Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In the future...

BEAUTY: Painting--Jared Joslin

Jared Joslin paints marvelous, dream-like, slightly menacing portraits of 1930s carnival folk and when I saw his work, I flashed on the enigmatic, spooky short-lived HBO series, "Carnivale" which took place in Dust Bowl/ Depression Era America.

Top to bottom: Carny Self Portrait; Dream Captain; Fortune Teller; Illusionist; Shooting Gallery; Strongman


Monday, May 30, 2011

Currently listening to...

I never post "Currently listening to..."s back to back. I usually post whatever comes up on my iPod or iPad that suddenly strikes my fancy, but I must make an exception here. Today, I discovered the Swedish trio Junip, whose gorgeous, soft, gauzy sound is perfect for summer. Steeped in a kind of soft-psychedelia, the vocals are smooth, the drums and instruments are muted, and the whole thing has a slightly fuzzy, hazy veil.

This official video for their song "In Every Direction" made me close my eyes and sway. I've had it on repeat for a while now...
I'm in love with this sound.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Currently listening to...

...the glorious lo-fi buzz of "Mirrors" by Crocodiles. (No official video for this song--hence the still photo of the band--but it's just too good not to post.)

The Duchess of Coolsville

I had the honor of being in the audience at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco Friday night for an historic concert: Rickie Lee Jones performed her first two albums, in their entirety (minus one song), in the original track listing (unless she felt like moving a song here or there). Her first album, “Rickie Lee Jones” was released in 1979 and netted her five Grammy nominations and a Grammy win for Best New Artist. Her second album, which by no means suffered from the dreaded "sophomore syndrome," was the sweeping, symphonic/ jazzy “Pirates.” It was the material from these two recordings that made up the evening at the Davies.

I have seen RLJ in concert five times over the years and this sixth concert was an interesting treat. She has performed many of the songs from these two albums on past tours, but some have not been heard live since their initial release. Striding out onto the stage in a bright red beret (a direct nod to the cover of “Rickie Lee Jones”) and towering platform shoes, she and her band launched into “Chuck E.’s In Love” without any fanfare. There was a mix problem with the sound for this first song… thankfully, whoever was at the mixing board realized that, in a symphony hall, a lot of amplification is not necessary. We bebopped our way through her first record with her. I teared up during the delicate, exquisite "On Saturday Afternoons in 1963," and we all swooned on the ghostly and lovely “Last Chance Texaco,” complete with her chilling passing-truck sound effect (twice!) at the end of the song.

I expected that she—and we—would take an intermission break before heading into “Pirates,” but she took her place at the piano and she and her band began the grand, epic “We Belong Together.” It was an ambitious venture to play both albums back to back, and it took its toll on her and the band. Her horn section and band took turns playing solos, but a little while later, it was clear everyone was sagging. This is the first stop on a world tour for RLJ and I have a feeling the band was still in a bit of a dress-rehearsal mode. A full third of the way into “Traces of the Western Slope,” she made the band stop and start again, saying, “We just got off on the wrong foot,” (and by her own admission after the song, she said, “We shouldn’t play such a hard song so late in the set...”). I have been listening to these songs for thirty plus years, and it has never been brought so clearly to my attention that RLJ’s music is actually quite complicated. The bebop/ jazzy tunes are straight forward enough, but her lyrical/ ballad/ epic songs feature a never-ending cavalcade of shifting time signatures. And now that I have seen a drummer struggle to play these pieces (“Watch me for this entire song,” she teased the drummer), I have a new-found respect for the musical/ arranging ability and song-writing prowess of RLJ, and the musicians who play these songs. She was tired though, and began to leave out words, sometimes skipping whole lines of choruses. And the evening ended without the sweet, magical “The Returns” which closes “Pirates.”

Having said this, I do not want to give anyone the impression that the performance was sub-par or not entertaining. RLJ has always had a living, vital sense to her performances which are not simply mere reproductions of studio recordings, but true, organic musical events. This give and take, this start-over method only serves to imbue her, and consequently the evening, with the sense that we are witnessing someone carve and craft music before our eyes. We are watching someone paint a masterpiece, we are seeing someone chisel marble into a monument. Every RLJ concert is like a fingerprint—unique, singular, and perfect in its own essence.

Thank you Rickie, for the years of gorgeous, inspiring music and a legacy of fantastic live performances.

BEAUTY: Painting--Michaël Borremans

I seem to be synchronistically stumbling upon a series of artists who share a similar texture and sensibility. (Being a Jungian, I will be meditating upon what this is telling me...) Michaël Borremans is a Belgian painter and filmmaker whose work echoes the artists in my previous two posts, Adrian Ghenie and Daniel Pitin. Like them, his work references a European sensibility of decades gone by and includes compositions seemingly based on photographs from the 30s and 40s. Borremans also chooses to paint out-of-context moments that, especially like Pitin, imply some sort of sinking feeling, a sense that what we are witnessing exists in a frightening part of the darkness of humanity; it makes sense in a realm beyond our understanding. Much of what we see resembles some kind of pseudo-scientific experiments done during World War II (see The Pupils with young men dripping their own tears into the eyes of others). It's also interesting to note that all three artists feature half torsos, some in boxes. But unlike Ghenie and Pitin, Borremans' work is a little cleaner and slightly more stylized. Borremans cites Manet, Degas and the Spanish court painter Velazquez as inspirations.

Top to bottom: The Pupils; The Constellation; The German; Four Fairies; The Swimming Pool; still from the 35mm film Taking Turns

Borremans is represented in Antwerp by Zeno X Gallery and in New York City by David Zwirner Gallery.

Friday, May 27, 2011

BEAUTY: Painting--Daniel Pitin

Daniel Pitin, who lives and works in Prague, has a surreal sense running through his work. Many of his compositions seem like moments plucked--out of context--from stage productions, complete with the rough wooden edges of the stage itself visible. There is also an Old World, Eastern European feeling in the grimy-peeling-wallpaper-and-dripping-dirt texture of the canvases, along with what appears to be images of black and white snapshots from decades past.

Top to bottom: Play; Discussion; Ogres; Blue Angel; Scholars


BEAUTY: Painting--Adrian Ghenie

Just like Daniel Pitin, the work of Romanian-born Adrian Ghenie has a dark, Eastern European vibe to it. Dark and grimy, it references Dadaism directly (seen below in Duchamp's Funeral and Dada Is Dead) and Fascism obliquely... it's wonderful and highly atmospheric work.

Both Ghenie and Pitin are represented by the Mihai Nicodim Gallery but it is unclear to me if the two have ever met. Their work is surprisingly similar...

Top to bottom: The Nightmare; Crawl Under the Desk; That Moment; Pie Fight Study; Dada Is Dead; Duchamp's Funeral


Two-Spirit Cultures

From PBS.org:

"On nearly every continent, and for all of recorded history, thriving cultures have recognized, revered, and integrated more than two genders. Terms such as transgender and gay are strictly new constructs that assume three things: that there are only two sexes (male/female), as many as two sexualities (gay/straight), and only two genders (man/woman).

Yet hundreds of distinct societies around the globe have their own long-established traditions for third, fourth, fifth, or more genders. Fred Martinez, for example, was not a boy who wanted to be a girl, but both a boy and a girl — an identity his Navajo culture recognized and revered as nádleehí. Most Western societies have no direct correlation for this Native “two-spirit” tradition, nor for the many other communities without strict either/or conceptions of sex, sexuality, and gender. Worldwide, the sheer variety of gender expression is almost limitless. Take a tour and learn how other cultures see gender diversity."

Explore the map.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

iamamiwhoami: "; john"

Happy day!
A new iamamiwhoami video!

Is the mandragora saga over?
Is this the beginning of a new journey?

Although we see many of the recurring themes from the previous collection of videos (the black dog, all white, white liquid, packing material, exaggerated eyelashes), we see some new astonishing elements such as the toilet paper bed and a forthright sexuality from Jonna Lee. But the surreality remains. The ultimate sense of this video gives me the feeling that we are watching something symbolic and full of meaning like the mandragora videos.

Again: fantastic music and perfect production values.


Just finished reading...

...CONCERNING THE SPIRITUAL IN ART by the abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky.

After being on my “To Read” list for decades, I was surprised to find that this 1911 book is actually more like a pamphlet. What starts as a sort of clichéd rant about “philistines” (although Kandinsky does not use that word specifically) and the sad state of affairs concerning the commercialization of art and the art world, we get to Kandinsky’s view of spirituality, which, according to him (and greatly influenced by the teachings of the occult medium Madame Blavatsky), is shaped like a triangle. The "common" is at the bottom and the higher one goes in the triangle, the more refined and spiritual the art (and the intentions of the artists) becomes. His assessment of the art world and his analysis of culture seems quaintly antiquated. I couldn't help but wonder what he would think of the art world and culture at large now. The theory he put forth was that the art of the future will be purely abstract so as to portray inner states of spirituality, but how would he react to Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde or Koons’ vacuum cleaners under glass or gargantuan balloon animals in steel? He wrote so confidently about a coming art form that only seems to have been swallowed up and digested by the “future”—our present. The current conceptual art world seems to be light years ahead of what he foresaw. I feel like such art would confound him. It would not make any sense to him.

The rest of the book is dedicated to a breakdown of color, shape and composition. Again, not only was he reacting to what was around him at the time and the level at which art history had reached at that moment, but he also wrote from a clearly Euro-centric point of view. He issued edicts about the psychological nature of colors, proclaiming that black means death. But of course we now know that psychological reactions to color are contingent upon culture. For example, black may be a death and mourning color here in the West, but in China, the color of death and mourning is white (or yellow for Buddhists), a fact that was obviously unknown to Kandinsky. From our current position, his theories and suppositions in this book seem sadly provincial and outdated. It seems slightly comical because of the force with which he issued these theories and suppositions. A seer he was not.

Recommend? If you are interested in art history or the work of Kandinsky, have at it. But it is something that can easily be missed.

"Beautiful Like Grant Goodeve"

Beautiful Like Grant Goodeve

Where do I think I’m going
speeding down this road?
The red light will always stop me,
don’t I know that?

The color of things:
this morning I had my cereal
in a tangerine bowl.
The sound of things:
this morning I heard a
distant boom, a faraway

These are things that don’t matter.
But every day, I find again
the good things, the nice things,
the reasons to stay.
Today it is the drone of a
sitar, harmonium; the
smell of cooking garlic;
the taste of fresh mango.

Maybe my life would’ve been
better if I’d grown up to be
beautiful in the 70s, like
Grant Goodeve, Gregory Harrison
or Leigh J. McCloskey.
Possibilities missed by seconds.
Missed paths on the left when
I was looking to the right.
All the men I wasn’t.
All the men I’m still not.

Yet this all feels so familiar.
I have sat here before, on a calm sunny morning,
seeing colors of trees, blue skies,
breathing in fresh air from a partly open window,
knowing that there is disappointment on the way,
on the telephone or in the mail that will arrive in an hour.
I don’t even know what the question was but
the answer will be “no.”

I think I will grow a beard for winter
and become the man I am,
the one who knows many things,
the man who knows that there is
an enormous invisible scale
and it all gets measured
whether we want it or not,
whether we like it or not;
that today, on this spot, it is
measuring clear air and silence,
for now.

©JEF 2008-2011

Stazione Firenze SMN

The main train station in Florence, called Firenze Santa Maria Novella, or SMN for short, is a spectacular example of Fascistic architecture. Built between 1932 and 1934, the station features walls of Florentine sandstone called pietra forte, a dramatic glass and steel ceiling, and signage in a fantastic Art Deco font.

Here are a few excerpts from a photo study I did at the station a few days ago...

All photos by JEF, May 2011

Rosso Fiorentino

I discovered another previously unknown-to-me painter while in Italy this past week. Rosso Fiorentino (whose real name was Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, but was nicknamed "The Red Florentine" because of his red hair) lived from 1494 to 1540, and was a painter of the Florentine School. But upon seeing the works of Michelangelo and Raphael after moving to Rome in 1523, he realigned his artistic style. It is remarkable that in his short life of 46 years, his best work was produced only in the last 17.

In the Tuscan town of Volterra is the Pinacoteca Communale di Volterra. This museum is the home of Fiorentino's masterpiece "The Deposition From The Cross." Initially, I was excited to be in the museum to see Luca Signorelli's paintings, since I had just read Frances Mayes' latest book in which she outlines a Signorelli trail with a stop at the Volterra Museum. But I found Signorelli's "Madonna and Child with Saints" in a dark room with only one other piece: Fiorentino's "Deposition From The Cross." These two were clearly and purposefully placed together in a space to fight it out, as it were, and I must say that, for me, the Fiorentino won hands down.

The Signorelli had all the hallmarks of Renaissance painting: the conventional composition, the stiff and formal positions of the subjects, and a static sense of tableau. But the Fiorentino, by contrast, is kinetic, full of life and movement. It is shocking how he rendered faces and clothing; far ahead of his time, he used an angular, nearly Cubist sensibility especially in the face of the woman on the bottom far left supporting the Virgin, in the dress of Magdalene who can be seen at the foot of the cross throwing herself at the Virgin's feet, and in the folds of the cloak of St. John at the far right, turning away, his face buried in his hands. Fiorentino forces our eye to follow an ovoid path around the T-shaped cross from the visceral, sinking grief of the mourners on the bottom of the canvas, up the ladder on either side (an ingenious device for not only our eyes to travel up or down the sides, but for his subjects to travel up and down), to the rushed, hurried nervous energy of the men removing the dead, green, and seemingly ecstatic Christ from the torture device... and down again. The composition is vital, engaging. Fiorentino managed to place a lot within the frame without cluttering the scene. And the result is really something that looks as if it were painted in the twentieth century. This piece is considered by scholars to be a watershed moment in the history of art, directly leading to the development of modern Italian painting.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Seen In Tuscany

All photos by JEF, May 2011