Saturday, December 29, 2012

Another Damn List

...©William Evertson, Go Make Another List. (ink on paper)

I feel strangely compelled to jump on the yearly wrap up bandwagon with a few of the exhibitions that inspired me during 2012. None of these shows were huge blockbusters but they did speak to me and in particular with relation to two topics in my own art that are becoming more important in my 4th decade of art making, the narrative and process.

Narrative in the sense that my work is becoming more literal; moving from the symbology of an idea or concept to telling a more personal narrative of my relationship to my milieu.

The other concern is process or the method of making art.  Since my days as a student in the seventies when conceptual art was prevalent to today's incarnation where we seem to be in a post skills generation I often felt that arc of development grating on my perhaps naive, or nostalgic or romantic notions of what it was to be an artist. Frankly, I want a strong idea well executed.  But what happens if you have a weak idea well executed by others? (as many artists do)  Or a strong idea you can only poorly execute yourself, either through lack of resources or lack of necessary skill?

So, it is through those two lens' of concern that I've selected several shows that inspired me in 2012.

Ten Thousand Waves, video installation by Isaac Julien

Just when I thought I had lost the capacity to watch another multi screen video installation Boston Institute of Contemporary Art hosted Isaac Julien's 9 screen projection Ten Thousand Waves.
(Link to ICA press release which also contains a link to a slide show of stills from the project)

Three separate stories are interwoven among the screens and as you wander and pause to view the installation from different vantages the stories blend in infinite permutations. Especially evocative is the use of the green screen images of the ancient sea goddess Mazu, protector of fishermen and sailors, who is said to guide shipwrecked sailors safely to shore as she glides from screen to screen.

Julien has taken a powerful idea for alternative narrative and through collaboration with actresses Maggie Cheung and Zhao Tao, video artist Yang Fudong, poet Wang Ping, and venerable Chinese calligrapher Gong Fagen created a fascinating platform for contemplating storytelling.

Junirui Gassen, The Battles of the Twelve Animals (detail)

The Met hosted a lovely exhibit called Storytelling in Japanese Art.
(Link to Met press release)

This quiet (ie: non-blockbuster) group of works shows the power of narrative in various formats from scrolls to screens to objects.  It also foretells and serves as the precursor to our more modern forms of animation and graphic novels.  

Bernini, terracotta sketch

Another Met hosted exhibit that fascinated me was Bernini, Sculpting in Clay.
(Link to Met press release - and closing on Jan. 6)

This exhibit featured drawings and clay "sketches" that show the development of the artist's vision for his renowned statuary and fountains in Rome.  Detailed yet raw and powerful in their preliminary form they exemplified my particular fascination with that romantic notion of an artist able to conceive and execute at the highest levels while also maintaining a workshop for the fabrication of the full scale pieces.

Quay Brothers

Before MoMA presented Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets I have to admit they were barely on my art radar.

Now, I've visited twice and purchased the DVD of their films.  In this retrospective not only are the films available but also the very idiosyncratic stage sets used in the making of the Quays very strange stop motion pictures.  Their art is a throw back, an anachronism in the art of film and the results are largely indecipherable yet immensely mysterious and rewarding. (on-going until Jan.7th)

Glass, Wilson and Childs,  Einstein on the Beach

Finally, the re-staging of Einstein on the Beach this fall at BAM.

To me this opera/ expression of avant-garde rebellion circa 1976 was like a unicorn; that is, I'd never seen one. (until this fall)  Now, although in many moments of its performance I felt my numb seat like never before, it is one experience this year that continues to haunt me with its odd yet precise construction.  Obviously not the result of the lone genius variety of artist but instead a fortunate collaboration in which seemly disparate elements seem to meld to work as a mesmerizing dream. Truly a marvel of stagecraft.

As I prepare for another year in my own studio, concentrating on authentic narrative and mastery of process, I'll finish with a link to the exact opposite type of art I am at work on.  (Link to Jonathan Jones review of Damien Hirst)  

Concerning Hirst's U-turn from conceptual to traditional; 
"Now he has confessed, with his ambitious yet miserably unaccomplished still-life paintings, that he admires the skilled art of the past, and would love to paint like Manet or Velázquez, after all."


Well friends, may your artistic endeavors meet with much, much better's to a fruitful 2013.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


...One More Agony, ©1979 Evertson, spray paint and chalk on paper...

This ancient piece executed shortly after I moved to NYC from grad school sums up my dilemma after viewing two drawing exhibits recently. Some art is so good I can't stand it.

The exhibitions currently at the Morgan Library and the Frick are sweeping in the scope of history covered and a must see for artists interested in the sublime beauty offered by drawing.

First some links:

One of the dangers for me, as a working artist lies in comparisons.  It's easy to become overwhelmed not only by the virtuosity of these masters, but the fact that the works have been safeguarded and admired for centuries. Just imagine the task of archiving and preserving something as fragile as paper for centuries.  I wonder as I look through my flat files of works what will happen to my work, certainly precious to me but what of their survival?

For example, the Munich collection which dates from 1758 when Elector Carl Theodor commissioned the creation of a kabinett of drawings and etching certainly has required generations of dedicated curators.  It now contains over 400,000 works on paper and is a triumph of will over the horrors of wars, plunder and nature.

Titian, Rider and Fallen Soldier, ca.1537

Indeed war is a favorite subject matter during the Renaissance and Rider and Fallen Soldier by Titian illustrates the horror and frenzy captured as a drawing.  Several pieces on exhibit are intended as more commemorative in nature but the immediacy of the act of drawing struck me as I look over the knees of the fallen man into the vagueness of the victor astride his mount.

The piece contains grid lines so it is a mystery as to its purpose; whether as study for a lost work or a proposed work. The catalogue tantalizes us with mention of a mural destroyed in 1577.

Pontormo, Two Standing Women, ca. 1530

 This Pontormo struck me as having an abstract quality yet with an economy of line and shading conveys a drama unfolding. Or is the abstract and ethereal looking upon its more corporal self?

Huber, View of Feldkirch, 1527

Discovery of artists unknown to me of which there were many in these two exhibits left me a bit chastened.  Huber is a good example.  The year is 1527 and here this man is placing nature in front of the trapping of man.  Very oriental feel about this ink sketch in the handling of the tree and mountains in the background. (....and the eye and observation to be this confident!...)

Friedrich, View over the Elbe, ca. 1816

Exhibitions like this also serve to focus my thinking concerning narratives of influence and how we categorize artists into schools.  This Friedrich has an unmistakable feeling of the surreal about it; from the framing of the half circle world below the bridge to the lonely figure above.  While it could be classified as allegory I find the cropping and composition of the natural observed world particularly transcendent. The piece is rendered in graphite with shading of a warm brown wash.

In our modern sense drawing can exist as a major working method in and of itself and as we move to the more recent works we do see that drawing became something more capable of existing as the final vessel rather than preparation.  Or perhaps it has come full circle, in that drawing first appeared as pictograph intended to communicate directly.  Later becoming secondary or process or training as our human inclination to elaborate developed.  In the case of the early works represented here one can witness both the eye training and the use as preparatory material.

Heizer, Untitled, ca.1968

Some later works represented in the exhibit such as the Heizer piece tend to operate on several levels.  This piece seems to exist first as words, with an erased heading of "Statements" Further erasure of the words and headings and subsequent banding with graphite and ink seem to impose a landscape feel to the piece, perhaps referring to the artists practice of large scale earth works or of obliterating the statement in favor of the visual.

One other fine link is the review by the always knowledgeable and insightful John Haber from Haber's Art Reviews.

Only a few more short weeks to see these drawings - Both exhibits close January 6th.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Little More Babel

 ...And damned if there aren't problems in Art World.
Kalicorp Art Mysteries, Issue # 2, detail page 2

I continue to find interesting tangents to my last post; so based on discussions that took place on my Facebook wall, here are a few more links to ponder.

This first one from by Simon Doonan writing for Slate.

Doonan who describes himself as author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York titles his piece "Why the Art Word is So Loathsome"   He goes on to list eight ways in which the emperor has no clothes.  I think he has some pretty valid points but wonder what actually came first when he claims that exhibitions began resembling Barney window displays in the late 70's.  Quoting item #4, "Artists put down their brushes and stole my objets trouves, my staple guns and glue guns." 
As inspirational as the window displays at Barneys tend to be I still find slightly more authentic expression coming from artists when it comes to installation pieces. 

Then "Why Slates Takedown of the Art World is Totally Wrong", by Jillian Steinhauer for Hyperallergic points out that most of these complaints are sweeping generalizations guaranteed to get everyone nodding their heads yet shows more about a lack of curiosity than a real critique. Reacting to Doonan's remark that: "...artists like to be controversial and piss people off", Jillian reminds us that , "Most importantly, telling artists that they should shut up and fall in line for the good of the children is basically a way of relieving art of all its potential value and saying it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter."

 After all the death of art has been predicted for many of the same reasons since Hegel wrote Lectures on Aesthetics in 1818. 

Or when Duchamp created the Fountain.  Or when Jackson Pollock began flinging his paint on a personal favorite, Hirst's world wide exhibition of spots.

I'm reminded of Joseph Beuys' great piece Explaining Paintings to a Dead Hare, when confronted with easy dismissals of artists currently at work.

The point being art is damn robust and simply because someone finds that it is a messy, imperfect and difficult to unravel doesn't make it any less vital than at any other point in history.

Carolee Scheemann - Interior Scroll

 Personally I find that the explaining of art and it's loathsomeness or what it should be or not be....or why it remains as important as ever to be difficult but even a cursory glance through my fellow artists websites or Facebook pages reveal that great and important work is being made every day.

So as writers keep writing about art, artists in turn will keep revealing what it is.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tower of Bable

 Arts criticism in graphic novel form from Evertson, Shulman and Vanden Eynde.
Kalicorp Art Mysteries #3 (detail page 7)

Or...perhaps the better title is "Who hijacked the Bollocks?"  Lately I've been geeking out to the flip side of making art and thinking about those who write about art.  Over the course of the rise of the Internet we've seen the decline of the print media and fewer dedicated arts writers in print.  Blogs, Internet versions of former print titles and more alternative net niches now fill the void, but not without the soul searching of those that write for a living.

Just for fun I'm listing a few of the links I've read over the course of the last month.

Critic Dave Hickey calls it quits on arts writing: from GalleristNY (interview with Sarah Douglas)
On why he hates group shows, contracts and other forms of art-world bureaucracy, why art critics have no power"

More on Hickey by Edward Helmore and Paul Gallagher in The Guardian.

Excerpt - Criticism is..."calcified, self-reverential and a hostage to rich collectors who have no respect for what they are doing."
Excerpt - On collectors - "They're in the hedge fund business, so they drop their windfall profits into art. It's just not serious," he told the Observer. "Art editors and critics – people like me – have become a courtier class. All we do is wander around the palace and advise very rich people. It's not worth my time."
Predictably this is followed by artists and fellow critics shouting don't let the door hit you on the way out. This Charlie Finch post from Artnet is typical.

Good essay by Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times on critics, jargon and collecting.
"...the faster and louder the art world spins, the more it harbours doubt about its obvious froth and mediocrity.  And that doubt hides behind two things: prices and professional jargon."

Also in the news (news in the art world at least since the rest of the world is concentrating on Lindsay Lohans latest meltdown) was Sarah Thortons top ten reasons to quit writing about the art market.

Hint - it's boring, repetitive, unhelpful and it doesn't pay enough.

 Plus it involves a painful level of pandering. Kalicorp Art Mysteries, issue #5 - detail page 12

Recently New York Times art critic Ken Johnson faced accusations (and an online petition calling for more sensitivity) amidst of buried racism and sexism.  Kyle Chayka gives us the lowdown on the blogazine Hyperallergic.

So while the critics sort out their brave new world artists will go on doing what we always do; bemoaning the market and taking criticism poorly while kicking back with wine and espresso after a day in the studio.

Seeking Kali Artist Collective in Paris (Susan Shulman, Ria Vanden Eynde and William Evertson)
PS - The first five of the limited edition Kalicorp Art Mysteries are almost sold out.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Methods of Working

Commuters ©Evertson 2006 solarplate etching, 8 x 10.5

I recently saw an excellent post from the blog Brain Pickings by author Maria Popova on the working habits of famous writers.  It got me thinking about comparisons to the working habits of artists and specifically, "how does my days schedule hold up?"

Maria culled through Paris Review archives and found some interesting excerpts from diaries and interviews by Bradbury, Didion, E.B.White, Kerouac, Sontag and many more.  Keeping in mind that there are huge differences between these well known authors working on a project and most of the working artists I know as friends and colleagues; most notably everyone I know isn't making a living solely from their art production.  This aspect seemed mostly absent from the authors; so I'm assuming, with some exceptions, these authors are writing of their days after achieving some success.

The first similarity is the quest for solitary time in which to immerse oneself.  This Hemingway quote seems about right.
 When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
Corona ©Evertson 2010 digital pigment print, 17 x 22

I come from a blue collar background with a dad who worked on the family farm then trained to be a machinist and eventually had his own auto repair business. (where the whole family pitched in 6 days a week)  In the years after college and grad school I also tended to be self employed in order to have some control over my time.  Mostly I built; sometimes welding, sometimes cabinetry but for years it was houses.  Hardhat work where you bid on jobs and work your tail off in all kinds of weather until you collect a check.

I bring that mentality to my art. Get up and go to work; work the job (now primarily art) and not the clock. Quitting time comes when you're satisfied that you've made enough progress. My day begins around 5:30.
5:30 - 6:00     Wake - coffee - breakfast - quick check of tv news and weather
7:00 - 8:00     Computer to check email, Facebook and blog comments
8:00 - 9:00     Workout (because if it doesn't happen it becomes too difficult later)
9:00 -11:00     Back to computer for PR, updates to websites and blogs, grant applications or           residencies, digital archiving and generally the business end to artmaking.
11:00 - 12:00  Short peek into the studio to prioritize work either by deadline or more often by mood.
12:00 - 2:00    Lunch, errands and power nap
2:00 - 7:00     Generally my most concentrated block of time for actual work. Sometimes in the zone, sometimes stalking around the studio like a caged animal, but I stick it out because the zone always returns.
7:00 - 8:00     Making supper, catching up with my wife.
8:00 - 10:00    Doodle, jot ideas in notebooks, music, movie, more Facebook to see what my artist friends are posting.
10:00 - 11:00  Reading in bed     

All in all, I was surprised how similar my days were to writers.  They're not waiting for inspiration and neither am I.  I've got years of notebooks filled with projects, sketches and ideas. I pay attention to the art world; what's showing, what's receiving attention, but it has little bearing on what I produce. Producing is what I do, it's work, it takes time and some solitude; sometimes the result finds an external home or an exhibition but showing up everyday for work is what is most important to me these days.

Another quote from the Brain Picking blog by one of my favorite authors, William Gibson, describes it better than I.

As I move through the book it becomes more demanding. At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. At the very end, it’s a seven-day week, and it could be a twelve-hour day.
Toward the end of a book, the state of composition feels like a complex, chemically altered state that will go away if I don’t continue to give it what it needs. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. I’m always glad to see the back of that.
Of course it may not always go smoothly as the vicissitudes of life intrude, yet trying to stick to the routine as much as possible IS the challenge and with it learning to say no to both distractions and those who think artists have free time.

How about you?  How do you carve out time to create without going crazy?

 Meltdown ©Evertson 2009 digital pigment print, 20 x 25

Friday, November 9, 2012

Today Only

Today Only - artist book - accordion style

The Today Only artist book began in Leuven, Belgium and moved to Paris, France and finally to my studio in Connecticut.  It started with an impromptu series of performance documents by the Seeking Kali Artist Collective (Ria Vanden Eynde, Belgium, Susan Shulman, Canada and myself)  

 tests on a variety of papers and press pressures

Beginning with the concept of impermanence, the temporal and the idea that action only happens in the present we produced a series of pictures taken in thirty locations in Leuven, Brussels and Paris. A final ten were selected and matched to short statements and poetry concerning time and the location where each photograph was taken.

photogravure on solarplate

The images were first transferred to acetate positives then to solarplates.  The photo above shows the solarplate hardening in the UV light of the sun. The book unfolds to an approximate length of 20 feet.  Each page is also embellished with blind embossing.  Cloth covers with embossed lettering encases the pages.

detail of blind embossing

acetate, imprint and plate 

studio shot showing prints drying in foreground and potential order of pages on wall 

accordion folds

Video footage showing the inking and printing of a page from Today Only.


The entire project is even more special because as an international working group most of our collaboration is necessarily web based as we are rarely together to physically work on projects.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Brothers Quay Obliquely Viewed

I was able to catch the Quay Brothers exhibition this past Friday at MoMA just prior to its opening to the public and found it an enchanting departure from the spectacle that has been overtaking the art world of late. The Quay twins have been busy making their idiosyncratic films since the late 1970's with hardly a nod to the rest of the world for that matter.  I found myself fascinated by the world they portray in their films that seem to hearken back to surrealist works.

 The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer

Whether they portray dreamy interiors or mysterious landscapes, they avoid clear narrative yet have an interior logic that defies the viewer to deny the storytelling aspect inherent each piece. The brothers make use of elaborate stage sets, most are no larger than a table top to produce their stop motion fantasies mixing puppets, collage and live actors on occasion.

I was struck by the catalog statement concerning their early history. Born in Central Pennsylvania in 1947, the brothers seem totally without artifice in describing their lives as the typically American 1950's obediently bland upbringing. They certainly describe their awareness of an art (or art world) as minimal until arriving at art college.

The lighting, choreography, pacing and compact camera space make the spaces seem alive with magic.  Trained as calligraphers this type of flowing movement is still very important to the flowing movements of these dreamy films.  No pop flash of a Tim Burton extravaganza but a well crafted exhibit with rarely seen early works on paper.
The short film Anamorphosis which is included in  a DVD set available at the museum is instructive on how to approach the work of Brothers Quay. Anamorphosis, a technique of perspective that produces a distorted image unless viewed from a certain angle, describes well how one responds to the Quay's films.  They have a liminal quality that makes one feel as if there are answers just out of sight.

At MoMA in NYC-

Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets  

(August 12,2012 - January 7, 2013)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kali at the Firehouse

 Photograph of the Seeking Kali Collective by Hrag Vartanian at Hyperallergic's Brooklyn office.

The Seeking Kali Collective’s exhibit at the Second Avenue Firehouse Gallery opens next Saturday.  The Firehouse is located on Long Island in Bay Shore, N.Y and is included in the National Register of Historic Places and described as one of Bay Shore’s architectural gems.

We will be showing our Kali print edition, which marked the beginning of our collaborative experiments.  Occasioned by a Facebook thread concerning iconography associated with the Hindu goddess Kali, our association and explorations have continued since January of 2010. 

As a collective one of our objectives is to explore ways in which to utilize social media as an artistic tool enabling long distance collaboration among artists.   Ria Vanden Eynde works from Belgium, Susan Shulman is in Montreal, Canada and I have my studio in Connecticut.  Through the use of groups in Facebook, Skype and Google+ hangouts we have created a virtual studio where our explorations take place.


Kali Edition

The print edition was completed in the summer of 2011 and our signing of the nine examples took place at the offices of the Brooklyn based arts blog, Hyperallergic.

 Framed examples of Kali Edition prepared for the Firehouse Exhibit
Over the 18 months that marked the collaborative process of the edition we also embarked on the curation of an online blog that compiled images, video and poetry concerning the Kali goddess.   The results of that archive have been documented on a video that has since been exhibited in Berlin, Germany, Boston, MA and Joliette, Canada.  We will be again exhibiting that compilation as well as our latest curation of images relating to the Medusa archetype edited by Susan Shulman.

The exhibit will also contain other examples of the collective's video works including Kali's Sari which premiered during the Experimental Film Night hosted by the Mobius Artist Group of Boston, MA.  Kali's Sari is based on a Butoh performance with Shizu Homma, Jane Wang and Angela Ferrara's interaction with the handpainted Kali Scroll Sari by William Evertson. The video was edited with Ria Vanden Eynde utilizing Google+ video conference.

Video still from Kali's Sari

The Kali Collective has participated in The Billboard Project in which images are designed for large scale outdoor display in cities throughout the USA.  Giclee prints of several of these images have been prepared for exhibit.  The video archive of images from Richmond, Chicago, Duluth, Salem, Detroit and San Bernardino will be on display.  

Sphinx by Susan Shulman (from San Bernardino billboard display - 40' approx.)

Material from the Collective's series of Kalicorp Art Mysteries mentioned in the last post will also be on display. These graphic novels are a photographic odyssey exploring current art world events constructed in an exquisite corpse fashion.  

Mocking up the display for the graphic novels.

An edition of prints from the Metropolis series, the KaliRay Flip book, masks, puppets and other ephemera round out the exhibition.

We hope you can join us on Saturday August 4th between 6 and 8pm for the opening.  The exhibit is open on Saturdays during August from 12 -4pm.

Directions: The Second Ave. Firehouse is located in Bay Shore at the corner of Mechanicsville & Second Avenue Southern Pkwy to exit 42S (Fifth Avenue South), left on Union Blvd.,right on Second Avenue, proceed to the corner of Mechanicsville & Second Avenue. Firehouse is on the left. 17 Second Avenue

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Year in Comics

 Kalicorp Art Mysteries #5 (front and back cover)

One of the collaborations that Seeking Kali worked on over the last year is a series of five comic books; the Kalicorp Art Mysteries.  These along with other works will be shown at our summer exhibition in Bayshore, N.Y. at the Firehouse Gallery. Information on this show can be found at the Seeking Kali website.

Graphic novels may seem a strange departure since our previous colabs tended to be a bit more serious.  The fact is that since our collaborations are experiments in long distance art making we are constantly testing new forms that are workable for our group. Ria Vanden Eynde, Susan Shulman and myself have experimented with video,  print editions, performance, net centric work and artist books over the past two plus years. Ideas that are carried forward are reached by discussions on G+ or chats in our Facebook group.

Initially a comic seemed like a fun and quirky way to send out a bit of PR to people and to put exhibition information, our web pages and current projects in as advertisements.  We never intended to make more than one until we got to the last page and threw in the “To Be Continued.” 
 Kalicorp Art Mysteries #1 last panel detail

We found that they were fun to produce and we could base it on a back story that almost all artists share; What the hell is the art world all about and why is it so damn difficult to get anywhere?  With photography and Photoshop we could easily work out scenes, story-lines and most importantly share files in our virtual studio. Note to new readers...I work in Connecticut, Susan from Montreal and Ria from Belgium.

   Artist Joan Harrison is woven into a scene concerning the Soethby's Art Handler strike.

Along the way we started to include some of our artist friends and art world notables in various roles.   We began our collectives journey after discussing the various iconography surrounding the Hindu goddess Kali. This  led to other historical explorations as well as sparking conversation concerning myth, contemporary art making and cultural mores. We find plenty of art world controversy and drama to weave into each story. So while we are not above a cheap laugh, at the heart of each comic are real issues that effect us as players on the contemporary art stage.

In issue #6 Kalicorp tackles unpaid internships and artspeak.

Examples from the Seeking Kali virtual studio collaborations as well as the comics and art from them will be on display at Long Island's Firehouse Gallery, 17 Second Ave., Bayshore, N.Y.  Opening reception August 4th from 6 - 8pm. Gallery is open Saturdays during August from 12 - 4pm.

Many thanks to our two most recent advertisers, artists Mara Thompson and Bibiana Padilla Maltos for their financial support.