Wednesday, July 31, 2013

mr. big, by carol and matt dembicki (sky pony press)

About ten years ago I read an article in the DC City Paper featuring an artist who made comics based on a real life giant snapping turtle. His name is Matt Dembicki, who, with his wife Carol, who wrote a good portion of the book, live in Fairfax, Virginia. Their idea for the book sprang from walks they took to a nearby pond in Vienna, Virginia. When I went to check out Matt's website, I was amazed at this cool, unique book about the adventures of local pond life, which was such a refreshing alternative to the typical super hero fare you would expect from most comics. The pond itself, which I've visited, is teeming with snapping turtles and other cool wildlife, however I never had the chance to spot the elusive Mr. Big himself. At that time, Matt had only released a couple of small, self-published zine-style books of Mr. Big, which was supposed to be a one-off, but turned into six little books that eventually got compiled into a black and white graphic novel released by Little Foot Publishing five or so years ago. I still have copies of all the originals, which have some of the most beautiful covers (for a comic book) I've seen. 

After reading that article about Matt and his book in the paper, I immediately contacted him to see if he could do a workshop with my students at the school I teach art at. We had a grant available at the time, so I thought Matt would be great for my kids to learn something new. Matt responded the next day with a yes, and he ended up visiting for the next four years. Carol even made it over a couple of times as well. The workshops turned out to be fantastic, but unfortunately, the grant funding had dried up and we weren't able to have Matt or Carol back again. The good news is that Mr. Big is back, and published as a gorgeous full-color graphic novel through Sky Pony Press! Matt gave me a copy when I visited him last week, and it's exactly how it should be, though I think it's worthy of a nice hard-bound cover, like his other recently-released g.n. about the adventures of a Great White shark,  called "Xoc" (Oni Press). Anyhow, the Mr. Big book appeals to all ages and makes a worthy addition to collectors of comics, graphic novels, and books in general. I know I'll be purchasing quite a few more for myself and my art class library as well! In the meantime, a pic (below) of some (kissing?) turtles taken last week at a local pond Kris and I visit all the time, which we'll soon be living by.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

modern master: paul lancaster

One day, while visiting Grey Carter's gallery to purchase a piece of art by JJ Cromer, I learned about the work of Tennessee artist Paul Lancaster. I've seen some of Paul's art at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, but it wasn't until getting a closer look at Grey's, and learning more about the artist and his history, that I truly began to gain an appreciation for what he does. At 83 years old, Paul is a self-taught artist who has been working on his fantastic landscapes since he first began some fifty years ago. Paul has explored a number of media, even teaching himself how to make etchings, which are some of my personal favorites from his portfolio. His paintings are something to be seen in person to fully appreciate. Born into poverty, Paul's interest in art and art-making began to take off during his visits to art museums while serving in the military. What is amazing is that nothing about Paul's work is pre-sketched or planned out - it is all straight from his imagination, from the moment he starts (which is usually from the upper left-hand side of a canvas or paper) to the time he finishes.  His art, while bursting with detail and color, is a peaceful and contemplative reflection of nature, the way things ought to be, and the way Paul himself would have it, expressing his love for the natural world and reflecting his Cherokee roots. Paul's work is in many personal collections, as well as in the Smithsonian and AVAM, and just recently he had a big exhibit in Nashville, Tennessee called "A World of His Own". While it is known that Mr. Lancaster himself is a very quiet and humble soul who rarely, if ever talks about himself, you can learn more about this fascinating individual and his amazing work in a book about the artist titled "Immersed in Nature" published by Grey Carter, that can be found HERE, or through Mr. Carter himself, while supplies last. It's a beautifully written book with even more beautiful, full-color images of Paul's work that I cannot recommend enough. The images you see here at this post are just a tiny tip of the iceberg, as this artist is as prolific as they come. If you aren't yet familiar with the work of Paul Lancaster, what are you waiting for? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

a visit with neal martineau

Earlier this summer, after hanging some of my own art at Hypnocoffee in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, I went to grab a bite to eat with a friend at The Blue Moon Cafe, right down the street. Right away I was struck by the colorful, semi-abstract works of art hanging on the walls throughout the place, with a sign that read "Old Fart Art" by Neal Martineau.  All of the pieces were prints of his original drawings and paintings for sale, and at a reasonable price.  Some of the works I found an immediate connection with, so it would only make sense to give Neal a call eventually, to place an order.

It wasn't until last Wednesday that I found a moment to call Neal to inquire about his work, and right away we were able to schedule a time to meet the next day at the Blue Moon Cafe in Shepherdstown. I had written a blog post about Neal's art shortly after first seeing it about a month ago, and had learned that he had penned some legendary TV ads back in the day, while living and working in NYC. So, I was slightly nervous about meeting him, however if Neal was as cool as he was during our brief but spirited phone conversation, I had nothing to worry about.

I got to the Blue Moon Cafe far earlier than expected, allowing me time to grab some lunch and savor the gorgeous weather and ideal setting of the cafe's outdoor seating while sipping a freshly brewed iced tea. I even got a chance to stroll around and explore town and the local university campus, which was  peaceful and quiet, like many college campuses are in the summertime. 

Later that afternoon, I returned to the Blue Moon to finally meet Neal, who had arrived at 2PM on the dot, carrying a box containing some of his latest works. My main reason for this visit was to both meet Neal, as well as purchase some of his original prints, which I had seen displayed last month at the Blue Moon.  We ended up hanging out for about an hour, mostly talking art. Neal had a sharper memory than mine, at twice my age, as he recalled his experiences living in NYC at the time when the likes of Frank Stella and Jackson Pollack were still relatively unknown names. Neal was there when the cult classic film "Mystery of Picasso" first screened in NYC, and while I own the DVD, Neal was able to recall very precise moments and passages from the film as if he had seen it just yesterday. He also remembers working on some of his own art, alongside Frank Stella, who was just about to be "discovered". In Neal's own words, "My teacher, Steve Greene, advised me not to try to make a living as a painter because painters are too poor to afford homes and station wagons.  Meantime, my fellow student, Frank Stella, became rich enough to own several houses and Ferraris."

It was so good talking with Neal last week, and being able to support an artist whose work and vision I believe in. He even gave me a sneak peek at several new pieces he had completed, or was currently working on, including one that had a more representational slant, having to do with a story of a short-lived beloved cat who had befriended him and his wife years ago.  Neal credits Rebecca Jones with the recent art lessons that helped inspire this new direction he's taken with his art over the past couple of years, which he now works on feverishly in his own free time, insisting on only having fun and doing what he wants, and how he wants to do it. Upon leaving, Neal told me I made his day, but honestly, I'd have to say it was the other way around, as I had found a kindred spirit in my new friend. Neal is a living example that it's never too late to pursue what you love, and while he jokes about his current artistic endeavor as being his final chapter, let's hope that it's a long and joyous one. 

Since Neal's work had been on display at the Blue Moon, he has gotten quite a few calls, with a commission for a piece for the local library, as well as some shows lined up. In August, he'll have work hanging at The Devonshire Arms Cafe and Pub in Shepherdstown, as well as one of all original works at The Bridge Gallery, also in Shepherdstown. There is also a possible show at The Queenstreet Gallery in Martinsburg, WV.  Looking forward to it!

Friday, July 26, 2013

modern master: jj cromer

Have you ever heard of a Zoophrion? How about Jumbo Baby Snaps? Have you ever met the Asterisk Man or worn a Dough Suit? Perhaps you know a thing or two about Ludic Paws and Microptica. If you aren't familiar with such terms, perhaps you should pay a visit to the wonderful world of JJ Cromer art. As for me personally, I can get lost in this world for hours on end, as this extremely prolific, self-taught Pound,Virginia artist creates some of the most richly detailed and extraordinarily imaginative art in the known universe. JJ Cromer's ever-evolving visual language is akin to a satisfying feast offering a multitude of scents and flavors. One woman, upon seeing and purchasing a piece at a recent show accurately described his work as being delicious to look at. This is precisely what I thought upon first seeing it in Raw Vision Magazine, as well as at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. You can read an excellent bio on JJ from AVAM's site HERE.  If you want to keep up with some of JJ's smaller works, see his collection of old photographs, as well as witness some of his adventures in beekeeping, follow his blog at Old Old Old Virginia. To purchase or inquire about JJ Cromer's art, stop by American Primitive or Grey Carter Objects of Art. In fact, I highly recommend scheduling a visit to check out Grey's amazing collection if you're in the Northern Virginia area (or even if you aren't). In the meantime, I gladly look forward to seeing what Mr. Cromer creates and presents to the world in the not-too-distant future. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

modern master: richard h. kirk

As founding member of the band Cabaret Voltaire, Richard H. Kirk has played a major role in shaping the underground music landscape. From industrial rock, to post punk, and acid house to ambient, Kirk's influence runs far and wide. What set Cabaret Voltaire apart from the rest of the pack early on was a distinct strain of mutant funk running through all the genres Kirk and co. had covered. Expressing a keen interest in the ancient tribal rhythms of Africa and the Caribbean islands, Kirk recognized the parallel they had with contemporary and forward-thinking dance styles, connecting the dots in his own electronic music compositions.  You can watch a great clip of Kirk talking about his influences HERE from the excellent "Synth Britannia" documentary. In the meantime, Cabaret Voltaire are poised to reissue remastered versions of their albums very soon. Now, if only they can get back together and tour again!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

modern master: andy goldsworthy

It wasn't until about ten years ago that I became familiar with the work of sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy. It was almost by coincidence that I happened to be attending a workshop for art educators at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, when the man himself and his crew of assistants were building a permanent installation there (below pic), only about twenty feet from where I was standing at one point. Before this day however, I honestly had no clue about Goldsworthy or his art, and if I did, I probably would have shook his hand and thanked him for what he's done. Only about a week later, after I borrowed his astoundingly good Rivers and Tides documentary from the library, I realized I had been in the presence of a true artistic genius. In the documentary the humble artist talks about how while studying art in college, he got bored with working in indoor studios and decided to venture outside in nature for inspiration. The following summer, after seeing Goldsworthy in DC, I made the six hour drive out to the Storm King Art Center in New York's Hudson Valley to see one of the most incredible and largest (mostly) outdoor sculpture parks in the world, including Goldsworthy's giant stone wall (above pic), at the very end of the 500 acre park. While Goldsworthy's photo books provide beautiful documentation of his outdoor works, lending a sort of permanence to an otherwise transient process, I find it is absolutely necessary to witness it all from start to finish for a thorough and fuller understanding of his work, completely rooted in nature. The Rivers and Tides documentary is the next best thing to being there, and you get to see all the failures leading up to the triumphs, however brief and impermanent they may be. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

modern master: mark van hoen

I first heard the music of Mark Van Hoen in the form of his production work for the band Seefeel in the mid-nineties. Shortly after, I found his album "Truth is Born of Arguments" under the alias Locust, and had been hooked on his sound ever since, starting my quest to find and listen to all recordings related to this remarkable master of sound. Trying to compile and feature tracks here at this post was somewhat of a headache, since there was simply too much to choose from, be it the more song-oriented stylings of Scala and Sneakster, to the more experimental tracks under his own name, to the experimental pop-leanings of Locust, his catalogue is vast and continues to grow. In interviews Mark has mentioned the need for an intuitive approach (see below) to making and producing electronic music and his preference for analogue sounds. Inspired by an interesting personal revelation in his own life, regarding his own origins and family, in 2012 Mark released the extraordinary and introspective "The Revenant Diary" LP, which was influenced by some of his recently unearthed and previously unheard early recordings, harkening back to his preference for a more honest, intuitive sound. He also relaunched his Locust alias this year, after a dozen years of silence, with the excellent "You'll Be Safe Forever" LP.  Let's hope Mark continues to create deep, quality sounds in an ever-growing word of empty, disposable bubblegum pop. Let's hope he also continues to collaborate with the likes of the amazing Maria Minerva (as seen below) and releases an album.

Friday, July 19, 2013

modern master : josh keyes

I can't quite recall when or how I learned of the work of Josh Keyes, but it was most likely through an article in Juxtapoz magazine a few years back. I was immediately drawn to his work, which consists of an interesting and successful blend of contrasts, mixing modernist minimalism with classical realism, transmitting subtle and surreal messages that simultaneously smack one upside the head with a boulder-sized dose of cold, hard reality. Josh is an artist of our age, yet his images will forever remain ageless, either serving as a catalyst for change or a document of continual decline. His story is an inspiring one as well, as his success as an artist came later in life after honing his skills as a painter while earning his MFA. I can't say I've ever had the fortune of seeing Josh Keyes' work in person, though I am lucky to own a rare exhibit catalogue and print (thanks to my wife) from one of his solo shows a few years back. Josh currently has work on exhibit in a group show called "Otherworld" in Seattle, and you can follow his latest work HERE in the meantime.

Monday, July 15, 2013

world-making and exploring

For the past few weeks I've been reading a book recommended and sold to me by my friend Allen, who runs Books and Other Found Things in Leesburg, VA. Allen always finds the best reads for me, and this one, titled "The Everyday Work of Art" by Eric Booth was a pleasant surprise, since I wasn't familiar with both the book or the writer, and it's turning out to be one of the best creativity/self-help books I've read in a long time. Writer and creativity guru Todd Henry does a fine job talking about it at his blog HERE.

It's a lengthy read - not one to be devoured and digested in a few days, or weeks even, but worth every page. One chapter that stood out in particular for me is chapter nine, titled "World-Exploring". At the beginning of the chapter, Booth urges us to "get into the good stuff others have made" and in turn our own lives will be rewarded and enriched on a multitude of levels. This makes me think back to college when I had some drawing, painting and sculpture classes that required some intense focus, not to mention time. I recall how I would drop by the campus art galleries to see what students and faculty were up to, and to get some inspiration before heading to these classes. Sometimes it would be a quick pass through, while other times I'd get so immersed in the work on display, I'd almost run late. Either way, it gave me the fuel and the urge to create some art of my own, whether that involved working for three hours straight on drawing from life in charcoal, or creating imaginative three-dimensional forms from clay molds and liquid plaster. Seeing other people's work made me want to produce some of my own, even though it wasn't always successful, the act of creating art, or as Booth puts it, "world-making" was satisfying in and of itself. I recall, after an intense few hours spent drawing, or sculpting, or painting,  how I'd walk out of that studio with a greatly heightened level of awareness - forms, shapes and colors from everyday objects and things were all the more special to me, as if my eyes were seeing them for the first time, or in a whole new light. This was how it felt to be in the moment, in the present - to be truly alive.  But to get to this rewarding "state", it took work, and lots of it. There were no shortcuts whatsoever.

Unfortunately, I got out of it for a good while, focusing on getting a job as a teacher, spending much of my time and energy on things other than art. Sometimes it seemed as if I was passing through life in a sort of zombie-like state. I look back at this time and it was a somewhat unfulfilling time in my life, and while I did the occasional drawing in a neglected sketchbook, I spent more time watching lots of TV and going to the bar, as well as eating poorly.  I did enjoy a brief period, probably for about a year or so, where I made and recorded my own musical compositions with a keyboard and a hand-held tape recorder. Mostly though, I went to other people's concerts or art shows, always coming back home with the urge to create something of my own - to make my own mark and say something with my own voice. The problem was I didn't know how. It seemed like I had forgotten how. I'm dating myself when saying this, but back then there weren't a zillion self-help books for the creatively frustrated, nor was there the type of internet with the hundreds of inspiring creative/artist community sites that are available to people now. I honestly didn't really know how or where to begin again, though I gradually added more to the sketchbook at the urging of some friends. Perhaps I was afraid I wouldn't have reached the same level of quality I had in college, or maybe I feared not being able to go beyond what I had learned. Or, could I have simply gotten lazy?

One night, while hanging out and playing pool at the bar down the street, I ran into an old classmate named Alan from middle school. He recognized me and I recognized him, though we both had put on some more weight and lost a bit more hair at this point. It was about fourteen years ago and Alan heartily greeted me, and the first thing he asked me was if I was still drawing. In a loud, brash voice, most likely fueled by a few beers, Alan slapped me on the back and looked at his friends, telling them how I was the best drawer in class. I was flattered that he remembered this, and remembered me, but I couldn't help but feel kind of bothered by the "was" part.  That's when I knew that whatever I was doing at that point, or wasn't doing, wasn't working.

As a result of this little revelation , I decided to at least get out more and take advantage of the great outdoor parks not far from where I lived. I bought a bike and hit the trails, as well as hiked a lot more. I also started lifting some weights and eating more vegetables and fruits. This might not seem to have anything to do with getting back into making art again, but it was the beginning of something good, or at least better than where I was. Also, while I still wasn't making much art at all, I got out to the local exhibits and museums more, as well as to concerts and music events, if not to fill myself up with good things - things that make me think, feel, imagine and wonder, which brings me back to the concept mentioned earlier of "world-exploring".  I was building an inner database of inspiration that would later be applied to my life in very slow, gradual doses.

In chapter nine of the book, Eric talks about the importance of developing a yearning for reaching beyond what you already know, when exploring worlds, whether it be in every day living situations, or when listening to music or looking at art.  When we quit yearning and act as if we know everything there is to know, we quit living. It's this urge to get out of that safe, cozy comfort zone that depletes a zest for life, and the more world-exploring we practice, the more alive we become, resulting only in positive changes.

Perhaps my favorite portion of the chapter deals with the act of finding our own masters (makers of masterpieces) rather than simply subscribe to an institution or authority that has already decided who gets the top honors. There is no doubt that Vincent van Gogh was great, and today he is considered by many to be a true master. Sadly, there weren't enough folks during his time who had the courage, foresight and the vision that Vincent had, and too many had simply accepted the status quo, blind to the otherwise obvious brilliance and beauty of his work. I've always kept this in mind early on whenever I see art or hear music that blows me away but doesn't seem to pick up steam with the masses. I never let the masses make decisions about the things that have moved me beyond words. What a cowardly way to go about life anyhow. It is interesting to note how many of the well known and celebrated artists alive during van Gogh's days are all but forgotten.

Anyhow, it's been pretty busy around my way these days, with getting ready to move and all, so the next post will be saved for my personal list of "masters" who are alive today. In the meantime, whose worlds have you been exploring lately? Whose works of art, be it in the realm of the audio or visual, have enhanced your life and moved you to a heightened level of being? What artist or musician or writer, alive today, would you take the time to thank or express gratitude towards for bringing their work to the world?

Friday, July 12, 2013

monsters ink 2013, now in full color!

So I ended up adding color to the latest Monsters Ink drawing, initially completed a couple of weeks ago. The reason for this is because it might be used for something else other than a page in the Halloween-themed publication that I'll post about soon, hopefully. I'm glad this was suggested to me because I was curious as to how it might look in color. I found the color portion, done with Prismacolor markers, to be a lot less of a challenge and took far less time than the actual drawing part, and I really enjoyed playing with some  different patterns and color schemes, while trying to keep it somewhat balanced and not too complicated or chaotic.  Now with color added, it's also far easier to find and count the different monsters.  Below is a photo I took earlier in the summer of one of my awesome student interns helping to start a large-scale Monsters Ink mural piece that was contributed to by my summer art students and completed by the end of the two-week session. Unfortunately I neglected to get a shot of the final image, but hope to do another next summer perhaps. 

I finally completed my illustrated story pages for an upcoming book to be released by spring, 2014, which I'll post a lot more about soon. They've been sent to the editor who will work his editing magic before it goes off to the publisher. I already can't wait to see the book in it's final, completed form, but that won't be for a while. In the meantime, Kris and I have still been busy with purchasing our first house together, and yesterday was our closing day, finally! Our realtor was extremely helpful during the nearly year-long process of finding this place, and she kindly gave us a beautiful, thoughtful architectural artist's rendering of our home (see below), which we'll be moving into in less than a few weeks. I've got another drawing project that I just began and hope to complete shortly, while all of my other free time will mostly consist of planning and packing for the big move. 

In the meantime, here's some recently released stuff from Mu-ziq, including "Trail Quest" from his sold out vinyl compilation of early unheard work called "Somerset Avenue Tracks (1992-1995)", and "Monj2" from his latest EP/material in seven years called "Xtep". If you like Mu-ziq's brand of colorful, melodic, beat-driven electronic instrumentals, he's got an excellent new album ("Chewed Corners") that can be ordered via Planet Mu.

Monday, July 1, 2013

monsters ink 2013

One of the great things about teaching an art class to older students, in my case middle and high school students, is that they can be more independent, especially if art is their thing to begin with. The students who took my summer cartoon drawing classes mostly already had some idea of what they wanted to do and just needed some pointers and guidance on occasion. This is rarely the case at the elementary level, understandably so. So, sometimes I find some time to draw along with them, and I find I learn and gain inspiration as much from them as they might from me. The drawing above was one I completed over the course of the past two weeks, and many ideas were a result from student input and suggestions. I call it a Monsters Ink (or Monster Mash), which began simply as one continuous, meandering, mostly random line. From there on, all spaces were filled in and the drawing can technically be turned and looked at at any angle. It's been a couple of years since I worked on one, and the initial idea, at least for the random line and fill-in-the-spaces-with-things part came from my high school art teacher Jim Rettinger, who is himself a practicing artist, and who always stressed the importance of creative thinking and process over technique and final product. I even included a couple of sideways nods to a couple of my favorite artists, including a mutant shark for comic artist Matt Dembicki, and a ghostly, three-eyed asterisk ghoul for Pound, Virginia visionary folk artist JJ Cromer. See how many monsters you can find in the image and perhaps you'll even try one of your very own!