Monday, March 28, 2011

Early Spring Hula

Winter lingers in spite or our pleas, yet we do not give in. Chilly gusts yet the sun was shining. A woman wiggled the hula-hoop while her gentlemen companion swung balls on a string. I don’t know what they’re called and quite frankly, the pictures of them didn’t come out so well. I’m not sure if was performance or some exercise or just plain fun. Certainly, fun to see. The vendors are not coming out yet in numbers, word is sales are down, yet the DJ spun trippy beats and spring was noticed and ready to be here to stay if not quite yet. The hula-hoop was not in vain.

Juxtaposed Billboards

We’re like Reno without the Casinos—cheap divorces these days. Or is that Tijauana. She’ll still get the house and the dog. The other billboard though, it’s just garbage – old signage flapping in the wind, nothing new to paste on. Cheap legal help, a priceless void, nothingness, destruction. What kind of impact does seeing this day in and day out have on our subconscious? Nihilistic surrealism, I dare say. Gentrification they call it, all the new condos, all the new professionals, then this a sign of garbage, next to cheap divorce. It’s not what lies underneath, it is what is hung on the backs building. Make some extra dough by selling advertising on your empty space on the façade of your building, nothing wrong with that. But you have to have some responsibility of upkeep, you don’t have the right to be an eyesore. Oh wait. Is that an original Banksy? Exit through the liquor store where the Colt 45 quarts are displayed near the lotto machine.

Below Fire Escape

Dig this contraption, the weighted end that unhooked pulls down the ladder so you can make it to the sidewalk. In an emergency you won’t even here it squeak. I wonder how many layers of rust had to be removed before the most recent paint was applied. Look at how the pain flakes. I remember standing here one hot summer night and singing to the Moon – Maria, Maria, say it softly and it’s almost like praying, I just met a girl named…

Monday, March 21, 2011

Back Lot

The Newport Mall and strip malls to the south and north of the enclosed shopping center protect Newport residents from the grungier (admittedly grunge has become a dwindling resource hereabouts) Jersey City neighborhoods residents. They’re a barrier that also creates a no-man’s land, a neutral territory of consumerism. We come here to shop then we go home, heading either closer or further away from the waterfront (what used to called simply the river.) The bustle of the stores, the bright promise of sales signage, a need to get the best parking spot. The complex of stores is common throughout the land. More often unseen though is what goes on behind the stores, the lonely and anonymous desolate lots and garbage receptacles. Could be anywhere in America, seriously... that is what has happened – chain stores spread throughout the land and all the highways look the same, all the strip malls look the same, and all the back lots of the stores look like this. Regional distinctiveness is another dwindling resource in the USA. Nothing here like everywhere else, then the light rail rolls through and you realize it is different and you catch the train and go away, some other stop that looks unlike every place else, that looks like our city, that looks like home.

Abandoned Lawn

Faceless gnome, Mary in her half-shell. Is this backyard waiting for developers to fix up the adjacent building or was are the owners have not gotten around to cleaning up after the winter. It was hard to tell. The patch of withered lawn was in between some parking lots. Not familiar with the block. So much transition is transitioning in this town, can’t tell if this on the way up or on the way down or still fallow. All those phases reside side by side. Who can tell? I like the post apocalyptical feel, the remnants of the before time, the family who like garden gnomes and Marian statuary. That grim orange of the hard resin chair is just too ugly to look at or away from.

Street Art/Mystery Stencil

Around the corner on the same building as the Tiger Mural, in between that one and the Whale Mural, I found this Polynesian fellow. He could be one of the first Jimmy Buffet fans, the earliest parrot heads who came to Florida in hand-carved kayaks and drank shots of tequila to a demo of Cheeseburger in Paradise (Parrot head, get it). Okay, Moving on. A very clever stencil on the brick wall, it is sort of a doorway and the fence across it apparently prevents any of our local winos and junkies (and/or homeless) from taking rest or semi-shelter here.
I was talking with Dylan, a mural facilitator, who organized the whale and the tiger in progress mural on the same building as the parrot head mystery stencil. He is liaison between artists and building owners. He told me he had nothing to do with this piece of street art and thought it was commissioned independent of him by the business owner. The building – 172 Newark Avenue – is renting out the spaces above the ground level Palace Drug & Liquor Store – as artist studios. A friend of mine is working with the building owner as a kind of real estate broker to artists seeking workshop and studio space.

When I asked her about the stencil, she told me the owner was under the impression it was part of the current tiger mural Dylan began.

No one knows exactly when this Polynesian parrot hat head appeared on the brick behind the fence. The fence was flimsy and seemed relatively new. I wondered – before I talked to my friend of owner friend – if the fence was put up to protect the work of art. One of the Tiger mural artist laughed at this, the idea that someone would protect a stencil (I guess it’s not an original Banksy) and not a free hand painting – and yes, he said stencil with a sneer. Then he pointed out where the fence was attached by wire to the pole – the other points of attachment had solid links. Detach part of the fence, get in with a ladder than get out. Done. He outlined a very likely scenario.

Hey, maybe someone is not being completely truthful with your intrepid blogger. The corner of the work had initials LNM, although since the image was probably a capture that could have even been on the original lithograph (it looks like one or maybe an etching). For now the identity of the perpetrator appears to be a mystery. Street Art, even back to originators like Keith Harring, are always part prank. Here we have an artist friendly building – murals welcomed, space rented for working at reasonable rates – and an unexplained example of street art. Like most street art, the meaning and purpose seem mainly baffling. The mission of street art is always the same: STATEMENT – and in all honesty, that is both its weakness and strength. Still looks pretty cool though. I hope they title the documentary: Exit Through the Pharmacy/Liquor Shop.

Tiger Mural Emerging

“We’ve been doing this as long as Banksy,” said Pawn when I asked him if he was a street artist like in Exit Through The Giftshop. Or, maybe he meant the other guy in that movie. Pawn (website: and Eyesor (website:, his partner in this project: a new mural at 172 Newark Avenue, site of a whale mural. The owner of the building, which also houses Palace Drugs & Liquors, is one of most artist friendly in town. Spaces above the retail are being rented out as work/studio spaces for local artists and even artisans.

Maybe Pawn was mimicking the Banksy mystique, he kept the hoodie part of his teal-colored sweatshirt over his head and I could only make out the blonde facial hair covering his chin. Eyesore was clean shaven and un-hooded, but working on a ladder and too focused on the wall to pay attention to passing bloggers. Actually, Pawn’s hoodie probably was not for identity concealment but to provide needed warmth. A small but significant breeze was blowing, the wind chill chilling the 40s late afternoon temperature so it felt more mid-30s. I wish I brought my gloves. They may also use single names for their work, but unlike Banksy these guys are not working in secret. The mural is a commissioned – the building owner approved it and provided some funding I believe.

“He uses stencils, we’re all free hand,” said Pawn, emphasizing another crucial distinction from the most famous street artist of our time. Pawn and Eyesor are also not doing glorified graffiti, they’re muralist. This mural has tigers as a theme, a wildlife motif that nicely complements the blue whale on the western portion of the building. Both beasts are endangered and a mural only helps to promote awareness. Tigers inspired Blake, Whales inspired Melville. Perhaps this building can inspire us someday? (I can dream, can’t I?)

The artists “buffed” the wall with black paint last week, put down some preliminary lines for the tiger outlines. They used spray paint to create the mural of orange and white jungle felines. A difficult day to spray precisely. The last winter winds of Mid-March frequently billowed robust gusts. In one hand the artist held a picture of a tiger; the other hand shook the paint cans, and then pressed the top down. Small burst, then again glance at the picture in their hand, and then another rationed burst. The emitted dispersed dollop of paint fought the wind to reach the black brick. Observing the Tiger visage gradaully emerge was great fun.

Pawn estimated two or three more weekends and the mural will be completed. Any reason for Tigers? “I’ve just been doing animal paintings recently, thought it would be fun.”

A chap named Dylan Evans, whose company is Mad Mad Media and who is also called Project Curator - Jersey City Mural Arts Project was hanging around as the artists sprayed the wall. We got to chatting. Dylan’s an impresario of muralists, setting up artists with projects for 172 Newark as well as elsewhere in our Fair City. His blog is

He is responsible for organizing the whale mural, painted by a different group of artists. Dylan acts as liaison between willing building owners and artists. He wishes he could get more financial help from the city, but at least they no longer interfere and are actually encouraging.

"I think people will come to Jersey City to see the murals,” he told me.

It’s a good idea. The city has gained a reputation for being a home to artists, what with the famous First Street debacle, the annual studio tour and now the 4th Street Festival and the quarterly Friday things – and those are just the obvious examples coming immediately to mind. Art elevates.

Murals are also fun, they liven up the joint. Some days they’re just pleasant visual background as you go ‘bout your bidness’ and maybe, and likely without you relaxing it, your mood becomes better because the once drab facades in your peripheral vision now feature murals. Then there are other days and other moods. You pause and see a detail or something else – catches the eye as they say – and you find yourself experiencing the art more deliberately.

You appreciate the art.

Which means what exactly? Craft... talent... perception – what you are appreciating may be different and you are feeling what, amused? Touched? Moved? Just curious? Maybe all those things or maybe each thing is different depending on the day even if the instigating event remains the same mural.

Art isn’t just meant for museums or galleries, or special occasions, it also should be part of ordinary, every day life. And often. Murals are just an easy way for that to happen.

Art elevates, that’s the simple truth we all must embrace.

Talking with Dylan, we noticed that graffiti artists tagged the side of the building across the driveway from the Whale mural. Harsh orange lettering. The kid who did the tags obviously has some kind of talent, but it was still a scrawl and a form of defacement. I thought of the other murals around town. None of them get tagged. Mutual respect. If murals engender more of that then let a million murals bloom! A few dozen at least.

I am the king of the jungle
They call me the tiger man
I am the king of the jungle
They call me tiger man
If you cross my path
You take your own
life in your hands
Tiger Man (Elvis Song)

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
THE TYGER (from Songs Of Experience) By William Blake

It's the eye of the tiger,
it's the cream of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor
stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger
Eye of the Tiger, Rocky 3

Staying in St. Patrick’s Day a Day Too Long

You get all four seasons in March. One of my favorite sayings. On Friday a sudden harbinger of early summer burst upon us and like another sign of things to come a new Street Fair down by what those who dream of a new SoHo call the Power House District. What one would assume to be two competitors, the two gin mills on Marin Boulevard, closed off a block and held a Saint Patrick’s day street party—technically a half block party since the makeshift bars that were set up comprised exactly that much street space. The new place, the lounge, has my favorite mural and the older place, an Irish-themed bar, I saw a pretty good show by Any Day Parade that became one of my earliest blogs. I have aged out the target demographic for either. I find the idea of making Marin Blvd a hipster scene amusing and absurd, although I’m not sure if it is amusing because it is absurd or the other way around. Marin Boulevard is min-highway whose sole purpose is to feed an unending stream of traffic to and from the entrance (or exit) of the Holland Tunnel. A toll booth is more organic to this thoroughfare than upscale taverns since it resembles the Turnpike more than it does Williamsburg. I hope I’m wrong.

I made this Facebook joke on March 18th: See you next year green shirt, plastic green hat, temporary shamrock face tattoo, corn beef and cabbage, Jameson, Van Morrison CDs... Now back to our regular scheduled programming—hold on, Jameson and Van Morrison stick around The point of the joke is that whiskey and good music transcends holidays. I like Saint Patrick’s day. Last year I went to the Jersey City parade, for the first time, and went to the NYC edition, which is nearby the day job office. I couldn’t afford the time this year. Nonetheless, I always have a corned beef sandwich, a Jameson or three or five and listen to Van Morrison. In fact, I play the Van cds for a few days before and after (Astral Weeks, which is new to me, fascinates) too, but mainly because I seem to never listen to him the rest of the year and it’s satisfying to spend time with him (Favorite: Rave On John Donne from the Live at the Belfast Opera House, which has one of the best (not by Coltrane) saxophone solos ever – the great Pee Wee Ellis).

I’m actually part (my mother’s mother) Irish, although I have no kind of ethnic identity; I admire ethnic identity, I just don’t feel I have one nor do I desire one. Being American is quite sufficient thank you very much. Saint Patrick’s Day is really celebrated around here and maybe Boston and Philadelphia, but the rest of the country it barely is a blip. It’s almost as regional as Mardi Gras.

Except at Bars of course, some of which push the holiday all year but most just put up those cardboard green shamrocks right after they put away the New Years noise makers and garland. They want the holiday to be the entire month of March. Just as some taverns attempt to hold Mardi Gras drinking parties outside of bayou country, they want March to begin in January. Drink if you’re Irish and everybody is Irish during the Saint Patrick season.

Hoboken, Jersey City (even Queens) have their own Saint Patrick’s day parade, which they hold before the 17th. Friends of mine who are part of and/or have friends who are part of the local Teamsters have a big St. Patrick’s Day party in Seaside. Many who march in those gigs also partake of the 5th avenue orgy of green and booze. We get several weeks, or at least several days during those weeks to put on the green, celebrate the Celtic, and consume alcohol. The Irish, and Irish-Americans, have a lot to be proud about; we all share the legacy of the positive impact they (and 25 percent of me) had on the United States. But the fact is we celebrate this contribution by boozing it up. Nothing wrong with Whiskey! But, the idea that Saint Patrick’s is a religious celebration is not only absurd, but offensive, i.e., let Irish Gays March! To pretend otherwise is sickening blarney. Irish Pride is worthy of celebration, but that celebration is expressed with materialism and materialism’s most obvious result: consumerism. Seriously, why pretend otherwise?

Extending holidays beyond the specific date has been a troubling trend in America for the past quarter of century. Unabashed, unapologetic and relentless consumerism is a byproduct of Reaganism, an era only now fading, and fading too slowly to suit me! Christmas of course is most egregious example, not just of the consumerism but of extension of the holiday, which enables expanded consumerism. There’s black Friday after Thanksgiving Thursday, the shopping seasons, the Christmas Party season and then New Years. About an entire month of consumption in the name of family, friends, colleagues and good cheer. Halloween is as much of an adult holiday as the trick or treat candy give-away for kids—two distinct markets.

I think this started with my generation, the younger baby boomers too old for Gen X, Halloween parties for College Students. Very popular in rural college towns where the surrounding agrarian societies brought over the holiday from old Europe as part of the Harvest season. Now it’s Halloween weekend, people go to more than one Halloween Party. Valentines Day is another example – Valentines Day Weekend, or week; hell all them mattresses sales in February during Presidents Day Weekend. We can’t have holidays on one day any more. We all have to strive for Christmas, the masterpiece of extended consumption. Christmas is bigger than Jesus (and X-Mas!)

But here’s the thing with Christmas, and holidays – anticipation is part of the celebration, and we can ring in the holiday early – but enough is enough! When it’s over it’s over, no one wants to celebrate the holiday after the holiday. We have to go back to our regular life, friends, family. There are books to read and movies to see. Normal life, work to do. Vacations are fun but you eventually you get enough and the vacations you remember as being the best are probably the ones that you didn’t want to end when you accepted the inevitably of the ticket home. Holidays should be like good entertainers, never give too much, always leave a little early, always leave your audience wanting more.

I was never big on the adult Halloween party thing, although a good buddy of mine was and was organizing Halloween parties (which I almost always found an excuse to avoid) into his late 30s. I remember this one year, he was holding a party on November 5th! I think I remember him telling it was his least well attended Halloween and it may have been his last Halloween extravaganza. Can you imagine, putting on the costume again while you are beginning to make thanksgiving plans. Who wants candy corn when you have to take the scarf out of mothballs and implement sausage or oyster stuffing deliberations?

Look at the Capitalist Bacchanal that Christmas has become – but by January 2nd you’ve had enough, the tree is a sagging fire hazard and the snow and cold are no longer fun and you are apprehensive about the credit card bills. So maybe with local parades and the Guinness specials that right after Valentines Day week, Saint Patrick’s can sustain more than one day of celebration. But celebrating it on the 18th?

Those shamrocks looked awfully sad and in the half block block party the bar and lounge workers far outnumbered the attendees. The weather was fantastic and drinking legally in the street is always fun but I had enough Jameson the day before (Astral Weeks I played all weekend). When the holiday is over, it’s over, trying to stretch it tarnishes whole damn enterprise. Celebrating it too late is far worse than celebrating it too early. Load up the front end, not the back end. Capitalism needs some kind of leash. Banal impulses must be hindered to be enjoyed. On the other hand, absurd or amusing are often outcomes that are unanticipated during planning.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Stigmata: The Ticket Stub

No, I do not collect my old movie stubs. I might blog about my recent apartment problems, long story short, there was this flood, repairs and painting are being done, but I also had to clean in places – like under desks and whatnot – that haven’t been touched since Clinton was President. That’s when I ran across this ticket stub.

I believe the current BARGMAT (bargain matinee) price at Newport is now $8.00. Up from 5.25, isn’t that a near 50 percent increase. Why are films and healthcare susceptible to inflation but not guns or butter?

Random memories came to me from this ticket. First off, what a cheesy, silly film. Gabriel Bryne, who reprised the same role basically in the even cheesier End of Days later that year, is a Vatican investigator looking at the case of a stigmata. Patricia Arquette plays the slutty stigmatist. It’s an Exorcist rip off, a genre still with us (the Rite was the latest possessed formage), except that the devil is the Holy Spirit.

I still remember the hilarious review by Roger Ebert: "Stigmata is possibly the funniest movie ever made about Catholicism…” I went to his website, he is one of the best writers on the internet and laughed out loud re-reading this fabulous review. It makes me want to see the movie again even though, it’s a dopey flick. Not only do the filmmakers make the stigmata resemble demonic possession, but the plot is set in motion by the millennia old conspiracy by the church to suppress the Gnostic gospel of Saint Thomas. When the possessed slut with the stigmata starts quoting the Gnostic gospel to prove the conspiracy, it's all made up gonstic gospel. The screen writers couldn't be bothered to even use the real Gnostic gospel of St. Thomas!

The Internet had been around a while by 1999 and by then the search engines and information really started being established. Publicity surrounding this religious horror film included stories about stigmata through history, and I remember reading about how there was one in rural Canada. My dear friend, Father Fitz, who died later that year, was a senior citizen and was constantly going on senior citizen group trips. Around the time of this film, he said he was taking a trip to Canada. I mentioned that I read there was a someone who was reported to have a stigmata in Canada. Without missing a beat he says, “it wasn’t in the brochure.”

It’s not that I am shocked that 1999 was only 12 years ago, but I am surprised that 12 years went by more quickly than the previous 12 years. Maybe that’s what memories are for. Random memory, that’s not it. These memories are not random; they are inspired specifically by finding this stub. But finding this stub was random. I sometimes will use a stub as a book mark, or find them in the watch pocket of my jeans after they come out of the wash. Finding one 12 years later by chance, because the apartment above me had a flood and I had to do some unplanned moving of the desk and uncovered this artifact – that’s the random part.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Unblessed Ashes

Unblessed Ashes. The holy water is in the aspersorium, in which rests the aspergillum. Fat Tuesday Celebrations soon conclude then the ashes are blessed and distributed. Marking our foreheads marks the official beginning of Lent officially.

I remember tutoring a young Japanese Woman spending her first Ash Wednesday in the states and she had no idea what it was about. A friend of mine, Orthodox Jew who grew up in Staten Island, told me how as a kid he was freaked out going into New York and seeing the ashes on foreheads. I was surprised since there are plenty of Catholics on the hidden borough but apparently, he grew up in a cloistered community. Funny no matter how far or how close you are some things will still be foreign.

I was raised Catholic so the Ashes that begin Lent are not news to me. I’m not sure exactly what I get out of this sacramental, but introspection always ensues. Any reason to reflect should be welcomed. Ashes are not exactly in the Gospels – although Ash images are throughout scripture – but the Gospel reading is always the same. Matthew chapter six, where Jesus teaches the apostles not just how to pray, but why – because God always hears. The reading inspires contemplation of not being alone and that there is a goodness that is supreme and beyond our material world. Christmas and Easter, the specific Gospel can change, since those pieces of the life of Jesus have different accounts. Ash Wednesday is pure Dogma and tradition. I guess you can either appreciate that or you can’t.

...when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly

Matthew 6: 6

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bastard Pulp

Ken Bastard now makes his main residency in rural Massachusetts. He returned to town to show his art, as in his new show Pulp. Bastard (his real name is Kenneth Conlow) is in a particularly prolific phase, only a few months ago opened Sacred & Mundane, an entirely different collection than the one now on view at the 58 Gallery, Pulp.
Is this heightened productivity attributable to the increase in fresh New England country air in his lungs? He is living healthier he says, still drinks a lot of coffee but “I eat wheat bread”. Maybe some of the cause is the fact he’s nesting with his girlfriend, Elizabeth Brown (they call their home the Brown Institute). Love and stability may have softened his edginess, but it also has enhanced artistic focus. “I was painting these pieces up until a few days ago, once you have an idea, and the show is planned, and you have a deadline, you do the work.”

Pulp is an homage to lurid and sometimes campy illustrations that adorned Mid-20th Century pulp magazines, publications during the height of America’s short story boom that were dedicated to genre fiction prior to the advent of the television take over of our popular culture. Writers from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to Jim Thompson and Elmore Leonard first published work in these publications, as did almost all of the Science Fiction greats, like Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. In addition to Crime and Science Fictions, Westerns, Horror, Adventure, even sordid sex tales were categories that devoted magazines and readers. Dozens of these “Amazing Stories” publications competed for readers every month, and it was the striking covers by which they did battle for shares of the newsstand market.

Today the covers have long been recognized as art and the writing inside as (well, often enough at least) as literature but back then it was just trashy popular culture whose value was only appreciated of avante gardists.

Pulp is the most cohesive and unified Bastard show: five foot paintings all around the Pulp theme. An artist with strong illustrative leanings, Ken often reflects the popular culture he grew up, particularly comic book art. Jack Kirby and Art Crumb clearly are important influences. The sensationalism intrinsic to our media society is often fodder for his inspiration, but the coldness of our tabloid conscience era seems to have ebbed in his recent work, replaced by a warmth and compassion that is, perhaps surprisingly, conducive to his style and not at all out of place. In the Pulp show, Ken turns the volume down on the distinctiveness of his style – his thick, expressive dark lines are more subtle for instance – and shifted his emphasis on the content of the theme – Pulp magazines.

In other words, he quite astutely, hides his style so the first impression for the viewer is of the faux covers. The covers appear authentic at first glance and he has represented the archetypical magazines Horror, Detective, Western, Science Fiction and Raw Hollywood, which is the titillating sleazy “pink story” magazine. Subtly though, while an unabashed homage to the mags from this bygone era, Ken also re-imagines them – bare breasts are on one cover, the worms eating a woman on the horror magazine has a worm dangling like snot out of her nose – refreshing adolescent humor – and even the Detective magazine with a woman with a healthy cleavage in the back ground features a cover line – “a Slug and a slap from a 45” – likely a little too heightened bit of tough talk for even the genre of the time. The realization of the anachronism gradually lets the viewer of the paintings in on the fun.

As I was considering whether this is more of a re-imagining than an homage – and the difference between the dual concepts – I noticed Ken’s distinctive illustrative style. His use of thick black lines creates texture and expresses emotion. The style is not at first apparent and then it is, for instance, in the hand holding the revolver in the aforementioned “Raw Detective Story Magazine.”

By hiding his style and making the tribute the priority, Ken might have made his most personal work. Judging by the preliminary sketches of the pieces displayed in the corner as part of the show, you certainly get the sense of the intentional and intensive work involved in producing Pulp.

Ken’s shows are neighborhood events, attended by all the segments of the downtown Art scene. He’s a likeable chap and widely respected.

In the back room of the gallery, a hard core band pumped out accelerated post-punk anti-melodies; a DJ spun tunes in between the sets. It was JC Fridays night, and as usual in the winter, the offerings this time seemed lighter than usual. But there was a Bastard show to go to and spring seemed suddenly in the air. How was life in the country for the local artist?

“I get up in the morning and paint my silly pictures. Life is good.”

“you have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that, with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

Gallery Affects the Carlson Effect

Thomas J. Carlson entitled his show at the Majestic condominiums, on Montgomery near Grove, after a copy editor’s conundrum: Affect: Effect. I remained baffled about what he is trying to get at with the word play – I’m not sure what the difference in definitions could be; one is a noun and the other verb and what is the point of the colon? – but the title is fun and copy editing is not. His work always has a playfulness. He likes to subtly fool around with contrast and perspectives – check out the fabulous mural that I blogged about a season or so ago – trying to decipher effect versus affect simply adds to the fun you get experiencing this particular exhibit.

Carlson runs the Jersey City Art School. He has become well known around town (he hails from Minnesota). His work is often included in group shows and the art school has done a great deal of community out reach and hosts many classes as well as other events – like the Jersey City Film Forum. A showcase devoted solely to his work is something of a rare treat recently. I had never been in the space before, which used to a theater (the Majestic Theater) a faded sign remains on the brick facade facing Montgomery Street reminding us of this past. Carlson said when he saw the former lobby – which includes such art deco touches as ornamental angels embedded in the walls near the high ceiling – he became inspired and began turning out additional work to round out the exhibit. He pointed to a self-portrait – “I finished that last night.”
The depictions boast a freewheeling diversity – landscapes, objects, portraits -- but all the perspective of each, apparent as you view, are all slightly and amusingly askew.

The centerpiece was a study of a crown, based on a famous Jan Van Eyck work, “Ghent Altarpiece.” Carlson’s crown was a detailed headpiece, replete various gems and filigrees. The geometric shapes within the crown repeated themselves, and then as you looked around the gallery, the same crown from a different angle is featured in another picture and then it seemed to be on the side of an apartment building that appears in a nocturnal urban landscape. This painting, The Big City, featured a color of the night was an eerie washed out blue – a pale shade of cobalt.

11 Remaining People in Centralia, PA, Carlson said was based on a This American Life episode about a perpetually burning fire in a Pennsylvania mining town, I liked the most. This was one of his cross section pieces, as he termed them – other cross sections paintings can be seen sometimes at his school – where both above and below ground scenes are visible. Fire is the central image here, and you see what looks like part of a town or at least some kind of industrial thing aflame, thick billows of smoke mar the horizon – fires are burning in the mine below . The destruction seems contained, monitored and the people seem more like spectators than victims. It is weird and whimsical, but also the point counter point of the above ground and the subterranean world are in balance, even though the balance seems slightly ajar – as if it is coming into but never quite reaching balance – because the inner earth is more vast than the ground and sky portion.

The mine fire piece he painted in 2011, an older piece (2009), which Thomas described as his most cynical painting, is Young Bucks – St. Barthelemy. It is phantasmagoric. Painted while he was in the Caribbean, it is a fictitious night club, inspired, he told me, when he saw all these rich middle aged men dancing in a disco with women young enough to be their daughters. The light is weirdly dim yet still glistens. You truly sense the seedy luxury of these island resorts. During the day, the resorts are beautiful tropical paradises then night falls and sleaze pervades. Two floors of faceless disco dancers are depicted, everyone seems to be wearing the same thing and they are oblivious their truly vapid selves. The two level discothèque is carved into what looks like a small mountain, with the neon blue marquee letters along the mountain ridge on one side, then to left are what looks like a nice island port. Again, Carlson contrasts are at play here: first the two levels of dancers seem like a reflection of each other then act as a counterpoint to what little of the island’s natural beauty remains revealed. The imbalance acts like a cognitive dissonance within the context of the painting, enhancing the unease the viewer (and the artist) feels about the decadence of the disco dancers, both furthering the basic narrative of the painting – sleaze in paradise – while deepening the subtext – revulsion of that sleaze.

The point/counter point style is perhaps most blatant in a related pair of paints – Samson Painting Van Dyck Detail and Samson Painting – Rusty Tools. Based on a Van Dyck painting of the Biblical tale of Samson and Delilah, the former shows the muscular man and the latter is a vivisection of the icon, revealing tools beneath his skin. Upon deeper inspection he is obviously not human.

Brendan Carroll (sometime local agitator) is curator of the show, which I believe was the first in this space. Art Galleries in our once Factory town can be grab bag affairs. The spaces, designed for other functions, are basically repurposed for the art. Trade offs are inevitable. Most often, the light could be better (lighting may be a flaw at the Majestic as well). As curator, Carroll is as aware of this space as he is of the art it would contain. Instead of the space and art in conflict – or just being tolerant of each other – the curator took into account the space. The space wasn’t transformed – it’s still an old theater lobby now the large foray of a residential unit – but Carroll positioned the art so the space actually complemented the work. In addition, the placement of the paintings had a coherence uncommon in our fair city – for example the show ends with the self portrait, the viewer feels like they’ve been taken on a journey. The cumulative experience of this gallery show is as satisfying as the individual pieces.

Carroll told me that it was easy to curate because Carlson is a representational painter, and that is rare. I agree on both counts. What is unique with this artist, one of his generation – he’s young, a Y-er not an X – er, is the apparent lack of contemporary art influences – tattoos, graffiti, comic books, Warhol, street art – all utterly absence. Indeed his work seems to pre Impressionist – he unironically loves Rembrandt for goodness sakes! Oddly though, I get a sense that Dali inspired some of the colors. In spite (or maybe because of) these lofty aspirations, his work is not stuffy. Carlson doesn’t cater to art scholars. The work is accessible and entertaining. He might prefer to mimic older masters, but his sensibility is unique and fresh; his pictures tell us something about how we live now.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lamp Light Pile

What was this a pile of, I wondered. They looked so weird, almost like toys. A security guard at Bryant Park told me, those are for the streetlamps. They’re replacing the lamp portion I asked – although that assumes the pole is distinct from the lamp which is probably incorrect so perhaps the right term is lantern – instead of just the bulbs. That’s how they do it now, he tells me, they replace the whole thing not just the bulb. The bulb is part of the streetlamp.