WHAT IíVE BEEN UP TO

At this point (January, 1999), my pictures are hanging in four locations:

At Café Italia Ristorante, 1236 Fourth Street in San Rafael, through February 6. Phone number (415) 459-3977. Then on February 6, at Ristorante Fabrizio, 455 Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur. There are twelve pieces, two of which are by my son, Daniel, his first public showing. Daniel works with computer imagery, and likes it dark. This is a big, beautifully-appointed restaurant, and the pieces were created with this room in mind.

At Gallery House, 538 Ramona Street near University, Palo Alto, CA. (650) 326-1668). I have a show in the Graphics Corridor of the gallery through January, and am also participating in the New Artists show in the Fireplace Room. The other new members Iím showing with are Katinka Hartmetz, who makes large abstract prints; Richard Bostrom, who juried in with wood sculpture which I consider biomorphic, with intricate color gradations, and who also does abstract acrylics; and Doug Uptmor, who does expressionistic masks and mixed-media fiberglass wall hangings. I will have a two-person show in the front of the gallery in March 1999. The organizer of that show is Gisele Haselbarth, who paints in both figurative and abstract styles. The reception for that show will be the first Sunday in March, March 7, from 4-6 pm.

At Period Gallery, 5174 Leavenworth, Omaha, NE 68106, (402)556-3218, in a juried show called Digital/Experimental. I got into this show in the new way: I saw their web page listed in ArtNews, perused it, liked what I saw, and e-mailed them, suggesting that they check out my web site. They liked what they saw, and invited me to submit slides, then accepted two pieces. Larry Bradshaw, the galleryís director, says the show entails 45 pieces from all over the world, and that he will put the whole show on the web, at www.periodgallery.com.

At Danville Fine Arts Gallery, 233 Front Street, Danville, CA 94526, (925) 838-1959. This juried show is called Fantastic Visions, Abstract and Surrealistic. There will be a reception for this show on Saturday, January 23, 4-6 PM. The show runs through February 27.

In September, 1998, I guest edited the Newsletter of YLEM, an international organization of people who combine art and technology which is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The material is now on YLEMís web page, www.ylem.org. I still want to guest edit the YLEM Newsletter using new material about the use of chance operations in the visual arts, including computer generated- and -manipulated work. If you have a manuscript on this topic or know someone who does, please get in touch with me.

I was featured in the October-December 1998 issue of studioNOTES. This is a newsletter for artists. To get a copy of studioNOTES, contact Benny Shaboy at P.O Box 502, Benicia, CA 94510, (707) 746-5516,e-mail snotes1@ix.netcom.com, web presence at webgalleries.com/studionotes, where there is a picture of mine that doesnít appear on my web site. After the piece came out, I was contacted by Esteban Duque, a Chilean artist who just moved to the Bay Area from Boca Raton, FL, who said, "I thought I was the only one painting on film!"

A couple of months ago I schlepped to Oakland to see the icontact groupís massive show at Alta Bates Hospital. icontact is a group of photographers from around the Bay Area, and my favorite member of their group is Kira Chuchom, who adds chemicals to her prints and grows unique organic imagery. After I left that show, I meandered to another part of Oakland, to the MooBoo Gallery, where film painter Salongo Lee was hosting a show of experimental photographic work. The show was a knockout. I was blown away not only by the quality of the work, but also by the quantity of experimenters from all over the country. (I felt a little like EstebanĖI had been thinking I was the only one doing this stuff.) I was especially struck by the work of Steve Aubrey, who does 3D lenticular biomorphic pieces. This work, created on the MacIntosh using PhotoShop and a topographical mapping program, literally lets you walk into the environment and dodge behind the shapes. (Well, maybe not literally.) I interviewed Steve in his studio in San Jose, CA, and the piece will probably appear in the March, 1999 issue of studioNOTES.

 

KANDINSKY, IMPROVISATION, AND CHAOS

My previous Kandinsky article (in Newsletter #1) prompted some commentary. Susan Swerdlow pointed out the chutzpah of printing my picture bigger than the reproduction of the Kandinsky painting. The reason for this was that I didnít want to crop the Kandinsky, whereas my pix are infinitely croppable. (Chutzpah, moi?)

Marius Johnston took issue with my assertion that Kandinsky used chance operations in the creation of his works, citing the many sketches that existed for each major canvas. I tried to defend my position by saying that many of Kandinskyís works are called Improvisation, and they certainly appear spontaneous, at least the soft-edged ones do from the "heroic" period of 1911-1918. Later, I realized that I hadnít really said that Kandinsky used chance operations in my article, but Marius had probably extrapolated that conclusion from other writings of mine, like the article titled "Improvisation" on page 3 of the same Newsletter. But whether or not Kandinsky used chance operations is certainly a question to be explored, as is the relationship between chance operations and improvisation.

In Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky defines the pictures which he calls Improvisations as "a largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character, the non-material nature."

Pierre Volboudt quotes Kandinsky without attributing the source, thus: Colour was endowed, for Kandinsky, with powers of metamorphosis. By a process of alchemy a painting could be brought into being from the pigments on a palette. "At the heart of the palette there exists a whole world derived from the picture that has been painted; it is created by chance, unintentionally, by the mysterious play of forces alien to the painting, it is more beautiful than any other and is itself a work of art."

Sonya Rapoport e-mailed me after reading the Newsletter, thusly: Iím writing because I have been thinking about your attributing "chance operations" to Kandinsky. There are many others you could include if you are referring to spontaneous gestures in artworks. As a matter of fact all good artists make spontaneous gestures informed by their agenda or style. Do not let geometric hard shapes fool you. (Like Mondrian) they are still intuitively INFORMED "chance operation" even if they are hard edged. However, here, there is a difference between formulaic and creative construction which can get in the way of evaluation. To the point: I think there is a difference between spontaneous gestures by an informed artist and the random program markings (chance operations) of a machine or animal or even maybe a naif or child. You are on to something interesting...But how about a compromise category: "Chance operations by the informed intuition." Perhaps a work of art is achieved by the artist recognizing the particular essences (strengths) of his/her chance operations and making use of them?

An essential question here seems to be whether chance operations are just another tool available to the artists in the course of self-expression, or whether chance operations can open the door to a new world.

Another question to explore in regard to Kandinsky is whether chaos theory can productively be applied to any of his work. To wit, this passage from Concerning the Spiritual in Art: The harmony of the new art demands a more subtle construction...something that appeals less to the eye and more to the soul. This "concealed construction" may arise from an apparently fortuitous selection of forms on the canvas. Their external lack of cohesion is their internal harmony. This haphazard arrangement of forms may be the future of artistic harmony. Their fundamental relationship will finally be able to be expressed in mathematical form, but in terms irregular rather than regular. (This anticipation of chaos theory was written in 1910.)

Again, Volboudt quotes Kandinsky without attribution: "The creation of a work is like the creation of a world," wrote Kandinsky. Painting seemed to him to resemble "the reverberating clash of different worlds which, within the battle and outside of it, are fated to create that new world which is called the work of art. Every work is born, technically, in the way the cosmos is born, our of catastrophes and the wailings of chaos, which in the end form symphonic harmonies." What remains elusiveĖgiven the infinite variations that are possibleĖis the chance element that, each time, determines the ultimate formal resolution.

ABSTRACT ART VERSUS IDEA ART

In October of last year, I participated in another of Angar Moraís soirees at Care Arrivederci. These events take place every Monday night from 6 pm to 9 pm, with presentations by artists and performers. Afterwards, Angar asked me if I could give him an excerpt from my talk to publish in a mailer he sends out to publish his events. Instead, I gave him this piece, which he excerpted extensively:

I recently accessed the web site www.jimpomeroy.com, and downloaded an interview with the late Jim Pomeroy from 1987 titled "Art Has Become Mute". In the interview, Pomeroy states that it is abstract art that is mute, and consequently the power structure can make the art say whatever the power structure wants it to. Pomeroyís alternative is to make art which makes a political statement. This art will apparently enlighten the populace so that they can organize to overthrow the power structure and unite to create a good society.

I would agree with Pomeroy that itís unfortunate that artists feel isolated from each other these days, and that people no longer feel that they are working together to make the world better. That is, however, the only point on which I can agree with Pomeroy.

Pomeroy objects to abstract art because, he claims, it is lacking in ideas, and he promotes an art that is based on ideas. I like to intellectualize about art, too, but as an abstract artist, I think art is primarily about emotions, not ideas. The ideas usually put forth through the medium of art tend not to be particularly profound, and art is not the best medium for the conveying of ideasĖthey tend to become diluted or misinterpreted.

Abstract art isnít muteĖitís the most eloquent art of all. It also isnít silly, which idea-based art tends to be. The problem with idea-based performance art is that it is so oriented toward the immediate audience reaction, and the most potent indicator of this reaction is laughter. So the artist thinks success is achieved if the audience is made to laugh. Personally, I have higher expectations from art than just comedy. If I want to laugh, I watch the Gong Show.

The irony of Pomeroyís approach is that he is preaching attacking the establishment with parodistic performance art, a form of art that has now become the establishment. And his dichotomy of art of ideas versus abstract art harks back to the 30s, when it was debated more intelligently than it has been since.

Abstract-expressionism was only partly a heroic expression of the individual ego, because it entailed the use of chance operations, which meant that the artistís ego had to surrender to forces beyond itself. This approach entails humility and openness, not ego.

The idea-oriented artist is trying to change the hearts and minds of the audience for their own good, because he knows what is good for themĖheís smarter, more enlightened, more good, better than they are, and their job is to mend their ways and become more like him. Whereas the abstract artist just wants to share something wonderful with the audience.

Some of the first abstract-expressionist art I ever saw was by a Long Beach artist who said "Iím not trying to create a work of art. Thatís the last thing Iím trying to do." (I never did find out what he was trying to do.) Personally, Iím trying to create a work of art. Thatís the first thing Iím trying to do. I love what I create, and I want other people to love it, too.

In Peter Clothierís novel, Chiaroscuro, his protagonist says he doesnít like abstract art because since the Holocaust was the most important event of the 20th Century, it has to be in his paintings. As far as Iím concerned, it was the people who hated abstract art who made the Holocaust. If the openness and emotional depth of the best abstract art were universally celebrated, and the improvisatory quality of the creation of this art were manifested in everyday life, the good society would have as much chance of manifesting itself as it could under any overtly political approach.

Newsletter, October 1998