Sunday, April 23, 2006

Magical Secrets about Thinking Creatively: The Art of Etching and the Truth of Life, by Kathan Brown

As John Cage said, “Our lives are changing to the point where people may have their own lives rather than lives that society has given them second-hand.” Art is in the forefront of changes in society, and artists are the best people we can ask about ways to take hold of our own lives by thinking creatively.
-Kathan Brown

Kathan Brown, the founder of San Francisco's Crown Point Press, has a new book out - "Magical Secrets about Thinking Creatively: The Art of Etching and the Truth of Life". The book is put together as a series of thirteen creative secrets gathered from working with contemporary artists as they created etchings at Crown Point.

Wayne Thiebaud
"Hill River" 2002
Color drypoint with direct gravure and spit bite aquatint
21-1/4 x 30-1/2"

Wayne Thiebaud's corresponding creative secret is to cultivate sensuality. Richard Diebenkorn's is getting into the flow. Shazia Sikander's is to use every tool. Robert Bechtle's key is to know what you don't want. And provocatively, John Cage's work hinges on letting chance take a role in the process by not knowing what you want.

Dorothy Napangardi
"Sandhills" 2004
Color soap ground, spit bite, and sugar lift aquatints.
25-1/2 x 30-3/4"

Kathan writes clearly about the process of creation, the decisions involved, and the benefits of collaboration. The mix of artistic styles among the artists discussed is refreshing and inspiring. A colleague of Dorothy Napangardi, an Aboriginal artist from Australia, provides a comment on art that resonates deeply:
"I am not painting just for my pleasure. There is meaning, knowledge and power."

A website - "Magical Secrets" - has been developed to go along with the book.

Friday, April 14, 2006

My Walk With Bob

Cover Image: Gregg Chadwick
"Ossi di Sepia"

Bruce Boone's "My Walk With Bob" has been described by Dennis Cooper as a seminal and perfect work. Originally published in 1979, Ithuriel's Spear - a small press based in San Francisco - has brought out a new edition of this important book.

"My Walk With Bob" contains a collection of short narratives by Bruce Boone and is regarded as a core text of the New Narrative movement emanating from Robert Glück's writing workshops in San Francisco.

Robert Glück writes in the afterward of this edition that "the beginning of modernism is a man (Baudelaire) walking through a city. Bruce experiences his own version of the fragment in a walk with me through a part of San Francisco that reminds him of earlier eras both in his life and the life of our culture."

The image "Ossi di Sepia" which graces the cover was steeped in my reading of modern poetry, especially Baudelaire and the Italian poet Montale. The image's title is taken from Montale's Italian and means cuttlefish bones. There is something of the skeletal in Boone's writing as well. "My Walk With Bob" is brief, edited down to a strong yet supple form, and carries its weight of thought with deep elegance.

San Francisco State has an insightful essay by Robert Glück on the ideas and inspiration behind their works. It is nicely titled-
"Long Note on New Narrative". Both Robert Glück and Bruce Boone were interested in the paintings of the Neo-Expressionists, especially the work of Fischl and Schnabel. Robert Glück writes, "Meanwhile, Bruce and I were thinking about the painters who were rediscovering the figure, like Eric Fischl and Julian Schnabel. They found a figuration that had passed through the flame of abstract expressionism and the subsequent isms, operating through them. It made us feel we were part of a crosscultural impulse rather than a local subset."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Songs Of Almodóvar

I have been thinking about Goya and Spanish painting while in the studio recently.

Songs Of Almodóvar
Gregg Chadwick
"Songs Of Almodóvar"
48"x36" oil on linen 2006

In Southern California, Spain is never far away. The lilting sound of Spanish is almost an aural fragrance in the air.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746 - 1828)
"Woman with Clothes Blowing in the Wind"
Carbon and Watercolor on Ivory

"I've no more sight. No hand, no pen, nor inkwell, I lack everything - all I've got left is will."
- Goya in a letter to a Spanish friend. 1825

There is a wonderful piece by Robert Hughes on Goya in the Guardian. I have quoted a few lines concerning Goya's late paintings on ivory:

"He was short of money, and friends proposed that he should make himself some by doing a new issue of the Caprichos, but Goya refused to compromise himself by repetition.

Instead he spoke of something entirely new in his work: miniatures on ivory. Not the licked, frozen, highly detailed miniatures one associates with the period, but expressive ones, tiny but broadly brushed relative to their surface, full of accidents, blots and runs, "of a kind I've never seen before, done entirely with the point of a brush". He said he had finished about 40 of these. Not that many survive, but the Frick show is by far the largest group of them that has ever been exhibited. And they are wonderful, charged with all the sensuality and terror of his larger works, but rarely more than three inches square, and painted in carbon black and dilute watercolour on little plaques of ivory. One is enchanted by their spontaneity - how a mere drip of paint, blotted and diluted, becomes a face, or the looming mass of a majo's cloak, or the engulfing shadow behind a figure.

These miniatures are tiny in size but large in scale, and they contain some of the most beautiful feats of controlled chance that would be seen in art until the 20th century. They show that, almost to the end of his life, to paint and to invent were, for Goya, the same."
- Robert Hughes on Goya in the Guardian.

More on Spain:
*"Goya's Last Works" is at the Frick Collection, New York, until May 14-
Goya at the Frick

*Robert Hughes' volume on Goya is a must read -Goya by Robert Hughes

*Jeanette Winterston on Goya

*The Films of Pedro Almodóvar

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746 - 1828)
The Forge
71 1/2 in. x 49 1/4 in.
oil on canvas
Frick Collection

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Quite A Week in L.A.

Gustav Klimt
"Apple Tree I"
42 7/8" x 43 1/4" oil on canvas 1911 or 1912
Estate of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer

Quite a week in Los Angeles. Michael Govan has taken up his post as the new director at LACMA and the recently repatriated Gustav Klimt paintings are now on display at LACMA as well.

Gustave Courbet
"Stream in the Forest"
about 1862, oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

At the Getty tonight noted art historian Linda Nochlin will present a lecture: "How Landscape Means: Courbet and His Territory" in conjuction with the traveling exhibition - "Courbet and the Modern Landscape" -which is currently on view at the Getty through May 14, 2006.

*Details on the Nochlin lecture

And UCLA finished a remarkable run through the NCAA Basketball tourney on Monday night. The Bruins fell short in the title game but played with remarkable courage and showed incredible class throughout the tournament.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Walk With Ganesh

A Walk With Ganesh

"A Walk with Ganesh"
Gregg Chadwick, 72" x 84" oil on linen 2005

My brother, Kent Chadwick, is a Seattle writer and recently finished a poem inspired by the painting above:

"A Walk with Ganesh"

Obediently, I begin, but it is a curious
way to experiment with no design
and venture out in thought alone.
It is my father who has traveled to where elephants
wander, to where they’re worked and tended.
It is my brother who has breathed the red
dust of Bangalore, who was told
by a Bombay cab driver,
“Ganesh was just in my car!”
At home I know just what I read—
that he broke off a bit of his tusk
to take dictation, to copy
down at divine speed
the inspired, sculpted rush
of Ved Vyasa’s verse
creating the Mahabharata.

Oh, to compose as swiftly
as a god can write!
Oh, to out sing one’s breath!

Obediently, I begin a journey
measured in mouse steps—
a journey inside—to that seam
between animal and god, those stitches
holding our incongruousness together.
A seam like the one his mother’s
husband made with a sword:
Shiva, angered, striking
off the head of this unknown lad
who blocked the door to the bath,
the boy Pavarti made
from the sluff of her body herself
to guard her door, her honor.
Remorseful, Shiva sent
his retainers to find another.
They found an elephant by a stream,
sacrificed the young bull—
it’s blood flowed down to the water,
dyeing the fair stream—
and they carried back its proud
head of tusks and trunk,
which Shiva joined to the lifeless
body of the boy, reviving
him, making him god of beginnings,
Ganesh, remover of obstacles,
Ganesh of a mother’s love.

How swiftly we pull our swords;
how often cry out in sorrow.

Obediently, I follow Ganesh
into my head, my memory, my past.
He knows where he is leading, with no hesitation
takes me back to the bare
hills of Southern California:
their sage and tumbleweeds,
tan grass alive
with beetles, horned lizards,
red diamondbacks.
Vultures soaring and seeking
over the arroyos; the chaparral baked
in the sun’s blue kiln;
the wind’s warm fragrance
dryly whispering, “Thirst.”

“Why this place?” I ask.

“Isn’t this your imagined golden land?
What better place to see the story you are to sing?”

To sing?
Oh that this god would grant sweet lyrics.

On a path of sandy loam,
quartz, fool’s gold,
we crest a hill of oaks
and see below us Combat Town.
The idylls forming in my head
of surf and sand and love
disappear with the smell of spent
shells and smokeless powder.
This is the place we played as boys,
among the cartridges, K-ration
tins, ammo boxes,
scarred earth and walls,
mimicking our fathers’ skills
in killing the enemy and saving
their own. This is where we acted the lucky
hero whose M-16
clip never empties, who captures
the flag and comes back
home unscathed, victorious.
This was Combat Town circa
arranged as a Vietnamese hamlet
with sweeping roof lines,
open air market,
even a pagoda, which is where Ganesh heads,
a pagoda without sutras, built
not to house a holy scripture
but for training in combat tactics,
hollow like all the buildings in this town.
On the ground floor Ganesh
sits his great body
into position, folded supplely
for meditation, his elephant head
echoed in the carvings on the pillars
of animals of power—elephants
and tigers—verisimilitudes
the Architect had insisted on.

What powerful tremors,
what earthshaking silence
flows from the meditation of an enlightened one.

I look out the empty windows
of the bullet-pocked pagoda
and see Combat Town
fill with young recruits
fumbling with their rifles, confused
on how to move, how to follow orders
that their drill instructors shout,
blushing when the war game
officer marks their helmet:
“You’re wounded. You’re dead. You’re hopeless.”
And time accelerates around Ganesh:
the recruits run through their drills,
day upon day losing
their awkwardness, reflectiveness, weakness,
becoming stronger, fiercer, obedient,
ready to aim and fire.
The anger, fatigue, and repetition
carve a soldier’s instincts
into their psyche, setting the triggers
that when needed will help them kill
and survive, save their buddy,
bring their unit honor.
Then the rounds’ sound changes
to live firing. It’s Vietnam
before me and those same recruits are blooded warriors
now moving through a hamlet safely
separated, poking the dead,
silencing any hut that returns
fire, questioning the headman
in pidgin about when the V.C.
came and where they ran to, believing
only half of what he says or what they see.
And when their patrol moves on, the local
Viet Cong lieutenant
climbs out of a tunnel
below the headman’s home
with the men and women from his squad
he’s saved and they slip away.
The Marine patrol comes
back through the hamlet in another week.
The corporal on point spots
the mine, signals a halt.
The men crouch anxiously.
With no explosion to begin their ambush
the hidden Viet Cong
start firing separately,
yet are killed quickly by multiple
streams of automatic fire.
One of their rounds, though, tears
off the corporal’s jaw—a gaping
wound where his mouth had been.
The sergeant pulls him to cover
by his ankle, his broken face
dragged oozing over the dirt.
His buddy crawls to him and stabs
syringes of morphine into his leg,
wraps his head with gauze.
When they finally secure the hamlet
they force the villagers out of their homes
and huts and fields, push
them out on the road carrying chickens
and children, leading their buffalo,
warning them not to turn back—
“Go! Go! Don’t look!”—
as a Thunderchief delivers
the napalm strike exploding
as a white fireball
burning everything they’ve known.

“It is a great sin,” Ganesh says,
“to ever imagine destruction as a cleansing.”

Through the acrid smoke I watch
the Architect directing changes,
reshaping Combat Town
by blueprint, desperate
for a stratagem that will win the war:
strategic hamlets, truces,
carpet bombing, mining
Haiphong Harbor, interdiction,
Vietnamization, invading Cambodia.
But every advantage leads to losses
and the helicopter evacuation of Saigon.

Combat Town quiets down
for a season. But then new blueprints
are drawn and the pagoda we are in becomes
a Central American church
and wars later is rebuilt to be a mosque.
And the weapons the recruits learn
become smarter and more deadly, as do they.
And when Ganesh rises from his meditation,
and I am ready to leave this dream,
he chides me and leaves me there to stay,
saying, as he rides his mice away,

“This is your story, no?
America’s story.
A story of continuing war.”
— Kent Chadwick