My seven-year-old niece Elanor Bonta was drawing portraits of everyone with a ballpoint pen this afternoon. Here’s mine.
Gretel is careful to take the Witch’s cat with them when they leave the gingerbread house, explaining to Hansel that they must be responsible for it. Later, back at home, their parents aren’t exactly pleased to see them. It has been quieter without the children, and with more food to go around too. One day Hansel comes in from playing to find the parents missing, and the cat gone too. Gretel sits next to the stove, humming while waiting for the joints to roast.
I’m taking a break and highlighting some classic posts from my first full year of blogging, 2004. This one describes the construction of a shrine that still has pride of place in my living room. The somewhat tangential disquisition on Yoruba religion could probably stand to be cut, but what the hell. (Please click through to read the whole thing.)
Can the merely cynical be invested with a higher value? And if so, would this stepping outside of a stepping-outside require some leap of faith?
There sits the shrine in my living room, divested of masks and the four cynical words, which quickly warped. The weird thing is, four years ago when I wanted to stop smoking, this shrine to negativity really did seem to help. Through the worst of the craving I kept a half-dozen cigarettes there in the offering bowl, among the plastic fruit. Somehow just seeing them there, day after day, strengthened my resolve.
But the rise of social photography means that we are now seeing images all the time, millions of them, billions, many of which are manipulated with the same easy algorithms, the same tiresome vignetting, the same dank green wash. So the problem is not that images are being altered—I remember the thrill I felt the first few times I saw Hipstamatic images, and I shot a few myself buoyed by that thrill—it’s that they’re all being altered in the same way: high contrasts, dewy focus, over-saturation, a skewing of the RGB curve in fairly predictable ways. Correspondingly, the range of subjects is also peculiarly narrow: pets, pretty girlfriends, sunsets, lunch. In other words, the photographic function, which should properly be the domain of the eye and the mind, is being outsourced to the camera and to an algorithm.
The fact is that we are living in a time when the decision to be an artist, to continue to create in spite of everything that’s happening around us, IS a radical political act. This is, I feel, quite a dark time, potentially destructive to the best and most noble aspects of the human spirit. And that’s precisely why it is terribly important for artists in all disciplines to continue to create, even when it feels like there’s little market and little appreciation for our work. Just doing it, and making the difficult decision to continue to do it — to live creative lives that celebrate what life is and can be — is both defiant and affirming, and it’s crucially important. People need to know that someone they know — a neighbor, a friend, a cousin — is committed to the arts. Young people particularly need to know this.
A man and a woman were standing in front of my painting Green George, and he was speaking with lively enthusiasm about the work, explaining to her what the artist had been attempting in it, and the technical tricks he’d used to pull off the effects. She gazed up at him adoringly, basking in the light of his knowledge. What he had to say sounded most interesting and plausible. Even I was impressed.
Welcome to the first exhibition at the Artlog. It evolved out of the interest of regular visitors in my practice of making articulated paper maquettes for use as compositional aids. A few of them felt encouraged to produce maquettes of their own, and thereafter everything just blossomed. Some contributors have submitted a single maquette, and others many.
This is simply an amazing online exhibition, now complete with the addition of Part 5. The above link takes you to all five posts in reverse chronological order.
I’ve shared videos of the May 6 poetry reading for The Book of Ystwyth, but the main event was the opening of Clive’s 60th birthday career retrospective exhibition at the National Library of Wales the following afternoon. And fortunately I didn’t have to worry about videoing that one; they had a professional filmmaker there to do it for them. This is the result.
Following Andrew Green’s introduction, Clive’s own remarks focus on the central role of place, love and community in his work:
Being a painter isn’t just about standing in the studio and making still lives and landscapes and narrative paintings. It’s about the people you surround yourself with, people who cluster around you, the people you love.
Would that all gifted artists and writers took their social obligations so seriously.
The exhibition continues through August 20th. If you’re anywhere in the U.K., don’t miss it! It’s a huge exhibition and well worth the time and effort to go see it, I think. Browse the works on Clive’s website and his blog posts about the exhibition for a preview.
In lieu of a podcast this week, here in video form is the full, hour-long poetry reading I flew to Wales to take part in last month. This was a group reading in support of The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, whose launch coincided with a 60th birthday retrospective exhibition of, and monograph on, the contemporary Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins (who I interviewed in the two most recent episodes of the Woodrat podcast). All six of us — three Yanks and three Brits — had written poems in response to his paintings, and The Book of Ystwyth includes a generous selection, illustrated with full-color details of the paintings in question.
In the reading, ably MC’d by Damian Walford Davies, as you’ll see, each poet appears twice, once on either side of a break (which occurs in part 3), so that the first poet is also the last, the second is the penultimate, etc. Here’s a key to who appears in which video:
Anita Mills was the camerawoman. I take the blame for the sound and all the editing. The bookstore’s set-up had the podium in shadow, which meant that the camera often focused on better-lit bookshelves behind our heads. In the process of lightening and increasing contrast on the videos, the color turned spotty, whence my decision to make it black and white. I assure viewers who have never been to Wales that it is a fully modern country now, and almost everything is in color all the time.
As for the book: quite apart from its contents, which are of course scintillating, it’s a beautifully designed object with high-quality paper and image reproduction, retailing at a very affordable $15.95/£9.99. It was published in the U.K. by Grey Mare Press in association with Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales, and in the U.S. by Carolina Wren Press. Click on either link to order.
The conclusion of our May 5 walk around Clive’s neighborhood in rural Wales, near Aberystwyth. (It should stand on its own, but do listen to Part 1 if you haven’t already.) I’m grateful to Clive for taking the time to show me around in the midst of frantic preparations for the launch of his retrospective exhibition just two days later (for more about which, see the series of posts on his Artlog). We’re also lucky he’s such a great communicator, because as the naive quality of my couple of questions about his painting demonstrate, my general knowledge of art is woefully inadequate. Nevertheless, somehow this walking conversation with Clive has turned into one of my most satisfying podcasts to date, I think. Give a listen.
Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).