Monday, March 30, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Judith Trepp's Minimalist Fusion

Untitled, 2010, egg tempera, oil and oil stick on linen, 24 x 45.2 in.

Art & Argument experienced a definite high point a couple weeks ago, when the Swiss artist Judith Trepp wrote a nice note of appreciation for a post I did on her work last fall. Thus inspired, I went back to her site to look into her work more deeply. What I discovered was that, while she is a devoted minimalist, she achieves much diversity of expression within that category. Critically, her diverse expressions never appear random or arbitrary.

In her note, Judith was really excited about her new sculptural work, as am I, but I told her that before I turn my attention to that, I wanted to share with readers some of her work from a few years ago that I find really intriguing. In this series (three of which are shown here), Judith creates a fusion of two venerable minimalistic forms: color field and calligraphy.  Color field says to the viewer, this is what green looks like and feels like; this is what deep blue looks like and feels like: Sit with that, and don't let your monkey mind convince you another color or feeling is needed now. Calligraphy says, with these few strokes, and the patterns they both create and imply, there is enough to engage one fully, both intellectually and emotionally. I think Judith's fusion is effective, with each part restrained enough to not overwhelm the other.

Not every painting has to be like a Mahler symphony, packed with the full range of human experience. In fact, as I told Judith, I am convinced that in memory, events or periods of life, as complex as they are at the time -- and all experience is surely more complex than we can ever know -- present themselves with a single tone or feeling. We certainly have little trouble assigning a single attribute to entire epochs. I love all three of these, which taken together create a resonant chord.

I'll comment on the one just below, with its field (not background) of beautifully textured grayish blue, and the line-work positioned just so. I had a period -- no, make that, have had periods -- in my life where it seemed there was a darkness, but within that darkness was a vague sense of opening up. The way the black rests on the blue here is both tense and tranquil, and the way the lines suggest an emergent, ever-opening triangle really touches me. In fact I believe that this piece, like all the best art, is speaking on a level that's even deeper than thought and feeling, with a message stronger and more meaningful than my inchoate reflections here can manage.

Untitled, 2010, oil and oil stick on linen, 31.5 x 47.2 in.

Untitled, 2007, egg tempera, oil and oil stick on linen, 41.6 x 39.3 in.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Brief Guide to Finger Pointing

It's a truism of ethics and spirituality -- deservedly so -- that when we have an issue with someone else, it's usually related to something unresolved within ourselves. OK, but what does that look like?* Let's unpack:

1. The first and most intense form of blaming is when someone else is manifesting a belief or behavior that was once our own, but that we have discarded through effort or some form of awakening or wising up. If we came to our senses, we wonder, why can't they? The zeal of a convert is something to reckon with.

2. The next form is when we indict others for something we ourselves actually do, but through a process of rationalizations -- pretzel logic if you will -- we are able to see our behavior as justified, unlike that of the other. This is annoying as hell, and strikes others as hypocrisy.

3. Then there are the beliefs and behaviors that remain invisible to ourselves, but bother us to no end when we witness them in others. Others might respond to this one with a raised eyebrow.

4. Some people do deserve finger pointing, and worse, for example, ISIS. But is their behavior totally off the charts? In many or most ways, yes, but I am no stranger to righteousness and its allure.

* Engaged, long-time readers will naturally recall instances where I have exhibited some or all of these.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Vanessa Prager: See + Hear

Vanessa Prager, Sundae, 2014, oil and plaster on wood, 12 x 12 in.

Really nice quote in the latest Juxtapoz art mag from the talented young LA-based expressionist painter Vanessa Prager. Interviewer Kristin Farr said to Prager: "I like your observation that 'art is the gentlest way of enlightening people.' Do you think the world needs a certain kind of illumination?" Prager responds:
It's not really for me to say what kind of enlightenment people need. It's so personal to the individual. But I firmly believe that most people are good and kind and mean well at their core; they just get wrapped up in things and start to see, and then become, darkness. But when they aren't entangled in their problems, when they can stand back from it and look at it all from a distance, they can start to get on board with solving problems instead of just tearing things down. Enlightenment brings people clarity, and art, if it speaks to someone, has the power to give them a little lift, a little boost toward their own enlightened direction.
Beautifully said. It brought to mind Jack Kerouac's short poem, that, in my memory, goes something like: Don't use the phone / Send a poem / People are never ready.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Long May You Run

At this point in the history of motorized transportation it’s hard to be anything but ambivalent. Actually that’s a bit misleading, since the negative and the positive aren’t equally balanced. Our awareness of the downside of fossil fuel dependency is largely intellectual, whereas our affection for our cars resides more in the realm of love. The urge to become mobilized – to get moving – is deep in the American soul. And so it was with genuine sadness yesterday that I watched my beloved 2002 Saturn head for the Sun Belt in its old age, now the property of my friend who lives in Austin. She was only one step up from a beater I guess, but she was my trusty steed.

What better way to bid farewell than with Neil Young’s “Long May You Run”? When I first heard this song I figured he was paying tribute to an old friend by using the metaphor of the car. Actually, Neil wrote the song for a car and not for a friend, so the metaphor of friendship radiates out from what is a straightforward ode to a specific machine, and not vice versa. And that’s how you get an inventive couplet like “With your chrome heart shining in the sun, long may you run.”

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Amazing & Enigmatic Vivian Maier

Maybe by now you've heard about Vivian Maier, the career Chicago nanny whose photos and negatives were discovered shortly before her death in 2009, revealing someone who was much more than an inspired amateur. Arguably she was a master, though during her life she pursued her art in complete anonymity. Amazing. Aside from the manifold aesthetic merits to her work, she offers us a cool look at mid-century urban life.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pop Quiz

Which of the following is best described as obnoxious, classless, and severely misguided?

a) the new season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
b) the new menu at Taco Bell
c) the Republican "open letter" to Iran
d) all of the above


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Muso Soseki: Satori Poem

Toki-no-Ge (Satori Poem)
Year after year
I dug in the earth
looking for the blue of heaven
only to feel
the pile of dirt
choking me

until once in the dead of night
I tripped on a broken brick
and kicked it into the air

and saw that without a thought
I had smashed the bones
of the empty sky

By Muso Soseki, 13th century Zen monk

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What I've Got

I’ve got memories that aren’t mine.
I’ve got books without covers.
I’ve got suits in the closet unworn.
I’ve got passwords to mystery accounts.

I’ve got keys to phantom doors.
I’ve got skin where scars have vanished.
I’ve got money I’ve never seen.
I’ve got friends I’ve never met.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Yo Yo Ma's Thrilling Silk Road Ensemble

Call it global peace in action. Yo Yo Ma's world music chamber group, the Silk Road Ensemble, brings together virtuoso musicians from an incredibly wide range of musical cultures, and it was exhilarating to see them in action at Boston's Symphony Hall last Wednesday. The music can be contemplative and high spirited, often within the space of a single song, as with the video posted here. You've never heard or seen anything quite like it. A bit like the future in store for us if we get our act together and take a cue from the great cellist's vision: "The Silk Road Ensemble," he said in the concert's program notes, "is a musical model for cultural citizenship. It shows how culture can help us connect with each other, and how that requires curiosity, collaboration, and wholehearted enthusiasm."

The message became immediate with the evening's final composition, contributed by the Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh. He dedicated the piece -- a musical portrait of a typically exuberant Syrian wedding ceremony -- to the millions of refugees displaced by Syria's catastrophic civil war, and also, tellingly, to all those among his countrymen who meet, fall in love, and get married, even during these dark times. War will never defeat us, I think, and if we stand up for the good and beautiful things, for the miracle of the human spirit, we can move further down the road to where war might one day be on the run.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Rothko's Edges

When I think of Rothko I think of rectangles. Big rectangles, because his paintings are huge, often eight feet high or so. Here we have yellow and red/orange rectangles -- except for the fact that they aren't technically rectangles: most of the corners aren't 90 degrees. More interesting to me is that the edges, the boundaries, aren't clean and hard. When I viewed some Rothkos at the Harvard Art Museums a few weeks ago it was clear that his all edges were meticulously blended. Not only does this give the shapes a floating feeling, but it makes the shapes both distinct and indistinct at once. These rectangles are like all our categories, then, insofar as they are blurred around the edges. Night and day are real, but where is the boundary between them? No one can say.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Netenyahu: Invited to Undermine

John Boehner invited Netenyahu to speak to Congress with no other intent than to undermine negotiations with Iran that are intended to keep them from building nuclear weapons, negotiations that are not just between the U.S. and Iran, but a whole host of Western powers and Iran. A loathsome act by the Speaker. Let's take a quick look at other talking points.

1. We hear a lot about the "existential" threat to Israel. But which state is the one more likely to lethally bomb the other? Israel, of course. Unless Iran is suicidal, they won't bomb Israel. ISIS is a suicidal end-times death cult; not Iran. Also, the U.S. has a track record of meddling in Iran's internal affairs. Iran is far more likely to be obliterated than Israel is.

2. If we don't negotiate, Iran will certainly build a bomb, and Israel and the U.S. will be left with only a military option to try, futilely, to prevent it. But Israel and House Republicans actually do want war, so that's where we are headed if negotiations fail. A war with with Iran would make the Iraq debacle look like Grenada. If they don't want war, well, what is their plan of action to stop Iran?

3. Through negotiations, Iran is agreeing to be part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. In exchange for serious inspections to prevent bomb-building, all states in the world have the right to nuclear energy. It's worth noting that Israel has nukes in contravention of the NPT, as does U.S. ally India. When the U.S. paved the way for India to build nukes a few years ago they assured that Iran would be under no moral obligation not to follow suit and build their own. And Israel is saying, it's OK for us to act outside of international law, but not Iran. If you were Iranian -- and I mean just a regular educated non-fanatical Iranian -- what would your reaction to that be?

4. Of course the cynical view is that he's just doing this to bump his numbers in the upcoming election. Would Bibi toy with global peace just for that? Maybe. A related view is that he cares less about Iran getting the bomb than he he does about them becoming an accepted member of the international community. Fallows argues that at The Atlantic.

UPDATE 3-4-15:

As always, I urge you to read Larison at the American Conservative on foreign policy matters. Among other things, he called Netenyahu's  appearance a "disgraceful spectacle." (Obama called it "theater.") In terms of particulars, Larison notes that when Bibi rejects an agreement that has a ten-year expiration date, he is rejecting the norms that guide nearly all such negotiations. It's not negotiating if one side is expected to concede on every single point.

Noted elsewhere, the Israeli PM has a dismal track record in terms of his projections for the Middle East. He was one quite notable and early proponent of the Iraq debacle, and he's been wrong on much, much else. But the hard-liners and fear-mongers in both countries keep the other gainfully employed, so they have that going for themselves.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Provincetown Artists: Jim Broussard

I can dream, can't I? Above is the view of the dunes when exiting Herring Cove Beach in summer -- when the livin' is easy. Jim Broussard captures P-town in all seasons. Below is a nice winter scene. For more P-town artists, click on the label Provincetown at the bottom of this post.