Friday, March 22, 2019


Mexico City.
All names for the capital of Mexico, biggest city in the western hemisphere.

Christina likes to take trips for some of her "big" birthdays, and that's all the excuse this family needs to get on a plane. We weren't originally thinking about CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico), but someone mentioned it as a possibility and when we realized we could get an experience that was urban, foreign, close, and cheap, it was obviously a good option.

We didn't do a lot of homework before this trip, and as a result we did miss out on a few things we had hoped to do. If you want to see Mexican Wrestling... book in advance!

There are a lot of pictures to post here, so I'm just going to fly through them... with captions as needed...

On our first day in CDMX, the smog parted enough for us to see the nearby volcano Popocatépetl. It turned out the be the only day we could see it. And, it spewed big puffs of ash! Apparently this is not too uncommon.

Our big goal, collectively, was to see as much art as we could. We got off to a disappointing start as almost every gallery and museum (!) we visited on Tuesday was closed, but we got the hang of things pretty quickly. 

One of the first spots we visited was the (very popular, book in advance!) Frida Kahlo house and museum. This was the house she was born in, worked in, lived in with Diego Rivera, and died in. 

This was her painting studio. The amazing windows and light have inspired Christina and me to build a similarly well-lit painting and multi-use art studio.

Frida Kahlo was a very sickly person, beset by various maladies throughout her short life. For medical reasons she needed to frequently wear corsets, which she treated as fashion items. This was probably the highlight of the museum for me, as I am only moderately enthusiastic about her actual paintings. 

Her death mask... on the bed where she died.

And, the courtyard garden. This was really beautiful.

There is a real cult of personality around Frida in CDMX. You can get her face realistically depicted or draws as a super-hero or cartoon character, on bags, t-shirts, purses and anything else. She is everywhere.

We visited a few different museums...

This was my favorite painting from the Modern Art Museum, depicting the four elements (earth, fire, water, wind). It was a big painting, probably 16 feet across.

We also visited the Palacio de Bellas Artes, home of many huge and beautiful murals by Diego Rivera and others. The above image is just part of a huge mural by Rivera. He was a communist, and one interesting thing I noticed about this image was the faceless "everyman" with the group of "red" workers at the top right.

Here is a detail from another mural, this one by... I'm embarrassed to say I don't know the painter... The details here are amazing... the female nude is covered in markings (tattoos?) of rope and arcane symbols, while the figure on the left hovers somewhere between life and death, bone and flesh, and is wrapped in actual ropes. 

We hit a few galleries too, although to be honest we did not see anything particularly mind-blowing. 

This gallery show featured many different objects hanging precariously from the roof structure, such as this trio of canoes, but the real highlight was the architecture of the space. The cast-concrete steps, the wood-timber roof, the vines overhanging the offices above, and the fluidity between "outside" and "inside" (even though we are completely within the gallery here, that is a sliver of unobstructed sky above) made for a really great space.

One of the most fun things we did, even though we were concerned that is was going to be too cheesy and touristy, was to take the "Turibus" around the downtown area. This is one of those double-decker, open-topped buses full of tourists with cameras... like us!
We did this on our last day in CDMX and, really, it was a great way to get a feel for the city and see the sites. Recommended.

Waiting for the bus...

And finally onboard...

By the way, anyone know what Language 7 is? We got a good laugh out of that...

In particular, the Turibus gave us great views of many of the monumental sculptures of the city, such as "El Angel de la Independencia (which was really similar to Berlin's Siegessäule)

And Diana la Cazadora (did you know there is a whole mythical 'meme' in art and sculpture around Diana the Huntress, and semi-nude women with hunting bows in general?)

(There are better pictures of this sculpture online, but I do like to use my own pix when possible..)

Haha, talk about "there are better pictures online!" This park has a copy of Michaelangelo's David, but the route of the bus meant I could only photograph his butt! When I showed Kodiak, he used the amazing zoom on his digital camera to get a super-close-up of David's behind!

There is quite a lot of integration, at least nominally speaking, of the indigenous "pre-discovery" cultures of Mexico into the modern city, at least in terms of place names, street names, and monuments. It is also true that certain native languages like Nahuatl and others are recognized as official languages of Mexico, alongside Spanish.

Here above we see a handful of sculptures referencing the "pre-discovery," or "pre-invasion" cultures.

One of the nice things about the Turibus is that you can jump off the bus at any stop, walk around and explore, and then jump back on. We walked for quite a while around the downtown area...

I swear, I have pictures of Christina and Cedar walking side-by-side from cities all over the world. I may in fact be their official photographer!

 As I stopped to take a picture of this nice piece...

... I heard a group of women saying in Spanish "What, he's not going to take a picture of us??" Well, my Spanish is pretty good by now, so I spun around and said.. "Well, I could.."

They were more than happy to pose for the gringo tourist!

Continuing walking around the downtown area, we saw this hand painted No Parking sign for the Russian Embassy (oh man, I love this sort of thing about Mexico!)...

... and we stumbled upon a giant "Fridays for the Future" protest against the inaction around climate change in the center of town. From this photo, the protest doesn't look big, but it was. The sign reads "There is no Planet B." 
If you're not already aware of Fridays for the Future, you should be, and you're not getting your news from the right sources. This is a world-wide protest movement by children against the inaction and ineptitude of the older generation when it comes to the total failure to protect the environment from the ravishes of climate change. I personally am very moved by this. Why does it take the actions of children to move the older generation to change? Well, apparently, it does. It was all started by a 15-year old Swedish girl. I'm not going to veer off at this point into a full-fledged discussion of climate change and how important that topic is for the future of our world, but... it is. Thank god for the kids. They give me hope. Click the link above and educate yourself, and be part of this movement. We are trying to start it happening in Taos. It was awesome to happen upon this, last Friday.

Well, as Friday wound down we knew it was the the last day of our trip.

On our last evening, we ate at a great little bar called "La Clandestina" and Kodiak and I shared a bowl of crickets. 

OK, well I actually ate most of them. I do like crickets and would like to see if I can catch enough of them around here, in spring time, to make a meal or two.

The last sunset, seen from our high-rise apartment. 

PS. I did find, in a comic book store, a graphic novel by Milo Manara about the life of Caravaggio.  (Milo Manara's comic books are not for kids!)

Even though it was in Spanish, and cost more than I would pay for the English version if I bought it here in the US, I couldn't resist. Sometimes the act of buying something small in a foreign or exotic location creates it's own special kind of memory, which you can revisit in a way by interacting with that object. I guess that's what is meant by "souvenir."
More on Caravaggio soon.

Oh.. and I did my first oil painting. 

This was a deceptively easy image to paint, and I copied it from another painting. Even so, I think it's only "OK." I'm currently working on a second painting of a full figure nude, which is really very difficult. In fact, I find it VERY difficult. I almost gave up yesterday, thinking "I guess painting just isn't for me." But Christina helped me carry on, and this second painting is finally looking like 'something.' More on that later, too.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Dark Arts

Well it's been a while since I posted.

On the surface of things, I have moved on pretty easily from the disappointment of having ENDGAME be rejected by Burning Man. I have even seen it as a bit of a blessing, a bit of a door opening to new possibilities. But I think that, deep down in my vulnerable artist core, I am hurt by the rejection. Mostly because I believed in the piece; I felt it was well developed and was strong.
I've asked for feedback from Burning Man... some sense of why they turned it down... and they have indicated to me that this is forthcoming... but it hasn't come yet. However, as time passes and ENDGAME "recedes in the rear-view mirror," I feel more and more certain that the message was probably too dark. Or rather, not the actual message, which I believe is a positive exhortation to change, but the way that message is conveyed through... I guess "violence" is probably the best word. It was probably just too much for Burning Man to embrace. The title ENDGAME may also have reinforced this perception. (The original title was the more cumbersome, but also less negative and more ambiguous "Interreciprocity.") I've had an interesting conversation with my dad about this proposal, and his perception was that the proposal conveys "no hope." I actually disagree; much like With Open Arms, this piece presents a representation of one possible future, and asks the question "Is this really what we want?" The 'hope' comes in the immediately subsequent step...  the process that happens within the viewer who must internally answer this question and then contemplate how to avoid this future. 

The complication for me here is that I am always drawn personally to art (by which I also mean music, film, etc.) that has an "uncompromising" take on the human condition, by which I mean it is usually somewhat dark. To me, those are the works which push people deeper into their own understanding of the world and of themselves. Something I read not so long ago and which I've quoted on this blog before, which had a big impact on me is "make the art that you want to see in the world." Implied in this is the idea that one should not make art that they think, or guess, other people want to see in the world.

Among the many legitimate roles that art can play is the role of temporary reprieve from the miseries of everyday life. I'm sure that even I occasionally experience art that way, but ultimately that sort of light and diverting art never really holds my interest (with the exception, it seems, of the female nude). My favorite artists are always those that take an uncompromising view on things... Francis Bacon, Alexander McQueen, and my new favorite Caravaggio. These are people who were trying to find something meaningful and real in the world, and because they remained true to themselves in this quest, they found something original. I guess I'd rather remain true to my own vision and uncover something original and meaningful than try to guess what "people" want to see and try to make that. I think that is a surefire route to mediocrity. 

Ironically, two of the pieces I've made which I think are most successful (Becoming Human and With Open Arms) can both be read as fairly dark, but they are both ambiguous, so that's not the only way to read them. Perhaps Endgame was too unambiguously dark. Perhaps slyly incorporating that sort of vision into more multi-layered and open-ended sculptural images is the way forward...

Well anyway, one of these days I'll get over it. 


Caravaggio is my new favorite artist, or "art-crush," as I've previously termed it. 
Ironically, just like Bacon and McQueen, he was a tortured gay man. OK, to be honest, Caravaggio's personal sexuality is a bit of a mystery - he lived and died a little over 400 years ago and much of his life is shrouded in mystery because... that's a long time ago. But he never painted a single female nude*, painted plenty of young male nudes, and it seems to be pretty widely acknowledged that he had sexual relations with his young male models. However it seems that he also had relations with female prostitutes. The only reason I bring this up is that I'm intrigued by this commonality he shares with Bacon and McQueen; it begs the question: "How does the personal sexuality of these artists tie in with, or contribute to, their dark personal vision?" Probably all of them felt some level of persecution or prejudice based on this. In light of the fact that I'm not gay, I may not be the most qualified person to speculate further... and I guess it's also possible that it's a coincidence and not particularly relevant. (Amusingly, a 2007 Italian film about Caravaggio's life posits his downfall as a result of his tragic love for a female prostitute. My first assumption is that Italians just can't stomach the idea that one of their most famous sons was gay, but I will watch it soon and have a better idea then.)

A large percentage of Caravaggio's artistic output was secular in a time when pretty much all painting was religious. On the urging of some of his powerful patrons and friends, he did at a certain point begin to paint religious subjects, but he seemed fond of choosing atypical moments from these religious stories, often involving murders and decapitations. If we throw in all the naked boys in his secular paintings, we could safely point to "sex and death" as a favored part of his oeuvre. Interestingly, he lived a short and violent life, dying at the age of 39 after having murdered 2 people (probably), having been imprisoned several times, and having become the most famous painter in Italy even during his lifetime. He is credited with having begun the Baroque phase of painting, he introduced the idea of painting "the critical moment" in an ongoing action, and is often referred to as the first modern painter. 

*Apparently he did actually paint a partial female nude... Probably my favorite painting of his is called Judith beheading Holofernes; I love this painting primarily for the complicated mix of emotions that Caravaggio managed to capture on Judith's face. It seems that x-ray examination of this painting shows that Judith was originally painted topless and that her blouse was added later. Too bad. 


Speaking of "doors opening to new possibilities"... oil painting. I've finally come around to the honest self-assessment that the only reason I haven't truly started oil painting is fear, and I've resolved to just get over it and start. It seems like a long time now that I've been talking about starting to paint (and not actually doing it), but to be fair we did just come back from a week in Mexico city, and there is always too much to do around the homestead. I've resolved, though, to start this week and I think it's going to be tomorrow. Part of the issue, I think, is that the first image I want to paint is this really ambitions, life-scale thing (that I've taken weeks to meticulously mock up in Photoshop), and I think it would look great as an oil painting, but I don't know how to do it yet. So I've finally decided to paint a few smaller and less ambitious canvases first, to get the hang of it, and let the big ambitious one wait until I know what I'm doing. I had obligations yesterday and today, but nothing tomorrow. 


As briefly mentioned above, last week Christina, Kodiak and I went to Mexico city to celebrate Christina's birthday, joined by our good friend Cedar. 

I was going to cram in a bunch of photos of our trip here, at the end of this post, along with stories of tacos and Frida Kahlo and volcanoes, but... upon looking through my photos, I realize that it really deserves its own post. So, keep an eye out for another post coming very soon about Mexico City, heavy on the photos.