Monday, August 31, 2009

Report from Walton

It was no intention of mine to end up in Walton, New York in 2005. It was a true twist of fate, one that reminds me that I have less control over my life than I’d like to think. So be it. Since, I’ve spent almost every weekend here, and in the summer, weeks at a time.

In my head, the story about myself went like this: I would work in a lofty studio in the city, while simultaneously tending to social demands, financial demands, family demands with great ease and satisfaction. All of it would culminate in full recognition and appreciation of moi, and I would become a deep, enlightened soul.

As it is: I make work when I can, which is surely not enough, and mostly fail my friends, finances and family. That said I’m still working on deepening my soul. Whether this will culminate in recognition and appreciation of moi is to be decided, it will definitely not be definitive, and actually not that interesting.

Being here feels lonely – or rather alone. Because there’s no one here to tell me if what I’m doing is right. And nothing happens here, so how could I do anything of consequence. And then, what about my shifting sense of “of consequence” anyway.

But every now and then, I get a flash of reassurance. Philip Guston isolated himself in Woodstock; and look at how Chris Martin signed his painting above.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I only have time today to throw out a few passing thoughts:

In mandalas, they are not only symbols and representations of deities, but the things themselves. Does that mean that the mandala artist is a channel?


Martha Schwendener has another flat article in the Voice today in which she thinks she’s saying something new. What annoys me this time is the easy condemnation of white, MFA-carrying artists vs. the heroic black revolutionary (Emory Douglas at the New Museum). Both are stereotypes, Martha. Can’t go deeper than that?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Worth it

Really, every artist, curator or art institution’s dream is to receive the kind of review Holland Cotter wrote Friday about the Mandala show at the Rubin Museum. It’s laudatory, funny and informative. And advertising works: I went the same day.

I had never realized that mandalas are often maps of three-dimensional spaces– of palaces for example – flattened onto paper. They’re bird’s eye views of a floor plan. In meditation, one can use the image as a guide to visualize traveling on the path from the outer circles of the palace into the inner sanctum of sorts. On the most basic level, it’s a tool to help train concentration.

Esthetically speaking, I was especially taken in by delicate line work, devoid of all tension, and also the sometime substitution of object for figure that left my own pretensions of symbolism writhing pathetically in the dust.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


T. is a former car mechanic who moved to southern France fourteen years ago to up his quality of life. With nothing much else to do, he became absorbed by what the local “patrimoine” had to offer, and that is winemaking.

Winemaking in France is a strictly regulated business: to be official, a “Marianne,” equivalent in many ways to the medallion on New York taxis, must bestow a recognized product. But for small producers, driven more by passion than profit, taxes and other nuisances are too great to make the endeavor worth it. So they go illegal. T., for example, makes wine in his garage.

Our conversation during the tasting revolved around the effect the wind has on bottling; around how wine is alive and how, once bottled, it will change as the grapes in the vineyard miles away change (unless of course it is “pasteurized” and killed as mass market wines are); around how some taste figs, while others taste crystal clearness at the back of their tongue.

But as New York stress seeps back into my bones, this experience is already fading, just like the sound of that undeniably European moped speeding by the window and around the bend.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Plein Air

What has perhaps caught my attention most here are the trees: the cypresses, the plane trees and the trees with upward facing pines (pin maritime and pin d’alep). And how hard it is to draw a tree!

My process has involved making quick sketches while traveling in the car, jotting down the shape of the clusters of leaves. Then I use these as a springboard for my own arboreal concoctions, which usually end up looking like bulbs, mushrooms, and the Flintstones.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Allo, allo

The more I think about it, the more I realize that just about everything here is considered to be the country’s “patrimoine.” In the past 24 hours alone, I’ve heard or read references to the “patrimoine historique” (a chateau), the “patrimoine culturel” (same chateau), and the “patrimoine naturel” (birds at that chateau); there’s a national patrimoine, a departmental patrimoine and even each “commune” has one with a corresponding association.

So really, there’s no choice but to work from within this concept. Here’s an example of how: In Paziols, there’s a public announcement system and three or four times daily a representative from the “mairie” (the town hall) broadcasts the day’s events, always beginning with “allo, allo.”

“Allo, allo. The fishmonger has arrived at the town square and will be there until noon.”

“Allo, allo. There will be a Claude Nougaro tribute in Font-Romeu this evening. Paella.”

“Allo, allo. The association of wild boar hunters will meet next Tuesday.”

What makes these announcements doubly enjoyable is the musical interlude with which they are prefaced: a full minute of Etienne Daho, George Brassens, Olivia Newton John will briefly interrupt the quiet air.

Intrigued by this quirky use of the “patrimoine musical,” I decided to visit the mairie. The first thing I encountered was a table displaying local wines, then a table with a variety of pamphlets describing local spots of interest, and also opportunities for youth to volunteer to preserve buildings – “Mission: Patrimoine” it declared.

When I asked the woman about her selection, she said that it was whim that directed her. A large stack of CDs at her side, she went back to work, as I clearly needed no further assistance.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Contemporary Art vs Patrimoine

Claude Fran├žois et les Clodettes, a national phenomenon

The fact that this “patrimoine” is understood on a mass-level, and the fact that it instills pride, tells us that the arts are indeed a means of building nationalism - whether this is positive, negative or both. In other words, the arts provide a shared sense of self.

But the cradle of the patrimoine here in France is so comforting, so understanding, so motherly, that a cultural sleepiness seems to have emerged. Rare, it seems, is the French misfit or renegade. For even she is embraced, to the point that she fails to really serve her purpose: that is, to say no, to divert. Art doesn’t necessarily need to go counter, but it does need to go its own way.

The fact that our sense of cultural commonality in the U.S. is so flimsy and fragmented perhaps explains why, paradoxically, our contemporary art scene has a stronger heartbeat. Making art in the US continues to be a dissident act, an expression of quirk, an urge to give a flat existence flavor. Here delicious flavor is never far, so why travel?

Next time: quirk from within the system

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mathilde m'est revenue

Auguste Renoir, Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876.

“Patrimoine” in French might best be translated as cultural heritage and this is something your most average frog is sure to have a strong sense of. Hers consists of food, wine and the rambling songs of the “paroliers.” French visual art, I would say, comes only after these top three.

In this small village of perhaps 1,000, the “patrimoine” is alive and well. Just this week, two live bands have come to give outdoor concerts, singing ballads from the French collective consciousness (mixing in, of course, American pop from the 50s and then La Bamba).

What I like to think about is just the idea that young artists are being paid to tour through small towns in France and improve the quality of life in the name of “patrimoine.” And it works! People seem to love it. It’s social time outside, free of charge, and there’s dancing to boot.