Milwaukee Dolls

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I found the plastic doll body in the woods at Lake Park in Milwaukee 15 years ago. I made a wood-fired ceramic replica about 9 years ago. Now it’s finally assembled with a few vintage Milwaukee post cards. I keep asking “Why do I love Milwaukee?” That’s easy, I love Milwaukee because there is so much cool junk in the woods.

Cage That Demon

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There is an ancient Jewish saying that we all have both an angel and a demon inside us; the task is to beat down the demon. It sure is nice to have a little help from Olive, Nancy, Betty, and Lulu, even with their “working class” stubble.
This picture will be offered for silent auction at the WMSE Art & Music fundraiser event May 19, 2017. Get your tickets and help keep WMSE Frontier Radio alive and well.

Cowboys, Wounds, and Sausage

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I have one pair of cowboy boots which I wear when I want to feel like a cowboy. A little taller, a little pointier, a little cooler. No hat or dinner-plate sized belt buckle or creased jeans, just those badass black pointy toes sticking out. When I was a cobbler, I repaired many hundreds of pairs of cowboy boots; before we commenced work we often found unusual things inside them. Guns, knives, flasks, money, even a little bag of cocaine, but more than anything else we found women’s panties. The Lost Cowboy may just find himself yet, in a house of temptation. But, who is tempting whom?

The Wound Man is a Medieval character inflicted with every kind of traumatic and potentially lethal puncture and incision, beautiful colored etchings depict his sorry lot. In the late 19th century The Magnetic Belt was advertised as a cure for nearly every ailment – even blunt-force trauma and stapling.

I love Wisconsin, I love to love it and I love to complain about it. That is the right of every state native. A wise 1990’s chat room host once said, “Wisconsin has beer cheese, cheese beer, sausage cheese, cheese sausage, and beer sausage. But not Sausage Beer. Perhaps that’s a good thing. These are Old-Bavarian comfort foods enjoyed best while watching a ball game (of your choice).

Distractions

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There are things in my studio that call out to me, they desire my attention. I play the drums and have a makeshift kit set up; I jam along to 13000 random songs. There are also stringed instruments and an old accordion that hope I’ll learn to play them. There are also visions, apparitions, and demons vying for some place in my psyche, longing for center stage in the next picture I make. And all those books. I think an artist needs a hobby that isn’t art related, like making music.

The Place of the Doodle

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Typical artists have a strange and sometimes tense relationship with “Primitive, Visionary, or Folk” artists. God Forbid your gallery represents both Folk and Fine artists, there really is no way to compete for exhibition space and limited sales. Untrained, uneducated, and unspoiled, the Folk artist has an automatic purity as a creator, an elemental virginity, an uncorrupted simpleness that trained artists can never have. A BFA or MFA usually disqualifies the owner from ever finding that blessed state of untarnishment.

But, how close can I get? When does it happen? Must I set up a Surrealistic Automatism experiment with Breton breathing down my neck? The closest I can come to this rarefied air is the doodle. Milwaukee gallerist Debra Brehmer defines the pastime,

“A doodle is a drawing that lacks intent. It is a random sketch, sometimes done to fill time and space. You draw. You don’t bring intentionality to the act, you just draw.  The doodle is a trans-historical remnant connected to the Surrealist practice of automatic drawing, an exercise intended to shut-up and shut down the ego.

I can feel my ego bristle at the very thought of being shut down; my ego wants to show off, intellectually connect, challenge, inform and delight – and take full credit for all positive results. Perhaps the real difference between fine and folk artists is the nurtured ego that comes with an education. Doodling, for me at least, starts to diminish the ego in a very healthy way.

The Pessimillennialists

The Pessimillenials, 2017, ink on found book page, 9 x 6″

“Pessimillennialism” is a real derogatory term found among Evangelical Christians, specifically within the dialog concerning post-millennialism, and pre-millennialism. These terms refer to the return of Christ as pre or post the 1000 years of peace known as the Millennium. Pre-millennialists believe things will worsen right up to the Great Tribulation. Post-millennialists believe the Church must establish a Theocratic Dominion over the Earth where the whole world is ruled by Christians for 1000 years preceding Christ’s return. Thus, the Post-millennialists refer to the Pre-millennialists as “Pessimellinnialists” because things get worse not better.

I use this term here and the obvious similarity to “Millennials” in a scene that includes some of my favorite iconography: entangled skull-headed snakes offering chicken and bones, dead fish, a cool car, bomber planes, and a Voodoo doll. If I had a coat of arms this would be it.

It is the generation of Millennials I have the most hope invested in for the safeguarding of the arts and humanities. The Baby Boomers will all be dead in twenty years, Generation X will just slink away quietly, uncommitted like they have always been. The youngest group, Generation Z (5-20 year olds) will try and rebuild whatever is left, we need to ensure they have at least a few decent building blocks.

The Black Pig

The Black Pig, 2017, ink on found book page, 9 X 6″

Hildegard von Bingen was a Renaissance Woman long before the Renaissance. One of her many literary contributions to the great canon of religious texts is her Vision of 1141. She describes many portents and warnings but my favorite is The Black Pig  – a ruler who bring sadness and filth to his subjects and lands. There have been many in the past and will no doubt be many more in the future, but the Black Pigs of today are quite visible.

Race With the Devil

Race With the Devil, 2017, ink on paper, 8 x 10″

Exercising absolute freedom is an artist’s strange and wondrous privilege. What will I make when left to my own unfettered whims? First, making the allowance for whim might mean shaking off the political and historical pressure to conform. It might also mean shaking off the responsibility inherent in having an education and years of professional experience. Second, it means letting that earlier, younger self out of his repressive prison. My younger self seems to be motivated by an aesthetic focused on both the absurd and coolness.

“Race With the Devil” emerged from the racing scenes in the film “American Graffiti”, and the imagery in the song “Last Kiss” by Wednesday. Cool hot rods with supercharged motors, Mickey Rats and mythical beasts set the scene for the Bad Boy Rebel  racing the Devil to the death. Influenced no doubt by the anti-racing propaganda forced on kids in the 1950′s and ’60′s. Danger is seductive.

Surviving Cancer (So far)

Sure, life could be easier. I could have a paid off mortgage, a time-share in Florida, plenty of cash for all that little stuff. I could have a skeleton I could trust, and not be deathly afraid of falling and breaking it to smithereens. Sure, I could be in remission without the need to be on a study drug that will never go to market. But, I survive. And I can never complain.

They gave me two years to live and it has been twelve – wow! – ten extra years. “Ya gotta’ be happy with that!” Sure, I’m happy with that, but I would rather live to be an old geezer like everyone else, I don’t want it cut short. But, I’m getting used to the idea of a potential Multiple Myeloma relapse and early death. The relapse three years ago wasn’t nearly as frightening as the original shock of the “C” word in 2005.

Surviving means finding a place for the guilt, as well as the sense of inadequacy. There is also the accumulated responsibility that increases with the “specialness” of surviving. All three things – guilt, inadequacy, and specialness – are hoaxes and smoke up your butt. Survivors just have a little less physicality to work with, we have bad days sometimes. Sure, I feel lucky to be alive most of the time, but the ever-present pending doom keeps me on my toes.

Madonna at the Wall of Death

Madonna at the Wall of Death, 2017, ink on paper, 8 x 10″

After months of exclusively drawing in tiny moleskine sketchbooks (view them HERE) I have finally started making 8 x 10 ink drawings on “vellum” paper. I’m using Uniball Signo #207 Gel Pens which are waterproof, chemical proof, acid-free and completely archival museum quality, they dry instantly – and are very cheap ($1.25 ea.) Farewell India ink, croquille nibs and dipping. Farewell Koh-I-Noor tech pens and refilling and cleaning. You can also watercolor right over this Uniball ink with no smear or bleed. OK, my sales pitch is over.

Madonna at the Wall of Death is a little experiment with high and low. Of all high art the altarpiece is perhaps the highest, and the Madonna and Child perhaps most high. This is based on the 1735 Luis Nino painting, “Our Lady of the Victory of Malaga.” I was thinking that since Jesus is a little five year old boy, where would she like to take Him for an outing? I know where I would want to go when I was five, to the Wall of Death bloodsport motorcycle races of course! What could be lower than that? A few skeletal grim reapers would be in attendance to capture a few brave fallen riders to boot.