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  1. Free Reads -- Bruce LaBruce
  2. Dept. of Overgeneralizations -- More Women and Food
  3. Free Reads -- Lynn Sislo and more
  4. Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism, Part IV
  5. Free Reads--Wiggle Room
  6. Free Views -- Business Card Art
  7. Pix of the Day -- Donald Evans
  8. Ansel Adams at 100
  9. Guest Posting -- Andrew Takeuchi Redux

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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Free Reads -- Bruce LaBruce
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you have much of a taste for campy gay carrying-on? As a spectator, I mean. I do, although the pruned-and-tweezed guppy variety that seems to have become de rigeuer (ie., the heroine's best friend) these days usually leaves me cold. No, what can really get me giggling is what some of my gay friends refer to as Extreme Faggotry -- silliness, perversity, and theatrics unredeemed by respectability or self-conscious art, let alone politics. The irreplaceable Charles Ludlam. Charles Busch, showing the lady stars how it's really done. The early Almodovar, and the early John Waters. Did you ever read Waters' Shock Value? (It's buyable here.) A memoir of growing up as John Waters, and hilarious. Where do these guys come from? They can make me laugh till the tears run. But Ludlam is dead, I've missed the last few Charles Busch productions, Almodovar should go back on whatever it was he's since kicked, and while I'm sure Waters is a hundred times wittier than I'll ever be, in recent years he's begun seeming a little snug, happy and tame. Where's a fan of Extreme Faggotry to turn? Maybe to the gifted Canadian Bruce LaBruce, about whom not nearly enough Americans know. Who he? Well, in his own words: He started out as a child, then quickly moved on to the production of homo punk fanzines (J.D.s [with G.B. Jones], Dumb Bitch Deserves To Die [with Candy Parker]) and super 8 movies (Boy/Girl, I Know What It's Like To Be Dead, Bruce and Pepper Wayne Gacy's Home Movies [with Candy Parker], Slam!). These products helped to launch the so-called Homocore or Queercore movement which corrupted a whole new generation of homosexuals. LaBruce has gone on to make feature-length movies such as No Skin Off My Ass and Super 8 1/2. He describes the latter as "a harrowing cautionary bio-pic about LaBruce's rocky rise to cult stardom. LaBruce may or may not be playing himself in this disturbing film, an aging porn star/director whose career is on the skids owing to his inability to cope with his emerging identification as a cineaste." As I recall, the Bruce character is going through an avant-garde period; he's determined to break down the fourth wall, which in his case means looking at the camera during the sex scenes. His degradation is complete when he's put to use as a "stunt ass" during a generic buttfucking scene. LaBruce is wonderfully disreputable -- everything the proper contempo guppy probably wishes homos were over and through with. His autobiography The Reluctant Pornographer (buyable here) is a hoot, he's written smart and insightful pieces about movies, and he was a memorable contributor to a too-much-overlooked collection of essays called Anti-Gay (buyable here), where he and other wits and dissidents did their best to trash the gay-clone and the gay-respectability things. Silliness and perversity should rule! These days, LaBruce still seems to be writing, and he has wangled some gigs for himself photographing... posted by Michael at February 13, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Dept. of Overgeneralizations -- More Women and Food
Friedrich -- Many postings ago (here), in the midst of wondering out loud about women and their relationship to baked goods, I mentioned a woman anthropologist who'd studied food and sex across many cultures and who'd come to an interesting conclusion about the sexes. After all the study, she now believed that, if all other variables could be held constant, women would spend most of their time searching for food while men would spend most of their time looking for sex. The other day, I noticed a report on a sociological study. While I forget where this report appeared, I did copy and paste a passage summarizing the study's findings, which go like this: Women think what they eat is more important to their personal wellbeing than their sex life. Seventy-nine per cent said their diet was the key to their happiness. Imagine! What apparently lies underneath a woman's fussing and feeding is ... well, apparently not the hot-to-trot tramp we guys like to imagine when we try to have a go at her, but instead a creature who'd really like to do a little more fussing and feeding. Impartial, in-depth student of the sexes that I am, I polled two women for their reaction to these facts. The Wife said, "Well, of course it's true. The challenge for you when you want to initiate sex is basically to get my mind off food. Now, pass me that plate of oatmeal cookies." Another, my former tennis partner, wrote me an email saying, "Not surprising in the least. I think that for myself. In fact, I just made a humongous pot of chicken chili. Yum yum." Best, if with badly battered ego, Michael... posted by Michael at February 13, 2003 | perma-link | (20) comments

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Free Reads -- Lynn Sislo and more
Friedrich -- Good stuff from all over. Too much! But in the most wonderful kind of way. Lynn Sislo has written a lovely -- touching and open-minded -- short memoir (here; be sure to read both parts) of what it was like when her Texas junior high school was desegregated. (Note to self: write posting someday on how great it is to be witnessing the birth of new art and literary forms -- the photoblog, the mini-essay, the mini-memoir, etc.) Although blogosphere sweethearts Sasha Castel and Andrew Ian Dodge remain stuck in a gulag somewhere in deepest Maine, their blogging continues unabated, here.  Well, "unabated" is far too weak a word. The two of them manage to make all other bloggers look like bleary-eyed laggards. Recent postings have touched on opera (of course), the anti-war movement in Portland, and genetically modified food. They're using more images these days too. Sasha links to a special treat: an interview (here) by John Hawkins with columnist Mark Steyn. (Note to self: reserve opera tickets, brush up on political philosophy, then write posting about art and politics as separate "modes," to use an Oakeshottian term. Expect fierce rebuttal from Felix Salmon and, possibly, Robert Birnbaum.) Aaron Haspel (here) kicks off what he's promised is a series on Bogus American Sages by letting the reputation of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. have it with both barrels; little is left of OWH Jr. when the dust settles. Mere postings later, Aaron returns to a discussion of rule-based reasoning that he's been carrying on with Jim Ryan of Philosoblog (here) fame. Jim responds to Aaron, then puts up a wonderful short paragraph that includes all you need to know about Karl Marx, meanwhile crediting Cinderella Bloggerfella (here) for setting him off. CB's gem of a posting turns out to be a response to Aaron, who in turn had written about a Mark Goldblatt piece about the MLA's annual meeting, which 2Blowhards had linked to maybe six or seven postings ago. Which pleases me, but which seems to prove nothing, really, except that blogging is a Really Great Thing. At Out of Lascaux, here, Alexandra has been classing up the blogosphere with posts about anime and Japanese scrolls, David Hockney's theories about artists using optical-device crutches, and how she herself was once the stepdaughter of comics legend Wally Wood. Modernist architecture takes it (deservedly) on the chin once again, this time from Paul Mansour at The Scourge of Modernism, here. "If you cannot line a street with 5 or 10 buildings of a particular style and have the total effect be greater than the sum of the parts then you are not working with an architectural style. Maybe you are working with art or sculpture, but you are not working with architecture," he writes, and Tom Wolfe never put it better. Kevin Drum's CalPundit (here) and Chris Bertram's Junius (here) are brainy and provocative, the two decent-leftyish blogs I enjoy checking in with regularly. Kevin's been having fun tweaking... posted by Michael at February 12, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism, Part IV
Michael: Sorry for the delay, but here’s the next installment in my (ongoing) attempt to reconstruct what Impressionism meant to its creators and its contemporaries. As I explained in parts #1-#3 I’m trying to re-evaluate each element in what I’ve called the Standard Account of Impressionism (which, for purposes of convenience, will here be represented by quotes from a popular art history book: “A Treasury of Impressionism” by Nathaniel Harris). As I mentioned in Part #2, Mr. Harris begins his book by denying the existence of any controversial content in Impressionist pictures. He is then left with the problem of explaining why the French art market didn’t embrace this happy, cheerful painting in the late 1860s or 1870s. To make sense of this the mysterious market failure, he provides the following social analysis: …France [during the Second Empire]was going through an economic and social transformation: her version of the Industrial Revolution, with its accompanying factories and workshops, booms and slumps, railways and steamships. The middle class, or bourgeoisie, grew rich and powerful from the proceeds of expanding industry and trade. A new industrial working class began to resent the appalling conditions in which it lived and laboured. The specters of socialism and communism began to haunt France; and indeed the radical workers of Paris took the opportunity provided by the defeat of 1870 to organize a revolutionary government, the Commune, that was bloodily suppressed by the regular army. Bourgeois distaste for exposes of economic realities, and a deep fear of revolution in any form, were two shaping factors in contemporary attitudes to art. Well, we dealt with Mr. Harris’ claims of “economic and social transformation” and “bourgeois wealth and power” in Parts II and III and found his ideas both simplistic and overstated. Now we’ll deal with his next claim: did the inequities of industrial capitalism create a resentful proletariat who eventually rose against their repressive bourgeois overlords during the Commune? Mr. Harris’ view of the French masses as being masticated by the iron teeth of 2nd Empire modernization, creating huge social turmoil, appears more than a bit overstated. In the countryside, life was difficult—as it had been for centuries—but was slowly improving. During the period 1852-1871, the intake of calories of the average Frenchman rose about 16%. As a result, by the end of the 2nd Empire the French were—for the first time in history—getting enough to eat. The improved diet showed up in various ways: the height of the peasantry increased and vitamin deficiency diseases were gradually disappearing. There was an increase in agricultural yields, although Frenchmen could achieve only half to two-thirds the yields obtained by contemporary Dutch or German farmers. (Fertilizers were very sparsely used, chiefly on a few large and very up-to-date farms.) J. Millet, The Gleaners, 1857 (Detail) While only one peasant in four made a living cultivating his own land, the numbers of the more impoverished grades of peasantry (such as small landowners who had been forced into day labor) decreased and the... posted by Friedrich at February 12, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Free Reads--Wiggle Room
Michael: The indispensable Polly Frost at her website “Velvet Crypt” put me on to a website you should check out, called “Wiggle Room” (here). It contains the collected works of one Ray Sawhill, who seems to have been both a detached and involved observer of movies, books, and what he describes as “other media” for a number of years now. He’s at least old enough to remember the movie “Nashville”, so I assume he’s a rough contemporary of ours--or, gasp, even older (if that's possible.) Reading his description of what film watching felt like—at least to a film afficianado—in the 1970s does take me back a bit to my misspent youth: It was a cuckoo time. There was an intoxication about filmmaking and filmgoing -- a euphoria and a fever. For many people, an interest in movies and movie history provided a way into the arts and a framework for exploring them. Films like "Nashville," "The Conformist" and "The Godfather" were peak experiences that seemed to bring together all your interests in the arts -- high and low, visual, auditory and literary. A figure like Godard or Altman or Coppola opened up new directions and led you into discoveries not just in art but also in your life, in terms of sex, philosophy, love, fantasy and friendship. So these figures meant something to you personally. They transformed you; they made a difference in your sense of what was possible. (All right, so maybe he’s a little starry-eyed about the old days—go ahead and shoot him.) If you want to check out the rest of his essay on “Nashville at 25” you can find it here. There’s also tons of other interesting stuff, including short reviews, extended essays and some wacky dialogues. It’ll give you a few hours of very intelligent and civilized diversion, at the least. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at February 11, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, February 10, 2003

Free Views -- Business Card Art
Friedrich -- A charmer: Hugh Macleod's website, here, where he shows off his one-of-a-kind artform -- art on the back of business cards. Using a Rotring technical pen, he makes little drawings, writes a few words, scribbles some patterns. I see a little Ralph Steadman, a little Saul Steinberg, a little John Callahan -- this is fine-art cartooning, basically -- and I like it a lot. I'm hoping he won't mind my posting an example of his work. Click on the image for a bigger view. Thanks to Thomas Hobbs (here), and Out of Lascaux (here). Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 10, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Pix of the Day -- Donald Evans
Friedrich -- Have you ever run across the art of Donald Evans? Of artists from the last 30 or 40 years, he's one of my faves. He painted stamps -- that was his art form. Thousands of them, watercolor on tiny little squares, triangles, and rectangles. Sometimes entire sheets of stamps. The painting itself, as I hope is visible from the scans I've included in this posting, is charming. But the painting per se is only half of what makes Evans' art so lovable. The other half is that these were stamps for countries he dreamed up. So the art wasn't just in the design/drawing/painting, it was also in the world behind the stamps (as well as in the idea of using stamps-from-imaginary-countries in the first place). An example: stamps from Mangiare ("Lo Stato di Mangiare"), where the government named the country's geographical features after items on restaurant menus from Florence: a hill town called Side Dish ("Contorno"), a countryside named after a sausage ("Mortadella"). (The images below are popups. Be sure to click on them.) Messages from the land of "Amis et Amants" -- "friends and lovers" A bit of biography: Evans was born in 1945, the dreamy only child of a middle-class New Jersey couple. He had an idyllic childhood, during which he was introduced to stamps and stamp collecting at the age of 6 by a neighbor. He took to them instantly --  they seemed to him little portals to the world at large as well as to his own imagination.  He collected stamps, and soon started designing and making his own. He outgrew the passion in adolescence, and went to Cornell to study architecture. He had a vague feeling he wanted to be an artist, though, and he painted (big Ab-Ex paintings!) and learned about various crafts -- fabric and collage, for example. But he also knew he'd have to make a living, and did well at his architecture studies. In the early '60s, he moved to NYC and got a job in an architect's office as a renderer. Evenings, he explored the art world, collecting modestly, getting to know real artists (Marisol, Robert Indiana), and painting sets for small dance and theater troupes. He began to show some of the stamps he'd painted as a kid to friends. They liked 'em. He painted a few more. He was feeling ... Well, something had to happen. And what finally did happen was that a friend invited him to Holland. Evans, who always lived frugally, saved a little more money, packed up and went. There, while staying with a group of friends, he found his metier.  He loved the quaint and miniature quality of Holland's countryside. He started selling a few of the stamps, then a few more. He practiced old-looking handwriting, and he used X-acto knives to erasers; inked, he could use them to mimic the postmarked look of a postcard that had been through the mail. Careerwise, nothing ever broke or burst for him on... posted by Michael at February 10, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Ansel Adams at 100
Michael: The other day I made the hour-long drive from my suburban fastness to see a good-sized retrospective of the work of Ansel Adams at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I did so because ever since high school I’ve always half-deliberately steered clear of art photography. However, when I heard about the Adams exhibit, I thought: Aha! Here’s a serious artist—I’ve seen his work in calendars and art books, and they are nothin’ if not serious. So I forked out $15, stood patiently in line (I really hate lines) and filed through the show, only occasionally cutting ahead to escape from male retirees lecturing their friends loudly on the facts of Adams’ life or camera technique. I didn’t even strangle these “helpful” lecturers, a feat which I considered either (1) a moral victory for me or (2) a victory for the manufacturers of my anti-depressant drugs. Mr. Adams turned out, rather to my surprise, to be several different artists. The first “Ansel Adams” did his work during the 1920s (when his “official” artistic goal was to be a Classical pianist), chiefly during breaks while shepherding Sierra Club camping trips through the California mountains he loved, and while wooing his girlfriend who actually lived in Yosemite Park. Interestingly, the photographs he made at this time—while still an amateur—were very small scale, intimate and quiet. At the time he was primarily interested in finding fairly simple abstract and emphatically flat patterns in nature. These pieces made me think of certain Dada collages made from found or random elements—they appear to be the work of a young man who was conscientiously keeping up with current developments in Modernism. The photos obviously are based on mountain or otherwise wilderness scenery, but the obvious attraction this subject matter holds for him is left implicit, rather than being insisted upon. I found photographs made during this era to be extremely pleasurable. ANSEL: THE EARLY YEARS Vernal Falls Through Tree, Yosemite Valley, California, 1920; Fall in Upper Tenaya Canyon, Yosemite National Park, California, c. 1920 The Back of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park California, c. 1920; Suguaro Near Phoenix, Arizona, c. 1932 Regrettably, around 1930 Mr. Adams apparently decided to become a professional photographer (abandoning his musical ambitions) and paid a visit to the leading American art photographer of the day, Paul Strand. Apparently while hanging out at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s house in Taos, the older man showed Adams the negatives of his recent work, which seem to have stupefied the younger photographer. He later recalled the …full, luminous shadows and strong high values in which subtle passages of tone were preserved. Here our hero got himself entangled—in my opinion, fatally—in two diversions. The first diversion is what I call the “well-made photograph.” Black and white photography is an oddly Platonic art form. It can deliver an immense amount of visual information—far more than your eyes take in—which is perfectly ordered for your absorption, so that the enormous excess of detail remains, astonishingly, subordinate to... posted by Friedrich at February 10, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, February 9, 2003

Guest Posting -- Andrew Takeuchi Redux
Michael: A few hours ago I left a comment on your "Guest Posting -- Andrew Takeuchi." Having just gone back and re-read it, my first thought was what a grumpy old fanatic I've become (or, likely, remain.) My second thought was that it might behoove me to explain my embrace of video technology and my ambivalent relationship with the commercial cinema (including the arthouse cinema.) As I said in my comment: One of the more surprising disappointments of my adult life [has been] watching the experimental attitude of Sixties film towards film conventions evaporate; it's as though people haven't realized that the words you speak control the thoughts you can have, or at least express. As a college student and in my early twenties I made a number of fairly elaborate amateur films, and then compounded this folly by going to art school. My more "mature" reflections on film as a medium therefore have been conditioned by my exposure to painting, sculpture, installation art, etc. My overwhelming conclusion is what might be termed the narrowness or rigidity of the movie camera. Like all forms of photography, a movie camera is a very poor substitute for the eyesight of a mobile observer. Converting real life, or even staged activity, into a film demands you massage the content to fit the limitations of first the camera, second the editing bench, and third the audience's "organizational" expectations. (Think of how difficult it is to photograph architecture or sculpture with any aesthetic impact. Then contrast that with the fact that when you're in the physical presence of architecture or sculpture they affect you even when you're not paying attention to them.) The very strict editing and selection process involved in filmmaking inevitably affects the subject matter you're treating. Since one set of camera/editing bench/organizational expectations have become hugely dominant (that of D.W. Griffith's narrative entertainment film), movies not surprisingly tend to resemble each other far more than they resemble my experience of reality, or even my thoughts about reality. While a certain amount of French "New Wave" experimentation always made my teeth grind, it certainly demonstrated the possibility of alternatives to the above expectations. Others can be discerned by anyone with a video camera; I remember taking a video of my 3-year-old daughter riding her tricycle around me in a empty room, her wheels echoing in the enclosed space, and thinking how unusual such a "unified" treatment of time and space was in the commercial cinema (where the goal is to admit only very tiny fragments of reality into the film at a time, lest too much information overwhelm the narrative line.) From the standpoint of playing with the "rules of the game," the most interesting commercial film I've seen in years was Oliver Stone's "JFK," because it incorporated documentary or TV news techniques into a fiction film--with a notable uptick in the amount of information a film could convey per minute. I assume, probably mistakenly, that if a non-commercial cinema develops--an amateur's cinema,... posted by Friedrich at February 9, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments