Category: photography

Abandoned Storage Unit #3: Billy Childish art, The Nutmeg, and Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits

September 19th, 2012

      Hey y’all. I present thee with Abandoned Storage Unit #3. As usual, a motley throng of wiring, styrofoam bits, plaster chunks, cinder blocks, corrugated tin sheets, old mattresses, broken lamps. And in and among all that stuff, some choice goodies.
      First up’s a painting by Billy Childish (click to zoom in):
Childish Russian Shepherd Boy 

       Billy Childish (b. 1959, Chatham, Kent, England)
          Russian Shepherd Boy, 2011, oil and charcoal on linen

      I knew of Childish as a prolific songwriter and recording artist, but I had no idea he worked visually as well. What a lovely surprise. Well deployed pastel blue and pink highlights here, lending bright contrast to the swamp thing murk & tangle of the canvas; sending veins of weird, slightly radioactive cheer through the boggy boughs. And it wouldn’t even be bog without the seated boy, whose detailed luminous red and white presence anchors the work in the natural world (as does the title as well of course). That ghost-boy’s coy and mysterious expression is so well executed. What’s he up to — is he shirking his duties? What’s he holding, a staff? Banjo? We wonder about him, want to know what he was up to before the canvas moment, what he’ll do after. He’s the offset nucleus & anchor of this expressive painting’s power, helping balance its marshy flora against its sinewy, psychographic phantasms.

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     Next up is an image I found some time ago and return to every so often when I want a hard jolt of how beautifully alien the natural world is:
Nutmeg Aril

          (Nutmeg seed with aril)

     The nutmeg. That gorgeous, lustrous red webbing is called the aril of the nutmeg seed, which, when dried, becomes the spice known as mace. Watching the aril’s semi-menacing membrane, & how its gothy serpentine lacing beguiles as much as it warns, I’m not surprised to learn that freshly ground nutmeg contains myristicin, a psychoactive substance which, in sufficient dosage, can produce convulsions, palpitations, hallucinations, paranoia, and delirium, among other symptoms. Nutmeg was notably used as an intoxicant in the states after WWII, among young folks, bohemians, druggies & prisoners. I get buzzy just staring at the aril, thinking about how varied and wonderfully alien are the forms found in nature.

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      Finally I wanted to talk a little about Juliet of the Spirits, one of my favorite Fellini films. A movie full of, as usual with Fellini, magic, spirits, beautiful clothing, weird colors, great Nino Rota music, baffling & exotic mystico-spiritual passages, leer-heavy cross-talking carnaval-esque parties & gatherings, and heaps of psychodrama & flashbacks. Not to mention a masterful performance by the titular protagonist and one of the main reasons I continue to explore Fellini’s ouevre: the director’s wife herself, Giulietta Massina.
      There’s so, so much to say about this film, and a great deal of it’s already been typed and inked. The little niche of it I want particularly to explore is the relationship between Juliet and her mother, and how this relationship plays Juliet’s own recovery of her sense of self and agency.
      The film establishes early on Juliet’s well-hid dissatisfaction: she’s married to fashion P.R. romeo & man-about-town Giorgio, and she’s well aware of her husband’s frequent absences & rumored infidelities. She keeps up appearances admirably at the frequent parties and gatherings the two hold at their gorgeous enforested villa. Why can’t she leave Giorgio, despite growing mounting evidence of his cheating? Simple Italian partiarchal influence? Perhaps its her lifelong martyrism (something the film goes to pains to depict), her strong Catholic values, & maybe her simple fear of striking out on a new path to happiness and self-discovery.
      Despite her pain, she maintains perfect and constant social composure — with perhaps a few cracks beginning to appear — & being a gregarious goodwilling and healthy social being, delights in the constant, shifting cast of characters surrounding her: psychics, spiritualists, models, celebrities, her doctor, a sculptor, and various other hangers on and true friends ranging from absurd to freaky kinky to true confidantes. Just about all of them in some way start to open her up to her own discontent and to possible antidotes and solutions for her issues.
      Much of the film in fact has to do with this, with Juliet figuring out herself in relation to others’ ways of finding fulfillment sexually, spiritually, personally. Toward this end the film is strongly psychodramatic, with Juliet finding fulfillment/escape in her developing ability to access a rich dreamlike inner landscape of visions, memories, spirits, and an assortment of characters who symbolize conflicting hungers, pains & needs of her heart-mind. Soon this power, which at first strikes her as a kind of alarming but heady & increasingly attractive spirit-communing or magic art, becomes unchecked and a liability to her as she’s overwhelmed by so many voices all clamoring for within for her to act definitively — in some form or another — to regain her dignity, agency, sexuality, confidence. But Juliet cannot yet act, still shackled as she is to fear, to martyrdom, to holy suffering misery — a suffering that we learn has been fed and nurtured for decades by her mother (pictured below).
Still from Juliet of the Spirits
     It’s worth pausing to note that Juliet’s mother, a severe and imposing matriarch, has belittled her throughout the film for not being beautiful enough, for not wearing nice enough clothes (Juliet’s style is well composed & attractive and steers clear from the gaudy and over-made-up excesses of many of the women around her), and throughout the film is complicit in maintaining (&, clearly, having helped construct) Juliet’s neurosis of quiet, smiling suffering. And Juliet’s flashbacks make clear this has been the case since her early childhood. Juliet’s path to empowerment will have to go through her mother.
     Which brings us to the image above, which is from a waking-vision sequence near the end of the film, at which point we find Juliet overwhelmed and bewildered by her psychological voices, by her inner spirit parade’s clamoring for her to act. Giorgio has left for another “business trip”, mumbling pre-emptive denial of any ‘rumours’ going about just as he leaves, and Juliet has been in a state of profound anxiety and pre-nervous breakdown fear and pain for a good ten minutes. She resorts to begging her interiorized mother to help her. Juliet then discovers a small door in her bedroom (a vision-door that is) and is about to open it; her mother then materializes in a vision and loudly and angrily commands her not to. Juliet is able to deny her mother’s wishes and open the small door, in which she discovers a narrow corridor and her childhood girl self tied to a metal grill with fake flames around her. She’s able to free the small martyr version of herself and thereby unlock her own sense of agency. The film ends not long after in a beautiful sequence of self discovery and emancipation, as Juliet is able now to launch herself forth, walking out of her house and away from an emotionally abusive relationship, and hopefully toward a renewal of herself as a still-vital woman and human (see below; Juliet can be seen in the bottom-left):
End Scene Juliet of the Spirits
     Of course, we can also read this denouement as Juliet having been brought to full mental splintering breakdown through her interior journey and travails. In this light, her striding forth is less empowered shackle-break and more mad wayward broken-steering-wheeled careen; straitjacket nutso wandering out of the asylum. Or, to pull back a bit, at the very least she’s in equal measure broken and confounded by her inner saga as she is transformed into a healed whole being by it. But I’m keeping things optimistic today folks. Let’s just wish Juliet — all the Juliets in our lives — the best and send her good energy as she strolls on out into sun and fresh air, ready to meet the welcoming world.

Some stuff about nutmeggggggggs at

More of Billy Childish’s art at

Ebert’s review of Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits at


[posted by: C Way at 9:40 PM]

[file under: ABANDONED STORAGE UNITS ||| paintings/drawings ||| photography ||| video/film]

Art of the Day — Photography: Six by Naomi Fisher

May 19th, 2012



       Naomi Fisher (b. 1976 in Miami, FL)
       Assy Flora Suite of 3, Pink Hibiscus, Royal Poincettia, Orchid Tree, 1999, cibachrome print



       Naomi Fisher
       Sparkly Shirt, 2000, C-Print



       Naomi Fisher
       Untitled (White Dress), 1997, Cibachrome print



       Naomi Fisher
       Untitled (Green Pants), 1998, Cibachrome print



       Naomi Fisher
       Untitled (Hole in Ground), 2000, Cibachrome print



       Naomi Fisher
       Booty Bouquet, 1998, Cibachrome print

       Photos above courtesy of: The Rubell Family Collection (Miami, FL), The Moore Space, and Leo Koenig, Inc.
      I’m a big fan of Naomi Fisher’s work in general, but I especially love her 90s sex-subtropical work, five pieces of which are featured here. These pieces are lurid, cheeky, menacing and alive with dark provocative joy. They’re ripe with overlapping themes & suggestions: the human human body as subtropical flora (bringing to mind the ancient trope of male/female genitalia as resembling or bringing to mind petals, flowers, mushrooms, sap, nectar, seed, etc.); human intercourse with said flora (useful to remind ourselves that flora are essentially genitalia); humans taken sexually & against their will by said flora; flora growing up and through humans; humans presenting themselves for dehumanized sexual consideration just as the genitalia that are flora offer themselves up to pollinating insects; humans interacting with the density & fecundity of the subtropics in flirty romp, in perilous ritual, in wary tread, in engulfed paralysis. The master theme that emerges for me is the conflation or cohabiting of the human sex drive (coupled always with shame and tension) with the unselfconscious reproductive mechanisms of nature, and the danger & total liberation of that resulting relationship.
     Some personal context: Having grown up in subtropical florida, I’m used to its flowers trees & leaves, birds & bugs & shells and all things between being presented in the friendly visual language of a tourist economy. Billboards, tv spots, magazines, restaurant menus, schoolbooks: everywhere I looked I saw nature presented as safely lush & delightful & anthropomorphized: we’re talking laughing dolphins and winking toucans & endless washes of unnaturally-hued key lime green & sunkist orange. Or some ferns and fronds and bougainvillea and cabbage palms as backdrop for svelte models in magazine ads hawking jewelry or silken garments or something, always sweet & trimmed & charming & tamed. But that’s nothing to do with the southwest Florida nature I knew and loved (and held in awe) as a boy: nature for me was visceral, threatening, overwhelmingly fertile, annelid-wriggling, spider-crab gnarled & barnacled, horseshoecrab-alien & skittering. It was unstoppably teeming & heedless of humankind’s efforts to corral & contain it. Damp, rank, decaying, hiding stuff under leaves and within masses of over-vined thickets, mysterious & powerful. Fisher’s photos here tap right into this spirit for me, and it feels only right that their human subjects (“accessories” might be a better term) should appear variously or sometimes simultaneously as violently ravished playthings; dehumanized trunks and rumps existing only to present themselves for use (just like flowers; notice the floral print on the panties in “Assy Flora”); folks caught in some midnight ritual of reconnecting with the raw vitality of nature; lost bewildered captives in their mangrove-root cages & among throngs of phallic, flared lilies & birds of paradise & swordlike heliconia.
     My favorite piece of the five above is “Sparkly Shirt”. Those yellow pollen-looking smears on her legs, the unnatural pose as if she’s in the midst of being taken by flowers or ready to offer herself to them, the print of her shirt as if she’s an acolyte trying to appease some subtropical spirit. Her hair hangs across her features, further dehumanizing her — clear shots of faces seem almost impossible to find in Fisher’s subtropical photos of this period — and linking her to the non-human otherness surrounding her. The lighting is glared and tabloidish; the whole staging has this forbidden and not-meant-to-be-seen energy, making us feel like we’ve stumbled unwanted into this exciting interzone where humans and nature thrash and try to mix into one another in ceremony, ecstasy, pain, longing.

For more work in this vein by Fisher, please go here.

For more about Fisher, please go here.


[posted by: C Way at 6:04 PM]

[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| photography]

Art of the Day: Governors Island art (Sep 2011), Part 1 of 2 — Matthew Garrison, Kerri Brewer, Selena Kimball

September 21st, 2011


       Kerri Brewer
       [Title Unknown], [Date unknown], photograph

       Selena Kimball
       Untitled (Materialization 1970), 2009-2011, collage


       Matthew Garrison
       In the Rain, 2010, flatscreen television & transparent collage

     Over labor day weekend I visited Governors Island with my girlfriend, and one of the unexpected highlights of our time there was the art we stumbled across in various little galleries set up in the island’s colonial homes. Above is part one of a mini-survey of some of the art which I liked best. ——–> First is a lovely rustheap by photographer Kerri Brewer, whose work I found for sale in a Governors Island Etsy shop. I like how she caught the powder blue graffiti just right, such that it echoes the background waters without calling too much attention to itself. And of course being a general texture- (and particularly rust-) junkie, I dug those upjutting snarls of rust scraping+crashing into each other like waves. ———> Next is a large-scale collage piece by Selena Kimball. This piece was powerful in person, the first thing you saw when you walked into the colonial home gallery that housed it, mounted on the paintpeeled wall of the entryway. It made you step back several paces and take in its aura of smoke, underwater and gathering spirit. The craft, too was impressive & easy to get lost in up close, all those lovely gradations of black and white and gray meticulously managed across a sea of paper cuttings. Great photo, but this piece definitely needs to be experienced live. ——–> Finally, one of my favorite pieces, a video installation by Matthew Garrison. I liked the simultaneous whimsy and slowmotion melancholy of this piece. I stood there mesmerized, watching the artist skip about among the static droplets on the transparent collage layered over the screen. I would’ve stayed there for another couple minutes if we didn’t have so much to do that day. Gorgeous work. Part two coming tomorrow (maybe).

More images of Brewer’s photography here.

More of Matthew Garrison’s art and video here.

More of Selena Kimball’s collage art and other art here.


[posted by: C Way at 11:10 PM]

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

Art of the Day — Photography: Three by Brassaï

September 16th, 2011





       Brassaï (b. 1899, d. 1944)
        from the top: Untitled [Futurist hair creation by Antoine], 1930; Culotte et bas, c. 1950;
        The Wall of Sante Prison, Boulevard Arago, Paris, c. 1932

     Making up for my absence yesterday with a tripledose. Oh mama but consistency’s a bitch. So anyway: Brassaï. Blessed be but I could post his work from now ’til kingdom come (I couldn’t get enough of Paris by Night, staring at those shadowy Parisian alleys and wet moonglowy cobblestones — do you know it? Isn’t it beautiful?). ————–> So, the pieces at hand. Don’t you love the brassy lustre of the hair in the topmost shot? Something about the clump of murky shadow beneath it completes the composition, maybe by virtue of its counterpoise to the brilliant stuff above it. ————> The prison wall shot (first from the bottom) is simple in its perspective and composition but man how perfect is it? The wet shadows thrown against the wall, the dense clumps of naked branches all along its top. The misty glow at the end of the tunnel. ————> And the middle shot, rapturous. The contrast of her skin against the shot’s darks. Her legs bent just so, kicked out as if the rug were a raft and the floor a black river, languid trailing of her to in the cool water. All kinds of stories could emerge from these three.

For more, check out this great roundup of Brassaï’s photography at Vintage Vivant.


[posted by: C Way at 11:09 PM]

[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| photography]

Art of the Day — Photography: Robert Adams, “Longmont, Colorado” (1980)

September 14th, 2011



       Robert Adams (b. 1937)
       Longmont, Colorado, 1980

     Sometimes you just need to let a piece stand sans text & just be. This is one of the times. Goodnight.

More of Adams’ staggering night work discussed over at


[posted by: C Way at 11:31 PM]

[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| photography]