Writing this blog was how I got to know people in the art community here in Seattle.

And now that I know you better, I seem to have stopped writing here. It’s not from a lack of stuff to write about.

When I started writing the blog I had a baby who took naps. We couldn’t afford a babysitter for studio time, so nap time was my chance to do something creative. So I wrote this blog, and that was my art practice for a while.

I craved community and was told repeatedly that the best thing to do is to show up for stuff.  It is sometimes hard to go from gallery to gallery knowing no one, so my motivation for going was the plan to return home and write about it. Writing about what I saw was my way of making myself “get out there,” and then giving myself credit in a seven-year-old-earning-gold-stars kind of way.

To my utter amazement, people were reading my blog. I was making friends over the interweb! There was a handful of other artists who were writing blogs, and we “met” by commenting on each others blogs and then eventually met in person, thanks to a gathering initiated by Emily Pothast.

A few months later, I asked those writing artists, and other artists I didn’t know, but knew of –SOIL members and Crawl Space members– if they would like to get together once a month and talk about each others work. Studio Group was born. It continues to this day, and is great.

Then I joined SOIL.

Now we can afford a babysitter so I can go to the studio.

I think someday when I get to do residencies again I’ll write about art in those cities.

This post is really just to say that I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know you. I really really like you.

strap-ons

At Lawrimore Project, Wynne Greenwood has two chalky pink TVs in the gallery courting each other wearing painted-on strap-ons. They’re flashing abstract imagery at each other as they sit on the floor sort of clumsy and cyber-sexy at the same time.

photo borrowed from Jen Graves

My highlight of First Thursday last night was meeting Wynne (who is lovely), seeing her Strap-on TVs, and witnessing an exchange between Scott Lawrimore and a hapless art viewer (“what are these? you can’t even pick them up!”) in which Scott demonstrated through miming what a strap-on is.

The guy was not as satisfied with the demonstration as everyone else was, and asked to see the “flyer that goes with the art.”

Incidentally, Scott Lawrimore is doing really nice work with his new space and the “flyers that go with the art.” Each show in the white small space is being paired with thoughtful writing about the work as well as a page from Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés.

My impression of the new Lawrimore Project is that while the physical space has shrunk exponentially, the work of/by Lawrimore Project is much bigger.  Part of this is due to the fact that Scott Lawrimore has big plans that include opening a satellite space in Berlin and an artist residency program in Seattle; his overarching goal is to bring Seattle artists out of Seattle and outside artists in. He is also thinking about how to facilitate the conversations that can/will happen when these displacements happen. This is so much what Seattle needs, and very exciting.

Additionally, I think the pairing of the work with writing contributes to this feeling of the gallery being somehow bigger. There is this small space, and some art, and some writing that can serve as a view into the art if you want it to. With no other distractions, it’s a simple pairing that is surprisingly fulfilling if you let it be. The gallery director is present, unshielded by staff, desk, computer. He will happily talk about art with you and will even demonstrate what a strap-on is, if necessary.

Julie Alpert’s Little Paintings

Julie Alpert has a bunch of mysterious, sweet, mean little paintings hanging in the backspace of Soil this month. I’m specifying that they’re “little” because their size does something to invite you into an intimate world.

They’re also little compared to Alpert’s typically big, space-encompassing site-specific installations.

With both the paintings and the installations, bits of environmental information mate with a chosen aesthetic to offer a narrative that straddles fiction and nonfiction. A window frame might be exaggerated and multiplied, or the bricks of a house might tumble off to bloom in the street. Alpert’s sensibility is both delicate and assertive; or perhaps she’s asserting the intricate delicacies that surround us.

I do feel, looking at these paintings of backyards, that I’m being shown an intensified glimpse of what’s really there. There is wonder in this giant cloaked thing.

There are voyeuristic rewards to be had here, peering into the parts of people’s yards that they think are just for them. Sunlight splashes around shamelessly and trees take on map-like shapes. The compositions are driven by a depth in perspective, and the color is pitch-perfect. We are clearly being invited/seduced into these odd, semi-private spaces with sheds and tarps and backyard detritus. It is more than enough if all we do once we get there is look.

Picasso at the Seattle Art Museum

{photo by Damon Mori}

As writer of this little art blog (I assume), I was invited to the Press Preview for the Picasso show at SAM this morning. I don’t know who added me and the other blogging artists in town to the Press list at SAM, but whoever you are: thank you. The gesture (a repeated one; SAM invites us every time) adds class and relevance to the art scene here, and reminds us that artists and writers and arts organizers are making this community together. (As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of other ways SAM has included newer artists in its programming, like Ryan Molenkamp‘s wonderful project The Portrait Challenge in the “Think Tank” space, on the second floor mezzanine of the museum.)

I looked at the show and the work within it differently than I would have if I hadn’t been invited to this special preview tour. I was there with a sense of purpose, rather than with the presumption that Picasso and I have little to do with each other. While I’ve respected his sturdy spot in Art History, I’ve never been particularly moved by his work. (I realized today that it’s probably because he wasn’t that great with color, and color is usually what gets me with paintings.) But today, seeing this much of his work in person, and with the feeling that it was somehow appropriate for me to be there, I was moved.

{photo by Damon Mori}

Picasso was a genius with line and form; you can see the genius when you see the work in person. A single line somehow contains the complications of a personal history. A goat with milk bottle udders is a broken beast marching towards its own abstraction. A boundless freedom spins through all of these genius moments; Picasso was utterly free to do whatever he wanted. He just got to make stuff. As I walked around the show, I wondered a lot about if contemporary artists are anywhere near as free.

{photo by Damon Mori}

The show is fairly modest, with no dramatically persuasive wall text shepherding you along. The work does the talking, and mostly it’s sex everywhere. The show is basically organized by lover-as-subject-matter, with each of Picasso’s lovers having her own room. Lover as subject matter; lover dissected into subject matter. I’d always taken it for granted that Picasso painted his lovers with all of their parts multiplied and stretched and exposed; but to think of this as something relevant to me, as a freedom I myself might have as an artist: this is interesting.

Color: A Guilty Pleasure Dome

If we needed art shows to always be somber and appropriate, we might be disappointed with a show dedicated to Xanadu. Why is this necessary, this homage to Olivia Newton John and roller skates? Is Seattle really better off with neon laser beams and thirty-something women in legwarmers dancing down Third Avenue?

I think it is.

Like Erin Shafkind, I spent my childhood in the 1980s in Los Angeles, yet I somehow have never seen Xanadu. (My parents weren’t purists or hippies, but if I wanted to bite snowflake shapes out of Velveeta cheese and watch non-PBS TV I had to go down the street to Tracy Clark’s house and I guess I was never there when Xanadu was on.) At this point I don’t feel like I need to see Xanadu now that I’ve seen how several artists have used Xanadu.

Xanadu, the film, is about the frustration, then celebration, of an artist. It’s about fantasy clashing and exploding into reality; utopias and dystopias. It’s about color. Xanadu: A Stately Pleasure Dome, curated by Erin Shafkind at SOIL, is about letting yourself have a hot relationship with media. By “hot” I mean Marshall McLuhan hot. McLuhan wrote about how different media are hot or cold, and our responses to them are hot or cold. TV (a show on a box in your living room), he said, is cold because it’s easy to control; it’s smaller than you. Film (a movie in a theatre) is hot because it is huge and enveloping and becomes your world. Hot is engaged, cold is distanced. In inviting these artists to participate in this show, Shafkind was essentially inviting them to let themselves have a hot response to Xanadu. The same invitation is extended to the viewer of her curated exhibition– except here the invitation is to have a hot exchange with hot art.

That is a lot to ask on both counts, when hot isn’t what’s cool.

In Chromophobia, David Batchelor writes succinctly about how color has been uncool for much of the lifespan of the Western world. Throughout art, history, and literature, color is associated with base desires, sex, the feminine, intellectual decay, loss of control, fall from grace.

Charles Blanc in 1867:”The taste for colour, when it predominates absolutely, costs many sacrifices; often it turns the mind from its course, changes the sentiment, swallows up the thought. . . The lower strata of nature takes the first place instead of human beings [who] alone represent the loftiest expression of life, which is thought.”

Roland Barthes, 1970′s: “Colour. . . is a kind of bliss. . . like a closing eyelid, a tiny fainting spell.”

L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy, on leaving colorful Oz to return to black-white-gray Kansas, 1900: “East, West, Home is Best.”

Kant, 1790: “The colours which give brilliancy to a sketch are a part of the charm. They may no doubt, in their own way, enliven the object for sensation, but make it really worth looking at and beautiful they cannot.”

In more subtle, less specific language, contemporary art criticism still often communicates a preference for non-color. I think of Jen Graves’ writing about Isaac Layman’s photographs at Lawrimore Project. She explains how this photograph

is fine as a cover for The Stranger, but it lacks the conceptual rigor of the “darker, almost morbid, and therefore interesting” Hot Dog Wrapper.

Aside from the fact that Otter Pops is colorful and Hot Dog Wrapper is not, I can’t find any differences in the conceptual implications of the two works; except to say that the mere use of color is meaningful, with its own host of conceptual implications and seedy association with pleasure.

Xanadu the art show has helped elucidate for me this quiet yet persistent discourse about color. During the Xanadu artists’ talk at SOIL, Cable Griffith talked about how participating in this show gave him the excuse he needed to finally use the neon colored acrylic paint he always pined for in the art supply store.

Cable Griffith, Pleasure Pan-Portal, 2010

Andy Arkley and Julie Alpert talked about their giddy opportunity to use colored laser beams in their collaborative video Gene’s Got Lasers, Who Could Ask For Anything More?

Color is a forbidden fruit that the artists in Xanadu: A Stately Pleasure Dome let themselves eat for the purpose of this show. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and Sonny in Xanadu, they had a dream/lapse/fall/trip into color. Like Dorothy and Sonny, I expect they’ll need to return to Kansas/Earth/greyness. Though I’m not sure I buy the reason why.

{photo by Stewart McCullough}

p.s. Also in the show, and fitting with this post was Joey Veltkamp’s PINK portrait of Gretchen Bennett and Amanda Manitach’s “hermaphrodite, bathing in the fuchsia and banana yellow glow of Gene’s Got Lasers, Who Could Ask for Anything More?

Amanda Manitach, Glory, Utopia (the head of Samuel Taylor Coleridge on the body of Terpischore)

A neat pile of pink bubblegum lies at the rollerskates of this blushing hermaphrodite who sheepishly, daintily, resides somewhere between utopia and dystopia.

Duet

Curtis Erlinger’s piece in the New Members Show at SOIL is fantastic. Titled Duet, it is a painting and a live projection of that painting facing each other from opposite walls in the gallery. A description of it might be hard to follow so I’ll go step by step.

Erlinger found a negative in his parents’ archives and painted a picture of it. It’s an image his mom took of her friend playing a guitar in her bedroom. The painting is exactly representational of the negative, except that Erlinger painted the eyes differently. The painting is hung on the wall.

About three feet out from the wall is a video camera on a tripod. It’s on, and it’s filming the painting on the wall as well as whatever/whoever crosses the space in front of the painting.

The live video is being projected on a monitor that is hanging on the wall opposite the painting. The video camera is inverting the negative/positive imagery, so that what you see in the monitor is the opposite of what is being filmed. Therefore, a live, inverted version of the painting is facing the actual painting. (Which, remember, is a negative.)

This is complicated and wry, and could be mistaken for one-liner trickery. But there is so much more going on. The live-filming/inversion process is not the punchline of a joke, but the mechanics of perception of a much bigger conversation.

I, and maybe other excitables, could go into orbit finding the duets within this duet. It is a duet of painting and video. Past and present. Positive and negative. And here’s the best one: historical scrutiny and nostalgia.

That’s a Mammy Doll on the shelf behind Erlinger’s mom’s friend, to the left. Unbeknownst to these guitar-playing 60′s youngsters, their Mammy Doll would implicate their inherent racism for decades to come, to be sorted out by their progeny. Erlinger had intended to do a precise representation of the negative, but was so distressed by the Mammy Doll that he had to paint its eyes on the girl with the guitar.

The girl’s new eyes are the Mammy Doll’s eyes; they are the artist’s eyes; they are a check on nostalgia and a self-conscious rendering of history. They are regret, an indictment, and the subject of the riddle. Because in the end, the girl is left with the Mammy’s eyes, and the Mammy Doll is not a Mammy Doll anymore. She’s white.

Bahogkins

Jeff McGrath‘s backspace show (at SOIL) called Bahogkins was Ken Kelly’s pick for the City Art’s First Thursday awards.  I love that a guy who does this

chose this

as his favorite work of the art walk. At the after party Kelly explained for a moment why he chose McGraths’s show, and while I don’t remember exactly what he said, I think he touched on that weird, refreshing limbo this work puts you in. There is no safety net of easy sophistication, though the sophistication is there. There is also humor, and also just an honest peek into McGrath’s work and play. These critters are not trying to be anything they’re not, and what they are is exuberant and true, but undefinable. Are they forest boogers, perched on logs for you to find and admire? Or Hobbit turds, as the show title and font choice might suggest? They are friendly, messy little things that are almost embarrassing with their show of affection. Thanks, Bahogkins.