Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30, 2011 – What do you hear?

We’re listening out there high on the Plains of San Augustin in a remote corner of New Mexico. It’s the National Radio Astronomy Observatory or as it is more commonly know — the Very Large Array. The bright white dishes of the radio antennas are striking against the sky either New Mexico Blue or with storm clouds gathering. It’s a place where science has met art installation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 29, 2011 – City of Wires

There are certain images that come to mind when many people think San Francisco. Things like cable cars, Victorians and the Golden Gate Bridge. While valid, those are the images made for Hollywood and tourist postcards.

For me, one image that really says San Francisco is our nest of wires. The wires that are in view whenever you look up above the street. The jumble of wires sprouting out of poles wherever you look out a window. Even in posh neighborhoods, the rich look out of their windows into poles that are a jumble of wires. The same wires vex camera-toting tourists trying to photograph our pretty houses. The poles lean like drunks adding to the chaotic effect of telephone, electric, cable wires. To the mess, add the wires for electric buses and streetcars. Ironically, the ancient cable cars have their cables discreetly beneath the streets.

The wire mess may not be pretty, but it always reminds me that I am home.

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28, 2011 – Sweet Landscape

At first glance one might think this landscape was based on a photo from a road trip I took to Utah or Arizona. It’s an obvious assumption considering my love of painting rocks, particularly in the desert. But this was just a pile of sweet potatoes on my cutting board. And yes, I did make sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, but they are a favorite vegetable that I eat year round. So today, it’s a sweet landscape.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Send a Postcard — help me make the first piece of 2012

During the course of this year as I have worked on the 2011 Project I have experimented with many new mediums, subject matter and sources for collages. This has lead to a number of pieces made from vintage postcards.

This is your chance to help me make a piece of art. For my first piece for 2012, I want it to be a collage of nothing but postcards I receive via the mail. All you need to do is please send just one postcard.

The postcard should be mailed to me at:

PO Box 170681

San Francisco, CA 94117 USA

The postcard can be old or new. You may or may not write a note. If you add a return address, I’ll eventually send a postcard back to you.

Thank you!

November 27, 2011 – Bricks

You don’t notice it right away, but there is something missing in San Francisco — bricks. You have to look hard to find brick buildings. There is a reason: brick buildings tend to fall over easily in an earthquake. This morning I walked by the site of a streetcar barn on Oak Street. I have seen the photos of the pile of lumber and bricks that was left in the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake. Some of the city was rebuilt in bricks and more of those buildings fell in 1989. I used to work n Jackson Square where now the brick buildings are braced up with steel chevrons to give a false sense of security (the walls may still fall, the building just won’t pancake). Every other neighborhood has a few brick buildings that are closed, boarded up and waiting for the next one to finish them off. There is something picturesque about a brick filled urban landscape, but there is good reason we don’t have many in San Francisco.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 26, 2011 – Calm at Limantour

There is something special about Limantour Beach. It’s a quiet place on the southern side of the Point Reyes Peninsula. It is never really crowded and is not the most popular spot at the National Seashore. Yet I often see this same vista I used for the 2011 Project painted by other artists. I have done other Limantour paintings myself. To be sure it’s a nice place, but it is not the most spectacular or scenic California beach. Yet, some of us are still drawn back over and over.

It’s a calm place. It’s a gentle drive from Inverness up and over the hills and on a road that ends on a bluff overlooking Drakes Bay. From there you walk down a trail crossing a marsh. The trail ends at an opening in the dunes and leads to the wide-open beach. I can’t say exactly what it is, but a few hours at Limantour can always cure what ails you.

Over the years, many people have described my art as calming. I think I know why I always go back to Limantour.

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25, 2011 – Leftovers

Today is the day to figure out what to do with the leftovers. During the course of the 2011 Project I have been saving unused scarps from the various mixed media pieces. The intent is to have them for a project archive. In the meantime some of those scraps have been used in other pieces for the project. Today’s casserole contains all scraps from some of the pieces made during the past 11 months.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24, 2011 – Thanksgiving Traditions

If you were expecting a Norman Rockwellesque image of a turkey being carved, forget it. In my family the turkey tradition was all about a bad cat in the kitchen sink. No matter how you tried to stop her, every year Tara managed to get at the turkey while it was thawing. And every year there was a nice gouge in the back of the turkey like some sort of wound. Yum, raw, cold turkey.

The dinner guests had no idea, and what they didn’t know, didn’t hurt them. Plus Tara was a great cat. She lived nearly 20 years. This was back in the days when coyotes were unheard of on Cape Cod. She loved being outside and patrolled the neighborhood. Most every morning, except in the coldest months, she left a treat for us on the walk. No mouse was ever found in the house, nothing messed with the garden and the squirrels knew their place. Tara earned that hunk of turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 23, 2011 – Quahog

It’s time to start getting ready for tomorrow’s big dinner. It also is time for the media to inevitably recycle the same, speculative stories about the first Thanksgiving and what was served at that meal. I think we can all agree that a cylinder of cranberry sauce didn’t shoop out of the can onto the plate back in 1620. But after that, the menu starts becoming debatable. It’s likely that the meal included quahogs, the hardshell clams common to the shores of southern New England. The inside of the clamshells are the source of one of the most beautiful and intense shades of purple found in nature. It’s that purple that was so highly valued. Quahog shells were cut and crafted into wampum beads by the Wampanoag and other Native Americans who made a home in a place that those other folks at Thanksgiving told them was called New England.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22, 2011 – Occupy

One can speculate but it really is not possible to really write history while it is unfolding. But as 2011 comes toward an end there is one word that history will probably most associate with this year — occupy. There is a time capsule element to the 2011 Project. The 365 pieces are meant to be looked at 20, 50 and 100 years from now and perhaps even further into the future. I feel confident in saying that the word occupy and the year 2011 will be linked together for a long time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

November 21, 2011 – MUNI

It’s the best worst public transportation system in the country. It gets you there and if we didn’t have it, what would we complain about? Where would we be without the endless MUNI anecdotes? Some stories are funny, occasionally a story reminds us that there are some good people riding and working for MUNI, but most of the stories are just outrageous and at times shocking — and hopefully still funny.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011 – Three Girls

The 2011 Project wouldn’t be complete without a cow painting. And while those happy cow commercials might be cliché, we have some great cows in California responsible for all those delicious dairy products. When you drive to the northern tip of Point Reyes the real attraction might be the herd of elk, but be sure to stop and say high to the girls.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

November 19, 2011 – Art in 30 Minutes or Less

As a general rule, most of my work could qualify as “slow” art. When I work it’s usually a slow, labor-intensive process. But this morning I decided to give myself the 30-minute collage challenge. A kitchen timer was used as part of the process.

  1. 10 minutes to go through my various collage fodder and find some pieces that would work together.
  2. 10 minutes for cutting and configuring.
  3. 10 final minutes for assembling, gluing and finishing.

And yes, the collage was completed in just under 30 minutes. At times it is good to have a bit of discipline and control over one’s work. But in some ways, there was more time involved. The 4”x4” canvases are prepped in advance and the accumulation of collage material is an ongoing process. A photo was used that I picked up at SCRAP in the late 1990’s and some Basquiat bits from an old Art in America that I clipped almost 20 years ago. My alternate title for this piece would be The Conquest of Basquiat.

Friday, November 18, 2011

November 18, 2011 – Fall Colors

The term Fall Colors might bring to mind the colorful leaves, oranges, yellows and reds in places like New England. But in California, our fall colors are different. The autumn palette is based in the golden hills. The tress offer the contrast of rich earthy greens finished off with the complement of the rich red of manzanita bark. The bark that in most species is polished smooth, a rich terra cotta color. The bark so smooth that it could almost make you believe that mysterious forest dwellers come out at night to polish the trees. The manzanita is California’s other red wood.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17, 2011 – The Ubiquitous Victorian

As the current phase of the 2011 Project is winding down I realized I have not done a piece about Victorians in San Francisco and I have not used the word ubiquitous as well. One should manage to use ubiquitous in a sentence once a year. And what’s more ubiquitous in San Francisco than Victorians? If you’d believe television and the movies you might assume we all live in one. And when we pull up in our cars there is always a parking space waiting for us as a cable car clangs by.

I don’t live in a Victorian, but they are all around my neighborhood living just two blocks from Alamo Square. And yes, when they’re all dolled up, Victorians look pretty good. It’s easy to live here and take them for granted. Unless you live in a hot one like the one I painted today. Every tour bus makes a slow down so the world can gawk at your home. And, if you live right on Alamo Square, you can recite the tour bus spiel from memory. I always am bemused when tourists take photos of even the rather dull ones in need of a new paint job. And one of these days, some unfortunate eurotourist is going to get run over standing in the middle of Steiner Street with a camera. The house might be charming, but our streets are not quiet alleyways of some old city in Europe. Watch where you’re going!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November 16, 2011 – Home for the Winter

It’s getting to be that time of the year when folks start heading south to warmer climates. Places like Florida, Arizona and the Costa del Sol start filling up. California is no exception. The Elephant Seals are heading home to California. After summering up in British Columbia, all the way up to Alaskan waters or even a far-flung journey to Hawaii, our winter residents will be home soon. Welcome back.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November 15, 2011 – Lucha libre

I am fairly disinterested in sports and pay little attention, but one sport I love is Lucha libre. The costumed, freestyle wrestling that comes from Mexico. But for me it is all about the spectacle, the costumes, the accessories, and the kitsch. When sport becomes surreal performance art, I am delighted. That Lucha libre comes out of Mexico is no surprise. Mexicans can be proud that André Breton declared, “Mexico is the most surrealist country in the world.” These art school smarties who bore us with their video art and dull performance pieces are no match for any Luchadores.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14, 2011 – Kids at the Museum

I can’t tell you the first time I was taken to a museum. It was just something we always did growing up. Art, science, history — all kinds of museums. It has made me a lifelong museumgoer. I have carried on the tradition with the kids in my life. Start them as babies and never stop. And yes, my favorites are usually art museums.

I love some of the comments and reactions you get from kids. I was in the Portland Art Museum with my cousin Jack when he was about five. We walk into a room with silver tea services in glass cases. I can’t imagine anything more boring. Then Jack exclaims with delight, “Treasure!” A kid entrenched in pirate culture appreciating stuff that I only thought was for the ladies-who-do-lunch. It was a reminder of how we all can take different things away from different shows.

There are even times I learn things from the kids I take to museums. Adam is now 13, his dad and I have been dragging him to museums since he was a baby. He was about 10 when he taught me to appreciate the Gerhard Richter wall installation at the de Young. But he can be a terrible snob at times. On a wet winter day when he was four, we dragged him around the Albany Bulb to see the found art and recycled sculptures only to have him imperiously announce, “This is a junkyard.” Clearly we had taken him to the Legion of Honor too many times.

One of the many projects I want to do is a photo book of kids at museums. I have been taking pictures for year and I don’t mind hams posing to match the art.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13, 2011 – Marigolds

I planned to do a marigold piece for the 2011 Project during the week of the Day of the Dead. Marigolds being the flower most associated with the holiday. I always have them for my altar and am sure to sprinkle some petals on the doorstep of my building. It’s a custom to let your friends and loved ones who have passed on know they are welcome to visit.

There actually was a marigold piece made during that week, but unfortunately it failed. With over 300 pieces for the project, I have had a few that didn’t work and you’ll never see them. Let’s just say, when you try to encase marigold petals in acrylic varnish they quickly discolor and look awful. This week I started playing with modeling clay — just fooling around. I knew this piece needed some color, and when I saw the can or orange spray paint on the hardware store shelf – a marigold happened.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November 12, 2011 – Reverse Collage

As the 2011 Project is winding down I keep looking at the wall filled with art and realizing there are certain things I have to include in the work. This project would not be complete without a reverse collage. Reverse Collage is a process I developed back in the 1990’s. I work in reverse from front-to-back on Plexiglas. More about the process and some examples can be seen on my website It was one of those experiments that turned out well. I know I am not the first one to paint on glass but I later learned that I was credited with inventing the term Reverse Collage. It’s gone so far as some craft supply company putting out a glue called Reverse Collage Glue – I was basically amused by that as there is no need for a special glue. See my blog about that product.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Birthday to the Bay Bridge!

The Bay Bridge is 75 years old today. So far it’s appeared three times in the 2011 Project. With just 49 days left in the project, I’ll have to see if we can get the Bridge in there one more time.

November 11, 2011 – 11 11 11

Today is the day of three elevens. I consider 11 one of my lucky numbers, so it’s seems a positive day.

The elevens have been recognized for their significance before of course. It was on “The eleventh hour in the eleventh month on the eleventh day” in 1918 that World War I officially ended. The United States along with France, Belgium, Britain and many other Commonwealth countries recognize the day honoring military service. Even though World War I was called the War to End all Wars and we still have not been able to end war. The best way to honor veterans is to work for the end of all wars. We need to stop war before it starts and build a just society free from inequality, discrimination and the conditions that are breeding grounds for extremists and fanatics. Peace.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 10, 2011 – Favorite Maps

It’s no secret I love maps and especially cutting them up and making art out of them. There are certain types of maps that I prefer to use. I particularly like the colorful, almost psychedelic maps used to show things like climates, geology and vegetation. In 2009 I did a whole series with these types of maps. Today’s piece incorporates the vegetation and climate of two of the best places in the world — California and New Zealand.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November 9, 2011 – Hidden Art

Today’s piece for the 2011 Project is about art you find hidden behind art when you dismantle an old picture frame. It also is an expansion of an idea for a temporal art piece that I did at the end of 2010.

Last year and again recently I was on Cape Cod helping my mom get ready for her move to California. We have been sorting through decades of stuff accumulated over 50 years. Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s my dad would comb the thrift and junk stores for treasures. Our Victorian house back in Buffalo had walls filled with prints and etchings from the late 1800’s through the 1930’s. Many were the sorts of things that turned up at the Goodwill and estate sales a few generations later. Some are better than others. In some cases, the antique frames are the parts most worth saving. Going through them has meant taking apart old picture frames. About half the time there is something else hidden behind the art in the frame. And in many cases, the frames have not been opened up for nearly 100 years. Most of the pieces my dad bought went straight up on our walls. We had no idea what was hidden behind them.

In the summer of 2010 I found one of the more intriguing pieces of hidden art. I was taking apart a frame with landscape by the Brazilian artist Reynaldo Manzke. The big surprise was the portrait on paper hiding behind the painting. An unsigned mystery that seems influenced by German Expressionism. More about the discovery is also on my art blog. That mystery painting was reproduced for today’s piece for the 2011 Project.

I have also added an element to today’s piece that allows anyone to participate in the project and a new temporal piece of art.

As I mentioned above, this is an expansion on an idea from the end of 2010. I have always been intrigued by the ephemera you find in between the pages of old books. Last December I created a series of 62 small pieces of artwork that were distributed with the intention of having them hidden away and forgotten in books owned by the 62 different recipients. More about the piece can be seen on my art blog.

I have created a print based on today’s piece. Follow the link to the project website and there you’ll find a PDF file that can be downloaded and printed. What I would like you to do with the print is to place behind something else in a frame. Close up the frame and forget about it. Think of it as a time capsule to be found years later that will bring someone back to the 2011 Project and the art created today and also to this mysterious, anonymous painting created nearly 100 years earlier.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November 8, 2011 – Rorschach

Have a look at today’s piece for the 2011 Project. What you think about it may determine if you’re crazy, or not. Or perhaps it says something about the artist? Hmmm.

Back in Zürich on this day in 1884 Hermann was born. As a teenager he got into Klecksography. It was the thing for kids to do back in the days before video games and the internet. Klecksography was the making of inkblot pictures. Fun! Hermann, as in Dr. Hermann Rorschach, went on to make it his life’s work.

I lived Switzerland for a year in the 1980’s. Living in the small city of St. Gallen in a neighborhood called St. Fiden (St. Fido!). I lived a block off the main street through the neighborhood. It was called Rorschacher Strasse (Rorschach Street). I did so much in Rorschacher Strasse, everything from the grocery store, the post office, lottery tickets (once I won SFr 100), haircuts to my Swiss Bank (I used to love saying I had a Swiss Bank Account).

The name Rorschacher Strasse could lead to all sorts of wacky symmetrical public art. They really could have had fun with it. But this, after all, was ever so serious Switzerland. And the street is actually named for the road that leads to Rorschach, a town on the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

As I signed and dated the back of today’s piece I also noticed the date is coincidentally and perfectly symmetrical – 11-8-11.

Monday, November 7, 2011

November 7, 2011 – Laundry

Today is all about laundry. The third and final load is in the dryer. It’s not my favorite household task, but there is something very satisfying about getting all the laundry washed, folded and put away. The 2011 Project only has 54 pieces left, and it is feeling like the time to start getting tasks completed.