Monday, April 12, 2010

Trying to figure out if this is working.

Obviously it has been some time since I have posted to this blog.  Although I have continued interest, I have found that the material lacks context, so I am working on figuring out the best way to tag material, include better links, and provide access to blogs of a similar nature.  Please be patient.  Thank you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Following in Grandma's Footsteps

I had my moment in the sun as an artist's model as well.  (Please see previous post.)  Below is a series of photos John Lesnick did in homage to Duane Michals, entitle "Exit the Photographer."  I believe John took at least one class with Mr. Michals at a workshop in Venice.  John asked my friend Larry and I to pose for him on this project.  He wanted to use Larry's apartment, which Larry had just moved into and which, being on the top floor of the building, had good light.

As far as I know, John only printed this one series.  He presented it to me as a gift about a year later.  (He complained that creating the mat for the sixteen pieces was more work than he usually did for photographs.)  I then gave it to my friend, Jack Bayer, as a birthday gift one year.  Jack passed away about 10 years later of heart-related causes.  Again, the family swept in, but this was one piece they didn't care about, so it landed back in my hands.  After cleaning 10 years of cigarette smoke residue off of the glass and frame, it turned out o.k.  Here are the full series and one of the individual scenes:



The photos are fully mounted on acid-free cardboard.  Each individual photo is 4" x 6" and the framed work is 33"w x 26"h.  The work is dated 1980, and signed.

Why I like this piece:

Apart from all of the narcissistic reasons, (I mean, who doesn't revel in their faded beauty?) this is a good homage to Duane Michals.  It follows his artistic MO, but it follows John's particular way of translating that method to his own uses.  I suppose one could infer that the photographer leaving the scene of his own creation to join a scene (imaginatively) being created elsewhere is clever.  Perhaps too clever, but John was early on in his career (1980) and so perhaps this represents his working on an issue rather than actually resolving an issue.  

That is one good thing about art.  If it is done with the idea that the questions are more important than the answers, than it is at least done in the spirit of art.  The questions engender more questions, and that is why art often reflects its era more accurately than the carefully recorded history of the same era.  

What this piece reminds me of:

First, it reminds me of how the Lower East Side has changed so completely from those days.  You may remember that I mentioned a friend who was mugged 3 times in as many months.  That friend was Larry, pictured above.  He left New York defeated by the danger.  New York, supposedly, is less dangerous these days, but it could easily revert to the late 70s and early 80s, when you had to know where and when you could be on the streets.

Mostly it reminds me of Jack.  Jack had this over his desk in his studio apartment in Chelsea.  He liked it very much.  Jack was a very ruggedly handsome man.  He had served in the Navy during the late 60s, and ended up in New York with a career as a freelance graphic artist. He made a good, if modest, life for himself in the city.  He also made no excuses for his vices.  In today's world of political correctness, he would have smoked his cigarettes and over-indulged in food and drink because the practice of self-denial in such things would have smacked of hypocrisy to him.

Jack and I carried on a brief affair about a year after Terry's death.  He was one of Terry's trio of caregivers.  We became closer because of our shared grief I suppose, but the affair only lasted a few months.  It is one of the signs of how time had changed such that when he passed away a few years later, in the late 90s, I hadn't spoken to him for over a month.  I had to track down a close friend of his to find out that he had died of congestive heart failure.  He had programmed all his phone numbers into the phone, and no one thought to listen to his message machine.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Arts and Crafts and Grandma

My parents called me up to a spare bedroom.  They were rummaging around, trying to find things, and figured it would be a good time for me to take whatever few items I had left there.  They opened a blanket chest and pulled out a shank of braided, auburn hair (almost honey colored), wrapped in a plastic bag.  "This was your grandmother's hair.  Do you want it?"  It took me a moment, but I said no.  

I knew my grandmother had been a model, which was not your average grandmother's calling.  She also had some pretensions to artistic endeavor and these pretensions expressed themselves in little crafts projects.  I offer two of them below:

This is a print which Grandma took the liberty of very lightly coloring in (so lightly that the camera couldn't pick it up).  She then signed it in a larger signature than the actual artist's, whose signature appears almost directly above hers nearer the neckline of the cowl.  It measures approximately 7.5" w x 9.5"h.


This is a vase which Grandma painted by hand.  It measures 5"d x 4"h.  As you can see in the full sized version (just click on it), the paint has worn away on a few of the outer buds, which I think is due to Grandma using paint that was too watered down.

 Why I like these pieces:

These are remembrances more than art, but I included them here because I think that they are exactly how art is in its simpler forms.  All art partakes of craft, but not all craft is art.  In the first example, my grandmother wouldn't endeavor to draw a young girl, but she would "gild the lily" and add color to improve, in her eyes, a worthy effort.  Art always competes with people's expectations of what art is.

The vase is my grandmother's and hers alone.  She perhaps copied the flower theme from some other item or work that she knew, but she knew how to mix the colors on the brush to obtain the desired effect.  I remember this vase placed on a bracket on the wall in her kitchen, holding a philodendron.  

What these pieces remind me of:

Of course, they remind me of my childhood.  My grandparents had a very nice 3 bedroom house with a good piece of land behind it.  Among all her other interests, gardening was my grandmother's passion, and she had fairly elaborate plantings, leading on a garden path down to a terrace which held a fireplace for grilling.  Further on were two trees where a hammock was usually hung in the summer.  Not bad for a suburban setting which today is very developed.

My grandmother was a stickler for good behavior.  There was to be no running or screaming or general roughhousing.  Speak only when spoken to, and always say "please" and "thank you."  This was quite different from my maternal grandparents, where kids were generally expected to be kids, which meant a little noise and/or conflict was par for the course. Each set of grandparents spoiled us in their own way.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A friend and an artist

John Lesnick was a close friend of mine.  We met felicitously in front of the loft building in Chelsea where I was visiting an ex-boyfriend at the time and where John lived.  I remember that he had just bought groceries and we greeted each other with the brown paper bag he was clutching acting as an annoying barrier between us.  We were immediately attracted to one another and had a brief affair which turned into a  lasting and deep friendship.  I was privileged to know him for the remainder of his life, through all of its ups and downs. He is in the collection at the Museum of Modern ArtVisual AIDS, and most of his art is now housed by the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation.

I bought this piece of art from him not too long after it was produced:


It is part of a series of full-figure male portraits that he did in a large format print.  This particular print (not titled) is number 7 of 10, is signed by John, and dated 1984.  These prints were produced at the Lower East Side Print Shop.  This organization became John's second home during the early '80s.  He was very productive at the time, but unfortunately not successful commercially as an artist.  

John discovered that he was HIV+ during this time, but he continued to work and travel and enjoy life as fully as possible.  He became an AIDS activist and was a case study in the advances in AIDS-related medicine during the '90s. I purchased one or two more pieces, and he gave me a couple of other pieces of his work as gifts.  When he passed away, I was able to complete this work:


As you can see it is quite large and fills one wall of the foyer to my apartment. (Apologies for the poor photography and the glare in both these photos.)  Each framed quarter measures 35.25"h x 43.5"w, so the full work is 70.5"w x 87" high.  It is number 7 of 12, signed and dated 1984.

Why I like this piece:

This piece puts me into a sort of meditative trance.  The pose of the swimmer's right hand appears to me as if it were a gesture of benevolence, but I can't quite figure out why that is.  I bought the original upper right quadrant because it stands as a piece on its own.  The reason it does that is because it encompasses that enigmatic gesture.

As a whole, the work partakes of photography and, to my mind, theater.  It is a set piece for some unwritten play, and it represents an aspect of one of the characters, perhaps the villain, that is decidedly unexpected.  I can imagine this portrait coming to the fore of the stage in the last act to symbolize the villain's attempt at redemption.  ("Angels in America" anyone?)

What this piece reminds me of:

This piece reminds me of loss and of peace with that loss.  John led a very full life, had many friends, and not too many enemies.  He was respected and loved.  John was the closest experience I could imagine of knowing Lazarus.  He very nearly died prior to the advent of protease inhibitors for the treatment of HIV.  When he came back to life, he lived as fully and as creatively without (too much) complaint that he had nearly been robbed of this second chance.  

The longer I live with this work, the more I appreciate it.  It is a comfort.  There is much more of John's work to show, and each will remind me of some other aspect of life during those times.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Terry's Art: Another Inheritance

Terry was a very visual person and had aspirations of an art career in New York.  It did not quite work out that way; he was very good at the software design he did for Intel.  He did produce some interesting work.  The four pieces here are, as far as I know, the only print project that he completed, and I believe it may have been done before he arrived in New York.

He also produced a series of photos of himself in drag which tell the story of a lonely woman's day and her ruminations on life.  That may come in a later post, but is rather heavy on the imagery and will take some time to organize. I apologize again for the quality of the photography; it doesn't quite capture the colors of these prints.

Terry created these four prints as a group:





The images are very saturated in color.  Each image measures 17"h x 14"w.  Each print is signed, not dated, and they are labeled in the artist's handwriting as Artist's Proof with a number for each copy and the number of proofs for the edition.

Why I like this piece:

These are idealized male torsos, and represent a type of art created by gay males during the post-Stonewall era to express their love of the male body.  The suppression of such images prior to the early 60s created a generation of artists to whom the image of the male body was the highest expression of their artistic skills.  Without a long-winded discourse on how the male of the human species, regardless of sexual orientation, became such a visual creature it is clear that the latter part of the 20th century may be remembered best for its mini-renaissance of male beauty.  From the physique photography of the '50s through the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues stretching into the early 21st century, there was never quite so much attention paid to the male and all the variations on the ideal of that human form.

On another level, because of the colors in play on these prints, they relate rather well to the Floc'h and Riviere work in this previous post.  They partake of the same simple background, with a single subject in each frame. 

What this piece reminds me of: 

Although this series of prints reminds me of the time I spent with Terry, one aspect that he spoke of nearly came true, but in a weird way.  These prints have traveled with me to several different abodes.  When I settled in my current apartment, I became familiar with a neighbor whose profession was that of a lead glass window designer.  One of Terry's ambitions for these prints was to have them transposed into leaded glass.

I hadn't thought of that for years before meeting this neighbor.  I told her I had something she might consider for a subject, but her face fell when she saw these prints.  I don't think she was quite ready to approach the subject matter objectively.   

Update: Artist Located!

I was going through my collection of business cards and discovered that I had one from Yvonne Gayle Butler, whose work you saw in this post.  I took a chance and called the number.  The person who answered took a message and I soon received a return call from her daughter.  After I explained the purpose of my call, I was told that Yvonne would be in touch.  About 2 hours later I was talking to her in Paris!

Yvonne has since dropped the "Butler" to become Yvonne Gayle.  She is living primarily in Paris, though she visits New York frequently.  She has been exhibiting in Paris galleries recently.  As soon as we have established an email correspondence and she has a chance to check out the blog, I'm sure it will be interesting to follow her career and see how she is doing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A "Family" Inheritance

This piece was one of the few things I inherited from a family member.  It is an abstract work which is a portrait of the person who ultimately passed it into my hands.  His name was Fred, and he was the person who introduced me to New York city, and not just to NYC, but to gay life in NYC.  

This work was done by Fred's boyfriend from the 1960's, Richard Passantino, who changed his name at some point to Richard Santino.  Richard went on to become the lover of Richard Poirier, a noted literary critic.  Mr. Poirier acknowledged Richard Santino as his lover, and as the creator of the collage for the front cover of his book "Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing" which remains a valuable reference on Frost's work. (A scan of the cover is included after the jump at the end of this post.) This book was assigned to us in a class taught by Joseph Brodsky at Columbia when I was a poetry student there.  I did not take the time to read the introduction of the book back then, so I had no clue of the connection until researching this post, but it goes to show what a small world this is.

The work is entitled "Mon Homme," and is a serigraph, signed and dated by the artist.  It measures 11.5" x 15.5" and is in the original frame.  It consists of an arrangement of mainly abstract cubes with the figure of a man seeming to recline on those forms.  There is a patterned background, and the overall colors are blue and yellow.   

Why I like this piece: 

I can verify that, as a person, Fred was composed of these colors.  He had very blue eyes, and his wardrobe almost always included a splash of yellow with the blue he used to set off his eyes. This piece is fairly simple in its composition.  I do not generally favor abstraction, but this clearly comes to us from the 50s and 60s when abstraction was more the norm.  But because of it's simplicity, the piece seems to have no grand aspirations other than an artist trying to capture the personality of, and his own feelings about, the man he loved.

What this piece reminds me of: 

This piece is my "madeleine" of the first few years in New York.  I moved to the city to attend graduate school at Columbia.  When I first moved here in January of 1978 it was merely with the intention to attend school.  The city held no fears for me, or attractions other than I knew that movies always opened here before they were shown in the rest of the country, and there were quite a few that appeared and never were shown to the rest of the country.  But the main thing was that, other than getting an education, I had no expectations of the city.  

One of the lifelines that I had in this endeavor was my father's cousin, Fred.  He taught English as a second language at New York University, and was well-known among ESL teachers for having produced a series of useful text books for the college level. My father put us in contact, and Fred put me up for the first weekend I visited Columbia to complete the registration process.  A week or two later, I moved into a Columbia University dorm for grad students.  

Fred introduced me to the subway system, pointed out some of the architectural wonders, and generally acted as a tour guide for those first few months.  He was a very good guide, having lived in NY for most of his life.  His apartment was in the Washington Square Towers, just south of Washington Square Park.  Early in the summer of that first year, he asked me to take care of his apartment while he was away on vacation in Puerto Rico.  It was a great opportunity to get a break from the dorm.  

I had an off-again, on-again girlfriend in medical school at the time, but our relationship had strained due to the long-distance aspect of the affair, as she was attending school in Philadelphia.  When I stayed in Fred's apartment, I had already decided that I wanted to explore the Village.  Christopher Street seemed a natural place to start.  It was already famous as a gay mecca, but I was more innocent than I knew.  That first evening, I could not believe what I saw and felt as I walked down that street.  Men were looking at me openly, very opposite to the furtive way I had always looked at men.  It took me three passes before I finally got up the courage to walk into a bar at the end of the street.  That night I took a man home for the first time in my life.

When Fred returned from his trip, he noticed the change in me.  As we were walking by Sheridan Sq. one evening not long after his return, he asked if I had anything I wanted to tell him.  I came out to him, and he came out to me.  "Now," he said, "you can meet all of my friends."  And I did, and it was one of the best coming out experiences that could be imagined. 

Fred was one of the best people to know if you were a young man coming out of the closet.  He had been involved with the Mattachine Society in the early 60s.  He regaled me with tales of how secretive gay bars and gay society was when he first came out.  He talked about the codes and signals that gay men used to identify each other in social situations, and how careful it was necessary to be at work.  He told me of his love for NYC; how it provided a gay man a real life.  He talked about his flirtations with students and with how he and his friends had come to know and love one another. 

That was Fred; one of the most generous men I've ever met.  I still use the stainless flatware that he gave me when I had to move out of the dorm.  He nursed and nurtured me through the usual heartbreaks and fears of becoming an out gay man.  

Fred too was taken by HIV.  He became ill on a visit to his beloved Puerto Rico.  During our last phone conversation, he spoke from his hospital bed.  I was in the process of losing two other friends and couldn't bring myself to tell him of these other catastrophes.  So while I kept the conversation light and topical, he pronounced me as being a very boring person.  

As was so often the case, when Fred passed away his "family" swept in to remove all the evidence, as if the family he had created in New York was of no account.  (Yes, I deem the quotes to be correctly applied.)  They did have the good grace to ask me if there was anything in particular I wanted.  His portrait was the first thing that came to mind. 

You can see the cover of "Robert Frost" by Richard Santino after the break.