an artist you should know: Sarah Joncas

 After shirking my "Artist You Should Know" duties for a long time, I bring you Sarah Joncas, whose work falls under the pop surrealism category. Using oil and acrylic, she creates complex, multilayered images of women, evoking several emotions at once, while still retaining a unique stylization. Often her work encompasses several styles, including pin-up, classic portraiture and painting techniques, and graphic elements. Her work can be slightly uncomfortable, and she plays with the traditional ideas of portraiture, femininity and beauty. I currently follow her work on deviantART and Facebook.

So! Here's a small sample of her work. From the top:

After Dark. This moody portrait reminds me of the other, unseen side of a classic beauty queen, lying alone in a darkened room, still wearing her dress and pearls. It's a quiet, contemplative moment that may also be a little morbid. 

I Think I'm Paranoid. I love the bold, graphic patterning here, especially in contrast to the more delicate elements of the figure and the moths. I also like how it's worked into the figure, making it seem as though she's blending into, or emerging from, the wall behind her. It's ostensibly a cheerful pattern, but in this context it's jarring and frenetic, adding to the sense of nervousness. 


I Think, Therefore I Am. She reminds me very much of kitschy, '60s-style housewifey goth, like Morticia Addams, complete with little cartoon bat wings accompanying her lightbulb. Her apprehension is palpable.

It Became Courtney Love. According to the description on the dA page, this was originally intended to be a picture of Norse goddess Freya. But now it's Courtney Love. I kind of couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a picture of Courtney Love here, because I do appreciate her so, but I also like the vulnerability in the face. 

The All Seeing. This is one of Joncas' more overtly surrealistic pieces, sort of a mashup of mysticism and pin-up girls. I feel like there are many interpretations that could come out of this image, with the eyes looking very flat and painted on (which of course they are, but in two ways), the fact that the figure is covering her real eyes, and the confusion as to what, or whether, she can see.

The Crow Charmer. It's similar to The All Seeing in its mystical element, but this one seems more traditional, calling to mind nature deities and animal familiars. While the pin-up style is still very evident, there's less modernity in this one, and the figure seems more sure of herself, surveying her dark realm.

an artist you should know: Marion Peck

As promised, here's another installment of Artists You Should Know to make up for my lack of talking about people other then myself.

Today we're
talking about
Marion Peck, a California-based painter whose work reminds me of a slightly unholy cross between Flemish Renaissance painting and seventies kitsch, complete with sad clown portraits (Polka Dot Clown, this one is called).

Her work's gentle pastels and the feminine detailing, as well as their "cute" figures with the large eyes, cartoonish proportions and clear skin belie the darker, more uncomfortable subject matter. There's also a weird balance in the paintings, I think. It's hard to tell if there's a lot going on--in terms of both symbolism and actual objects--or if they are empty and waiting for the viewer to project their own ideas into them. That idea, I think, is most evident in Landscape with Submerged Deer, where a deer reminiscent of kitschy figurines floats beneath a murky green lake surrounded by slightly disproportionately small mountains. It's like a snapshot from a dream. It seems like it must have a meaning, but does it? I know for me, it brings to mind the time I went swimming with some friends in High Falls, amid the rocks and waterfalls. On getting out to go home, we noticed a weird smell, and realized we had been swimming with a dead deer that was lurking in the water behind the rock where we had placed our clothing. A set of hooves floating in the green water.

It was a nice day anyway.

Anyway, Peck's work also balances the old with the modern. Her painting is undeniably modern, with the Kewpie-like human figures, but it also speaks to a much older tradition. The two paintings of single female sitters, Fuck You and Gretchen, are both dressed in historical costumes; an empire-period shift dress for Fuck You, and a peasant dress and wimple for Gretchen. They could be traditional portraits in the historical sense, but they are both very much modern. Gretchen had the enormous head of a cartoon character, and Fuck You is flipping us off in a very nonchalant way. Finally, The Salmon Spirit has some of the same qualities. The idea of an animal spirit is a very ancient one, as is the metaphor of the journey of the salmon (the banner reads "We begin/We journey/We return"). It calls to mind the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest, but at the same time, the child floating above the salmon has a modern, blunt-bob hairstyle and the face of a baby doll.

Peck's work shares many traits with the so-called "lowbrow" artist movement: big eyes, kitschy elements, lots of pastels, etc. I tend to like these artists, and I like Peck because unlike some of the artists associated with the movement, her work shows a little more variation. I also appreciate the influence of Flemish painting in her earlier work, where landscapes through windows serve as the backdrops for her figures.

an artist you should know: Matthew Gray Gubler

Holy shit I forgot about artists you should know. My plan was to post a piece on an artist I appreciate after every five posts about me. That quickly fell apart, and I realize now I've gone ten posts without talking about someone other than myself. So I'm going to post two consecutive pieces on artists you should know.

So today we're talking about Matthew Gray Gubler. You might know him from CBS's Criminal Minds, which I will only watch to look at him,and he was also, at one time, a fashion model. His name is also really fun to say.


So naturally I have a bit of a crush on him, because I apparently have a thing for deranged people.

Here are some of the things from his website. The top tow pictures show some rather imaginative finger puppets. I think the purple one is a louse? And then there's an explanation of Gublerland's top hat foundry. I took screenshots of these because I guess I'm not
technically supposed to copy/paste images of his stuff. SORRY GOOBS. But it's just too amazing to pass up.

To get more of your Gubler on, you can also check out his Tumblog and his YouGubeTube channel, if you'd like to see footage of him singing karaoke while dressed like a turtle.

an artist you should know: Steve Heller

Steve Heller lives in the Hudson Valley off Route 28, and creates sculpture and furniture from some unlikely materials, namely pieces of old cars and wonderfully twisted wood. I learned about Heller from the book Weird New York, which lists some of the various oddities in New York State and is all kinds of awesome, and is also where I learned about Rosemary's Texas Taco in Patterson.

Anyway, Steve Heller created the pieces seen here. The first one is a side table made from a maple burl. A burl is one of those lumpy things that occur on trees sometimes due to the wood grain growing irregularly (according to Wikipedia). Instead of avoiding these growths, Heller uses them to create furniture like this, which reminds people that trees are living things with bumps and irregularities like people, not simply smooth material with which to build. A table like this serves as a reminder that it was once alive.

He also makes large scale metal sculpture like this metal bird out of scrap. This one is called the Ostrichosaurus, and they seem to stand around his property and offer their input on things. These are purely aesthetic, but still retain the general theme of Heller's work, which is the reuse of items that would otherwise be considered unusable or undesirable.

The other material Heller uses are pieces of vintage cars, creating kitschy but functional home products. The front end of a 1957 Cadillac, for example, becomes a bar with a full set of shelving in the back for storage. The head- and taillights of a 1938 Packard become a "rocket lamp," and the hood of another car (whose identity I couldn't find on the site) becomes the lid of a red cedar chest. I would guess that things like this aren't for everyone, given their bulk and their general loudness, but they're pretty cool novelty pieces. His wooden furniture, which ranges from full-sized dining room tables to small mirrors, are a little more accessible and likely work better in a wider range of homes.

I have not been up to see Heller's place in person, although I'd like to and it would be fairly easy for me to drive up there. If I ever go, I'll be sure to take pictures.

artists you should know: Internet Edition

Everyone loves the Internet. It's full of totally useless information and .gifs that are hilarious at four in the morning when you're drunk, but at no other time.

been a member of deviantART for a while now, and while it requires sifting through a considerable amount of questionable images (anime characters in compromising positions, naked camwhores, etc.), there is actually a wealth of amazing artists to be found there. Here are some of my favorites. There are plenty of others who I love, but these are the ones who stand out to me.

From the top:

First up is Amanda Breeding, known as PaWn861, who creates delightfully creepy, beautifully colored images with markers. This image, called Skull, is actually one that I own, as Amanda and I did an art trade a little while ago. Her images are graphic and delicate at the same time, and there are always little details that keep you looking.

Next is LolitaAgogo, who besides being an extremely talented painter is a total darling. Sometimes dA censors her pieces, like this one, called Deepest Darkest, because OMFGWTFBBQ a penis, so you can see her unedited work on her website. Her work is darkly enchanting, delicate and dreamlike, each one a gem. Did I mention she also loves cats?

Then we have Basil Arnould Price, known as tiamatrouge in the dA-verse. Still only in high school, Basil is an extremely intelligent and perceptive person, he enjoys Twin Peaks and creates striking compositions digitally, incorporating intricate patterns and beautiful human forms. This is a poster he created for his school's production of Macbeth, in which he is playing the part of Banquo. Check out his Tumblr as well.

Up next is
inkylinkyboooo, whose art is so good it makes up for having to remember how many o's she uses in her screenname. Inky is from Denmark, and holds the rare prestige of being able to create Naruto-themed art that doesn't make the flesh crawl. This one's called Hudda, who is I think Team Fortress 2-themed.

Next is Owlform by ursulav, also known as Ursula Vernon, who is a writer and illustrator with a great sense of humor that shines through her whimsical and often slightly snarky work.

Next is Viv-Leoni, who is now mainly active on Flickr. His name is Lorenzo and he's a charming Italian photographer who uses only pre-1980s photographic equipment and travels around taking sensitive pictures that capture the soul of his subjects. This is a shot of the Cloud Gate in Chicago, which is all weird and donut-y. There's another shot of it here.

Then we have another Italian artist, Eva di Martino, known as PureBlackLove both on her website and dA account. and who is an exceptionally talented makeup artist, transforming herself into a whole cast of fantastical characters. Here we see her as Adam, her male counterpart (Adam and Eva, get it?). She also has the best nose that a person could possibly have. It's seriously an excellent nose.

Last but not least is Lindsay Campbell of Canada, who made these sweet little piggies. Her work deals with animals a lot, and while their faces are unmistakeably adorable, they often belie darker, heavier themes, but all while remaining innocent and delicate. She also has a website full of buyable pieces, and she makes hand-painted clothing, too!

artists you should know: some i've known personally--Robin Arnold, Audrey Francis, Kathy Goodell

Today on "Artists You Should Know," we're taking a look at some of the people who I've not only known, but have given me wonderful guidance and advice as a young artist. The three artists I'll be discussing were teachers of mine at SUNY New Paltz, all of them sweet, lovely, and immensely talented and smart.

The painting seen here is Big Whoop by Robin Arnold, and features her awesome mouse character. Robin is pure awesome. Her critiques were always on point, and she always seemed to know what we were trying to say with our paintings and how we should go about expressing ourselves more clearly. I have a special appreciation for her work because, like mine, it deals with nostalgia and the eerie-but-comforting and always inescapable qualities of memory. Unfortunately (for me), hers is the only site that actually allows me to reproduce an image here.

Up next is Audrey Francis, whose work is bright and moving, and deals with identity, the body, and more. I did probably the best painting (The Council) I did in the entirety of my college career in Audrey's class. I'm not sure that she still works for the college, but her site is great and you should check it out. I particularly like the "Santos" section, as it appeals to my cultish qualities. That body of work was done, as she put it, "a lifetime ago."

Finally we have Kathy Goodell, whose name I can never remember to spell correctly (the spelling here is right). Kathy taught Water Media and Collage and was the kind of person who made you feel totally comfortable explaining your weirdest, most convoluted art concepts to. She also can be seen in the documentary Crumb, having once dated cartoonist Robert Crumb. Really. But more important is the vast scope of her work, which utilizes a wide variety of materials and methods to create forms and images that speak at once to the universe at large and the dark human interior. Working with beeswax, glass, found objects and wood as well as watercolor and pencil, she captures deep and complex emotions in organic shapes and lines. Her website is arranged by body of work, so you can easily see the concepts of her pieces.

Check them out!

an artist you should know: Kristoffer Zetterstrand

From the top: Skull on Fire; Intelligent Design; The Stage is Set; The Game; Pointer

If you've played the immensely popular sandbox-style game Minecraft, you might be familiar with Swedish painter Kristoffer Zetterstrand's artwork without even realizing it. Zetterstrand has long been interested in the way traditional art like painting intersects with the 3-D landscapes generated by computers in games; he once did a series of lansdcapes based on the views in Counter-Strike--but only the views the player could see when "dead" and lying on their back. In Minecraft, players can create paintings to hang on the walls of their houses. The randomly-selected images include the work of Zetterstrand, including Skull on Fire and Pointer. (The selection also includes Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer above the Sea of Fog).

His oil-on-canvas paintings incorporate traditional oil painting techniques, resulting in realism, with flat, cartoonish images, and solid blocks of color that evoke the pixelated images of computer games. His work also speaks to the creation and generation of landscapes as understood and designed by the human mind, and imagines things like game worlds outside of the confines of a computer screen, as three-dimensional lands. The Game illustrates this idea quite well, with the human figure considering the miniature landscape sprawling over his desk. This idea of creation and design inevitably recalls philosophical and religious debates, as is explored in Intelligent Design, which also showcases some of Zetterstrand's black and white work. In both of these paintings, a human is considering an abstract idea by laying out his thoughts in front of himself, it seems, in the form of a series of images for him to consider. (I don't know if this was what Zetterstrand was going for, but I know that's how I think, and so that is the conclusion I naturally draw.) The human figures are separate from the images before them, but simultaneously linked to them on a deep level.

His work is meticulously detailed and he pays special attention to his use of color and style, often juxtaposing two seemingly opposite styles to achieve a startling effect. You can check out more of his work and information about his inspirations and work on his website.

an artist you should know: Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas (you pronounce the S), born in South Africa in 1953, lives and works in the Netherlands, and creates these ethereal human figures. The immediacy and the watery-ness of her faces and bodies is at once clear and simple, even childlike, and darkly complex. She explores many aspects of the human condition in her work, from age to sexuality to race to death. She gained some notoriety for Dead Marilyn, which is taken from an autopsy photo of Marilyn Monroe, and call to mind issues of celebrity, sensationalism and identity. She has also done several images of Kurt Cobain--one called Alizarin Kurt I particularly like, but can't find an image of. She's also known for doing a portrait of Osama bin Laden, stripped of his usual turban-and-glower ensemble and almost looking like a nice person. (On a personal note, I have a theory that Obama ordered bin Laden killed so everyone would talk about something other than Kate and William's wedding.)

Dumas works almost exclusively from photographic sources, adding another layer of separation between herself and her subject, and making her work somewhat dependent on the quality of the photo. I can appreciate this, though my style is nothing like hers. I've often been chastised for working from photos rather than from life, but I find photos, which evoke feelings themselves, to be better for the kind of work that I do. The captured instant is, to me, fresher and more natural than a posing model. (Obviously, I work from candid or at least informal photos.) I especially like "bad" photos--washed out, under- or overexposed, or at weird angles. That way, there's more room for interpretation and generally, I find, a better translation into a painting.

That, and getting someone to sit still for several hours usually costs a lot of money.

Marlene Dumas, everyone.

an artist you should know: Tara McPherson

Tara McPherson has an impressive resume. She's a writer, painter, printmaker and sculptor. She worked on Futurama while still in college, has a line of toys with Dark Horse Comics and Kidrobot, and is currently working on a graphic novel with DC. She has made countless promotional posters for the Melvins, Beck, Kings of Leon, Mastodon, Shonen Knife, and other bands. Plus she's got great tattoos AND work that translates really well into tattoos (which is something I'm thinking about...)

McPherson is sometimes identified as being part of the "low-brow" or "Pop Surrealist" genre, which is a loosely defined art movement that draws inspiration from pop culture: TV, cartoons, comics, underground music, and all the stuff that's generally not thought of as "art" in the traditional, academic sense. Now, I consider myself an academic, but I also think everything is art, and I consider pop culture to be a barometer of sorts for discerning where society is in terms of its values, fears and wishes. I mean, it's either pop culture or politics, and politics gives me a headache.

McPherson's art resonated with me immediately. It's pretty obvious by now that I really get into the synthesis of seemingly opposing ideas, imagery and themes in art. Her work is brightly colored, kitschy, cartoonish and fun. It's easily accessible to many people. But it's also full of body horror, mysterious imagery, and a sense of both alienation and introspection seen in her use of the fantastical planets and vast recesses of space where her figures float. It's like watching a slightly malevolent cartoon in a language you can't understand, one that makes references to a culture you are only dimly familiar with. I find that McPherson's art also sparks the ideas of where art and decoration meet, if they are different, and what those differences may be. Are these pictures merely decorative, the artistic equivalent of Saturday morning cartoons, or is there something more to them? Are those cartoons actually making a veiled statement about something? Do cartoons and decoration have to stand diametrically opposed to art and meaningful social discourse?

McPherson also makes sculpture. I included an example of it (second picture down). These guys, who can also be seen in the top image and in other paintings, are collectively known as "Mr. Wiggles," and I kind of really, really want one of them. The sculpted versions seem to come in turquoise, pink, and black, and I want a pink one. She also makes sculptures (I believe they're all fiberglass/polyurethane. I think) of the skull flowers that can be seen in the background of the Melvins poster. She's also got a line of merchandise (which also creates the discussion of commercialism and art--do the essay topics never stop??) on her website. Check it out.

an artist you should know: Henry Darger

Henry Darger (1892-1973) is usually one of the first artists mentioned when what is known as Outsider Art is brought up. Outsider art, also known as art brut, is art produced by people with no formal training in art, and no connection to the art world. The result is usually visually jarring, particularly to people who are ensconced within the institutionalized art world, and intensely personal, often having a narrative and symbolic system all its own.

Darger was born in Chicago, and his early life was characterized by hardship and loss. His parents had both died by 1905, and he lived for the rest of his adolescence in Catholic boys' homes and institutions, where he faced what they would have called "treatment" or "discipline" in those days, and what we would call "horrible child abuse" today. Modern research shows that Darger may have had Asperger's Syndrome, which in his time was unfortunately not recognized as it is today. In his later life, he lived in the same apartment in Chicago for over 40 years, until his death, working menial labor in a Catholic hospital until about ten years before his death, and attending Catholic Mass regularly. He was, in his own way, deeply concerned with the wellfare of children, and his work reflects this. Darger and his one close friend, William Shloder, discussed founding a "Children's Protective Society," which would adopt out orphans to loving families, but this never came to fruition.

After his death in 1973, Darger's landlords found his life's work in his apartment. It's a book, fully illustrated, called The Realms of the Unreal, and covers several storylines, totaling at 15 volumes and 15,145 pages. To put it in an extremely simplified way, it tells the stories of an alternate world in which children, namely the inspirational Vivian Girls, the victims of child labor, rise up against a draconian regime to restore peace and harmony. He provided two endings, one with the Vivian Girls triumphing and one with the Vivian Girls in defeat. He also wrote an autobiography (5,084 pages--comparatively light reading), another, unfinished piece of fiction that weighs in at over 10,000 pages, and kept a daily weather journal.

To create his images, Darger traced images found in newspapers, magazines and ads, sometimes multiple times in one scene, as seen in the top image, and he also frequently used collage, collecting old periodicals for source material. He seemed to like the Coppertone Girl in particular. He worked with watercolors, and seemed to have a natural talent for it. His scenes are typically large and epic, and feature little girls engaged in full warfare with grown men. His work can be disturbingly violent, too, showing the terrible tortures inflicted upon the girls by the evil villains. It's interesting to note that Darger focused on girls rather than boys, and even more interesting to note that though the child characters are ostensibly female, some of them have male genitalia.

I personally love Darger's work. I love its raw psychology and the fact that Darger was not interested in academic art, but was making art for himself and only himself. There's something nice about that, and refreshing. And Darger seems like a real sweetheart, too. Caravaggio, for instance, is one of my favorite artists, but he was probably a real asshole. And everyone knows how misogynistic Picasso was. Darger, on the other hand, stuck up for the children, saying that each one had a right
"to play, to be happy, and to dream, the right to normal sleep of the night's season, the right to an education, that we may have an equality of opportunity for developing all that are in us of mind and heart."

an artist you should know: Lisa Yuskavage

I've always--well, since college, anyway--liked Lisa Yuskavage (say it yus-CAH-vitch). Something about the lurid colors and the obvious porniness of them appeal to me. She has been described, in the introduction to her Small Paintings book, written by director Tamara Jenkins, as "one of those 'bad girl' painters." It's kind of a simplistic title to be sure, but there is a rebellious quality that I like about her work. It's the pastel colors, I think, all those awful, seventies-porno kinds of turquoises and peaches and pinks, the twisting of the classical nude into a twentieth-century pinup, and the willful distortion, bordering on the perverse, of the female form; they're not even like human beings after a point, they're like these strange, alien female creatures borne out of some subconscious childhood sexual fantasy. That sounds pretty pervy, doesn't it? But, come on, look at Wrist Corsage's butt. Her work walks several fine lines, between cute and frightening, between high and low art, between sexual and psychological, between exploitative and celebratory.

To create these girlie creatures, Yuskavage first created small ceramic figurines called maquettes so she could study the movement of light over the human(ish) form. Everything I attempt to make out of clay ends up looking like a tumor, so I find this incredibly impressive. I've also been a longtime fan of the study of beauty and sexuality in the female form, particularly when it's studied by a female, and goes into the darker, more uncomfortable aspects of it. And maybe the most important reason I like Lisa? She's fun. Her paintings make me smile. And maybe that's what ultimately counts.

Top to bottom: Couch, 1997-98; The Smoker, 2007; Fleshpot; Wrist Corsage, 1996; Redhead, Blonde and Brunette, 1995.

an artist you should know: Kara Walker

I actually discovered Kara Walker in an old issue of Oprah magazine--someone had left it at my job and it says something about how dull my job can get when I am reduced to reading Oprah's publication. My consolation, I suppose, was learning about the work of Kara Walker, who creates vast cut-paper installations dealing with themes of race, sexuality and identity. She also employs shadow, performance and video into her work.

Walker was born in Stockton, CA, in 1969, and her family moved to the South
when she was in her early teens. She received her BFA from Atlanta College of Art and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. It was during her graduate studies, in 1993, that she began working with the silhouette, which is tied to her contemplations of identity, race (and racism), as well as a look back to the portrait-making process of centuries past, when only the very wealthy could afford oil portraits. The lower classes made do with silhouette portraits, which at once portrayed and obscured the sitter. (On a somewhat related note, they used to make us replicate this practice in elementary school during studies of the colonial period. We all totally hated it.) She says of the silhouette, in an interview with PBS, "The silhouette lends itself to avoidance of the subject. Of not being able to look at it directly, yet there it is, all the time, staring you in the face."

Walker's work is rather startling, to put it mildly. Her depictions of African and African-American people, for example, are often uncomfortable to l
ook at; Walker bluntly identifies them by race by using such politically incorrect markers as big lips and "nappy" hair, as well as typically "African" (i.e. scant) clothing. They look like the kinds of illustrations you might find in some eighteenth- or nineteenth-century book written by a white person about black people (you know, something about "Picturesque Slavery," which, by the way is part of a title of one of Walker's pieces), something really cringeworthy and embarrassing by today's standards. Seriously, just describing them is uncomfortable for me.

Walker sets these characters of hers in sweeping, fantastical tableaux, inflicting horrific violence on one another, including rape, dismemberment, and immolation, and these scenes often involve children. She plays with the various concepts that have been applied to African Americans, and more specifically, to African-American women. The expressionless silhouettes, however, remain emotionally remote, despite their activity, and force the viewer to decide what's really going on, and what statement Walker is making. Her charged images have, in fact, sparked some ire among other, older African-American artists who partook artistically in the fight for civil rights who feel that her caricature-like images are insensitive and degrading. It probably doesn't help that she also employs an arcane and somewhat ridiculous linguistic habit for the titles of her installations--things like "Gone, An Historical Romance of Civil War As it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of Young Negress and Her Heart," (based, of course, on Gone With the Wind. An image from that piece can be seen at top.), or the more, um, prosaic "Darkytown Rebellion," or that she will refer to herself as "The Negress" in the titles of her work.

There were no images of Walker's work in the magazine, but the descriptions of them made me search her on Google, and I was immediately a fan. I love her brashness, and I love her complex, history- literary- and artifact-based approach to creating art. For such troubling, essentially socio-political-statement images, there is a certain sick sort of humor in them, along with an intensely personal point of view on race, sex, class and relationships. One feels one is reading a picture book of Walker's experiences navigating the racism, sexism and the preconceived notions so prevalent in our society. For their abject violence, the images are delicate and masterfully rendered. Because of their lack of detail, there are times when it takes the viewer a minute to figure out exactly what is going on--you know it's a human form in some kind of paroxysm, but what exactly are they doing/is being done to them? Then you figure it out, and it's usually quite dreadful, and the result is startling; you must peer into the form itself to see the disturbing activity, and if you don't, it merely remains a dark shape. I've included some images, none of which belong to me (it's called "appropriation" in the art world), which show some examples of Walker's use of shadow, and a picture of Walker herself installing an image--mainly for scale, although I do like how her yellow sweater looks in the shot.


On Wednesday I went to the Seattle Art Museum. I felt I had no excuse not to go, as we were staying literally across the street from it. It was a pretty nice place, smallish and not nearly as overwhelming as somewhere like the Met. Ironically (maybe), in the four days I was in Seattle, the SAM was having their "Kurt" exhibit, in which various visual (and, in some cases, performance) artists showed work inspired by late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. I know, I know. Seattle. I know, I know. Grunge. I get it. In all honesty, I didn't really want to see it. Something about our culture's morbid, erotically-charged fascination with the downward spiral and premature death of pretty, young famous people is kind of sickening to me. But still, I'm part of that culture, and I can't say that I am completely immune to the glamor of the live-fast-die-young phenomenon. So, after taking a respectable amount of time looking at everything else, I went up to see Kurt.

It was, in a word, weird. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was playing, cut with some other songs (including the Neil Young song Cobain apparently quoted in his suicide note), and there were some grainy photos of Kurt writhing around on stage in a lot of baggy flannel, and everywhere were signs saying PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH and a lot of cold, white lighting. I couldn't help but feel a little bad. As self-aware as the exhibit attempted to be, it was the same old sensationalist stuff you can find on any newsstand anywhere. There was one mention of the weird eroticism found in stories like Cobain's in one of the sort of overview plaques written by the museum staff. The image they mentioned, however, was actually a staged photograph of a naked woman in a motel room, meant to evoke a groupie. Um, what? What does that have to do with Kurt Cobain, exactly? There was also, much to my dismay, no mention of the fact that Cobain had a family. There was no mention of Courtney Love, his widow, or their daughter, Frances. Which miffed me quite a lot. Pretty much because I like Courtney Love and Hole better than I like Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. There. I said it. You may commence stoning me now. All around, even though the Kurt show claimed to be an examination of the nature of the fascination with celebrity and celebrity meltdown, and a study of Kurt the man and artist, it seemed to me like more of the same voyeurism, the same callous glamorization of a sad person who tragically did not get the help he needed, and eventually did a selfish and cowardly thing.

So I've posted pictures of the stuff I actually did like. Unfortunately, I have also completely forgotten all of the artists' names. I wasn't planning on a blog post when I took the pictures, so I didn't bother to write anything down. It's pretty much just stuff I liked. I realize now that, with the exception of the big mouse, I liked clothing. Apologies for the poor photos--they don't allow flashes in museums. Anyway, from the bottom up:

The sweater-and-hair suit-person was cute. Or anyway, I thought so. There was a brightly-colored one with a big columnar head/neck as well, but I liked the brown one. Both were approximately human size. The bristly gold wire suit was supposed to be evocative of conquistadors and caterpillars. There was a silver companion, and both were about 2-2.5 feet tall. The array of costumes are from an African (I forget the country. Sorry) festival and these seated ones are representative of the very participatory audience. There was one "father" figure whom no one at the festival is supposed to talk to, since he is too wise and such, so I didn't take a picture of him (though part of him is showing in the far right). The awesome metal coat is made entirely of dog tags stamped with nonsense words. And that above it is a REALLY BIG MOUSE.

I also got to see the museum's sculpture garden on Tuesday, which is not part of the museum complex proper but farther away down the road. It's quite nice, with neon orange chairs instead of regular benches. (This was also the day Obama was in town, and some private plane flew into the no-fly zone. About four minutes and several sonic booms later, the plane was escorted out by two F15s that came up from Portland. LOUD.) Seattle being a weird and layered sort of city, the garden was spread out over a highway. The runaway eraser (top, Claes Oldenburg, because who else) is situated on the embankment, as if it is about to roll into traffic.

So, Kurt-deification aside, I'd recommend the SAM and its satellites. It's manageable and easy to navigate, and seems to have a good selection of art. It's nowhere near as extensive (or exhaustive) as something like the Met, which is just as well for the strolling tourist. The Met makes me tired; the SAM didn't. And sometimes that's all I ask for in a museum.

an artist you should know: Marianne North

I happened upon Marianne North by chance one summer in high school on vacation with my mother in a rented beach house in Sea Isle City, NJ. There were a number of books left behind by other renters, and one was A Vision of Eden: The Life and Work of Marianne North, written by North herself, chronicling her life from her birth in Hastings, England in 1830, her world travels, and the end of her life in 1890, as recorded by her sister, Catherine.

Originally intending to be a singer, North's voice failed and so she turned to painting plant life of the world. She traveled with her father until his death in 1869, and then took a world tour, recording the flora of the areas in paintings. In 1871-72, she lived in a hut in the Brazilian rain forest and painted. By 1878, she had been to the Americas, the Caribbean, India (where she cataloged plants sacred in Indian literature and religion) and Japan, and several places in the South Pacific. She contributed significantly to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (The North Gallery, as her area is called, is in the east section of the garden, not the north one). In addition, several species of plants are named in her honor.

A Vision of Eden is quite long and detailed, and I have to admit I haven't read it in its entirety, but the images were so lovely I, um, had to steal it from the beach house. North's style is somewhat strange; her only formal training came from "a Dutch lady" who evidently gave her private lessons, which North describes as giving her "the few ideas I possess of arrangement and colour [sic] and grouping." And there is something slightly unschooled-seeming in her work, but North is talented enough that the work appears fresh and youthful while still retaining an intelligence about the subject, instead of being naive and purely decorative. The bright, saturated colors, the strong, ambiguous light source, and the uniform crispness of her subjects gives the paintings a slightly eerie, otherworldly quality which somehow reminds me of the work of Italian Surrealist painter De Chirico. Her body of work includes detailed close-ups of plants and animals, as well as broader landscapes and buildings. Although they are, in some ways, simply recordings of the natural world in a time before photography, and certainly color photography, they are also deliberate and dreamlike compositions that speak not only to the exploration of the natural world, but of Marianne North's unique vision of that world.

The paintings lack formal titles, and are instead referenced, in the book, by caption. I abridged them and updated some of the place names. Anyway, top to bottom: View of Mt. Kinchinjunga, Darjeeling, India; the "quicksilver mountain," Tegoro, Malaysia; an old red cedar, Manchester, MA; rubber trees in Sri Lanka.


I just begun my Galatea painting--by begun I mean it's a series of sketchy lines on canvas that make sense only to me. It owes a bit to both images (bottom two, above and below: Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau). Stylistically, I suppose it's a bit more similar to Moreau, with the primary focus on the Galatea figure and the dark background. Or, it will be. We can only hope. It's something of a departure from what I've been doing, as well as from the things I've been looking at in terms of reference material. Much more ornate and flowery. But it's also the first painting I've done with such a blatantly classical theme; it somehow, therefore, seems appropriate. Or maybe it just seems that way to me.

And seriously, isn't Redon's cyclops like the cutest thing EVER?

The images preceding the Galateas are the kinds of things I've been liking lately. Kind of a faded memory, old family photograph, memory-blending-with-imagination-type thing. Vast and unknown landscapes of the interior and exterior alike.

Something like that.