Monday, November 30, 2009

Thank you, Santa!

Santa's freight services delivered my studio easel while I was in Daytona. I assembled it this morning with the joy and care of a father assembling his kid's first bicycle. Why is an artist so excited about an easel? Much like my studio, it's my first. I've been painting for nearly 20 years and have never had either to call my own. The first studio I ever worked in was during my residency at McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, NC. The space was nearly 1,000 square feet, lit by skylights and came with two studio easels. My head was spinning like a Van Gogh sky for nearly two weeks. For someone who is used to painting in his kitchen and using the countertop for an easel, I was nearly paralyzed by my surroundings. 

I hadn't planned on buying the easel. I was in Atlanta at Utrecht buying art supplies for the commission and noticed that it was 72% off the list price which made it $209! I had an online coupon that gave me $60 off on any order over $200. The on-line price was even lower...$199.99! I bought a pack of X-acto blades to put the total over the $200 limit and now the easel is only $140! Hell, if that wasn't a sign that it needed to be mine, nothing else was. Now that it's here, I can't stop looking at it, nor can I can't wait to paint something on it. That's going to be awhile considering my schedule. Nonetheless, it's here and it's mine and yes, I am going to put a big red bow on it, stand it next to the Christmas tree and act like Santa hand carried it from the North Pole. I might even give it a ride around the neighborhood in my wagon.


This is the final week of planning for me before I start painting. The images from the state archives were waiting on me and I'll be incorporating them into my layout the rest of the week. I'll gesso the canvas tomorrow, then again on Wednesday in anticipation of starting to sketch on Saturday. Can't wait. The butterflies are circling below and I'm anxious to get to the point where the paint is flowing and I settle in.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stretching my patience

I had no idea what a pain in the ass tacking up 20 yards of canvas could be. Its a frustrating evolution to say the least. I don't even want to think about how much of a headache stretching it will prove to be when its completed. I'm taking off to Florida for Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon and wanted to have this thing up and gessoed before I go, but I may have to wait until I get back to do that. I ordered a bunch of art supplies while in Atlanta and hope they will be here before I take off.  I was planning on buying them at the Utrecht store, but found out that the on-line discount coupons saved me more than $250. For all of you traveling this holiday season, have a safe trip and try not to spend or eat too much.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jeffrey Day Blog

I received an email from an old acquaintance, Jeffrey Day, today. I'm somewhat reticent to call him a friend; after all, he is an art critic. As far as they go, I have found him very competent, even handed and dare I say it, likable. Though he has shown me much love over the years, he maintains the right to take a chunk out of my ass when he sees fit and being an artist, I respect that. He was a columnist with the State newspaper in Columbia, SC, but since the precipitous decline of subscribers (in all print media these days), those on the periphery are being marginalized. If you're not covering a story that left a blood trail, you're on the periphery. He was the only reason I used to buy the State newspaper. Like him or not, he covered many art openings, mainly in the Columbia area, but on occasion his scope widened to encompass the entire state. It was nice reading an in depth article or opinionated review rather than the press releases Charleston's Post and Courier tries to pass off as art reviews.  It's such a shame. In the past couple years, proliferation of and appreciation for the contemporary art scene in Charleston has grown exponentially. Between the Halsey, REDUX, Walk Gallery, Pecha Kucha, Kulture Klash, etc., (sorry if I overlooked anyone), awareness and interest in contemporary art is at an all time high. Thank God for the smaller niche publications like the City Paper that cover the arts and give commentary.

Since leaving the State, Jeffrey has been keeping those interested through his art blog, Carolina Culture. His latest entry was about the state's art collection and what's missing. It seems about every three years, there is a discussion about what's to be done with the collection (from permanent housing to exhibition to prospective additions and so on). This is usually done in conjunction with an exhibit of selected works by a particular gallery (the collection is often loaned out for agency display and outside exhibitions). In an effort to drum up attendance and support, the common sense addendum to the exhibit is a panel discussion about the collection which leads to what's in, what's not in and who deserves to be in or out. I absolutely refuse to attend such discussions. I'm too old. It's like sitting at a bar listening to college freshman talk about relationships in between bubble gum shooters then asking your opinion. It ain't gonna happen. Once upon a time in the latter part of the last millennia I was a member of the commission that decided what was purchased for inclusion in the collection. The state set aside .01% (don't quote me on this) of the state budget for purchases, which was managed by the arts commission. I was amazed by the submission process and thought it ass backwards, if not stupid. Artists, and/or their representatives submitted works for inclusion. Huh? I always thought that the convened panel should have been given the responsibility of identifying works of art and/or artists that were on the rise in the state (kinda like some secret hush-hush Nobel Prize or MacArthur fellows award) and then tasked with either purchasing existing work or better yet, commissioning them to create something specific for inclusion. Since the choices consisted of what was submitted, the process led to purchase of art by artists that were knowledgeable enough to be plugged into the process, but not necessarily deserving of the my opinion. This has opened the door to an ongoing debate about the overall strength of the collection. The last I heard (more than a decade ago) was that the selection process was put on hold until the arts commission could figure this thing out. In the meantime the budget was cut and that's a whole different story.

Jeffrey's latest blog entry probes these concerns. I write about it because he graciously included my name as one of the artists deserving to be represented in the collection. Thank you, Jeffrey. It would be an honor to be included, but to be honest with you I really could care less. All I know is that when and if the time comes that they should seek to purchase a piece of my art, trust me, I'm going to tax the bastards. 

Prior to Jeffrey's posting, he contacted me via email and asked for an image to post as an example of my work. He pulled an image of a series I am working on (my Jim Crow racist clothing line series) seen here, but never exhibited:

I already have the entire line of works planned out (including actual wearable pieces), but haven't accomplished them yet. I'm still making a few mental tweaks. Who knows, you may see this on the wall of some state agency one day...heh-heh-heh!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Research, research, research!

I'm apparently on a world-wind tour of the southeast. I went to bed at 2 a.m. and woke up at 6 a.m. in Durham, had breakfast in Chapel Hill, lunch in Raleigh, dinner in Charleston and now posting this at 3 a.m. in Atlanta. I'm afraid to sleep lest I wake up in Shanghai. 

Despite the hours of travel, it was a most productive night and day. I was supposed to have dinner with Barron last night but after gathering a trove of material from Ann and the library, I needed to sit with it and mentally sort. I stayed up until two in the morning playing with the layout again (Remember - "Scripts are never done, they're just abandoned before shooting".) What I am most concerned with at this point in the game is conversation. I've been re-reading the bios of all the individuals and trying to find out who would be talking to whom in this visual fact based fictional narrative. This line of logic may sound silly, but it's important because ultimately what we're trying to do here is tell a story - one that makes sense to the audience. Though they may not be aware of that on the conscious level, the subconscious will be more than happy to inform them that something is wrong. Once that happens they get stuck in a mental loop trying to figure out what doesn't click instead of diving in and engaging the piece. But more than that, it needs to make sense to me. If it doesn't, the execution becomes a hair-pulling chore because you find yourself trying to illustrate Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky.

The most productive part of the day was my meeting with Kim Cumber at the state archives in Raleigh. This wonderful woman runs the photographic collection and adeptly supplemented my collection of grainy thumbnail portraits with higher-res images. She also alerted me to images of significant scenes and suggested a couple other people (I was in need of more women to profile). I will submit the names to the historians tomorrow via e-mail and see if they pass muster. Thank you, Kim!

Kim Cumber

Before departing Raleigh, I made it a point to stop by the Credit Union building (it was only a few blocks from the state archives). During my meeting with the suits, Michael Spink told me about a commissioned sculpture they had in the lobby and I wanted to see it. The piece is about 40 feet long and ten feet high.

Nice, huh? I was surprised to see who the artists were, but shouldn't have been. Tom Stanley chairs the fine art department at Winthrop University and has been a highly regarded artist and curator for some time now. If I'm not mistaken, I met Shaun Cassidy at McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte. I believe he was an artist in residence there the year after I left and faintly remember having a conversation with him while he was installing a piece on their front lawn. This is the label on the piece:

While looking at the piece, I was struck by a budding rationale behind the credit union's willingness to step in and fund the SOG's missing history project. They get it. What? The importance of funding and displaying art in the public sphere. This subject was on my mind because less that two weeks ago, Mark Sloan, the director of the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art in Charleston, asked me to speak to a political science class about the issue of censorship (gee, I wonder why?). A day later, one of the students, Tiffany Cox, was writing a paper for a philosophy of aesthetics course and wanted to know my take on whether art should be publicly funded and whether these institutions should have some form of censorship. My response:

"I'’ve always found this debate rather ridiculous from a habitability standpoint. The question always seems to pit commerce against culture in the shortfall while ignoring the obvious long-term reality that culture in the form of the arts has a positive influence on commerce. One only has to look at what many consider to be the most vibrant cities and communities to see that the common denominator is the aesthetic values they have chosen to embrace and exploit. If benefits are to be enjoyed by all, then all should share the burden. The only real decision left to be made is how much public financing is enough and into whose hands this responsibility is entrusted. Those placed in charge of a public art policy need to be well schooled in the internal and external needs of the community and insulated enough to place co-operative need above individual desire.

As for the issue of censorship, though a victim, I wholeheartedly believe that any institution - public or private - has the right to censor material they deem motivationally questionable. This opinion, however, is based on the utopian ideal that any elected or self anointed gatekeeper of aesthetic virtue have sense enough to understand that if the work in question displays any ability to ask meaningful questions, then it should have the opportunity to do so."

Apparently, the Local Government Federal Credit Union agrees with me. I can only hope that other institutions and local governments see the benefit and get on board soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Credit Union meeting

I'm currently in Chapel Hill, NC on the campus of UNC. I had a scheduled meeting with some senior staff of the Local Government Federal Credit Union (LGFCU). They are the organization that graciously stepped in and decided to fund the commission. I'm not going to lie to you, the suits usually scare me to the point that I try and avoid them at all possible costs. Corporate and artists are usually oil and water that separate along a distinct creative line. But considering what this crew has done and their affiliation with the School of Government, they had to be given the benefit of doubt and assumed cool until proven guilty. I'm happy to report that we had an absolutely wonderful lunch meeting. They were attentive and very committed to the project beyond their financial aid. It's attitudes like that that makes you appreciate the sponsorship even more and want to work even harder to ensure that they are kept in the creative loop as much as possible. I even went so far as to extend an invitation to visit Charleston and view the process first hand, which I hope they will take advantage of. The meeting was also attended by a couple members of the staff (SOG Dean - Michael Smith and Faith Thompson, Assistant Dean of Development) as well as one of the original committee members, Chandra Cox.

Chandra Cox (Head of NCSU Dept. of Art & Design), Ann Simpson (SOG Associate Dean),
Michael Spink (LGFCU Comm. Mgr.), Ashley Ruffin (LGFCU Marketing) and Mark Caverly, (Exec. VP, LGFCU)

After the meeting I spent some time with Ann going over the names of the chosen few for the painting. Alas, a few heads rolled, but a couple were added. This process reminds me of a quote by film auteur John Huston who once said of movie scripts, "they're never finished, they're simply abandoned before shooting." I get the feeling that right up to the moment paint hits the canvas, history will continue to unfold (as it should). She produced some extra research material that contained more photographs of the subjects. Some have proven to be rather elusive. I also had a chance to meet a graduate intern, Barron Monroe, who has done some preliminary research at the Wilson Library that will save me a tremendous amount of time. I shall have to feed the young man and fill him with much drink for his efforts. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mural comp

I was having a difficult time working on sketches for the mural (I hate that term, at least in reference to what I'm doing. I've always felt that a mural was something done on the wall whereas a painting is something hung on the wall - hell, no one refers to the Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling as a mural), anyway, I was spinning my wheels  due to the size and complexity of the process. I couldn't see the whole thing. Then I came up with the brilliant idea to use photoshop. That way I could scan and move images around, but once again, seeing the entire layout on a 13" Macbook screen was bothersome due to the length of the piece. I finally broke down and did it the old fashioned way. I hinged foam core together and drew out the exact size of the painting in inches (48" x 5"). After that, I sat like a kid cutting out bodies found in the newspaper, magazines and scanned family photo's that were resized to fit. That way I could move them around at will over the whole game board. Much easier. We live and learn, don't we? I finally finished the layout yesterday and am relatively happy with it. The background photo's are simply placeholders at this point and will be replaced later this week after I do some more research at the library in Chapel Hill and in Raleigh. I scanned the layout in last night and added a few silhouette viewers in to give it scale. Here's what it looks like now:

(click to see larger)

There are actually twelve real faces already incorporated. Now that I am happy with the layout, I will have to photograph some actual persons in more exacting poses. 

I'm heading up to the SOG in Chapel Hill tomorrow for a luncheon with the Credit Union personnel who stepped in and funded the project. I'm looking forward to meeting them and thanking them personally for stepping up to the plate. I'm not sure who made the decision to write the check (or spearheaded the appropriation) but if it's only one person (or two), I may just photograph them and place them in the painting as a thank you. Yes, some corporate bigwig(s) may find themselves a busboy (or waiter) to history. I'm planning on staying in the area until Thursday evening and spending time at the Wilson Library on campus, then onto the state archives in Raleigh if I can ever get in touch with the archivist to set an appointment. I'll try her again after I post this entry.

The canvas arrived on Saturday! Only two days after ordering. Utrecht rocks! I'm heading to Atlanta this weekend to spend some time with the grandbaby and was planning on buying the gesso there, but Utrecht has a 40% off sale on one no-sale item ordered online. I'll order the gesso and get the discount and just pick up the paint and other various and sundry supplies in store.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Moon event at H.I.C.A

Last night was the annual membership drive for the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. It is the only event that is restricted to current members and was very well attended. I sit on their advisory board but am currently on hiatus until I finish this commission. Members were entertained by a live cuban band, food and drink as well as the inaugural exhibition  Work v. / Work n. by the collage and assemblage artist Aldwyth. I didn't have the chance to attend the opening of the exhibit (I was in Atlanta) but was told by many that the place was packed to capacity. It was the largest opening in the history of the Halsey with over one thousand in attendance. 

I had a chance to finally study Aldwyth's work (a feat in itself). It is somewhat hard to describe. The best I can do is relay to you some text from the official catalog:

"She creates astonishingly complex collages and assemblages that recall the fantastical intricacies of Hieronymus Bosch. The exhibition subtitle, Work v. / Work, n., is intended to illuminate the idea that work is both a verb and a noun, and highlights the word's alternate definitions. Aldwyth's collages are often epic scaled. The viewer should be prepared for a trip through time and space. They are packed with intricately fashioned episodes, they seem like worlds that lie outside of our world, and infinitely worth exploring. To do so, however, one must turn into a viewer of cities from space, an ant crawling on a blanket."

One of the highlights of the night for me was discovering my name embedded in one of her works titled 'Document'. It's a disassembled / reassembled index of art and artists by Canady and Janson from the 1950's amended with names of artists she considers notable and scribed in pencil. I was discussing the piece with my wife and she half jokingly asked why my name wasn't included in the text. After looking to see where my name would have been had I been bestowed the honor of being included, lo and behold, there it was.

Needless to say, I was shocked (click on the image to see it larger). Thank you, Aldwyth! To see more of her work click here. Anyone interested in becoming a member and supporting one of the finest contemporary art centers in the southeast, click here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Shameless Christmas plug

The holidays are once again upon us and as many may not know - I self published a Christmas mystery. It is based on a screenplay that I had been working on since 1998 and after many drafts, finally decided to turn into a novel since I couldn't seem to get anyone in Hollywood interested in the script. It's a cheap gift so order a copy and stuff a stocking or two...or three. You can read a brief synopsis and get 30% off the list price by clicking on the discount link below and entering the code. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The A.R.T. of diversity

If you are one of those individuals that work with or in a corporate environment, chances are you are familiar with and fatigued by the constant talk of 'diversity' and 'diversity training'. A couple years back I was invited to attend a diversity panel put together by Kittie Watson (Innolect, Inc.) for Pfizer at McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, NC. Kittie is a huge supporter of the arts and had developed a rather unique approach to diversity training: use artists and works of art to facilitate discussions about the difficult issues surrounding diversity. At that time there was an exhibition of artists whose works touched upon rather hot button issues of race, gender, stereotypes, etc. Afterwards I made a presentation of my works and answered questions about the real and imagined impact of some of the work.  A paper has finally been published in the OD Practitioner outlining the specifics involved in the A.R.T. of Diversity. If any corporate type is interested in reading the article, it can be downloaded by clicking hereFor more information on the A.R.T. of Diversity and how you can implement this strategy in your workplace, contact Kittie at:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Studio is finally ready!

The studio is finally ready! I rented it on the first of the month and immediately went about the business of making it ready for art. I installed 13 sheets of OSB on the main cinder block wall and painted it white. Now I have a surface that I can staple the linen to. While working in the space I realized what a godsend it was. The height of the lowest beams and the panels are eight feet, which is the exact height of the ceiling in the location where the painting will hang. The wall is exactly 53' long, which works out to five feet longer than the finished painting is supposed to be. I had electricity turned on but there was already a security system in place (no fire alarm however, waiting on the rep to come by today to have that installed - need it for the insurance policy). I also went to have the water turned on, only to find out that it was already flowing. The bathroom was filthy but after a lengthy clean up, everything works fine. I even have access to wifi from the business below! I set up a speaker system so I can have music, news and my audiobooks to pass the time with. In essence, it's home away from home. I also forgot to mention that the location is five blocks from the house! I can walk to work. Nice, huh? This will help when the dog days of art hit (and they will). Just after the halfway point when you can see the end but it's too far to touch. The space will help ease that anxiety. I've told myself to enjoy this because there may never be another. It will outlive me and therefore take joy and pride in each brushstroke because when it's's done, so let the good times roll.

I also had a meeting this morning with Nick Smith. He's a local arts writer, but having him write an article wasn't my motive. He's also a arts videographer that shot and edited a short film on an exhibition at the Gibbes Museum of Art by Juan Logan and Susan Harbage-Page called "Prop Master". I want this painting documented, but I will have no time (or editorial distance) to do it myself. I shot him an email about the project and he is all over it. I told him that I wanted no real input in his project, what he creates, he creates. The only stipulation is that UNC has to get a few copies and be able to use them to publicize the project. The copyright will remain his and his alone. He agreed and will set up shop the moment the linen arrives and I begin installation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The royal Grand-daughter

I am an avid reader of the New Yorker (it's my toilet material). I was reading an article about the director James Cameron (he has a new movie opening next month - Avatar), and ran across a quote by him that literally blew me away. 

"If you set your goals ridiculously high and it's a failure,
you will fail above everyone else's success." 

Wow. I'm going to paint that on the wall of my studio and make it a point to read it each morning before I start working.

Since this is a fairly new blog (switched over from an old one) I didn't get a chance to post some great news: The royal grand daughter, Dylan Sanai Slade, made her healthy presence known on September 30, 2009. Let the spoiling begin!

A very happy and loving mom and pops, Raven and Michael.