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BMAD: The Blog

Saturday, October 27, 2007

London: Eh to Zed

From Cornwall I went to London where I saw loads of art, visited some of my Canadian friends (who live there for now, but have promised to come home one day), and got in touch with my deeply spiritual side, by which I mean The Force.

I stayed with my Uncle in Highgate most of the time, but spent a few nights with J- and L- too. Here is a picture of a wall in the Highgate tube station. The "faith" in the corner is fitting because George Michael lives in Highgate, just a hop and a skip from where my Uncle lives; and because I love George Michael (yes, Arrested Development George Michael Bluth too, as it happens) and in fact bought a copy of his brilliant record Listen Without Prejudice in a charity shop in Leicestershire because it is really good looking. The entire 12 x 12 cover is a reproduction of Weegee's picture of the crowded beach at Coney Island. Sadly, I have not seen his highness in my Highgate wanderings, but I did see Queen Natalie Portman when I was in New York! And yes, she is heavenly in real life, and totally cool in a grey t-shirt, jeans and flats. Silver-ish flats if you must know, space boot silver because she is out of this world. Oh, and you think I'm being nerdy now...just wait!

I saw a lot of great art in London. Ed Ruscha's new drawings of busted glass were a highlight. He is a complete inspiration. These drawings were new and fresh, yet totally recognizable as his work. At the Tate Modern I saw the big crack in the turbine hall. It was supremely executed. The best part was seeing the school kids sit down and put their legs down the crack.

I also went to the gallery area of Bethnal Green with my former student Tessa, but it was pretty much closed and in between shows. Bethnal Green was bombed heavily by the Germans during the blitz. People in Highgate could see it burning from the Heath. The rebuilding means you get a lot of interesting architectural juxtapositions. I think this one works well.

Since the galleries were mostly closed, it gave me time to investigate the Nissan Figaro, a cute little car that has been catching my attention while visiting these green and pleasant shores. They were made for the Japanese market for just two years, so all the ones in the UK have been imported from the land of the rising sun. Here is Tessa trying one on for size. She is now in grad school at Slade. In painting, in case you missed seeing the paint on her jeans.

So after seeing some trendy galleries, the venerable Tate Modern, and the blue chip art galleries of the West End I was pretty saturated. But the best was yet to come: Star Wars - The Exhibition! True story. It was an amazing exhibition. Partly because I am such a fan (a.k.a. geek), but mostly because of the original Ralph McQuarrie drawings, the storyboards and the models. Really great source material for my drawing project, too.

This storyboard image should be called the Resurrection of the Everyman. To my eyes, the way Han Solo is glowing reminds me of the way Tintoretto painted Christ. May the Force Be with You

Signs, signs, everywhere signs

I left New York on October 6 and flew to London, crossing the Atlantic Ocean. For those interested in buying a Star Alliance round-the-world plane ticket, you should know that it requires that you cross both the Altantic and Pacific, and with my ticket I can stop in up to 15 cities and have up to 24 flight segements with a total mileage of 30,000.

When I arrived at Heathrow I hopped in my Uncle Robert's car and we drove 7 hours to Cornwall to visit his sister, my Aunt Margaret. The quiet coastal countryside was a welcome respite from the noise and filth of the great metropolis.

I like how many of the houses here have names. At home it is something I have only seen done by University students: The G-spot, K-Mart and Stonehenge, of course.
I have learned that a lot of signs are getting pinched here and sold as scrap metal! It is such a shame, but it meant I was fortunate enough to meet Oliver when he was in the midst of casting in iron a replacement road sign for the town council. This is the foundry he built in one of his farm's buildings. The furnace is melting iron to pour into a mold made from the white pattern of the sign on the lower left.

Here is a sad looking Subaru Brat on Oliver's property. The Brat is the japanese cousin of the El Camino. This one has handles welded on to the roof because it was used for hunting hares.

On one of our walks to Mylor Harbour we came across these amusing signs. Danger signs aren't suppose to be funny, but I can't help laughing at this one. Maybe the Brits laugh at this fellow's misfortune too, perhaps referring to it as schadenfreude - a term they may have picked up whilst fighting off the jerry's in either of the World Wars.

The roads in rural England are often very narrow, and what might be a one way lane in North America, is actually a two way road here. So, every now and then there are these wider bits referred to as a "passing place". Here is a picture of a sign that has either: (A) has been vandalised by teenage hooligans (Arsenal fans no doubt), or (B) is an artist's "intervention" short-listed to win the Turner prize?

I am not going to give you the answer. You'll have to think: Does it look like the work of teenagers drunk after a few pints and "taking the piss" out of roadside signage; or an artist deconstructing the structures that control our every move, including where we "take a piss" when nature calls?

I call this one sign-painting-buddy. I love this moment. Here is a guy who has survived two World Wars, the Depression and Margaret Thatcher! But at this moment is completely focussed on the matter at/in hand, and the rest of the world and his long history in it have fallen aside. His mouth is even open, he is that focussed! He is my idol.

57th Street

I walked down 57th countless times while in New York. I should say walked fast, because the pace on the New York City's streets is amazingly fast. I learned to do a shoulder check if I was going to change direction, because there might actually be someone about to pass me, and I walk fast...or at least move fast due to my stretched frame. Anyway, the glitzy and glamourous windows of the posh shops inevitable become commonplace, just markers on a landscape of glass, stone and concrete. Markers that help you know have much ground you have covered, how much further it is to school, when to turn and go use the cool and free iphones at the Apple store to make dinner plans, etc.
But like certain trees in a rural landscape stand out, there are a few shop windows that remain more that just a blur. And surprisingly theses stores are purveyors of widely counterfeited, conservatively designed, soccer Mom handbags. So I am not really sure why these caught my eye, maybe it's that the pink and turquoise coloured tights take me back to the days of Miami Vice, the first TV show I remember that used cool music to illuminate the story and characters. Beyond that nostalgia, the outfits are pretty sexy: mini skirts, high heels, lots of un-done buttons...a world away from the staid style of the knocked-off Coach bags. But when I think about the magazine ads for LV and Burberry, they do seem a bit edgy...yet their handbags are so conservative and safe, almost anti-fashion. I think the bags for these labels have become like the their perfumes - staple moneymakers that allow the designers to concentrate on the haute couture lines for the few uber-rich fashionistas, while allowing the many rich conservatives, and not so rich climbers a sense that they are a part of the window display and magazine ad celebrity fantasy.

My attraction to the Darjeeling Limited display is less mysterious: I like Wes Anderson's films, I like stylish luggage sets and the fantasy of first class travelling they represent, and I'm really looking forward to visiting India. Just look at the yellow - in a few months I imagine I'll be eating daal that colour.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

NYC is The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met is perhaps my favourite place in Manhattan, I feel at home there. It's home where I can get lost, discover new treasures, and visit with old friends. I love to re-visit "my paintings" there over and over again, and see how they've changed as I change over time. Vermeer's Girl Asleep is still top of my list.
I went to The Met three times on this visit to the city, always at opening time, before the crowds. I discovered a bunch of Sargent paintings in glass storage cases, but the ones in the galleries are the ones I prefer. I am with Rufus Wainwright when he sings "I looked at the Rubens and Rembrandt, I liked the John Singer Sargents." These four for example.

I also spent a lot of time in the recently renovated Greek and Roman galleries. It is such a privilege to be able to spend time with these works under beautiful natural light. These artists were well educated in anatomy, gesture and lust.

While in New York, staying with an old Queen's friend, Bass, we were visited by Lisa from London - also a Queen's friend who studied Commerce with Bass. I am sitting in Lisa's kitchen with Jonathan as I write this. Anyway, we went out for a long walk though SoHo and Nolita with our gracious host Bass, and Lisa decided she needed a new leather bag. This picture was take mid-justification for the purchase of another bag. Great expression. Verdict: Lisa bought a sweet green leather bag.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sculpture: a mini man in clay then plaster

For the month of September, when I was drawing the figure every afternoon, I spent my mornings down in the basement of the Art Student's League working form the figure in clay. My teacher was Jonathan Shahn, who is a great artist and has sculpted countless heads of all types. He actually went to school with my old Professor from graduate school, Tony. That's how I came to choose him, and I am so grateful that there was room for me in his class, because it too was really inspiring.
The Art Students League is a unique place. In my sculpture class there were all type of people.The retired types: Harold the dentist who had a practice down the street in the Steinway Building for 41 years and always dreamed of taking classes there; Peter the English engineer who reminded me of Malcolm McDowell, but insisted he was more like Lawrence Olivier, and Oscar the Columbian baker of french pastries who claimed to have opened New York's first true french pastry shop with his French-Canadian wife. Then there were the Israeli's: three dark, beautiful and mysterious older ones, and the young and precious one called Noa. In addition there was Allston from South Carlolina with has the most genteel accent ever; Mark the ceramicist from Portland who like me, was only there for a short time; Christine the hairdresser from Cape Cod; and let's not forget William, the Chinese immigrant postal worker who won the scholarship for figurative sculpture. The week I spent getting all covered in plaster while casting my 30" standing figure was greatly enriched by the casting teachers Beth and Steve, not to mention Renee who works as a counsellor in a lower east side Manhattan public school. All in all, I have to say it was a totally amazing experience. It also reminded me how much I miss making messy sculpture, and the full pleasure dervived from cleaning one's body after a day work, rather than before.
The sculpture pictured here shows my clay figure on the left, and the plaster casting of it on the right. The clay one has an armature in it and is supported by the black pipe, whilst the plaster one has metal rods through the arms, legs and torso. He lives in Manhattan now, where I hope to join him when I'm old(er).

focus on drawing

Drawing is the main focus of my year-off from teaching. The decision to visit many of the places on my itinerary reflects my desire to explore the many different ways this 3-dimensional world is translated/rendered into two dimensions. The subjects of my drawings are films about filmmaking by great filmmakers. Contempt by Godard, Day for Night by Truffalt, and 8 1/2 by Fellini are three of the most inspiring. In these films, and others like them, the directors pull away the camera's viewfinder and expose the structures behind the art of filmmaking. I want my drawings to make visual the structures behind drawing. I will in essence be making drawings about drawings based on films about filmmaking.
The Art Students League turned out to be a great place to start. I had the most amazing teacher, Frank Porcu, for my Anatomy Drawing class. He knows anatomy like Uncle Ben knows rice. He has dissected every part of the human anatomy and many animals, too. And he is a truly gifted and giving teacher. He is full of energy, and talks and draws really fast: think of Martin Scorcese as a life drawing teacher. I learned a completely new and effective way to approach drawing the human figure. His method challenges the 8-head convention that has been in place since the Renaissance. His method is based on true life; the Truth, not artistic convention. It works out to be a 7 1/2 head figure, but it is based upon what he calls visual phenomena. It's a theory based on what we see, and as he demonstrated many times - it is based on actual anatomy. Visual phenomena: what is the visual information in front of your eyes? Use this plus the 7 1/2 head theory and an understanding of the size of the pelvic box, and go back and forth between the two like a szchizophrenic (this comes quite naturally for me). I wish I could spend a few years studying with Frank Porcu. I now better understand JC's disciples.

Welcome to BMAD: The Blog!

B.Mad, the 'zine has been replace by BMAD: The Blog.
BMAD is the acronym for Burke Manufacturing and Design, but it is also a call to be mad!
Mad as in madness! The good mad. The Brit-anglo mad. Mad as a Hatter!
I would still like to return to the physical 'zine format at some point, but right now I am busy travelling around the earth.
Here is the basic itinerary for the coming academic year:
Toronto - New York City - London - Paris -Rome - Dubai - Calcutta - Thailand - Cambodia - Hong Kong - Shanghai - Tokyo - Honolulu - Los Angeles - San Francisco - Vancouver - Toronto.

The first stop was New York City, where I reprised my role as an art student, this time at the Art Students League of New York on West 57th Street.