Friday, January 8, 2010

The Gift

Last night I went to Posh for an after-job-interview drink.  I was seated with two 20 somethings on my right and two Broadway veterans on my left.  The atmosphere was convivial and the evening wore on very nicely.  The conversation turned mainly around our various attempts to get jobs as most of us were unemployed, and generally sharing our stories in and out of New York.  It was a great way to unwind after a job interview, and a better result than I've had a in gay bar in quite awhile.

One of the Broadway veterans allowed as his main job on Broadway had been as a costumer and property manager.  He offered to draw our fantasies of Broadway costumes.  The 20 somethings chose "Cats," and I chose Blanche from "Streetcar."  For a sketch done in a dark bar after a couple of drinks, the result is amazing. He drew them right in front of us, very quickly and with only a few quick grabs of the candle to check his work before he finished.

I am very grateful for this gift.  It was a pleasure to meet these people, and this sketch is a great reminder of the evening.  Art is everywhere, and sometimes comes to you unsolicited and with unimagined generosity.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Second Acquisition is also from a group show.

This piece, "Les Bon Moments a Rue Condorcet" by Yvonne Gayle-Butler, was purchased at a group show sponsored by the Young Communist League, I believe. My friend Robin Crutchfield had a few pieces in the show so I went to check it out.  While I enjoyed his work, this particular piece caught my eye.  The art on display was not for sale; it was just a way for people to get their work shown.  But I tracked down the artist and negotiated a price with her.  I have not been able to locate Yvonne Gayle-Butler in a quick internet search.

This piece consists of three sheets torn out of a sketchbook and assembled behind a paper mat which has some stray puffs of paint and the title of the piece written on it.  The three panels are also entitled on the mat.  In order of the three watercolors, left to right:  1. A robe hung on a doorway, backed by elaborate figurative wallpaper with the title  "Regard, regard, le voisin (?) regard encore."; 2. Slippers on an ornate rug, with the artist's knee and drawing hand with the title "A quatre heures avant crepuscule dans le salon avec l'air de paix."; and 3. Clothes drying (?) on a radiator with a box of toys (?) nearby with the title "La fenetre en le bord le voisir (?) regard par son gout".  

My translations are partial because the word "voisir" does not exist in any French language reference I have checked and the last word in the 3rd entry is illegible.  In order:  "Look, look, the ________ look again."  "A quarter hour before dusk in the peaceful living room." "By the window, the _________ looks at her _____."

While the draftsmanship is not great, there is a fair amount of attention to detail, particularly in rendering the wallpaper and the carpet.  The colors are muted except for the centerpiece, which is rendered more richly.  Besides the artist's signature on the mat, each page is also signed.

Why I like this piece:

The informality of the work, along with the slapdash way of composing the images into a triumvirate of domestic . . . something.  Maybe not bliss, but a sensibility almost as appealing and perhaps more engaged.  The robe hanging on the wall looks to me not as if rest is waiting to be had, but rather that rest has been put aside for the moment.  The second image of the artist actually at work is the centerpiece of the work and the centerpiece of the thought about being at home and working.  

In other words, three domestic and very serene still lifes.  The mundane becomes the subject of the artist's work. The third part is the clincher, as the haphazard arrangement of clothes and things waiting to be put away means there is other work to be done as well.  So the home is all things at once, where work is done and waiting to be done, but where "rest" at least resides, even if it's moment is temporarily gone.

What this piece reminds me of: 

I am reminded immediately of how impulsive I was then.  To track down the artist and arrange to buy a piece of art directly was not something I had ever done.  I don't know if the piece or my general compulsiveness about art drove me to it.  But I have never felt untouched when I look at the piece, so it must have been something more.  The site of the workhall on 23rd Street where the Young Communist League held the show has become a Gap store, if memory serves correctly (the northeast corner of 23rd and 8th Avenue).  

In the 80's artwork and the art world was more accessible, as I've mentioned previously. 

There were plenty of artists and many who worked in obscurity unless you made it to the type of unhyped and under-attended shows like this one.  I think I was one of about 3 people in the room on a Saturday afternoon.

And it reminds me of Robin, who remains a friend (or at least acquaintance) to this day.  We met at the gay clubs in the meat market district.  His bio is on the link, but I did not know he was an artist in his own right until we got to know one another better.  This show, which he was a part of, was not until 6 years or so later. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dance, Photography and E-bay

This item was purchased on E-bay some time ago.  More about E-bay, and much more about photography, later.  This item charmed me.  It represents Ted Shawn, a modern dance pioneer, in what I would describe as an "ecstatic moment."  More can be found about him here and here.  On a personal note, we share a birthday.

Ted Shawn was the founder of Jacob's Pillow and was a major influence on Martha Graham.  He brought male sensuality into modern dance.


The image and the back of the postcard seem at odds with one another. I note that the box for the stamp on the correspondence side is not closed and the type within the box, especially the word "here" is off-register.  That indicates to me that this was not a professionally printed item. 

The image is clear, but also note the airbrushing or other modification made to highlight the upper body in the image.  I don't think the sky so conveniently follows the contours of the human body usually.  This image is based on a photograph taken ca. 1940, so I believe the whole object has been "antiqued" to make it look older.  As they say in the E-bay business, caveat emptor.  Happily, I bought it for the image, not because it looked antique.

Why I like this piece:

Again, the "ecstatic nature" represented in this pose is why I like it.  The "joie de vivre" that dance brings into one's life is what is really on show.  Of course, dance consists of all human emotion, as art does in general.  I think the modifications made to the image are appropriate.  Photography is as subject to amendment and occasional refinement as any painting still on the easel. 

What it reminds me of now:

I first encountered modern dance on the Dance in America series on PBS in the 1970's.  I was between universities and living with my parents, holding on to a job in a factory.  PBS showed Dance in America once a week.  It was there that I first saw Paul Taylor, Martha Graham, George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham performed.  I had no idea at the time that I would be moving to New York and have the opportunity to see these companies.  I didn't have any kind of network of friends that shared my interest in modern dance, and I didn't really know why I enjoyed what I was watching so much.  

Dance was a foreign language to everyone I knew and to me as well.  But I watched because the movement and the music spoke to a new way of expression, and I needed to know what that was.  The commentary before and after the performances helped to some extent, but without someone as a sounding board to understand or echo my thoughts on the subject, I simply absorbed as much as I could.  This period of my life could be understood as a "fallow" period, before beginning life again in New York city.

And once in New York, I found like-minded people who could answer the questions I had and who were instrumental in exposing me further to modern dance.  I was very lucky.  After a few years, I knew who Ted Shawn was.  Not so many years after that, there was this image on E-bay.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My First Acquisition

The first piece of art I ever purchased was in a group exhibition at a gallery in Soho whose name I have long since forgotten.  It was opening night and I attended with a close friend of mine.  The object in question is a mixed media piece entitled (I believe) Daphne's Hand.  The artist is Diane Karol who, I understand from a brief internet search, now teaches painting and mixed media at Queens College in New York.

I remember the evening fairly clearly for someone who perhaps had one too many glasses of the cheap wine.  My friend and I had already done a tour of the pieces on display, but this one caught my eye. On our second go round my friend was very quick to note my attraction to it and she dared me to buy it.  I'm not sure of her exact words, but something along the lines of "You know you like it.  Why not just take it home?"  And so I did.  (Although I had to go back and pick it up after the exhibit ended.)

It did make it through the first twelve years or so on the wall in my studio apartment.  When I moved in with a partner it was stored for quite a few years, and I have to say I didn't miss it much.  However, in my current apartment I discovered it in a box that had been moved and then stored again. I took it out, and kept it standing at odd locations around the apartment.  I didn't really pay that much attention to it, and it went missing without my noticing.

Recently, cleaning behind a nightstand in the bedroom, I discovered it again. It had probably been laying there for a good six months or so. Though dusty, it was not much worse for the wear, and now it is the first listing in this blog.  Here are the pictures:


It is composed of a cloth work glove which has laurel (?) leaves sewn into the material to form fingernails.  The nails are painted red and green.  The wrist is filled with material and that is where the signature appears.  There is quite a bit of dust which has worked its way into the glove material, but the nails are still glossy.

Why I like this piece:

The piece references mythology directly:  Apollo falls in love with Daphne, but she rejects him and in order to put off his advances asks the gods to change her to something he cannot love.  The gods grant her wish and she is transformed into a laurel tree.  Apollo adopts a wreath of laurel as his crown.

When I saw the piece in the gallery it stood out because it was an object as opposed to a painting or drawing.  Thought and effort had gone into it, and yet it seemed effortless in concept: simple and appealing.

Although it appears graceless and drab now, the concept still carries through for me and I have no intention of parting with it.  If Diane Karol ever reads this post, then she may have it if she plans to do a career retrospective at some point.

What it reminds me of now:

The whole episode in the gallery, the opening, etc., was part of life in those days.  Galleries still have openings, but I don't attend them.  And Soho is no longer the center of the art world.  Williamsburg is arguably the center for new artists, and Chelsea has all of the established galleries with their A-list artists.  Soho is more or less a shopping mall for the rich.  More modest stores like Broadway Panhandler have decamped.  To my mind Soho was a more accessible art market in many ways.  Chelsea today is not much different in terms of accessibility, but there's no direct subway line to the heart of the district.

I would spend hours wandering Soho and checking for new shows by favorite photographers and/or visiting galleries that had consistently interesting artists.  Leo Castelli comes to mind, and the other galleries in that building.  I discovered Larry Clark there, and the Photography Book store always had great deals on books, since I couldn't afford the prints themselves in most cases.