Sunday, July 31, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
I was a freshman in college taking a class in Eastern European History when I first learned the word defenestration. I love that word. A word dedicated to tossing things out of a window and particular inflexible political leaders. I just don’t ever find occasion to use it. The first of the two defenestrations occurred on this day in 1419 back in Prague. Considering the state of affairs in Washington, it might be a time to teach the Tea Party crowd about defenestration. But I think the history lesson would be lost on the sort of people who can’t even get the basic facts of Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride correct.
I wish I had more opportunity to use the word. This morning I actually defenestrated a set of house keys out my window. And, if I tossed scraps from the 2011 Project out the window, it would look something like today’s piece.
Friday, July 29, 2011
This week’s it-only-costs-one-dollar find was a scenic Morocco book for tourists. The book is from the 1980’s with all these Technicolor images of arch after arch among the many architectural delights of Morocco. I still haven’t visited Morocco, but I fantasize about having my dream house with a Moroccan-themed room. Then I’ll have the excuse for a great trip to acquire all the furnishings and objets for the room. One day….
Thursday, July 28, 2011
I could just leave it at the title. To honor one of the founding fathers of conceptual art, nothing more needs to be said, but as you might imagine, there is a story.
Back in the 1980’s I went to school just outside of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It’s a real old fashioned, mill town from the days when we still made things in America. Back then, factory outlets meant a little store next to the factory that sold the rejects. Items like jeans with pockets sewn shut, mislabeled sizes, shirts with one arm longer than the other, etc. And the outlets were really cheap. New Bedford has had decades of hard economic times making it one of the poorest cities in New England. Back in the 1980’s Calvin Klein jeans were the height of consumer style and very expensive, yet everyone wore Calvin Klein in New Bedford. You could wear $100 jeans for $10.
I wore my brand new, white Calvin Klein jeans to a concert in Stockholm. It was Johnny Thunders’s first concert in Sweden since he had been allowed back in the country. At his previous show he nearly overdosed on stage. He had been subsequently deported. It wasn’t easy to get deported from Sweden. You had to try really hard. The show I attended was sold out and filled with voyeurs waiting for something to happen. Alas, it was just a rather well done and very uneventful performance. Sadly, Johnny did pass away under somewhat mysterious circumstances, in 1991 in New Orleans.
The most excitement for me that evening involved my factory outlet jeans. The jeans had a zipper fly with a button on top. I discovered the flaw in the pair of jeans while in the men’s room. The button wasn’t attached well. I can still hear the distinct, loud ping when the button went flying into the urinal. The crowded men’s room all stopped, for a moment you could hear a pin drop. Or, hear a button fall into a urinal. And no, I did not retrieve the button, but it did look similar to the one used for today’s piece.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Once you come zooming down the Eastern Span, heading west, you know you’re almost home. There are two Bay Bridges. The Western Span is quite lovely connecting Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco. But with a sister like the Golden Gate Bridge, no one ever notices the Western Span of the Bay Bridge. As for the poor Eastern Span, she is the third sister. The Eastern Span is the sister with a “nice” personality. Actually, let’s just say she has personality, and honestly, she’s clumsy and she’s no beauty. But as you zoom along and look up at all the steel holding her together – hopefully for just a little longer — the Eastern Span welcomes you home, that crazy curve a quick tunnel and there is our City. From the Bay Bridge, San Francisco always looks great no matter the weather, no matter the time of the day.
The Eastern Span’s replacement will be ready soon (it actually would have been completed about 10 years ago if not for politricks). I already am missing that clunky old bridge.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Carol Doda’s flashing red nipples. They were flashing red on the Condor’s sign at the corner of Columbus and Broadway. I was 11 and we were in San Francisco on a family vacation. I found the experience shocking. Dare I say titillating? From Carol Doda’s red flashing nipples to a local character named Jesus Christ Satan running through the Broadway Tunnel. I saw glimpses of this strange and freaky place that was destined to become my home. I Saturn Returned and moved to San Francisco. It was no coincidence that I ended up with a job just a few blocks from the Carol Doda sign. Some of us are truly drawn to the City even before we realize it.
Sadly, the Condor took down the Carol Doda sign some years back. For all San Francisco’s fights over historic preservation, we often miss the important things. In many ways the City is tamer today than it was back then. But there still is more than glimmer of weirdness here in San Francisco.
Years later, July 2011 — I found myself on the 38 Geary heading into the TenderNob for dinner before an evening of weird and amusing theatre. It’s tourist season and you often see the more adventurous visitors on MUNI. There was a large and most Middle American family sitting near me. They looked right off the boat from some place like Iowa or Utah. Actually, I was impressed they were not driving around in sealed in a van.
One could read a lot about, or at least into, the family dynamic. I started looking and kept counting, seven, yes seven kids! There was a kid sitting across from me, about 14 (we’ll get back to him). Next to him sat a brother of about 15. He was a big boy, a very big mama’s boy heading for a case of adult onset diabetes. He was practically sitting on his mother’s lap. The oldest son was Mr. High School Jock doing his darndest to pretend he wasn’t with the rest of the family. Dad sat next to a rambunctious brother of about 10 who was a younger version of Mr. Jock. Then there were two younger, rowdy twin boys, and finally the little princess. The only girl was the youngest of seven kids. You really do not see families that big very often, you have to notice.
The kid who was about 14 and sat across from me kept staring. I suppose as one of the middle kids with no particular archetype to play, he was the outsider. It looked like he was without any role or purpose in the family dynamic. And the kid kept looking. Looking at me and everyone else on the bus. I said nothing, but I was thinking, I know that look. This reincarnated child of Atlantis is beginning to recognize his home. He may not return to our City for more than a few years but I know — he’ll be back. I like to think I was this kid’s Carol Doda. Come home child, we always have room for one more freak in San Francisco.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Sandia was one of the first words I learned in Spanish. It’s easy to remember and one of my favorite flavors of aqua fresca. I even make my own lime-watermelon aqua fresca at home. I also learned the word sandia from lotería cards. As it is a watermelon (or sandia) time of year and I knew the 2011 Project needed a summery piece dedicated to the most summery of fruits.
Recently I found a museum catalog from a show about lotería cards in Sioux City Art Center in 2005. I wish I had seen that show, but Iowa is not the type of place I get to. I wait for Leslie Hall to tour. The catalog is real find and I have now learned more than I imagined about lotería cards. Among other things, the image of the watermelon, la sandia, is important because of the colors red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag. The ubiquitous sandia in Mexican art is more than just about an appreciation of the fruit.
When I see images of watermelon, my reaction has always been summer. For Mexicans and Mexican-Americans there is an extra meaning in a slice of fruit that represents the national colors. America just doesn’t have a good red, white and blue fruit. But then again, the American identity is defined by being a mix of different people from many diverse places. We might be best represented by a salad with colorful fruit from all over the world.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
One hundred years ago today Machu Picchu was “rediscovered” by Yale historian Hiram Bingham. Actually, one of the locals, an 11 year old Quechuas boy named Pablito Alvarez led Bingham up to the “lost” city. The locals knew Machu Picchu was there. That said Mr. Bingham should get credit for reintroducing the city to the rest of the world. There are a lot of places I still want to visit in this world, Machu Picchu is high on the list. I’ve been to Stonehenge. I’ve visited Chaco Canyon a few times. I still need to complete the triad.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
When I started the 2011 Project I was not anticipating how the project would become such an experimental outlet for my work. Basically a small, 4”x4” piece that is done in a few hours of day is far less of commitment than a larger piece. It’s made it easy for me to try a number of different subject matter, techniques and mediums. Today it is about pieces of jigsaw puzzles. I’ve been seeing some really great work done with repurposed puzzle pieces and I knew I had to give it a try. Now I want to do more…
Friday, July 22, 2011
Edward Hopper is one my very favorite painters. He was born on this day in 1888. One of the best ways to celebrate his birthday would be to celebrate his palette. It best might be called the Palette of Calm. So much of Hopper’s work capture’s the light at the early or final part of the day. And, when Hopper painted midday, he usually was painting its stillness. Hopper’s colors always have a calming effect, as do so most of his paintings.
Hopper’s work is often misinterpreted as a representation of loneliness. I never feel that from his work. It’s a feeling of calm and quiet. It’s a waking city, peaceful at 6 a.m. or it is Cape Cod at its best, when it is empty. I always look at the Maine and Cape Cod paintings and see one thing — the off season.
Even though Hopper’s work is ubiquitous in the art calendar and coffee table book world, it is best seen in person. And certain artists’ work really needs to be seen and appreciated in person. Every time I see an Edward Hopper, I am reminded why I visit museums.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
It’s in the air, today is a fog free, sunny summer day and you can feel the Pacific in the breeze that’s blown 4 miles over Golden gate Park to reach my neighborhood. It just feels like a beach day. If you live near a beach, any beach, you know the feeling. I love that summery feel today. That said, I did not get to the beach.
Two prints are now available from the 2011 Project. They range in size from 8”x10” to 28”x35”. They both have selections of different pieces — one features travel themed pieces and the second one features nature themed pieces. You can purchase the prints from Society6.
More prints to come soon, including prints of some of my other work.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Back on this day in 1940 one of the most important changes in American history happened. The Arroyo Seco Parkway opened up. It’s better known as the Pasadena Freeway or The 110. The reason the Pasadena Freeway is significant is it was the first freeway in the United States. So much of what makes Los Angeles what it is and California and pretty much the rest of the United States is essentially the freeway. For better or worse.
Even though I have not owned a car since college, I have what could called be a love-hate relationship with freeways. They enable some sweet nectarines to get into my farmer’s market nice and quick and if I do want to go to L.A. I can get there in just over six hours. But freeways have disconnected us from one another. We’ve sprawled all our communities over the land and we’ve nearly ended the railways. Oh, to take a real high speed train to be in L.A. in about 3 hours or get back on an interurban street car and spend the day in Santa Cruz.
I wonder what the state of the freeway will be when we come up on the 100th anniversary. Will the price of gas make freeway travel a rare luxury by 2040? Will there be more freeways or less?
San Francisco is the first American city to stop a planned freeway. My block, along with 10 others was to be demolished for a freeway that was planned to run through the Panhandle and then into Golden Gate Park. It’s hard to imagine that freeway. But it is even difficult to imagine the freeways we’ve already torn down. When I walk along the Embarcadero or through Hayes Valley, I have a hard time picturing the grim, elevated freeways that used to be there. I remember them but I could never imagine putting them back.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I cut up old maps for my art. Sometimes I get a hold of old maps that are just too good to put under the knife. If I really want to use them, I make some color copies. I don’t actually own any 17th Century Maps, if I did, of course I wouldn’t be cutting those up. A few months back an anonymous neighbor left me a few postcard books of antique maps on my doorstep. Here are the results. I really love these old ones, particularly for all the mystery, exoticism and even occasional sea monsters that turn up in the edges of old maps. Living at what used to be considered the Edge of the World, I am yet to see any sea monsters or Amazons.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Today Nelson Mandela celebrates his 93rd birthday and we should all celebrate. We should celebrate and honor the accomplishments of one of the truly greatest world leaders ever. But we should also celebrate all the people who never give up the fight against injustice, in South Africa and throughout the world. We should celebrate the civil war that did NOT happen. We should celebrate the boycott and the sanctions movement that kept moving forward against what seemed like insurmountable odds. If we think that change can’t happen, that injustice can’t be overcome, when we feel hopeless — we only need to remember Nelson Mandela’s own words, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
One might assume that chandelier has the same meaning in French. Yet chandelier is actually the word fro candlestick. Lustre is what the French call a chandelier and appropriately from where we also get the English word luster.
There is a chandelier at the Legion of Honor that is probably the most beautiful one in San Francisco — words like luster, brilliant and radiant can all be applied. The chandelier compels many visitors to get the camera out. The artist Timothy Horn even did a magnificent recreation of the chandelier — in sugar! The chandelier hangs in one of the period rooms, a salon from the Hôtel de la Trémoille in Paris circa 1781. I always make a point to linger in that room on every visit to the Legion.
I have been told that ghosts live in glass doorknobs. If that is true, I can just imagine what sort of spirits watch over the room from the crystals in the chandelier. The room itself always feels a bit haunted, but the spirits seem to tolerate those of us who appreciate the allure of pre-revolutionary France. The Legion of Honor may be one of the most haunted places in San Francisco. The building sits on top of a cemetery where the gravestones were removed but many of the graves were left behind. I can just imagine what the building is like after hours. Do the ghosts of old Paris and Gold Rush Era San Francisco get along together? It could make for a good story.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Rembrandt would have been 405 years old today. For the 2011 Project I decided to create an homage to Rembrandt. I couldn’t find anything appropriate in my collage horde until I remembered the old cigar box. I found the cigar box a few years ago in my mother’s attic. It contained all sorts of postage stamps and other saved items that I collected when I was about 12. I remember my great grandmother gave me the box but I have no idea what she kept in it. The box must have belonged to my great grandfather. And to give you and idea of the box’s age, it was from a time when the cigars were priced at 2 for 27¢.
How odd that 300 years later, in may circles, Rembrandt would be best known as the artist who painted the guys on the cigar box. The Dutch Masters brand is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. I doubt they’ll be around in another 100 years. Cigar smoking is one of those habits on a steady decline. In 2111 the public might have a different image in mind when it comes to Rembrandt.
Imagine further into the future. What artists will be best associated with a product in 2211 or 2311? I have no doubt that Warhol will be a brand of soup. Will Wayne Thiebaud be reduced to an image on a cake mix? Will the A.K.C. have a registered breed called the Jeff Koons (a very yappy little terrier I suspect)? Will Hoppers be the best little pills to calm you down? I can’t even imagine what product my art will be associated with.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
If you go up to Marin County and hike to the end of Tennessee Valley, you come to Tennessee Beach. There, over thousands of years, the ocean has carved a cove into the hillside to expose layer upon layer of the edge of the North American Plate. The patterns are beautiful in the bands of chert and serpentine. Sites like this, where so much geological time is exposed often have an intense temporal energy. Canyons, cliffs and other natural openings in the earth can be the type of places where time itself is loosened.
This piece is also featured on a print/poster available from Society6.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
It was one of the most iconic baths ever taken, and it occurred on this day back in 1793. The bath was the last one taken by Jean-Paul Marat. Many of us know the image better than the subject or the artist. Jacques-Louis David’s painting La Mort de Marat (The Death of Marat) is probably the one image that is most associated with the French Revolution and the excesses that followed. It’s ironic, considering how many were killed by the guillotine that an image so associated with the French Revolution is of its leaders stabbed to death in the bathtub.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Unusual place names are only unusual if you’re not from around here — wherever here may be. For example, recently I met someone who found the name of the San Francisco neighborhood called The Inner Sunset quite amusing. I guess he sort of had this cosmic perception of a place called the “inner sunset.” Clearly he’s never had lunch on Ninth Avenue. I remember a similar reaction a friend had as we once drove through Braintree near Boston.
Buzzards Bay was just the first town over the bridge. I drove through every day for four years. It was on the way to college. It was just name. My brother and his family even used to live in another town along the coast, a few hundred feet from the shores of Buzzards Bay.
I can understand how a name like Buzzards Bay might conjure up all sorts of imagery for some people. With a name like Buzzards Bay, it could be perfect for the Goth Riviera, if there was such a place. Old widows on widow’s walks in black lace shawls. Overgrown graveyards, rusty gates and lopsided shutters. I once overheard two women commenting that the artist Edward Gorey lived on Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay. I politely corrected them letting them know he actually lived in Barnstable. Buzzards Bay just sounded like the sort of place he would have lived.
Buzzards Bay is not the most popular tourist destination. Most people keep driving through, cross the bridge and head further out. Perhaps they should consider playing up the name and attracting a more macabre set of tourists. They would have to import some real buzzards though, there aren’t any to be seen flying along it’s shore.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Can a dream be an inspiration for art? I certainly believe it can be. But if you’re looking for some trippy, mystical work in the spirit of Alex Grey, well, you’re in for a disappointment. I have a notorious sweet tooth. Last night did not have a thing in the house for dessert. That lack of dessert resulted in a night where I kept dreaming about chocolate cake. So here is the dream-inspired piece for the 2011 Project. I also have a real chocolate cake cooling on the counter. There’ll be no lack of dessert tonight.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Saturday nights and Yahtzee often went together when I was little. There were those Saturdays where I was being deservedly spoiled and spending the night at Grandma’s. We always played Yahtzee. And to keep it authentic, the game goes best with a cold bottle of Squirt. Fortunately we can still get the bottles in San Francisco. The good stuff has to be imported from Mexico nowadays.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Early into the 2011 Project I realized that many of these small 4”x4” inch pieces were serving as studies for larger pieces. Back in January I did a piece that incorporated pieces of vintage postcards of Washington State. Pleased with the results, it started a series of a slightly larger pieces I called postcard deconstructions.
In June I started a bigger piece, 36”x48”. It took approximately 5,500 pieces of vintage postcards. I used American postcards from between 1910 and 1950 and selected ones that were reproduced illustrations/paintings instead of photos. The result is a piece titled American Adventure. Some images are below. Additional work can be seen here.
On this day in 1947 the most famous UFO crash of the 20th Century happened out near Roswell, New Mexico. What happened afterwards? Is there an outer space version of AAA? Was a cell phone involved in the accident?
I did visit Roswell a few years back. I must say the souvenirs were lackluster and overpriced and the UFO Museum is cheesy, but just not cheesy enough. The freakiest scene in Roswell was at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Today is Frida Kahlo’s birthday. Born on this day in 1910. There are official records which claim Frida was born on July 6, 1907. But Frida proclaimed her birthday was July 7, 1910. She wanted her year of birth to coincide with the beginning Mexican Revolution. As for the truth in this matter, when you’re Frida Kahlo, you get to choose your birthday. So for Frida, an icon…
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Last night I turned on the TV to “breaking news.” It’s kind of meaningless the way every story is now “breaking news.” They really should save the hype for things like alien landings and packs of escaped circus elephants. But I digress. The breaking news was a grass fire out in Tracy. Those are the sorts of images that get me glued to the TV.
There is something oddly beautiful about a grass fire. The golden hillside juxtaposed with the blackened hillside, the line of flames and the smoke. I am not the only artist who has been compelled to render these images into paintings. I know the danger of these fires and how they can turn massive. Yet when it is a grass fire in Tracy, it seems like part of a normal California summer. Yesterday’s fire was the result of an out of control a car fire, but fires in the hills are part of the natural cycle of things as well. And, before the arrival of Europeans, Californians were controlling and managing the landscape with fire to facilitate the growth of oaks and their nutritious acorns.
This piece is also featured on a print/poster available from Society6.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
One of the best parts of San Francisco is the ease of escaping to places that are so near yet can feel so far away. Tennessee Valley is one of those places. I’ve been hiking there for years. It’s a simple, easy hike, just under 4 miles roundtrip to the beach and back. It’s less than 15 minutes to drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. But once you arrive, you feel much further away. Tennessee Valley is contained and hidden away over Wolf Ridge on the other side of the Marin Headlands. There is no sense of the nearby city and suburbs.
Tennessee Valley is always familiar to me, but it changes from season to season. After a wet winter and a very wet spring, the grass, wild carrot and pretty much everything else seems twice as tall as normal. It’s a perfect year for snakes and they’re plenty of them up there. That’s why it’s best to stick to the trail and not go clomping through the grass.
As long as I can see them and they can see me — snakes crossing the trail and out where there are no surprises are perfectly fine. This weekend we saw the “scariest” snake in California. The Pacific Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer) was out looking for lunch, namely gophers. The Gopher Snake is the scariest snake as it is the one everyone mistakes for a Rattlesnake. It’s pretty easy to identify, it looks like a Rattlesnake but it does not have a rattle on the end of its tale. So unless you’re a gopher, just watch it g along its way.
This piece is also featured on a print/poster available from Society6.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Most Americans know what happened on July 4th in 1776. We should be able to say “all Americans.” But as of late, we have seen some rather odd distortions of history, even from politicians who have managed to get elected to Congress or as Governor of Alaska. So, let’s say “most’ Americans.
One of the flaws in how we learn American history is that it is basically taught from right-to-left. The basic story goes Plymouth Rock to 1776 to the expansion westward of the United States. The New England bias was even so strong when writing the history books, that Jamestown barely gets mentioned. The basic narrative is true, but it really is only one of the many perspectives.
There is another American story for 1776. On the Left Coast in 1776 events were happening that were also playing a significant role in American History. In March 1776 the Spanish chose a patch of land at the mouth of the Golden Gate for their presidio. Then one week before the Declaration of Independence was signed, the first mission in San Francisco was founded. It was in a beautiful, warm, sheltered spot with a stream flowing into a small lake. Those were the first seeds of the city that was to become San Francisco as well as the place that was to become modern California. Those seeds pretty much lay dormant for about 70 years, but like many California natives, some plants need the right conditions to take off.
America would not be the same place it is now without what happened in Philadelphia in 1776. But it also would not be the same country without California and all the innovation (cultural, political and economic) that comes from the Left Coast.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
During the course of the 2011 Project, I am including a series of pieces each dedicated to a specific color. The color for today is blue. In particular that sky blue, so candy sweet and practically artificial it is usually only found in postcards. Postcard Blue? Is that that the name of a color? And I am always finding uses for old postcards, so feel free to send me one from your summer vacation. It may even turn up in a piece of art later this year.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
- 8/7/11 - Ron Richardson teaches writing at SF State, he also wrote a about this piece on his blog