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Filter House (detail, work-in-progress), ink on cut paper, product packaging, map pins, 60" X 50" X 2.5"
Paintbrush vs. Paint
MSPaintbrush is a 165K graphics program that shipped with Windows prior to 1995. Bill Gates & crew did not create it; as with many of their products they acquired it, in this case by buying a company called ZSoft. When Windows 95 came along, Microsoft supposedly "improved" the product and changed the name to MSPaint: it's still part of the Windows accessory package. As an artist I greatly prefer Paintbrush to Paint, and was lucky to track down an abandonware version so I can keep using it (to draw portraits, molecules, and the like).
What are the differences? In Paintbrush the zoom requires less steps to activate. You can also zoom out to see the entire image, which for some reason you can't do in Paint. Paintbrush has more brush, spray, and eraser sizes. A newly-pasted image in Paintbrush has a clear background, so you can immediately see how it layers over an existing image; in Paint the default is opaque. Paintbrush colors are customized with simple, easy-to-use RGB sliders, as opposed to Paint's "color picker" spectrum, which, again, requires more steps.
But the most crucial difference, for me, is the output of the "spraycan" tool. In Paintbrush (see sphere at left) it's like crosshatching; the effect is much more volumetric and seductive, once you get the hang of using it. Paint (sphere at right) has a fast, user-friendly, point-and-spray dot-dispersion pattern, but to me it looks like bad 70s airbrush art.
It's more of struggle to blend from dark to light in Paintbrush using those crosshatch dots (each is a spritz of the spraycan). I can see where the Microsoft techies thought they were improving the program, and for most people they probably were, but I like the grittier, clumsier feel of the crosshatching compared to the smoother pointillism, and even more important, the ability to create rich, intermediate grays. By eliminating the struggle they greatly reduced the potential beauty of the finished image.
Yes, I've used this cereal box and milk bottle before, but never in a corner piece! The bottle, by the way, is Hershey's chocolate milk. When you strip off the gaudy outer packaging (and it takes a while, the plastic wrap is tough) you discover this pristine, white, lathed-looking cylinder underneath. The atoms and "bonds" I draw in MSPaintbrush, print, individually cut out with scissors, then map-pin to the wall.
I guess my interpretation of this body of work would be as follows. A sort of cargo cult worships consumer packaging. In a bastardized version of science, their mystics try to chart the invisible bonds between products, and link the packaging to the larger world. The symbolic byproducts of this research become like graffiti tags, which the cult sticks on walls as territorial markers or signs of their faith.
Saturday I watched Laura Parnes' intense 2-channel video piece "Hollywood Inferno (Episode One)," currently on view at Participant, 95 Rivington, NYC. This multi-layered, disturbing work deserves a treatise but for the moment I just want to contrast it with the supposed "youthquake" of art championed by Roberta Smith in the Jan. 17 NY Times. Smith says that artist Scott Hug and others are "confident" and "free of ideology," which somehow defines today's "young," or young-wannabes. I missed Hug's show but his magazine K48, which I picked up at Throb (for the Electroclash sampler in the back), is kind of charming. It has an ideology--that sex and self-expression are good things. One piece in particular, about an artist who got a teaching job at his old high school and set up a photo studio for quirky individualized yearbook portraits, is touchingly sincere. Elsewhere in the mag, pages of bared flesh suggest Larry Clark, without the adult-looking-back consciousness.
Parnes' video advances the other, much darker view--that sex and self-expression are the ultimate commodities, and things don't always work out so nicely for the youthquake in our alienated, violent land. In Parnes' world all of us--no matter what age--march in the legions of the Damned. Her heroine, would-be actress Sandy, goes from sucking a lollipop in a suburban candy shop to working as a costumed mascot to being an accomplice to murder in a sleazy Hollywood setting. (How is this different from David Lynch? I suppose because there's never any "loss of innocence"--she's corrupted from the start.) Along the way she struts her stuff as a fashion model, with a black & white security-cam still of the Columbine killers as a backdrop (this sounds terrible, but it's actually a subtly creepy touch--the backdrop looks like a frame from a Tarantinoesque action flick until you notice the timestamp). Parnes' anger rivals Dante's--or at the very least, Todd Solondz's--in her description of affectless youth selling itself down the river, with only Satan (in various guises) serving as an adult role model. I'll be surprised if this gets a perky writeup in the Times.
One of my favorite touches is Parnes' Kathy Acker-like use of quotes lifted from media and art-critical sources as dialogue. At the climax, an evil film director, wearing a human-skin mask, spouts some amazing high-flown gibberish as he butchers one of the characters. Turns out this speech combines George Lucas pontificating to Bill Moyers about the so-called archetypes in Star Wars and a "jazzy" pseudohip spiel on Robert Mapplethorpe by art critic Dave Hickey. ("There you are, swooping back down, circling, inward on this image--and it's all flickery in this icy, glamorous--intersection--of moral suffering and spiritual ecstasy, where the rule of law meets the grace of trust. And you're on the verge of exploding from its own internal contradictions. Ahhhh....Yes.") It's hard to decide which makes you want to flee the room more: the gore on the screen or the dramatic but empty words.
A couple of paintings by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech currently grace the walls of The Project, 427 W. 126th St., NYC (in a group show, through February 2). This is intelligent almost-abstraction with a playful streak; imagine some offbeat combination of William Baziotes and John Wesley, rendered with a flat acrylic surface recalling Peter Halley's early, quirky paintings and you're sort in the neighborhood. Even though these images are baroque compared to Garcia-Fenech's earliest work, which looked like spare, airport pictograms, the key here is still economy: getting the most out of a few recurring elements.
The paintings in the current series all begin with a pour, or splash, which is then outlined with acrylic so it becomes a depiction of a splash. Element No. 2 is an eccentric, hand drawn shape or pattern engaged in some kind of conversation, or dance, with the splash: in Belt (right), it's a white shape that intertwines with a black splatter like a copulating doppelganger-skeleton. Element No. 3 is the John Wesley touch, some kind of doofus-y, twee cartoon thing that gently mocks, or threatens to undo, whatever seriousness the painting has managed to build up. In Belt it's--d'oh--a belt, that perversely joins the dryhumping bone-blobs in a consensual bondage fantasy. Other paintings feature evergreen trees, tiny flames, bugs, crowns, spindly trees: whatever it takes to make an already awry composition that much wryer. Clicking on the thumbnails on the artist's website is highly recommended, because as good as a couple of images are, seeing a lot of them has a cumulative effect towards appreciating how smart this work is. The titles--Backslider, Jane from Occupied Europe, Prone To, Prone Again--mirror the tone of skewed archness.
Saturday I went to look at a couple of shows before attending Ross Knight's opening at Team Gallery. Once again I'm made aware how provincial and behind the times the art world is in terms of technology, specifically weblogging.
I asked the desk attendant at Henry Urbach Architecture if the gallery had a website and if I could right-click, or otherwise save, an image of Marsha Cottrell's off of it. (Marsha's been promising me jpegs for eons.) He said yes, the gallery had a website, but he didn't know if images were save-able. I said, "Well, if I could save an image to my hard drive, I could pop it up on my page with a short review, within a day. Instant art criticism. Fantastic, right?"
I googled the gallery and couldn't find it, so I fished the printed invite out of my backpack, entered the URL, and got one of those Flash sites with slowly materializing letters. Uggh. It has an automatic, can't-stop-it-once-it-starts slide show of some pics from the show, but if there's a way to cap those, other than cropping a blurry screen shot, I don't know of it. You can't save by right-clicking. So much for the instant review. I'd post the link to the gallery here, but the site disables the "back" button, so you'd be trapped in Flash land. Macromedia is a menace.
As I made my rounds, people asked me what I was up to and I said, "makin' art, and workin' on my weblog, which is a way for me to be a critic without really bein' a critic, ha ha." More puzzled looks. "You know, weblogs? Started in the geek world, but now writers, political commentators, ordinary Janes and Joes have them? Becoming a potent political force? Brought down Trent Lott? Major social trend?" Puzzled looks, sometimes impatient looks, like, why are you telling me this crap?
A friend of mine who read my earlier post on this subject asked, "Yeah, what's up with that? How come more people in the art world don't have weblogs?" She didn't find my arguments--the art world worships print, etc--all that persuasive, and wanted to know the real reason. Why has no young critic used a weblog to put forward theories that rock the lazy status quo? I'm afraid it's because such people do not exist in the art world anymore. Everyone reads the Friday Times and Artforum recap-preview-recap-preview-recap-preview-recap-preview-recap-preview-recap-preview (etc) and that's art criticism, folks. There are no theoreticians except artists themselves, and they don't necessarily have the time or inclination to keep updating a weblog.
Simon Reynolds has finally traded the browser-filling text-blocks on his website for the semi-browser-filling text blocks of a weblog, and it's worth checking regularly. Currently up are his 2002 Faves. One of the best (practically only) writers on the electronic dance music scene, he helped me get a handle on all the breakbeat techno & hardcore I was obsessively taping off radio in the early '90s, so I was pleased to see I owned 3 discs in his Top Ten: Kaito and Boards of Canada weren't surprising, but I can't believe he endorses Recloose's Cardiology! In an earlier post I described it as "music to make street-purist Simon Reynolds curl up in the fetal position." I love that CD, of course, but what a shock.
He still maintains his homepage, and the articles there on the Electroclash scene and the movie 24 Hour Party People are both excellent.