Monday, December 13, 2010

CAVU Forever

Ten days ago, the last of my grandparents died. Our family was given notice that my maternal grandfather, David Makepeace Poxson had gone into hospice on the last day of November, and I knew this was his last ascent into the skies.

I think the best way to sum up my grandfather is to say that he was a pilot and a story-teller. His was an expansive view of life, filtered through triumph, loss, and history. In the Second World War, he served in the Army and was stationed at Los Alamos during the development of the Atom Bomb. Later, he was at Bikini Atoll when the bomb was tested.

Growing up, it was always common knowledge that grandfather had been at Los Alamos, and we’d even seen the Army photos taken during the test, where if you looked closely, we imagined we could see the ships tossed end-over-end, tiny in the mushroom cloud. But Grandfather never really talked in detail about what he did for the Army, or, what he saw.

That changed over a family Thanksgiving in November 2008. We were sitting around the living room in my Grandfather Peck’s Topinabee house, with my Grandfather Poxson and he (Poxson) started talking about his time in the Army. As he spoke, and he could weave a tale even out of the simplest day that left you hanging on every word, he talked about what it meant to guard the “raw material” used for the bomb-making, how the scientists worked with the uranium (inside “little lead houses to prevent radiation leaks"), and what happened to one of the scientists when one of the doll-sized houses toppled. Radiation sickness is a horrible way to die.

Grandfather Poxson also talked about the spare, aching beauty of the Southwest, told us that for a while, he’d considered moving out there, and how, he wasn’t surprised that New Mexico is where my brother now makes his life. He told us about driving the "material" through the then, very bumpy back rodes of NM, how he and his fellow soldiers sweated those rides out, and how, though it in some ways seemed absurd, how his unit was keeping watch for spies and other unauthorized persons.

Then he told us about the explosion. For him, I believe, it was a life-changing experience; one that informed many of his choices after he returned to civilian life. He spoke quietly as he talked about the awesome power of the bomb, of seeing mighty warships blown into the air, and even one exquisitely beautiful Japanese Junk that was simply evaporated upon detonation. Even in his 90th year, he could describe the Junk as if it floated before him again. As he told his story, you could see him remembering the terrible power unleashed that day, and I believe, he then returned home to Michigan, and dedicated his life to protecting that which he could.

Our family has owned property in Northern Michigan for about a century, and it was to this land, and a tiny, four-room cabin (the Stone House), that he ultimately returned to. He spent his life protecting the land, as a member of the zoning board, and even in his late eighties, was forcing environmental and building compliance upon those who would deface his woods. When a neighbor poured a concrete slab that drained into the lake instead of using gravel, or just leaving a grass impression, he stood nose-to-nose with the millionaire offender, and said, “Go ahead, pour the slab, you’ll just be pulling it out tomorrow.” And he won.

The destruction he witnessed that day at Bikini, I think never left him, so he decided –perhaps- to work against it. How long his physical legacy, the land, will hold, I don’t know, but that righteous willingness to articulate and maintain beliefs, I hope and think is the lastingest part.

My grandfather was a sailor, pilot, wood-chopper, hunter, recipient of a Master’s Degree in English (story teller), and a connoisseur of pies and sour-dough pancakes. He was as exquisitely made as the Japanese Junk he so admired: David M. Poxson 1918-2010.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Every Body Loves Art Basel

I just got back from my second trip down south to check out Art Basel Miami, and I can say, without a doubt, it is worth the trip.

This year's fair seemed even more buoyant and expansive than last year's. As a the overwhelming backdrop to everything, there was Phu Hoang's and Rachely Rotem's surprisingly poetic rope sculpture/arial installation that anyone with any friends in Miami has surely already seen photos of.

This year, instead of mapping out marching orders, I took a more organic approach, letting one event lead to another, with a few pointed stops along the way. Of course, it's really worth noting that I stayed with some friends who were wonderful, accommodating, fun hosts who really love their city. They took us on a kind of mini-tour of Miami, and I've come away with a deeper, semi-profound love of the city, which so sharply contrasts with our own.

It's not just that Miami is beautiful, and populated with a diverse, beautiful population, but rather that Miami has practice saying "yes." Whether it is to an all night party on the beach, or, to an art fair that transforms the city for a week in December. Recently I was asked to participate in a video project of Dolf James's; he wants to get people talking about why Jacksonville is great, or at least good. And for as long as I've lived here, the one thing I've said is that here, you can kind of decide you're going to do something, and just do the damn thing. It's kind of like the wild west in that manner, but also like the west, there isn't a whole lot of support structure in place (also like those olden days, often, if you've got a big enough "gun" one can convince people of an otherwise unwarrented, er, grandeur).

So this city often finds itself at odds with its own self. Of course, it doesn't seem to help that Jacksonville (from my perspective) has a habit of pouring funds into absurd, useless projects, and then, when there are no more funds left, crying to the creative community to help create something else, but now I digress.

This year in Miami, I visited the Rubell again, and wasn't as bowled over as last year, this year, I thought the break away show was Scope, specifically the artist Enrique Gomez de Molina. His attention to detail, scale, and willingness to work with what otherwise might be considered repulsive materials piques the curiosity, touches on ideas trophy and destruction, and is often seductively beautiful. In the rhino bust (pictured), the artist covered a rhino mould with thousands of iridescent beatle wings. It was exquisite. I wanted to sell my house, purchase the piece, and move in with it under a bridge.

Then there was Mr. Anthony Lister. I've been a huge fan (no other word for it) of his work since I first started seeing it on Wooster Collective years and years ago. His sure but hurried application and use of multiples within one image struck me as a really modern solution to figuration and narrative painting. This year he was all over Miami. With three murals and two shows, he was clearly working hard, and from the extraordinarily brief conversation I had with him, I'd say he was enjoying himself quite a bit (and was probably a little exhausted).

The same day I saw Lister (at a little LISTER pop-up gallery, and again at the Hello Kitty show), I got to see the Margulies Collection where in addition to seeing L'Hospice (Superhero Nursing Home), I was captivated by Pieter Hugo's photographs of Nigerian Gadawan Kura (Hyena Men). Incredibly formidable, the images immediately strike the speculation of the viewer: what kind of people tame hyenas (and baboons)?

As a little research shows, a family of performers who've been passing down the hyena secrets for generations.

Taking Art Basel as a whole is near impossible. Rather, I say make it to a few of the things your friends tell you not to miss, wander into a few unexpected spaces, and snack your way through the city (there was the taco truck outside of Rubell, Sugarcane near Scope, Prima Pasta in Miami Beach, Caminito Way in North Miami, the Chow Down Grill in Seaside, or any of a host of little pop-up snack places near the fairs).

This year, Art Basel was food, laughter and beauty. I can't wait to return.

Now, I'm gonna go eat the bagel I hauled back.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Butchie {Frank O'Hara}

A long time ago I read Larry Rivers' autobiography (thank you Kurt). In it, he talks about his friendship with the poet Frank O'Hara. Fast forward five or so years, and I stumbled across Brad Gooch's City Poet, The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara.

O'Hara was primarily concerned and involved with the second-generation of abstract expressionists, and the early pop artists. He worked as a curator for MOMA and wrote poetry. He wrote prolifically, profoundly, and occasionally with an arch bitchiness that was as much a part of the literary scene in the '50s and '60s as it was the east coast gay scene. Called Butch when he enlisted in the Navy because he was kind of tough-looking, his fellow sailors were affectionately calling him Butchie by the end of his tour.

Like the nerd that I am, as I stumble across bits of his writing that I really love, I jott down a few of my favorite snatches and excerpts. And since I'm not in Jacksonville to gossip about what's happening there, nor have I yet made the Cleveland rounds, I thought I'd post them here:

From a letter to Larry Rivers, from O'Hara at the conclusion of their affair (they continued to be great friends until O'Hara's death in 1966--he was run over by a beach bus on Fire Island at 3 a.m., and by the time the physicians figured out he was bleeding internally, there was nothing to be done).

"But the worst thing of all about being rejected is the grotesquerie, it sits on one's back like a hump, a horrid tumor, which cannot be shaken, or cut off, or wished away. It is. And there is no making it not what it is."

Digression Number 1

Stars are out and there is sea
enough beneath the glistening earth
to bear me toward the future
which is not so dark. I see.

Naptha (written after the poet saw Jean DuBbuffet's 1959 MOMA show)

Ah Jean Dubeffet
when you think of him
doing his military service in the Eiffel Tower
as a meteorologist
in 1922
you know how wonderful the 20th Century
can be

That'll be all from me here today...I may post about my Michigan Experience over at ...belief in invisibility...

* first image: Alice Neel painting of O'Hara
**third image: a drawing of O'Hara by Rivers.
***fourth image: one of the results of the collaboration between O'Hara and Norman Bluhm

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Price of Gold

So, although I haven't been posting about it here, I have been watching the Bravo-channel show, Work of Art, and it's worse than a train wreck; somehow they've managed to tap into every insidious stereotype about artists and run with it. And I don't think it'd be so bad except for two things:

1. It's pretty apparent who is going to win.

2. Not only does the winner walk with a hefty sum, but also, a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum; an amazing space for any artist, let alone a contest winner, to show in. But maybe that's my jealousy leaking thru.

That being said, do I want to compete? No, and no least because the time constraints seem pretty arbitrary...barely enough for the paint to dry (not that very many of the competitors are painting), but also, in my case, more exposure means lots more chances for me to make a fool of myself with self-aggrandizing proclamations and tiresome artists' statements (plus, I really could stand to lose a few pounds; chubby doesn't film very well).

That being said, there are a few Jacksonville artists I'd love to see compete. On top of the list: Lee Harvey.

I count Lee among my oldest friends here in Jacksonville, and one of the earliest supporters of my art and later, my writing. I've been seeing him more and more lately because he likes to drink coffee at my neighborhood Starbucks, and every time I see him I come away thinking. Whether we always agree is another thing; he says provocative, sometimes outlandish things, but there's generally enough in our conversation so that upon arrival home, I {at least} google the price of gold.

Lee would be, I believe, the perfect contestant to have on this art show. He's smart enough to know it's all a sham, and to give to producers a run for their $$$. He works fast, and has an established visual lexicon within a larger practice not just of making paintings (though they're his primary focus), but of making things. Plus, Lee's been known to get into the odd fight, and not just ideological. He'd probably never do it--he values his privacy these days--but I think the results would be grand.

And at least if he won the $$$ and the show, we wouldn't hate ourselves in the morning.

* above image (Marie Antoinette Big Blah) used without permission from Lee Harvey Inc.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Renewal and all that Jazz

So it's been months and months since I posted here. But I find that though I have a sparkling new blog over at wordpress, I can't quite quit thinking about stuff over here. Admittedly an odd notion since there really isn't a sense of space of place on the interwebs, but I kind of can't help it.

It feels right here.

So, the long and the short of it, is, I think I am back. Not least because every time I watch That Art Show on Bravo (Work of Art), my blood boils at the thin, and boring "crits" each artist or team gets. Take for instance this past Weds (14 June 2010). The contestants were divided into two teams to create a public art piece. And after so doing, during the "crit," on the most basic, kind of sweeping level, none of the judges mentioned either Turrell, Smithson or Judd...are the producers so committed to perpetuating the "artist as genius" myth that they overlook obvious, recent, antecedents?

Hell, even on Project Runway Kors or Garcia will stop a contestant in their tracks when they too closely or obviously riff a previous collection.

*pictured: top Scales bottom: Nuematon (winner)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tata Jesus is Bangala

I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible. I read it at the recommendation of a friend, and besides the tragic beauty, and inherent compellingness (is that even a word?) of the story, I can’t help but think how all of us, in one form or another, carry with us our own Bible of wounds, worries, and wonder.

The story itself follows the lives of four girls, their mother, and their father (Reverend Nathan Price) as missionaries in the Belgian Congo in Kilanga--a small village on the Kwilu river--before, during, and after the democratic elections, which were quickly followed (as suggested in the book) by a U.S. backed military coup (we don’t like Ike!).

Told in the voices of the five women, the book details the sublime mistakes this family from Georgia makes while trying to spread the word of god and bring ‘light’ into the wilderness.

It’s a sideways look at colonialism, and a pretty strong argument against it. Showing how people get swept up in issues and events larger than themselves. This does not absolve any of the characters from their mistakes, but rather, like the best novel it humanizes them.

Perhaps the best example of the misunderstanding and arrogance is Reverend Price’s continuous and unwavering assertion that “Tata Jesus is bangala!” (father/brother Jesus is precious). However, due do subtle variation in the way certain syllables are stressed or not, bangala can either mean the intended: precious, or, is the name for a poisonwood tree. Mostly, Reverend Price gets it wrong, and so his attempts at conversion are less than successful.

Though the family only lives in Kilanga for 18 months, it changes their live irrevocably and really, Kingsolver suggests none of them ever leave Africa completely behind.

I mention this story and these themes here because I think it is time for me to relocate this blog. 2009 seemed to go on forever, and so this blog became less a repository of observation, and more a cry into the night. Looking over some of my last posts, I realized that Art Isn’t Rocket Science is bangala too. It started out as something good and precious to me, but now I see it, if not as poisonwood, certainly as a chapter that must end.

I feel like this blog has become less a place of sanctuary and humor, and more like an invisible anchor around my neck: I feel guilty for not posting, but when I do it’s all this navel-gazing, whiney shit. So, I’ve made the decision to end this blog, and start a new one over on wordpress: ...belief in invisibility.... The new blog will include some of the more personal essays this one has come to encompass, and the focus will still be art and culture, but hopefully with a slightly less evangelical bent.

Tata Jesus is bangala!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dreams Answered: Marilyn at MOCA

"Dreaming about being an actress, is more exciting then being one." --MM

Last night Marilyn, Forever Blonde made its Jacksonville debut. I’d interviewed the lead, actress, Sunny Thompson for EU, and hearing her talk about playing Marilyn, and the steps she’d taken to inhabit the character really roused my curiousity.

But in truth, I would’ve gone to see the play anyway. It’s not that I am a huge Marilyn Monroe fan, rather, I am fascinated by the phenomenon that she and celebrities like her represent. Especially in light of a recent viewing of This Is It. Watching Michael Jackson work through his rehearsals, interact with members of the troupe and production team, and the props scheduled for the tour gives the viewer a glimpse into the way his mind works, and, the way the MJ public persona was always in place. Even when planning his interaction with the audience, those same gestures are again found in his semi-private interactions with his crew.

So too, in Forever Blonde, does the audience see a Marilyn that is both real and artifice; a self-made, deliberate, creature and a real person with deep flaws. Sunny Thompson bears a striking resemblance to Monroe, but what really brings Marilyn to life is the voice…from her first utterances on her early days in Hollywood to a drunken semi-rage against her final ex-husband and her failure to succeed as a “serious” actress, the voice carries the weight of one-thousand pop culture memories.

Marilyn as an icon has completely eclipsed Marilyn as a person. And while there is the endless speculation of her influence as a cultural touchstone and symbol, to get a glimpse behind her veil of celebrity of enlightening and frustrating. Thompson so completely inhabits the role of Monroe there is a hallucinatory feeling of being in two places at once: the present, where one belongs, and Marilyn’s final photo shoot.

Ultimately though Forever Blonde invites speculation and navel gazing about a celebrity obsessed culture, it is a reminder that the famous, no matter how asisine and absurd are people too. Sometimes {just sometimes} they deserve our compassion.

Marilyn, Forever Blonde plays through March 7 at MOCA, the exhibit it accompanies, Life as Legend, Marilyn Monroe runs through April 4.

Friday, January 29, 2010

New Bar Sneak Peek {let's go to the lodge}

Last night I stopped by the old Steamworks/new Lodge. Ian’s got Sean Thurston painting a series of “trophy heads,” on the wall in true hunt lodge/man cave style, and so far, they live up to the reputation Sean has established for himself. Highly rendered, balancing humor and design, the new pieces are looser than some of Sean’s previous works, but he explains, “They’re meant to be seen in low, bar, lighting.”

In addition to the mural (which is likely to be the focus of the space), Ian and Maryanne are upgrading the bar amenities, and adding a smoke eater that works. They project that the bar will be open towards the end of February/beginning of March.

We {I} wish them tons of luck and success!

Here’s a link to Ian talking with Joey Marchy and Tony Allegretti.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Portents of Goodness

So I’ve talked a lot about how this past year was full of difficult family stuff. That while I was attempting to move in a new direction (and receiving some good feedback) emotional roadblocks kept throwing themselves in my direction. But I’m not the only one, 2009 was tough for most of the people I know.

In my first post of 2010, I hoped that 2010 would be a better year. And so far, that hope is bearing modest fruit. This past summer I had the worst vacation ever. I went to the family cabin in Northern Michigan, and not only is the cabin in horrible, uncomfortable shape, the weather was cold and rainy, and, I picked a screaming fight with my father then ran out of the house crying. Though my father and I made up, it was with a lot of trepidation that I invited my parents down here this past week. My nervousness was unfounded.

Though I think my parents could possibly send the Dali Lama into screaming fits of frustration, this trip went really well. The weather was mild enough that we spent most of our days walking the neighborhood and beaches. But the highlight of the trip was our excursion to Cumberland Island. For years my friends have been telling me what an amazing place the island is. But me being me, I seem to always think that tomorrow is when I’ll go have a Cumberland adventure. However, when I mentioned it to my family, my father said he’s been wanting to go to the island for 30 years. So we went. And it was an amazing, transformative experience. I think my family and I will remember it as one of our best times together for the rest of our life.

So, thus far, 2010 has started auspiciously. Hopefully the trend will continue.

*of course, that's not to say that there weren't moments when I wanted to scream, or, I'm sure, my parents thought me pretentious and a little OCD. But, if your parents define who you are (whether you react against them, or in line with them) the more I can be compassionate in my dealings with my own family, the more I can be compassionate with myself.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

art nobody uses

"“I am a fisherman of social absurdity, if you will… My focus is to politicize disenfranchisement, to make it neut, to reinvent what’s beneath us, to remind us where we all come from." WPL

I got this from Mark Creegan today: nullspace, a new art gallery / studio has opened at 108 East Adams Street Jacksonville, FL, 32202. Curated by its owners, Mark Creegan, Kurt Polkey, and Jefree Shalev, the inaugural show, presented by the Leon Castelli Group and titled "Art You Can't Use," will take place on Friday, January 22, 2010 between the hours of 7 pm and 10 pm. Show runs thru Feb 19th

A brief description of the show: William Pope L is an iconoclastic performance artist whose themes include economics, race, disenfranchisement, and cultural values. Using Pope L's life and career as a jumping off point, Mark Creegan, Kurt Polkey and Jefree Shalev will bring drawing, performance art, installation and video together to create a cohesive jumble of ideas around those themes.

On a personal note: the other day I dropped in and talked with Jefree and Kurt for an article I am putting together for Arbus. Suffice to say that lots of things were said that will never get printed. However I came away from the space with the distinct feeling that even if people are extraordinarily critical of what goes down there, they’ll be happy.

Jefree and Kurt talked a lot about the need for a space that isn’t driven by revenue needs. Formerly it’d be safe to say that SeeSaw occupied that niche. But as the economy boomed, space itself became a commodity that few could afford to use for an experiment. Now though, through the Downtown Vision initiative, Mark, Kurt, and Jefree are able to give space to their thoughts (they describe themselves as a for-profit gallery with a non-profit attitude).

I hope to stop by this Friday…with my parents in tow.

*above image taken from one of William Pope L’s performance pieces {I believe} from his eRascism project.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

In Closing...

Looking back over 2009, I am amazed at how much I got done, and how much more I feel like I have to do. I’ve been telling friends and acquaintances that 2009 was one of the most amazing years of my life…in the same way that in 1939, Hitler was Time’s man-of-the-year.

2009 was both incredibly challenging, and rewarding. I traveled more than I ever have, to places I am intimately familiar with, as well as the brand new. I discovered a love of, and affinity for, the open road. Though I liked driving for hours alone in the Texas Panhandle, and even more through Northeastern New Mexico…I also discovered that I am the kind of traveler badly in need of a control room: on the way out to Santa Fe, I managed to lose my glasses (still had my prescription sunglasses), and on the way back (in Amarillo), I managed to leave my purse—full of everything I needed to live--on a hotel counter top because I left in a panic to outrun a snowstorm. By the time I outran the storm, 100 miles later, I realized I’d left my purse behind...a calling card of absent-mindedness. Luckily, the motel where I stopped trusted me to get the cash and pay them the next day, and my (now) husband wired $$$ to the local Wal-Mart.

Since the snowstorm was so bad, all the roads heading back to Amarillo were closed, but the people at the La Quinta were kind enough to mail my purse back to me. Everything intact.

2009 also brought with it several devastating events that I’ve mentioned here and it took me until October to realize that I am still kind of processing them. Not just the events, but the change they wrought.

Perhaps most auspiciously, I got married to Nick Wagner this May, and that feels like the right thing to have done, though now when he’s being absurd and I am haughtily looking down my nose at his antics, he just reminds me that I married him…and therefore am partially culpable. Nice.

I also finally made it to Miami during Art Basel, and though it’s an overwhelming event, I was pleased that I left it feeling more energized about the future than weighted down with that insidious thought, “everyone is an artist.” It was also at Art Basel that I hit my first-ever Bullseye playing darts. Perhaps that contributed to my buoyancy…

More recently, I tried my first recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And though I can honestly say I did not see Julie and Julia until after I’d read Julia Child’s My Life in France, the pervasiveness of the movie did excite my curiosity, and therefore inspire the gift (Mastering was a part of Christmas). Thus I am a part of the cadre of home-cooks inspired by the movie and rushing out to by their own Le Creuset pots and attempt French cooking…we’ll see how it goes.

But back to the recipe: Quiche aux Oignons (onion quiche). Made with 2 pounds of sweet Vidalia onions, cream, and eggs, the result was more like a desert tart than a main course. So rich, we could only eat a tiny slice at a time, it exemplified the notion of technique vs. ingredients. How such simple--humble really--ingredients can transform into something so incredibly decadent was an object lesson in patience (the 2 lbs took an hour to cook down) and simplicity. Hopefully one I can bring into the New Year.

Plus it’s nice that 2010 (the numeric arrangement) has such an appealing, visually balanced quality…it can’t help but be a good year right?