traffics in shades of singular color, or complementaries, always accentuated by seductive black contour lines. He makes it look too easy. It can be deceiving. There's a lot of detail in these pieces. Gentle washes of pigment, painstakingly applied for shading, can escape your eye at a distance. Clusters of leaves seem so natural that you might not think what a pain in the ass they must have been to execute. Delicate lines of fur flow just so. Mr. Fish has a command of line weights that I can only assume came from a history of comic collecting.

As for Kenichi Yokono, his work is equally detailed and powerful, but they sing other songs. They seem to be of a different time and place than the Fish paintings. The works, side by side don't complement each other. Both of these artists would be better served by solo shows.

"RISE OF THE UNDERGROUND" runs through Dec. 17th, so you have plenty of time to head out to Culver City and check it out.
All photos by KrossD

Sunday, October 16, 2011

TV EYE: Mixed Media Emotions

Heave a heavy sigh! This past week Bravo, the fine people who taught us what it means to be a "Real" housewife, launched season two of WORK OF ART: The Next Great Artist. Yes, I watched. No, I'm not proud of it. In fact, I feel dirty, and abused watching it, but watch I will.

For the uninitiated, WORK OF ART is a show in which art gets the Top Chef/Survivor game-show treatment. A group of artists (in the case of this season, all annoyingly young), are thrown into a studio together, given limited resources,  a specific task, and a time limit to produce "art". Then they are judged, by a panel of snooty-poots and week by agonizing week, an artist is cast off the island until there is only one left standing, and that person is dubbed "The Next Great Artist", and is awarded a show at the world renowned Brooklyn Museum Of Art (and some cash).

There are so many things wrong with this idea, that it's hard to know where to begin.

How does the sound of artists competing against each other for prizes feel to you? Are artists not historians? Are they not the mad visual poets documenting a culture for future generations? The thought of a dozen artists working against each other, in the same confined space, within the same charted parameters, just makes me shudder! I mean, they don't even do that in art school, do they?

Then there's the time limit. In most cases, they are given 24 hours to complete  a task. Have you ever met an artist? We can stare at a blank canvas for a week before a solid idea runs through our head. Personally, I'd have trouble doing a decent sketch in 24 hours. So yeah, let's get a bunch of young artists and apply intense pressure to their already fragile mindsets, and see what they do. Lab rats, each and every one.

The cast of characters should be familiar to anyone who has ever watched one of these types of shows. Even though these are "unique individuals", with eccentric, artsy personalities, they have clearly been chosen to fit a proven mold. There's the loathsome villain, there's the innocent, naive one from the mid-west, there's the freaky weirdo, there's the shy quiet one, there's the angry one, there's one struggling with their sexual identity, there's the funny one, and of course there's the black one (because we aren't racist here in TV land). You know them all. It's a pretty generic template.

So, why do I watch something so clearly designed to insult my intelligence, and sell me product? Why implicate myself in something that makes a mockery of high-art? For a few reasons I guess. One, high-art needs to be mocked. We need to all get over ourselves, and get back to the business of actually creating something worth having. Second, there is a surreal aspect to this particular show that you don't get in others of it's ilk. There is a jaw-dropping, "are you kidding me" moment in every episode. Yes, that is indeed Mary Ellen Mark, standing next to Jerry Saltz, and Sarah Jessica Parker debating the merits of a Gandolf made of Sculpey! MARY ELLEN MARK!!! How do you NOT watch something like that?!

Ultimately, I guess I just can't help myself. As a struggling artist, it's undeniably compelling. A hundred thousand dollars would buy most artists enough time to create something truly worthwhile, and the Brooklyn Museum Of Art would be a stellar place to unveil it. I'd kill for that! I just wouldn't do TV for that. I'm kind of rooting for them all. It's not fair what they are taking part in, but they are taking a shot. One of them will be given one hell of a gift, but will then have to try to shake off the stigma of being associated with the show. Therein lies the modern tragedy. I haven't mentioned any of the "contestants" by name here intentionally. I don't think their names should be known because of this silly show. They are going to have a hard enough time getting past that without my help.

I often say that I don't want to be famous, but if I truly analyze my motives, I guess that's not true. More than anything I just want my art to sustain me, but I would like to be mentioned in the art history books. I hope that in a hundred years, at least one of my paintings hangs on a wall somewhere, and that someone knows my name. I imagine that's what these kids want too. So, I root for them.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Have you ever seen Warhol's early work? I mean, the magazine and album cover stuff he did at the tail-end of the fifties. Would you know it if you had? It's all loose lines and whimsy. Not unlike Picasso's engravings. In a laughable twist of perception that I won't call ironic, this is considered his "commercial" period.

Did you ever detect the slightest progression in Keith Haring's massive body of work? It's there, but not to any extent that could be seen as daring or ambitious.

Have you ever seen a student of William Merritt Chase, this side of Marsden Hartley, that didn't have Chase's brushstrokes all over them?

Can a visual artist genre hop? Could they do so, and still hold your attention?

I know that Julian Schnabel is a polarizing figure. He's a giant ego wrapped in pajamas, who traffics in broken plates. It's easy to sneer at a guy who got himself a one-year independent study grant from the Whitney by submitting his slides between two pieces of white bread in a brown paper bag. Believe me, I get it. However, you can't deny his frequent flashes of brilliance. Take for instance the following bit of dialogue from his directorial film debut BASQUIAT (full disclosure, one of my favorite films of all time):

Jean Michel Basquiat (to his friend Benny): Hey Benny, how long you think it takes to get famous?
Benny: For a musician or a painter?

Jean Michel: Whatever- famous?!

Benny: Four years. Six to get rich.

First, you're gonna have to dress right, y'know? Then you're gonna have to hang out with famous people. Make friends with the right blonde people. Go to the right blonde parties - yeah. Socialite!

Then, you gotta do you're work all the time, when you're not doing that - but I'm talking about the same kinda work, the same style, so people don't get confused, y'know?

Then, once you're famous - airborne - you have to keep doing it the same way, even after it's boring - unless you want people to really get mad at you - which they will anyway.

Say what you will about Schnabel, but that has to be one of the truest statements an artist has EVER made!

The short-sighted mindset of the highbrow art world is one of intelligentsia's most obnoxious shortcomings. Jeff Koons could never do anything like basketballs in a tank now (and who would want him to?), lest he be confused with Damien Hirst.

Identity confusion is a career killer. Highbrow art was destroyed by the modern trinity of Picasso, Pollock and Warhol. The latter being the most clever of wool-pullers. There's no place for nuance anymore. It's all gimmick and posture.

Even more disheartening is how fully these attitudes have bled into the lowbrow, urban art movement. If lowbrow is supposed to be to art what the indie/alt music scene was to corporate gloss rock, why is it following such a shallow social template? Why doesn't it have a Sonic Youth? Where is the movement's KID A?

Mark Ryden is among the most "Masterly" painters of the past hundred years, but how many slabs of meat, and Lincoln toddlers, and big-eyed Riccis did the guy have to paint for you to know his name?

Could Shephard Fairey sell you a hoodie if it didn't say OBEY somewhere on it?

If Banksy showed his face, would his name pass your lips anymore?

I realize I'm never going to be "in the ring" with Cindy Sherman, David Hockney, and John Currin.

I also know that without a "hook" of my own, it's unlikely that I'll even hang next to Gary Baseman, or Shag.

Thing is, I don't necessarily want to. Not if it means doing the same thing over and over again. I have to paint. I just have to. It's not even an option for me, and it would be really nice to be able to make a living doing so, but I need to do many things, explore many ideas. I want to work in different mediums, and in various styles. I honestly don't see how I can become a better artist if I don't.

Don't get me wrong, with the sole exception of Jeff Koons, I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of the artists I've mentioned here. I'm just bemoaning the narrowness of the road they have to travel.

For instance, I love doing portraits, but I'm always playing with context. I want the portrait to have something to say, beyond the subjects inherent "id".

detail from "Daddy Issues #2 (JMB)"

When I do a straight portrait, I'm never fully comfortable with the results, and (truth be told) rarely actually finish them. More to the point though, I don't want to be a portraitist. I want to explore the possibilities of surrealism, agit-pop, impressionism, erotica, and...gasp, abstraction. Why is this not allowed? Has anybody tried? Should I use a dozen different nom de plumes for every stylistic shift?

Lately, I've been painting images directly onto collages that have pale washes over them. I like the look, but I won't hold sway with that forever. I know myself. Odds are strong that by the time I hit upon something that holds mass appeal, I'll be ready to move on. I'm eternally restless. So, I guess in that respect I'm no different than anybody else. When we are attentive to no more than 140 characters at a time, how many seconds are we willing to stare at paint on a canvas?