Thursday, September 24, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Now and then I like to post some things that—for one reason or another—didn't make the cut for illustration jobs. Here are a couple of ideas I suggested (and favored, at least in the formal sense) for an article about the transformation of North Carolina from a hot bed of KKK activity to one Obama's swing states in the 2008 election. The editors felt the imagery suggested racism targeting President Obama (not really the thrust of the article), so neither image was used.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
It's probably an act of vain folly to include unfinished work on a blog that is mean as self-promotion, but here goes. I think my process is a testament to the old apothegm, "it ain't over 'til it's over." While things look pretty bad en route it's always heartening to turn a corner and see some promise of resolution on the horizon. I worked last night on one of the paintings from a previous post and while it's nowhere near finished, I think I have begun to understand what needs to be done.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
It's been far too long and a great deal has happened since my last entry, but I'm back in the saddle, having moved home to the US. What a great two years in Rome and the rest of Europe. I have many photos from my travels and will post them soon, but meanwhile I'm including here some stirrings of new paintings. This group is about icebergs, the metaphorical partner to volcanoes.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
A couple of new illustrations for Brandeis University's Catalyst magazine. The first is for an article about research into the locomotive properties of microscopic organisms in developing new nanotechnology. The second concerns the gradual transformation of North Carolina from a KKK hotbed in the 1960's to Obama swing state in 2008.
Monday, May 25, 2009
In late April and early May, I fulfilled a longtime dream to visit Morocco. My parents met there in 1953-54 and through my father's old photos and my mom's colorful stories of "French Morocco" I gained an enthusiasm for its exotic appeal.
My friend John and I spent about 10 days traveling in the western portion of the country. In retrospect I wish we'd explored the mountains as they're great for trekking, but we opted to stay in cities to better appreciate the energy of daily life. We flew from Rome to Barcelona and landed first in Marrakech. Essaouira, Rabat and Tangier followed and each city definitely possessed distinctive character. The whole trip (about 10 days) was relatively inexpensive, and I suppose we each spent about €600, including all meals, lodging and travel. It's very inexpensive to eat in Morocco, with large meals costing the equivalent of about €5-10, but there's not a tremendous variety on the menus. Riads—tranquil respite from the chaos of the streets—are also pretty cheap, and for the most part we stayed in these converted houses with inner courtyards and gardens instead of hotels.
Marrakech was fascinating. It's a pretty smelly place—lots of piss-soaked streets—but the people were extremely warm and hospitable. We stayed at a nice Riad in the Medina, and it was very inexpensive and nicely furnished, with beautifully carved plaster ceilings in the room. The souks and Djemaa el Fna square were teeming with life and it was truly an amazing place to be from dusk until dark. The mounting energy is brought to a crescendo by drums and horns in the early evening and I can only compare it to waiting for a thunderstorm to begin. By the time the sun sets the whole square is absolutely electric, with music and smoke filling the sky and crowds of people sharing meals at huge steel tables spread across the enormous square. Acrobats, snake charmers, belly dancers, the works.
Someone's always pestering you to buy something and they're very eager to take you for a fool when it comes to bargaining, but if you have a sense of humor you'll really enjoy it. It DOES grind you down, however, and I'm glad we started—rather than ended—there. We got lost in the souks at night and that was a bit scary, as people were coming out of some pretty dark and smelly places to hound us for money or "guide" us to where we needed to go. Beauty in Marrakech is in details, rather than in the big picture. Colors and textures and the remarkable plaster carving in architectural moulding, etc. is really impressive. We spent an afternoon at the Bahia Palace—really nice. One evening, we took a great run along the outside of the old city walls, with the sun setting over the olive groves and thousands of swallows careening around us.
Essaouira was a nice switch—lots of whitewashed walls and some great views of the sea. Again, we were in a nice Riad in the Medina. The food was excellent in several places although there's not a lot of variety in most restaurants. The ubiquitous mint tea, tajines and couscous were the fare on almost every menu, along with some simple but unimpressive pizzas. Unfortunately, John got pretty sick with an intestinal infection here and had to get antibiotics from a local doctor, so he was out of commission much of the time. You have to be pretty careful what you eat or drink in these places, (including the coffee, a lukewarm cup of which is what may have dogged John). While John and I consumed almost exactly the same meals, I wasn't affected for some reason. We had a pleasant time watching a soccer game on the very windy beach among a group of local men, walking in the medina and exploring the ramparts which were used as the setting for Orson Welles' Othello. Despite the elegance of our riad the maze of streets around our building smelled a lot like raw sewage, and there was significant poverty right next door—places with no electricity or running water. Still, the people were very gentle and warm and I was impressed by how content they seemed despite their hardship.
Rabat was an elegant city and I was so happy to arrive there after so many years of romantic imagination. It's a much more European place with some of the most impressive Art Deco architecture I have seen—stylized in reductive ways by Islamic motifs. In my parents' day it must have been stunning, as it has exceptionally refined and consistent architecture, resulting in a truly unusual and very nicely laid out urban environment. The best part of Rabat for me was the kasbah, which has a gorgeous Andalusian garden and museum inside, along with some beautiful, cobalt blue dwellings. The museums in Morocco are underfunded, so they don't compare to the contrived grandeur of western Europe, but they're extremely inexpensive and worth a look. I liked Rabat a lot, both for sentimental reasons and as a fascinating city whose cross-cultural history is evidenced in its buildings, food and language.
Tangier was an immense disappointment, and I won't waste too much energy recounting the unpleasant encounters we had there, most of which were tied to our demoralizing stay in a riad run by fundamentalist whackos. It's an extremely dirty city with every other person offering us drugs through toothless grins and urine-steeped pants. We stayed two days there and while the scenery along the shore was visually pleasant, it smelled like shit with the runoff from sewers, which we could see cascading into the ocean as we explored the coast. Despite this cruddy ending, we had a fantastic trip—more educative than relaxing, but everything I expected and more. I have absolutely no regrets and returned home exhausted and still buzzing from the cacophony of a strange land.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
On May 23, at an enormous castle outside of Rome, the Centro Internazionale per l'Arte Contemporanea hosted an exhibit of site-specific installations by RISD students.
Artist Bruna Esposito led a site-specific workshop resulting in three student-defined projects from the European Honors Program of Rhode Island School of Design. Each project is concerned with the rich historical, formal, and sensory context of Castello Colonna. Coordinated by CIAC Director Claudio Libero Pisano, as well as Ezio Genovesi and myself from RISD, the three projects respond in earnest to the environment of the castle—from Dorion Barill's animated migration of the chapel frescoes to the walls of another gallery; to Marlene Frontera and Grant Conboy's infusion of intimate domesticity in the grand setting of the castle and grounds; to another group's impulse to conjoin interior and exterior spaces, harnessing the energy of the light and wind outside toward delicate aesthetic expression in an upper gallery. The CIAC exhibition marks an important transition from the scholastic to the professional context for its participants.
It was a beautiful night, and the whole EHP family, as well as many visitors from Rome and environs, made the trip to Genazzano to celebrate the good work done by our students. What an opportunity for our students—working in such an inspiring setting, with an important contemporary artist. Many thanks to Bruna, Claudio and Ezio for their support.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The opening for my show of paintings was quiet, low-key. The students made some wonderful food, and some local guests rounded out the evening. Afterwards, a couple of friends took me to dinner. I'm happy to have pulled it together with a couple of weeks to spare as this means I have some time to pull the canvases off the stretchers and pack them up for the trip home in July.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
I've received messages from people asking about updates. My apologies. I've been very busy lately with both travel and finishing up with teaching and work for my show. My journey in italy is coming to a close and I suppose I'm getting a little distracted.
In a future post I'll try to include some photographs from a recent trip to North Africa. My parents lived and met in Rabat, Morocco, in 1952-53. That, coupled with my longstanding, earnest desire to see a way of life quite distinct from my own, stimulated my thinking about a trip many years ago. I first made plans in 1984, but had to ditch them when I learned how expensive the trip would be.
So I went to Marrakech, Essaouira, Rabat and Tangier for 10 days. While I encountered some bleak modes of existence, it was pretty much as I expected: extreme poverty in some places, countered by unparalleled beauty in details and some of the most pleasant people on earth, even when they were trying to talk you out of 1000 dirhams. It was more educative than relaxing, that's for sure, but I got a good tan from wandering outside everyday for hours on end.
Anyway, I finally made it there, with the linguistic help and warm companionship of my friend John.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I was on the way to have some tests done related to my eye (keratitis since January 17—such a drag not being able to see clearly) and was suddenly struck by the urge to write this about the paintings I have been doing. It's not very well-written but I'm glad it's beginning to crystallize.
The paintings are about me. Rather, they are a denial of the artificial, the mistaken identity with which I try to reconcile myself every day. Everything about them—the superficial scumbling of paint, their perspectival flatness countered by illusions of volume; the subject matter of volcanoes, which are by nature demonstrative, referential to some profound subterranean energy, with festering, dangerous tension; and finally, the act of painting itself: reiterative, contemplative, a mantra—all of these things are attempting to permeate the hard crust of "identity."
Monday, March 9, 2009
Things are in a happy state of flux so instead of uploading pictures of new paintings I am presenting evidence of my latest object of desire: the isle of Stromboli, a bump in the sea just above Sicily; little more than a village at the foot of an active volcano. I want to be in Stromboli my last week in Italy. It makes perfect sense that I should end up there, after I move out of the apartment and before I board the flight to the US after two wonderful years here. What a way to quietly reflect on the work I have done and all the blessings that have come my way.
I put off painting yesterday for some easy things: letter writing among them. This marks the beginning of the most challenging phase of this series of paintings. I am working toward completing nine in total, each 100 x 100 cm. I've taken six to an acceptable level of finish and I began the seventh yesterday. But the longer I paint in a series, the more likely I am to discover new forms—new visual language—thus calling into question everything I have done in the earlier work. While I'm happy to say that each new painting seems an improvement in some way on the last, this also compels me to reconsider what I have done earlier. It's both exciting and maddening! Progress is welcome, but every new discovery makes its predecessors appear somehow inferior. Today I found a way to represent something—some smoke and lava, which I had painted many times before in a different way—that really excited me. But suddenly this new bit of progress made the new painting feel unrelated in some way to the others in the group.
Now the images I posted earlier are things of the past—they no longer exist. Yesterday, after arriving at this new vocabulary of form, I painted over parts of a few of the earlier paintings in order to take care of some things that have been bothering me: the balance of color and contrast; some compositional issues. I knew this would happen, and I'm not the least bit upset by it, but it does make me more conscious of the time I have remaining to finish them. It's the way it always goes. It's a balancing act, trying to keep myself from completely destroying things in this search for some cohesiveness with the series.
I have a busy week ahead, with meetings with students, a lecture and crits by a guest artist, and my trip to Madrid Thursday through Sunday. I think the best thing to do will be to work extremely hard every day and then leave things alone for the weekend, allowing the machinations, the successes and failures to steep a bit without action. I'm giddy about visiting the Museums in Madrid: work I have waited my entire adult life to see. What a gift.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
A couple of new things, along with the minimal revisions to older paintings. These continue to evolve and aren't finished. I think once I have nine brought to a cohesive level of finish as a group I will begin refining them.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
I've long wanted to visit the sad town of Petrella Salto in Abruzzo, as it's the site of an infamous murder with an association to our program in Rome. Since 1960 we've been housed in Palazzetto Cenci near the Jewish Ghetto, a Renaissance building built by the wealthy Cenci family.
Perched on a wicked, rocky hill overlooking the small town is "La Rocca Cenci," the skeletal remains of a castle tower. It was here that Francesco Cenci met his gruesome demise in 1598. His family first poisoned him then bludgeoned him to death, and threw his body over a balcony, where it toppled to the foot of the hill. The crime was discovered and the family members were tortured into confession. Among them was his 21-year-old daughter Beatrice, the most tragic of the cast of characters since she had been brutalized by her father and—along with her step-mother—held captive in the castle. "I'm taking you here to die," he told them.
Francesco was a real creep and many believed he deserved his fate, having terrorized Rome and his own family for years. Yet the subsequent trial and execution of Beatrice, her step-mother and her brother became one of the most controversial in history as the papacy wanted to make an example of the nobles to send a message to all: no one is above the law. Their executions were attended by thousands, and it's often said that Caravaggio's reiteration of decapitations was probably stimulated by his inevitable presence there.
Reminders of Beatrice are everywhere in Rome. I often find myself coincidentally in places which define her geography—the jailhouse in which she spent her last days, the spot at the end of Ponte St. Angelo where she was beheaded, the church on the Gianicolo where she is buried but which seems to contain no marker. There's a decent reproduction of Guido Reni's haunting portrait of her hanging in our main lecture hall: a tragic plea for clemency which has endured for hundreds of years. Students say they can sense her presence in our building with the dimming of the day. Like Reni, Hawthorne, Shelley and many others I'm moved by Beatrice as an emblem of soured justice. Her delicate beauty adds to this.
In the pictures above you can see Guido Reni's portrait of Beatrice Cenci (now in Palazzo Barberini) along with an awkward, depressing mural which welcomes you to Petrella Salto. In the third picture, La Rocca Cenci looms over the lonesome little town and then there's me, seated in front of the ruins on a rainy Saturday in the dead of winter.