Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Judging by Appearance: Master Drawings from the Collection of Joseph and Deborah Goldyne at the Legion of Honor

Henri Matisse
"La violiniste a la fenêtre" (The Violinist at the Window)
charcoal on paper 1924
photo courtesy of the Palace of the Legion of Honor

"Judging by Appearances" at the Legion of Honor is a rich exhibit of works on paper from the private collection of Joseph and Deborah Goldyne. The artworks have been arranged under broad themes by curator Robert Flynn Johnson, which leads to chance correspondences between disparate artists. Matisse's luminous charcoal drawing, "La violiniste a la fenêtre", with its silvery light seems apt for the fog shrouded skies above Baker Beach on a typical summer morning in San Francisco. (I imagine a similar view from Robin William's open window as I drive back from the museum through Seacliff towards North Beach.) Hanging nearby is a tiny Rembrandt study, which carries a similar force with the simplest of means. In one of my earliest drawing classes, the Los Angeles artist Tom Wudl looked at my work and said, "It is what you leave out of the drawing that is most important." He didn't mean it as a compliment. In contrast to my early efforts, Matisse and Rembrandt create entire worlds with ink smudges and charcoal smears.

Giorgio Morandi
watercolor 1957
photo courtesy of the Palace of the Legion of Honor

Giorgio Morandi's "Landscape" somehow brings the fragrance of Italy back to me. I really can't explain the watercolor's effect on me. Like the Matisse and the Rembrandt, Morandi's work combines the utmost simplicity with incredible grandeur and presence. A Turner study of the Moselle hangs nearby and it too pulses with color and space, as the work seems to melt into an abstraction of pure light.

Unlike many exhibits, the label commentaries in "Judging by Appearances" are well written, witty and opinionated. Both the curator, Robert Flynn Johnson, and the collector, Joseph Goldyne, provide their honest thoughts on the works. And as viewers we seem to be encouraged to join the dialogue and contribute our own thoughts.

This is a beautiful exhibition, which should be viewed before it closes on Sunday. Museum staff members promised me that a catalog is in the works and should be in the bookstore any day now. The museum's website provides very little info on the show so the catalog will prove to be indispensable.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons From Sinai

Icon with Saint Theodosia.
Byzantine (Constantinople), first half of the 13th century.
The Holy Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai, Egypt

In today's Los Angeles Times, Suzanne Muchnic reports on the upcoming exhibition at the Getty Museum:
"Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons From Sinai"

In 2004, the Metropolitan Museum in New York presented an exhibition on Byzantium which included works from St. Catherine's in the Sinai.

Opening at the Getty Museum on November 14th will be the first exhibition in the United States to focus exclusively on treasures from the Greek Orthodox monastery beneath Mount Sinai in Egypt. Founded by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the in the 6th century, The Holy Monastery of St. Catherine, lays claim as the the world's oldest continuously operating Christian monastery.

The Holy Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai, Egypt
photo - Bruce M. White

Father Justin Sinaites, librarian at St. Catherine's, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times says that "the works will be installed in a setting designed to illuminate their devotional roles and evoke the ambience of the monastery."

"Virgin Hodegetria"
12th century
The Holy Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai, Egypt
photo - Bruce M. White

Thursday, May 25, 2006

RB Morris at the Getty

RB Morris at the Edinburgh Castle, San Francisco
photo by Gregg Chadwick

Lucinda Williams has called him the "greatest unknown songwriter in the country." Recently at the Edinburgh Castle in San Francisco, I heard RB Morris play the greatest unreleased song in the country - his post September 11th lament - "Empire Falls". "Empire Falls" is a heartbreaking look at America today. It would fit right in on Neil Young's "Living With War", Pearl Jam's new album, The Dixie Chicks' new collection, Springsteen's current tour and Michael McDermott's glorious upcoming album. Come to the Getty Museum on June 9th and hear it for yourself. Money back guarantee if the song doesn't move you. Well the event is free so no worries there.

The Getty describes RB Morris as a "hillbilly beatnik hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, and a celebrated poet, playwright, and singer-songwriter. His songs reflect a range of musical styles from blues and country to improvisation and spoken word, but what holds them together and gives them their signature is a provocative wit and a sense of melancholy. Morris's rhythmic wordplay turns these contrary tendencies into the best of friends."

RB Morris (Friday Nights at the Getty)
Date: Friday June 9, 2006 at 7:30 pm
Location: Harold M. Williams Auditorium, Getty Center
Admission: Free. Reservation required

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thoughts on the Process of Painting

Gregg Chadwick
"The Crossing"
72"x48" oil on linen 2004

Thinking About Art has my "Artists Interview Artists" piece up. I respond to a series of questions on the process of my work:
Artists Interview Artists: Gregg Chadwick

Thanks JT. And thanks to Sky Pape at Artists Unite for linking to my interview and my site:
Artists Unite

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Richter's Squeegee, Courbet's Knife, Rosetsu's Fingers

Gerhard Richter
oil on canvas 1989
Milwaukee Art Museum

Tyler Green's recent piece on the correspondence between Courbet's paint quality and Gerhard Richter's paint technique, echoes my own recent thoughts. The landscape motifs in many of the works at the recent Courbet exhibition at the Getty in Los Angeles were almost a framework to enable Courbet's paint pyrotechnics.

Gustave Courbet
"The Gust of Wind"
oil on canvas c. 1865
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Courbet's paint is dragged, scumbled, rubbed, scraped, ladled on with a palette knife, smeared with rags, and fingers. Richter's work is also manipulated on the surface of the canvas while the paint is still wet. Richter's blurred, squeegeed marks create a new reality and for me evoke thoughts of grottoes, mists and Wagnerian myths.

Gerhard Richter
oil on canvas 1989
Milwaukee Art Museum

Nagasawa Rosetsu
"Herdboy Playing a Flute"
141.8 cm x 139 cm hanging scroll; ink on paper c. 1792
Kyushoin Temple, Kyoto

Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799), a Japanese artist featured at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in - "Traditions Unbound: Groundbreaking Painters of Eighteenth-Century Kyoto" also actively manipulated the wet paint surface to create images of great depth and mystery. Nagasawa Rosetsu's "Herdboy Playing a Flute" was painted with his fingers, palms and fingernails. The artists of Eighteenth-Century Kyoto referred to this simple yet extraordinary technique as shitoga. Paintings in this expressive manner were often created during a night of poetry and drink. Another painting executed by Rosetsu with his fingers is signed, "suichu mansha Rosetsu shi ga" - (finger painting, haphazardly painted by Rosetsu when drunk).

Artists often use their fingers and hands while painting- smearing, blending and stippling the surface of the work. There is a sensual quality to the application of paint that is often ignored in writing about art. As a painter I find James Elkin's "What Painting Is" to be an important work because of its discussion of the physicality of paint.: the loopy, thick, gooey quality of lead white. The clear mineral glazes of lapis lazuli. The mystery of cinnabar, flying white and dragon's blood. For James Elkins, painting is akin to alchemy.

Leonardo da Vinci
"Ginevra de' Benci"
(detail of fingerprint)
c. 1474/1478, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art

Leonardo da Vinci's "Ginevra de' Benci" may not lead us to the heirs of Jesus and Mary Magdalene but it does provide evidence of Leonardo's own hands blending the wet paint into a rich field of sfumato. Painters are often like alchemists, as James Elkins describes, or like masons building a thick surface like Courbet's rocky fields, and at times seem to be like Pygmalion creating living pictorial realities out of their own hands.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Robert Heinecken Dies

Robert Heinecken
Photo work from a guerilla special edition

Christopher Knight reports in todays Los Angeles Times that the artist Robert Heinecken has died. Robert Heinecken's photo works took his photography directly into the world. In one of his most memorable artistic actions Robert Heinecken bought numerous copies of a current edition of Time magazine in 1969 and then, after adding his own ani-war images adapted from horrific news photos from the conflict, put them back on the newstand shelves for unsuspecting customers. Christopher Knight explains: "The pages of Heinecken's guerrilla "special edition" included superimposed lithographic prints of a recently published photograph showing a smiling soldier holding the decapitated heads of two anonymous Vietnamese youths. The shocking image was repeated indiscriminately over fashion advertisements and editorial news copy throughout the magazines. Between 1969 and 1994, he made 37 editions of variously collaged and overprinted magazines."

Robert Heinecken created meaningful work that expressed his own outrage at the injustices being waged during an unpopular war. We need him now and will miss him.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

October Off Ocean Park: Greeting Diebenkorn

Gregg Chadwick
October Off Ocean Park
72"x72" oil on linen 2006

My painting, "October Off Ocean Park" was painted in a series of starts, stops and absences. Major compositional elements were scraped down or painted over. I worked on the painting over a series of months then years. My artistic engagement with the work of Richard Diebenkorn helped me finish the piece. I knew I wanted to get the light of a Santa Monica evening into the work. But I wasn't quite sure how to pull it off. Not long ago I moved into a studio at the Santa Monica Airport, literally off Ocean Park Boulevard. I could walk out the door and see that evening light filtered through my memories of Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series.

Richard Diebenkorn
Ocean Park No.27 100" x 81" oil on canvas 1970
Brooklyn Museum

Arthur C. Danto, in "Encounters and Reflections", writes at length on Diebenkorn's Ocean Park paintings:

"Ocean Park itself is a community in Santa Monica, where Diebenkorn traced a daily path between home and studio, but whether or not these works make the topical references to local landscape with which they are credited, they clearly are something more than abstractions with recurrent compositional motifs, cadences, pastel tonalities, scumbled fields and tapelike forms, and stunning juxtapositions of color swept on with masterful brushwork. Each of them, for example, displays the submerged record of its own realization, and so distinctive are the pentimenti in Diebenkorn's art that each painting carries within itself the visible history of the artist's search. The nearest parallel, perhaps, would be the great drawings of Rembrandt, in which certain crowded lines converge on the sought-after contour so that the drawing and its draw-ing are one, process and fulfillment inseparable. In my view, Diebenkorn's paintings are less about the bright skies and long horizons of Ocean Park than about the act of painting."

In Richard Diebenkorn's last years he moved back to Northern California from Los Angeles. Polar places of existence for many in the west. In Diebenkorn's work there is a difference in the light quality between the Ocean Park paintings created in Southern California and the more gestural and thicker pigmented works done in Northern California. It is too simplistic to ascribe these differences as solely about place. But I also find that my quality of vision differs as I view my paintings in these polar lights. Color seems to be more present, and perhaps more important, in my Southern California work. And space becomes expansive in my Southern California paintings as well. In San Francisco, the fog and the vertiginous landscape pull me close to the source.

As his health failed, Diebenkorn painted less but continued to create etchings at Crown Point Press in San Francisco. One morning on a walk from my Market Street loft, with a book by Robert Hughes in hand, I spotted Richard Diebenkorn leaning up against a BART entrance watching the cable car turnaround across Market Street. He was captivated by the movement of the conductors as they spun the car around on a giant wooden turntable. I stopped, leaned up against a wall, and flipped through Robert Hughes' "Nothing If Not Critical" until I reached his essay on Diebenkorn. I read slowly, pausing often to gaze up at Diebenkorn as he gazed at the forms moving across Powell Street. Eventually, I closed the book, walked over and thanked Richard Diebenkorn for his art and inspiration. He smiled and tears seemed to well up in his eyes, as he said "Thank you. I am glad that my work inspires you. Is your studio nearby?" I nodded and tried to say something "about the interplay between figuration and abstraction in his work." Diebenkorn was frail at this point and seemed to know that he didn't have much longer to live. I didn't want to take him away from his moment alone in the morning light on Market Street. I thanked him again and moved on. Richard Diebenkorn died soon after in 1993. The thought of Diebenkorn and his work is often with me.

Richard Diebenkorn
Portrait of Jane
John and Jane Fitz Gibbon Collection

*On May 12 at 6:00 p.m. at the new de Young Museum in San Francisco, Kathan Brown, Founding Director of Crown Point Press, will detail thirteen "magical secrets" about thinking creatively that she learned from working with artists in the etching studio over the past forty-four years. As part of the program Kathan Brown will play a videotape of Richard Diebenkorn working in the Crown Point Press Studios.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Art Fabrication: From Idea to Project

Photo by: KB Projects
Konstantin Bojanov, an art fabricator, at work on Richard Jackson's "The Pink Empire" .

"As art with high production values has become increasingly common, the role of the artist has evolved into something closer to that of a film director who supervises a large crew of specialists to realize his or her vision."
- Mia Fineman in The New York Times

Mia Fineman's New York Times article on contemporary art fabrication is well worth the read: "Looks Brilliant on Paper. But Who, Exactly, Is Going to Make It?"

Lee Sevilla: A 71 Year Old Artist In Need

Lee Sevilla in her car with Sandy
Photo by Richard Hartog

In today's Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez describes the predicament of Lee Sevilla. An emerging artist at 71, Lee Sevilla spends the nights overlooking the Pacific Ocean, sleeping in her car with her dog Sandy. The hours after work are spent at a local public library, where Ms. Sevilla works on her drawings hoping to scrape together a few more dollars to aid her living situation.

Steve Lopez writes, "About 10 years ago, Lee Sevilla answered a lifelong dream, got a student loan and took a few art classes at UCLA. I discovered I've got a gift," she said, proudly showing me her pencil sketches of wildlife and domestic animals. "If only I could figure out how to make something happen with it now. I seem to be in a rut there too."

Lee Sevilla
Photo by Richard Hartog

"She's an amazing woman, and so talented," said Roz Templin, a library assistant who, along with her colleague Kimberlee Carter, is trying to arrange an exhibit of Sevilla's work at the El Segundo Public Library.

Requests for artwork by Lee Sevilla should be sent to the following mail address:
Lee Sevilla
P.O. Box 5484, Playa del Rey, CA 90296.
Her current prices range from $60 to $20.

Friday, May 05, 2006

On Gold Mountain

Gregg Chadwick
关于金山 (On Gold Mountain)
68"x68" oil on linen 2006

For the immigrant Chinese community, San Francisco was known as Gum Saan - "Gold Mountain" - a place of freedom and prosperity. This new painting, is in part a visual poem on new Chinese immigrants coming to America. Many of these new immigrants are young girls adopted from China into American families. What will their stories be?

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

Friday, March 17, 2006

Goya, Napoleon and Bush

" If the Princes of the world had to fight hand to hand,
goodbye to war.

But while there is someone in the world who can sacrifice
thousands of victims
how and when he pleases,

Without risk to his person,
enslaved humanity do not complain of his barbarity,
for the blame is yours."
-Giambattista Casti, "Gli animali parti" 1802

"Contemptuous of the Insults"
Goya 1816-1820
From: "A Revolutionary Age: Drawing in Europe, 1770–1820" organized by the Getty as a companion exhibition to the traveling exhibition
" Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile"

"Sometimes the most determined of invaders, equipped with strong armies and copious intelligence about its enemy can make myopic blunders that later seem close to madness"
Robert Hughes, from "Goya"- on Napoleon's invasion of Spain

Three years into our debacle in Iraq it is helpful to turn to art and history for some perspective. Napoleon invaded and occupied Spain from 1808 to 1813 prompting Goya's series of etchings, "The Disasters of War", and a related group of drawings . In the Getty's permanent collection is a small, ink wash drawing from this period depicting a modish, probably anti-monarchist Spaniard (note the outfit- no pretensions to court style). He mockingly doffs his hat to two miniaturized French soldiers while expressing disdain with his right hand in response to the soldier's insults. The Getty's notes to the exhibition point out Goya's anti-Napoleonic stance as evidenced in this drawing which illumines Spanish contempt for the Napoleonic forces laying waste to their country. The Spanish people resisted the French occupation with guerilla warfare (Robert Hughes points out in his study of Goya that this is the first use of the now familiar term to describe battle by irregular forces) and eventually defeated and expelled the French forces with the help of the English army.

One of the important points to bear in mind is the initial hope found by the Spanish middle class in the French Revolution and the possibilities inherent in a democratic society based on the Enlightenment with a separation between church and state. But Napoleon destroyed this goodwill through his own egoism and brutality. Invading someone else's home rarely endears one to the local population.

Robert Hughes explains, "For occupying forces used to the idea of war as a series of formal battles, it was exceedingly demoralizing to survive on territory where nearly everyone ... could strike at you from behind the trees and vanish back into them; where every civilian sleeve contained a knife."

While viewing Goya's drawing last year, I thought of our little-Napoleon and his misguided efforts to export democracy by force. His words from three years ago still ring hollow:
"Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.
We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."
-George Bush March 19, 2003. From an address to the American people on the start of the war in Iraq. (Note the emphasis on weapons of mass murder and the not so subtle attempt to link Iraq with the September 11, 2001 attacks.)

Napoleon was kicked out but in many ways Spain was still defeated. The Spanish people continued to suffer under both a puffed up, penniless monarchy, to be followed by the brutality of Franco in the 20th Century, and a fear- driven, reactionary and provincial Spanish church. It was illegal in Spain until the 1970's to declare oneself anything but Christian. This sad coda to an earlier, misguided occupation does not bode well for the people of Iraq.

Note: This a lightly reworked piece from March 2005. I hope I will not have to post it again in March 2007.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

LACMA to Exhibit Repatriated Klimts

Gustav Klimt
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
138 x 138 cm oil and gold on canvas 1907
Altmann Collection, Los Angeles

A legal arbitration panel in Austria recently decided that five Gustav Klimt paintings, stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family during World War II, should be returned to Maria Altmann who lives in Los Angeles- the legal heir to the looted collection. The two sides began mediation following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that Altmann could sue the Austrian government.

It was announced today (thanks for the heads up Tyler), that the five paintings will go on display from April 4 through June 30 at LACMA. Suzanne Muchnic in the Los Angeles Times reports that "the exhibition was initiated by Stephanie Barron, LACMA's senior curator of modern art, in January after the Austrian arbitration court ordered its government to turn over the paintings to Altmann, ... Barron proposed the show in a letter to Altmann's attorney, Randol Schoenberg, who presented the idea to Altmann."

"LACMA was kind enough to offer, and I thought it was a beautiful thing," Maria Altmann said. "The paintings have been in Vienna for 68 years, and people in Europe saw them all the time. I thought it would be a beautiful thing to show them in this country."

“In gratitude to the City and County of Los Angeles,” stated Maria Altmann, “which provided me a home when I fled the Nazis, and whose courts enabled me to recover my family’s paintings at long last, I am very pleased that these wonderful paintings will be seen at LACMA. It was always the wish of my uncle and aunt to make their collection available to the public.”

Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria Altmann’s aunt, was 26 in 1906 when Gustav Klimt painted her first portrait. After her death in 1925, all five paintings remained in the family. Adele Bloch-Bauer's will asked her husband to give the paintings to an Austrian museum. Adele’s husband fled to Switzerland in 1938. Shortly afterward, the Nazis took control of the Klimt paintings. After World War II, the paintings were exhibited in Vienna and temporarily became part of the Belvedere Gallery's Collection. The Altmann legal team argued that the Holocaust made Austria’s claim, to be the rightful owner of the paintings, moot. The recent decision by the arbitration panel in Austria stated that after the Nazis grabbed power in Austria, the family was no longer bound by the terms of the will.

Gustav Klimt
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II
190 x 120 cm oil on canvas 1912
Altmann Collection, Los Angeles

“We are extremely grateful to Maria Altmann and her family for sharing these iconic works with the people of Los Angeles,” said Michael Govan, who has recently been appointed LACMA’s Director. “These paintings are extraordinary examples from this rich period of art history and we are especially pleased to tell the story surrounding the family, its relationship to the artist, and their ownership of the paintings to our visitors from around the world.”

New director Michael Govan officially begins his tenure on April 1st. Not a bad way to begin.

More on the subject:

LACMA has an interesting page on their website on art provenance.
LACMA Provenance Page

Tyler Green and I both suggest Lynn Nicholas' "The Rape of Europa" which goes into great detail on the Nazi's "cultural rape and its aftermath".

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Against Iconoclasm: Remembering the Bamiyan Buddhas

Bamiyan Buddhas

March 12, 2001
Destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas

On March 12, 2001 the Buddhas in Bamiyan were destroyed in Afghanistan. Despite a resounding chorus of international condemnation, the Taliban ignorantly declared that the tenets of Islamic fundamentalism were more important than the world's artistic heritage. And so, the statues were blown apart, exactly six-months before the destruction of another pair of cultural icons, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

The Bamiyan Buddhas were towering figures carved into the sandstone cliffs of what is now central Afghanistan sometime around the third century A.D. The statues were the tallest standing Buddhas in the world. Like classical Greek and Roman sculptures, which provided major influences on the Buddhist sculpture in this region, the Bamiyan Buddhas were originally brightly painted and most likely gilded. This region was known historically as Gandhara and occupied areas of present day North West India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Gandhara was the most eastern region of the ancient world influenced by classical aesthetics, and among the first to portray the Buddha in human form.

In antiquity, the Gandharan region was a crossroads - caravans criss-crossed Bamiyan as they traded between the Roman Empire, China and India. For centuries the Buddhas stood sentinel to groups of wandering monks and merchants, who journeyed along the Silk Road, which ran from Rome to China. Beneath the statues, Buddhist monasteries clustered as places of sanctuary, but were abandoned in the 9th century as Islam displaced Buddhism in Afghanistan.

Since the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas the world has become embroiled in global battles over what director, Christian Frei, describes as a journey of "fanaticism and faith, terror and tolerance, ignorance and identity."

Christian Frei's film "The Giant Buddhas" , which screened this year at the Sundance Film Festival, is a richly nuanced view of our present reality caught in the long reach of artistic and cultural beauties and struggles.

In my own work, I struggle against iconoclasm. The drive to censor images has a long and violent history, and is more about the desire to control and make docile a population than it is about belief. I cringe at the destruction of all artistic productions.

Heinrich Heine's line from, "Almansor", is a call for constant vigilance:

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."
("Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.")
—Heinrich Heine, from his play Almansor (1821)

Gandharan Buddha
Destroyed: Formerly- National Museum, Kabul

Friday, March 10, 2006

Я живу, я вижу (I Live, I See) - March 10, 1985 Gorbachev Comes to Power

"And history will soon forget about you, but the heavens they will reward you."
-Nick Cave, "Faraway, So Close"

Cassiel and Gorbachev in Wim Wenders' film - "Faraway, So Close"

"Faraway, So Close" marked Mikhail Gorbachev's feature film debut. The guardian angel, Cassiel, looks over his shoulder while Gorbachev meditates that "a secure world can't be built on blood; only on harmony."

On March 10, 1985 after the death of Chernenko, Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed leader of the Soviet Union.

In 1988, Gorbachev began withdrawing Soviet forces from Afghanistan. More than 15,000 Soviet troops died during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989).

Also during 1988, Gorbachev announced the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine, which had kept Eastern bloc nations under Soviet domination.

The Soviet Union's Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov jokingly described the decision as the Sinatra Doctrine, because Gorbachev's new policy allowed the Eastern bloc nations to "do it their way."

This led to a series of revolutions in Eastern Europe throughout 1989, during which the Berlin War fell and Soviet backed communism collapsed. These peaceful revolutions (except for Romania) effectively ended the Cold War.

Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 15, 1990 for his loosening of the Soviet Union's post World War II domination of Eastern Europe.

Wim Wenders caught the magnitude of the moment and gave Gorbachev a role in the sequel to "Wings of Desire" - "Faraway, So Close."

Wim Wenders described how Mikhail Gorbachev appeared in "Faraway, So Close":

"I thought it would be impossible, but I wouldn't have forgiven myself if I hadn't tried. He's so essential to the reunification that his presence seemed important."

"So, I wrote him a letter, `Dear Mr. President . . . ' and sent it to the Kremlin, not really believing I would get an answer. But the letter got into the hands of his personal assistant, who was a movie buff and who had seen `Wings of Desire' several times."

"They said that Mr. Gorbachev would be in Berlin about six weeks later, and on a particular day when he could spare three hours, if we could talk him into doing it. So, we had the sets prepared and the actor (Otto Sanders, who plays the angel Cassiel listening in on Gorbachev's thoughts) — and this was before we began principal photography. But I didn't think we could get him to come again."

"So, Mr. Gorbachev came in and we talked for about 10 minutes. And by then he had seen `Wings of Desire' and really didn't have to be talked into it all that much. Shooting the scene was very easy, and he took direction really well, if I might say so. He was cool and collected — while Otto was falling to pieces, especially when he had to put his arm around Mr. Gorbachev."

"But the most beautiful thing was when Mr. Gorbachev recorded his thoughts. We had to get it done right away, of course, so we went into a quiet room with a microphone and I had prepared three pages from his own writings. I didn't dare to suggest to write Mr. Gorbachev's thoughts."

"But he had his own ideas and said, `I know what your thing is about,' and we just started to improvise for 20 minutes. He'd still be improvising if we hadn't run out of tape."

"He was quite amazing and astonishing."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Art of Miyazaki

"We're making a mystery here, so make it mysterious." -Hayao Miyazaki 

  Update: Arrietty the Borrower: Next Studio Ghibli Project to be Released in Japan on July 17th 2010  

Hayao Miyazaki "Howl's Moving Castle" Hayao Miyazaki's most recent film ,"Howl's Moving Castle", is being released today on DVD in the US. The images in this film are spectacular. It is a visual feast: a panoply of color, movement, motion, spirit and imagination. Miyazaki makes films with children in mind. But his films are never childish. At a press conference in Paris upon the release of "Spirited Away"*, Miyazaki said,"In fact, I am a pessimist. But when I'm making a film, I don't want to transfer my pessimism onto children. I keep it at bay. I don't believe that adults should impose their vision of the world on children, children are very much capable of forming their own visions. There's no need to force our own visions onto them."


Hayao Miyazaki Study for "Totoro" "The single difference between films for children and films for adults is that in films for children, there is always the option to start again, to create a new beginning. In films for adults, there are no ways to change things." -Hayao Miyazaki *(late December 2001, from a ceremony at "Spirited Away's" first European screening during the animation festival Nouvelles images du Japon where the French government bestowed on Miyazaki the title of 'Officier des Arts et des Lettres')


Hayao Miyazaki Study for Spirited Away On the occasion of Miyazaki's film retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year, AO Scott wrote that after viewing Miyazaki's films "you may find your perception of your own world refreshed, as it might be by a similarly intensive immersion in the oeuvre of Ansel Adams, J. M. W. Turner or Monet. After a while, certain vistas - a rolling meadow dappled with flowers and shadowed by high cumulus clouds, a range of rocky foothills rising toward snow-capped peaks, the fading light at the edge of a forest - deserve to be called Miyazakian."


Hayao Miyazaki Study for Princess Mononoke AO Scott continues, "As a visual artist, Mr. Miyazaki is both an extravagant fantasist and an exacting naturalist; as a storyteller, he is an inventor of fables that seem at once utterly new and almost unspeakably ancient. Their strangeness comes equally from the freshness and novelty he brings to the crowded marketplace of juvenile fantasy and from an unnerving, uncanny sense of familiarity, as if he were resurrecting legends buried deep in the collective unconscious."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ang Lee

Still From Ang Lee's
Still From Ang Lee's "The Hulk"
Photo by Gregg Chadwick

At the Academy Awards tonight, Ang Lee was named Best Director for his film "Brokeback Mountain". Mr Lee is a true talent - willing to take risks and at times fail. "The Hulk" (picture above) was arguably not a very good film. But his fims are always worth watching and the range of subject matter in his films is remarkable.

Ang Lee on the set of Brokeback Mountain