Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This photo is a bit grainy (taken at the NGA in DC in a low-light environment with my iPhone), but I included it because it is an important image to me. The paintings are by one of my art gods, Mark Rothko (1903-1970). I am including a brief paragraph from the NGA website on a Rothko exhibition held in 1998:

Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia (today Daugavpils, Latvia), on September 25, 1903, the fourth child of Jacob Rothkowitz, a pharmacist (b. 1859), and Anna Goldin Rothkowitz (b. 1870), who had married in 1886. Rothko and his family immigrated to the United States when he was ten years old, and settled in Portland, Oregon.

Rothko's expansive spaces have been linked to Romantic artists of the 19th century, and are evocative of open spaces found in nature (the sky, the ocean) and in the spiritual realm. Along with Matisse, he is one of the great colorists in art; the color in his late paintings, before his suicide in 1970, are blacks and grays. 

This photo was taken at the American Art Museum in DC. The painting is by an eccentric American artist whose name I have temporarily blanked on (this is why art history professors have notes); it will come to me. 

Monday, June 29, 2009

KramerBooks & Afterwords Cafe, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC, 2008.

Speaking of "found art," this spiral of seaweed was constructed by an art student on Lovers Point beach, influenced, by her own admission, by Robert Smithson's famed Spiral Jetty. I dug it immediately, and she was blown away that I knew the reference. She was young. 

Whitewashed Window, Pacific Grove, California, 2009.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I enjoy finding unintentional "art," like this whitewashed window. When I see this kind of white brushwork, I think of the paintings of Robert Ryman.

This little Victorian cottage is pretty typical of the houses that were constructed when Pacific Grove was transitioning from a Methodist campground retreat into a real town in the 1870s to 1890s. The town is lousy with 'em! 

Julia Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California, 2009.

My first trip to Big Sur (not counting January of last year's harrowing drive in a tiny Hyundai rental in the biggest storm of the year along the precipice, during which we didn't see much) was a few months ago. Sarah and I took the MST bus into Monterey and transfered to the 22, the Big Sur line, which has only two runs per day. By the time we got to the terminus, the famed Nepenthe restaurant, we had only four hours until the last bus home. I managed to find the turn off to the beach, and hitched down the two-mile drive to the ocean. It is spectacular, and I had never seen anything like it - and I had ten minutes there! I fired off a few shots with my G9 and my iPhone, and hit the road, getting a ride to back to Route 1 with a lovely older couple. (See my previous photos under the label 'Pfeiffer Beach.') I highly recommend it. Pfeiffer Beach, that is!

My niece Masha, take a few years ago. She is a terrific artist, and was accepted at the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts in DC. She is perhaps the most kinetic - and one of the funniest - people I know. She wants to help children. Adopted from an orphanage in Russia (as was her wonderful brother, Vanya), she knows well how much children need love and attention.

I was driving through downtown Northampton, MA, a few years back, and was riveted by the sight of this fluorescent yellow bikini strap against this beautiful woman's skin. I had to have a photo. I felt a little like a stalker, and apologized to Brittanie in the Guild Art Center when I breathlessly caught up with her. She was delightful, putting me at ease, and happily agreed to pose in front of the the First Churches. Some weeks later, I saw her sitting at Woodstar cafe chatting with a friend, so I was able to reconnect with her, and realized how lovely she really was. A real gem. 

"The Purple Girl" worked at an art store in Georgetown. I was still shy at that point about asking people to "pose" for me, but I had to have a picture of her, so I pushed past my reticence and stole her soul.

One of my dearest friends, Rico has been a regular companion on trips to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister and her family and Art. A fellow artist and art historian (we met in grad school), we have spent many happy hours soaking up art at the National Gallery of Art and many other venues in the city. This shot was taken at the NGA East Wing, designed by I.M. Pei, in 2003.

This photo was taken out of a moving truck.

Boy playing with a crab, Haiti

The painter Jeanne-Pierre, on the grounds of the Hotel Oloffson, Port-au-Prince. We got to talking, and he was very interested that I was an artist. He reached into his old truck and grabbed some canvases which he began rolling out enthusiastically on his truck's hood. I thought he was bullshitting me with his talk about being a famous artist, but he showed me clippings of his work at galleries in New York and Paris. He clearly wanted to sell me a painting, and I kept telling him I didn't have any money, certainly not enough for one of his beautiful works. He kept insisting, and sold me one for next to nothing. If Sue were not due back any minute to whisk me off to the airport, I might have gone with him to meet a Haitian Voodoo priest; probably best that I didn't. 

We stopped at a bakery to get some bread for dinner, and this man was gracious enough to let me take his picture.

Did I mention that Haitians are beautiful? Some people say that all children are beautiful, but it's just not true. However, I never saw an ugly Haitian child. This shot was taken in a classroom that I was marginally disrupting; I would have like to have taken many more photos of these wonderful, inquisitive kids. I've never had kids, and am not sure I ever really wanted kids, but if I could have adopted all of these children right on the spot, I might just have done it. 

I traveled to Haiti in 2003 to visit my sister Sue, who was a missionary there. It was my first time in a "third world country," and it was an eye-opener. As a tourist, I only saw the poverty from a long distance, but it was a shock. What I was most impressed with, however, was the beauty of the Haitian people. They are physically beautiful, and they are usually dressed elegantly. If I may be permitted a generalization, Haitians are a proud people, especially considering what they have lived through. Shortly after my arrival, Sue and I visited a Catholic house that had a view of Port-au-Prince. The better view was of the courtyard, where this boy was sweeping up. 

Walburga in Tree (Foot), Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts, 2000.

Walburga up a tree on the campus of Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts

I met Walburga while she was studying Body Mind Centering in Amherst. One of the most remarkable people I know, she trained as a lawyer, then decided she wanted to be a dancer. Like many dancers, she studied BMC, a holistic practice involving movement, healing and integration. Walburga grew up in Bavaria, and lives in Berlin. She teaches BMC around Europe. Over the course of several summers, I took hundreds of photos of Walburga in various contexts: "Being Tree"; "Being Water"; "Being Rock." Not only is she a great dancer, she is an amazing model/subject, and has a repertoire of facial expressions that is, well, Walburga. Eventually, I will upload a lot of photos of her, and a link to her website.

Untitled Vertical Triptych, 2000.

Untitled Vertical Triptych (Rust), 2000.

Untitled Vertical Triptych (Rust 2), 2000.

Untitled Vertical Triptych (Stockings), 2000.

Untitled Vertical Triptych (Oranges), 2000.

Untitled Vertical Triptych (Bath), 2000.

Three images from Bath England, 2000

Exotic Flowers and Sinuous Lines and Tom Tom Rhythms, 2000.

Montage (For Duke Ellington), 2000.

My tribute to the great Duke Ellington - and African women.

Yale Art Gallery (Curtains), 2000.

This photo was taken at Yale's Art Museum (New Haven). The sculpture is by David Smith, perhaps the 20th Century's greatest sculptor.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

White Negligee (Backlit), 2000.

Translucency is something I'm very  much interested in, whether it be glass, water, or fabric. Here, I hung a negligee next to a window with mini-blinds, and documented the resulting play of light.  

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I was reading a guide book last year before we came West, and it stated that there are three Communist countries left in the world: China, Cuba and Santa Cruz, California. It's not really true; they're just really nuts! (We tried to land in Santa Cruz, the ship got lost in the fog and we ended up on the rocks in Pacific Grove.) Ever wonder what Halloween is like in Santa Cruz (SC)? Who hasn't? Here's a Letter Home describing a taste of my first Halloween in Surf City:

Dear friends;

Life is California cool... literally. Every once in a while I realize that i am actually living here, if you call the Ramada Limited living. Actually, it's not bad. We went to the post office to change our address, spent much time transferring money, had coffee, and drove to Salinas and Monterey. It's fun to drive through the "Salad Bowl of the World"; vast expanses of black furrows dotted with Mexicans. I saw a kid in SC yesterday with a T-shirt that read, "Mexican, not Latino, not Hispanic." By the way, what are those tall poles with the big leaves at the top? We ate (I ate), fried zucchini at the end of the wharf and checked out a studio in Monterey, left a message for Ismael Guzman. We got in to the cafe in Pacific Grove late, called about jobs for Paul, and drove down three blocks to the ocean. Don't ever go to Pacific Grove - it's just too beautiful to bear. There are stone walls, and steps going into the bay, and you just might run into John and his stunningly white cockatoo, Nadia... she was all kissy-kissy until I tried to put her on my head, and she went cuckoo and threw my glasses onto the ground, shouting as she strutted up the concrete wall. She's a real loud-mouth. We walked along the water as the light melted over the pacific, and gawked at the goldenly illuminated Victorians towering over the bay. We drove back through the salad to SC. I dropped Sarah at the motel and drove into town with my G9, ready to capture for all time the silliness that is Halloween in SC. Maybe you can check it out on youtube. They block off Pacific and hire the National Guard to keep down the number of stabbings. The rain let up to allow for a parade of Sarah Palins, Barack Obamas, naughty nurses, pregnant brides, pregnant nuns, Sponge Bob, a horrific assortment of ghouls and Kiss-inspired face paint, people with all manner of objects on their persons, people in elaborate costume on very tall stilts dancing, drummers, chanters, marijuana smokers, shouters, cops, pretty girls in lingerie, pretty boys in body paint or loin cloths, TV characters, Jesus Christs, Bravehearts, Star Wars types, Muppet-like fuzz balls, a guy with a pig nose, bloody surgeons, Roman soldiers, soul singers, French maids, devils, divas, bat girls, pussy cats, wizards, copwatchers, 17th century court ladies, Santa, bloody brides, hobbits, zombies, a large electrical outlet, death, neon wigs, a golden-tressed pirate in a tutu, more blood, garter belts, clowns, corsets, men with little wings, space aliens, a guy with large purple orbs all over his body (I guess he was a bunch of grapes), random girls in hot pants, cowboys, etc. Pacific was lined with normally dressed Mexican men (real ones), watching the gringos be, well, gringos. One poignant moment was watching several Mexicans watching some guy dressed up like a mexican, with a cartoonish mask. I came home exhausted to find Sarah hunched over her laptop on the bed searching for apartments. Today (Saturday) we will drive back to Monterey to look for an apartment and a cheaper motel. It's still chilly and wet, but at least it's not frigid. California is a little like a movie set - maybe it's all those tall poles with funny leaves - I've only seen them in movies (and in Haiti). People are friendly, and a lot of them mumble to themselves and seem to live on a planet far, far away. We are keeping the anxiety at bay with hyper-active efficiency. Keep those cards and letters coming. I don't miss New England (yet?) but I do miss my friends. Sarah is out running, but she probably sends her love. Hugs and kisses and a big cockatoo kiss on the beak, Paul.

Here's another entertaining Letter Home, written shortly after our arrival in the Promised Land:

Dear Friends:

Life is California. I’m trying to expand my job search and be creative, but I was actually filling out a Home Depot application online last night. With budget cuts, human services is real tight, and small businesses are scaling back. Still, I remain optimistic. As our neighbor Clint Eastwood so eloquently stated, “I don’t believe in pessimism” Speaking of one of our greatest actor/directors, I am applying to the Clint Eastwood Youth Program in Monterey, which works with – well, troubled youth (“What’s a yute?” – name that movie line). I did take a break from job hunting to have French fries and an iced tea at Rappa’s, a nice restaurant right at the end of the Monterey wharf. As I was gazing melancholily out to sea, I saw my first otter… darned if they aren’t cute little buggers. He was rolling in the water, swimming on his back, tapping his little chest. The gulls and pelicans swoop around as if they are on the tourism payroll. And the rusty trawlers ( what beloved film has the character “Rusty Trawler”?). Last night I stepped outside, and could hear the roar of the ocean. I invited Sarah to walk down to the beach (timed at 10’44” if you go by the NOAA building, 13’44” if you go by the municipal golf course). There was no moon, but the Dome of Heaven was spectacular. So the earth and sky were lit by starlight. Even in the dim light we could see the big, curling waves crashing against the rocks, rolling powerfully in to shore. We walked along the barely discernible path that meanders through the low dunes, and I stumbled down to the water’s edge, marveling at the night sky. It was truly ecstatic; interrupted only by the lighthouse and occasional headlights, it was downright primeval. I haven’t seen a bright sky like that in years. And a big shooting star. Very romantic. I am still trying to grasp the fact that we live half a mile from this spectacular beauty. We unpacked a bunch of stuff and found some lost treasures, including my beloved crushed, rusty bottle cap collection. Sarah was busy hanging up her little birds all over the place, which I must say adds a festive touch to balance out my harshly militant minimalist aesthetic.

More animal chatter: I looked up yesterday to see, through the horizontal blinds, shapes that didn’t look peoplish, and sure enough, there were two deer at the door. I think they were collecting money for tic collars. They didn’t look so good. They try to eat my seaweed sculpture and they’re gonna be venison, you know what I mean? Well, I’m getting bored, and if I’m getting bored, you’re probably getting bored, so I’ll let you go. Just because this is a mass email, doesn’t mean I am not thinking of you individually, so I think it is OK to say I really miss you. Give me a holler and catch me up with the minutiae of your life (we were taught in radio to always address the amorphous ‘audience’ in the singular, so that the individual listener feels they are being talked to personally, which of course is a bald-faced lie, but hey – that’s show business). All seriousness aside, though, it does mean a lot to hear from you. It can be a lonely existence at times. Give the girls (and Dmitri) at Woodstar a little peck on the cheek for me, will ya? Yours in good coffee and pastries, from PGJJ in Pacific Grove, I remain, always and eternally, yours, Paul 

Friday, June 26, 2009

snapshot • live abalone

Abalone are pretty scarce around our coast these days. Native people apparently ate a lot of them, and they were quite abundant along the California coast until fairly recently. The sea otters love their abalone. During the latter 19th century, European hunters drove the California sea otter nearly to extinction (their fur is incredibly dense - up to 1 million hairs per square inch - and soft), and so the abalone flourished once again, since their main natural predator was nearly wiped out. Carmel-by-the-Sea, the town next door, was developed by a visionary man from the bay area, who wanted to build a community that was family-oriented and retained its natural splendor. Many who populated early Carmel were artists and writers who bought up inexpensive lots, including the poets George Sterling and Robinson Jeffers. (For an interesting taste of Carmel's history, check out the entry in Wikipedia on Carmel-by-the-Sea.) Artists and writers, including Sinclair Lewis, Jack London and many others, had big parties on the beach with bonfires, booze, and - you knew it was coming around, didn't you? - abalone. By the early 20th century, when Carmel as an artist colony flourished, the abalone was quite abundant; one could simply walk out in the intertidal and pluck them off the rocks, although they didn't give up their hold on the rocks without a fight. Abalone are essentially large sea snails, and reputed to be quite tasty; their meat sells for as much as $75 a pound. Today, thanks to over-harvesting, the abalone is scarce, and 50-year-old abalone are nearly non-existent. (If you would like more history of the amazing abalone, you have but to ask, and I will be happy to oblige!) As part of my presentation on abalone for a recent job interview, I visited (with Sarah and Ginny) an abalone farm in Monterey, under the commercial wharf. Abalone eat primarily kelp, and can grow to be quite large, although they are generally harvested when they are about 6-8 inches. OK, enough about abalone, already! I know you are dying to get to the abalone song, with lyrics by George Sterling and Sinclair Lewis, amongst others. Picture a bunch of drunken artists on a gorgeous white sandy beach, belting out this simple song around a fire. Here's one of Sterling's lyrics:

Oh some drink rain and some champagne,
And whiskey by the pony
But I will try a dash of rye
And a hunk of abalone.

Here's a verse by Lewis:

Some stick to biz, some flirt with Liz,
Down on the sands of Coney
But we, by hell, stay in Carmel,
And nail the abalone.

But my favorite is by some guy named Anonymous:

Some live on hope and some on dope
And some on alimony
But bring me in a pail of gin
And a tub of abalone.

More than you ever really wanted to know about abalone, but I've had a lot of fun studying them; I've even found a couple of abalone shells! 

snapshot • purple crab

Tide pools, of which there are an unlimited quantity, of all sizes and shapes, along the central California coast, provide endless opportunities for viewing wildlife. The most common tide pool critters on our beach, besides the barnacles and limpets, are hermit crabs, who run around in their black turban squatter shells. Once in a while, if you watch carefully, you can spot an ochre star or a larger crab. On one of my walks around the PG tide pools, I saw this marvelous beast come out of his rock crevice and walk slowly around. Fortunately, as always, I had my G9 at the ready, and, with the zoom I was able to get close enough to get some really great shots of this generally shy creature. I haven't been able to identify it yet, but I'm pretty sure it's a crab. 

The kelp forests just off the coast here in central California not only provide a unique ecosystem for a huge variety of animals and diatoms (single-cell algae), and help protect the coast during storms, they are also beautiful. The rocks provide an anchoring point for giant kelp, as well as various brown and red kelps. The combination of colors can be gorgeous. In these photos, taken just off the deck behind a fancy hotel on Cannery Row, Monterey, the gentle movement of the tide swirls the kelp and sea grass in a kind of mesmerizing ballet of sorts. It is soothing and lovely to watch. 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Untitled Vertical Triptych (Legs & Waterfall), 2000.

A new feature! 

Back in 2000, I did a series of photo-collages using a minimalist format (a square divided into three equal rectangles) to house disparate images "appropriated" from books, magazines and tabloids, juxtaposed with my own photographs. Mimimalist meets Postmodernist - the resultant works are more psychologically and visually complex than my previous work.  

This photograph captures a work by sculptor George Segal (1924-2000) and a nearby window, American Art Museum.

Two stills from the great Korean video artist Nam June Paik's 1995 installation, "Megatron Matrix," which fills an entire wall (a narrow room was created for the piece) at the American Art Museum. 215 video monitors flash ever-changing images; some of the monitors become groups of images within the whole. It is a remarkable piece, at once transfixing and overwhelming. 

Museum Interior With Busts, 2008.

Interior of the American Art Museum.

Red, Yellow & Blue Paintings, Washington, DC, 2009.

Interior shot of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

This is an interior shot of the mostly marble NPG, which also houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

NPG courtyard, showing the shadows of the curving glass and steel roof. The girl's parents are in the foreground enjoying a drink and a little conversation. This series of photos was taken with my iPhone 3G. 

This adorable little girl was having the time of her life, running back and forth across the fountain, stopping now and again to gaze at her reflection in the water, gleefully stomping in the water. The nearby guard didn't seem to mind at all, probably having as much fun as the rest of us, watching this delighted child zoom back and forth in what is generally a quiet and hallowed space. 

Here's the National Portrait Gallery courtyard mentioned below. Note the glass and steel ceiling, the classically perfect fenestration, the cafe on the left and the fountain (that looks like two big wet rectangles - and is!) on the right.