Friday, December 16, 2016

Emily Smith

Today I just want to share.  Blown away...

EMILY SMITH: When A Man Decides To Hurt You
PARADIGM GALLERY & STUDIO, Philadelphia, PA (July 22 - August 20, 2016)

Artist Statement: In the spring of 2015, I was assaulted by a stranger on my walk home from the gym. I was left unconscious on the street with a severe concussion, broken jaw and sinus, and shattered tooth. The assailant was never brought to justice. 

When A Man Decides to Hurt You is not only an attempt for me to process the event, but it is also an examination of the profound physical and emotional impact of violence in America, particularly against women. 

I juxtaposed watercolors with explosive fabric patterns; a pairing that is meant to both agitate the eye and champion more "feminine" media. They are framed in traditional Americana patterns, a reminder that mine is an unexceptional American story. We live in a society where physical, sexual, and emotional violence against women is commonplace, and violence stemming from poverty, racial injustice, and lack of support for those struggling with their mental health is part of our everyday landscape. 

These paintings document one story in a sea of stories. I hope it leads us to a confrontational conversation: what is happening here in America? What role are we all playing in the systemic nature of violence? And what are we actively doing to stop it?


Existential Sadness 




Confusion & Fear

Home From The Hospital

Kay (As An Angel)



Self-Portrait In Mirror

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My ART Top 10

Actually I am really distressed that I can't point you to a readily available archive (you know, Youtube videos, etc.) of many of the works herein (and many others as it happens; it seems all the genius things in the world disappear into the mist, unless a superfamous person made them) so I'm going to have to try to describe things that simply can't be done justice to. Bear with me.

1. Eleo Pomare, "Junkie", a solo section from Blues for the Jungle, a dance piece he choreographed in 1962 (far ahead of it's time IMHO). Saw it oncce on public TV, then never again (why? was this brilliant piece of work embarrassing to someone?). The solo excerpt is here (probably where I first saw it); if the original film becomes available I'll let you know.

In "Junkie", Mr. Pomare embodies the tragedy of a street person not just hopelessly addicted to heroin but to his own self-image as the above-it-all, got-it-totally-together, smoothest-talking, hippest baddest most street-elegant underground-economy alpha-male dandy there could be; his flailing and swooning is as much the body language of street sophistication and 'representation' as it is a too-high loss of coordination, and it's a damning, heartbreaking play of irreconcilable opposites complementing each other in a hopeless entropic downward spiral to the final end.

This dance is made from the street, from the reality of life not its aestheticization; in the same way as Buddhists (I'm not one) say that practice must deal with the raw stuff of life, not the decorated version we tend to display, in order to "find the jewel within the manure of experience"; the same as the blues, as in the title, magnetizes and somehow transforms suffering, reminding of the soul behind suffering, eternal, untouched, ever-strong. This is one of the few works I've seen go right to the bottom, to dig into such fertile loam for the jewel. Another such work that gains my admiration is the film Space Is The Place, by Sun Ra, who dives down into the darkest aspects of street life when he could've easily gone the opposite way. He had something to prove.

Why do African-American artists have to lead the way on this? I'm happy to give Af-Ams the credit, though I doubt the art world as a whole will ever own it or even see it; my point is, why is the art world at this late date so uncomfortable with 'reality' as it were? Is it a class issue? Decidedly so. It harks back to Millet if not before, perhaps to the time when making a portrait of anyone but the King was unthinkable. We are not there anymore but the biological impulse to lean toward the alpha male, to worship youth and fertility, and finally affluence, is strong. Don't get me started.

The 'dominant culture' has engaged with this practice in pieces here and there but generally prefers the aestheticized version of reality imported from Europe; there, even the genius of Millet and Dix found only outrage from polite society at first (though I have doubts that Dix ever uncovered his 'jewel' -but maybe; more on that later).

2. "It is not necessary to be someplace else in order not to be here," or, In Order Not To Be Here, Deborah Stratman, 2002. Saw this intense yet strangely soothing (up until the end) edit of surveillance video at the 2004 Whitney Biennale in a giant Diet Coke can (hehe), it's never left me because in a way I was already there; maybe you too. It's composed of surveillance videos from gated neighborhoods, convenience stores, the Mexican border, parking lots; and also some staged shots of a girl sleeping, an alarm clock, a house burning, and a suspect being chased (the creepiest part). There's a lot of silent, still imagery; nothing happens. There's an unspoken tension hanging over the whole thing, and in a sense everything we are, and are capable of, is captured there in the electric vibrating silence/stillness. While watching, noting that all the land, streets, sidewalks, parking lots and property are now under private ownership and private surveillance, I reflected on Burroughs' line from Nothing Here Now But The Recordings, "Listen all you boards, governments, syndicates, nations of the world / And you, powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory / To take what is not yours / To sell out your sons forever! To sell the ground from unborn feet / for ever? for Eve-R..."
Entire video used to be online, now only a preview here.

3. Richard Diebenkorn (can I sneak David Park in here too? esp. the late paintings). Everything, ('cept a lot of the Ocean Park series: nice, critics' darlings, but not my darlings). I don't know really what to say about him, but- what wholly satisfying paintings to anyone who likes abstraction and/or figuration, what a totally unique yet somehow inevitable approach, what consistently interesting color and what relaxed and assured design/drawing/tone etc etc etc. And enlightening and pleasing, this.

4. Sun Ra. The man, the myth, the art, music, poetry, ensembles, films, and on and on and on... the whole thing. As a reviewer for the bio Space Is The Place put it, you'd need something the size of an encyclopedia to accurately record his activities. Sun Ra's life proves that the Universe rules everything: no one could ever plan to do what he did and actually make it happen, not in a billion years. Like the Mona Lisa, 400 years from now they'll still be trying to figure him out. Good luck.

5. Giovanni Bellini. Everything, especially the Christ; as a child, agog with knowing both past and future eternal of every atom for every universe infinite; and as the martyr, being both dead and alive, here and now everywhere, all time and all space; Mother joins him there.

6. Frankenstein, The Living Theatre, 1965 (beginning only, here, 5:23 til 11:31). I saw this as a child, shock. Somehow I would like to add, all of Mabou Mines in the 70s (I saw 4-5 works as a kid, later Dead End Kids, both live and film), eh? Forget about description.

7. Leon Kossoff, the more '3-D' portraits particularly. I like to look away from the 'likeness' to the paint, the many layers and tangles of expression & energy, a simulacrum of nature, a fiery fecundity, a glorious mess, a vivid abstract of passion that I bet Pollock and De Kooning wish they'd wrote. There is one great monograph on him, brilliantly detailed photography, but you'll have to search.

8. Poet Steve Dalachinsky declaiming with all burners lit, superdancer Ximena Garnica and incredibly artistic, melodic, tasteful drummer/percussionist Tim Barnes at Vision Festival 9, 2004. I think there's audio somewhere but it's not enough. Ximena embodied the Cosmos, or Time, or I don't know what, only that it was all and everything; only reference comes to mind (and no pun intended) is the Gurdjieff movements, but this was more the being than the implying of something greater. This performance was the realization of the Vision vision, where three totally independent disciplines merge perfectly to create something wholly beyond any sum of parts. It was one of those performances where you think, "Am I really seeing this?"

Emily Hennings performs a dance at the Cabaret Voltaire
9. Dada, despite its hangups and flaws, because it's close to my heart because its antiwar, and anti-"reason" -which is sending us down the toilet fast; give me the right brain any old day. And because it's funny, and the art is beautiful (we'll discuss my hangup with "beauty" another day), because the women showed up the men so completely so often. This is what art needs to give the world, at least part of what. Seems the Christian visions didn't quite do it (bring peace; well, neither did Dada but s/he tried, w/out fealty to any king or conquerer, belligerent or not). Dada MOMA fulfilled any expectations I might have of a museum exhibition and then some, but I can't find the horse with gas mask that welcomed me to the show so magnificiently. He kind of prefigured the art...

10. It pays to remind oneself that one's own experience of life is a form of art: a creative reconstruction of 'reality', an impression only, surely not the thing itself (Epictetus). But you knew that. But enough of that. I want to tell you about Axi-DentIal Enterprises, a work at a Baltimore outdoor artfest in the 70s, that piqued me and confounded me equally. A wooden structure not unlike a wooden labyrinth board with perplexing metaphysical features and detours and instructions, it sounded to me from a greater deep of working knowledge that I considered as help, a help that would help me get through life, a life that was quite as confounding as the board. Thankfully, the artist was very nice, and sat down and tried to explain it to me and whatever was on his mind when he made it. Despite the fact that I could make no real sense of what he said, I felt hopeful: there was some kind of theory that made sense, and if I could just work it out... and so I've been trying ever since.

That oft-recurring vexation has been a kind of mantra for me, guiding me through even worse vexation and beyond. I'll thank him now for all of it; for introducing me to ART the greatest mystery, promising all you'd ever need, which of course can never be solved. The greatest art gives one the feeling that the artist knows, beyond all doubt, the secret doorways in existence, the essence(s) of life, but is not giving it away. It's not our ken to know, just our struggle. Art's not about history, fantasy, the unconscious, or cultural decon; it's about expressing the inexpressible, the unknowable, doing away with the known. Great art tends a fire banked in the soul's hearth, the disquieting intimation, imminence of 'truth'; quietly, insistently urging us on to nameless knowing.

*                                *                                    *                                     *                                *

11 - 100. When someone says, "art", I never forget that there are (at least) five arts: visual, musical, literary, dramatic and whatever else counts as art today. My sincere apologies to all the artists from all disciplines who didn't make it in to the top ten. I will continue this list at my leisure, as  no one can possibly express the scope of their love for art in ten examples. Thank you for listening.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Worshipping at the wrong altar

Is this art?

Umm... Meow, baby. In plain fact, Telly, I feel the joy (This, Mark Pauline's "ultimate transgression" to my addled eyes, is but the prelude to everything else he's cooked up). Whether you agree or disagree, please don't send me any 'theoretical underpinnings' - I've already had my day ruined twice.

Is this art?

Wrong question; everyone says it is. But for the wrong reasons: this is not a conceptual barbarian at the gates of art history and our culture; this is a very beautiful, compositionally balanced abstract sculpture of great aesthetic refinement, which you would see if you would just pull your minds out of the sewer! (😉jk). Found art yes, Duchamp was teaching us to see, in the same way Cage was teaching us to hear, but nobody heard, or saw; afraid to see and hear, and I understand that, I'm afraid too. Sun Ra published a poem on a similar theme, but I'll get into that later on a monumental post I'm afraid...

Is this art?

Oh Johnnie Ray (my brother) (detail), 2010

It damn well oughta be thought so, as many similar pieces were on view in the Studio Museum of Harlem's 2007 solo show for Henry Taylor ("Hell yeah!"), who director Thelma Golden thought to remind us was often considered an "outsider", hedging her bets on this uniquely powerful voice with a BA from CalArts , who thankfully continues to forge ahead, yet look back.

I mean look at this man ⬆, so deeply conflicted yet holding on, keeping the faith. His is the existential tension that can lead to hypertension; his, the battle between the internal reality of moral edict and the unrelenting social disintegration of same.

You'll see this profound radar in most of Taylor's work, and occasional transcendence of the "linear narrative" meaning some po-mo shit lays like it should; all his work feels real, grown in SoCal sun, bringing the interiority of its Af-Am, and other, experience in a way photos never could, or would.

I'm only getting started; more questions coming soon...