Friday, January 10, 2014


Venus Undressing
24"x9"  Black gesso on box cardboard
I’ve been around the art world an awfully long time and I can’t decide which is worse, artists speaking about their work or scholars trying to interpret it. The artists I know tend to be extremely intelligent, but not very good at explaining what they are doing in a reasonably articulate manner. Academics, on the other hand, are articulate, but completely unintelligible. They can take the simplest concept and turn it into total bullshit. I used to try to explain to my poor art history students that when they didn’t understand something in the textbook, it was usually the author’s fault, not theirs. I once went to a lecture by a famous art critic (nameless), who, when I challenged him as to the meaning of “Anarchic Formalism,”a term he had used, he confessed sheepishly that he had “made it up.” He figured he had an audience of suburban boobs and nobody would know the difference. What set this off is some research I did on Arte Povera before undertaking this post.

Waiting for the Bus
36"x20"  Charcoal on brown wrapping paper
In my first post, I wrote about the relationship of much of my work to the ‘Arte Povera’ movement that came out of Italy in the late 1960s. Since I was up to my eyeballs in diapers during its heyday, I had no idea it existed until well after it went out of style. The term translates as “Poor Art;” it is neither low quality nor designed for the poor, but art that is theoretically non-commercial and uses  “humble,” often impermanent materials. In a sense, it is the artistic version of the ‘60s counter culture, an attempt to opt-out of a “bourgeois capitalist buy/sell mentality in the art world.”

 I love to use brown cardboard and wrapping paper. They provide me with a “middle ground,” the tone I was taught to put on a canvas before beginning to draw or paint. The soft, umber color and rough texture makes them perfect surfaces on which to draw.  A friend of mine taught me to use black gesso for a thick, pasty black line. The tooth of wrapping paper is also great for charcoal and I have completed dozens of drawings on that surface, often adding color with chalks or tempera. Recently, I’ve been working on a stack of 18” tall, cardboard “Venuses,” voluptuous ladies caught in the act of taking off their shirts.

Pencil on 9" paper plate
Lately, my Arte Povera medium of choice has been paper lunch plates and pill cups. I began using the pill cups when I was hospitalized for six weeks with a broken ankle. Every night, the nurses would bring me sleeping pills; I would swallow them and then draw faces inside the one inch cups, entertaining both the staff and myself. I ended up with hundreds of faces staring at me. After I left the nursing home, I had trouble buying real paper cups; all I could find were ones with a plastic finish. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s uses the real thing for food samples and I squirrel away as many as I can whenever I go there.

My latest Arte Povera effort is a stack of paper plates embellished with pencil drawings of imaginary faces; I’m up to 150 now. I envision them someday installed as a cornice around a room or covering an entire wall. In the meantime, they talk to me, my criteria for success.

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