Friday, October 28, 2011

Artist James Ward (a.k.a. Jimbo Art)

James Ward, "Bird of Paradise" (Serving Plate)
See the Etsy Listing here
Etsy, I have found, consistently showcases some fantastic artists. For example, I've been following the shop of British artist James Ward for at least a year. While he does works on paper, like the watercolor-drawing below, a bulk of his production for Etsy involves hand-drawn ceramics featuring anthropomorphic animals. In his profile statement, he indicates that he likes to create narratives within his images, although he admits they are ambiguous and, I would add, elliptical.You can't necessarily determine what has happened before the 'captured' image or what might happen afterwards.Still, the viewer knows there is some humorous or deeper interaction happening, and this is the heart of Ward'swit.  

The artist's attention to detail is similarly stunning. Take, for instance, his hand-drawn wolf serving plate. The fur has texture and volume; the eyes hold depth and expression.

And of course, there is Ward's attention to brief verbal narratives, which often accompany his listings. I quote the description that accompanies "Goat Puppet":
James Ward, "Goat Puppet"
Viewthe Etsy listing here

"Ralph began his puppetry career in the late ‘80s following a brief sojourn in burlesque dancing. He regularly performs a range of puppetry and mime in underground clubs. His work, often taking a political bent, is heavily inspired by Dadaist theories. He dreams of taking his act to London’s West End and to Broadway." -- James Ward
Brilliant, no? I think so.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And in the studio....

Yesterday, very happily, I sold the pin just above
in one of my Etsy shops. It's a lime slice made of baked
polymer clay, painted with acrylics,
and protected with varnish.
The rind says: "Destined for...gin!"

Since it's getting close to the Christmas shopping season, I made
these three handpainted pendants this morning.
I'm letting the protective top coat and epoxy resin dry.
Next, I'll fit them with ribbons and clasps and they'll be ready to go
into the shop.

And here they are with bubble chains. Swankness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And of particular interest this moment...

Martha Holmes for Life Magazine
"Painter Jackson Pollock with his
wife Lee Krasner"
While recuperating from what feels like a mild case of the flu today, I've been thinking. Dangerous? Indeed. I'm listening to the lawn mowers outside, and thinking about the harvesting we've still been doing. Our pepper plants, both the sweets and the hots, are so weighted with colorful specimens, they're lying sideways. I got two Budweiser cardboard boxes full of brightly colored wonder this weekend. I also started thinging about making jam again. Every year, since Michael and I have had a garden, we've grown hot peppers and made hot pepper jelly. One year, just before our September wedding, we made a huge batch (probably our third that summer), and we called it 'pre-marital hot stuff'. We slapped a post-it note label on it and gave it away to relatives. Freaky with the name, no? Okay, maybe a little.

Okay, get ready for it--a non-sequitur! I'm good at these. Back in graduate school, I remember reading an article by feminist art historian Griselda Pollock about the painter Lee Krasner for my Methodology & Issues Class. This particular article was long, involved, and discussed the concept of persona, and how we merely knew Krasner's persona rather than who she really was. It was my first semester of graduate school, and I'll admit, I was freaking out, reading until my eyes crossed. I had to discuss this particular article, determine if the argument presented had any weaknesses, and provide a rationale for why I felt the point used was ineffective. (Or at least, that's how I remember the assignment). Most things that have freaked me out academically usually end up having a long influence on the way I view things. For example, in college, I took an archeology and human pre-history course, where we talked about the Australopithecines. I remember being absolutely terrified by the tests in the class, although I remember none of them. I must have done fine because the class did not bring down my GPA, and I recall graudally gaining a kind of confidence in the course. However, the first test I studied so hard for--I had a complicated relationship at the time with an older slacker student (long story), and this created additional stress because when he wanted to party, I wanted to study--I actually made myself sick. I literally dreamt of monkeys swinging from tree to tree the whole night before the exam. I woke up ill, but I went and took the test anyway because I had little other choice. I have not forgotten what I learned in that class, and it appears again and again in my stories. Some freaking long impact that night of swinging monkeys had on me, right?

Anyway, back to Krasner...I gave the presentation, written in essay format, and I suggested that there was one specific passage of language that blunted Griselda Pollock's message. This was met with stunned silence--not because I was right, but because I had focused on just a few words in an essay that went on for some thirty pages. People looked at each other around the seminar table. I felt like an ass, and for the next two hours, questioned whether I belonged in graduate school, or whether my time might be better spent slinging hash at the 'O' up the street. I don't remember what my particular argument was or the passage I focused on, but I will never forget Griselda's concept of projected persona and the projections accepted by the subject, in this case, Krasner.

Lee Krasner, late 1940s/early 1950s

Later, when I lived in D.C., the movie Pollock came out, and I went to see it with someone who had a stylistic affinity for Abstract Expressionism in his own paintings. I had known him since that painful moment around the seminar table, although he was not present to see what I felt was the debacle. Now, of course, things seemed more glamorous in the movie than they probably were--most likely. In the movie, Pollock never tinkled in Peggy Guggenheim's fireplace, as he had done in real life. And the walk-up that Krasner and Pollock originally shacked up in--the one with the bathtub in the kitchen--was probably much rougher than the symbolic representation of penury depicted in the movie. What I did feel acutely was Peggy Guggenheim's nasty dismissal of Krasner's paintings when she made a 'studio visit' to Pollock and Kraser's walk-up: "What's L.K.? I didn't come to see an L.K.!" Guggenheim passes out of the room Krasner uses for her studio, "I came to see Pollock. Where are the Pollocks?"

Ouch. Yet here is part and parcel of Griselda Pollock's thesis. Krasner accepted this dismissal, and subjugated her own work to elevate Pollock's career. We know not the real artist that Krasner was--at least until later. Instead, we know the Krasner who was Pollock's wife and artistic sounding board. We know a persona, not the genuine Lee Krasner. See that photo above? Notice the title? There's no mention of Krasner being a painter herself, only that she is Jackson Pollock's wife--Pollock, the painter. Interesting, too, is that for the picture, she is what appears to be a half-step behind him. Interesting, no? Is this posing by the photographer or her accepted position?

 Another thing I remember from reading about the couple was that, when they moved to upstate New York, they made jam. They gardened. They bartered for goods and services with their paintings. There is a marvelous picture of Lee in the kitchen, as part of the Life Magazine spread. She is wearing a dark dress, a light plaid apron tied at the waist. And she is doing something at the sink, although it doesn't appear to be washing, while Pollock smokes and appears to wipe a plate with a towel. Behind her is the beautiful kitchen--not beautiful in the contemporary sense. There is no granite, obviously. There are few applicances. Perhaps some would say it's inadequate, certainly by today's standards. And yet, to my eye, it is entirely beautiful and complete, which is likely the aura the photographer intended. There are glass cannisters filled with unidentifiable cooking ingredients on a shelf near Krasner's head. In the background, an ostensibly enamel stove holds a huge tea kettle. There is domesticity here, the image says, not the depravity and poverty so popularly associated with artists' lives. (Say what? Like actors from Shakespeare's era, artists not engaged in craftsmen style labor were considered slackers, devoid of approprate moral compass. Peggy Guggenheim, on associating with and supporting artists--even marrying Max Ernst so he would not be deported--was purposefully slumming it. Sure, it ended up being cool, but at the time, it was a strategically daring act.)

Gail Levin has written an excellent biography of Krasner, getting to the heart of who she was. And in the process, Krasner's formidable strength as both promoter of Pollock and later, of her own artistic production (although she destroyed a conserable amount of her work, leaving only about 599 pieces, according to one estimate) is finally brought forward.
Lee Krasner barefoot in her studio.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And the final two ads

 So the ad campaign I ran last week went well. At left, there are two more images, as I switched the ad content out every 24 hours. Ultimately, I had over 100 click-throughs to the Literary Outlaw website, which means there must have been something compelling enough in either the text or the image to make someone click to read more. And that is somewhat gratifying.

"Conceived in the New Liberty" was, as I suspected, rejected by the group that invited me to submit my work. While an invitation sounds hopeful, it was merely a pro-forma note sent to previous contributors. They said "Conceived..." "did not resonate with them." I find this a funny sort of reaction, since some of what is currently happening in Washington, D.C. and New York City is fairly similar to what appears in the story, which is actually set in Washington, D.C. and has a band of proselytizing anarchists (a group I read is also attending the real life demonstrations). Of course, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are not burning facscimiles of The Constitution. The reason I included this in the story and made it such a narrative cornerstone is not because I condone it or seek to incite this kind of behavior. I included it because I can see it actually happening. Let me explain.

Yesterday, in a class I teach--a college-level course--I asked the students if they had heard of Ernest Hemingway. I received blank stares from my mid-day class. To have graduated from high school and not heard of Ernest Hemingway indicates to me that something is wrong with our educational system. Of course, there is a far stretch between knowing about Ernest Hemingway and understanding our nation's founding doctrines. I'll admit that. However, I'll bet if you asked many high school graduates what the 6th Amendment guarantees, they wouldn't be able to tell you. This is frightening. Why? Because if its existence and function are not understood, how easily can we be persuaded that they are no longer relevant?  With the triumph of uninformed opinion over fact in many so-called news programs, with the rise of uncivil discourse, with the proliferation of media by which untruths can be propagated and history rewritten, will students fight the removal of these rights? Maybe. But not until it's too late, until these rights are already rescinded. So this is what I was getting at with the story.
I see what's coming out of high schools, out of GED programs, and I'll admit, I'm afraid. We've got an entire generation lured by technology, entirely without curiosity, unwilling to learn, bored to death by a lecture on critical thinking, logical fallacies, and propaganda. Often, they collect their Pell Grant money and disappear, never to be seen again after the first four weeks of classes. There are exceptions to this behavior, but they are few. So, how easily will they be persuaded to undo the foundation of our nation, to walk apathetically or with misplaced anger into a new era of martial law before realizing they've made a terrible mistake? And maybe they will never realize it.

I've decided that submitting to journals is like spitting into the wind. My words come back to me, usually with a curt or snarky response. And so the last of my works, submitted at the beginning of the year and up until July, have finally returned, all of them rejected. I am a writer without a  traditional audience. And I say traditional because I know, based on the ad campaign, that I gained at least a few readers, even if this contact was fleeting. The fact that my words have met with someone else's eyes is a very good thing.

Last week, I found this fantastic quote by George Orwell. It comes from a preface to Animal Farm, and discusses his difficulties in getting the text published. The preface is apparently rare in reprints of the book, but it is reproduced in its entirety here: "The Freedom of the Press". The quote that I find especially powerful opens paragraph five: "Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban."

I would go so far as to say that even in the independent writing world, which by its early definition championed the bold idea and served as the author's Salon des Refuses, has its own insular system in place, whereby only certain styles, certain ideas, and certain writers are elevated, while others are marginalized, ignored, and devalued. How can a writer combat this? It's pretty thorny problem, and one with no easy resolution, other than to go off on your own to trumpet your message yourself. At least there is that potential. It's quite a comfort.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Three Ads from the Seven-Day Campaign....

"These men were in desert camouflage, and both
carried M-4s, which were, to the president,
a somewhat stunning exhibition."
-- The Balance of Power

"He saw men scaling the low terrace walls. Their anger was
unmistakable. It was in every set jaw, in every horizontal
brow that squinted under the white sky..."
- Buses from Bridgeport

"...the rats that stood before me now were lean and
squint-eyed, looking sideways at me and sizing me
up in terms of shank, brisket, flank, tip, and sirloin."
--Revolutionaries, a Fable

Sunday, October 2, 2011