Thursday, October 29, 2015


I finally got down to the Lower East Side to catch up with the latest art district in New York City. I’ve lived through Greenwich Village (my teens and twenties), Soho (my thirties), Chelsea (my forties), Noho etc. in more recent decades. The area is supposedly the last bastion of affordable gallery and studio space in Manhattan proper although gentrification appears to have won another battle. In addition, an  ever-expanding Chinatown has taken over large chunks of the area and while certainly  clean and respectable, lacks the colorful grunginess I once loved.

Anyhow, I was told to check out the new epicenter of the New York Art world, my old stomping ground, the Lower East Side. I was informed I wouldn’t recognize it. Truthfully, I didn’t, and I didn’t much like what had taken its place. It was as if all the life had been sucked out of the area; the buildings are mostly the same but the old zest isn’t there. Even the art scene is surprisingly lifeless. The once-crowded streets are now largely empty, even of cars (no reasonably-priced places to park) and the jumble of tacky businesses that gave the area its character is gone.  We saw only a few fabric outlets, (a reason for past visits); the antique (junque) stores on Allen Street have disappeared as have the flophouses on the Bowery and their haunted clientele. Only a handful of restaurant equipment stores that once lined the street remain. No more “outlets’ that sell discount bags and name-brand clothing. With few exceptions, gone are the ethnic food stores and restaurants. Even the lively signage that once characterized the area has been cleaned up, with only a few “ghosts” from the past still around. It was obvious, ethnic cleansing of a cultural sort has taken place. I never thought I’d live to say this but the Lower East Side has become “boring” and I still have the photos I took fifty years ago to prove it.

Since the purpose of the trip was not to revisit old haunts but to check out the latest in the New York art scene, I am sad to report that that too was a disappointment. The only reasonably interesting work was at the New Museum on the Bowery. And most of that wasn’t new but done around 25 years ago. The museum featured a multi-floor exhibit by a Chicago/LA eccentric accumulator, Jim Shaw who specializes in collecting amateur art from thrift shops plus some oversized cartoon-y installations of his. On the ground floor was a room full of extremely “anxious” paintings by another Chicago artist (whose name I forget) that dates from the ‘70s. Is this the “New” museum’s idea of cutting edge? Isn’t there anything current they want to show? But, based on what we saw elsewhere in the neighborhood, probably not. The only exciting exhibit we came across was by an Aborigine artist from Australia. Talk of anxious-looking art, these win the prize. Thousands and thousands of tiny dots in radiating patterns, but at least well done and original. We went to a dozen galleries and frankly, I don’t even remember what we saw.

Next we’ll try Brooklyn. Maybe there’s something worthwhile there. One of my sons has an artist friend called Chico MacMurtie who bought an abandoned church in Red Hook where he builds life-size performing robots. They recently played at his wedding.

Now, that sounds interesting!

Friday, October 23, 2015

POST #103: TO TELL OR NOT TO TELL: the artists’ dilemma

I recently (by sheer accident) invented a new printing process. It looks like drypoint but doesn’t need a $5,000 press or special plates and tools or paper. All you need is an inexpensive laser printer, a digital camera and a computer.  Here I was, just playing around with the printer and I got something that knocked my socks off, literally took my breathe away. I feel like such a total fraud but the results look like the moody cityscapes done by WPA printmakers in the 1930s. If I put them in nice frames they look like real prints and are so exquisite anyone who sees them wants to buy one (unlike my paintings that need nerves of steel and 12 foot high walls.) I recently showed a few of them to a well-known printmaker and she ordered me to copyright my process. When I hesitated, saying “I don’t do copyright,” she said, “well, at least write about it. Stake a claim.” So that’s what I’m doing. The process is cheap and simple and when you put a mat over the print and stick it into a faux-fancy frame, it looks like something you just bought at Swann Gallery for a coupla grand.

I have mixed feelings about artists hiding their methods. Secrecy about one’s work is kind of a leftover from the Medieval guilds where techniques and materials were passed down from generation to generation. I truly believe that it’s not the technique but the artistry that ultimately matters. Picasso once did a series of paintings on clear plastic panels so the camera could watch him from behind. I could look at that film forever and still not be Picasso. 

While we’re on the subject of artists hiding their methods, let me tell you about Mark Rothko. I adore Rothko (one of the few of that era I do admire) and was always curious about his methods, his materials. A few years ago, I read a definitive biography of his life, 500 pages. Named everyone he ever slept with but not a word about how he worked. Did he prestretch canvas?  Underpaint? Mix his paints with varnish? Not a single word. I was telling someone who knew Rothko personally and he explained that Rothko was notoriously secretive about his methods, never even allowing his assistants to be in the studio when he worked. I can’t understand why. His work came from a spiritual place inside him, not from how he mixed his paint.

But let’s go back to my original dilemma. Should I stake a claim or let my technique go out into the universe? I have a friend who taught printmaking for many years at a major art school. During that time she came up with a monoprint method that kept the original painting intact while creating a reverse print, something that never happens in a traditional monoprint. She never wrote about her discovery, let alone applied for a copyright, just taught it to hundreds of students who then took it with them to workshops throughout the country. It eventually turned up in a printmaking text as someone else’s idea.

What should I do?

Friday, October 9, 2015


Many years ago, I had a professor, Hans Richter, who had been a famous German avant-garde filmmaker, one of the founders of the Dada movement during World War I. He had just finished a surrealist movie called “Dreams That Money Can Buy” featuring all his New York refugee buddies including Max Ernst and Piet Mondrian. I saw it again recently and it was no where near as interesting as the first time around, mainly because his techniques were subsequently copied by everybody from TV advertisers to Madonna, and are now ‘old hat.’

But the topic of Dreams has intrigued me and I’ve gone back to a little notebook I once kept near my bed where I wrote down dreams. Like everyone else I know, I find it almost impossible to recall them, even the exciting ones that leave you shaking. I once asked my husband, a Clinical Psychologist, how I could remember them and he suggested the notebook. Unfortunately, by the time I managed to get awake enough to locate the book and find a pencil, the dream had evaporated, never to be remembered. I did, however, manage to write a few dreams down, but re-reading them today was not a pleasant experience. Some of the dreams I wrote down were unintelligible but most of them dealt with the ghosts of the past and the loss of people I loved: my husband, my parents, my closest friend. They all seem to take place in a gray zone, ostensibly that time between sunset and darkness in a time of year I hate: cold, late fall, before the snow arrives

In most of the dreams, I’m usually in a familiar place, either downtown Stamford or in New York City where I grew up. In the first dream I recorded, I am on a street corner on West Main Street in Stamford, a run-down part of town, I am searching for my husband, worried about him, trying to bring him home. (He was actually very sick at the time). I find him standing alone at a bus stop in the darkness, waiting for a bus (a metaphor for the ship that takes us out of this life?) and I try to persuade him to come home. “I have to go” he protests but I pull him into a nearby bar, one of those grim, dimly-lit places where shadowy figures hang out. That’s all I remember. The dream took place perhaps forty years ago but reading about it now, even after all this time, makes me cry.

What’s interesting at this point is the impact dreams are having on my latest paintings. I’ve always been able to dig into my subconscious and “abstract” the visual world, but the latest pieces are more surreal. They are based mainly on drawings I did in NYC many years ago from my daughter’s 11th floor window. While everything looks familiar, it’s familiar the way it is in a dream: gray and moody, re-arranged, transformed from life into art. I think Professor Richter would have liked them.