May 4, 2013

Leave no trace my ass!

It’s in our nature to create. We can’t help it. Yeah, “Leave no trace” is a lovely Burning Man principle about cleaning up after yourselves yada yada, and we should do it—of course, but I have to say—human beings never cease to amaze me and I am constantly inspired by the trail of beautiful objects and monuments that we create and leave behind for future generations to enjoy and be mystified by. There have been times in the past that I have struggled with this concept. On one hand I am a minimalist and do my best to walk lightly on the earth, and on the other I am driven to make a lot of non-functional things with no freaking clue where they are going to end up or if any one even cares. I’ve decided that I honestly don’t believe that we can destroy the planet with the little mess we are making. We may end up destroying ourselves and take out a few species of animals and plants with us, but change is the only constant. Mother Earth will long outlast us. She will keep churning out life forms just as she has for millions of years. I think of what George Carlin once said, Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam… The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. So fuck it. Lets make some cool shit and leave a big ‘ole interesting trace while we are here. …And because we’re selfish let’s find a balance with nature anyway and make this party last as long as we can.

In early April I had two back-to-back trips , one as an artist in the Midwest and one as a designer on the East Coast.

My first trip was to Chicago. DuPont commissioned me to create two paintings related to “pet digestion” in the style of the work that I do for my “The Body Believes in Images” series. The first painting I completed at home, and it was made into a print as a giveaway to potential clients. The second painting I created live during the Pet food Forum trade show where DuPont had a booth. I did more chatting than painting, but that was the idea, to get people interested enough to stop petting cute puppies and come over to their booth. It was actually a symbiotic relationship. I gave out about a hundred cards and got some pretty good leads for potential clients and collectors in an industry that I'm interested in infiltrating—health and healing. Sounds a little hokey eh? Actually they gave me complete artistic license to make "paintings I would put my name on". There were no meetings and no revisions; the paintings were my own edgy multi-layered interpretations based loosely on the concept of what goes on in your pets body. They trusted me to make something I would make for myself with no limits or boundries. It ain’t easy to be an artist in this economy and they actually paid me for the paintings before I even started the work. They put me up in a fancy hotel, took me out to four course meals seating me next to CEO’s of multi-million dollar companies, and most importantly they encouraged me to be myself. Oh, and I ain't braggin' (maybe just a little) but they paid me pretty well.

Shake the Bowl 20"x30" Oil on Canvas. One of two paintings commissioned by DuPont. It now hangs in their corporate offices in Kansas City.

Flying out of Phoenix.

Since moving from densely packed Los Angeles out to the isolation of the ranch I figured I would be able to enjoy the chance to be around people in the city and that it would be easier to have patience with them since I knew it would be temporary. As much as I try to be amused by the weird shit that people do there are moments that I definitely feel tested. My first flight was to take off at 7am out of Sky Harbor. I had a window seat and I was already dozing while others were starting to board. Blindfold on, I felt someone slam into the middle seat. My arm wasn’t even on the armrest and I felt flesh nudging so I nudged back. This went on for about a minute and I finally took of my mask and looked over. Apparently I was battling it out with the fat rolls of a very large women and she didn’t even know it. Heavily involved in some sort of shape matching game, she was sitting there aloof, eating chips from a full sized bag and then smearing her licked salty fingers across her iPad screen. Just before takeoff she ordered the seat belt extension. Thankfully she was one of the more courteous of the jolly folk and she folded her arms and interlaced her fingers locking her hands in place above her ginormous bosoms. This maneuver allowed her to keep her juicy arms from blubbering into the laps of those in the seats next to her. …Until she would fall asleep. She held them in so tight they became spring-loaded weapons and upon each doze the arms would flap out and smack us in the chest! Hilarious.

Fausto Fernandez Tailplane Patterns 2013 440 x 40’ terrazzo floor at the new Sky Train Station. Leaving a big ass trace...My bro Fausto was my studio mate back when I lived in The Lodge. He just moved to LA about 6 months before we moved back to AZ and is now creating large scale public art works. Photo ©Fausto Fernandez.
My hotel suite had a flatscreen in the bathroom! It's been a while since I've watched regular T.V. and watching "ladies" attack each other made it hard to relax, if ya know what I mean.
At the Pet food Forum trade show. They forced me to paint all day for two days without bathroom breaks, fortunately they allowed me to sit on a toilet so it worked out. 

This was the first time I have ever been asked to sign autographs, something I never thought I would ever do. I have a dorky signature and I was a bit embarrassed. I felt like I was ruining every print I signed. The guy on the left is Terry. He's one of the CEOs I was talking about. Super down to Earth guy and he even came to visit during his busy schedule to have our photo taken together.

Back to Phoenix.

Both of the projects were on again-off again-on again right up to the last minute as per usual. DuPont booked my flight to Chicago so instead of staying on the East Coast I came back to AZ and stayed with my folks in Gilbert before heading on to New Jersey. I like relaxing with my mom, and it was nice to be able to switch gears and switch things out of my bags so I could just have carry-ons. 

While I was in Phoenix I went over to Colin Chillag's Studio. Colin and I have mutual friends and I've been an admirer of his paintings for years. We invited Colin and Jenna out to the ranch a few months back and that was really the first time we've ever hung out with either of them. Remember when you were a kid and how easy it was to make new friends? You could just say, "Wanna play?" and then you just did stuff together. It ain't always that easy as an adult, but with Colin and Jenna it was.
 Colin did a series of portraits that really resonated with me. They were of people living in low income housing ironically in what was the Westward Ho luxury hotel where actors like Clark Gable etc. used to stay when they were in Phoenix. The subjects usually had smokers skin that I imagined was weathered from all of the Arizona summers and pickled from too much whiskey. They reminded me of people my parents used to bowl with, a few of my college professors, and some of the psychotic homeless that were all over Grand Ave. downtown where I had my studio in '02.  
The level of detail in his portraits is ridiculous. I did'nt get titles for any of these pieces. I snuck pics while Colin was at the store. I did facebook him just now and ask for permission to use them for this humble little blog.
A few pieces Colin is working on for his next show. 

Back to the airport.

I had an even earlier flight this time. 6am. I'm in the TSA line putting my laptop in the bin on the conveyer and the guy behind me is one of those impatient types and he was trying to shove my bins up the belt before I even had my shoes off. He almost knocked the bin with my computer in it off of the belt in the process.                             
"Watch it Tiger!" was my reaction. I look over and it's a nerd, but a big 7' tall chunky nerd. 
 "O.K. TIGER!" He says sarcastically. For some reason what comes out of my mouth is, "Don't get sassy with me." Ugh. I'm in the TSA line and the last thing I need is to pick a fight so I decide to ignore him. We get to the other side of the x-ray machine and he says, "They're going through your stuff—TIGER!" Ignore. Ignore. I pull out my laptop and he takes another stab, "Where did you get that laptop 1985?"
"1985 is a time not a place," I inform him while still maintaining that we are not in a conversation together.
"I figured you for a Mac guy. I got two PCs here," This is what he is saying to try push my buttons? I'm rolling my eyes. I dont say anything, but I do one more stupid thing. Some deep ingrained macho shit in my DNA thinks it's a good idea to show him that I'm not afraid of him by leaning into his comfort zone brushing across his body while reaching in front of him to get my shoes out of the conveyer. I keep my back to him the whole time as if to prove that I wouldnt even care if he sucker punched me. Fortunately he didn't do anything or say anything else. I slowly put on my belt and waited for him to go so I made sure I got my breakfast where ever he wasn't. 

Could I eat another cheese steak? Yes. Am I going to have another cheese steak? No.

Thats how people talk in Philly. They answer a lot of their own questions which is good—I think. Even though my design gig is in New Jersey it's in farmland in New Jersey so I decided it would be funner to hang out in Philadelphia since it was only an hour away from where I would be working and there is some interesting art happening in Philly. I got in Saturday and my meeting wasn't till Monday. I really wanted to stay somewhere other than a boring chain hotel so I tried the airbnb website thinking that I would stay somewhere with a little more character and maybe even meet some other travelers.

Thats my place with the window open on the top floor on the left.   It was ok. It served my purpose, but it wasn't like the description and the rug in my room smelled like cat piss. There was no common area (except the bathroom) and everyone staying there hid out in their rooms with the tvs on like any other hotel. For 59$ a night I wasnt really expecting much better. The hostess was a nice Bulgarian lady that handed me a key and then disappeared till I called her at the end of my stay to give her key back to her.

I stayed in North Philadelphia in the Fairmount neighborhood. I asked where I should walk to go to get coffee and a sandwich and  on my way to Rye Bread I ran into this. The Eastern State Penitentiary. It's a museum now with cute flowers planted around it and a children's playground. Do the flowers make it look any less menacing? No. Is it a big ugly tribute to our fucked up prison system? Yes. 

Keep working Isaiah.

After seeing the prison I needed to cheer up so I cabbed it over to Philadelphia's Magic Garden. The Magic Garden is one of many places in Philly you will find Isaiah Zagar's mosaic assemblage's. At 74 years old Isaiah is still working and has over 200 murals in back alleys, on rooftops, and literally covering massive walls on the sides of buildings in surprising places around the city. 

I think this is a sculpture of Isaiah by another artist. My take is that he is so prolific and fast at tiling that he is portrayed with four arms. 

Isaiah's work is so fresh and raw that you would think that he is a self taught or "Outsider Artist" Isaiah went to college, he just did a good job of forgetting all of the rules.

The garden is so full of imagery I had to keep going back to places I had already been and look again.  

A master of asymmetrical placement. A bowl becomes a breast. A lion a nose. 

 There were rooms off limits to the public that I peeked in and they were all covered just like this.

I've been using this as a mantra.

And then there is Pat's

If you have been following the blog you may remember me mentioning that our pal Frank from East Jesus is a hitch hiker. Once he was all the way up in Alaska and he needed a Philly Cheese Steak so he put out his thumb and went to Philly. Pat's was his destination. 
I went two nights in a row. The second night I got the provolone. It was good, but Cheez Whiz "wit everything"is the way to go on the sandwich. Their fries are excellent too. It's like they carmalize the Cheez Whiz onto the fries. So good.

The first night I ate at Pat's I watched this burly guy open seven gallon cans of Cheez Whiz in 10 minutes. The second night a fight broke out behind the counter causing people in line to root for their favorite sandwich maker.
Great and Mighty Things.

I lucked out. I am really inspired by "Art Brüt" or "Outsider Art" and there just happened to be an Outsider Art exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To put it simply, Outsider Art is art made by folks that are generally self taught and are outside of the academic art world. Some are considered insane, some depressed, and some just dont know how to function in "regular society" after having some sort of trauma so they make art to deal with their issues, and they don't seem to give a shit about the art world. They didn't  learn "the rules" of art, they don't have to kiss any ass, and to me their work is more pure because of it. I envy their freedom. I don't wish to have their symptoms, but I am thankful for the raw balls out work that they do.  

The Philadelphia Museum of Art with an Ellsworth Kelly sculpture in the foreground. The piece is called Curve 1 Weathering Steel. It says on the label "Do not Touch". This is an example of Academic art. To me some academic art actually does push boundaries and sometimes it's just their to piss you off.
Entrance to the Exhibition.
Chicken bone thrones by Eugene Von Bruenchenhein
Another by Eugene. I am usually disappointed when I see an exhibition that displays an African mask or other ritual object and just puts it in a white room under plexiglass with a brief label. This renders it totally out of context from the objects original purpose and robs it of it's power. Puts it in prison. We are forced to look at it as an artifact in the same context as art that has been created by Western academic artists where the art was intended for display only. "Do not touch". The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix does a great job of putting a video of almost every instrument being played and almost every mask being danced. 

For some reason this "white box" exhibition seemed to work and it changed my opinion. I think it was the intention of the curators to show that Outsider Artists are Artists and we can view their work on the same playing field as our Western art masters. As I mentioned Isaiah Zagar was academically trained but he had the same vigor for creating environments that many Outsider Artists do. A lot of the "yard shows" created by outsider artists can be overwhelming and intense with the vast quantities of charged objects layered on top of each other. So after being in Zagars environment the day before I was happy that the works in this show were displayed in away that allowed for intimacy. I could single out and enjoy each piece and get a chance to take in the craft and the soul of an object taken from the larger environment. It gave me a sense of what it might be like for the artist to sit down and make that one piece. 
George Widener is a numerical savant diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. He can mentally calculate long sequences of numbers and dates. He turns these mathematical equations into minutely rendered compositions.
He's also fascinated with the Titanic disaster. Blue Monday Reversal Ball point and fiber-tipped pen inks over graphite on pieced papers.

Sam Doyle St. Helena First Black Embalmer John Reused corrugated, galvanized iron sheet, paint; remains of horizontal caulk line.
Bill Traylor Runaway Goat Cart opaque watercolor and graphite on cream card
"Emery Blagdon watched his mother and father succumb to cancer. He spent the rest of his life constructing an amazing "machine" for healing the sick. There are hundreds of these sculptures densely housed in a shed accompanied by small, colorful paintings and numerous hanging jars and bundles of minerals, the whole apparatus is lit with strings of holiday lights. All of these elements were intended to channel the electromagnetic energy of the Earth, so that anyone who entered the shed could benefit from the machine's healing powers."
—Paraphrased from the exhibit text.

 Taken directly from the exhibit text. "Blagdon thought of his ensemble as a curative device; today we would call it an artist-made environment. The machine was unfortunately unable to cure the artists own cancer, from which he died in 1986." (pshhh!)
Howard Finster Visions of Other Worlds Paint on plywood and Plexiglass, wood strips branded with artist-made metal stamps, metal sheet and wood cutouts with paint and glitter, plastic beads on iron wire, metal chains, cloth flowers

Outsider art? Virgin and Child attributed to Hugo van der Goes c.1470. This wasn't really in the show it's in the museums permanent collection. I would bet that like outsider artists, this guy didn't give a shit what people thought about his boob placement.

Fear my wing nut.
The title for this piece? Wait for it...

I ain't Brancusin' nobody.

Day job 

This pic reminds me of a scene from the X-files. This is the Schenck Historic Homestead and farm in West Windsor Township, NJ where I will be writing and designing an Environmental Education Exhibition. At this point we are in Conceptual design phase and there isn't much to tell about the process yet. It is a story about how the Township has been re-charging some of the old farmland and turning it back into wild areas called "The Greenbelt". Within the Township there are a few farms, housing projects, open space for recreation and then some reintroduced wilderness area. What most people, even some residents don't realize is that nearly all of West Windsor had been clear cut for farms back in pioneer days and you could see all the way to Princeton. Now there are big trees and wild looking areas that look like they've been there since General Washington crossed the land with his troops during the revolutionary war. Now people in the area freak out when they want to cut trees to build a Starbucks not knowing that it has already been replanted "Disney forest". In many places they have been able to connect water sources getting the water to flow. Lichen occurring in the area is an indicator that the air is clean, and amphibians peeping in the night indicate that the water is healthy and getting healthier. Many of the original species have returned and even Black Bears have been spotted in the area! So overall I think it is an inspiring story. Maybe it is possible to co-exist with "nature". I had to put nature in quotes because it irks me that we (humans) feel that somehow we are not part of nature. Maybe I should have said "the wild", but that sounds outside of us too. The fact is We are all one. 
Dropped flowers from this Magnolia are like a million slippery white banana peels. I nearly ate shit in my fancy shiny designer guy shoes.

After my meeting I popped over to Princeton College only a few miles away.
WTF? A white guy is about to give it to a native dude? What about the placement of that knife? What is the college doing with this sculpture out on campus? There was no label. 

6-26-13 update: A friend from the New Jersey State Museum emailed me and cleared things up. The sculpture is called Abraham and Isaac and it was[is] a meditation on the Kent State killings[shootings] of the Viet Nam era.  Looking at this sculpture based on this information, I guess the guy on his knees is a hippie anti-war type and the guy with the knife represents the National guard that fired 67 rounds if a few seconds killing 4 and wounding 9. I guess that's why its called a "meditation". I sure didn't make that connection.

By the Power of Greyskull!!!!

The Mütter

On my last day my meeting in NJ only lasted a few hours and I had time to kill before my flight so I headed back to Philly to check out the Mütter Museum. They have a small but freaking weird collection of anatomical anomalies dating back to the 1700's. My favorite specimen was an ovarian cyst the size of a beach ball that weighed over 70 lbs.

They had a few slices of Einstein's brain.

Philly has the best placenta...PIZZA, I mean PIZZA. Sorry. Look closely. Extra fetus toppings are a buck.

A well preserved and lit anus.

My trip ended as all trips should, with a preserved wee-wee, a
va-jay-jay and a ball sac.
Meanwhile back at the Ranch

While I was gone a crew came and stripped all of the moulding and trim off of the ranch house and  started putting up foam and tar paper to get it ready for stucco. A week after I got back we had another temple building work party. Royce had a lead on some free lumber, but it fell through, and since we had all this trim laying around we took all of the nails and screws out of it and used it on the temple.
We had water delivered to fill our tanks and so we asked him to fill up the wood burning hot tub too. He said no, so Jana punched him in the nose and took the hose away from him and did it anyway. (kidding)  After along day of workin' on the temple it was worth it.

The first piece of art to go on the temple. It is a 100 lb 1.5" thick piece of glass with colorful bits siliconed on to make "poor man's Stained glass". Royce and I were on top pulling with ropes and Chad and Sunny were down below. Scary.

Royce and Nita had a mosaic workshop in Prescott and twelve pieces from the workshop were installed on the temple. The arting has begun!! That's Owen, Chad, and Sunny installing.

THIS JUST IN ON THE WAR ON RODENTS! Jana is allergic to cats and I hate the way their pee smells so we dont allow cats in the house. We thought it would be cool to get a snake. Haha right? Well this 4' long gopher snake found his way into the greenhouse on his own. Fuck you lawnmower rats!
Pink Glandscape 35"x47" oil on canvas.
I began this entry with one of my paintings and I figured I would book end it with this one because... Dun Dun Dun. It got accepted into the Arizona Biennial in Tucson. This is a big deal for me because right before I moved to LA my art was starting to get attention in Phoenix and I was in the Biennial in '03. I took off in  hurry and didn't really look back so I havent had a show in AZ since. Super grateful. 

Whew! This was a long one. If you made it this far I salute you!
Thanks for your interest in my humble little blog. —Bill

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