Art of the Day: Jess Barnett’s ‘Crash’ (2014)

  August 21st, 2014

jess barnett 
      Jess Barnett
       Crash, 2014
       Acrylic ink and pencil on canvas, 18″ x 24″, inspired by the 2014 plane crash at Hanscom Air Field

     The painting is “Crash” (2014) by Massachusetts-based artist Jess Barnett. I respond immediately to this piece’s stark, tense, violent energy. Leaving the title & inspiration out of the picture (which is of course impossible, but doing my best here to just focus on the pure visual elements), the painting owes much of its emotional power to its unusual compositional & formal elements, as well as its indeterminate, shifting associations.
     Let’s consider the formal ingredients first: the vertical blue-gray, brisk brushstrokes of the background, punched through by three thin, black & red lines. The lines are in turn blotted by four different color shapes, each of which establish themselves with unsettling 3-D presence against the rest of the painting’s ether. The first thing that strikes me here, formally, are the vectors. We have the upward & “inward” vector of the three dark lines, tridenting forward. We have the downward & upward vectors of the background. We have the circular motions of the two blue blotches below. And we have the red gelatin cylinder pointing top-left, while the brown-blue sea cucumber points to the top-right, each crossing one or more of the 3 lines, their orientations creating angles with each. Finally, there are punctuating bright blood dot sprays on either side of the three lines that keep the eye sweeping from side to side. For a piece with just a few elements of subject matter, that’s a lot of motion & interest, very well economized, and when you add in the title and the blood-red colors and the suggestion of a road or smoke or guts, you have not only motion, and uncertainy, and multiplicity, but all that stuff plus suffering, pain and death. A potent, mysterious concentration which in ways is reminiscent of the disembodied works of Bacon.
     Composition aside, the painting makes me imagine and see many things (again, leaving aside the title and inspiration, responding purely to the visual content). Many things I can’t even name. To start with what I can describe: I like how the three lines seem to create a perspective, and begin to situate the action in a tangible universe: it’s as if we’re seeing a rainy road stretching into fog. Or it could be a pair of slightly bloodied, emaciated legs, feet disappearing into water, or some other substance. Or it could be just lines, disembodied and not establishing 3D-ness at all. But just when it seems like you’re looking at some kind of flat configuration of shapes, there’s something about the way the color blots, the vertical stroke sky, the blue-gray filling in the lines’ spaces near the bottom, and the lines themselves which all exist to create a nervous visceral energy, one that shifts back and forth between a 3-D depiction and a 2-D one. Example: that red presence is sometimes a well sculpted blotch, other times a kind of small, tangible boutique dessert shop blood-flan. Or a dense truncated cone of plasma. The topmost shape is sometimes a 2D spiral cable, but sometimes it leaps out at you: smoke, fresh coil of intestine, alien organ.

     A strong, troubling painting that moves deeply with its stark, precise visual language.


For more information about Jess Barnett’s paintings, please check out

[Posted by SnailCrow on August 21, 2014]


[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| paintings/drawings ]

Philip K. Dick: ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’ (1965), pt. 1 of 2

  August 9th, 2014



     (Above: Two different covers to P.K. Dick’s “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”)
     It’s hot enough to melt your organs if you stray out into the open air for too long, & it’s getting hotter all the time. Better stay in your ultra-cooled conapt.
     The very rich pay to accelerate their evolution, ballooning their brains & growing rinds and ridges on their mutated craniums in the process of becoming “bubbleheads”. “Pre-cogs” see into arrays of possible futures and are able to identify probable outcomes, such as fash (fashionable) trends to come.
     But you’re no pre-cog or bubblehead. You’re someone who has just been drafted to work in wretched conditions on some freezing colony on Mars. And the only way you can endure it all is to chew an illegal substance called Can-D — a drug derived from an alien lichen which paralyzes you & slips your consciousness to a shareable alternate reality, however brief.
     Welcome to Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.
     I don’t know if I’ve ever re-read a novel so quickly after reading it the first time. Stigmata obsessed me that immediately, that profoundly. I had to understand its premises, underlying logic; or, if its logic was flawed, at the least the logic Dick was yearning for (Dick wrote under extreme duress and often elided certain points descriptively and contextually in order to get to the meat of his plots and metaphysics). I had to understand the full implications of its themes and narrative. Reading it and re-reading it wasn’t enough, scattered note-taking wasn’t enough. I’d have to write about it and see if, through words, I could satisfy myself. Which is why I’m here.    [CLICK TO READ MORE . . .]

[Posted by SnailCrow on August 9, 2014]


[file under: Literary Arts ]

Philip K. Dick: ‘The Man in the High Castle’ (1962)

  July 25th, 2014

PK Dick 
    I recently finished reading The Library of America’s collection of four of Philip K. Dick’s novels from the 60s: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which was later adapted to make the film Blade Runner) and Ubik. It’s been many years since I last read P.K. Dick, & I slipped back into his prescient, idea-crammed, black-humored & metaphysical prose with much, much delight & warm sense of homecoming. It was all there just as I’d left it, all those hallmark Dickian elements: Breakneck chapters bursting with remarkably imaginative visions of earths to come. A proper amount of mundane (as described, not relative to our experience) day-to-day detail that helps stabilize those imagined future earths and render them believable. Characters who are all a bit too hysterical & over-emoted, but whose very ‘loudness’ emotionally helps ground the narrative when the metaphysical & ontological conundrums that arise become a challenge to untie. A fascination with the idea of spirit-fusion to create intersubjective unity; a fascination with the theme of the real/authentic vs. the facsimile. Dystopia and how humankind adjusts to cataclysm. A zest for depicting how marketing and commodification affect what we know to be intangibly human (memory, a felt sense of spiritual oneness, various emotional responses) & thereby render these things purchasable, customizable products. A recurring focus on telepathy, predictive talents & general psionic powers. And most importantly, a passion for the classical philosophical (and science fiction) questions of the nature of underlying objective “reality” (to the extent we can say it exists) vs. all the ways that objective reality can be mimicked: drug trips, subjective simulations, memory, technological constructs, dissociative/mystical experiences, etc.  [CLICK TO READ MORE . . .]

[Posted by SnailCrow on July 25, 2014]


[file under: Literary Arts ]

Abandoned Storage Unit No. 4: Coal Bin, Bou Saada, Charles Bradley, Mollusco-baby

  June 23rd, 2014

     Hello readers. As usual with the Abandoned Storage Unit format, I present to you a fat clutch of subject matter – most of it arts-related, as usual. Don’t know what I’m talking about? For prior examples of this kind of post, see here and here.
     So, lots on the docket today. Let’s start with this friend from Etsy vendor BeatUpCreations:

     Naturally I am most drawn to this anthropo-molluscan mixed-up critter. If it had crow wings I’d probably custom order two dozen. I like its one bent antenna, it’s widow’s peak of gold candyshell, and its chipped up face. He is not happy, he is not upset. He is not for eating. He does not respond to salt. He is just a scuffed, dirty snailchild, let him wriggle and explore. He has the power to dissolve stone & most metals with his slime. He is telepathic. 
Eric Sloane

       Eric Sloane (b.1905 in NYC, d. 1985)
          Corn Bin, date unknown, Oil on Masonite

      This is “Corn Bin” by American artist Eric Sloane. The glimpsed corn aglow & about to be revealed like a treasure chest slightly ajar. Like a beautiful grin just beginning. Beams cross posts cross slats cross floor cross the glorious portals of morning. A bin of pure reaped corn. The glorious morning firing it radiant. The earth’s bounty. The sweet ripe earth’s bounty washed in glorious light from the white portals of morning. Sweet ripe gold sparking out of the dark interior lit only by two white portals. This is a silent place. No human has to be present to witness and thereby validate. The universe alone can revel in the austere majesty of its own construction. 

       Albert Gabriel Rigolot (1862 – 1932)
          Les Petites Filles de Bou Saada, date unknown, oil on canvas

      This is “Les petites filles de Bou Saada” (“The pretty girls of Bou Saada”) by French artist Albert Gabriel Rigolot. Bou Saada (which means “place of happiness”) is an Algerian oasis town that has historically been an important trading center & marketplace.
     I love this painting. The composition is mesmerizing, with its neat tetris interlock of L-shaped whitespace below and roughly tesselated L counterpart of dark above. The grate and glimpse of sky in the top right prevent the diagonal symmetry from being too neat. Rough jumbled stairs slope up to the watching girls. Hay or straw or something like it tufts over some gap in the wood-ceiling. What does the rough lumpy stone wall in the foreground conceal or contain? A fine rusty dust on the rockheap-stairs spills down & transfers the color from the girls’ faces and garments, finding echo in the orange straw/refuse in the top left. This painting transports you: to shuffling dust, cries from the marketplace, bustle of livestock, and the sudden sense of having trespassed in this peculiar slumping interzone. A masterwork of beguiling mystery and compositional harmony.
Charles Bradley
     I saw Charles Bradley headline the House of Vans show in Brooklyn on a delicious cusp-of-summer nite in June. After strong instrumental opening numbers by the airtight Menahan street band, & after some expert crowdwork by the MC (doubling as organist), Mr. Bradley emerged, resplendent in his sequined, monogrammed hot cherry red on red on red ensemble. Colors of blood & passion, befitting his MC’s introduction of him as the Victim of Love. There he stood by turns coy & overcome with emotion, smiling graciously to the waves of applause from his hometown crowd, wide eyed, arms wide, then hamming it up for the crowd with a salacious finger-lick. The band took it from there, snapping into place & Mr. Bradley proceeded to sing the night to flaming shreds. From the first few bars you could tell that the man had the pain of a lifetime stored up in him, and a scorching, raspy scream to match it.

       Charles Bradley, Brooklyn, House of Vans show
         from unARTigNYC, June 12, 2014

      Goddamn. I hadn’t heard a note of the man until that night, & I just stood there in beery disbelief, jammed up about one row from the front. Only a couple of teenagers and the photog’s row were closer. I didn’t have my earplugs in and I both regretted it and thanked myself for my good subconscious planning every time he pulled back to annihilate the microphone. Lord how he worked it; everything was white-hot commitment. He fell to his knees, mic stand over his back like Jesus & his cross. He pulled James Brown moves on his mic stand, flinging it forward and yanking it back, startling one of the photographers. He hip-gyrated and tried splits. He worked odd tai chi maneuvers & fluttery-armed backpedals. He mugged and finger-licked and lewdly grinned. He let it all out for us in a way I haven’t seen a performer do in years. His face streamed sweat as he grimaced in the grip of those impassioned songs as if he had just instants ago discovered their melody and message.
      Bradley ended his set by coming down to the front row, with some assistance from security, where he was rapidly mobbed, held, embraced by those of us lucky enough to be close by. I patted him & held his damp head & felt vast thanks. Greil Marcus once said of the music of Chester Burnett, aka Howlin Wolf: “This is where the soul of man never dies.” On June 12 2014, in a packed warehoused crowd full of twenty somethings cheering for music of a bygone generation, I saw another spark from that great universal soul Marcus saw in the Wolf. & my my my how bright it shone.



For more information about Eric Sloane, please check out his site here.

For more about Albert Gabriel Rigolot, please check out this online gallery at Rehs Galleries, Inc..

For more information about Charles Bradely, please check out this indispensable 6-part interview series sensitively conducted by FaceCulture.

[Posted by SnailCrow on June 23, 2014]

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[file under: ABANDONED ST. UNITS ||| Ekphrasis ||| Music ||| paintings/drawings ||| sculpture ||| Visual Arts ]