Little words

Over the last year, I've been noticing the proliferation of short fiction: smallish, often beautifully packaged and uniquely presented. Maybe it's just that I'm beginning to pay attention to fiction again, after a frustrating hiatus of pap and bad circumstance...and this is a good re-entry into it before finally picking up that W. Somerset Maugham or Henry James that have been staring at me for a long time.

Here are some of the books which have been inhabitating my thoughts recently (including some non-fiction):

The Tent - Margaret Atwood

...this little book is a collection of short - some very short - pieces that hover somewhere between folktales, fables and parables. They feel ancient, but stunningly opening up an old cigar box, filled with your childhood treasured objects and trinkets, after having forgotten about them for years...and them reminding you, somehow, of who you are, and who you should be.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

...a strange and gorgeous little novel, of the malleability of age; the resiliency of humanity, the beauty of life and the weird situations we create around ourselves at times. Garcia Marquez's works always scintillate and crackle with the heat and melliflousness of post-colonial South America (at least what I know of it from reading).

What Jesus Meant - Garry Wills

... a brilliant (I'm still working on it) revisiting of the life of Jesus, cut down to the core of the Gospels, complete with Wills's own meaty and wonderful translations of New Testament Greek. This little devotional-type book will be controversial, but feels so true to the heart of Jesus' ministry and purpose through his father...

And here are some that are on my upcoming list:

Gotz and Meyer - David Albahari
the days of awe - Hugh Nissenson

I'd be curious to learn if any of you have read any of these books, and would also love to hear your opinion of them. Any one else been noticing all the little books on the shelves recently?



Hello, phellow philly-ites; this sounds like a great, fun time, but...I already have plans. Maybe you don't! Read all about it:


10 speakers x 20 images x 20 seconds
thursday, february 16 @ 6:00 pm free drinks

We would like to invite you to the first talk20 event this Thursday at the ICA. The first of its kind in Philadelphia, talk20 is modeled after an event that started two years ago in Tokyo and has now spread to London, LA and Sydney. Talk20 begins with a series of short presentations of 20 slides each, selected and narrated by a hybrid roster of students, educators, and professionals working across fields of art, architecture, and landscape. Talk20 is not a lecture but a gathering, an informal exchange of ideas within and without the design community. Drinks, snacks, music, compelling ideas and great discussion will be provided.

Peter McCleary
Lucio Blandini
Srdjan Weiss
Kaz Morihata
David Ruy
Abigail Hopkins
Rhett Russo
Jay Villa
Anna Pla Catala
Eric Ellingsen

Visit us online:
hours and directions

Institute of Contemporary Art · University of Pennsylvania118 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104-3289 · 215.898.5911

Note to self: the church studios should do this!



"Only a person of deep faith can afford the luxury of skepticism." -Nietzche


Ode to Joy

(above, Adam Parker Smith mannikin installation)

I'd like to briefly respond to a great comment by a friend of mine, Dayton Castleman, to my previous post,

Part of what he said:
"...I like to leave a little room to be surprised by unexpected visual graces in the midst of the aesthetic desert. "

And furthermore, he went on to comment how having his small daughter along at the First Friday open galleries, and watching her respond to the art in an entirely visceral, pure way, has helped him in searching for more wonder in the at-times barren art world. For example, her reaction to the toddler-size stuffed mannikins, by Adam Parker Smith at the Painted Bride.

Dayton, I hope I'm articulating your comment correctly...thanks for the reminder of how innocent wonder can carry us past detritus - and hubris, for that matter - to the really important components of art experience that we po-po-mo influenced folk have largely lost: sublimity, beauty, joy, surprise...all those good things. And I don't speak of these concepts in the false Platonic sense of being on a higher plain, but rather as being right down here, with us, among us. This a gospel action, no? No wonder we're exhorted to become as little children...

Don't get me wrong; I strive to maintain the production and realization of joy and wonder in my art...and with my encounters with others' art...but I don't have a little one to physically remind me of it; to help me get past my cynicism which has piled up while I wasn't watching. So, thanks again for the reminder. I think that that Friday - First Friday - I perhaps was walking in a desert of my own...and a little more aesthetic sand was thrown in my face on Second and Third streets...just a little too much.

Now, back to the joy...


In honor of Black History Month...

In honor of Black History Month, here is a fascinating look back at the first written protest against slavery in the New World, written here in our very own Germantown. (Even though, at that time, Germantown was a small hamlet many miles outside of Philadelphia, I'll apply our physical connection retroactively...)

The image you see above is the table on which this document was signed by witnesses, in good Friends is now in the collection of the Germantown Mennonite Meetinghouse, and may be seen there. (Some of these signatories had Mennonite background.)

Here's the text:

The First Protest Against Slavery in the New WorldGermantown, 1688

This is to ye monthly meeting held at Richard Worrell's.
These are the reasons why we are against the traffik of men-body, as followeth. Is there any that would be done or handled at this manner? viz., to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life? How fearful and faint-hearted are many on sea when they see a strange vessel — being afraid it should be a Turk, and they should be taken, and sold for slaves into Turkey. Now what is this better done, as Turks doe? Yea, rather is it worse for them which say they are Christians, for we hear that ye most part of such negers are brought hitherto against their will and consent and that many of them are stolen. Now tho they are black we cannot conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones. There is a saying that we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are. And those who steal or rob men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not alike? Here is liberty of conscience wch is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body, except of evil-doers, wch is an other case. But to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against. In Europe there are many oppressed for conscience sake; and here there are those oppossd who are of a black colour. And we who know that men must not commit adultery — some do commit adultery, in others, separating wives from their husbands and giving them to others; and some sell the children of these poor creatures to other men. Ah! doe consider well this thing, you who doe it, if you would be done at this manner? and if it is done according to Christianity? You surpass Holland and Germany in this thing. This makes an ill report in all those countries of Europe, where they hear off, that ye Quakers doe here handel men as they handle there ye cattle. And for that reason some have no mind or inclination to come hither. And who shall maintain this your cause, or pleid for it? Truly we can not do so, except you shall inform us better hereof, viz., that Christians have liberty to practise these things. Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, than if men should rob or steal us away, and sell us for slaves to strange countries; separating housbands from their wives and children. Being now this is not done in the manner we would be done at therefore we contradict and are against this traffic of men-body. And we who profess that it is not lawful to steal, must, likewise, avoid to purchase such things as are stolen, but rather help to stop this robbing and stealing if possible. And such men ought to be delivered out of ye hands of ye robbers, and set free as well as in Europe. Then is Pennsylvania to have a good report, instead it hath now a bad one for this sake in other countries. Especially whereas ye Europeans are desirous to know in what manner ye Quakers doe rule in their province — and most of them doe look upon us with an envious eye. But if this is done well, what shall we say is done evil?
If once these slaves (wch they say are so wicked and stubborn men) should joint themselves — fight for their freedom, — and handel their masters and mastrisses as they did handel them before; will these masters and mastrisses take the sword at hand and warr against these poor slaves, licke, we are able to believe, some will not refuse to doe; or have these negers not as much right to fight for their freedom, as you have to keep them slaves?
Now consider well this thing, if it is good or bad? And in case you find it to be good to handel these blacks at that manner, we desire and require you hereby lovingly that you may inform us herein, which at this time never was done, viz., that Christians have such a liberty to do so. To the end we shall be satisfied in this point, and satisfie likewise our good friends and acquaintances in our natif country, to whose it is a terror, or fairful thing that men should be handeld so in Pennsylvania.

This is from our meeting at Germantown, held ye 18 of the 2 month, 1688, to be delivered to the Monthly Meeting at Richard Worrell's.

Garret hendericks
derick up de graeff
Francis daniell Pastorius
Abraham up Den graef

(Pastorius was one of the men who welcomed the first Mennonites into the New World...including William Rittenhouse.)


Artist of the fortnight: Fernando Colon Gonzales

I just have to share an artist with you; an artist whose work I've been loving since I saw it in person at Larry Becker Contemporary Art, this past August. A painting of his has been my constant companion as computer desktop background this week, and I keep gazing at in wonder. Here it is:

(untitled, 2005, flashe on panel)

I think his painting method involves beginning in one spot on a colored panel, with a loaded brush of flashe paint, and then making a delineated shape or undulating pattern in one continuous brush stroke, until coming to a close.

Truly, I have been staring at this painting all this week, and thoroughly enjoying all the pent-up joy and jauntiness in just this "simple" combination of an innocent pink and a loopy white shape. It has continued to make me reconsider my aesthetic choices while painting, especially questions such as, "do I really need another color?" or "what can I eliminate in this composition?"

It brings to mind the philosophical concept of Ockham's Razor, where one should not strive for any more answer than what is necessary to basically answer the question posited. Essentials; that's what I'm after. And yet, something always is welling up in me - instinct almost - that wants to layer on another color; accentuate the line; to complicate the answer; the answer to my particular aesthetic question or problem. Granted, sometimes it takes more...but most often, less IS more. At least, this is how I strive to answer these questions (how PoMo of me.)

Anyway, Fernando Colon Gonzalez is, I think, interested in a similar line of questioning. Here's some words on him, from the text of Larry Becker's September show of his and Rebecca Salter's work at the gallery (I've highlighted some parts I find most revealing):

"With similar discipline, experience, and meditative concentration, but in a very different manner, Fernando Colon Gonzales also achieves a synapse between an envisioned indefinable element (or an enumeration of similar elements) and a specific painterly mark indicating its capture. In each small-scaled painting, the artist seems to have had a sighting of something that he has searched for rigorously by means of a kind of intuitive focus/non-focus: this "thing" must have the required very strict ambiguity, yet it is up to him to execute an articulate concrete reflection of it. A further challenge is that he attempts to complete each form in a single continuous motion and once-loaded brush. Like Rebecca Salter, Mr. Colon Gonzalez also uses water-based, pigment-dense paints on a firm surface. However, his palette is mostly clear, often saturated color, and his forms are kept to a singular kind within each painting, suspended near-center in a contrasting plain field. It all appears very simple, light-handed, and felicitous…at first. One can quickly sense, however, an inherent complexity and refinement, somehow akin to the Zen tradition in brush painting, but with a personal visual vocabulary rather than one of a formal tradition. His purpose is neither to make symbols nor expressive gestures. He does strive to make a form which can be described only by itself. This is a tradition also in modern and contemporary painting which he respects."

Well put...the connection to the paradox of taut intensity and seemingly liquid, ease of zen brush painting is an apt one. There is a tension, but it's a pleasing tension, not a stressful one.

I'm having trouble posting more images, so here's a link to more, until I have success:



Was Baudelaire more right than he knew?

(above, Jane Masters needlework)

(Still working on getting those images...)

Never fear, I have more flippant statements from the general art-viewing public lined up for my noggin-poppin' riposte(s). What's the plural to that word? Frenchies; help me out here. Anyway...a slight deviation follows...

My wife and I ventured out Friday night to Old City for the First Friday event...or as one gallery owner that I know calls it, "Forced Friday." Let me just say this...what a load of crap.

(Batman the second favorite scene...the Joker flipping through glossies, untiil he comes to Vicki Vale...(Kim Basinger): "crap...crap...crap...")

That is, we did what we normally do...we visited Gallery Joe, Pentimenti and (attempted) to enter Larry Becker Contemporary Art, the three staples in my gallery foray into Old City...and frankly the only truly high-caliber galleries in Old City. There are a few others that are occasionally good, but quaveringly so. The exhibits at the three above galleries were quite good - Gallery Joe, especially. Kudos to them for exhibiting drawing in this painting-heavy city scene.
My experience on the whole made me contemplate swearing off Old City First Fridays for the future, especially considering the swarms of tragically-hip people clogging the sidewalks. (I mean, what do I expect, really?) I felt old, and out of place.

I've noticed an explosion of little galleries recently, both in Northern Liberties, and some in the Cherry Street area, and others...but they are largely too far afield for me to bother...I better hurry if I want to see them; they'll probably be out of business before I get there. The market seems good for art...not quite approaching what I have heard about the early 80's, but good nonetheless. How else would these little players even get started? But still, something's wrong.

Frankly, I'm fed up with 90% of the art I see these days...the majority of it is cowtowing to and ingratiating itself before MAMMON. (Or...should I say it?...whoring itself with Mammon.) It was Baudelaire after all, who said, infamously, "What is Art? Prostitution." He was, I think being provocative and ironic in a fine, early-20th century French way, but there is still more there to deconstruct. Nowadays, I think there's a little more going on than just metaphor. It brings to mind the railings of biblical prophets against the prostitution of Israel at the altars of Baal, and the holy oaks. Something's going to blow, eventually...or maybe not?

The art world has long been incestuous. Fatal genetic diseases are not long to follow.

Related Posts with Thumbnails