Monday, July 26, 2010


"In the art world there is a snobbery which suggests that the artist is meant to be a shadowy figure in the background behind the work. That kind of high-integrity marketing strategy is very common. Whether people call it a marketing strategy or integrity is another matter ... The monk-artist is an attractive archetype in a world where there are only so many - the belligerent drunk, the batty dame, the flaming tortured soul. Its a big part of the attraction of art - the work as a relic of the artist/saint/holy fool. People want to touch the cloth or whatever. It’s a part of the religion.”

British ceramicist Grayson Perry
Winner of the 2003 Turner Prize
Quoted in Dr. Sarah Thornton's Seven Days in the Art World

Meet Mr. Robot

A new poem in the Newspaper Blackout style popularized by Austin Kleon. Click on the image below to view a larger image.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Accidental Skype Poetry

My teenage son Harrison is visiting his maternal grandfather in China for the summer. In order to stay in touch, I recently activated a Skype account and am becoming familiar with the video call feature.

We quickly discovered that I didn’t have the necessary hardware: while I have the video camera that allows him to see me and the speakers that allow me to hear him, I don’t have a microphone which will allow me to speak. Consequently, we see one another and he speaks to me, but I have to type all of my responses.

After one of our recent calls, I glanced at the transcript left on screen. It reads like some strange poem:

[7/20/2010 9:41:13 PM]     I can hear you perfectly
[7/20/2010 9:41:27 PM]     I can see you, but you're fuzzy
[7/20/2010 9:41:32 PM]     Yes.
[7/20/2010 9:41:46 PM]     It's like a series of still pictures.
[7/20/2010 9:41:57 PM]     What room are you in?
[7/20/2010 9:42:04 PM]     What's that horse?
[7/20/2010 9:42:17 PM]     Cool.
[7/20/2010 9:42:32 PM]     Oh yeah?
[7/20/2010 9:42:51 PM]     Does your Grandpa know them?
[7/20/2010 9:43:04 PM]     Near by?
[7/20/2010 9:43:11 PM]     Army? Bummer.
[7/20/2010 9:43:31 PM]     Air Force.
[7/20/2010 9:43:35 PM]     They're more civilized.
[7/20/2010 9:43:45 PM]     They have some civil unrest.
[7/20/2010 9:43:51 PM]     Not too bad.
[7/20/2010 9:44:01 PM]     Me too.
[7/20/2010 9:44:09 PM]     I'm sure it'll be OK.
[7/20/2010 9:44:13 PM]     Yeah?
[7/20/2010 9:44:22 PM]     Yes. She's pretty.
[7/20/2010 9:44:29 PM]     Cool.
[7/20/2010 9:44:34 PM]     Will you see her again soon?
[7/20/2010 9:44:54 PM]     Where do you see them?
[7/20/2010 9:45:10 PM]     Is that close to the house?
[7/20/2010 9:45:15 PM]     Yes, picture clear.
[7/20/2010 9:45:35 PM]     I only see a mutant.
[7/20/2010 9:45:49 PM]     You look post-apocalyptic.
[7/20/2010 9:46:05 PM]     Wow.
[7/20/2010 9:46:10 PM]     That makes a funny noise.
[7/20/2010 9:46:18 PM]     What do you have planned today?
[7/20/2010 9:46:33 PM]     Bummer
[7/20/2010 9:46:44 PM]     How's your Grandpa and Colleen?
[7/20/2010 9:47:05 PM]     Is he bummed out about not working?
[7/20/2010 9:47:18 PM]     Cool.
[7/20/2010 9:47:22 PM]     He's an interesting dude.
[7/20/2010 9:47:27 PM]     Has he told you any stories?
[7/20/2010 9:47:49 PM]     Once you're older, he'll probably tell you more of them.
[7/20/2010 9:48:07 PM]     Maoist wine?
[7/20/2010 9:48:12 PM]     Sounds crappy.
[7/20/2010 9:48:22 PM]     No?
[7/20/2010 9:48:26 PM]     Oh.
[7/20/2010 9:48:43 PM]     Well, they had nice hats.
[7/20/2010 9:49:24 PM]     Sounds like a cool bottle.
[7/20/2010 9:49:33 PM]     Cool.
[7/20/2010 9:49:37 PM]     Glad you got to try it.
[7/20/2010 9:49:43 PM]     Maybe...
[7/20/2010 9:49:51 PM]     Yes, that's true.
[7/20/2010 9:50:00 PM]     Sure.
[7/20/2010 9:50:06 PM]     Hey, I did some research...
[7/20/2010 9:50:18 PM]     ...on the microphone thing.
[7/20/2010 9:50:29 PM]     I think my computer is trying to look for the microphone...
[7/20/2010 9:50:37 PM]     ...the same place it finds the speakers.
[7/20/2010 9:50:50 PM]     Yes.
[7/20/2010 9:51:00 PM]     There's no internal mike on this piece of shizzle.
[7/20/2010 9:51:25 PM]     Sure. This just isn't too good a PC.
[7/20/2010 9:51:31 PM]     It's old.
[7/20/2010 9:51:55 PM]     Sounds bad.
[7/20/2010 9:52:01 PM]     How hot is it?
[7/20/2010 9:52:13 PM]     Sounds hot.
[7/20/2010 9:52:35 PM]     Seen any crazy cab drivers?
[7/20/2010 9:53:13 PM]     Sure.
[7/20/2010 9:53:17 PM]     The subway sounds good.
[7/20/2010 9:53:26 PM]     What were you going to say about your Mom?
[7/20/2010 9:53:38 PM]     Heat stroke?
[7/20/2010 9:53:42 PM]     Bummer.
[7/20/2010 9:53:52 PM]     Maybe she's dehydrated.
[7/20/2010 9:54:04 PM]     Sure.
[7/20/2010 9:54:13 PM]     Have you had any good food?
[7/20/2010 9:54:25 PM]     Not that I want to change the topic away from the runs.
[7/20/2010 9:54:36 PM]     Japanese food?
[7/20/2010 9:54:39 PM]     Sounds good.
[7/20/2010 9:54:56 PM]     Blue Frog?
[7/20/2010 9:55:04 PM]     Do they have TV in English?
[7/20/2010 9:55:11 PM]     What shows?
[7/20/2010 9:55:31 PM]     What's that movie?
[7/20/2010 9:56:24 PM]     Taxes are like monsters.
[7/20/2010 9:56:32 PM]     Big and scary.
[7/20/2010 9:56:42 PM]     Cool.
[7/20/2010 9:56:49 PM]     Was there an apocalypse?
[7/20/2010 9:57:07 PM]     Maybe obsessed with a small "o"
[7/20/2010 9:57:27 PM]     I'll explain...
[7/20/2010 9:57:41 PM]     When someone is doing something in a big way, you say that...
[7/20/2010 9:57:54 PM]     ...they are doing it with a big first letter.
[7/20/2010 9:57:58 PM]     Like this...
[7/20/2010 9:58:06 PM]     I love pizza with a big "L"
[7/20/2010 9:58:15 PM]     Like, LOVE.
[7/20/2010 9:58:40 PM]     So a small first letter means not
[7/20/2010 9:58:51 PM]     enthusiastically or extremely.
[7/20/2010 9:59:10 PM]     Yeah.
[7/20/2010 9:59:22 PM]      Are you adjusted to the time difference?
[7/20/2010 9:59:35 PM]     Do they let you sleep in?
[7/20/2010 9:59:52 PM]     Really? Why?
[7/20/2010 10:00:06 PM]   That sucks.
[7/20/2010 10:00:16 PM]   6?
[7/20/2010 10:00:20 PM]   What's that beeping?
[7/20/2010 10:00:34 PM]   Nice watch.
[7/20/2010 10:00:50 PM]   Looks good.
[7/20/2010 10:01:05 PM]   Is it real?
[7/20/2010 10:01:14 PM]   Good enough.
[7/20/2010 10:01:35 PM]   What did the site say?
[7/20/2010 10:02:08 PM]   Some guy took pictures of our school from the air using an RC plane.
[7/20/2010 10:02:21 PM]   I don't know.
[7/20/2010 10:02:26 PM]   He just sent them to us.
[7/20/2010 10:02:33 PM]   We didn't even know him.
[7/20/2010 10:02:52 PM]   He uses our soccer fields for a landing strip.
[7/20/2010 10:03:01 PM]   No, really.
[7/20/2010 10:03:06 PM]   OK
[7/20/2010 10:03:47 PM]   Yep.
[7/20/2010 10:03:50 PM]   I'm here.
[7/20/2010 10:04:04 PM]   Iron man?
[7/20/2010 10:04:09 PM]  That's cool.
[7/20/2010 10:04:12 PM]   I liked that one.
[7/20/2010 10:04:27 PM]   We saw it together.
[7/20/2010 10:04:42 PM]   I dunno.
[7/20/2010 10:04:45 PM]   Both were good.
[7/20/2010 10:04:49 PM]   Maybe the first one.
[7/20/2010 10:04:57 PM]   But just a little.
[7/20/2010 10:05:14 PM]   OK, sounds fun.
[7/20/2010 10:05:34 PM]   Maybe we can play charades.
[7/20/2010 10:05:42 PM]   I can do charades instead of type.
[7/20/2010 10:05:50 PM]   OK. Good to talk to you.
[7/20/2010 10:05:58 PM]   I was kidding about the charades.
[7/20/2010 10:06:00 PM]   Love you too.
[7/20/2010 10:06:03 PM]   Talk soon?
[7/20/2010 10:06:11 PM]   Uh...
[7/20/2010 10:06:30 PM] *** Call ended ***

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Goodbye, Harvey

Photo: unknown photographer

On July 12, 2010, comic book pioneer and jazz writer Harvey Pekar died at age 70. Pekar is probably best remembered for his autobiographical comic book series American Splendor, which chronicled his day to day life as a VA Hospital file clerk in Cleveland, Ohio.

The first issue of American Splendor was published in 1976. For the next couple of decades, Pekar partnered with illustrators to tell his stories. Underground comics luminaries such as Robert Crumb, Gary Dumm, Spain Rodriguez, Gerry Shamray, and Frank Stack were regular Pekar collaborators.

Though recognition came slowly, by 2003 American Splendor had garnered enough attention to become a motion picture starring Paul Giamatti. Pekar also wrote jazz criticism, at least one play, and a variety of other comics work.

I was first introduced to American Splendor in the 1980s. I found Pekar just as my life was imitating his art: I spent my days on a loading dock while learning to become a painter and sculptor in the evenings. I identified deeply with Pekar’s struggle to balance his work as a filing clerk with his attempts to gain recognition as a writer.

Pekar’s work influenced me in other ways. He pioneered an autobiographical approach to comics and wove meaningful stories out of the mundane. Taken individually, his stories could be inconsequential. Taken collectively, they painted a rich and nuanced picture of his life. American Spledor showed me how a body of work creates a context that gives depth and meaning to the individual pieces within it. 

As a much younger man I wrote Pekar what was probably an annoyingly pretentious and earnest fan letter. Despite his curmudgeonly reputation, Pekar wrote a short but gracious reply. It was one of those small kindnesses that he probably forgot within minutes but I will always remember.

If nothing else, at least I was able to say thank you. Goodbye, Harvey. We’ll miss you.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Another Found Favorite

My favorite art is never something that I’ve done. Usually it’s something that I come across by accident. Like all children’s art, the drawing below is awesome. Though my favorite part is the magnificent figure in the center, I also love the crazy signature element on the middle left. It reminds me of the Japanese-influenced marks Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh used to sign some of their works.

Unknown Artist: Devious Humanoid Pig with Armpit Hair Using Emoticon Semaphore Paddles (my title) 2010; Marker on dry erase board.

Henri de Toulouse-LautrecTwo Half-Naked Women Seen from behind in the Rue des Moulins Brothel 1894;
Oil on cardboard, 54 x 39 cm; Musée Toulouse-
Lautrec, Albi. Signed lower left.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dancing with Cartoons

Photo courtesy of

Design critic and historian Steven Heller, in cooperation with Print magazine, puts out an excellent short newsletter called The Daily Heller. Today's edition was dedicated to a collaborative performance which involved Dartmouth's Pilobolus Dance Theater, the cartoonist Art Spiegelman of Maus fame, and a team of animators. The collaborative performance, called Hapless Hooligan in "Still Playing," runs through August 7 at the Joyce Theater in New York.

"It’s obviously a departure," wrote NY Times critic Alastair Macaulay. "Neither at Pilobolus nor anywhere else have I seen this kind of dizzying overlap of cartoon, film, silhouette theater, and live dance."

As my own art involves both words and images, I have a fascination with work that transcends creative disciplines. From everything I can see, Hapless Hooligan in "Still Playing" promises to be a truly new synthesis of art forms.

An excellent short film explaining the piece is available on YouTube here.