Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Little Self-Criticism

 Robert Boyd

Over the past year, during the COVID restrictions and COVID-related unemployment, I've lived in books. In August of 2020, depressed at being cut off from the world, I started recording some thoughts about the books I was reading. Right from the start, I felt awkward doing it. I'm not a smooth talker--I'm not telegenic--I didn't organize my thoughts well. I didn't take advantage of the incredible power that PowerDirector for Dell (the editing software I use) put at my fingertips. I could have easily edited out every awkward phrase, every stumble, every um, but I was too lazy to do it.

The reason I'm thinking about this now is that I have stumbled across a book channel on YouTube that does everything right in my opinion. I've found several YouTube book channels, and for one reason or another, they are all mostly unsatisfactory--often because of the books that the hosts seems to love. But all of them are sleeker and more "professional", for lack of a better word, than my Book Reports.

But I've found one book channel that satisfies me on every level--in the depth of its analysis, the books being discussed, and the presentation. The title of the channel is Better Than Food and the host is Clifford Lee Sargent. I think when it started he was living in Portland, Oregon, but has moved around since then to Los Angeles and, I think, Austin, Texas. But from the point of view of his listeners, he's always in a room filled with books.

Why do I feel Robert Boyd's Book Report is not as good as Better Than Food? His presentation of each book is clear--he has a thesis. And he gets to the thesis by digging deep into the book. And his delivery is quite good, but you can tell it's not seamless--he has edited the shit out out of his reviews. There are lots of random edits where I think it is obvious he cut out some bit of awkwardness or a place where he misspoke. Years ago, when I lived in Hollywood, I hired an actor to do a voiceover for a video I produced to promote the comics line I was editing. We went to the recording studio on Hollywood Blvd., and this guy--an ordinary-looking schlub with a TV newscaster voice read the voice-over I wrote. But he didn't read in straight through--he would make mistakes and start sentences over on the spot. Listening to him, you knew he knew that his voiceover would be edited to create a smooth, seamless delivery. 

I think Sargent works in a similar way, which I should emulate. If what I'm saying isn't perfectly expressed, I should just stop and say it again better. Then edit out the awkward bit before I upload it.

Sargent also has the advantage of being good looking and somewhat stylish. Well, I can't do much about my looks, but I can strive to present myself better on camera.

Anyway, here is Sargent talking about one of my favorite books from the last few years, Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Some of my Favorites from the Big Show

 Robert Boyd

It's been a long time since I wrote about The Big Show, Lawndale Art Center's annual open-call juried exhibit. Writing about it used to be a annual tradition, but I've fallen off the past few years (and the exhibit was cancelled last year for COVID reasons). I went through the show without the list of artists--I wanted to respond to the pieces without responding to the names of who produced them. I want to admit something that should be obvious, but I am unable to be objective when I know who the artists are. Especially if they are my friends. Only one of the pieces I liked I could instantly recognize as being by a friend of mine, which undoubtedly affected how I viewed it. I didn't look at the names of the artists until after I looked at the pieces.

The juror was Cecilia Fajardo-Hill. She went further than most jurors have in the past by trying to break up what inevitably is a cacophony of voices into a kind of taxonomy of genres and approaches. The categories were abstractions, deferments, embodiments, identities, landscapes, materialities, nature, and resistance. I admit I wasn't paying close attention to these categories as I walked through--perhaps when I go see it again, I will. Some are obvious enough, but I'm not sure about what Fajardo-Hill means by deferments, embodiments, or materialities. 

One thing I noticed was the presence of several large drawings, including one by Joachim West.

Joachim West, Critical Mass 6, 2021, pencil on paper

This is one of those pieces where close-ups on some of the details are called for.

Joachim West, Critical Mass 6, 2021, pencil on paper (detail)
Joachim West, Critical Mass 6, 2021, pencil on paper (detail)

West doesn't give the viewer anything to focus on--every square inch seems no more or less important than any other square inch. He's like a figurative Jackson Pollack.

The same can't be said about Vincent Fink, whose amazingly detailed has a clear focal point.

Vincent Fink, Atlas Metamorphosis Stage 1 of 4: Emperor Egg, 2019, sumi and ink on eucaboard panel

This M.C. Escher-like drawing would go great with a bong hit in the dorm room if I was 40 years younger. But as an old guy who hasn't been in a dorm in a long, long time, I was impressed by the level of detail and the complex, curvilinear perspective.

Colleen Maynard, Crinoid Rockslab, Johnston Geology Museum, Emporia State University, 2019, charcoal and graphite on paper

This piece by Colleen Maynard pretty much requires close examination. 

Colleen Maynard, Crinoid Rockslab, Johnston Geology Museum, Emporia State University, 2019, charcoal and graphite on paper (detail)

I am reminded of how scientists before the invention of photography had to be pretty good artists. They had to draw what they were observing in nature. In a way, the camera helped pull art and science apart.

Unlike Fajardo-Hill, I'm not going to try to classify what I'm looking at (except to point out these three incredible drawings above). Here's the rest of what I liked on my first pass. (I suspect that will change when I go see the exhibit again.)

Angela Corson, Lasting Impressions, 2021, porcelain

This sculpture group by Angela Corson is exactly what it looks like--panties. I suspect the artist dipped them in porcelain slip and then fired them. I assume that the process of firing them burned away all the silk and cotton, leaving only porcelain in the end, but I don't know enough about firing porcelain to speak with confidence. The handprint on the panties on the left is super-creepy. 

Bismark Alejandro Rex, Quetzalcoatl, 2020, acrylic on salvaged fabric

Do all the artists use their legal names when they sign their work? I initially suspected that Bismark Alejandro Rex was a nom du pinceau. But he exists in the internet under that name, so what do I know? Whether this is his real name or not, I enjoyed his jaunty Mexican-flavored abstraction.

Chet Urban, Blue Quilt no. 3 (Katherine, I Hear You), 2020, polyurethan tarpaulin, aluminum and epoxy

At every Big Show, there are always artworks constructed out of material that one could buy at Home Depot or Lowes. Those places are like the art supply store for a certain group of artists, like Chet Urban. I think this grid of brads and tarp will make some think about the landscape of Houston post-storm. Houses with holes in them covered in blue tarps--it's the world we live it.

 Cressandra Thibodeaux, Pills and Courage, 2021, digital C print on paper

Cressandra Thibodeux runs 14 Pews and is probably best known as a documentary filmmaker. I believe the subject of these two photos is her mom, and if so, she is a good sport. The pill-bottle curlers is a witty reuse of this cylindrical shape so familiar to everyone who has ever gotten prescription drugs. I've often wondered why pill bottles are always transparent orange.

 Turner, Smoke & Mirrors, 2019,cigarette and cigar butts, found objects, vintage animophic ashtrays, and vintage mirrors on wood panels

When I first saw this, I thought it might be by John Runnels, as he has frequently done pieces made out of cigarette butts. 

Deasa Turner, Smoke & Mirrors, 2019,cigarette and cigar butts, found objects, vintage animophic ashtrays, and vintage mirrors on wood panels (detail)

Deasa Turner, Smoke & Mirrors, 2019,cigarette and cigar butts, found objects, vintage animophic ashtrays, and vintage mirrors on wood panels (detail)

But the artist is Deasa Turner, one of many artists in the Big Show whom I have never heard of. That's what I like about the Big Show every year--there are always a lot of artists with whom I am unfamiliar--it reminds me that there are artworlds here in the Houston area that I have never seen.

The red tips on the cigarettes make me think of lipstick stains, and the vintage ashtrays have a feeling of noir--like a femme fatale meeting a private dick at the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood. 

Romeo C. Robinson, I dissent! James Baldwin, 2021, mixed media on canvas

One thing that is constant in the Big Show is that some artists take the opportunity to honor their heroes. I'll never forget teenager Avril Fagout's life-size sculpture of the Black Veil Brides from the 2013 Big Show. (I wonder what she's up to now...) Romeo C. Robinson, not being 15 years old like Fagout was, picks a somewhat more grownup hero to honor--James Baldwin.

 Eddie Filer, Jr., Voice of Reason, 2020, oil on canvas

I don't know who Eddie Filer, Jr., is depicting in this triple-portrait, but I'm going to guess it may be Eddie Filer senior. It does seem to be an homage to a man who, for Filer, is the voice of reason--someone who calmly discusses with you whatever is troubling you.

 Hallie Gluk, Atemesia, 2021, digital print on paper

What attracted me at first to Hallie Gluk's photo was the intense color and baroque composition. The title, Atemsia, suggest the baroque associations may be intentional, if Gluk is refering to Artemisia Gentileschi, the Italian baroque painter who has finally been rediscovered by the hitherto extremely sexist art historical establishment. 

 Josh Alan, Where Did You Get This World From, 2021, inkjet print on found paper

Josh Alan, No Time to Be Anything But a Machine, 2021, inkjet print on found paper

These two pieces are by someone named Josh Alan. Seeing them, I wonder if they are by the Josh Alan who was a guitarist living in Dallas, whom I once saw years ago at the Mucky Duck here in town. I suppose he could moved closer to Houston in the intervening years. Although his brother, Drew Friedman, is a well-known illustrator, I've never known Alan to do visual art. But as I looked for his website, I see that this Josh Alan is not the guitarist. Their identical names are just a coincidence.

 Karen Hilyer, Furrows, 2020, composite photograph of stereo pinhole photographs, archival pigment print

These long flat landscapes by Karen Hilyer, with vanishing points created by furrows in the fields, attracted me as I walked past. I almost missed them because they are so small (perhaps that is a result of them being pinhole photos). Just to give you an idea of the scale, I tool a photo of them next to other pieces.

 Kira Jane Porter, I Ripped My Shirt, 2019, latex and acrylic on canvas

Kira Jane Porter's painting is another highly antic abstraction (a lot of abstractions in this Big Show). I like how the mark-making seems like a pastiche of comic book styles without quoting any images that I can tell.

 Orna Feinstein, Morph 3, 2021, concrete, plastic, paper, acrylic paint, and threads

I wonder with Orna Feinstein's piece if the shape already existed and she added the colored threads after. It looks as if the rounded part is the top of a screw that is colorfully being screwed into the rectangular portion.

 Roslyn M. Dupre, Home St. Louis #3, 2020, found denim trusers on pine frame and found garden spades

I liked Roslyn M. Dupre's piece mostly because of the shovel handles used as the base. A handsome piece.

 S.G. Starr, What Are the Odds, 2020, mixed media, collage, adornments, and resin on original giclee print

This piece by S.G. Starr seemed quite slick (which might in part be due to the shiny coat of resin on it), but its poster-like presence caught my eye. I liked how the half-tone in the central ribbon image was so visible compared to the rest of the image.

 Tra' Slaughter, Anatomy of Happiness, 2019, mixed media on found wood

I like seeing a rough-hewn assemblage in the Big Show. The tradition of Wallace Berman and George Herms lives on! Looking at Tra' Slaughter's webpage, it seems that he has done a few assemblages like this over the past year, although more of his work is two dimensional work.

This just scratches the surface of what's at the Big Show. I am so glad to see that it has returned.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Faust part one, translated by Randall Jerrell

 Robert Boyd

Today I talked about Goethe's Faust: Part One, translated by poet Randall Jarrell. I've read a bunch of translations of Faust over the years, starting with the Walter Kaufmann translation, then the version in The Essential Goethe, and the Faust translated by Philip Wayne, which are briefly discussed in this video. Also mentioned are the drawings and prints of Faust by Eugène Delacroix, music based on Goethe's poetry by Gounod, Mendelssohn, and Schubert (also mentioning Houston painter Earl Staley's designs for Gounod's opera Faust.) I'm hoping YouTube will let me keep the video up given that I used copyrighted music in it--we'll see, I guess!