Friday, March 30, 2007

Lost in the Fog

Lost in the Fog, 2006. Acrylic on panel, 48" x 16."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Blow-Gun

This from Reuters, last Thursday (thanks, JK):

Poison Dart Shooter Found At HK Track

Police in Hong Kong are investigating an elaborate device found embedded in the turf at a world-famous racetrack apparently designed to shoot poison darts at horses at the start of a race.

A track supervisor unearthed the device on Wednesday morning while making routine checks of the starting points for races scheduled on Wednesday night at the Happy Valley racetrack, the Hong Kong Jockey Club said in a statement.

The remote-controlled shooter included 12 metal tubes, each a foot (30cm) long, filled with darts buried in the grass under the spot where the starting gates would be situated for 1200 metre races.

The tubes, spaced so each would aim up at a horse, were wired together and linked to a wireless receiver, according to a local newspaper and a police source who declined to be identified.

"The obvious intent was that it was going to fire these little darts which have got some kind of chemical in it ... up from the ground up to where the horse's starting gate is," said the senior police source.

"I doubt very much that it was meant to do anything more than just slightly tranquillise the horse. That's my speculation."

The police source said the shooter was almost certainly related to betting, and could be linked to organised crime syndicates, known as triads.

"It could well be that triads are part of that, especially the gambling which is done outside the Jockey Club's system," he said.

"If you can get the horse to slow down just enough, it looks like a normal race and the favourite may not come in."

The darts had been sent to a laboratory to try to identify the chemical used.

"The full nature of the device and its intended purpose has not been established at this time. However, no explosives were found," the Jockey Club said.

The races proceeded as normal.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

RNC, NYC, 2004

As it turns out, Big Brother really was watching us.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

On Drugs

Yesterday the director of the FDA put a new rule in place barring expert advisers from voting on whether or not to approve a drug or device if that adviser is receiving $50,000 or more from the maker of said drug or device. What a courageous and principled position: only takers of small bribes will be allowed to participate in the FDA approval process.

The rule is not something that the FDA just couldn't wait to put in place, but a pre-emptive measure to stave off a stricter bill being moved through the house by Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, Democrat of New York.

But even the Hinchey bill doesn't address the amounts of money that drug companies provide to members of congress for favorable legislation. Let's cast our memories way back to 2002, when people still loved George W. Bush, and the GOP had scored yet another victory in the midterm elections. The massive homeland security bill (475 pages) which was passed in the lame-duck session that year had two paragraphs at the end which protected Eli-Lilly from lawsuits over a mercury-laced childhood vaccine which was linked to increased rates of autism.

And the best part of the story: no one seemed to know how those two paragraphs found their way into the bill. It was the darnedest thing. Finally, Dick Armey, who was about to retire, took responsibilty. But no one, not even the drug companies, believed him - he didn't know enough about the issue. Like the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, it remains a mystery to this day. And it is still law.

In June of that year, the GOP introduced a Medicare prescription drug benefit in the House of Representatives, which, not surprisingly, provided an awful lot of tax breaks and subsidies for the drug makers. On the second day of debate in the House, the GOP delegation moved to gavel out early. Why? They were going to be late for a $250,000 a plate fund raiser attended by the big drug companies.

And the Democrats, with all their new powers, will not do anything to prevent this type of mischief, because they take too much corporate money themselves.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mingus

1959 was a pivotal year for jazz: Miles released Kind of Blue, Coltrane released Giant Steps, Ornette Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come and Charles Mingus released his great masterpiece; Mingus Ah Um.

So many things about this record knock me out, I could go on and on, but the thing that really impresses me most is the way he incorporates all his influences; New Orleans, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, gospel, blues, and uses them to create something perfectly seamless (it could have easily sounded like a cut-and-paste job) and also absolutely in sync to his own time (it could have sounded like a series of dated homages).

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Mingus' eulogy for Lester Young, makes you want to cry, and Boogie Stop Shuffle makes you want to act cool. The opening of Bird Calls shows that even though Mingus was strongly influenced by Duke and Jelly Roll Morton, he also had an understanding of what the free players were doing (Eric Dolphy did a long stint in Mingus' band). The driving 6/8 on Better Git It In Your Soul is proof that Mingus long-time sideman Danny Richmond is one of the most underrated drummers in jazz.

I did a little research on the cover, which is kind of a cartoony Gorky/Klee/Miro thing. As it turns out it was done by an art director at CBS named Neil Fujita, who also did the cover of Time Out by Dave Brubeck. I've always had kind of a soft spot for the sleeve, it makes me think of an abstract painting you might see on the wall in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Paintings I Like, pt. 3

Giorgione and/or Titian, The Pastoral Concert, c. 1510. Oil on canvas, 42" x 54."

I prefer Venetian Renaissance paintings to the Florentine and northern schools because of the way the Venetians used color, or more specifically the way they used close-valued colors to create the hazy light that permeated the pictures. This picture is, in my view, the best example of that particular Venetian mist.

The attribution has changed a few times on this picture. It was originally attributed to Giorgione, then some said it was completed by Titian after Giorgione's death (plague, age 33), but I believe the present attribution is solely to Titian.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

David, Reed, #446, 1999. Oil and Alkyd on linen.

I really like paintings that look like they were made by a photographic process, a computer program, or some sort of mechanical device.

Working in a way that would be classified as "cool" goes a long way toward separating the maker from the picture. When I'm looking at a painting, or when I think about someone looking at mine, I want the relationship to be between the viewer and the picture, not between viewer, picture and artist. Think about it: The Mona Lisa is inseparable from Da Vinci the man (this was true before the book/movie), the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel cannot be viewed without a mental image of Michelangelo laying on his back, and almost no Van Gogh can be seen except through a veil of his madness and agony. It's extremely difficult to get a good look at these works.

When I got back into painting I started really sifting the pictures made during or after the "death of painting." Morris Louis' poured paintings and Jules Olitski's spray-gun pictures still looked great, like bathtubs full of color, and I think that once people get over the reflexive reaction to Greenberg a big reevaluation of these artists will come to pass. The Op painters, especially Bridget Riley and early Larry Poons, looked extremely relevant (I talk about this at greater length in an earlier post). David Reed and Gerhard Richter also looked very fresh, very modern (with a lower-case "m").

What all these painters had in common was a process and/or design that de-emphasized the hand of the author. This is particularly compelling with Reed, because of his free-wheeling use of gesture. Gesture is ultimate artistic autograph, and it's difficult to imagine a gestural abstraction that isn't explicitly autobiographical. Reed's mysterious process enables him to have it both ways: the freedom of gesture along with a coolness and remove that I largely associate with geometry.

Ironically, the door was opened to the I-am-a-machine approach by Pollock, the most emotionally motivated painter since Van Gogh. By using pure process to determine the image, mark, part-to-whole relationship, etc., he not only loosened up the gridded Cubist space, but presented an entirely different way of approaching abstract painting. Before Pollock, abstract painters (including Mondrian), essentially worked in the same way that representational painters worked; simply substituting abstract or semi-abstract figuration for representation. After Pollock, image and process were more often linked. This is certainly the case with Louis, Olitski, Riley, Poons, Reed, Richter (in his smeared abstractions), and a hundred others.

Some of the current painters that I really like in the I-am-my-own-device vein are Terry Haggerty, who is working out of the op tradition, Martjin Schuppers and Peter Davis who are both achieving the kind of photographic transparency mined by Reed, Tim Bavington, who is using either a spray-gun or airbrush in a highly disciplined way, Jeff Elrod, who is great at depicting the kind of things that can happen when you're just learning to use a computer program, and Carl Fudge, who is great at depicting the things you can make when you're really good at using a computer program.

Believe me, I'm as much a sucker for biographical tidbits as the next guy (read my Julian Stanczak post), and this blog is in fact me telling you my own story. But when I 'm trying to get a really good look at a painting, that stuff just gets in the way. Masking tape, squeegees, spray-guns and the like make the process of undistracted looking, which is extremely hard, just a little bit easier.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Assorted Racing News

Here are a few tidbits from the world of thoroughbred racing:

The second Kentucky Derby Future book closed this weekend. "All others" is still the favorite, but there's essentially a three-way tie for second now between Nobiz Like Shobiz, Street Sense, and Circular Quay. The latter moved way up on the list after an impressive win in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds this past Saturday.

In another Derby prep race, Summer Doldrums was upset in the Gotham Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct by Cowtown Cat. Cowtown Cat is essentially a sprinter, but showed no real strain stretching out to a mile-and-a-sixteenth. Not surprisingly, Cowtown Cat is trained by Todd Pletcher, who seems to be able to walk on water this year. He's never won the Derby, but has eight horses who are legit contenders.

My favorite horse is the late, great Lost in the Fog, who died of cancer last fall. His team seems to have found his heir apparent in a 4-year-old named Smokey Stover, who is currently ranked the #1 sprinter in the country (Lost in the Fog was also a sprint specialist). On Sunday, Smokey won the G3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint.

At the end of last month The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York approved a joint plan for the state of New York to bail out poor old NYRA to the tune of $32 million dollars in 2007. Racing is guaranteed to continue in NY until at least December 31, 2007. Hooray!

New York Governor Elliot Spitzer has reopened the bidding for the New York racing franchise, throwing out the recommendations made by a panel appointed by former governor George Pataki (no big surprise there). There are now six contenders for the franchise.

And here's something to make you want to go to the races. At a Puerto Rican track this past weekend a player hit a pick-six worth $14 million dollars. I was at the track this weekend myself, and barely grabbed a piece of a $12 exacta. Am I doing something wrong?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Blakey

The whole fucking tragedy of life is expressed on this record.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Circles and Stripes, 2005/06

No Hassle at the Castle, 2005. Acrylic on panel, 10.5" x 8.5."


Samurai Gold Seekers, 2006. Acrylic on panel, 30" x 23."


Frisky Spider, 2005. Acrylic on panel, 10.5" x 8.5."


Artie Schiller, 2006. Acrylic on panel, 16" x 48."


Tokai Come Come, 2006. Acrylic on panel, 30" x 23."


BC Juvenile, 2005. Acrylic on panel, 8.5" x 10.5."


Flower Alley, 2006. Acrylic on panel, 16" x 48."

Aqueduct Results, 3/10/07

Look, I really don't want to talk about this right now.

Personality Crisis

Personality Crisis, 2005. Acrylic on panel, 8.5" x 10.5."

Since grad school, I've always made paintings in series. There are essentially three stages to this process (for me, anyway): First is experimentation, studies, throwing things in the trash, etc., then at some point I'll hit upon something - a eureka type of moment (but these are often false starts, and then back to step one), and then finally development and variation. A lot of painters stay in the variation mode for many years, and there's a lot to be said for this: you can really develop an idea in a complete and nuanced way if you stick with for a very long period of time.

But When I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself, I try and develop something new. It's not that I'm a dilettante (at least I don't think I am), it's just that I'm determined to find a new way to paint all of the time. I'm in experimentation mode now, and it's a rotten, keep-me-up-at-night type of process. I have no plans to change my working method, but I would like it to be a little less wrenching.

Today, however, a break from all this artistic agony. I'm going to the track!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Paulie's Picks, Aqueduct, 3/10/07

Tomorrow's my first trip to the track for the new season, boy am I excited. Here are my picks for tomorrow's card at the Big A (Needless to say, I take no responsibility for money lost based on my advice):

1st race:
1 - Intimidating
5 - Maastricht
3 - Sahm Iahm

2nd race:
2 - Golden Amulet
5 - Triumphal
1A - The City

3rd race:
1A - Mr. Bourbon Street
5 - Oh My Stars
2 - Suave Jazz

4th race:
5 - Herald Square
4 - Spiriton
2 - Watts Impossible

5th race:
4 - All Fired Up
1 - Ahvee's Destiny
8 - Cordilleran Ice

6th race:
2 - Jack's Away
4 - Senor Baker
5 - Call Me Larry

7th race:
2 - Kelp
5 - Attila's Storm
4 - Cavallo Pazzo

8th race:
3 - Summer Doldrums
1 - Cowtown Cat
4 - Sir Whimsey

9th race:
3 - Children's Annex
9 - Jacks Express
7 - Wally World

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Julian Stanczak

Julian Stanczak, Untitled, 2004.

I went to the opening of Robert C. Morgan's "The Optical Edge" at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery tonight. From the press release: "Curated by internationally renowned artist, critic, historian and author, Robert C. Morgan, Ph.D., “The Optical Edge”, surveys four decades and two generations of painters whose experimentations with color, light and form have helped shape the influential Optical Art Movement beyond its early interpretations in the 1960s."

The show packed a surprisingly big punch considering how ambitious the theme vs. how little space Mr. Morgan had to work with (two medium-size rooms). Highlights included an early Richard Anuszkiewicz, a really terrific shaped canvas by Gabriele Evertz, two solid tondos by my good friend Gilbert Hsiao (one of the few artists I can think of who can really negotiate a circular canvas - no small feat), and one of Sandy Wurmfeld's rigorous spectral investigations, which was in a tall vertical format (most of the work I've seen of his is in landscape orientation).

But the real highlight for me was meeting Julian Stanczak (what a character!). He had two pieces in the show: a painting from 1966, and a group of small canvases from 2006. There was no diminution in quality, and despite similar objectives the newer paintings were not simply rehashes of earlier work. Stanczak paints light as well as the Impressionists and the Hudson River painters, and paints close-valued haze as well as the Venetians, all with a spartan vocabulary of stripes, circles, squares and curves.

Visit his website to see a wide selection from nearly 50 years of work, and make sure to check out his process videos (here's one of them). The thing that makes his working process border on the miraculous is that he does it all with one hand (his left). Why? Because he was abused and beaten so badly in Stalin's Siberian gulag in the early 40's that he lost the use of his right arm. Where there's a will, there's a way, they say.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Lava Man

Here's a clip of Lava Man defending his crown in the Santa Anita Handicap this past Saturday. I love this horse.

For everyone that doesn't already know him, he's the Seabiscuit of our generation: he was claimed for $50,000 in 2004 with a pretty undistinguished record, handled with care, and went on the become the 3rd all-time earner in California racing history ($4.6 million so far). His record on the road is quite spotty, but in California he's pretty much unbeatable. He's 6 now, with no signs of wear.

Friday, March 2, 2007

How Low Can You Go?

Whenever I'm in need of a little boost, I stop by pollingreport.com and see how low Bush's approval ratings are this week. He's getting pretty close to Nixon circa Watergate and Carter circa the hostage crisis.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Hop on Op

Gilbert Hsaio (the subject of an earlier post) recently pointed out to me the surprising number of Op painting shows that are either up or opening soon: in San Jose, two shows in New York (at the Pratt Manhatttan Gallery and Jacobson Howard), in Columbus, Frankfurt, and Philadelphia (Gilbert also provides details on his Op blog). Besides feeling happy, relieved, and excited to see as many as I can, I'm really interested in why this is happening. Abstract painting has been pretty marginal for quite some time, and Op was arguably the most marginal subset.

I think there are several factors at play here. First of all and most simply, Op presaged computer-generated imagery by decades, and in retrospect it looks like these painters had a crystal ball. I think the best art of any given era is very much in sync with the way that people see, which is a different thing than depicted subjects (the "how" as opposed to the "what"). Right now, cg imagery is clearly leading the way in terms of how people see and consume man-made imagery.

But there are some more subtle factors at play. I think that a bunch of concepts that have been thoroughly vilified in the fine arts are poised to make a comeback: like quality, rigor, and craft. In the hands of the most conscientious prosecutors of critique-oriented art, the idea of quality was (and is) challenged as a fictional construct of a patriarchal hegemony. In the hands of many others, critique is a fig-leaf for underdeveloped art. This isn't a particularly new story; both Ab Ex and Pop were dragged down by the fact that these were relatively easy styles to replicate in a superficial way, and boatloads of mediocre artists eagerly entered the ranks.

I went to the Armory Show this past weekend (the only New York mega-fair that I checked out). It was like the world's biggest MFA show: a small number of really great things, a fair number of decent things and a whole lot of really bad art. And aside from a few discernible threads (like a surprising number of Gerhard Richter copies), it was all over the aesthetic map.

Present-day art exists in a kind of chaos; there is no dominant style or school, and anything goes (and goes for a lot of money). In art, as in politics, there is always a backlash. After this period of such little cohesion or rigor, maybe the idea of a smartly conceived and nicely executed abstract painting doesn't seem so bad after all.

I'm sort of optimistic.