Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28, 2011- Black and White

It feels as if black and white photography has gone full circle and returned to the realm of artists. Digital photography has eliminated the color snapshot. The black and white snapshot all but disappeared during the 1970’s. There was a brief period when it was still less expensive to have black and white film developed, but by the 1980’s the average consumer started paying more for film and development of black and white.

I have an old photo album of my grandmothers that spans about 20 years from the 1930’s to 1950’s. It starts with a period of teenage photos and ends when my own mother was about 10 years old. The album acts as a great timepiece of popular fashion and car culture. It also spans about 20 years in consumer photography. Every few years a new camera was purchased with a new type of film and a new style of printing. Ironically these old black and white photos have held up remarkably well. Their condition is great. The color snapshots and polaroids of my own childhood have faded and discolored.

I used to experiment with 35mm black and white photography but never even came close to learning what I was doing. I never took that class and developed my own film. This morning I found these ten year old photos from my first trip to Death Valley and mixed them in with one my grandmother took in 1937 (so the date says). Now I have to sort through the hundreds of digital images taken last week in the desert.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27, 2011 – Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs are the first thing I learned to cook. I can’t say exactly how old I was, about six or seven. I can still see myself standing in the old kitchen, in front of the 1970’s brown gas stove cooking away. I really do believe if you’re old enough to reach the stove, it’s time to start using it. And I still love scrambled eggs. I had them for breakfast this morning. I appreciate living in a city where the chickens can send their very fresh eggs direct to a farmer’s market a few blocks from my apartment. When you eat eggs in a simple form, good eggs make a difference. They do for baking as well.

When I was 17 I went as an exchange student to Sweden. The day after I arrived one of the brothers in the family asked me if I knew, “How to make these special and delicious eggs he had tried in America?” At first I couldn’t imagine what he meant. “Eggs Benedict?” I thought. Poaching is not something I have ever mastered. I end up with boiled scrambled eggs. It turned out he wanted to learn how to make scrambled eggs. I can add cultural ambassador to my resume.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 26, 2011 – The Road Home

I love road trips and I love coming home. Today it was time for the drive back home to San Francisco. It was an eventful drive, as I had to deal with snow. I know if you live in a place with a real winter, you’re probably thinking, big deal. I do know how to drive in snow. I learned to drive in it. But California Freeways that rarely have freezing weather are another story altogether. I had sleet, hail, some falling snow and a bit of ice through two mountain passes on the way back from Southern California.

The reentry to San Francisco is something that has to be finessed. There is the time of the day vis-à-vis traffic question. I chose the southern route, coming in via the Pacheco Pass and San Jose. I’ll do what it takes to avoid the East Bay and the Bay Bridge on a Saturday afternoon. And then what happens when I pull up in front of my building. I don’t have a suburban driveway to pull the car into. A small miracle was finding a parking place across the street. Car unloaded and a few flights of stairs.

I actually have not owned a car for over 25 years. It saves so much money and stress. Fortunately I live in a city where it is possible. I rent for road trips. I love the folks at Avis. They take great care of locals and always treat me like a rock star. I get the special short line and am in and out in a jiffy. The Eurotourists gawk and try to figure out why I am so special. They should know, they really should.

Tomorrow it is back to the routine. It will start with a morning walk and a stop at the farmer’s market on the way home, art, coffee and more art.

February 25, 2011 – Bottle House

I can’t be within 100 miles of Rhyolite without making a visit to one of my favorite ghost towns. One of the highlights is Tom Kelly’s Bottle House. Built in 1906 with mortar and bottles, mostly beer bottles, instead of bricks. I am pleased that some effort is really being put in to preserving the structure. It really encompasses so many things I love in my own art – repurposing and recycling and loosely structured grid-like patterns with circles. And it sparkles out there in the desert.

Sadly, the old caretaker passed away about a year ago. He was right out of central casting as the gold miner with the big bushy beard. You’d barely be out of your car and he’d appear out of nowhere and begin to tell you the history of the house, etc.

This piece is more or less a study for some upcoming bottle house paintings.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24, 2011 - Road Trip Junk

You know you've been on a road trip for a few days when the back of the car starts to fill up with litter and wrappers. It’s all from the sort of food you only eat when you're on the road. Add a teenage nephew into the mix and there is an extra layer. But I can’t just blame him. I am just as guilty too of tossing bits of whatever behind the driver's seat.
While my nephew slept early this morning, I cleaned up the car in Lone Pine, California and found all sorts of colorful bits to use in today's piece. Happy Trails…

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23, 2011 - Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon is a calming place. The crowd was particular small today. Mosaic Canyon is rarely what one would call "crowded." The canyon has been washed and scoured by millennia of flash floods. There are places where veins of marble along the canyon wall have been polished into smooth waves. As one hikes, you make a few turns up into the canyon and it becomes quiet and still. Today was a cool winter day and the rock walls were cold in the shadows until you reached a higher point where the sun was still warming the canyon late in the afternoon.

Over the years I have found some unique spots in the desert. The energy is different and special in these magical places. Mosaic Canyon is one of those places. Don't ask me to explain why, it's just one of those things you know.

February 22, 2011 - Below Sea Level

Today’s experiment - Can I make art below sea level? Yes I did. At 282 feet below sea level, salt encrusted, at Badwater in Death Valley. On the road and it's time to enjoy the desert. I can write when I get home in San Francisco.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21, 2011 -Joshua Tree in the cold

I have stopped counting the number of times I have visited Joshua Tree National Park. I often go back to the same places over in the park again and again. And as familiar as the park is to me, it can look different every time. All these factors play into the experience, including the time of year, weather and time of day. The light changes by the hour. The air was crisp, cold and very still today. Some higher peaks in the park even had snow. On one trail, in a sheltered spot we found a handful of snow hiding in the shadows. Only a few early flowers were peaking out. It was the quietest I had ever experienced the park. No flowers meant no insects, few birds and not the usual rustling sounds one hears at every turn. Very still air and no wind. Without the heat, the park didn't even have the usual warm smells. It was unlike other times I have visited the park but as beautiful as ever.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 20, 2011 – The 5

There are about 40 million of us in California, and I may be the only one who doesn’t mind The 5. Actually, I like it a bit. And they all scream back at me, “But 101 is so pretty.” Yes, but The 5 is particularly nice this time of year because it is very green and the Grapevine will fill with wildflowers soon. Yes, there is that stinky cattle death camp halfway to L.A. That smell will put you off of meat for a few days. The smell is even worse if you pass by just after a fast food lunch at one of the many “oasis” along the route. The road has its dull stretches, but if you’re complaining, you’ve never driven across the Midwest. So today is about The 5. Heading south and desert bound. This will be the first attempt to take the 2011 Project on the road and make art every day while traveling.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19, 2011 – Southern Gothic Holiday

Is there such a thing as a Southern Gothic Holiday? It should be today as it is Carson McCullers’ birthday. She was arguably the greatest Southern Gothic author and definitely one who remains somewhat under recognized for her contribution to American Literature.

Keeping in the holiday spirit, it’s a black and white day in San Francisco. We’re a city more known for Noir than Gothic. It’s bleak, rainy and about as cold as it gets here. I am warm at home and working to a Philip Glass soundtrack. The music adds to the drama of the day. Ironically, I am in a good mood, getting ready for a desert trip this week.

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 18, 2011 – Airmail

Yesterday I went to the post office to send something via airmail. In 2011 that seems almost quaint. But I do like to keep sending fun things via the mail. It was an appropriate thing to do yesterday. It was the 100th Anniversary of the first airmail letters, officially being sent by plane. On February 17, 1911 the letters made the trip from Santa Rosa to Petaluma. On February 18 (probably about the same time allowing for the international date line), the first letters were sent via air for a short distance in India. A century later, it’s obvious that airmail is towards the end of its life — in particular the airmailed letter.

Before 1911, correspondence was also sent via hot air balloon and courier pigeon. There was a brief time when you could send mail via zeppelin. If it were possible to send my mail via zeppelin, I’d run straight to the post office with a pile of letters.

When I was a kid I collected stamps. None of the stamps are of great value. I have a box of old commemoratives I bought at the post office. They have actually lost value when you adjust for inflation, but as they haven’t been cancelled, you can still use them. More of the stamps are beginning to turn up in my art. I also have those random foreign stamps on envelopes that people would give to a kid who collected stamps. My grandmother was a department store buyer in Buffalo. She would receive these small, hand sewn canvas packets from India with samples. I still have a few of those. Considering India’s role in airmail, it seems appropriate to dissect one for today’s piece.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February 17, 2011 – Revolutionary Shoes

Shoes have been flying in the Middle East this month. Throwing a shoe is one of those insults that will never cease to amuse me. Like most Americans, I didn’t even know this was an option until the Iraqi journalist threw the shoe at George Bush in 2008. It’s no accident they say ¡Viva Zapata! in Mexico. But my favorite radical shoe incident is the legendary banging of the shoe by Nikita Khruschev in 1960 at the U.N. It actually may never have happened and the photos are said to be fakes. Khruschev did boast that, “We will bury you.” All that cold war bluster seems like ancient history. Though it is ironic that virtually all of America’s shoe factories are closed and the shoes are mostly made in China.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 16, 2011 – Ice

All hail ice! This morning, lying in bed, I noticed it had gotten quiet. The rain had stopped. And then my apartment got very bright. The sun was blazing in, which better motivated me to start the day. A few minutes later there was a very loud rattling. I ran to the window and saw it was hailing. Small flecks of ice started landing on the fire escape and sparkled in the sun. Sun and hail at the same time. It was a nice, brief fleck of winter.

I lived with winter, real winter, for years. I’ve lived in some pretty snowy places. I do not miss winter. But I do love paintings of winter. So today’s piece is about just a little bit of winter, a little bit of ice.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February 15, 2011 – Beauty and the Beat

In 1959 George Shearing, with Peggy Lee and Armando Peraza recorded one of the greatest albums of all time — Beauty and the Beat. I admit, my list of greatest albums is quite subjective, but this is one of the greats. The music is flawless and Peggy Lee’s voice was at its peak. I have listened to this album hundreds of times. I started my day with it today. There was a re-issue in 2003 of the album that I have never heard. The 1959 album was intended to be a live recording in Miami. Due to technical recordings it was recorded in studio and the audience and announcements were added later. It’s a bit corny, but I’ll stick to the original. The 2003 re-issue is the pure studio recording.

It’s funny how we still use the word “album” since the physical album has all but disappeared. I own the CD for Beauty and the Beat. And now most music I purchase is downloaded. I gave away my vinyl years ago. The instant gratification and the technological improvements are great. But I miss the feeling of opening an album for the first time. Listening, reading and looking. With the loss of the actual album the artwork has also become a thing of the past.

Yesterday at age 91, George Shearing died. I have to confess, I learned more about him than I ever knew just reading the obituary. His legacy includes one of the greatest albums of all time.

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 14, 2011 – Green Mandala

Over the years I have made a number of mandalas out of old maps. Usually my focus has been to use a particular color. Today, a small mandala to fit the project’s 4x4 format, and it is green. The green has been chosen for the green revolution that is coming to Iran. It is the green of freedom that is sweeping across the Muslim World. The maps include Tunisia and Egypt. And they include some of the places were’ going to hear more and more about in the coming days. Yemen, Iran, Algeria, Libya and Jordan and….

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 13, 2011 – Magnolias

Magnolias are one of the pleasures of San Francisco’s non-winter winter. It’s February and they are peaking in Golden Gate Park. The arboretum is full of them. This is the time of the year when the air is clear and we get that postcard blue sky that, when you paint it, well, looks fake. It’s a short month and brief season. The rain is on the way back and petals will really fall this week.

I am not one to usually paint flowers, as I did today’s painting I began to wonder if I was channeling some past-life energy as a china painter. It also might explain my aversion to that room full of Dresden porcelain at the Legion of Honor.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 12, 2011 – Rhubarb

There is a pile of rhubarb sitting on the counter. Later today it will be chopped up for a pie. Rhubarb Sour Cream Pie to be exact. I really like rhubarb, but for some reason it has become “exotic” in San Francisco and expensive. $5 a pound! I think rhubarb is one of those old-fashioned vegetables that few people make use of in the Bay Area (hence the high price). I grew up with it on the East Coast and was always happy to discover new uses for it on trips to Europe. Few Americans know that rhubarb makes a great yogurt flavor.

Rhubarb is so easy to grow, and if I had a garden I’d grow plenty. It also is a fine looking plant. I suppose I could grow a big pot of it in my sunny bay window. But what would the other plants thing when it gets hacked up for a pie?

Friday, February 11, 2011

February 11, 2011 — Grand Palette

I have been to the Grand Canyon about 10 times. Nowadays, I manage to make a visit almost every year. Even if I am heading back from New Mexico, and short on time, I still make a side trip up to the South Rim. Spend a few hours and just look. In many ways, the only thing to do at the Grand Canyon is look. Yes you can hike, camp, even condor watch (I saw one once). The Grand Canyon is mostly just about looking. And true to most national parks. The majority of visitors never venture more than a few hundred feet from their car. It takes little effort to go a short way from one of the vista points and have a pretty quiet experience — even on the crowded South Rim. I have spent the night at the North Rim. The sole purpose was being there to look at the sunrise.

I fill up my digital camera every time I visit. The sky, the light, it literally changes by the minute. When I come home to paint, it’s another story. I have been painting the desert for years. But I find the Grand Canyon is a practically impossible. There are so many colors and so many plays of light and shadow that I never really satisfied with my results. The color palette is great to work with, but putting it all into a painting and making it work is no fun. And while I like a challenge, I should enjoy painting. Right?

You can get in a car and reach the Grand Canyon in two days. If you haven’t been, go. Go and just look.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February 10, 2011 – Frida and the Fulton Letters

I own a Fulton Sign & Price Markers set. It’s this set of old rubber stamps that would have been used by a 19th Century businesses to make signs. It includes all the letters, numbers, dollar, pound and cent signs as well as special stamps with terms like “per dozen” and “per pound.” My dad picked this up in some old junk store or the Goodwill in Buffalo about 40 years back. As a kid I used to love playing with it. It followed us to New England and got lost in the attic until I rediscovered it in the 1990’s and brought it back to San Francisco.

I used the set to make text for some of my mixed media work in the 1990’s. I liked it so much that it also was used to create the titles for my webpage back then. These sets are still out there and can be found online. I even found a free font based on it.

There is a new book by Barbara Levine called Finding Frida Kahlo. It’s a collection of Frida Kahlo’s reproduced letters and ephemera. The book is jammed with details for anyone who really is a fan of her life and work. I got excited to see that Frida Kahlo hand stamped her name on one of her suitcases. It was obvious that she used a Fulton Sign & Price Markers set. Yes, I like saying that Frida and I use some of the same tools.

One Tenth

It’s like when you start a good book, you put it down after an hour or so, look at the bookmark sticking out and realize you already have read tenth of the book. Well, the 4x4 pieces started taking up a lot of room. They needed to be up on the wall. Here are 36 of them. When it’s all done, the install will be ten times bigger.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February 9, 2011 – Carmen Miranda

It’s Carmen Miranda’s Birthday! You would think it would be a national holiday in Brazil. Alas no, but at least she has a museum in Rio de Janeiro. It’s one of those places that I must visit someday. If anything, just to see the shoes. In my family we were raised to be fans, my mother even got to see her live at a nightclub. She was about 10. How very glamorous.

For many Americans, Carmen Miranda has been reduced to a kitsch icon. They often know her best from those old cartoon parodies. We have forgotten that she was Hollywood’s biggest box office draw during World War II. It’s no surprise she was so popular, her movies were silly, escapist and pure entertainment. I challenge anyone not to smile watching a Carmen Miranda movie. Her smile was infectious, she could dance, sing and the costumes, were, well, indescribable. The ability to make people laugh is gift and her gift was immense. One of the first things you see upon entering my apartment is the house altar. Carmen Miranda’s smile blesses me every time I return home.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February 8, 2011 – Purple

I have nearly 40 pieces completed for the 2011 Project. I realized something is missing. I generally do not make use of pinks and purples. I have nothing against these colors. They just don’t find their way into most of my work. My jar of purple paint tends to last years.

This is the time of the year when I should be inspired to make use of brighter colors. Spring is on the way and California is turning up the saturation. Last week on the way to Point Reyes we found ourselves on that high stretch of Route One between Muir Beach and Stinson Beach. The Farallons were in view to the west, no fog and a deep blue sea. Looking inland, down into the valley, there were bright sections of green and hills with broad patches of magenta wildflowers with Mt. Tam in the distance. I love the colors but that doesn’t mean I paint with them much. Then again, I am a painter who prefers the Monets where he was running out of paint.

Monday, February 7, 2011

February 7, 2011 – Soviet Union

Today is a good day to remember nothing on a map is permanent. On this day in 1990, the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist party voted for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I am endlessly fascinated by how maps change. I often use old, out of date maps in my work. Borders are one of the most permanent man-made things that are not actually permanent. Even a few years before it happened, the collapse of the Soviet Union was hard to imagine.

Ironically enough, we’ve just experienced a barrage of revisionist history tied into the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan, or Raygun as many of us remember him. One would think today’s anniversary would be noted, if not celebrated by conservatives. But even for the perceived winners, the collapse of an empire can be unsettling. Particular an empire, that at 70, felt as solid and stable as an old Russian granny. Enough said, let’s just remember, maps do change from time to time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February 6, 2011 – Outer Space

I spend a lot of time cutting up old atlases for my map art. I use the maps but never really use the illustrations at the beginning of the atlases. In the 1950’s and 1960’s you have these great “Man in Outer Space” illustrations where the science always borders a bit on science fiction. Since 1969 and the Apollo moon landings, it’s gotten rather dull in the front of atlases. Now it’s all satellite images, population maps, etc. You have got to go back about 50 years for the good stuff. Raised on corny sci-fi like Lost in Space and the Planet of Apes movies, this imagery brings back a lot of childhood memories.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

February 5, 2011 – Chop Suey

“All Chinese Eat Chop Suey.” Well according to an advertisement for Macmillan Petroleum in a 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics. That was a strange, old advertisement I came across the other day. Then yesterday, on a hunt for something else, I came to my stack of old San Francisco postcards. There was this image of San Francisco’s Chinatown with a Chop Suey restaurant. It’s an old postcard that tells us in the most dated language that: “Oriental costumes mingle with American, quaint Chinese patter is heard on all sides.”

I am old enough to remember chop suey. It’s that Americanized, Chinese food that was all we knew as Chinese food. It turns out, it was actually invented in China. The American version is based on an authentic Chinese dish. We like to think we know better now. We now know “good” Chinese food.

Nowadays it would be hard to find chop suey on a San Francisco menu. And still, San Francisco is a city with hundreds of mediocre Chinese restaurants. A few years back I finally discovered a really good one in the Inner Sunset called Nanking Road Bistro. I’ve eaten there a few times a month ever since. I really do love Chinese food. One time I asked the owner how he had pretty much the same menu as every Chinese restaurant in the City, yet his food was so much better. His explanation was really funny. He basically refuses to hire anyone who has ever worked in any other Chinese restaurant in the U.S. He went on to tell me that the owners of most Chinese restaurants won’t eat the food they serve. I knew I had found a good place, when I turned an older and very picky Chinese friend on to Nan King Road Bistro. He is a regular now as well.

As for chop suey, I do have a soft spot for a genre of cuisine I refer to as “cheap Chinese.” There is something to be said for bad, old time Chinese food. Best served in a red vinyl booth. But be wary, sometimes it just is really bad. I have encountered some crazy stuff traveling and the worst Chinese take away ever in, where else, England.

So today a homage to chop suey with a certain debt to Edward Hopper and the greatest chop suey painting of all time.

Friday, February 4, 2011

February 4, 2011 – Cairo

It’s not my intent to have the 2011 Project be a reflection of current events. Rather, it’s about what idea(s) come into my head for a piece of art on any given day. That said — Cairo is on my mind. Just over a week ago I opened an old scrapbook I have been cannibalizing for years. I did a piece about the Carr Family Vacation in 1961. The trip included a visit to Egypt. I went back to the scrapbook today. There was the tourist guide with the heading This Week’s Events in both English and Arabic. On the next page a postcard of the Tahrir Bridge in all its technicolor glory. I think I had never heard of the bridge until a few days ago.

We are unable to know how things will play out in Egypt in the coming days and weeks or even the next few hours. As the 2011 Project is about creating a map of the year, it seems appropriate to have buried some 50 year old, Egyptian ephemera under a coat of varnish this afternoon.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February 3, 2011 (4709) – The Year of the Rabbit

Bring us some luck Mr. Rabbit. It’s a year for calm and understanding, for compassion and tranquility and a great year for the arts. Let’s hope the rabbit is right. I do love the Tiger — it is my year — and it is always is a tumultuous one for me. Good things happen and my life always leaps forward. I first visited San Francisco in a Tiger Year, I wrote and published two books in one and had my first solo show in another. And in the Year of the Tiger that just ended I left a job of 11 years and took on this big art project. I am ready for some calm and a lot of productivity.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 2, 2011 – Pacific

The Pacific Ocean was living up to its name today. Well, at least here in Northern California. It was hard to imagine a monster typhoon was hitting Queensland on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean.

It was extraordinarily calm and clear today. Driving up Route One, above Stinson Beach the Farallon Islands popped on the horizon. 27 miles away, the islands deceivingly looked like an easy jaunt. This was the ocean Magellan dubbed Pacifico. Later that afternoon we strolled on the beach at Limantour. Calm and quiet — a bit warmer and it would have felt like the tropics. Winter is always worth a few trips to Point Reyes. The afternoon light and the crisp, clean air always renew me. Now on to February…

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 1, 2011 – Eucalyptus

I confess, when it comes to eucalyptus, I am a bad Californian. I really love those big, shaggy medicinal smelling, trees.

I know they’re bad for us. They choke out native species. They are a big fire hazard. And, when they are killed by a freeze, and you refuse to cut them down, they’ll explode a year later like they did in the Oakland Hills fire. I totally understand when many areas being cleared out like the Presidio. I like that they are being restored with native species.

That said, I do love those eucalyptus, the Panhandle has some nice stately ones. All we need is a pack of koalas to chase the squirrels.