Chuck Berry and the Innocence Index

It always seemed to me that you can tell a lot about a person from the way they hold their guitar.

Think of the early Beatles, Paul with his bass practically under his chin, John's a little lower. As they became less innocent the guitars sank...

Keef on the slide kneewards. Then Hendrix. But the daddy of them all had to be Chuck Berry. Sometimes barely off the ground, that low-swinging guitar told a tale all of its own. 

Richard Diebenkorn

This is a must for everyone who sets out to make new work, or in fact be creative in any way.

Notes to myself on beginning a painting

1.   Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2.   The pretty, initial position, which falls short of completeness, is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.

 3.   Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.

 4.  Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities, but consider them absolutely expendable.

5.   Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind

6.   Somehow don’t be bored – but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7.   Mistakes can’t be erased, but they can move you from your present position.

8.   Keep thinking about Pollyanna.

9.   Tolerate chaos.

10.  Be careful only in a perverse way.

Richard Diebenkorn


This Side of the 405

First an admission. Since LA is the only place I've lived in the USA, I didn't realize that the rest of the country refers to its freeways as I-whatever. For me, it's The 10 and The 405 that delineate my life here. Apparently other cities find the definite article hilarious. They are older and maybe more mature. The definite article in LA reflects the structure of the city of Los Angeles. A city that, even more than Detroit, is rooted in car culture. 

So when Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis, decides to mount a show called This Side of the 405, it immediately calls to mind the cliches about LA - that we are obsessed with traffic; that we live in our cars and houses; that we do not connect in real ways. At first I thought it was a lamebrain idea (sorry Meg and Jeseca), but when I saw the show I realized it was a stroke of genius. 

The project raises questions about what it means to live and work in a certain geographic location.

The Westside of LA,  (West of the 405) ie Santa Monica and Venice, has a reputation as a significant location for artists. The artists who worked here in the 1960s and 1970s have become artworld stars. And they are still here. Chuck Arnoldi, Ed Ruscha, Frank Gehry all retain their original studios. Attracted initially by cheap rents and the quality of the light, then sustained by Venice's famous cameradrie, the artists stood - while all around them changed. Their studios are now worth millions of dollars. The scummy places of Venice now made high, who can afford studio space here? Suddenly the conceit of topography begins to show the seismic shifts of demographics and economies in LA's social fabric.

Research took the curators to 83 studios across the Westside and resulted in an exhibition of 43 artists working in totally different styles. What holds them together? You figure it out.

Charles Arnoldi is represented by a huge piece of wood, painted vibrant blue and hewn - by a chain saw I would guess - into an abstract whose raw edges suggest both power and finesse. Next to him Natalie Arnoldi, his daughter, with a small grayscale canvas in which subjects are viewed through the fog of the Westside's famous marine layer - a salving mist that rescues the coastal regions from the brutality of the desert sun.

Sam Watters shows a watercolor of a tapir, tiny in the midst of a white field, claiming that he has moved from "east of Eden to west of the 405". While Pontus Willfors grows wooden branch/root structures from the walls and skylight of the space, reminding us that the common plank has come from origins elsewhere as a rooted entity, now transformed by it's journey to LA.

Many of the artists have in fact begun elsewhere and become rooted in LA. The exhibition asks, is there an identifiable commonality in the concerns of the artists of this sector? And have they, or their shared environment, influenced the work they make?

Curators visit artists' studios all the time. It's their job. This exhibition shows their attention to, and interest in, the grassroots nitty-gritty of art production in this city. They open it up to us, the viewing public, and in doing so shed light on the reality of artists at work. They live here, among us, in our neighborhoods, down the street. They respond to the particularities of here and now that we share. It's valuable.

The next exhibition in the series covers the area of Culver City - recent boomtown of contemporary art - and Inglewood, a poverty-ridden area with a funeral home on each intersection. Can't wait!

Artists taking part in This Side of the 405 are: Charles Arnoldi, Natalie Arnoldi, Alex Becerra, Larry Bell, Karen Carson, Greg Colson, Meg Cranston, Tony De Los Reyes, Steve Galloway, Joe Goode, Scott Grieger, Deborah Hede, Tom Knechtel, Lies Kraal,Rachel Lachowicz, Lauren Marsolier, Renee Petropoulos, Phranc,Vincent Ramos, Lucas Reiner, Liza Ryan, Kim Schoenstadt, Kiki Seror, Alexis Smith, Barbara T. Smith, Jim Starrett, Jon Swihart, Shirley Tse, Sam Watters, Chris Wilder, Pontus Willfors, Suzan Woodruff, Jody Zellen.

The Armory Commission

Every year the Armory art fair commissions an artist to make work, including graphic identity for printed materials, merchandizing and benefit editions. This year Liz Magic Laser was the chosen one, but how would her brand of film and performance fit the brief? Ben Allen of Labrador Agency was tapped to lead focus groups to tease out the finer points...

Ladies and gentleman, I thank you.

The Passion of St Frida

"Frida Kahlo's closet opened 58 years after her death" Univision News Report

Frida Kahlo: The Argument

She bared her soul through her art but now the Museum that bears her name is literally putting her dirty laundry on display. And for some reason that makes us worship her all the more. We find, under the colorful folkloric outfits, the brightly embroidered swathes of disguising cloth, a full body armor of supporting and prosthetic corsetry.

Frida's Corset

Museum assistants cried when cataloguing the contents of her medicine cabinet because, for the first time, the extent of her pain was apparent. This women, who appeared so calm and resolute, and who achieved so much in her lifetime, carved her path at huge personal expense.

Didn't we know this already? Wasn't she telling us this in her work? But somehow in seeing these pieces the reality of her life hits home. They are intimate, made for her particular needs and illustrate the bravery that marks her out. The most poignant of all, the false leg ending in a  jaunty red boot. is almost too much to bear.

And there's something else - these pieces look like fetish wear. The leather and buckles; her bodice which shows the narrowness of her waist, the rows of stitching and strapping. Most contemporary examples of this lovingly contrived craft come with sexual overtones, the flesh they encase has no need of their embrace. 

Corset and bodice

By looking at these images are we not tasting the thrill of mediaeval pilgrims seeking out objects of veneration, gawping at reliquaries, meditating on the unspeakable pain of her passion? Do we understand her more? Or is this our own fetishization of her body and her legend? 

International Art English versus UX

The Guardian's recent article on the dialect known as International Art English (IAE) launches a discussion on what it means to write about contemporary art. Using as his base an essay by David Levine and Alix Rule, first published in Triple Canopy, writer Andy Beckett reveals that IAE is used as a way of signifying that the subject matter is, or has ambitions to be, part of the international artworld. In this way IAE is no different from any other professional jargon that distinguishes the in-group through a shared language and shorthand references.

We have all seen egregious examples of artspeak - convoluted sentence structure, runaway vocabulary, and phrases whose meaning evaporates as soon as you break down the clauses. Every press release has aggrandizement at its heart, but there are reasons why art press releases tend to be particularly obscure. They are, often, game attempts at translating what is profound in one medium to something understandable through another. 

The meaning of an artwork evades a simple description of the look of it. A repetition of the work's dimensions and media, does nothing to describe the experience of the piece. And in fact a too literal description risks bathos. Can you imagine writing about a dance piece by saying, "The dancer got up on one leg, turned slowly, then jumped up into the air twiddling her feet"?

In writing about art, the journalist or PR has a duty to explore the underlying structures of the piece whether they be conceptual, historic, or purely personal. Furthermore they must do this in a form that a person without a PHD in art practice can understand. Levine and Rule lay the blame for impenetrable artspeak firmly at the door of the French post-structuralists and by extension the journal October, which was the American conduit for the movement. My view is that critical theory was a necessary step in examining the unquestioned assumptions underlying art writing up until the 1980s. The detailed parsing of language brought intellectual rigor to the field, but it also spawned academics by the boatload, whose investigations have become increasingly arcane. Their legacy remains with us in the bastardized form of artspeak.

As someone who has written about art for a long time, I have employed various stratagems to derail artspeak, sometimes asking curators to describe their shows in terms of colors or flavors as a way of liberating their language, disrupting the focus on the catalogue, and bringing fresh thinking about the visceral nature of what they are presenting. 

I am confident that, as we shift our focus to user experience in all walks of life, International Art English will also mutate to become more relevant. If not, it will join Latin as a purely written language read only by academics, and that would be a sad, missed opportunity.

Instagram to Users - sorry, but fuck you.

In the debacle about Instagram's announcement that it was to license users' photos without permission (or indeed financial recompense), there are a number of 'worldly' voices berating the users. Yes, you heard me correctly, the users, because Instagram is 'a business'.

This seems to be a stock response from some sectors, for excusing all sorts of egregious practices. As though the making of money somehow made everything excusable. I don't agree, and I run a business myself. The users of Instagram signed up and began to use the service in good faith. That Instagram then decided to radically change the terms of the contract, without discussion, shows not only a huge mis-handling of public relations but also a dismissive arrogance towards its customers that in my opnion rightly earns the opprobrium they're currently experiencing.

The case has wider implications, as society as a whole moves precious images and correspondence to the cloud. How easy it would be to hold hostage the fabric of our online interactions? What if the cloud were compromised in other ways? As I have to repeat to my youngers "You do know that FB and Google are not your friends, don't you?" Tender-hearted as they are they won't finally realize it until they too are betrayed.

Long Flight? Get Creative in the Loo

We've all thought about it. The cabin is dark and all the other passengers are asleep. Bored and staring at the Lavatory unoccupied sign you take a little stroll. Then... run wild with the paper towels, the seat covers, your inflatable pillow, anything that comes to hand, to produce, yes, why not, images of 17th Century Flemish persons. At least that's what you do if your name is Nina Katchadourian.


I don't know why I find these images so appealing, but I do.

Is it the lighting in the cubicle that gives the photos a patina akin to centuries of aging? Is it the research that simulates the variety and vanity of the head-dresses - all the minutiae of their social significance now reduced to paper constructions, played out in a theater consisting of a metal tube hurtling through the skies?


You may laugh like a drain, but the woman is onto something. My next transatlantic flight will be one of fancy...


Who Curates Public Space?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal drew attention to the role of LAPD Officer Daniel Gonzalez In policing the Venice Boardwalk he must make an assessment of the work on offer to determine its originality and artistic value. This raises a host of issues from the authority and responsibilities of policing and curatorship, through first amendment rights, to the nature of place. It’s apt that this knot comes out of Venice, home of the awkward squad.

Venice is a unique mixture of carnival and creativity, home to world-class artists, aspiring artists and the plainly delusional. This summer everyone’s expectations were given a boost by the Venice Boardwalk’s inclusion in the much-respected Hammer Biennial. I think it probably started as a joke – the Venice Biennial – but curator Ali Subotnick was following the well-trodden path of artist intervention into the fabric of public life.  Her selection of artists joined the melee, setting up stands along the boardwalk and engaging new audiences. It was a great event.

And for every intervention from the artworld pushing outward, there is an incursion of raw culture (pop/folk/outsider/graffiti/lowbrow/street) that fertilizes the mainstream. I think it’s important that this underground has a place to be nourished, and traditionally Venice has been one of those places.

Every summer thousands of tourists descend on us to be shocked by the anarchic energy of the Boardwalk. Keeping those people safe is a major concern of the LAPD. In a way I suppose the police are always the ‘curators’ of public spaces.

So we now have a discussion about who should curate the Boardwalk. Is the police officer ‘qualified’ to do it? Should a space like this be curated at all?

If it is curated by anyone, it’s unlikely that the guy who charges $2 to take a picture of you (with your own camera) next to a large grey inflatable alien would make the cut.

Yet it is he, and others like him who make the Boardwalk authentic and contribute to its heady ambiance. If it’s a choice between him and the potshops that have mushroomed on the legitimate commercial side of the Boardwalk, he has my vote -  and the lady who writes your name on a grain of rice, and the sandcastle guy, and the bodybuilder and his snake.

Which brings me to the first amendment right to free speech, often used in defense of artists who make work not readily accepted by certain sectors of the public. For every “Piss Christ” or Ofili elephant dung painting, there is some guy with an inflatable alien, or a pavement shouter decrying the illuminati as responsible for the financial crisis.

The point is, we don’t get to choose on this one. Or rather I think we shouldn't.

Now everyone is a curator - glossy magazines show us living in homes that could be mistaken for museums, we parse and weigh our pinterest boards, curate our web content and spend our days in online judgement. What the Venice Boardwalk gives us is a glorious mess. An unwieldy headache of legislative, social and curatorial problems, that creates its own dirty, outrageous, vibrant self - every weekend of the year. It is a little piece of chaos right inside a little piece heaven. Long may it continue.





Chicago Blog: Anish Kapoor

I remember the first Anish Kapoor work I saw. It was small. Four modest mounds of shapes, grouped together and dredged with pure pigment in primary colors, but each seemed to have its own gravitational pull.

White sand, red millet, many flowers

White sand, red millet, many flowers

As his work progressed, the pieces grew larger; I remember a waist-high wing of natural slate with a perfect circle cut into it, filled with such intense blue pigment that it was impossible to tell just how deep the aperture was. The silvered pieces started appearing at around the same time. Dismissed by some as a cheap trick lifted from the hall of mirrors, they were significant to me for the way they suddenly put the viewer inside the artwork. Often as a ghosted image.


As the works got to be room-sized (and even bigger), people were actually physically inside the pieces. In 1998, the Hayward Gallery London held a major retrospective of Kapoor’s work. The final gallery was devoted to a bell-shaped ceiling piece in dense, deep red. I was so overcome I cried. The piece was womb-like. It triggered in me both fear and comfort.

And so to Cloud Gate in the Millennium Park in Chicago, at first sight a masterstroke of public art, reflecting the famous skyline of the city. However there was again the invitation to the interior, the aperture, the uterine experience. From some angles the twin globes of the piece touching the ground resembled buttocks of a female form splayed out, as the focus was once more on entering the work.


Not to get too Freudian but it feels as though some of the unrecognized attraction and excitement was actually a pull to return to the womb. I’m sure the solid burgers of Chicago would be horrified by the suggestion that their now beloved centerpiece was anything more than a ‘bean’. Something that complements their well-known Chicago dogs and those signature tall towers.


Got any other examples of obviously sexual art hiding in plain view? I’d love to hear about them.

How Environment influences Design


Frank Lloyd Wright attributed his signature horizontality to the influence of the prairie, where he grew up and where his first aesthetic was formed. You can see it clearly in his architecture. It made me think about the importance of the natural environment in informing the art and architecture of place.


On Shetland in the far north of Scotland is a museum dedicated to the local textile arts, the most prominent of which is Fairisle knitting. The designs typically are made using four needles to knit a circular yolk, often radiating out in a starburst pattern. The early designs are full of the color of the landscape - heather and moss, misty blues and greys, soft browns and stone tones. They are gentle and contemplative.


Then when we reach the 1930s something odd occurs - red, orange and dark brown, diamonds and strongly symmetrical patterning, bold art deco designs. I asked the curator what on earth had happened and his answer was "linoleum". Mass-produced floor covering had reached the island and the visual impact blew the inhabitants wee minds. 

The new aesthetic was applied to the traditional craft and very smart it looked too.

The muted landscape knits were, and are, still produced but now they were joined by a man-made influence as the island joined the 20th century. By the same token, the old Fairisle patterns travelled beyond the island as far as the US, giving those linear prairie dwellers a chance to experience the enveloping wash of a tiny, misty place on the edge of Europe.


Chicago Blogs: The Unity Temple

Was Frank Lloyd Wright a Unitarian?  And what is a Unitarian anyway?

Unitarians, first founded in 1825, are now one of the fastest growing congregations in the US this century. Their emphasis on spirituality rather than dogma has been especially well received in the southern states battered by cultural wars. As one of their ministers put it “We don’t need to be right, we need to be kind.”

The church was very kind in 1905 in commissioning Frank Lloyd Wright to build its new temple on the outskirts of Chicago. He came in vastly over budget but he gave them a temple that became the hallmark of a new type of thinking about spiritual spaces.

The Christian church has always employed symbolism and theater; the yearning heavenwards of peaked windows and steeples; the cross shape of the nave and transept; candles, incense and the ethereal voices of the choir. But Lloyd Wright refined the experience of transcendence through the structure and fabric of the building.

A dimly lit, low-ceilinged loggia runs round three sides of the temple, which provides access to raised the body of the church through shallow stairways. In a wonderful set piece, you emerge from the overhang of the loggia into the double height space of the temple. High windows flood the space with light and the stained glass ceiling illuminates everything. It is a tremendously affecting metaphor.

FLW was quoted as saying that the Unity Temple was his favorite of all his output. "That was my first expression of this eternal idea which is at the center and core of all true modern architecture. A sense of space, a new sense of space."

That eternal idea is also at the center of Unitarian beliefs, that without the confines of liturgy a space for free thought and spirituality can be nurtured.

It’s often said that FLW was for whatever religion paid him. However, I feel that in the Unity Temple we witness a coming together of his imagination and his deepest beliefs to approach the sublime.



"For the Worship of God and the Service of Man"

I found out that, in late August, the bronze letters making up the inscriptions above the doors of the Unity Temple were stolen. The price of bronze obviously made it worthwhile for someone to pry the letters free and melt them down for their scrap value.

I urge you to make a (tax deductible) contribution to the Unity Temple Foundation for restoration of this extraordinary building.

Chicago Blogs: The Field Museum

The Field Museum of Natural History is perhaps best known as the permanent home of Sue the dinosaur, and she is a fitting symbol for the lumbering museum’s attempts to pull itself from the late 19th century into the 21st.

What do you do when much of your collection consists of ancient taxidermy in faded dioramas? Answer: Use QR code to give added content. Right! See the Springbok springing, right on your phone, animating the long dead beast in front of you. Brilliant!

Except...I waited and waited for it to load. After an eternity, up came an advert for Subway. Then one for Macdonalds. Still loading, and loading. At this point I noticed that my freshly-charged battery was at 60% and hurriedly ended the call.

So what happened Field Museum? Your servers lacked the power to implement the plan in the form that it was originally conceived? That’s really disappointing but you can’t just shrug and let everyone empty their power on adverts. If you can’t use the data heavy clips you first wanted, you have to provide something that is quick to load and still gives the bonus experience to your visitors. Five facts about the creature, a quote from a curator, a witty cartoon. Anything, to avoid a totally negative experience. 

Everywhere I saw signs of attempts to welcome and involve that were shot in the foot by bad execution.  New exhibitions, but you could only choose one with general admission, otherwise get the more pricey ticket. There was plenty of time to choose which one you’d see, because out of four ticket desks only one was open.

Then at the desk, a surprise. Instead of the three exhibitions we had been choosing from, it appeared there were now four. The ticket assistant had to explain to us our new choices – just as she had for everyone else who had come before us.

Considering how onerous this must have been, she was remarkably good humored. But it explained the 20mins of waiting time, and was so unnecessary I felt like screaming, “For the love of Mike, update your front of house notice. And if you have a line reaching out of the door, draft in someone from the marketing department until the wait is down to 5mins.”

It’s hard to cast a fresh eye over such a venerable institution, especially when you are on the inside and worrying about research and budgets, but so much can be achieved with just a little flexibility. Something in the structure of the Field is as ossified as Dinosaur Sue.

So Big and yet so Small

So I'm back looking at Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass, this time without the crowds. And the feeling I had on first seeing it, is confirmed. It's too small.

The accompanying exhibition Michael Heizer's Actual Size shows portraits of selected rocks, with a person for scale comparison bearing a placard with the rock's dimensions, the photos are blown up so the rock is allegedly represented at actual size. What is noticeable about the portraits is how distinguished the rocks are in their natural settings.

The Chinese have a tradition of Character Rocks, huge hunks of nature lovingly dragged into gardens for contemplation and thrills. The portraits seem to capture some of the same sense of wonder.

Then we have the poor captive specimen stranded in the middle of a huge empty tract. It's like an elephant with an ankle chain. My initial hope for the piece was that we would feel that it was just balanced on the walls of the sunken walkway. That on walking underneath we would sense its huge bulk above our heads, levitated. I wanted to feel the awe.

But underneath I see its heavy duty supports. The bolts drilled into it and the way they have lopped off a segment to get it to lie flat against the support on one side - a process that has left a deep straight scar about a foot long cut into in the underside.

I know this is earthquake territory and you can't have an untethered boulder hanging over the heads of the general public, but surely there was some other way to achieve the support that was not so intrusive? And as you walk away, the long walk around the outside of the enclosure, the main sense is one of pity. It seems such a little boulder in the end, so compromised, and so very small.


The Rock, the Rocket, and the Flame​

In many countries, on saints' feast days the faithful turn out to welcome the transportation of a sacred object on its way between staging posts. It's an occasion and a cause for celebration, as everyone vies for a better viewpoint, or a chance to touch the icon. Something similar is happening now with our museums.

This year we have two contemporary processionals in the southland. First, the eleven day passage of a huge boulder hewn from living rock in Riverside to take its place, representing its kind, as the centerpiece of Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass at LACMA. The transportation of the rock involved mind-boggling calculations of weight, size, route and logistics that obssessed the traveling public for months. At every waystation the rock was feted, photographed, and talked up, until its arrival on the arid lawn of the Resnick building crescendoed into a chorus debating it's merits, with some concluding that the process/procession was the best bit.

And second, the culmination of spaceshuttle Endeavor's journey to it's new permanent home at the California Science Center. Shuttling back and forth to the moon was obviously easy compared to a taste of LA traffic. We have the now familiar litany of the roads not taken, the overpasses passed over and the clearing of roadside lights, poles and wires to make straight the road for this battered survivor of the space race.

In my home, the Olympic flame pulled off a similar coup. Touring our small country, passed from hand to hand, it seemed to summarize our fervent hopes that some objects embody the very essence of an idea. That to see and touch something is to be connected with the spirit of its making.

None of the three processionals are in any way religious, except that they are. The spectacle of an idea making its way across the everyday landscape summons the thrill of being in the presence of something bigger, and in the case of the rock, much bigger, than the minutiae of our ordinary lives.

It's a cliche to say that art has taken over the role of the churches in supplying the sublime to the masses, but sometimes cliches are just a shorthand way of telling the truth.

Too Scared to Tweet?

Posted on

You’ve seen the little bird everywhere, but it never spoke to you.

You told yourself it was for narcissists but now the traffic alerts are all on there. In fact, if a nuclear missile was heading directly for your house, it would be on Twitter before you could put your shoes on.

Time to embrace the feathers, then. It’s social, so think of it as a dancefloor full of people. In different parts of the room different music is playing. They are line-dancing over there, bossa nova-ing here, waltzing in the back. A new song comes up and everyone re-groups. Some people attract little cliques, and when certain popular people take to the floor, it gets the attention of the whole room.

So you arrive in the room and watch what’s going on. To help you, Twitter gives you a search box to find people you might want to connect with (@) and follow. Also a discover tag (#) with a list of trending conversations you might want to join in on. You have 140 characters to make your comment. It’s best to leave your tweet a little under the character count, so that if people want to share it, or retweet (RT) it to their followers, they have the extra space.

The only etiquette you have to remember is to be polite and reply to people when they tweet you, then if the conversation has run its course, thank them.

So, dip a toe in the water, follow a few people, contribute a comment or two and soon you’ll be in the swing, or the jive, or maybe even the macarena…

Launched with much fanfare at Art Basel, Miami, aims to introduce collectors to works by new artists. Using the same sort of algorithms that Pandora employs to pick music, or Amazon to suggest recommendations, has categorized 15,000 pieces of work with 800 tags, or ‘genes’, ranging from content and medium to art movements and influences.

Unable to spring for that Matisse? Plug in a couple of your favorite artist’s works and will come back with images you may like costing anywhere between $150 and $3m.

But is it anything more than a party trick? Have they cracked the algorithm to what makes collectors collect? That remains to be seen. Currently anything that gets artists’ work out in front of the public with the possibility of making a sale is to be applauded. The founders have done everything they can to establish the credentials of the work they showcase, so browsers can be reasonably sure that the works are originals by artists with a track record.

Give it a try. Who knows whether something may find a place in your heart, and on your wall.

June 26, 2012

Hunter Drohojowska-Philp review of the new book by the very thoughtful art writer Peter Clothier. Howway, bonnie lad!

Peter Clothier, Mind Work: Shedding Delusions on the Path to the Creative Core, 2012, Parami Press, 192 pp., $18.

Peter Clothier, an art critic and author based in Los Angeles, has dedicated himself to blogging and essays, most often in The Buddha Diaries and in the Huffington Post. His most recent book Mind Work: Shedding Delusions on the Path to the Creative Core, published by Parami Press, is a collection of writings that simulate time spent in lively conversation.

Nominally essays, Clothier’s writing is done, he says, with an awareness of his age, of his spiritual inclinations. He writes about letting go of one distraction after another to get closer to something that even he does not know. Some texts are musings on the violence of video games or television shows, but at their most interesting, the pieces are a frank stock-taking of his very self.

In emulation of a painter, Clothier writes a self-portrait in the nude, noting the areas that are holding up and others that are going down.  He begins with his feet and continues the appraisal moving upwards, bit by bit, describing in unsparing  detail how he looks in the mirror. “Arms. I have always been self-conscious about my arms. They seem to me skinny, unmuscular — no matter that I have been working out in my latter years, and have succeeded in strengthening them.”

Clother’s writing is intensely and increasingly personal, a position that he defends not only in his own work but in that of others. This position could be seen in the very title of his last book of essays collected over 30 years, Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce.

Inspired by Buddhism, his writing often manifests his belief that artists must create for themselves, even without approval from others or financial reward. That is a message we can hear again and again.
HUNTER DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP is the author of Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s (Henry Holt, 2011).

June 26, 2012

Much surprise at the announcement of the closure of Artnet Magazine. Not a must read, it was none the less a useful tool. Fingers are pointed at Skates Art Investment Review for its crushing assessment of the magazines financials – it never once turned a profit. We hope Mr Robinson takes his twitter feed and finds some new backers.

June 18, 2012

All set to attend Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center. Can’t believe it was a year ago that we knew for definite that the urban chicken rebellion was a reality. Once the domestic fowl had two designer coops showing we decided it must be official. With a bit of luck there will be modernist beehives this year.

Dwell kicks off on Friday 22,

May 6, 2012

Left the brilliant sunshine behind to attend the Sunday afternoon talk at Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art (LACMA) given by Christina YuYu. In “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Contemporary Chinese Art” Ms. Yu achieved the impossible and gave an overview of the past 35 years in only 45 minutes. Luckily, she was very structured and clear in her approach, illustrating her talk with some names and works that were familiar to Western audiences.

Her talk had special significance for us here at Ajar Marketing. We’ve spent some time talking about what defines the term ‘Chinese artist’ – nationality? ethnicity? culture? We agree that artists who have emigrated as adults from China are defined as Chinese, but what of those who arrived in their country of residence as children? Or those artists whose backgrounds are in Hong Kong, or like Judy, Taiwan?

An interesting show at the Vincent Price Museum of Art in East LA, curated by Sonia Mak (recently of the Chinese American Museum, LA) brought the spotlight to five little-known artists working from the 1930′s to the present day – the eldest is 101 years old. Round the ClockChinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles, explores the careers of George Chann, John Kwok, Jake Lee, Milton Quon, and Tyrus Wong. The title refers to the fact that  the artists had to work around the clock to make their own art, after putting in a full day’s work in their day jobs. Personally I don’t think that things have changed much for artists today, but the premise is that these artists were discriminated against because of their race.

Of the five, one was born in the US and the rest arrived as children. The majority had jobs as animators in Disney’s studios and all the work produced in the 1930s and 40s, much of it as commissions from the WPA, bears the hallmarks of the California Regionalist movement, predominant in West Coast watercolor painting of the time. As their careers progressed, two of the artists began to reference Chinese brush painting and calligraphy in their work of the 1960s. The question is, did those artists feel emboldened by the liberation ideologies of the time to reclaim their cultural heritage? Was their practice of brush hidden during the early Regionalist phase? And, most intriguingly, did they put the stamp of their sensibilities on the films of Walt Disney, in particular with their work on Fantasia, Bambi and Aladdin?

Is it even possible for a Chinese artist to load a brush without feeling the weight of centuries standing behind their shoulder? Or are we now at a juncture where Chinese art is so sought after, that contemporary Chinese artists wherever they are located, can choose to reference their culture, or not?

Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles

Christina YuYu’s talk organized by LACMA’s East Asian Council

March 2012

Greetings from London! Such a busy trip and so little time to see art. Squeezed in a visit to the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Tate Modern, where I found myself full of admiration, and unease, watching her work unfold. The extraordinary pressures that she faced as a Japanese woman making work in the contemporary art scene of the post-war era, pushing through mania, obsession and finally retreating from the world. Is there any more telling title for a body of work than The Self Obliteration Series?

The weather was superb, so I decided to visit the Freud Museum in sunny suburban Hampstead. Freud’s consulting room is on permanent display, just as he left it. A room crammed with books and small sculptures. His collection followed his interest in atavars, ageless symbols of human archetypes, and he collected from every culture and civilization. What was not immediately apparent, was small mirror, hidden behind some figurines on a side table at the foot of the therapist’s couch. It allowed Freud to watch his patient’s face, discretely. Yes, even this towering figure used smoke and mirrors to work his magic.

A temporary exhibition of  the work of Louise Bourgeois showed upstairs with one of her spider sculptures in the garden. The Freud Museum and Bourgeois seemed a natural pairing but sadly I thought that her work was diminished by the setting. Suddenly the Freudian elements in every piece became overwhelmingly dominant. The wall texts further tipped the balance. I can imagine a visitor unacquainted with her work, dusting down their hands – problem solved. There’s Ms Bourgeois banged to rights, pinned down like a dissected earthworm. Nothing more to see here. Move along…

January 2012

Art Fair season in LA and we had our timing right. By chance, Chinese New Year fell early this year and we were able to produce 新年快樂 cards to hand out. It was a remarkably effective way of sharing something a little special with the gallerists. Especially those from China who, after a full week of speaking English, visibly relaxed when someone  spoke Mandarin.

We not usually fans of Hallmark cards but a witty take on a commonplace occasion can be useful as a gentle reminder. So, who is for celebrating Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day on March 26?