I rarely have a problem with sloth, though physical inactivity is occasionally an issue, but more I struggle with inability to give consistent attention. I am constantly engaged in this project or that, which is an issue when it is always this or that rather than this, all the way to completion, then that.
So, as at least two absolutely groundbreaking, world changing, writing projects sit mostly done on my hard drive, and as my olympian physique gets ever further away, what do I do? I paint and draw.
I have some projects in the works that I think are pretty exciting. Stay tuned (he says to himself and not necessarily the reader).
The grandstands for the Tournament of Roses Parade are set up on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena, CA right in front of a building with the name Norton Simon on the wall. That unremarkable building is full of remarkable art.
VanGogh, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, old, new (ish), Europe, Asia, and American.
But mostly they have Degas.
I’ve seen the Little Dancer Aged 14 many times in several places, but I hadn’t previously seen her with all of her class, instructors, the corps de ballet and a bunch of ladies in bathtubs. The Norton Simon Museum has three rooms of Degas and ballet.
I didn’t know they had these there.
I often joke that I spend the majority of my life driving and the majority of that driving is to ballet classes. I don’t dance, but I have a little dancer not yet aged 14, and even when I left her home, I cannot escape.
So to balance out the lady dancey dance I ventured out on a personal quest to find artistic depictions of true manliness.
The European artists had quite the offering in every period and across several genre but when it comes to athletic fopishness and swagger, the Asian artists were the clear winners.
The French did not take the loss well.
But in my search for artistic manliness, meaning a little bit of stylish swagger expertly and intentionally executed in oil marble or ink, I found a little extra bit of manliness that wasn’t so pretty.
Like how the painting below done in the 1500s features two older men plotting the “seduction” (word on the placard) of a younger woman and after failing, accuse her of adultery for which she is condemned to death, only to be saved at the last moment.
Then, in another room, where I see Adam and Eve portrayed as the original man and women together, I turn around and see the natural next step where the man is sexually assaulting a woman.
There were additional depictions of assault that I have chosen not to post.
I will add that the Asian artists scupltures while much more explicit also appeared much more consenting.
But most of this art was old- from the past, and art museums aren’t just about what is on the walls.
Kitsch and art are parallel lines that never cross. Some artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and I could even argue Klimpt, sort of brush up against that line, but the whole genre of pop art acts as a buffer between the two making absolutely sure that those lines do not cross.
Unless you are in Palm Springs.
Imagine the Watts Towers but replace the Antoni Gaudi influence with Tim Burton. Just as the Watts towers are a backyard monument built “just because”, so is Robolights. But Robolights has a bazillion more Christmas lights- and toilets.
Approximately 30 years ago Kenny Irwin Jr. started building giant robots in his backyard. He was 9. Since then he has graduated art school and inherited the family house, but he has never stopped building. When I say never stopped, I mean I am unsure when he stops to eat because this place is the macabre junkyard version of kudzu. It is thick, ever growing, and covers everything.
When I first visited the place and posted pictures online, the most common questions were what and why? Neither can nor should be answered. Robolights is the kind of place that must be experienced not explained.
I can tell you that there is a feature touting itself as one of only two microwaved microwaves in the world, which would be Kitschy, but while viewing the torched appliance you are standing on a path lined by thousands of little skulls flanked by microwave legged robots under an archway holding up a roller coaster of shopping carts filled with aliens.
Everywhere you look something is spinning and flashing and probably features a skull or a toilet. And it is all in some dude’s backyard in residential neighborhood. Which on paper makes this completely kitsch. I am arguing that it is not.
When Duchamp presented a urinal as artwork it was initially rejected but is now considered by many as a foundational piece of 20th century art. Comic books aren’t necessarily taken seriously, but when Lichtenstein paints one single comic frame and blows it up larger than life, collectors pay millions. It is hard to say where the line really is.
Typing out descriptions of Robolights just doesn’t work. I’m not saying its on par with the Mona Lisa, but writing that there is this painting of an acceptable looking woman who is kinda smiling but not really, would not do justice to DaVinci. Same idea here. I’m not sure Kenny Irwin is really “saying” anything, but I’m also not convinced Leonardo had some grand message when he painted Mona.
What I am definitely saying is that we should all go see the Louvre, and Kenny’s house.
Ten miles south of Las Vegas, in that stretch of nothingness between there and LA, is an art installation only planned to be there 2 years. It opened May 2016 and is now more than half way over.
It is worth a trip to nowhere.
It was built by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone with a commission from the Nevada Museum of Art. I like it more than I like Vegas.
Which isn’t saying much thanks to how I feel about Vegas, which was kind of the artist’s point.
The installation, called the Seven Magic Mountains, is a human construction in a completely unnatural place for no other reason than human entertainment.
It is a pile of rocks and I think it has ten times more meaning than Vegas.
Let me state up front that I have indeed, seen Confederate monuments that I feel are appropriate. I admit they exist.
I have seen a lot of statues in a lot of places over the years. While standing in front of them and looking, I have learned that statues are much less about then, than they are about right now.
You can see it when you look at them.
Some are majestic, others are humble. Some mark a spot, others glorify an ideal or occurrence. But what almost all have in common is that they appear to be built to communicate something. They tell those before them something about where they are. They address the viewer and try to make tangible through stone or bronze something the artist, or community, or someone, feels that person standing there right then needs to know.
They communicate. That is their job.
So, to me, they key is in discerning what it is they are saying.
Some spell it right out. Others are more subtle.
I have stood at the feet of a giant Abe Lincoln and considered the “most fearful ordeal”. In that spot I turned around and looked at the marks in the marble spelling “I have a Dream”. Both of those things were put there for me to consider in that moment.
As a Seventeen year old I stood outside a jail in Carthage Illinois where Joseph Smith was murdered. That statue of Joseph and his brother Hyrum, together, in the place where they both died helped me feel something. It was more than a text could provide.
I have read some make similar statements about when they first saw the statue of liberty from the deck of a ship.
I have been to the battle fields of Gettysburg and Antietam. There in those grassy peaceful places I looked up at pillars marking where soldiers stood, fired, and violently died. I would not have experienced those places the same way without the aid of monuments. I am glad they were there.
But I have seen some others too.
We once lived in a charming small town called Greenville. It had an accessible downtown with shops and a square. At one end, the official side with the courthouse, there was this.
Up top was a confederate soldier and down below was this message.
“All lost but by the graves
Where martyred heroes rest
He wins the most who honor saves
Success is not the test
The world shall yet decide
In truth’s clear far off light
That the soldiers
Who wore the gray and died
With Lee were in the right.”
The statue was of no specific person and nothing remarkable in history happened there. I read the inscription and looked over at the official government building and thought, “Wait… Lee was right? How was the Confederacy right? I realized I was standing in a place where those in charge wanted it to be quite clear, to me, that they believed that those who died with Lee were right. Not Grant. Not Lincoln. Lee.
It made me feel I didn’t belong in this place, and that was the point. I am just me and my words are hot air- these words were stone.Charleston is a gorgeous city. The food and architecture are both worth the trip. Colonial era homes line the shore with manicured grass and mossy oaks between their columned front porches and the water. Multiple eras of history happened here and the monuments reflect that. There is a marble plaque explaining that here they hung pirates. There is also a statue of George Washington. But the tallest of all and the grandest, is the one built for confederates.
I know enough to know that they did not use shields or fight naked. I also knew that there was no event that included a Greek Goddess. Yet that is what was built. Here on the spot where America’s bloodiest war’s first shots were fired, the biggest monument is a celebration of the ones who started it.
This was not about history, it was about glory. I found that idea disappointing.On the campus of Yale, right next to a dorm, stands a statue of a young man about to die. Nathan Hale, once a student at Yale, was executed by the British for spying. He is depicted standing tall and proud, not whimpering or afraid. It was meant to inspire a respect for ideals, possibly learned in this place, worth dying to uphold. I was inspired, maybe a tad bit intimidated, and that was the point.At Boston College, in front of some classrooms, is Saint Ignacius. I am not Catholic but this depiction was contemplative and reached down to me. As if he intended to lift me up. It was both inspiring and inviting. And that was the point.At the center of Duke’s campus stands a cathedral. It was built in 1930 and its entrance is flanked by statues. Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, and Robert E Lee. No matter my denomination, I understand the religious reverence expected of any figure placed at the front of a church. I also understand what Lee fought for. He did not just own black people as slaves but he led a war to keep doing it. He did not fight that war on campus, or in this church, and by 1930 the war was long over, but standing there in that moment- I understood how the officials here felt about him. And I understood how he felt about black humans. In that moment I knew this place was not meant for me.
In looking at the statues we need to consider what they are saying and to whom. We need to know that these figures and plaques make statements that last and have meaning. They are indeed endorsements. what are we collectively endorsing?
I despise the confederate flag like I would a swastika. It has no place in my life. But there was one time, while visiting a graveyard in Greenville, that I saw that flag as okay. There lay buried the remains of men who had died in a war. Those flags marked both who they were and where they are in a way that had meaning. I endorse that.
I also endorse that the ideology of that war, that a whole segment of humanity is inferior, should be laid to rest in those graves with those men and that flag.
So let Mr. Lee come down.
To get to the Getty you take a tram from the parking lot. No, that isn’t completely true. I took a tram, you can walk up the hill, but it was hot outside and it is UP the hill. Don’t worry the line moves fast.
While walking into the modernistic rotunda looking for our tour guide, I wondered aloud why this place was so busy. “I don’t think I’ve seen an art museum this crowded since the Louvre.” My wife gave me the side eye and asked, “When is the last time you saw a Rembrandt and Van Gogh for free?”
They also had Gauguin. And they had, I mean have, Monet, Manet, Goya, and my favorite- tourists taking pictures.
As a painter, I have always appreciated other’s work in that same medium, but as an appreciator of history, I have learned to love sculptures.
For example, while the tour guide was talking about the technique used to craft marble or get stone to look like silk, I was learning that long before plumbing, before electricity, even before we understood the human circulatory system, men were taking the time to groom super cool mustaches (their opinion not mine) and dress with a little swagger. There is art in the subject not just the medium.
Or maybe there was this woman, Mary Seacole, a Jamaican who treated wounded soldiers in the Crimean War- which I should note was before America’s Civil War- who taught me not only about an artist’s skill with chisel, but that the look a black woman gives when someone says “confederate statues are history” rather than a celebratory memorial to racism, has been the same for more than 100 years.
I can hear this statue better than I can see it. I had several seats after viewing it.
I also learned that even before digital media, there were pixels. Poor resolution and revivalist mosaic are pretty much the same thing.
What struck me about the Getty, even more than the sculpture, and crowds, was the space. I am too lazy to investigate the planning process or theory in its creation, but it functions as a location first, and houses art second. There are gardens surrounded by architecture placed on a hilltop overlooking LA.
It is a place. A space. To be in. To be surrounded by and lounged in and enjoyed. It is an environment.
And I like that.
I am afraid of neither cliché nor dumpster. I may be a little bit afraid of going all Johnny Utah and trying to teach myself how to ride a cliché in Red Hot Chili Pepper infested waters, so I settle for sitting on the couch and painting what should otherwise be a sporting good.
I found it in a dumpster. I saw it as a low rent project that would allow me the tools to learn my next sporting hobby. I had dreams of riding waves and floating just out beyond the break.
Two years later I have ridden very little beyond a sofa and sadly, I float a bit too easily in the pool.
Then I got an idea.
It is still rideable. At least in theory.
The first thing I saw when I walked in the doors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was a giant portrait of a guy wearing a kilt. The little plaque at the bottom said the subject shared my last name which obviously required me to like it.
But it wasn’t my favorite.
I gravitate toward American artists, like the Eakins they had there, but at LACMA this was also not my favorite. Nor the Rembrandt. Not even the Picasso exhibition which came complete with a guard who tells you to stop taking pictures, even though the painting were picture worthy- still not my favorite.
I think LACMA had squeakier floors, more construction, and just plain more wear and tear than most of the museums I have been too, definitely more than the Broad or the Barnes, but what made up for it, what became my favorite, was the people.
It wasn’t quite like some other places where you go inside and the only people there are retirees wearing clothing from the gift shop and bus loads full of middle-schoolers on field trips. No. This was more like if all those people who run up the Rocky steps in Philadelphia, then proceeded inside the museum. No one in Philly actually goes inside that place, in LA, they do.
I will not forward that the art is better, or that the patrons appreciate it more, just that there were more of the folks you see out on the streets- inside.
People of all sorts are always my favorite.
But aside from them, what LACMA did best, at least in my Philistine opinion, is what California has always done best.
The Eames duo were not LA natives, but no one is. But those chairs go with those paintings, which work in those normally awful (shall we say severe) buildings, and they then find themselves in LACMA.
Yeah… they have other stuff there too:
If you want to completely hate every angle of the art world do like I did and watch the documentaries “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “The Art of the Steal” back to back. But, then after watching it, don’t be like me and wait 7 years before you go and visit the Barnes.
So the short story is that there was once this guy named Albert Barnes who got rich and amassed one of the world’s greatest private art collections. But he was new money and the Philadelphia art crowd relegated him to the little kids table. So for paybacks this Barnes guy left his collection to a small historically black college outside of the city and wrote into his will that his collection could never be moved or sold.
He basically wrote into his will that everything he knew the established art world would want to do, was not allowed.
So of course once he died the art world, and the city of Philadelphia, broke every one of those rules.
So now, as is so often the case with wonderful, beautiful, and historic things that are worth money, we, the general public, can enjoy and consume said beauty, but not without some bit of moral compromising.
Having broken my seven year hunger strike, I advocate for this compromise.
Van Gogh, Modigliani, Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Seurat, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, and then more Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Monet. so much. Just. So. Much.
Taking pictures inside is absolutely not allowed. I learned that they do in fact enforce that rule. Had they not enforced that rule I would be treating you to what I consider the highlight of the place (the Matisse triptych up in the arches), but the guards gave me my second warning at that point.
So worth it. And besides, I don’t really advocate breaking rules… but they do.