Friday, October 30, 2009

or we could talk about them

More former students doing impressive things.

Three students who suffered under my reign of terror in freshman courses are getting ready to showcase their best work in photography. Ashley Walker, Cameron Bunce and Ben Jack (seriously, his name is BenJack) are all part of the Winthrop Senior Thesis Photography Exhibition at Gallery Up in downtown Rock Hill, SC. The photographs will be on display 11-4-09 through 11-27-09.
I'm told there will also be a "big" show of their Senior Thesis work at Hart Witzen gallery in Charlotte, NC beginning 12-4-09. (
Photo by Ashley Walker -
Photo by Cameron Bunce -

Photo of BenJack by Ben Jack -

I'll spare you the funny/embarrassing stories I have about each of them. I'll just hang on to those in case I need any photography work in the future.

but let's talk about me

detail of "The Shiny One"
The Winthrop Fine Art & Design Faculty Exhibition will run 11-9-09 through 1-14-10. The opening and Winter Reception for Winthrop University Galleries is 6:30-8:00pm Friday, November 6. Come out and see some great and interesting new work from Winthrop's teachers.

Also in November.....The Arts Council of York County is presenting the Third Annual Art Frenzy. The Art Frenzy is an exhibition and art sale designed to promote the appreciation and collection of art by the citizens of York County. At the Frenzy, artists agree to sell their work at very affordable prices so almost anyone can afford to own some very good art. All the art is small (under 20 inches) and cheap (nothing over $150.00).

The sale takes place Thursday, November 12. Although a private group will have first shot at purchases, the sale opens to the public at 7:30pm. This is a great idea to promote art and to support artists and it's an idea that deserves support. If you cant attend, at least send the idea along to your local arts group and try to get something similar started in your town. And below....a couple of victims of my recent storage problems can be yours for very low prices. These used to me mine and they can now be yours:

Cyrano Joe
Painted Steel
Ink on Paper (Framed no Glass)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hey Jack

All this boxing up things and moving things around has presented the opportunity to be reminded of some good things. Remember when in order to listen to an album you had to actually go to the trouble to carry around a physical copy of that album on a compact disk? I can barely believe we used to be such Philistines. My wife bought a 4th generation ipod for me years ago as a Christmas gift and when I realized how much this was going to change the way I listened to music, I began the process of copying hundreds of CDs to my computer. Those fossilized CD's are now just taking up precious storage space and had to be moved. As I stacked them neatly in a box I ran across a few that failed to make the migration over to the world of itunes. Many of them did not deserve to be computerized. There were some one hit wonders, some embarrassing hair metal bands and some that I'm pretty sure were inserted into my collection as a practical joke. A few though, I realized I had not yet copied and curiosity demanded that I put them on the ipod and give them a shot.

One of those CDs was by Jack Kerouac. In one of those moments that I'm sure was NOT coincidence I had just packed away most of Kerouac's books in a heavy storage container and thought fondly of reading those years ago. When I picked up the CD I couldn't remember what was on it. I suppose you'd assume it was Kerouac reading his greatest poems or selected portions of his most beloved opposed to Kerouac trying his hand at singing as so many modern celebrities want to do these days. Oddly enough, it was both.

Exiled in the two kid rooms painting well beyond my level of patience, I scrolled through the ipod days later looking for some music to grab my attention and to get me through this low odor, 30% faster coverage, organic latex enamel Hades. And right before I got to "Johnny Cash" I saw "Jack Kerouac" and decided this would be the time to see what that was all about.

He started off with a song and then got to some reading and it was good. It's always interesting to hear the words spoken in the artist's voice. The pronunciation and inflection of each word creates a feeling of honesty or sarcasm where it may have been missed in the dry black ink on white paper. There were moments where his words would sound forced through smiles as he remembered the scenes he and his friends lived out. And then he'd just laugh at his own memories before moving on and finishing the sentence.

There was also this very interesting selection where he presented the same idea and experience in two separate poems. The first was written traditionally with an academically acceptable poetic format. The second was written as a beat poet would write. It was free form, an almost constant stream of words doing their best to race toward the ears of the listener hoping to be the first to most accurately get their point across. Of course he did this presentation in an effort to prove that his way of writing was superior to that of the poets who emulated the classical styles. It was immediately clear that there was a parallel between poetry and visual art relating to his point. I can not say that his way was "better" but I can say that his way was more effective in communicating modern ideas to a modern audience. Like it or not there are still things he's borrowing from the old fogies and changing up and repackaging in a new format. He's still creating "little rooms" made of words for the reader to enter and experience. Similarly contemporary artists are still standing on the shoulders of the more traditional artists who came before them as they produce work they feel is more effective, more honest and more advanced.


It could have just been the paint fumes.

And that "low odor" paint? Not so low in odor. Just so you know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

for blue and violet

This is not exactly interesting in terms of creative work, but I've decided it's important enough to garner at least a small amount of written attention.

For the last few weekends I've been moving out of my art room. Since you may not have an art room let me tell you exactly what that is. My art room is the designated indoor space for all my art related stuff. It houses all of my art tools, art materials, books, nick-knacks, every 2D work I've created since middle school, small sculptures not in galleries, boxes/packing materials, a large stuffed red tailed hawk, drawing table/chair, shelves, 2 guitars, 1 mandolin, several framed concert posters, an autographed photo of Mean Joe Greene, photo lights/equipment, 2 computers, and quite possibly an undisturbed tribe of quiet pygmies.

Essentially what most of you would call an extra bedroom, I've turned in to a storage and work space for my creative efforts. It's been a perfect space for this use all the years we've lived in this house. Not only have I been able to keep stored sculptures cool, dry and spider free, I've also been able to work well into the wee hours on projects without disturbing the other occupants of the house.

However, when you have 2 kids you no longer have an "extra" bedroom. Or "extra" cookies for that matter, but let's deal with one issue at a time.

It is really amazing how much "stuff" I have packed into this room over the years. I think there's a southern phrase about 10 pounds of sugar in a 5 pound sack...or something like that. It would have been only slightly irritating to have to move this stuff into another room but since we love a good challenge, it became our task to move this stuff out and NOT into another room. Basically all this stuff just has to disappear. (which may mean it's a great time to make an offer on that drawing or sculpture you've always had your eye on)

Now, we've established that this probably isn't of any real interest to you. And the irritation of moving the stuff and not being able to work on new sculpture or drawings for this period of transition is not really something I would want to archive so I could think wistfully upon it at a later date. So why document it?

There are at least two reasons.

First, I'm convinced that great ideas come from examining simple personal experiences and having the guts to be honest about them. I do not expect to create a series of sculptural works based on losing my art room. That would be terrible for everyone involved. But if I'm honest, there's much more going on than just having to move lots of stuff and find places to stash it. There's something here about interacting with change, about trying to be less selfish, and about learning how a parent is supposed to think. And I'm pretty sure there's some good conceptual content in there. When I figure it out and use it creatively I'll know exactly where the thought process began.

Second, I suppose that with this being preserved indefinitely in the Internet world there's a chance that my son and daughter will stumble on to this note 30 years from now and every crazy thing they've thought about their dad will be confirmed. But, when they get to this post they'll see what a wonderful sacrifice their father made for the sake of their independence and comfort. They'll realize what a completely unselfish man he is. Then they'll demonstrate their appreciation by buying me a beach house. Just don't tell them that I'll have a lot more stuff to store by then and I'll need their help to move it all into the beach house.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I go through a lot of shoelaces.

The metal shop I make sculptures in has a concrete floor and since there’s not a great deal of sitting involved in sculpting, I’m on my feet all day when I’m working. I’ve tried several different versions of boots and shoes to see how they handle the environment and how they can protect my feet. Tennis shoes or walking shoes are great for standing all day, but they are generally made of cloth. Welding, using a plasma torch and grinding produces lots of sparks and drops of molten metal and generally speaking, when things fall, they fall down. As in where your feet are.

So after getting several nasty burns on the tops of my feet I graduated to the more reliable work boots. But those heavy things are tough on the feet and knees and I’m not exactly a spring chicken these days. Eventually I found that New Balance (attention New Balance executives: send me free shoes) sells some more durable hybrid shoes that hover somewhere between leather hiking boot and walking athletic shoe. These are great and they usually keep me from feeling like a 90 year old man when I get home.

The problem is the shoelaces. The shoelaces are woven thread and while they look cool they also melt and burst into flames at times. So very often while I’m working I’ll suddenly feel as if there’s more room in my shoes. Or I’ll be jumping up and down trying to bend a stubborn piece of steel and I’ll hear a snap. Or I’ll put on my shoes to begin working and the laces will shred to bits as I try to tie them.

I get the irritated sigh every time I ask my wife to pick up a new pair of laces the next time she’s running errands. It’s deserved….she’s bought a lot of shoelaces in the last several years. We’ve tried to simply keep with the woven thread laces only to have them burn through again. We’ve tried leather laces only to realize that while leather may not burn exactly, it will disintegrate under intense heat which is really only a couple of scientific words away from burning. Right? I didn’t do so well in chemistry. Either way, a major fail for the shoes.

Would it kill an inventor to generate a non-disintegrating shoelace? Maybe something out of chainmail or steel cable? Surely I’m not the only person having this problem. Or maybe what I’m really saying is that sculptors have it rougher than other artists. Right? I mean, can I get a witness here?

I know a painter may ruin their flooring or get a spot of cadmium red light on their jeans or maybe even get an ulcer from too much coffee, and that’s bad stuff. And you photographers with your chemicals that smell unsavory, I realize the lingering stench in your nose could make your filet mignon taste more like sirloin, seriously, I feel your pain. Few things are worse than sirloin. And those of you who use the computer for your creative output, with your digi-pens and i-whatevers, how are you even still reading this with your fading eyesight? The headaches from that blue light from Hades, the squinting, the carpel-tunnel. This is not to be taken lightly. Let’s not leave out the writers. I mean, there’s the….well, they have to….ok, writing’s easy, let’s move on. But really? Do you guys need special armor plated shoelaces?

But sculptors face real issues. After the creative problem solving gets going there are the physical obstacles to overcome. There are power saws who dream of slicing off an artist’s fingers. There are hammers that have but one goal in their cold steel lives – to smash the delicate bones in an artist’s hand. There are eyes to put out, limbs to cut off, flesh to burn. And just when you think you’re safe you can fall into the clay mixer, electrocute yourself by grinding into your own power cable, or snag your face on a low hanging piece of metal. Can I interest you in some heat exhaustion? How about a few crushed vertebrae from heavy lifting?

What were we talking about? Oh, shoelaces. I go through a lot of shoelaces.

Come on art friends. I kid, I kid.

Nonsense is Good sense

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect

Published: October 5, 2009 in The New York Times

In addition to assorted bad breaks and pleasant surprises, opportunities and insults, life serves up the occasional pink unicorn. The three-dollar bill; the nun with a beard; the sentence, to borrow from the Lewis Carroll poem, that gyres and gimbles in the wabe.Skip to next paragraph
An experience, in short, that violates all logic and expectation. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote that such anomalies produced a profound “sensation of the absurd,” and he wasn’t the only one who took them seriously. Freud, in an essay called “The Uncanny,” traced the sensation to a fear of death, of castration or of “something that ought to have remained hidden but has come to light.”
At best, the feeling is disorienting. At worst, it’s creepy.
Now a study suggests that, paradoxically, this same sensation may prime the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss — in mathematical equations, in language, in the world at large.
“We’re so motivated to get rid of that feeling that we look for meaning and coherence elsewhere,” said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lead author of the paper appearing in the journal Psychological Science. “We channel the feeling into some other project, and it appears to improve some kinds of learning.”
Researchers have long known that people cling to their personal biases more tightly when feeling threatened. After thinking about their own inevitable death, they become more patriotic, more religious and less tolerant of outsiders, studies find. When insulted, they profess more loyalty to friends — and when told they’ve done poorly on a trivia test, they even identify more strongly with their school’s winning teams.
In a series of new papers, Dr. Proulx and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, argue that these findings are variations on the same process: maintaining meaning, or coherence. The brain evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns.
When those patterns break down — as when a hiker stumbles across an easy chair sitting deep in the woods, as if dropped from the sky — the brain gropes for something, anything that makes sense. It may retreat to a familiar ritual, like checking equipment. But it may also turn its attention outward, the researchers argue, and notice, say, a pattern in animal tracks that was previously hidden. The urge to find a coherent pattern makes it more likely that the brain will find one.
“There’s more research to be done on the theory,” said Michael Inzlicht, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, because it may be that nervousness, not a search for meaning, leads to heightened vigilance. But he added that the new theory was “plausible, and it certainly affirms my own meaning system; I think they’re onto something.”
In the most recent paper, published last month, Dr. Proulx and Dr. Heine described having 20 college students read an absurd short story based on “The Country Doctor,” by Franz Kafka. The doctor of the title has to make a house call on a boy with a terrible toothache. He makes the journey and finds that the boy has no teeth at all. The horses who have pulled his carriage begin to act up; the boy’s family becomes annoyed; then the doctor discovers the boy has teeth after all. And so on. The story is urgent, vivid and nonsensical — Kafkaesque.
After the story, the students studied a series of 45 strings of 6 to 9 letters, like “X, M, X, R, T, V.” They later took a test on the letter strings, choosing those they thought they had seen before from a list of 60 such strings. In fact the letters were related, in a very subtle way, with some more likely to appear before or after others.
The test is a standard measure of what researchers call implicit learning: knowledge gained without awareness. The students had no idea what patterns their brain was sensing or how well they were performing.
But perform they did. They chose about 30 percent more of the letter strings, and were almost twice as accurate in their choices, than a comparison group of 20 students who had read a different short story, a coherent one.
“The fact that the group who read the absurd story identified more letter strings suggests that they were more motivated to look for patterns than the others,” Dr. Heine said. “And the fact that they were more accurate means, we think, that they’re forming new patterns they wouldn’t be able to form otherwise.”
Brain-imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activation is recorded, the greater the motivation or ability to seek and correct errors in the real world, a recent study suggests. “The idea that we may be able to increase that motivation,” said Dr. Inzlicht, a co-author, “is very much worth investigating.”
Researchers familiar with the new work say it would be premature to incorporate film shorts by David Lynch, say, or compositions by John Cage into school curriculums. For one thing, no one knows whether exposure to the absurd can help people with explicit learning, like memorizing French. For another, studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to see patterns where none exist — becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of the quality of the evidence.
Still, the new research supports what many experimental artists, habitual travelers and other novel seekers have always insisted: at least some of the time, disorientation begets creative thinking.

Link to article online:

Saturday, October 3, 2009


new sculpture in progress