Friday, February 22, 2019


Well I said that I was superstitious about revealing my proposal until Burning Man decided on it... and yesterday was the day, so here it is:


Project Summary: 
ENDGAME is a large-scale sculpture of a Swordfish and a Man, freeze-framed at the apex moment of a battle, or a dance. The Swordfish's spear has pierced the chest of the man, while the Man holds a spear which has similarly pierced the body of the Swordfish. Their eyes are locked.

Physical Description:
ENDGAME will be fabricated from steel and aluminum. The figures arise from a base of two abstract waves which are almost crashing together. The only point of connection between the waves and the figures is the tail of the fish. The space between the waves can be entered by the public. From certain angles these waves mimic a mouth or a vagina, the great female ocean birthing (or swallowing) the combating male figures. The man will be supported in space by the two piercing spears, which will be steel or stainless steel and part of the internal steel structure. The eye-lines of the figures will be locked on each other. The poses of the figures will suggest conflict, but also dance.

What is the philosophy of your piece?:
The image of this sculpture came to me in a flash of inspiration, and as such I have been somewhat reluctant to parse its meaning, preferring - on a certain level anyway - to let its power emanate from a place of un-analyzed subconsciousness. But OK, all that aside, several meanings do emerge without much effort, the most obvious of which is the dependence of man on the natural world, which he (we) short-sightedly despoil, to our own peril. We think we control nature, yet we are locked in a dance with it, our fortunes tied together in ways we don't always see. Both these figures are apex predators. Each fights for survival, imagining that the only way forward is to kill the other. But their individual gazes, locked on each other, suggest not only a dim awareness of their common ancestors, but also of the common cause they must share if a holistic future is to be forged. Also suggested is the flash of awakening.. satori.. being stabbed in the chest.. something only a swordfish could do!

ENDGAME will be climbable (to a point... the figures will be off limits). When weather and temperature variables are agreeable, the gently sloping upward incline of the larger wave will provide a place for sitting or lounging. The interior cavern-like space created by the two waves will be accessible to the public. By squeezing between the waves, one will enter an intimate space which is protected from the outside world, and which will give unique views of the sculptural elements above. On an intellectually interactive level, the sculpture will also force participants to confront dualities of beauty and danger, male and female, life and death, harmony and discord, and the important question of whether there is any sensible endgame which could possibly result from violence and enmity.


Christina also submitted a proposal this year. My first hope was that both of our proposals would be funded. Christina has not been funded by Burning Man in a few years, so my second hope for this year was that, if only one of us were to be funded, it would be her... because, as my friend Richard said, "Artists need that kind of validation." Well I got my second wish. My project will not be funded, but hers will.

I'm very happy for her. It does mean that we will be going back to Burning Man, and taking Kodiak back for his fourth time. It's a good thing for Christina, and it will be a good thing for the event, because her proposal is very strong.

I find I am taking this rejection pretty well, all things considered. I've said several times that I believe in this piece so much that, even if it wasn't funded, I would build it anyway. At this moment, still only a matter of hours after reading the email, I'm not sure what form that might take, what scale... or what material.

But it's still a rejection, and I guess that is not easy. Maybe the message was too dark. Maybe the granting committee felt they should only fund one proposal from our family... I really have no idea if they make considerations like those. Maybe they want to "change things up" a bit, not funding the same people over and over again (although I can certainly think of several artists who are funded repeatedly.) Burning Man used to make a point of distinguishing themselves from other granting bodies by promising to give feedback to rejected proposals explaining their decision, with the idea that this kind of feedback can be helpful to the artists... and I couldn't agree more that it's useful to hear that kind of feedback. But as far as I know they no longer make that promise; it's been many years and several rejections since I have heard their reasons. I would love to know.

(I should do a blog post of all my rejected proposals. Otherwise they are just lost in my hard drive... and if my computer should fail one day, then lost forever...)

I did make a pretty nice model of ENDGAME (which is the basis for the image above.) A video of the model can be seen HERE. It has occurred to me to re-work certain elements of this model and call it a sculpture, in and of itself.

Anyway, more time for painting and other sculptures. The gallery owner down in Santa Fe showing Big Mother has encouraged me to build more pieces like that one, which gives me a nice nudge in a certain direction. Maybe this is the push I need to start making things I could actually sell... what an idea!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Stories to Tell

--Begin obligatory meandering preamble, with tinges of self-doubt--

Sometimes I say smart things in my blog.
I like to say smart things.
Sometimes when I have something smart to say, I will decide to put it into a blog post.
This can lead to a converse situation in which, during times in which I might feel I don't have anything particularly smart to say, I question whether I should bother writing... even when it's been a while since my last post. Such is the situation in which I currently find myself.
However, I will then sometimes remind myself of the other reasons to blog, such as creating a document of my adventures, and sharing with my readers the peculiarities of the artist life. Even when I don't have that super-witty life insight to share, there are still stories to tell...

--End preamble--

Even though I sort of talked myself out of taking the time to learn oil painting, opting instead for my home-spun concoction of water-colors and colored pencils, oil painting continues to hold a certain allure for me. Oil paintings just look beautiful, and all the great masters have used oils. So, even though I haven't exactly jumped into oil painting, I continue to read about it and work my way through online tutorials. One of the observations I read somewhere online was that the impediments to getting started are various, but perhaps the biggest one, harder to overcome than arranging your studio or assembling your supplies, is the mental block.

I haven't really started my painting, and I can think of several semi-legitimate reasons why, but it seems that the mental block of jumping into something one has never done before might well be at play. I've been working on a photoshop mockup of the image, and although I've put in quite a lot of work, I approach my goal VERY slowly. Mental block, or obstructing perfectionism? Hard to say.


I needed to go out to LA a second time a few weeks ago in order to pick up Big Mother from the gallery. On my first trip, back in December, I was excited to spend time in the big city and soak up the culture. But this time, for whatever reason, I just wanted to get there, grab the sculpture, and get back. It so happens that on the evening that I could have stayed in LA, the city was scheduled to be hit by a major storm, and so that was another reason for me to get the hell out of there. I did the whole trip in about 53 hours, 36 of which were spent actually driving. I did have about 3 hours in the city of LA, most of which I spent at the Taschen bookstore in Beverly Hills. I have a bit of a book problem, and I do really love Taschen. But of course I do... their books are all essentially picture books, ranging across subjects such as art, architecture, photography, celebrity culture, all things erotic, and history. I picked up 6 titles from their "Basic Art" series. These are introductions / overviews of notable people and topics from art history, at only $15.00 each. The ones I brought home were Tamara De Lempicka, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Caravaggio*, Hokusai, What Great Paintings Say - Beautiful Nudes, and What Great Paintings Say - Faces of Power. I also saw a beautiful large-format book about Sharks... and I have loved sharks since I was a kid... but I couldn't justify the $70.00 price tag. I found it later on eBay for $26.00, and it really is gorgeous.
*More to come on Caravaggio in a future blog post, I think.

Here we see the six art titles from Taschen, the big Sharks book, as well as a few other shark books from earlier times in my life. Oh... actually... those shark books give me an idea for something to say that might actually be smart...
Looking through the shark books from the 1980's I am struck by the degree to which the attitudes in those books are not particularly conservation-minded, but rather feature large sections about the commercial value of shark products and the virtues of shark-fin soup, set amongst other sections about shark attacks on humans (sharks kill about 6 people per year, a fact which is used to partially justify our killing of approximately 100 million (!) sharks yearly). The new Taschen book is, of course, much more oriented towards conserving sharks, as their numbers are plummeting fast thanks to us. But my point is, I do sometimes find myself frankly amazed at how primitive we are, as a species. It's hard for me to believe that there are still people out there finning sharks, or, for that matter, fighting against measures to slow down global warming or oppressing women and brown people. The reasons for these behaviors are, of course, short-term thinking and personal gain. Personal gain sometimes takes the form of survival; that poor guy cutting the fins off sharks and throwing them, finless, to die a slow death in the ocean might be doing the only thing he knows how to do to put a meal on the table for himself and his family. But the rich fucks fighting (with the help of first-rate fucktards like our alleged president) for their right to belch CO2 into the atmosphere from their factories are operating from the opposite end of the personal gain spectrum.

My observation of the differences in the attitudes expressed in the shark books of the 1980's versus those expressed in more recent books is two-sided. On the one hand, how wonderful it is that attitudes have shifted so radically in only 30 years! On the other hand... really? We are still having these conversations? The only reason there are people passionately advancing the cause of saving sharks is there there are still other people out there killing them. #metoo only exists because there are still men out there raping women, and people need to fight for the rights of indigenous people because there are still those who would rather rape the forests of their natural resources than respect the rights of the historic inhabitants of those forests... and of course this list goes on and on. Personal gain over long-term, communal vision. Do these people not have children? There is more money to be made in shark-diving tourism than in shark fishing, but the world needs responsible and mature leadership to take us in these directions, not only of course in shark policy but also in energy policy, environmental policy, race relations, etc etc. Sadly that kind of mature leadership is in short supply these days.

I've been thinking about the concept of ENDGAME lately. As in, what is the endgame of your ideology? Violence begets retribution. Unless, I guess, you've got the bigger gun. At least that's what conservatives seem to believe. Build a wall... keep them out... a better life for us. The castle-on-the-hill mentality. But that's not long-term thinking, and it's not moral. Where is the empathy? It's been shown, and should come as no surprise, that conservatives are significantly less empathetic than liberals, and also that they are more fearful. (Those are both really good articles, which explain a lot) More fear, build a wall, buy a gun. It's hard to see how there is any long-term thinking in these ideologies. How do you build a better world while trying to suppress what you fear in the hopes that it will make your own private little slice of the world better... for you? Do these people not have children?

Sometimes I think about the history of humanity as if it were the life of just one person. In the time of the cavemen, humanity was a baby. When he was a toddler he invented an imaginary friend (god), a delusion which he is thankfully beginning to outgrow. Embarrassingly, humanity does not seem to have grown up past the teenage years, at best. I have a hard time understanding, sometimes, why we are not yet the sage and wise elder who treats everyone with compassion and knows that the good of the one is inextricably tied to the good of all. But clearly the era of the wise elder seems to be still many many years away, and sadly it seems that this confused and short-sighted teenager is probably going to burn down his own house before understanding how to properly care for it. He has also not yet figured out that the only sensible endgame is in fact the golden rule.

Well, shit... I don't know if that was smart or not... I think it was more like a scatter-shot diatribe. Yeah, sure... I'm an idealist and a "bleeding heart," but it's the only long-term view that makes sense if you ask me. I guess you either agree with me, or think the Environmental Protection Agency should be run by oil executives.

People who know me well, or who have at least taken the opportunity to carefully observe my right forearm, might remember that I have a little growth on my arm which has lately attained approximately the size of a pea. Well I decided it was time to get it removed. Instead of burning or freezing it off, the doctor actually cut it out with a scalpel... which is just the kind of thing I love to photograph! (I was the operating-room photographer for my surgeon father when I was around 10-11 years old)


Last week Christina and I were visited by a TV crew. They were shooting a pilot for a show in which the hosts, a Santa Fe based artist couple, travel around the country meeting other artists, visiting their studios, having a little hands-on time in the shop, and interviewing them. For certain reasons I was initially pretty skeptical about participating; it's a pilot which means it's not a real show yet, I've done quite a few pilots and they never really seem to go anywhere, they wanted us for a whole day, and of course there was no money in it for us. On the plus side, though, the show is actually about art, and it's always good practice to be on camera and talk about yourself. So we said "yes." And in the end, it was unexpectedly fun.


This coming week will be a big and important week in determining what the next half-year will look like for Christina and me. I have two gigs in the works for the Hand of Man which I will find out about this week, and one of those shows might also involve Christina's Caged Pulse Jets. And on Thursday we will be notified as to whether Burning Man will be funding one or both of our projects this year. If all of those things come through it will be a very busy 6 months or so for us. I can only imagine that this type of work life is quite different from the average American work life. We have long stretches of slower time in which to improve our land, work on smaller personal projects, and try to learn how to paint, punctuated by bigger opportunities that consume us for months at a time. It's exciting, sometimes challenging, and usually fresh.


I will have two sculptures at an opening in Santa Fe this Friday evening, February 22, at Keep Contemporary. I hope to attend personally. Stop by if you are in the neighborhood. In order to bring the art down to Santa Fe, I have temporarily converted my flatbed truck into a "box truck" by loading up an empty shipping container!