Finding old photos deemed long-lost is both dizzyingly joyful and weirdly alarming. I found myself experiencing this tailspin recently as I inadvertently came upon photos from more than a decade ago; visions of past lives, selves, dreams, ambitions and moments came flooding back. It made me feel old and young, all at once.
I have little use for nostalgia; I’m not the sort of person to long for a time to return, or to wallow in the tail-chasing uselessness of regret. But I wonder about the effect the internet has on our collective memories. People are quick to throw up albums of their latest outing/party/dinner/etc, without considering that they just might be giving a part of themselves away forever. And while they’re busy photoshopping and uploading and updating and IMing their adventures, there’s a whole world around them that keeps going. I don’t want to live my life online; I want to live it … living.
After the funny, familiar, forgotten feelings passed, I wondered about scanning a few photos to share. Would I? Should I? Is it anyone’s business? How much does sharing my past propel me into the future? or trap me in the past? Does the relentless documentation of the mundane boil down to simple narcissism? the primal urge to connect? a bit of both? Have Warhol’s fifteen minutes been shrunk to mere pixels and megabytes, mp3s and mp4s? I grapple with these questions daily, judiciously weighing what to share, what not to share, how best to do it, and when to walk away entirely, and, you know, live my life somewhere other than online, or in the media at all. I can’t help but wonder how my artwork’s being influenced by all this reflection, however, or its symbiotic relationship with a larger popular culture where exposure and revelation seem to overshadow not just nuance, but the blood-and-guts beauty of day-to-day living.
As such, I’ve being paying a heap of attention to the news around Patti Smith’s memoir of life with Robert Mapplethorpe. ‘Just Kids’ won the U.S. National Book Award for non-fiction in November. Patti was recently interviewed by Stephen Colbert, who, responding to his humorous query about her punk, anti-establishment ethos, said, softly but firmly, “I like my award.” As if there was any question she might throw it back. The award is a testament to Smith’s mastery with words. The book is a hypnotizing blend of moving personal experience and a recollections on life in late 60s/early 70s as a struggling young artist. Famous figures like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Sam Wagstaff, Andy Warhol, and Lou Reed (among many others) float in and out, but what kept my interest flowing was Patti’s poetic, flowing prose shot through with equal parts youthful zeal and lived-in wisdom. There’s an old-soul quality to her work that in no way lessens her roaring passion or stirring memories of her personal and artistic development on the mean streets of the Big Apple.
Owing to this unique combination of flavours, ‘Just Kids’ has become one of my very-favorite books, ever. I devoured whole chapters across many late evenings when I began reading it, connecting deeply with certain aspects: involvement with artists; finding one’s own artistic voice; sacrificing for vision; growing confidence; growing old; shifting priorities; retaining authenticity. As I noted the end drawing ever nearer, I wound up slowing my voracious, passionate pace, instincts automatically kicking in to postpone the inevitable final page. Time -with anyone, with any place, with any memory, with any project -is always finite. Patti herself acknowledges this as she writes of the last time she met, and spoke with, her longtime … what? Friend? Lover? Mentor? Soulmate? All of the above. ‘Just Kids’ describes a life well-lived indeed, but it also bravely crosses into some personal, painful hinterlands.
That Patti was so baldly, boldly able to share a very, deeply personal part of her life with the public, without being saccharine, sentimental, or sensationalist is awe-inspiring. And yet, it feels natural. Patti honored the beauty of life she’s experienced, in all its gut-wrenching, thrilling, horrifying, glorifying majesty, by writing this book. She also honored Robert’s request. Nothing about ‘Just Kids’ feels forced, cheap, or exploitive. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s deeply moving and desperately personal. I’m a deeply private person myself (despite all my online activities might imply) and I am really not sure I’d ever be able to write something akin to ‘Just Kids’, nor am I sure I’d want to. I don’t be able to make the kind of promise Patti made with Robert before he died about writing a memoir of their lives, partially because I don’t think I could ever do those kinds of relationships justice in written form, and, frankly, I’m not sure certain things are anyone’s business.
I do, however, have photos and old journals; I have memories that flicker in and out, and boxes (and boxes!) of poetry, photographs, drawings, and paintings. This – -my life – – is the foundation of my art, and the art of many, past and present, whom I admire. Translating it all into something I feel comfortable sharing, without it seeming narcissistic, saccharine, or relentlessly navel-gazing, is a challenging, if inevitable, opportunity to open a door into a new world. It’s like trying to get into the best, most dreamy spot in the world, but there’s a guard dog outside, and you only know it’s there by its breath; it might bite you, it might let you pet it, but you have to get past it, blood, treats, cooing, and all.
Ultimately, the best art requires a certain degree of nakedness. And nakedness requires bravery. Patti was brave enough to be naked -in ‘Just Kids’ unquestionably, but also through her thirty-plus years of poetry, art and music. I’m gradually learning to go naked too. Damn it’s cold. But I’m getting used to it… maybe.
Last week, Andy Warhol would’ve celebrated his 82nd birthday.
There’s been a flurry of interest around his work the last while. The National Gallery of Canada’s Pop Life exhibit, running through September 19th, covers Warhol’s artistic and aesthetic legacy via living artists like Tracey Emin and Damian Hirst, as well as Warhol contemporary Keith Haring and some later works of the man himself. I’m dying to see it. There’s something eerily timely as well as timeless about not only Warhol’s work, but his world-view and observations on (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) the deep superficiality of popular culture -something many of us take for granted. I have to wonder what he’d make of the internet too, especially (ahem) blogs on the arts. Hmmm.
Another Warhol exhibit I’d love to get to before it closes is the one happening now through September 12th at the Brooklyn Museum. Thirteen New York recently had a fantastic little feature on their Arts round-up about the exhibit, called Andy Warhol: The Last Decade. It features 50 pieces from 1978 to his untimely demise in 1987.
As curator Sharon Matt Atkins notes in the WNET clip, the exhibit provides “an opportunity to see another side” of someone most people associate with Marilyn Monroe prints and soup cans. Pop proper was only seven years; Warhol’s career spanned over forty. The show looks like it has a distinct focus on Warhol’s painting activities, particularly those he did with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Some pieces bear a distinct stylistic similarity to Jackson Pollock’s untamed, energetic works. There is a palpable reaction to polite painting techniques of the past, with Atkins explaining how Warhol and assistants actually urinated on pieces to produce various patterns.
The work with Basquiat is especially moving; each one shows a mad dance of inspiration, competition, and robust masculinity at play, though, interestingly, the lines between each artist become less and less distinct in paintings that span the three year collaboration. There’s a kind of passing-the-mantle in artistic and spiritual senses too, which makes their shared output even more poignant when you consider that Basquiat himself passed a year after Andy. In fact, this Thursday marks 22 years since the Haitian-American artist died. Weird.
That blurring between the two doesn’t diminish Warhol’s work-horse, style, however; the effect is rather the opposite, because it clearly shows the scope of Warhol’s curiosity and imagination. And just looking at at his Last Supper series reminds me of Lou Reed’s comment in a past interview where he recalls the white-wigged artist calling him “lazy.” Warhol as workaholic? The last decade of his output certainly implies as much.
I have to curb my own workaholic-ism in order to get away to see these exhibits. With the rain pelting down lately and the turn of seasons just around the corner, spending a few afternoons in Ottawa and Brooklyn feels like the absolutely right thing to do -and a great way to muse over what Andy might’ve been doing if he was with us now.
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987). Self-Portrait, 1986. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 80 x 76 in. (203.2 x 193 cm). The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988), and Francesco Clemente (Italian, born 1952). Origin of Cotton, 1984. Mixed media on canvas, 50 ½ x 71 in. (128 x 180.5 cm). Private Collection, Courtesy Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987). Self-Portrait (Strangulation), 1978. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, ten parts, 16 x 13 in. (40.6 x 33 cm) each. Anthony d’Offay. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Oscars: fun, silly, big business.
However, you choose to look at them (and all the itinerant outfits), you can’t help but choose a favorite moment when the little golden man makes his appearance every March. My personal favorite segment was short, snappy, and very stylish: Tina Fey, in sparkling black one-shoulder dress, and Robert Downey Jr. rocking a bow-tie and Warhol shades, presenting the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (it went to the entirely-deserving Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker, fyi). The two shared a comfortable, natural chemistry; their deadpan delivery of tacky lines, with Fey’s sarcastic cheery-chipper-yay-team-ness, and Downey’s sourpuss antics, easily became my top Oscar moment. Kathryn Bigelow taking top director honors, and her incredible film winning big, were different kinds of joys entirely, but for smart, smarmy, smirking entertainment, Fey & Downey were tops.
What a deliciously refreshing moment of two supremely funny, smart people, their awareness of the ridiculousness of the spectacle they were involved in (and indeed, work daily in) writ large on their expressive faces. What a joy, to witness their playing with the absurdity, mocking and milking the fatuous fabulousness of big gowns, big hair, bright lights and booming music. Downey’s later appearance on Jimmy Kimmel‘s post-Oscars show was every bit as entertaining; he seems supremely aware of his position within the Hollywood game, and is content to play into it, while keeping watch to not be played by it.
Here’s to the artists who make these award shows -and their post-mortems -so entertaining, while reminding us there’s sometimes a very creative brain behind the box office buzz.
A new year always implies a fresh start. Those starts are always available to us whenever we so choose, but there’s something so fortifying about coinciding our personal beginnings with chronological ones, as if once a year, people (or those following the Julian calendar anyway) decide, en masse, that they can influence the course of their lives through resolution, faith, commitment, and an embrace of potential. Would that this attitude could last to Easter, when the real promise of renewal has never been made so plain for Western society.
In any case, people seem to love lists -to debate, to ponder, to look back and to measure one’s thoughts and accomplishments against. Should that movie be there? Why wasn’t that album included? What happened to that book? We measure our lives, our personal triumphs and tragedies, which seem to be both timeless and weighted to a specific moment, against such lists. I was equally heartened and amused to see possibilities for potential laid out in one particular list; some of the items are foolhardy, some are curious, some are inspired -but the spirit behind them all is, I think, genuine, and the spark of springy hopefulness is encouraging in these dour midwinter days.
So, as before, here is a list -a personal one -of things I am looking forward to in 2010:
More Live Music
While I am not a particularly big fan of club gigs (I never really was -comes with being raised in opera houses, I suppose) there are a few acts I’m hoping to see (and blog about) this year, including The Big Pink and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I was introduced to the former by a fellow twitterati with exquisite music taste who saw them in an early-winter gig here in Toronto and was suitably impressed; having heard The Big Pink’s stuff on the radio both prior and following that concert, I’ve become entranced by their marriage of old and new sounds. This is rock and roll you can dance to. I like that. And… BRMC? Dirty, good, loud. I’ll take it.
Happening at the National Gallery of Canada in June, this exhibit is featuring works of my very-favourites, including Tracey Emin, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, and (sigh!) Keith Haring. It’s only January but I’m already excited. I can think of no other group of artists who have so changed the modern cultural landscape -and in so doing, altered the way we experience culture and its relationship to the everyday mundane reality of daily life. Thank you, National Gallery!
Still in the art vein, the venerable New York City art museum is hosting an exhibit of the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the first in the US in three decades. Exploring the entirety of the master photographer’s career, Cartier-Bresson was, and remains, one of my all-time favourites. I recall studying his works in film school many moons ago, and being drawn in by the inherent drama within his photographs. Suitably, MOMA’s website calls him “the keenest observer of the global theater of human affairs”. Yes, his work is indeed theatrical, but it’s also fleshily, gorgeously human and sensuously alive. If this doesn’t push me on to visit France at last, I don’t know what will.
Presented as part of the 2010 Luminato Festival, “Prima Donna” will receive its North American premiere this June. Awesome Canadian singer/songwriter/all-around music god Rufus Wainwright channels his own inner diva and his passion for the operatic form in creating a work about the fictional faded opera star Regine and the re-examination of her life choices. When it debuted in Manchester last July, the New York Times called the music “impressionistic yet neo-medieval, tinged with modal harmonies”. Hopefully I’ll be interviewing the heavenly-voiced Mr. Wainwright about it closer to the opening. Stay tuned.
I feel like there’s a big piece of me I’ve been hiding away that should probably come out. In that vein, I’m going to be posting my artwork, photography, and video interviews more often. This video is a favourite from last year. It’s about the award-winning production of “Eternal Hydra” by Crow’s Theatre:
So here’s to embracing… everything… which is everything, after all. I think Lauryn Hill expresses it best:
after winter / must come spring / change it comes / eventually
I’m sitting in my garden, swatting away the wasps (or rather, blowing on them gently so as not to irritate) and enjoying the cool morning breezes after a string of deadly-hot, gorgeously-summery days. And yes, I’m on the computer. But really, what better office than one that afford a view of an English garden and the sounds of chirping birds?
Like many, checking Twitter has become a regular part of my day. It’s actually become the norm, and one of my main sources of information. Whenever I’m curious about what is going on at an exact moment in time, anywhere across the globe, all I have to do is take a quick look at the “twizipper,” as I call it, and I’m updated with a myriad of bits and bites -everything from mundane, me-spouting techno-narcissists to breaking world events to opinions, causes, and links to nutty, inane videos. I’ve been very interested to read (and enjoy) the tweets of artist Damien Hirst. You may recall that Hirst is the artist famous for his exhibitions of animals suspended in formaldehyde. He is also the artist behind the diamond-encrusted skull, though I find his paintings the most beautiful. Reading his tweets -and the links leading to his most-hilarious, smart blog -I’ve begun the realize the fun that can be had with a medium like Twitter to share, communicate, connect, question, and contemplate. I really wonder what someone like Warhol would’ve made for it; his “15 minutes of fame” dictum seems to have shrunk to 140 characters.
Anyway, taking a look through Hirst’s blog again this morning, I was reminded why art -and artists -continue to inspire and inform the different aspects of my life. His stream-of-consciousness entry about art and its essential meaning -part truth, part seeking, all sarcasm -will, I am sure, seem different at night than it does in the morning light (by which I mean, more menacing and less airy -which is probably as he intended it). But there is also a definite spirit of playfulness with these entries -the M&Ms, the chewing gum, the bladder-related silliness. It’s as if he’s reducing the high-falutin’ ways art is thought of (capital “A” art -as in, “I am an Artist!” -come on, we all have a friend who’s pronounced or written those embarrassing words) while at the same time forced a re-think of what true art is, how we perceive it, how we interact with it, and what it means to us in daily life. This is, at least to me, the entire point of Hirst’s career.
“Using your brain to make art is so last year!” he writes. Oh, Damien. You make me think, laugh, play, and look at the world -online and otherwise, inner and outer -in entirely new ways. Now I want to get my hands filthy in paint and conte. Think I’ll hold off on the skull-creating… at least for now.
Addendum: Damien Hirst enough actually re-tweeted the link to this posting yesterday. A squeak of joy erupted from the patio once I realized this. It was enough to scare the wasps off, however temporarily. Thank you, Mr. Hirst. Wow. Thank you.
Addendum #2: Damien isn’t Damien. Aaah, now it all makes sense. Don’t care. Still flattered.