Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A fetching farmland

Many natural and man-made objects rise to the surface of a Maine field. Rocks are the obvious ones, and at the time that this part of the coast was farmland, rocks were piled in walls along the boundary lines. Even now, rocks continue to surface with every winter frost, and the litter of stones, boulders, and pea sized gravel across my piece of property is a reminder that once this area was a mile under a glacier’s ice. The Drinkwaters, who kept cattle here in the last century, added their used machinery to the rock wall, and in the past year, we have fetched up, for instance, inner tube tires preserving 1920’s air, a still shiny Sterling truck hubcap, a rusted out carjack, and yards of barbed wire. There’s more to come. My neighbor has a wheel and axle set which when turned on end is a dharma wheel waiting for prayer flags.

Each of these products of industry partakes of wabi sabi, that Zen concept of the singular and melancholic in art. The rust, the organic color, the minimal form, are all reminders of the passage of time and the transience of existence. One of my discoveries – and I have no idea what its original purpose was – is a bowl-shaped piece of metal that can be held in the hand. It has the simple elegance of raku pottery. As a form, it asks the viewer to collaborate with its original maker and the processes of the natural world, in re-creating it as a piece of art. Explanations of wabi sabi and postulations on the relocation of art from the viewed object to the collaboration between art and the observer require many words. More pleasure is to be had pondering the fundamentality of a well-worn rock or an all-day every-day hubcap.

Thanks to my html guru, the site feed to the left now does what it's supposed to and will let you know when I'm back online.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wall Animation

Muto - a wall painted animation by Blu - is graffiti gone nuts. Imagine a drawing that perpetuates itself along the gritty backways and brick walls of a nowhere city. Imagine this drawing executed in repeated washes of grunge white and black lines. The self-perpetuating characters recall high brow videos by William Kentridge along with the lowest brow South Park regurgitations. There were anime influences as well. If I tell you that my all-time favorite comic strip is Little Nemo in Slumberland, you'll understand my fascination for mediums that combine good drawing with few words. In fact this video has sound, but no words. See for yourself on vimeo.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pigs, Squirrels and Street Art

Long time ago when I lived in Louisville, I walked out to the back alley one morning to find “Die Pigs” and other unprintable slogans graffitied on the back of our garage. My reaction was the same as when, also in Louisville, I saw a squirrel strolling along our upstairs hall – Wow, I thought, that’s really cool. Not because I have it in for pigs, but because the visual impact of the graffiti had so much to offer the otherwise plain grey surface that was the garage wall. Graffiti, like squirrels in hallways, can re-locate our expectations either momentarily or permanently. My second thought was, Wait a minute, there’s something wrong here.

Squirrels really do have no business being in houses, but graffiti can be good or not so – bad graffiti being that which is visually unappealing, and good being humorous, well-designed, I saw a lot of really good graffiti in the 70’s while I was traveling by train in Europe, and the Tate Modern, described in the Guardian as “the world’s most popular modern art gallery,” is now hosting a street art exhibition that will use the building’s walls as canvas for spray-painters. Apparently, street art has become very big business in the UK. It’s hugely popular among the public, which nominated the street artist Banksy for the Turner Prize in 2005, but also now among collectors and museums.

If you are among the graffiti-challenged, and prefer to keep your thoughts and doings where they belong, I offer the ZOPP approach to project management, or Zielorientierte Projektplanung, which I discovered by accident while short-cutting the url address for this blog. It’s all yours – have at it, or go out and paint a building.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What We Know About Cows, or Sing One Song

Me being a Kentuckian and all, I guess people might expect me to write about the Kentucky Derby which was Saturday, but I think I’ll write about cows instead. My grandfather was a cattle farmer in Mason County, Kentucky, and still stands proudly by his prize cows, preserved forever in an aged black photo album, the kind with black pages, where the black and white cows are fixed in with black photo corners,.

Right now at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, there is an extraordinary congregation of cows, painted by Lois Dodd. One of those cows will be looking straight at you, its face a plane of clear yellow, a simple plane of earth and endurance, the color of butter. It was Dodd’s painting that got me thinking about what it is about cows that entices artists to choose them as subjects. And that led me to the way cows epitomize unhurriedness. When rushed, they have the same awkwardness as swans forced to walk out of water. Cows have the solidity of boulders in a field – and like boulders, they’re thinking something, but you’re not quite sure what.

A quick Google search for artists and cows turns up a disappointing number of references to projects in which people decorate cows and put them on city streets, but also this directory of cow cartoons where you get a glimpse of what cows think, and this review of paintings by Sharon Yates, another artist who gets the essence of cows.

And then there are the references from The Rig Veda, in part a song praising cows, which makes them god-like. “To me the cows seem Bhaga, they seem Indra, they seem a portion of the first-poured Soma . . . . O cows, ye fatten e’en the worn and wasted, and make the unlovely beautiful to look on.”