Monday, December 28, 2009

Alfred DeCredico, 1944-2009

Alfred DeCredico, "Landscape in Color #2," 2005. Mixed media on canvas, 31" x 25."

It felt like a punch in the stomach when I heard that Al DeCredico died this past weekend. We hadn't spoken for years, but I somehow thought he would always be around if I wanted to talk to him. He was bigger than life in every category.

I started at RISD In September of 1983, and in the first semester of my freshman year I was lucky enough to draw Al for 2D. I didn't know who he was, I didn't know what 2D was, and I didn't have any idea what the fuck art was for that matter - I was a dummy from a working class suburb with a certain flair for drawing. Al is the guy who showed me how to see and think and make things like an artist. I felt like my head was splitting open and loved every minute of it.

He was arrogant, brilliant, foul-mouthed, and had an awesome command of a huge variety of media: he was a painter with a stunning facility, but also made sculpture, reliquary boxes, prints, drawings, ceramics, and blown glass. He expected you to make things just as well as him, and would tell in no uncertain terms when he thought you were bullshitting.

When I got the chance to teach 2D in 2007, the first person I thought of was Al. I hoped I could do it like him; take a bunch of teenagers and show them what art was, why it was important, make them really feel it the way he made us really feel it.

Al showed me that the dreary mediocrity of everyday life wasn't the only way - there were whole worlds you could open with you skill and imagination and commitment. How do you thank somebody for something like that?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt.41

Today was an unusually lovely day here in NYC so I played hooky from the studio. I wound up going to the Met and brought my little point and shoot so I could document a second installment of "Sunday at the Met." Here are a few of the things I looked at today:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Super Girl vs. Wonder Woman

Rachel Alexandra, top, winning the 2009 Preakness Stakes. Zenyatta, bottom, taking down the 2009 Breeder's Cup Classic.

Are you spending sleepless nights wondering whether to lend your support to Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta for Horse of the Year honors? I know, we all are. For two thoroughly biased opinions click here and here for articles in Thoroughbred Times by Jess Jackson and Jerry Moss. Jackson is Rachel Alexandra's owner and Moss and his wife own Zenyatta.

Just the facts:

Rachel is a three-year-old filly who has won 11 out of 14 races in two seasons. In her superlative 2009 campaign she won all eight of her races and broke a string of records: She won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 1/4 lengths, the largest margin of victory ever in that race. She became the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes since Nellie Morse did it in 1924. She won the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park, putting up the fastest time and the largest margin of victory ever in that race. She beat the boys again in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, and her crowning achievement was becoming the first filly to ever win the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, beating colts and older males. Wow!

Zenyatta is a five year old mare who has raced for three seasons, and is on the short list of undefeated thoroughbreds. She tied Personal Ensign's record of thirteen for thirteen when she took down the Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita, and surpassed it when she became the first female to win the Breeders Cup Classic in what had to be the most thrilling race of 2009: She raced dead last in the early stretches, spotting the field more than 10 lengths. She was still 7 lengths back and in ninth coming into the far turn, but at the top of the stretch Mike Smith wove her through a wall of horses and into the six path where she won going away. Holy mackerel!

Winners of the Eclipse awards will be announced on January 26.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Praxis of Axes

In 1911, an ancient stone hand-axe was discovered in Norfolk, England. It was made by a neanderthal, and is believed to be in excess of 200,000 years old. The axe was cut from a piece of flint which had a fossilized shell on its surface, and the maker clearly designed the tool around it, carefully centering it and making sure the bottom of the shell was roughly parallel with the bottom of the axe.

This surprising example of the artistic urge predates spoken language by more than 100,000 years. Written language does not appear until about 4,000 years ago, making it a new thing by comparison. Neanderthal man couldn't have explained why he chose to decorate his axe because he didn't know how to speak. The majority of his day was most certainly occupied with the serious business of not dying, yet he took the time to do this.

Many of the major currents in art since the beginning of the twentieth century, specifically modernism, post-modernism, and the widely varied aftershocks of post-modernism (often subsumed under the umbrella of critical theory) all have something in common - they ask art to justify its own existence. Modernism asked art to purify itself from within in order to prove that the experience it provided was unique and couldn't be had in any other cultural sphere. Post-modernism and its many tributaries asked art to police institutions of power, those attached to art itself as well as many from the society at large

There is something moralistic embedded in both of these attitudes about art - they suggest that art is something frivolous unless it can prove itself not to be. Under all of these regimes, the urge to create and to enjoy the fruits of the creative process are not valid in and of themselves. Simply making qualitative judgments about art objects is not enough - indeed, the very notion of quality has been under siege for quite some time - art must have a more important job than just being art, a job that can be proven to be of great value to the society.

But if the neanderthal art is any indication, it would place the aesthetic urge right behind eating, reproducing, and seeking shelter, and considerably earlier than speaking. It would have to be considered one of the first things early humans did as they became less like animals and more like people. Viewed in this way, it would seem that the positions outlined above are quite superfluous, tantamount to making people justify the fact that they are hungry or sleepy.

I believe it was Richard Serra who said that art should never be deprived of its uselessness.* As it turns out, there's a real profundity in its uselessness, and in point of fact, that's wherein its actual utility resides.

*Someone please correct me if I'm wrong in this attribution.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jiffy Pop?

According to a story in the Times, The Hirshhorn Museum is getting airbags. This should substantially add to museum safety - it's a little known fact that hundreds of people each year are maimed or injured in freak art viewing accidents.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


According to a thing I just read in the Times, the Velvet Undergound's very first performance was 45 years ago yesterday at the Summit High School Auditorium in N.J., opening up for a band called the Myddle Class.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wayne Gonzales at Paula Cooper Gallery

Today I saw a show that easily gets my vote for best new paintings of 2009: Wayne Gonzales at Paul Cooper Gallery.

The pictures above don't do the paintings justice, you really have to stand in front of them to see and feel their genuine power. They glow like they're lit from behind, they expand and contract, they seem to shift around right in front of your eyes. They're disorienting in the best possible sense; their scale is completely indeterminate, they could be tiny Christmas lights or exploding stars. There's a note of Bleckner and a hint of Richter, but I could care less - I was blown away.

The show stays open until Dec. 18, and Paul Cooper Gallery is located at 521 w 21st St. in Chelsea. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 40

Raphael Sanzio, "The Transfiguration," 1516-1520. Oil on panel, 159" x 109."

This was by far my favorite painting in the Vatican Pinacoteca, with Caravaggio's deposition a close second - the Vatican frescoes (particularly the Sistine Chapel), sculptures, and architecture tended to leave their oil paintings behind just a bit. The thing that really struck me about this picture was the way Raphael used waving arms and pointing fingers to direct the eye around. If you described it to someone over the phone, it would sound like such a silly, prosaic device, but it works so brilliantly. It was also quite large for a something that wasn't painted on a wall - in those days portable pictures were generally of a much more modest size.

It's been many years since I've stood in front of the picture, but I've just been reading Nietszche's "Birth of Tragedy," his early meditation on art, and he addresses the painting in terms of his central argument in the book: that great art must balance two seemingly opposite poles which he describes as "Apollonian" and "Dionysisan." The Apollonian, in Nietszche's view, is the idealized, platonic, beautiful, rational, and ultimately objective. The Dionysian is the human, particular, frenzied, passionate, subjective view. Nietszche's contention that these two seemingly opposite characteristics must be made to coexist is a strong reference to Hegel's notion of the dialectic.

In the Raphael, Nietszche says that the top half, depicting the floating, transfigured Christ, represents the Apollonian, and the bottom half, in which the apostles try unsuccessfully to exorcise the devil from a young boy, represents the madness of Dionysus:

"In the lower half of his Transfiguration, through the figures of the possessed boy, the despairing bearers, the helpless, terrified disciples, we see a reflection of original pain, the sole ground of being: "illusion" here is a reflection of eternal contradiction, begetter of all things. From this illusion there rises, like the fragrance of ambrosia, a new illusory world, invisible to those enmeshed in the first: a radiant vision of pure delight, a rapt seeing through wide-open eyes. Here we have, in a great symbol of art, both the fair world of Apollo and its substratum, the terrible wisdom of Silenus, and we can comprehend intuitively how they mutually require one another."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It Was Once Called the Sport of Kings

The decision to rescue Aqueduct racetrack via the installation of video slots was made in Albany in the fall of 2001. Eight years and three governors later, no one has been awarded the contract. Today's story in the Times about the stalled process featured the above photo of the grandstands at the Big "A". Every time I look at it, I weep softly.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nietzsche on Art

The following is excerpted from Friedrich Nietzsche's first major work, "The Birth of Tragedy," 1872:

An old legend has it that King Midas hunted a long time in the woods for the wise Silenus, companion of Dionysos, without being able to catch him. When he had finally caught him the king asked him what he considered man's greatest good. The daemon remained sullen and uncommunicative until finally, forced by the king, he broke into a shrill laugh and spoke: "ephemeral wretch, begotten by accident and toil, why do you force me to tell you what it would be your greatest boon not to hear? What would be best for you is quite beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best is to die soon."


Understanding kills action, for in order to act we require the veil of illusion; such is Hamlet's doctrine, not to be confounded with the cheap wisdom of John-a-Dreams, who through too much reflection, as it were a surplus of possibilities, never arrives at action. What, both in the case of Hamlet and of Dionysiac man, overbalances any motive leading to action, is not reflection but understanding, the apprehension of truth and its terror. Now no comfort any longer avails, desire reaches beyond the transcendental world, beyond the gods themselves, and existence, together with its gulling reflection in the gods and an immortal Beyond, is denied. The truth once seen, man is aware everywhere of the ghastly absurdity of existence, comprehends the symbolism of Ophelia's fate and the wisdom of the wood sprite Silenus: nausea invades him.

Then, in this supreme jeopardy of the will, art, that sorceress expert in healing, approaches him; only she can turn his fits of nausea into imaginations with which it is possible to live. These are on the one hand the sublime, which subjugates terror by means of art; on the other hand the comic spirit, which releases us, through art, from the tedium of absurdity.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Thanks, Girlfriend!

What a finish! Video coming soon...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Breeder's Cup Classic Morning Line and Post Positions

Zenyatta's connections have decided to put her undefeated status at risk by entering her in tomorrow's Breeder's Cup Classic instead of the G1 Ladies' Classic, in which she would have been an overwhelming favorite.

The decision to race her against older males was clearly made to try and steal Horse of the Year honors away from the spectacular Rachel Alexandra, who's 2009 season included beating older boys in the Woodward at Saratoga. Rachel will not be showing up in any of the Breeder's Cup races; her connections have announced that she is getting a well deserved rest after her outstanding 2009 campaign.

Also present in the Classic are the sons of Birdstone: 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and his half-brother Summer Bird, who won the 2009 Belmont Stakes, The Travers Stakes, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same season, a feat not accomplished since the legendary Easy Goer did it in 1989. If Summer Bird steals this race, one would have to consider him for Horse of the Year ahead of the two tough chicks. Much rides on tomorrow's outcome!

Here are the post positions, jockeys, and morning lines for the race; post time is 6:45 EST:

1 - Mine That Bird, Calvin Borel, 12-1
2 - Colonel John, Garrett Gomez, 12-1
3 - Summer Bird, Kent Desormeaux, 9-2
4 - Zenyatta, Mike Smith, 5-2
5 - Twice Over, Thomas Queally, 20-1
6 - Richard's Kid, Alex Solis, 12-1
7 - Gio Ponti, Ramon Dominguez, 12-1
8 - Einstein, Julien Leparoux, 12-1
9 - Girolamo, Alan Garcia, 20-1
10 - Rip Van Winkle, John Murtaugh, 7-2
11 - Regal Ransom, Richard Migliore, 20-1
12 - Quality Road, John Velazquez, 12-1
13 - Awesome Gem, David Flores, 30-1

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Congratulations, Mike!

Dear Mike;

Congratulations on yesterday's victory over Bill Thompson! Even after all of your campaign spending, you still have about $15.7 billion or so of your personal fortune left over. Plus you've got a City Council who has shown little hesitation to change laws if you ask them to. It's all good!

So here is a list of things to do in your third term as Mayor of New York City:

1. Buy a crown, a throne, a scepter, and a ring for visitors to kiss as they enter your chambers. Make sure none of these things are too ostentatious, because you don't want to jeopardize you reputation as a man of the people.

2. Buy a small fleet of guillotines and have them installed in the basement of City Hall.

3. Have the City Council nullify all votes cast for Bill Thompson so it looks like you won by a margin of 100%. To insure that there is no embarrassing public outcry over this, send everyone who voted for Thompson (including Thompson) to the guillotine.

4. Have the City Council change the Mayor's term from four years to however long Michael Bloomberg feels like serving. Dissenting voices should be sent you-know-where.

5. Have all publicly owned property turned over to big developers so they can build sports arenas and luxury high-rises. Cite eminent domain as justification.

6. Make sure developers build one low-income apartment in the basement of each luxury hi-rise and sports arena, to be distributed by lottery. Send all those who do not get the apartments to the guillotine, and then point out that 100% of low-income people now have affordable housing.

7. Send everyone with a rent-regulated apartment to the guillotine. Besides deregulating a tremendous number of apartments, the increased supply should lower rents across the board. Aren't free markets miraculous?

That about all I can think of for now, if I come up with anything else, I'll drop you line. Good luck in your third term! See you in '13?

Best always,

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 39

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778. Oil on canvas, 72" x 91."

Shark attack is not something that I associate with art or popular imagery prior to 1975, which was the year Jaws was released (remember that poster?). While sharks have apparently been around since long before man, their appearance in art was until very recently in our history an infrequent event. And I think that's the thing that makes this picture so striking: it's almost like finding the lead character from a post-1970 horror movie (Jason? Michael Myers?) in an 18th century painting. The knowledge that sharks at that time ate people no more or less frequently than they do today does nothing to diminish this weird disconnect, and makes the painting unceasingly interesting.

And of course, finding a painting interesting means you'll look at it longer, and if you look at it longer you find more things to look at. The picture has some of things that I find so objectionable about much of 18th century painting; particularly those kewpie doll faces and somewhat stiff poses reminiscent of Boucher and Fragonard. But there are other things.

There is some speculation as to whether or not Copley had ever seen a real shark, and the position of its eyes, the handlebar-moustache nostrils, and the strange lips would tend to support this view. Some say he had seen a set of shark jaws and built his imaginary beast out from there, but there is also the possibility he had seen prints or drawings made from life. In spite of this, the shark is probably the most convincing player in the scene, if not in terms of naturalisism, certainly in the visceral sense - this in contrast to the characters on the boat, who look like people from 18th century paintings. I think the reason for this is that there was no tradition for stylizing sharks, either historical or in terms of the painting conventions of the day. It might not have been possible for Copley to paint the fish accurately, but it was equally impossible to make it to a type, as is the case with the figures.

The teenage Watson, who ultimately lost half his right leg in the attack, looks a lot like a girl - his billowing blond hair blending into the waves call to mind the doomed Ophelia. Add to this his blinding white skin, his nudity, and his pin-up girl pose, and the androgyny is a little hard to ignore. The contrast of Watson's youthful nakedness with the merciless glass-eyed sea monster bearing down on him makes for a nautical drama which aspires (but doesn't match) compare to the horrifying splendor of Gericault's Raft of the Medusa.

There's other stuff to like in there as well, like the misty atmosphere and diffused light of Havana harbor in the background, which looks back at Venetian painting and predicts Turner. And the two would-be rescuers straining to reach the boy, clearly at full extension but just out a hair's breadth of reach - the stuff of Hollywood cliff-hangers to come. And the bizarrely comical framing of the rear rower's face in the harpooner's crotch; such a strange compositional choice.

With sincere apologies to Damien Hirst, if I could only have one piece of shark-oriented art in my home, the Copley would win hands down.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Robo-Improvisation Arena at Space on Dobbin

This Friday, Nov. 6, I'm going to be making a rare appearance behind the drum set in a crazy performance at Space on Dobbin Gallery in Brooklyn.

Remote-controlled robots and colored lights will be cueing musicians in a reciprocal improvisation. If this sounds interesting to you, click here for details.

The show starts around 6:30 and I hope to see you there. If you're a reader of No Hassle at the Castle that I haven't met, please introduce yourself - I'll be the guy behind the little black Gretsch drum set.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

From "My Sad Self," Allen Ginsberg, 1958

Sometimes when my eyes are red
I go up on top of the RCA Building
and gaze at my world, Manhattan -
my buildings, streets I've done feats in,
lofts, beds, coldwater flats
- on Fifth Ave below which I also bear in mind,
its ant cars, little yellow taxis, men
walking the size of of specks of wool -
Panorama of the bridges, sunrise over Brooklyn machine,
sun go down over New Jersey where I was born
& Paterson where I played with ants -
my later loves on 15th Street,
my greater loves of Lower East Side,
my once fabulous amours in the Bronx
faraway -
paths crossing in these hidden streets,
my history summed up, my absences
and ecstasies in Harlem -
- sun shining down on all I own
in one eyeblink on the horizon
in my last eternity -
matter is water.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Open Letter to Mike Bloomberg

Dear Mike;

As of last week, you've spent in excess of $85 million on your re-election bid, and with your final-week media blitz you're projected to spend between $110 and $140 million total. Wow! Your opponent, William Thompson, has spent $6 million so far.

In 2001 you spent $73 million compared to Mark Green's $17.3 million, and in 2005 you spent $85 million compared to Freddy Ferrer's $10.6 million.

You've set a brand new record! At around $250 million total (so far), no one in the history of the United States has spent more money than you in the pursuit of public office. Congratulations!

There's really no need to spend so much, though - if you're unhappy with the result of the election, you can just have the City Council change it for you.

All the best,
Paul and the No Hassle at the Castle staff

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 38

Today I went up to the Metropolitan Museum here in NYC to see the exhibition of samurai swords and armor. The show was a lot of fun, but I was disappointed to find out that no photography was permitted - I had brought a little point and shoot in the hope of putting some pics here on No Hassle at the Castle.

After I finished looking, it occurred to me that of all the times I've been to the Met over the last twenty-plus years, I don't think I've ever had a camera with me. So I marched around for quite a while happily snapping some of my favorites from the collection. I knew I looked just like a tourist, but got over it quickly enough. Here are a few of the things I looked at today:

Thursday, October 22, 2009