Fuck Grid #34 (2007), pencil on paper, 17 by 14 inches
Betty Tompkins began making Fuck paintings in 1969. It was the height of minimalism and conceptual art, so she thought she'd try calling them Joined Forms. She eventually dropped the act and just called them Fuck paintings, adding Dick paintings and Cunt paintings, too.
What keeps a woman working on photorealistic paintings of hard-core heterosexual pornography for 40 years? Well, she did take a break in the late 70s and early 80s to make works that were all text, of which she says: "I bored myself silly, so I went back to sex."
Listen to her talk about her quick rise, her years as an art-world exile, her comeback, her repeated brushes with censorship.
In person her works can be surprisingly tender; they can also be harsh and cold in the Chuck Close way (some are created by stamping words on the canvas rather than with brush strokes).
I'm sorry to say that her show of paintings and drawings (especially two exquisite drawings created in the 1970s with a Dremel tool, which she only knew to be called a "flexible shaft," causing some great innocent doublespeak), at Lawrimore Project is only up through today, October 18. (We tried to do this interview earlier, but because of scheduling conflicts and illness, we just couldn't.)
Her own web site is here.
Here is an image she alludes to in the podcast, her single homage in all these years to the breast. This one is called Fuck Grid #32:
Gus's Pawn Shop from the series NIAGARA by Alec Soth
Alec Soth is a particular sort of wandering American storyteller, a lyrical documentarian. When people talk about his photographs, they bring up names like Robert Frank, like Flannery O'Connor, like Mark Twain, even.
Recently Soth was in Seattle, receiving an award from the Photographic Center Northwest and staying at the Sorrento Hotel on First Hill. I met him just after he arrived, and he was already a little out of sorts. He had lost his wallet. Then he found it, I don't know how, he left me in the lobby during that part, and when he came back we ordered Diet Cokes and went upstairs to sit down and talk. He didn't have a camera with him, or was it that he didn't really feel like shooting? He was crotchety and smart and evasive and funny and open all at the same time. Something about him was resistant to the interview process (in a good way), even though he talked plenty. I think you'll see what I mean. You'll also hear him reveal what he's working on, which involves hiding out. It also involves making art about the election process while trying like hell not to be political.
Also, he wholeheartedly agrees with Ed Schad's take on my take on nostalgia and sentimentality when it comes to art. (Me, too. Not my take, I mean, but Ed's take on my take.)
Mary Temple spent weeks at Western Bridge making a huge painting that opened to the public last weekend. (The image above is from an earlier, similar installation on the East Coast.)
The painting is extremely quiet. It is white paint on white walls, and depending on the light, it can almost disappear entirely. It is painted to fool you into believing, at least for moment, that it's not there. When you walk in, it looks like there's nothing in the room at all, just the shadows and light beaming in from the windows of the building. This is what Temple calls "the doubting zone." She has her reasons for sending you there.
There was a moment in the influential California artist Robert Irwin's artistic life—documented in Lawrence Weschler's classic book Seeing Is Forgetting the Thing One Sees (my love letter to the 25-year-old book here; the new 25th-anniversary special edition can be pre-ordered in hardback for $31.50 here or in paperback for $16.47 here)—when Irwin realized he was looking around.
He was painting one or two thin lines across a canvas, and kept moving them up or down just slightly until they felt absolutely right. It could take weeks to get one line in the right place. And then, when they were perfect, he realized he had another dilemma: they were only perfect in his studio, where they were made. The placements of the lines depended on the room around them, not just the white space of the rest of the canvas. Irwin realized that, for him, art doesn't stand alone. He was making art in relation to what was around it.
Well, once you start bringing architecture or space into the experience of art, you might as well bring in time, too. That's the idea behind New York-based artist Wade Kavanaugh's new installation at Suyama Space, in which the bumps of land that were leveled off in the Denny Regrade at the turn of the 20th century reappear in rough, ghostly form indoors.
The bricks that make up the mounds are handmade from scraps of salvaged drywall layered together like wafers. The choice of drywall makes it as if the artist is imagining the walls of the gallery deconstructing into the shape of the former land on the site.
The rough, sandblasted surfaces of the bricks—there are 10,000 of them, according to the artist—and their subtle spectrum of color due to the original uses of the pieces of drywall make the piece visually engrossing, especially when seen from slightly above, on the staircase adjoining the gallery.
Unfortunately, Kavanaugh had to deal with several egresses from the room (four exit doors, two bathroom doors, and a fire escape, if you can believe it), so there are too many paths through the land forms, and the movement aspect of the experience feels unresolved.
Before you head down there (the show's up through December 12), listen to Kavanaugh talk about the genesis of his idea, what the colors tell you, and what he does with all this material when he's finished.
L.A.-based artists Harry Dodge (born Harriet, but now not identifying as either male or female) and Stanya Kahn are as uncompromising as they are hilarious. The entertaining but unsettling performances in their videos—both in front of and behind the camera—are plainly spontaneous, but the final works are carefully crafted. To get a sense of what they do, watch a segment of their Can't Swallow It, Can't Spit It Out here (that's Kahn you see in the frame, and Dodge is shooting).
Then listen in to this sprawly phone conversation with them.
Their 2006 work Masters of None (pictured above) is screening at TBA:08 in Portland through October 4, and the artists will talk at the Back Room Friday night, September 12.
This photograph is old, but Davidson doesn't look very different today. He still wears the bowtie.
Sam Davidson has run a gallery in Seattle for 35 years: He knows where all the bodies are buried. But he also deals in quiet art, often prints, generally the sort that doesn't send a lot of journalists around to bother him. He's an undertapped resource.
A few years ago, Davidson opened a contemporary satellite in the middle of the East Edge Artwalk route—near SOIL and Platform, Shift and Punch. Mike Sweney ran Davidson Contemporary, and artists could take risks there (John Grade, for instance, completed his first-ever installation there; Grade is now showing at Bellevue Arts Museum).
But about a year ago, Sweney went to work for the state, and Davidson has decided to close the contemporary space. Its last show is this month's.
Sam Davidson isn't going anywhere, though, and he's got a lot of knowledge and plenty of opinions, as soft-spoken as he is. In this interview, he talks about why he's disappointed with Seattle Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park, the bravery he expects from the Henry Art Gallery, his love for the ducks at the Frye Art Museum, how he's something of a "Broadway Danny Rose" character, and why he won't join the bowtie club of the Northwest.
Here's the Davidson Gallery, in Occidental Square, that is staying open:
On the morning of September 12, 2001, as the United States descended into a pit of disbelief, Seattle artist Leo Saul Berk happened to be in Guatemala, descending into an ancient Mayan cave. Tourists aren't allowed in, but Berk and some others bribed the guards, who then conducted the tour of the dark, totally disorienting place—a place Berk was unable to get out of his head afterward.
Now it's finally come out of his head, and into the Hedreen Gallery at Seattle University, in the form of strange, surrealistic, suggestive shapes in two drawings and a sculpture-on-stilts.
Listen to him talk about the whole experience.
That's a still from a digital video made with clay animation by Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg. It's called Feed All the Hungry Little Children (2007), but, as you can imagine, it is not as innocent as the title makes it sound. It is, in fact, quite sick—even though nothing that happens in it is really wrong.
The lascivious woman lures the hungry pack of children from their crevices in the back side of a tenement. (See what I mean that something's wrong but not overtly wrong, just by the potential entendres in that sentence?) The children surround and grope her. They pull out her breasts. She feeds them. It is a clay-milk orgy. Then, they close their eyes like babies do after you feed them, when they go to sleep, except these babies look overstuffed, and like they might have choked to death, just a little.
It's all very sinister and vague, which is basically the tone of the entire show Ask A Banana, Baby at Howard House. The show features three Swedish artists—Djurberg, Annika von Hausswolff, and Johanna Billing—and their videos, animations, and photographs. It's not a big show, but it makes a definite impression.
Hear curator Sara Callahan, who is Swedish herself, talk about why she chose these works, which make Sweden seem so, well, freaky and freaked out.
That's Isaac Layman. He's asleep, perfectly still except for the rise and fall of his torso as he breathes. The camera is making a picture of him that takes four and a half minutes to complete—it's a digital process, but it mimics the earliest photographs, when people had to remain perfectly still for minutes on end so that they would be captured as if in a single, clear moment. Any movement would be tracked in the final image. Here, Layman mounts a digital back onto a traditional 4 by 5 camera, and it records one line 1 pixel wide by 8,000 pixels high and then moves to the right to record the next line. Layman is being downloaded.
If you look closely, you can see that his pockets are scallop-edged—that's not the way they really look, it's an effect from the motion of his breathing during the shoot. But that's kind of a gimme.
What's stranger is the fact that Layman himself doesn't know what was going on in the mind of his subject at the time this was shot—he was asleep. He's in the same position we are: seeing someone without really getting any information about him.
Layman's whole show of new work at Lawrimore Project—called Photographs from the Inside of a Whale, and shot entirely in his Seattle home—is an investigation into how good the information you get from a photograph really is.
Listen to him tell it.
Oliver Herring is a Brooklyn-based artist who works relatively traditionally, in photography, sculpture, and video. But since 2002, he also has had something on the side: something called Task.
Task is an event involving volunteers who come together in a public place for an entire day and give each other tasks to do for the whole time they're there. While it's happening a mini-society forms. All Herring does is choose the volunteers, start things off, and then observe. This happened in Seattle June 28; my on-the-scene reporting on the first part of it is here; a longer essay considering it is running in next week's paper.
In this interview, conducted on the eve of the event in Seattle, Herring talks about why Task is actually not on the side of his studio work, but instead at the heart of it. He talks about the outbreak of Task "parties" around the country. He talks about his year of saying yes to everything.
And here are two images from Seattle's Task (photographs by Duncan Scovil):
These are the bleachers that lead down from the Fifth Avenue level to the auditorium. Remember 83-year-old Bob from my earlier writing? That's him up and moving around while a young woman naps.
That there is Matthew Day Jackson's Chariot II (I Like America and America Likes Me) (2008), the centerpiece of the Henry Art Gallery's new show The Violet Hour. It's made of a Skip Nichols race car (crashed/Corvette), steel, wool, felt, leather, stained glass, fluorescent light tubes, solar panels, fiberglass, and plastic.
Like Jackson's other two works in the show, this one is a glorious thing to look at and look at and keep looking at. It's also full of associations in and outside of art—the first to come to mind are Richard Prince's treatments of upstate New York, Beuys's plane crash and rescue by the Tartars, and stained-glass windows that survive in bombed-out cathedrals. Traditional Western art and pioneer stories are swirling around, too: the driver's seat is made from a leather cowboy saddle, and set in the passenger's seat like an eerie mask is a reflective astronaut's helmet wrapped in gray felt. Oh, and the entire sculpture is solar-powered.
That's the "shattered" windshield of the car.
There's the cowboy saddle and the space helmet inside the car.
The Violet Hour is a remarkably entertaining show for being so simultaneously grim. Jen Liu's videos feature Pink Floyd standards sung in Latin plainchant, Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” performed by a community brass band and performed as an operatic aria for a soprano, cannibalism, brutalist architecture, and pretty young men. In Croatian artist David Maljkovic's videos, young people in a post-communist daze linger under the burdensome, overpowering modernist architecture of the Italian Pavilion of the Zagreb Fair, loitering in and around cars that have been immobilized.
The overlapping themes in the show reveal themselves continually: cars, architecture, nature, text, religion, crystalline forms. It's a show in which you can do plenty of mental work while also having a great time.
Talking to the artists (except Maljkovic, who had to remain in Croatia with his wife, who's expecting) was much the same experience. Have a listen.
On the beleaguered morning after the opening party for the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards last Saturday, the five winning artists sat down in a conference room in the Portland Art Museum and gave each other insane love. This recording is the result of that union.
There was Whiting Tennis,
and Jeffry Mitchell.
Okay, but what does its contemporary curator, Stefano Catalani—who has produced more exhibition catalogs in the last few years than any other local curator—have to say about working at BAM?
Here he is. (And here's a site that says he is actually an Italian prince. He does have a princely mustache...)
Laylah Ali's Untitled (from the Greenhead series) (1999), gouache on paper, 10 by 11 1/4 inches
A few months ago, I wondered what Seattle Art Museum planned to do with its gallery devoted to artists of African descent. There was talk of residencies? Group shows?
The new group show, Black Art, is not only the first broadly themed effort in the small gallery, it's also a self-reflexive exhibition about the function of the gallery itself. It asks, how useful is the term "black art"? What if blackness were looked at as broadly as possible?
The show is a harvesting of SAM's permanent collection for "black art," plus a handful of loans. The results are sometimes surprising.
Listen to Jackson-Dumont tell it.
Here are more of the images in the show:
Randy Hayes's Victor/Victim (1982), pastel on paper, 83 1/4 by 50 7/8 inches
Halford Lembke's Crouching Negress (1932), wood, 6 3/8 by 3 1/16 by 2 7/8 inches
Max Beckmann's Jahrmarkt (Annual Fair): Der Neger (The Negro) (1921), drypoint, 29 by 26 cm
Mark Tobey's Broadway Girl, Head (1957), sumi ink on paper, 23 1/2 by 15 1/2 inches
Sergio Vega's Paradise on Fire 5 (2007), photograph
Sergio Vega, who was born in Argentina and now lives in the foresty middle of Florida, has been working on a project called Paradise in the New World for 10 years.
Using his own writings—in voices from academic to confessional—plus photography, sculpture, and video, Vega goes in search of the promised paradise. He treks to the area of Brazil where explorers once said this paradise could be found (pictured above, in a 2007 fire), and he looks at our estranged relationship to tropical paradise as moderns, often distinguishing between First-World and Third-World definitions of modernity.
The parrot phone is one example of modern systems mimicking natural ones. A talking bird becomes a talking machine.
Vega's newest additions to the project, photographs and a video of two men who discovered and worked in the Brazilian gold rush of the 1970s, are on display at the young contemporary art space Open Satellite in Bellevue, in an exhibition curated by Pablo Schugurensky. Facing off with the Bellevue gallery's gigantic window wall is a blackout curtain cut to look like a giant silhouette of a jungle canopy.
Vega sits down in the gallery and talks while his home—or at least his home town in Florida—is burning.
San Antonio-based artist Dario Robleto has two shows up currently at the Frye Art Museum, but that's not why In/Visible decided to do two podcasts with him rather than only one. It's because he's too interesting to cover everything in one sitting.
In part one, recorded and posted in late April, Robleto talked about his personal history in and around hospice and honky tonks in Texas, and about his philosophy of "attainable magic."
The wild materials he uses in his artworks are all real things in the world, as far-fetched as they sound—for example, there's trinitite, glass produced during the first atomic test explosion from Trinity test site, when heat from the blast melted the desert sand.
In part two, recorded May 15, Robleto focuses on his materials, explaining how he gets them and what they mean to him. (Here are a few examples of what he uses: bones from every part of the body, ground seahorse, men's wedding bands excavated from American battlefields, residue from female tears of mourning overlaid with residue from male tears of mourning, pain bullets, tracheal extractor, ground pituitary gland.)
His latest find? A multimillion-year-old blossom, perfectly preserved, and a multimillion-year-old raindrop, caught in amber. Those objects will be part of an upcoming group exhibition (called Human/Nature: Artists Respond to a Changing Planet) with Mark Dion, Ann Hamilton, Xu Bing, and four other artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. Robleto is also in a group show called Old, Weird America (the title comes from Greil Marcus's take on Dylan's basement recordings) at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston.
His 10-year survey, Alloy of Love, opened last weekend at the Frye in Seattle. Below are two of the many works in the show.
Sometimes Billie Is All That Holds Me Together (1998-99), hand-ground and melted vinyl records, various clothing, acrylic, spray paint. Several new buttons were crafted from melted Billie Holiday records to replace missing buttons on found, abandoned, or thrift-store clothing. After the discarded clothing was made whole again, it was re-donated to the thrift-stores or placed where it was originally found.
Detail from A Color God Never Made (2004-05), cast and carved de-carbonized bone dust, bone calcium, military-issued glass eyes for wounded soldiers coated with ground trinitite (glass produced during the first atomic test explosion from Trinity test site, c. 1945, when heat from blast melted surrounding sand), fragments of a soldier's personal mirror salvaged from a battlefield, soldiers' uniform fabric and thread from various wars, melted bullet lead and shrapnel from various wars, fragment of a soldier's letter home, woven human hair of a war widow, bittersweet leaves, soldier-made clay marbles, battlefield dirt, cast bronze teeth, dried rosebuds, porcupine quill, excavated dog tags, rust, velvet, walnut
Matthew Offenbacher's The Freak in a State of Total Tokenism (2007), oil on canvas, 49 by 29 inches
Matthew Offenbacher is the painter behind La Especial Norte, the latest in a spotty but notable historical lineage of artist-run zines in Seattle. (Anyone remember Redheaded Stepchild?) He talks about how this one came about, and what he wants to do with it. And, tangentially, why his newest paintings are of his cat.
Maxwell Anderson (who, yes, is grandson of the playwright) was in Seattle a few weeks ago to discuss issues of international art repatriation at Seattle Art Museum—in conjunction with the Roman Art from the Louvre show that's closing this weekend.
We caught up with him at an absurdly late hour after his talk (11 pm PS, 2 am his time), but he was as eloquent as ever. The fact is, Anderson is one of the smartest and most up-to-date museum directors in the business, and in this podcast, he describes many of the philosophies that make him so good.
And check out the best museum web site in the country at the museum where he's director in Indianapolis. Next year, the IMA will open its 100-acre art and nature park, which sounds something like what the Olympic Sculpture Park could have been but isn't. Anderson says it won't be about "trophy hunting and monument building."
Oh, and here he is doing one of his regular YouTube videos about the art at the museum. (Yes. Imagine a director making time to do that.)
An installation view of Dario Robleto's An Instinct Toward Life, in his show Heaven Is Being a Memory to Others at the Frye. (Photos by Adam L. Weintraub)
2008 is not even half over, and I'm putting money on Dario Robleto's new exhibition at the Frye Art Museum as the Seattle exhibition of the year. Basically, Robleto, a San Antonio-based artist, went in search of a dead Seattle woman, Emma Frye (co-founder of the museum), and this show is the story of his dark travels.
A closer view of An Instinct Toward Life, with two madonna-and-child paintings from the permanent collection.
Not much is known about Emma, except that she was married to Charles, had a miscarriage, and never after had children. Heaven Is Being a Memory to Others is an imagined walk through her life led by a call-and-response of 19th-century paintings from the Frye's permanent collection and 21st-century "sampled" sculptures made by Robleto using such materials as melted-down audiotape of the longest-married couple talking about their marriage, melted lead excavated from various wars, and fulgurites, or glass made from lightning striking the desert. The show is also a story about the making of an art collection, about war and love, and about loss and the remix—but this is enough to start with.
A detail from Robleto's sculpture Time Measures Nothing But This Love.
Just listen to the artist talk.
This month at James Harris Gallery is Margot Quan Knight's coming-out party in Seattle.
She is, basically, a disillusioned photographer. A wonderfully disillusioned photographer. She's become disillusioned from her fantasy (our collective fantasy?) that photographs describe, if not reality, then still a version of truth. Until recently, she made composed images of unreal events that revealed themselves to be fictions indicative of real sensations and experiences, often ones that defy time, like this one (that's her):
But then she was hit by a car. And she started graduate school (MFA at Bard; she finishes this summer). And the result of those things intersecting with Berenice Abbott (and other readings in photographic history), a strobe-light dance she saw at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the thought of her mother getting older resulted in a break—out of which came an entirely different body of work, all based on reflective surfaces.
Artists at the beginning of their careers—and sometimes, artists at any stage—may be doing great things, but they don't always really know what they're doing. That can be perfectly fine, or a disaster. In Quan Knight's case, her eloquence is not necessary to understand her work, but it's a very nice surprise. Listening to her will be well worth your time.
And because these works are all reflective, I'm posting a video (by Quan Knight) that depicts the works the way you would experience them, rather than the blank, more formal stills on the gallery's web site.
Because I'm a semiotics nerd, one of my favorite pieces by LA-based artist Geoff McFetridge is a drawing of concentric rectangles with the slogan, "Support Responsible Abstraction." When you think about it, there is a lot of irresponsible abstraction going around—you know, the kind determined to mystify some original meaning or impulse that A) may or may not really even be known to the artist, and B) may or may not be worth memorializing in paint anyway. Either way, it pushes the viewer away. What would responsible abstraction look like? McFetridge says it's not the kind that broadcasts that it's hoarding a secret. It gives instead of takes.
McFetridge's background is graphic design. He studied it straight-up as an undergrad in Alberta, Canada, and then moved on to "conceptual graphics" (graphics that are well-considered but often look like crap) as a grad student at CalArts. Now, he has his own studio in Southern California, where he works both as a fine artist, making public murals, gallery pieces, and artist books, and as a commercial designer for various companies (especially skateboard and snowboard), and movies and TV (he did the titles for "The Virgin Suicides" and "Freaks and Geeks").
His new installation in Seattle will be up at the Olympic Sculpture Pavilion for a whole year. It's about where graphics and sculpture meet—about the imaginative transition from two dimensions to three, from flat to real, from general and iconic to specific and personal.
He hung sheets of thin plywood that he bent to look like posters with the ends curled up. They're nailed to the wall, but swaths of blue tape and giant sculptures of tacks pretend to hold them up. One of the giant tacks has the round head of a pin, but casts the painted shadow of a mighty pushpin. It has bigger ideas for itself.
Don't take my word for any of this; listen to the artist talk. I caught up with him while he was working at the pavilion, and we talked about responsible abstraction, pre-op transgeometrism (not a fancy word, but a condition we invented), and why he wouldn't mind designing a cigarette commercial in Japan.
Want more? Here are two of McFetridge's moving animations: his video of the Whitest Boy Alive song "Golden Cage"...
And an illustration he did for the New York Times Magazine's Year in Ideas 2007...
The installation opens today.
Listen as Margaret Laird, University of Washington Assistant Professor of Ancient Art & Archeology, takes Jen Graves on a tour of the Seattle Art Museum's Roman Art from the Louvre exhibit (through May 11).
We've also prepared a slide show of images from the exhibition to accompany the podcast.
In the story "Gray Area" in this week's paper, Jen Graves takes a look at accusations that two prominent Seattle artists—Lead Pencil Studio, winners of a Stranger Genius Award—are copycats.
"Which is worse," she writes, "theft or ignorance?"
On this podcast is everything that didn't make it into the story: more opinions from curators and the artists, what Graves thinks of the whole thing, and how it crossed her desk in the first place.
Eric Eley struggles with illusion. He doesn't like it. He's a facts man, and the depth in his resin drawings is literal depth, with pigment embedded in layers of resin.
Plane Drift, resin and dry pigment, 2007
"I'm showing you what I want to show you," he says of his outer-spacey geometric abstractions, which share affinities with Julie Mehretu's works. "This isn't a piece of a larger world."
He used to be certain about that. But now, his lines, points, and planes are beginning to lead off the edges of his drawings and to fade away into deep space—and he's trying to figure out why, and whether he likes it, and where he wants it to go.
This is an artist who started by making teapots and became a professional seamstress (seamster?) before he studied in the MFA ceramics program at UW.
His newest works are at Platform Gallery in Pioneer Square through February 9, including this drawing, titled In Place of Three (2008)—the dry pigment is applied with makeup applicators—
and the installation/spatial drawing Prospect Fields, which fills the gallery.
This is Ellen Forney doing Kelly O. Meaning, Forney's the artist and Kelly's the subject. Then again, who knows what else happened in that modeling session?
In this episode of In/Visible (and here in video form), the cartoonist and the porn-columnist come together at the Frye Art Museum to talk about the R. Crumb exhibition, Forney's new hardback book LUST (opening party for the accompanying art show Saturday at Fantagraphics), and whether they would let R. Crumb jump on their backs for a ride.
LUST is a collection of Forney's Lustlab cartoons, which appear every week on her blog, in addition to on the Stranger's site. Here's the latest, a tribute to a woman who likes Odd Nerdrum, Zdzislaw Beksinski, and Joel-Peter Witkin: