Category: Visual Arts

Painting by Karly Salama (2018)

January 19th, 2018

       (click for zoom-in)
Karly Salama 
      Karly Salama
       Untitled (2018)
       Acrylic on canvas

       (click for zoom-in)
Karly Salama 

      Here is an untitled new work by Karly Salama. Like the best mandalas, it is serene and centered and ecstatic and striving. Primary colors, greens and purple light sweet fires in twelve concentric waves out from a burning core of white. Meditative but also activating. Watching this creates ripples and pulses through my consciousness, gives me the itch to float, sleep and dance all at once.


[posted by: C Way at 12:00 PM]

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

Abandoned Storage Unit: “The roots of trees curled up”

May 25th, 2017

     Open up.

     It’s May 24th. Some people are dying. Some people are smiling. Some people are sitting in uncomfortable chairs in sparse rooms and unsure if they are smiling or dying. Lift up. Open up. Whirl up. Cough it up. Size it up. Crumple it up. Twist it up. Throw it up. Open up. Open up. Open up.
                                                                           [* * * *] 
     Let’s start this party proper. I present the Minutemen, 1985, Public Access TV:

       Minutemen, 1985, Public Access TV

     Feel the hiss and twang and earthy goodness. George Hurley’s bongos, the twin acoustic attack of Boon and Watt’s strumming. D.Boon’s singing voice, unadorned and kind and honest and impassioned, like a sturdy, beat-up & well-used hammer, covered in nicks and its handle worn to comforting smoothness. It’s a voice others have sung through over time. It’s a voice others have used, like a strong coat passed down and patched up. Wherever there are people who want the good and are willing to call out injustice, this voice is there to sing through. God bless D. Boon and may he rest in peace. And God bless the Hurley and Watt and Boon together for uniting and making music of great energy, fun, poetry and righteousness.
                                                                           [* * * *] 
  by Mary Ruefle 
Oh, I said, this is going to be.
And it was.
Oh, I said, this will never happen.
But it did.
And a purple fog descended upon the land.
The roots of trees curled up.
The world was divided into two countries.
Every photograph taken in the first was of people.
Every photograph taken in the second showed none.
All of the girl children were named And.
All of the boy children named Then.
     I love this poem. I am drawn to much of Ruefle’s work, which I find playful, coy, rooted in the real but simultaneously belonging to the streams that flow under reason & logic. At times there’s a questing, mystical quality to her verse as well that is all the more beguiling because it’s counterbalanced by cryptic wit. Sometimes the work is too clever for me, the twinkle in the eye of the verse is a bit too shiny-gaudy, and I find it distanced emotionally as a consequence. Even at these times, her work is noteworthy, even remarkable, despite its coldness (or perhaps because of it).    (Read More . . .)

[posted by: C Way at 5:28 PM]

[file under: ABANDONED STORAGE UNITS ||| LAUDS ||| Music ||| paintings/drawings ||| poetry ||| video/film]

Abandoned Storage Unit: Whirling Around

April 9th, 2017

      (Some serving plate I found online on Polish shopping site)

     Hello snailers & crowers. Time for another whirled-up blend of crap, such is thee fun of the Abandoned Storage Unit.

     It’s a beautiful Sunday and the sill-cactus flowers are beginning to push up their sweet buds of lemon & fuchsia. People are blowing themselves up in two beautiful Coptic churches in Egypt. I just cooked two beautiful sweet potatoes until the peels began to sweet sugar. The depraved Brian Williams is yoking badly-understood Leonard Cohen lyrics to the “beautiful” sight of Tomahawk missiles launched toward Syria. I just steamed two beautiful heads of broccoli until they turned that delicious rich green.
                                                                           [* * * *] 
        The Fat Old Couple Whirling Around
        BY ROBERT BLY 
     What a poem, written in 2005, by the great Robert Bly. It encompasses all of life, it is stuck in the mud around your feet and it is up on a mountaintop watching the world burn and cool, green and die, burn and cool, green and die. Become a soul and go. But before you do: whirl, dance, sigh, rise, reach.
                                                                           [* * * *] 
       UNTITLED, 2017

     Here is something my daughter made to celebrate Spring. I love how she draws faces. Our red front door is festooned with her bright flowery paintings and drawings and it makes me happy whenever I see it.
                                                                           [* * * *] 

     Here’s “meditations after shock therapy” by worm girl; discovered this lil gemstone on SoundCloud. I like the eroded ghost-reverbed vocals, the synth pads, the recessed drum machine beat. And the lyrics are strong, & exactly what they should be given the song’s title. The piece feels rough-hewn and tossed-off, but the attention to detail, the melody, the understated vocal delivery and pacing are anything but. This is a combination that always works for me in art, that feeling of casual paired with the obvious fruits of discipline, talent and skill. 
                                                                           [* * * *] 
     “A great work of art is like a dream. For all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is never unequivocal. A dream never says: ‘You ought,’ or ‘This is the truth.’ It presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow, and we must draw our own conclusions.” This is from Jung in his Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933).

     This is not universal and simply reflects the Jung’s personal tastes. Any work of art can be mute and ambiguous; an art object’s ambiguity is no assurance of its worth. And there are great works of art that are unequivocal — say, “Guernica”, or Dylan’s “Masters of War” (war on the mind today folks, for good reason). They are blunt in their message and motive and that informs their power. Humans just can’t refrain from trying to sum up a phenomenon as complex and variable as art (across all its manifestations and media) in a pithy saying. We’re just addicted to trying to shortcut around the universe and tie it up quickly in language. We’re just wired to do it. We all do it. Geniuses down to fools, we all want to sum up our lives in a tidy bow. Why? It makes us feel we’re in control, we’ve mastered a Thing with an aphorism. We’ve learned it, known it, owned it. Can stuff it in a drawer and mothball it away; no further discussion needed. Such silliness, such transparent folly. But so fucking irresistible.
                                                                           [* * * *] 
     (click to zoom)
      Pablo Picasso
       Le Crapaud, 1949
       Lithograph on Arches wove paper, 19.5 x 25.75 in.

     Be sure to zoom in on this friend, so many diablos deliciosos in the details. The frog’s little circly warts, its wee grumpy eyes, the Cubistic intersects of the hind legs and face, the flowing linework tying together its body and limbs, the effect of decorative little Christmas lights along its body, the impression of smudge and mud combined with modest, reluctant ornament. 
                                                                           [* * * *] 
    I just finished Cordelia Fine’s excellent book Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science and Society (2017, Norton). Before reading this book, I would have considered myself something of an essentialist when it comes to the sexes. I believed in sex differences in the brain and in the body, changes both prenatal and post-birth. And I believed these differences were permanent and inherent to humans and were directly responsible for different behavior in men and women everywhere, past present future.
    After Testosterone Rex, I still believe physiological sex differences exist. The science is clear. But I believe now they are just the starting point, and not an excuse for the gender gap. They are merely one factor among many in explaining why men and women do what they do, believe what they do, and think how they do. As Fine demonstrates, physiological differences between the sexes may or may not become amplified or nullified or nudged into being altogether depending on a whole galaxy of factors, not least of which are cultural, environmental, parental, marketing (especially marketing!) and institutional forces.
    In other words, there’s room for adjustment. There’s nothing hardwired in mens’ brains forcing them to forever be universally aggressive risk-tasking non-parenting and promiscuous. There’s nothing hardwired in women’s brains forcing them to forever be universally passive, cautious, caretaking and monogamy-seeking. There is astonishing variability in the animal and insect kingdom, as Fine exhaustively details, in how males and females of species behave sexually, and this can exist with humans too (and in many cases, as the research shows, already does). We’ve just grown accustomed, over the millenia, to a certain way for men and women to be, and we like it that way — that is to say, those in control, older white men, have always liked it that way (whether they realize it or not).
    The research seems to support the theses of Fine and so many other writers: it doesn’t have to be the way it’s always been. Men and womens’ physiological differences, says the research Fine exhaustively brings to bear, do not strongly correlate with massive differences in behavior and attitudes both sexual and non-sexual. In citation after citation, Fine shows compelling research that suggests the gender gap exists for far more complex reasons than the presence or absence of testosterone. This passage of Fine’s is crucial in understanding this point: “It’s true that we don’t, as a rule, tend to think that the scientific facts of nature dictate how things should be. Just because a scientist says that something is “natural” — like male aggression or rape — obviously doesn’t mean we have to condone, support or prescribe it. But that doesn’t mean that science has nothing to contribute to societal debates or aspirations. Although scientific claims don’t tell us how our society ought to be, that being the job of our values, they can give us strong hints as to how to fulfill those values, and what kind of arrangements are feasible. [...] rejecting the [view that gender gap problems are solely due to evolved sex differences, such as testosterone in men] doesn’t require denial of evolution, difference, or biology.”
    I also really like this passage by Dalhousie University philosopher Letitia Meynell, which Fine quotes in her book: “Biologically speaking, our actions and dispositions are developed and could have bee otherwise, given the right mix of developmental inputs at various points in our lives. If one wants to change the distribution of a given trait in a population, the task is not to overcome nature but to rearrange the developmental system.”
     If we want to address gender inequality, we have to abandon essentialism insofar as we lean on it to explain and justify and excuse perceived differences in how men and women think and act in and out of the bedroom. We have to accept malleability in terms of how the sexes develop. We have to stop framing issues in terms of “boys will be boys and girls will be girls.” We have to realize as a species we’re in control, not the hormones, the gametes, the glands, the gonads. Culture, society, developmental input from parents, media, religion, schooling, marketing those are the forces that take those inherent and verifiable biological differences that do exist between the sexes, and truly activate them and transform them into vast gaps and gulfs. Gulfs that become, over generations, seemingly impossible to cross. Seemingly. 
                                                                           [* * * *] 


For more information about Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex, please check out The Guardian’s great review.

For more Robert Bly stuff, please check out his entry at the Poetry Foundation.

For more worm girl stuff, please check out Her Soundcloud page.

For more Picasso, please check out the Musée National Picasso (Paris).

[posted by: C Way at 1:04 PM]

[file under: ABANDONED STORAGE UNITS ||| Music ||| paintings/drawings ||| poetry]

Art of the Week – ‘Beginning of Life in the Yellow Jungle’ (2003)

November 23rd, 2016

       (click for zoom-in)
Thornton Dial 
      Thornton Dial (American)
       Beginning of Life in the Yellow Jungle (detail) (2003)
       Plastic soda bottles, doll, clothing, bedding, wire, found metal, rubber glove, turtle shell, artificial flowers,
       Splash Zone compound, enamel, and spray paint on canvas on wood

       (click for zoom-in)
Thornton Dial 
      Thornton Dial (American)
       Beginning of Life in the Yellow Jungle (2003)

      Above is “Beginning of Life in the Yellow Jungle” a work by Thornton Dial (1928-2016), a self-taught U.S. artist who created assemblages on a large scale.
      “Beginning of Life in the Yellow Jungle” (detail of which is shown first): a tremendous, fearsome work. A scaffolding of intertwined, twisted, knotted bedsheets (?) create a criss-crossed webbing through and around which emerge flowers, prints of flowers, plastic pop bottles that resemble flowers, and other floral elements, with the whole of the work dripping mustard & crimson. The title, in conjunction with the visceral nature of the colors and textures, and the frayed edges and slices in the fabric, suggest birth, violence and death. A ghostly infant hovers in the top left quadrant; her patina, posture and draped body seeming to confer an air of classicism and modesty. Close observation of the work’s details amply repay the viewer with an endless fund of visual interest.
      What an achievement, simultaneously chaotic and controlled, capturing the conflation of violence, the birthing process, and nature’s fecundity — and also suggesting a kind of organizing principle or geist observing and animating it all.



For more of Thornton Dial’s works, please check out his profile at

[posted by: C Way at 2:48 PM]

[file under: paintings/drawings ||| sculpture ||| Visual Arts]

Art of the Day: ‘untitled (Prime Ordeal)’, Roberto Matta, 1946, and ‘Three Studies for a Crucifixion’, Bacon, 1962

November 22nd, 2014

     Matta was born Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren on November 11, 1911 in Santiago, Chile. He studied architecture and interior design at Sacré Coeur Jesuit College in Chile, and a few years after graduation worked in Paris with the famous modernist architect & theorist Le Corbusier. 1934 saw him taking a momentous trip to Spain which would greatly impact the course of his life. While there, he visited the great Spanish poet Federico Garciá Lorca, who introduced him to Dalí. Dalí in turn encouraged Matta to share his drawings with André Breton — writer, poet, erstwhile communist and founder of the Surrealist movement — and the next thing you know Matta joins the movement in ’37.
      As a student I thought of Matta as an interesting satellite figure in the constellation of Surrealist actors, but was largely unmoved by his busy, dense, expressive works. There was a great deal there that momentarily piqued me — themes of sexual unrest, emotional intensity, biomorphic excess & frantic activity. But there was something about his work that was hard to latch onto emotionally, and I wouldn’t really find myself dwelling on, exploring, sticking to his canvases.
      Revisiting him now — especially his post-war works, which can be found here — I feel much the same way, except now a new dimension has been added: I’m genuinely troubled by some of these pieces. He was apparently very prolific during this period, depicting alien, vaguely bipedal ganglionic noodle-beings posing dramatically or interacting, stationed in detailed welters of cables and shelves and partitions that flit in and out of recognizability. You see in these pieces his schooling come out in the geometrically sophisticated layouts, the attention to spaces and depth, the harmonies of color. There’s a lot technically to be blown away be here.
     But there’s a kind figurative instability (in the weird tentacly jumble of faces & limbs, in the ordered-chaos of the alien interiors) and detachment emotionally that unsettles me. A figurative instability which, more importantly, I’d argue is often mis-managed aesthetically. Put another way, the pieces occupy this rare territory between figurativeness & abstraction that, when managed right, make for an experience that’s weird+stirring, but when not, leaves the work merely weird+repellant. Now, one might say, “If it destabilizes us, that’s a way of moving us, that’s a way of exerting power, that’s a way of being art that works.” Right?
     Well, yes and no. It depends on degree, it depends on what else the painting has to offer. I’m reminded here of some of Bacon’s work, where anatomy, and especially facial features, are presented in this weird mushy cubistic fog, which in a soft blurry way, hints at great violence and chaos, either in the artist’s psyche, or worldview, or both. Now, in Bacon’s case, this instability of real-world signifier — the anatomical chaos, the facial feature scramble, the clutter of organism and setting that feels random but isn’t, that is meant — and meant powerfully — and in a language we sort of speak and sort of don’t — this instability often works to the paintings’ advantage, and is part and parcel of the works’ success. And that’s because Bacon more often than not manages the rest of the works’ elements carefully to frame & support that instability in a way that alienates the viewer while fixing him still and stirring him. Example: Bacon’s “Three Studies for a Crucifixion” (1962). This painting stirs in part because its instabilities — anatomical chief among them — are offset by stable (compositionally) backgrounds and interiors. Check that flat pared-down red cold luxury of some bureaucrat’s expensive suite in hell: 
     (click to zoom)
      Francis Bacon
       Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962
       Oil with sand on canvas, three panels

     The title (people never pay enough attention to the power of the title in visual arts!) also helps ground it: we are witnessing slow torture — & biblically speaking, the pivotal state-sponsored torture of Jesus — & three views of it. Now the terror becomes something we can sit with, and want to understand, because we are given just enough to hold on to other than the viscera-chaos & deformation. A lot could have gone wrong with this painting had the right delicate balance of text, context & technique not been achieved — which leads me to my thesis, which is that the more the artist tries to operate within that narrow territory bridging the known/figurative/recognizable with the unknown/subjective/alien, the greater the margin of error; the more perilous his or her task is to make the work not just de-stabilizing, but successful as an object that human beings want to get to know after the initial shock has worn off. The easier it is to fail and merely be creepy. The greater the artist has to be.
     Because if all you’re offering me is the alien-that’s-not-quite-alien, I’m going to feel strange, maybe focus on your brush-work and intricate details, but eventually walk away and not come back, & not want to know you further. Not because I’m scared — but because I’m unmoved. Now, if you offer me all that stuff PLUS something more I can use to bridge your world to mine, I’ll not only feel unsettled, & admire your technique, but I’ll wonder about you. I’ll stick around your works, and try & communicate with you, the artist, about what you are doing, what you are trying to show and say and mean (whether you think you are trying to show/say/mean or not). Really communicate. (Of course without felt communication art is still art, but of a babbly & gibbering sort. Of fuzzy alien faces huddled in the corner, backs turned to the world.)

     Now back to Matta. Here’s an example of one of his pieces that gets it right (click to zoom): 
      Roberto Matta (Chilean, 1911-2002)
       untitled (Prime Ordeal), 1946
       Oil on canvas

     Why does this work for me? After all, I’m disoriented trying to figure out its arrangement; I don’t know whether to look at this piece sideways or vertically. There are carcass-like hunks & dead meat flaps hanging in bacon-esque contortion & confusion inside a kind of vast Duchamp-ecru airport terminal space. There’s a bladder sac in the bottom leaking white fluid. The canvas soaks in and out of figurativeness, like a scrambled television show occasionally righting to clarity & focus. There’s a suggestion of machinery, process, protocol, alembic, maybe experiment. It’s an unwholesome, arresting work. And I stick with it. And I try and learn from it. But why?
     The title, mostly. It’s that simple. “Ordeal” connotes suffering, some living thing under duress. “Prime” suggests beef. Right there we’re offered common ground. A few ropes to grasp. Associations your average human viewer can latch onto: that this may or may not have to do with industrialized animal slaughter for human consumption. Just that little “may or may not” suddenly flowers out entire dimensions of possibility in the viewer’s aesthetic valuation (which is never just about form, color and composition, but always about how those elements work in the viewer to engage spirit, heart and mind). With this grounding in language, with this common ground established, the painting can still retain its instability; again, soak in and out of figurativeness — like a ruined moldy halloween mask bobbing up and down in a scummy swamp-pond — but it now can roam farther in the mind given its establishment of a possible real-world frame of reference.
     In this way, a painting can enjoy maximum freedom & play in the mind. With just this little verbal suggestion of an intellectual constraint to pure freedom of meaning. (Note: other elements of the painting function in much the same way: the carcasses for example, & the blood: fairly unambiguously themselves, title or no.)
     A deftly-executed, unsettling painting — already an achievement — now becomes something more, & more enduring: a stirring, connectable, powerful artwork. Something you want to spend time in and explore. I’m not saying Matta’s postwar paintings don’t have merit — they’re striking, elaborate, eerie, highly technical pieces that deserve attention. But they don’t fix my attention & stir me like “untitled (Prime Ordeal)” does, for complicated reasons I hope I’ve at least semi-explained. Cheers y’all.


For more examples of Matta’s work & for more information about his life, please check out

For more examples of Bacon’s art & for more information about his life, try

[posted by: C Way at 1:38 PM]

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