The Fan

The Fan

The Fan. 2016. Oil on Canvas. 66cm x 79cm.

A solitary fan, his face anguished, sits alone in the isolated silence of failure. His team has lost again. They came so far, so close, but just not close enough and now he has nothing—nothing but an empty stadium and rumination of what might have been. His despair is an unwanted, unsavory and loathsome side effect of devotion, a result of his absolute, exclusive committal and unswaying servitude over many years—all to a singular team.

And I know how he feels. Growing up as a teenager in Scotland, I was not a big sports fan, but I loved World Cup soccer and the Olympic games. Nevertheless, supporting Scotland in the World Cup was about as fulfilling and successful as an Ernest Shackleton expedition. And cold too. The 1970s Olympics were also light on Jock joy; going to the bathroom you could’ve easily missed both Scottish golds while the Yanks racked up well over sixty.

Since then I’ve moved about a bit, from Scotland to England, to the USA, and to boot, the UK became part of the European Union in the ’70s. I’m currently a dual citizen of the United States and the Europe, thereby offering an impressive array of celebratory sporting prospects. The UK is presently technically part of Europe but admittedly this may be a fanciful fandom stretch here, although lately I really like Bayern Munich.

Some may think this is selling out, or fair-weather fan fickledom, but I see it differently; more pragmatically, and guaranteed to provide revelry and festivity, at least occasionally in an otherwise bleak sport’s silverware existence. So for this year’s hockey Stanley Cup, when my first pick, the Washington Capitals, lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, I immediately donned the Tampa Bay Lightning jersey. But they too were pounded by Pittsburgh. Hey, let’s go Pens!

Advertisements

The Drift

Drifting

The Drift. 2016. Oil on Canvas. 46cm x 59cm.

People digress from the task at hand almost 50% of the time according to a recent Harvard study. I.e., half the time they lose the thread of the narrative and go AWOL into a maze of contemplation. Perhaps this explains blank stares we routinely encounter prompting ubiquitous pennies for thoughts—and we’re talking about a lot of cash here. Contemplation has been described ordinarily as a three-phased process where we give time, space, and attention to some fleeting thought. But for some it can be a wonderful journey. “Contemplation seems to be the only luxury that costs nothing,” wrote Dodie Smith in her landmark book, Capture the Castle, though she oddly omits masturbation.

Wandering aimlessly on some impromptu, unplanned excursion, thoughts can be a mixture of past, present, and futuristic what-ifs. I agree with Dodie that it is luxurious to slip silently and inconspicuously into your cloud (ucloud™). How difficult it would otherwise be, were I compelled continuously and ceaselessly to attend the present—at the airport gate, passport control, and my lovely wife’s TV shows, particularly Grey’s Anatomy. For me, contemplation is a great place to hole up and unwind, to exercise my mind, on my exclusive ucloud™ hilltop retreat, as I take in magnificent, high-definition views of the surrounding surreal countryside. I would write a bit more about it, but I keep drifting.

The Dome

The Dome

The Dome. 2016. Oil on Canvas. 66cm x 79cm.

Like some large exo-skeletal cranial cover, the dome of the U.S. Capitol casts a shadow on those who visit the Mall in Washington D.C. Representing the legislative authority of our constitutional republic, the dome is where the many cycles of our legal system are set in motion. Under the dome, the gears of government have cranked ceaselessly in administrative cruise control, unless filibustered on occasion by some squeaky wheel. For over two hundred years our top lawmakers have saddled up for our grand tour, and in many regards it’s all down hill from here.

Not known for treading lightly, our lawmakers have seen many inflated egos punctured as they have raced tirelessly through endless marathons in all terrain. All the while, as our hard-headed leaders in the chain of command peddle their wares and grease palms on the Hill, there are over 200 bicycle cops patrolling around Washington DC at any one time. With their “Volcanic” 10-speed bikes they are able to go swiftly where patrol cars cannot.

 

The Warden

The Warden

The Warden. 2016. Oil on Canvas. 66cm x 79cm.

This cold late autumn evening, patience and punctiliousness will pay off for the city’s silent sentinel. Waiting and watching with a raptor-like gaze is routine for this unsociable animal. Territorial and versatile in its habitat, the sentinel’s mantle of fine plumage allows it to swoop undetected to harvest unsuspecting prey. However, while British Barn Owls are active mostly at night—especially at dusk and before dawn, the British Burghal Warden is fully operational during rush hour.

Ordained with absolute authority he can be respected, feared and merciless. A pedantic praetorian of the streets, he is often armed with an unassuming black biro and small standard-issue notepad. Usually found near double yellows or reds, the warden has excellent vision and an uncanny sense of precise meter expiration. Assertive and often ruthless, the warden is frequently part of a large moneymaking machine surreptitiously called something like the Glasgow City Council. Unlike the British Barn Owl, the traffic warden is not endangered.

The Warden, 2016, oil on canvas rendering depicts a parking enforcement officer on location in the vehicular epicenter of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow’s George Square. Resplendent in his distinguishing regalia, he contemplates his next move in front of the magnificent, imposing city chambers.

 

 

Dear Broadway.com

Last December, as a festive treat for me and my girl, I bought tickets on Broadway.com to see Bruce Willis in Misery and Al Pacino in China Doll. It was the first time that I had used Broadway.com and I have to say that overall I was very pleased with the tickets and the service. The shows were simply fabulous and more than met my expectations—it was great to see Bruce Willis and, once again, Al Pacino on the Broadway stage.

About a week after receiving my e-tickets I got an e-mail from you advertising tickets for The Book of Mormon, which I had already seen on the town and I loved it. But hey, I thought to myself, I’ve somehow been added to your correspondence list and, as I am apt to do, I unsubscribed right there and then. Not that I didn’t like your service or the shows or anything, it’s just that I wasn’t planning to be back in the wonderful town of New York for a while and wouldn’t really need to be buying tickets anytime soon. And like most folks who are next to normal, these days I get spam a lot.

A couple days later you let me know that there were tickets available for The King and I, which I haven’t seen on 42nd Street, although I always thought Yul Brynner did a great job. Nonetheless, I was sure I had already unsubscribed, so this time with great certainty I clicked “unsubscribe,” then followed through deliberatively to the next screen that pronounced, “Thank You. You have been successfully removed from this subscriber list. You will no longer hear from us.” Oh promises, promises—I read it twice to be super sure. Mama Mia, I thought, maybe I didn’t unsubscribe properly last time and perhaps it takes a few days for your system to react accordingly, like one of those dodgy Internet things where you can sign up instantaneously but it takes forever and a day to unsubscribe.thank you broadwayNevertheless, you continued to send little me unsolicited offers for Finding Neverland, American Psycho, and Fiddler on the Roof. With great aplomb, while suspecting something rotten, I unsubscribed diligently each and every time. Then on the twelfth night, to add to my misery you sent me Misery again. While you may consider this to be much ado about nothing, your complex computer system’s disdain for my inbox is seemingly planning to spam me from here to eternity. Certainly anything goes with wicked savvy spammers, but I was not contemplating the same old song and dance or comedy of errors that I expect from a professional ticketing company.

When I unwittingly subscribed to your service last year I had no idea I would be getting the full monty: After pressing the unsubscribe button at least a dozen times I really thought it was bye bye birdie, but after dozens more e-mails my face started turning the color purple. I would hope that you would understand the importance of being earnest and, if I may, I would request some sweet charity and that you desist from this ongoing e-mail assault. I’m hopeful that all’s well that ends well and that we won’t still be doing this the same time next year.

Best Regards,

 

logo

And the prompt reply….

Dear Journeyman, 

I am so sorry to hear about the problems you have been experiencing with unsubscribing.  On a side note, I must confess that I thought your letter was amazing – in the sense that you were polite and understanding, yet firm with your disdain at our lack of taking care of your problem – all the while using theatrical terms and show names emphasizing your concern.

I want to bring this matter up to management and specifically our IT and Web Dev departments.  Would you be so kind to forward any future emails you receive from us?  Forward them directly to me as this will help those departments determine what is wrong. 

Thank you so much,

Broadway.com

braodway logo

Untitled: A Growing Affection for Avant Gard

Growing up in blue-collar Glasgow in the ‘60s and ‘70s I was never really exposed to modern and contemporary art genres, at least from an intended artistic perspective. In fact, I don’t think I truly experienced avant-garde creativity until I was well into my twenties and that would’ve probably been somewhere else entirely, like Canada. There may well have been a thriving modernist community and movement afoot in my hometown but I had never had an introduction nor had I stumbled upon it.

Like most, I use art categorization terms sloppily and interchangeably even though there is chronological sequence intended by Modern, Post Modern and Contemporary. What I refer to spontaneously as modern is properly labeled contemporary: The art du jour, the new cutting-edge stuff. It always surprised me that our modern art is what my grandfather would have grown up with, should he ever have had the notion to care about anything so impractical back in the early hardscrabble 1900s.

I took art in high school, and from what I sketchily recall, we seemed to focus on impressionism and post impressionism, which did leave me with the unique impression that the greats were narrowly definable as Van Gogh, Modigliani and the like. Later, when first introduced to contemporary works I was, for the most part, dismissive and to a lesser degree, a little disdainful. I wondered why communities would devote such extensive resources as buildings and personnel to accommodate confounding randomness. Old battered paint cans strewn about, wrecked cars brought from the dump to be displayed with great care, complete with do not touch signs, or [insert your own inaugural new wave favorite here].

In large part, my father shaped my formative contemporary artwork experience. “Are you guarding that?” he once asked a serious-looking, neatly-dressed guard who was standing vigilantly over what appeared to be yard-sale remnants scattered across the floor in Washington DC’s Museum of Modern Art. Certainly we have all had one of those WTF moments with the white paint on the white canvas hanging on the white wall.

But over time I have developed a keen interest and, indeed, perhaps a fascination with contemporary artworks, albeit more with some approaches than others. I find works that immerse or envelop me, literally and figuratively, can be highly enjoyable, and nowadays for the most part I’m looking to experience more than room after room of two-dimensional drawings or paintings hung on walls. I like it when it engages and involves me, when I can meander through it, sit in the middle or at the edge of it, hear it, touch it, or use it as some kind of outlandish backdrop.

I like it when it shines light on me and anyone standing next to me, and when it causes me to stop and think, what’s going on here? I like to be challenged to actually go read the little placard to see if I guessed the meaning or, at the very least, the appropriate theme or label. In conventional museums I usually only feel moved to read the placard to see when an artist died. But after all that contemplative speculation, scrutiny, assessment and half-educated guesswork I’m often met with untitled. Why bother with the placard? Here’s a guy who spent months on some big piece of expressive something and you’re left to figure it all out for yourself—what it means to you. At that point I usually reach my investigative terminus, give a faintly detectable shrug and move on to analyze the next mystery. At least give me a hint, point me in the overall direction. All that hard work and I’m left thinking he just likes big rectangles.

Some pieces that I remember vividly, months or years later, ascend toward art-world legend in my mind. About twenty years ago I recall an exhibition in Ottawa, where the artist had spent year after year covering miscellaneous items in successive layers of plaster to the point where a dead fish or an old shoe had now become large unidentifiable, amorphous white-bandaged blobs. But that wasn’t the best part: When entering the room the lights went off plunging the exhibit into total darkness, which was immediately accompanied by loud sound-surround maniacal laughter. You felt awkward and guilt-ridden at first, when you triggered it coming in, but then you joined in laughing heartily at the next unsuspecting punter. Now, Rembrandt’s Night Watch doesn’t do that for you.

Certainly you wonder how some of these objets d’art will mature, become more valuable with age and make their way through coveted private collections. I can’t really imagine Christies auctioning off the mumified fish sometime in the next century. “A unique presentation of vaguely identifiable forms, each developed with the artist’s recognizable and repeatable motif. Every alluring shape offers powerful expressions that are entrancing but gloomily evocative of the effects of immutable, growing, sedimentary layers of time. Includes an automatic 200-Watt light switch, 50 feet of cable and a CD player.”

Some exhibits where I have recently relished embeddlement are Tasmania’s MONA, Bangkok’s MOCA, Sydney’s MCA, Bangalore’s NGMA and the newly refurbished Renwick Gallery in Washington DC. Pressed to pick one intriguing exhibit from each would I would choose MONA’s vagina wall, MOCA’s powder puff girls, MCA’s Grayson Perry ceramics, NGMA’s Radhakrishnan bronzes, and the Renwick’s big bizarre ceiling net, which is part of the Wonder exhibit. That said, I’m off next to the Het Noordbrabants Museum to indulge in the devilish Renaissance works of Hieronymus Bosch, assembled in celebration of his life, five hundred years ago.

 

 

The Art of Prayer

I’ve never really fully understood the art of prayer. As a boy, certainly I was herded with my equally oblivious acned brethren into the pine pews at the Cranhill Parish Church in the East End of Glasgow. Back then we would sit giggling about adolescent nonsense while the Minister, Mr. Reid, droned on in the background about God and baby Jesus, and he would try his absolute best to reign us in ever so gently into the whole concept of religion through contemporaneous interpretation of New Testament parables.

While the Good Samaritan, in the bible, came to the aid of a desperate, ailing Jewish fellow, he was now the fine young man who carried old Mrs. Jackson’s groceries all the way home from the Cooperative one dark, cold, rainy evening, and so on. But this kind of creative elucidation was a tough sell to interest us, and for all his almighty efforts, Mr. Reid had a Herculean task on his hands.

My best friend back then was Andrew Denholm, aka Dougal. I believe he was nicknamed so because his hair looked like Dougal the dog’s on the TV Show, Magic Roundabout: Although the true origin of his moniker would later become a point of contention, denial, and a mystery to most. But I’m sticking with the hairstyle lineage. I recall, in Polaroid detail, sitting next to Dougal in Cranhill Parish Church one Sunday, decades before iPhones, as he stared solemnly skyward during a particularly long recitation that revolved around a shepherd and a wayward flock of sheep. Ten minutes or so in, we were out of jokes and immature observations and after what seemed an eternity, the Minister closed his book, gazed mournfully downward, and got to our favorite part, “Amen.” And as I turned mercifully to Dougal he broke from his heavenly gaze, looked me directly in the eye and asked: “Guess how many light bulbs there are on the ceiling?”

IMG_2919

But when you grow up and you travel a bit you see that praying is actually quite serious and popular and people don’t usually giggle during it. For example, Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen is a colorful, fascinating five hundred year old Buddhist temple located across the Chao Phraya River in one of those endless indistinguishable suburbs of western Bangkok. While many of these types of temples appear similar from the outside the interiors are often surprisingly different. This one has multiple dissimilar levels for prayer and on the top floor has an unusual tall multicolored glass stupa in a luminous, emblazoned room. Praying here, in what could pass for Elton John’s bedroom, can actually be fairly interesting.

FullSizeRender

Nevertheless you don’t just launch in shamelessly asking for daily bread, although I do imagine the overall idea is broadly the same. In these places of reverential worship, you do have to pay some attention to the little things: No hats in Europe, no shoes in Asia, yes hats in Israel. As far as the great Buddha is concerned, the statues are merely idols and when you pray, you may address the statue or trinket as you pay your respects directly to the great teacher himself. The process of prostration throws you open to your deity whereby it’s some variation of 1.) on your knees, 2.) arms to the chest, 3.) touch your head and nose, then 4.) hands down on the floor, dutifully followed by 5.) head bob to the surface, making sure you line up the elbows and knees. This part of the process is fairly easy to follow and you can practice it most places outside of Glasgow.

IMG_2920

It’s the messaging that I find to be a little more elusive. Paying your respects is one thing, but I’m pretty sure people just ask for all sorts of stuff, and when I look at some of them they’re obviously not getting what they’re asking for. Not that I’m knocking them of course, as they are faithful, which is arguably virtuous.

IMG_2918

And as you snoop around, there are what seems like a thousand Buddha effigies in the Wat Paknam, but this is a metric that is often touted and flouted in various places of worship such as the highly recommended elongated wooden Sanjusangendo Hall in Kyoto, Japan, that is host to a millennium ancient gold-lacquered Buddhas. And there is the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap where there is a wonderful, but somewhat random, collection of the figurines. To make a grand the Museum at Angkor has taken an approach reminiscent of a wholesale sports trophy outlet: Angkor’s museum is rightfully criticized for simply filling a big room with Ayutthaya-era Thai idols that have no aesthetic connection to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. But will the tourists from the East of Glasgow notice? Yes..…

logo

The Flagellation of Caravaggio

People I consider genius have exceptional skills mainly in the capacities of analysis and execution. They are usually disruptive, could be called “game changers,” and their services become increasingly sought after. One could refer to them as anti-establishment where their central tenet is the successful challenge of a norm or accepted process. Those who defy existing power structures and introduce new techniques or technologies that change dramatically our life experiences are generally hailed as champions. However, there are those who have all the attributes of brilliance but additionally have some undesirable form of personality disorder that distracts from their crowning achievements. Ultimately, due to unsavory behavior, they end up throwing it all away. Self-destructive traits can involve excessive violence, substance or alcohol abuse, trouble with the law and general repeat stupidity. I’m not referring to the footballer Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne, the actor Charlie Sheen, or the singer Amy Winehouse, but to the magnificent Italian artist Michelangelo Merigi da Caravaggio, who is known solely as Caravaggio. However, by most reports, Caravaggio was more of a schmuck than a vag. He ended up veering off the rails and dying tragically at a young age in mysterious circumstances.

In the early 1600s, his paintings literally changed the artistic landscape (pun intended). Before Caravaggio, the “establishment” included the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael, Borghese, and Buonarroti. By comparison, contemporary works by his peers look as though a government commission or a local council sub committee designed them on one of those peculiar weekend offsite teambuilding sessions. For example, consider The Adoration of the Child by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, which is fairly typical pre-Vag. This composition contains no fewer than twenty-six over-dressed attractive adults, more than twenty cherub-like angels, including a small angel brass section and guitar duet, the subject baby, and about ten boats moored in the harbor in the background. It teems with extraneous detail as the artist endeavors to use every color on his palette: Only God and a parting sky are missing from this opus.

oostanzen

Enter the Vag: As Eddie Van Halen did for rock guitar and Steve Jobs did for mobile phones, Caravaggio turned his industry upside down. He dramatically eliminated backgrounds, focusing on photo-like action of a handful of central actors while minimizing science fiction in his arrangements. His proprietary techniques incorporating intense light and shadows combined with his vivid lifelike rendering of flesh and skin drew the viewer into the canvased scene like no one had before, as shown here in The Flagellation of Christ. His choice of models underpinned the unprecedented realism, featuring ordinary people plucked from the street, warts and all, in key character roles.

flagellation

As his depictions gained prominence his unique approach drew growing criticism from some in the art world; for illustrating down-to-earth attributes such as dirty feet and grubby hands. All the while Vag was a bit of a handful, getting into violent encounters with his peers and frequently thrown in jail as he continued to paint and buck the establishment with his likenesses. He stealthily started including hidden messages and themes in his portraits and frequently featured his own image as one of the characters. His penchant for irreverence and individuality caused clients to reject his works on several occasions.

There are approximately sixty Caravaggio canvases in existence and I have been most fortunate to view about half of them in various venues in Berlin, Florence, Naples, New York, Paris, Rome, Sicily, and Vienna. While many are in prestigious museums, some are still displayed in their original locations where they were commissioned, representing fabulous opportunities to view these masterpieces in their intended settings.

My personal favorite, Madonna of Loreto, was ordered as the key alter piece for the prosperous Marquis Ermete Cavalletti’s family burial chamber in Rome’s Church of Saint Agostino. The requirement, as communicated to Caravaggio, was to honor the Marquis’s devotion and admiration of The Virgin Mary showing her divine presence with the Christ Child in a vision during pilgrimages to the Holy House of Loreto. Unfortunately for the Marquis, he died before the work was completed and ended up getting something slightly different: Himself and his mother represented as praying pilgrim peasants clothed in rags complete with dirty feet worshipping Lena the neighborhood whore, striking a solicitous pose while clutching her bastard child. Furthermore the doorway was that of the Vag located in Rome. The painting still hangs above the grave today and the joke has been on the Marquis for the past 400 years.

marquis

Here, in a dramatic reconstruction, my lovely wife plays the part of Lena the prostitute aka the Virgin Mary posing in the pockmarked doorway of Caravaggio’s dodgy apartment in Rome. It was my intention to kneel and pray like the Marquis for this rendering but there was dog shit everywhere.

sue_doorway

 

logo