If I had to pick just one artist of all time whose work has influenced me the most it would be Albrecht Durer. From the great woodcut “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” I first saw at a headshop on Brady Street in Milwaukee in 1973, to the “Passion Series” to “Melencholia I”. His magnificent Renaissance “Northern Line” forever changed printmaking, draughtsmanship, and ultimately painting in Northern Europe. Durer’s hatching and crosshatching remain the best in all art. Despite the beautiful work of Callot, Hogarth, and Crumb, we will never equal Durer’s accurate simplicity, and his ingenious shaping of the human form, nature, perspective, and architecture into a seamless composition. To claim such a master is a profound lesson in humility, my place at his feet will always be as a student.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The top half is based on an old 17th century etching complete with a few Latin terms: “Providentia” for Providence, the all-seeing Eye of God; and “Fama Bona” and “Fama Mala” good news and bad news. I was thinking about the curse God placed on Adam and Eve when they were kicked out of the Garden after they committed the Original Sin. He cursed Eve with pain in child-bearing (crying baby), Adam with the struggle to grow food by the sweat of his brow (crops and the need for government subsidy), and then He cursed us all with the little Generation Z girl and her ubiquitous smart phone. Fear (the dog), greed, violence, vice, chance, and gambling are all depicted in the card game. It’s rather tricky to jam pack the entire history of the world in an 8 x 10 space; I left out famine pestilence and war, but that could simply be more Fama Mala.
There is probability and then there is probability, sometimes when the odds are just too outrageous, even mathematical possibility seems just plain silly. Nowhere in scientific inquiry is this phenomenon more apparent than in the theories for the origin of life on Earth. Speculations based on a much too young fossil record and hunches about original atmospheric conditions have given us things like the Big Bang Theory and Primordial soup.
The lucky lightning bolt has to hit the soup at the right moment in order to properly cook the stuff into amino acids and proteins, then a few more perfect lightning bolts to eventually get an amoeba. Then, after several more lucky breaks our amoeba will crawl out and invent the smart phone. This is all possible by a combination of Time plus Chance; with enough Time and enough Chance anything is possible! And they call me delusional for believing in a Creator/God. I think Time plus Chance equals Chaos.
There are no decent transitional fossils between chimp and Human, fish and bird, etc. The “Missing Links” we do have are sadly insufficient. This leads to the difficult possibility that Creation is still an option – Creation is no less probable. But that could all change if archaeologists finally found the perfect missing link.
The two best things about Prairie du Chien Wisconsin are the Mississippi River and Pete’s Hamburgers. Pete’s opened the tiny shop in 1908 and utilizes the unusual technique of simmering the beef in water and onions. Very simple.