Vernacular Pictures, Inc. Let’s give ’em Something to Look at.

Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Look At, pastel, watercolor, monoprint collage, 40″x28″

The esotericism of the Art World cloys after a while. Don’t get me wrong, I love the jokes of Conceptual Art, (like the guy who minted and documented minting, a 50-cent piece in platinum and bought a grilled cheese sandwhich with it at Walgreen’s). And like my classmate Sherrie Levine who would print other famous photos and sign her own name as, for example, “After, Walker Evans.” (I get it, can we talk about the fetish of originality?) I can bask in the raw power of Marfa, Texas Minimalism (space and light defined with zero artifice).

Donald Judd Installation, Marfa, TX 1970’s era

And, I still get a thrill when I see Bill (DeKooning). How can he make it look so RIGHT?

Door to the River Willem De Kooning 1960

Sheesh, wasn’t Modern enough trouble? Did we need a -Post? I’m just kidding around here, but, for me, at this age, it comes down to “To whom do you want to address your work?” Who are the invisible minions standing behind me as I work away (commenting and advising and just listening to my guff)? Like…who are the invisible people here in this room watching me work? Of course, as an Ethical practice, (and the only true ethics IMO), you want to love everyone and everything—The Golden Rule Always Applies—(It really does, people!), is easier said than done, and no way is everyone even going to give even a second glance at Art. As in… “Wenn ich Kultur höre… entsichere ich meinen Browning! “When I hear Culture, I release the safety on my Browning”—attributed to Hermann Goring, but he was quoting from a play by Hanns Johst, darling of the National Socialists (this from 1933). So I have it in mind, when talking to my imaginary minions, that I want my Art to be clear, concise and relatable to life as it is lived. And I want to, and can’t help but be embedded, in the rolling present moment. In my student days, I made art trying to fit in with the fashion of the day, very much bedded down with those Minimalists and Conceptualists.

This is my studio shelf in Madison, decorated with things I’d pick up. I found them attractive and full of meaning. 1972.

It’s just that, as I was developing my “voice”, a voice among those minions, kept up a whispering campaign. “What about us?” Which I took to mean, the people not aligned with Art-world language. Who wouldn’t have a clue that that shelf of bits and bobs held the key to a deep mystery. Every day folks. Those voices told me maybe I’d want an expanded audience—like:

Maybe, I want to talk to: Murray down at the used car lot, sizing you up as you wander through his inventory. Maybe Murray doesn’ have dreams, but, I bet dime to a dollar, he does. To the dental hygienist who carefully puts on her false eyelashes every morning, so you look up into her eyes and see glamor—she goes by Max. People die everyday, so they say, so why not make pictures for those people, who crave connection to the big mystery of being alive, and if it doesn’t click in some way, no amount of dodging the bullets of troubling information coming right at them will make it any easier in the long-haul of the Human Being experiment. It’s just not going away, “go away?”, how can anything go away? And this just came to me in the middle of last night—why not make Art for the secretary in love with her power-boss; she will never be kissed, spending her blossom-years care-taking her aging, demented parents. Art for her? Art for the baker, who every morning layers butter into sheets of dough, smooth as marble, for the breakfast croissants, which sell out as soon as they are put out to cool. Art for him, a friendly art that I will continue to make even though, at 75, I’m getting the “call”, my “ride” is waiting just down the block—a feeling that presses on the accelerator a bit harder.

I do like the jokiness of conceptual Art, it points a finger at how far the industrialized, consumerist world has come from the in-depth expression seen in the ritual drama and art of say, in Bali, which I have seen first-hand and was so moved. Rote dramas everyone knows by repeated pattern; the audience waiting to see “how” it’s done. I had a dream of that little island as a tiny red heart still beating on a planet ravaged by money-culture. How far way! Is that the problem? Because there is a problem. Art has been around since Homo sapiens invented it—wherever there are people, there is Art making, the exceptions so rare they make PhD theses. Maybe I want to make Art for the investment banker who’s insides have been turned to talcum powder by too much exposure to the radioactive danger of abstract money? The invention of financial instruments; options trading, betting on futures, puts & calls, money markets, debt securities, derivatives, etc. and lately crypto-currencies, all birthed coincidently with the rise of abstraction in Art. Maybe that’s who this Let’s Give Them Something to Look At (at the start of this essay) is for? All the money guys who have piled up staggering piles of capital. Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon. There is no product they are selling. They all make the bulk of their money trading on our “information”. Thar’s gold in them thar bits. (Please read Dave Eggers two books of “fiction” on the subject The Circle and The Every. They will remove the gargantuan boulder blocking your vision-if it is). You want to know what’s wrong with our politics? ‘Tis this trading in information, you need look no further. The SalesForce Tower in SF is a monument to the horror of piled-up wealth, built on a smokey foundation of information. Judith and I went to an event in the tippy-top of that affront on the SF skyline and were treated to the “Art” decorating the hallways of that space.

Salesforce Characters, junketing along in lovely “nature”.

Little cutesy critters mouthing various SalesForce tag-lines, baby skunks, a cutey-pie version of Einstein and gay-signaling bears, reminding you of the purpose of SalesForce. Of course there is abundant virtue signaling to let you know SalesForce is using it’s wealth to make you and the planet safe. It’s a nightmare of 62 stories, but the view is pretty fine from up there, over 1000 feet up. I, for one, was glad to see the wide Pacific almost lifting into the haze. However, SalesForce is not there to be helpful, in any way, to issues confronting the human soul. Like how do you be a good person? Like how do you know what you know? Like how do you know something is beautiful? Like what do you DO when your impending “ride” is waiting just around the corner. These are questions Art can discusses.

That studio shelf of mine was an experiment in reducing things to the smallest possible nit. That shelf would make you think of Richard Tuttle. Here’s NYT’s Hilton Kramer reviewing the work of Richard Tuttle: “To Mies van der Rohe’s famous dictum that less is more, the Art of Richard Tuttle offers definitive refutation. For in Mr. Tuttle’s work, less is unmistakably less. It establishes new standards of lessness, and fairly breaks the void of lessness. One is tempted to say that, so far as Art is concerned, less has never been this less.” Oh! Snap! Tuttle’s work is interesting to me as I was doing similar work before I’d ever heard of him. I see the magic in the mundane, especially if you take an animistic tack on life—everything is alive. It surely is. Especially if you look at the flow of energy inside each and every cell. I mean if you look deep into the cytosol (the inner fluid of the cell), you see the flow of the gradient concentration of protons from one side of a membrane to another, blowing like a molecular wind, driving processes of energy production, cell division, the very photosynthesis keeping us all alive. What Kramer is getting at is—how is Tuttle answering the crucial questions? Tuttle is asking the questions but to whom is he asking? The dental hygienist? The used-car salesman? This is the central question of this illustrated essay.

“Richard Tuttle’s practice is marked by a discursive approach to materiality and gesture, prevailed with an intuitive artistic and intellectual rigour.” So they say…can you dig it? This from a catalogue; translation s’il vous plait. I get Tuttle’s work but I don’t get this sentence.
Katy Moran 2011, I like this painting, how far do we have go to get it to “read” for the uninitiated?

You then get to the territory of parsing the Sacred and the Profane (Marcia Eliade 1957). How do we get to see Tuttle as worthy of a museum retrospective? This whole business has occupied my thinking for 50 years. Mary Douglas wrote (1966) Purity and Danger: An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo. She illuminates what we allow onto the “Dancing Ground” of our ritual lives, and how the structures, the culture places as monuments to this dancing ground, act as gateways. I’ve attended the Burning Man festival 10 times (1998-2007). It’s a festival of self-expression where 90% of what I saw was solipsistic clap-trap, but the rest was a wonder. At Burning Man YOU are the curator on the hunt for Purity and Danger, for the Sacred and the Profane. On your ticket to the event it states: Participants Only.

I made a choice when I gave up fiddling with my little bits and bobs, to talk to people who didn’t have Art on their minds at all, to talk to Murray and Max. To make images and sculptures that didn’t ask more of the viewer, than was possible to pry out with the puzzling question—Is it Art? My colleagues in school and teachers certainly understood my studio shelf, but there is a big world out there hungry for what that shelf could reveal. While I was still in grad school, I was asked to give an Art lecture to my hometown Women’s Club, Kankakee, Illinois (population 27,000). I knew I’d be talking to a packed room of Babbitts, (Sinclair Lewis, 1922), the small-town, maybe small-minded of where I grew up (packed in wanting to see how the Prodigal fared on his return, see news clipping announcement).

Kankakee Daily Journal 1972…Seriously? I wanted to let my “Freak-flag fly.

It paid, so I dived in, talking about abstraction, performance art, conceptual art…At first it was some heavy lifting, (lifting my fear) but the more I got into it the lighter the load got. I did it. It wound into an extemporaneous performance. They clapped, they laughed and the check cleared. But that moment gave me a taste for talking more broadly about art—to a wider audience and not hollering into the silo of the annointed. It took a few years of honing drawing and painting skills, but I now have a taste for being at the service of the Everyman. Drawing, painting, writing so it’s easy, not hard. Art is entertainment, it’s Philosophy, it’s science in action. I like making pictures and then writing about them so that the entertainment value is high. Puzzles are fun, but so is a catchy song you can’t get out of your head. I think sometimes I’m just trying to write that catchy tune: Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Look At, is exactly that. Let’s give ’em a chance to ask questions. I drew the child’s face here, as a composite of my three kids as toddlers, agreeable to gaze at for anyone, I think. A child’s face hits all of us at a primal place. The gestural squishes of paint were made as a monoprint, loose paint on a slick surface, transferred to the paper. They feel like something also primal we can all relate to, painted with a speed and bravura the face, carefully rendered over hours, doesn’t have; you can see just how they were made. That they were made in such different ways feels like I’ve accessed different parts of my brain, trying to make one of my Ecologies, different species living in a colloquy of meaning.

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