Wednesday, November 25, 2009

it's a thanksgiving miracle

Blue did this. I'm reasonably impressed.

Donovan came to town for the holiday. I think he tried to eat our baby.
He brought his new friend Alyssa along for the tour stops. She's cool. We approve.

When we were introduced the first thing she did was comment on my creative work. I was a bit caught off guard. I suppose I'm geared to expect art talk at school or in a gallery setting, but when I'm home such talk is rare. I could almost feel my brain shifting sides. Of course I realize that this could have simply been a ploy to win my respect instantly...and if so....well played Alyssa. Well played.
I've neglected my sketchbook in the madness that has been the last few weeks. I need to start a new drawing but I also have a new book I want to read. I bet the book is going to win and if I can make myself remember, I'll tell you why later.

Friday, November 20, 2009

a few of those ordinary, everyday things

I make a mean coffee
My friend at work


My evil twin

Highway 5

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"schools kill creativity" video

Sir Ken Robinson gives a hilarious and intelligent talk on creativity in children. This 20 minutes will make you smarter.

Click here to watch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

a hitter and a no-hitter

There’s been a video going around the interwebs that reminded me of a funny and interesting story. The video is an animated short built around the hilarious storytelling of Doc Ellis, a Major League baseball pitcher who enjoyed the height of his career in the 1970s. In the video Ellis explains how he came to pitch a no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates while high on LSD and amphetamines. Ellis had earned the reputation as a troublemaker in professional baseball with his frequent antics even before this event. Ellis was black and after hearing a derogatory racial shout from the bleachers during a minor league game he made his way into the cheap seats and sat down amongst the fans shouting the same racial comment, stunning everyone into silence. He also says he had a pistol in his pocket at the time and it’s that kind of frightening honesty Ellis was known for. He was deemed a loose cannon by many of his coaches and other MLB officials because he was not afraid to speak his mind and he never feared repercussions of any kind. When MLB officials complained about his hair style he took to the field wearing a head full of curlers.

When he made the all star team in 1971 he announce to the press that his manager would never start him as pitcher b/c the opposing team had just named their starting pitcher who happened to be black. Ellis said there was no way the coaches would let both starting pitchers be black sparking a huge, fiery debate about whether racism still existed in America in the early 1970s. Ellis was no dimwit. He was quickly named the starting pitcher of the All Star Game and this helped solidify his reputation as a squeaky wheel.

My favorite story was after the Pirates were mocked by the Cincinnati Reds after a championship game, Doc Ellis vowed revenge. The next game he pitched against the Reds he told his teammates he was going to hit every single one of them with the ball. His teammates dismissed this as another joke and laughed with him about it. Ellis took the mound and beamed the first 3 batters. He continued trying to hit the next 2 but walked them as they dodged chin high fastballs. Everyone finally believed him and he was yanked from the game. I know this sounds mean, but before all the rules and regulations and sanitizing of baseball, hitting a batter was simply a part of the pitcher’s strategy. Part of what made Ellis so good on the mound was that a batter never really knew when the ball was coming for his head.

But there were other things bothering Doc Ellis. His greatest problem was fear. Fear of failure and fear of success. In baseball he learned the way players were dealing with this fear involved drugs. According to Ellis 90% of professional baseball players were playing on amphetamines at the time. As he grew to need more and more pills to get high enough he also explored other more powerful drugs.

Enough back-story, I think you get the idea. In June 1970 Doc Ellis had an off day in Los Angeles before a double header in San Diego. He took a hit of Acid on his way home and by the time he arrived he was what he called “high as a Georgia pine”. He tripped, did more drugs, slept and hung out with his friends. When he woke up around noon still enjoying his LSD he walked into the kitchen where his friend was reading the paper. She laughed and told Ellis the paper said he was pitching that night in San Diego. Ellis argued and told her he was sure this was his off day. She explained that his off day was yesterday and he had to leave NOW if he was going to make it to the stadium on time.
He says he doesn’t remember much about the trip. There was a plane and a taxi and soon he was sitting in the dugout hoping the game would be called because of misting rain. Ellis downed around 12 amphetamines to try and counter the acid trip and a few minutes later he took the mound trying to make sense out of his hallucinations. The ball in his hands felt like a golf ball one minute and a balloon the next. At one point he dove out of the way of a line drive that turned out to be a lightly tapped ball that didn’t even make it to the mound. Sometimes he saw the catcher and sometimes he didn’t. Much of the game he doesn’t remember at all. Hoping to could hide his condition he didn’t speak for most of the game and he avoided his teammates. He walked 8 batters and struck out 6. Richard Nixon and Jimi Hendrix made appearances near home plate and perhaps most surprising of all Ellis broke the age old superstition and actually talked about having a no-hitter going during the game.

Ellis’ telling of this story is very entertaining. In keeping with his frightening honesty he holds nothing back. Major League Baseball would have loved nothing more than to keep this story quiet. Instead, Ellis tarnished one of the most impressive feats that one can reach in baseball by telling the truth about it and revealing that he was high on drugs during the game. But while the animated video and Ellis’ story are extremely funny to consider, I think it’s important to make sure that the whole story is told.

After retiring from baseball before the 1980 season began Ellis was still completely dependent on drugs and alcohol to get through each day. Then, as he describes it with the same honesty he uses to tell the no-hitter story, Ellis says his son was born and one day while holding his infant son he realized how messed up his life was and that he needed to get well. He entered drug treatment the next day and officially retired from drugs and alcohol. Well, sort of. This is the point in every other story where you’d have to talk about relapses and broken families, but that is not a part of this story. Ellis did return to drugs and alcohol but when he did he was on the other side of the table. His knowledge of the power of drugs and reasons some people depend on them gave him the insight to become an effective drug counselor. Ellis worked as a drug counselor for baseball’s minor leagues and for a prison and helped countless other addicts turn their lives around before it was too late. Suddenly this feels like an After School Special, doesn’t it? It’s odd how the bad behavior is entertaining but when the mess gets cleaned up we don’t care anymore, huh?

Doc Ellis was a really good baseball player when the public was watching. But it’s what Doc Ellis did after his baseball career that made him great. All the self absorbed, money grubbing, ego maniacs with MLB contracts could learn a lot from Ellis’ example.

If you’re still here, and I seriously doubt that you are, you’re probably thinking there’s no way this relates to art. You would be wrong. In fact, there are two things about Doc Ellis’s story that appeal to me in creative terms. First, I love that Ellis’ life was changed dramatically by a single, specific and ordinary life experience. He didn’t have an encounter with a beam of light or a flaming shrub or have a conversation with a donkey (bonus points if you get all 3 references). He just picked up his kid. He had held his son many times before and he’d hold him many times after. This was a common experience for him and yet it was in that moment that something clicked in his head and a moment he’d remember some 20 years later as a transformative moment. I find it very interesting that ordinary objects and experiences can have such an impact on our lives. When these moments occur we often associate particular objects, colors, textures, or sounds with that moment when everything changed. These images become personal symbolism. When Ellis recalled his moment he specifically mentioned holding his son, wearing lots of jewelry and holding his son’s arms - three specific images that communicate his narrative.
The second thing that interests me about this story is the two very different sides presented of the same person. You have Doc Ellis the crazy drug addict who hit Reggie Jackson in the face with a fastball (hilarious) and caused all kinds of trouble in Major League Baseball. Then you have Doc Ellis the nurturing father and reformed drug addict who spent 20 years helping people get sober and stay that way. This is the kind of duality that exists in human beings that I find so compelling. There’s this idea orbiting every person that these completely opposing qualities can be fighting to surface and you never know which one will win out. The most respectable quality may surface in the life of the most abominable human being and then the most highly regarded person in the community may end up smoking crack in a back alley. And because of this uncertain and unpredictable human characteristic we have to withhold our desire to judge anyone too harshly because, lets’ face it, even in your spic and span life a secret trip to Argentina might be just around the corner.
To see the funny video, just go to YouTube and search "Doc Ellis". There are also a couple of good baseball songs you should check out that tell Doc's story. One is by Chuck Brodsky and the more recent one is by Todd Snider.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Senior Photo Thesis and Rock Paper Scissors

Photos from 11-12-09 @ GalleryUp and The Loading Dock Gallery. I have to level with photos are terrible. I'm still getting used to just having a cell phone, not to mention remembering it has a camera inside, and remembering to touch the screen where I want it to focus. And I'm not a great photographer anyway so I used the fake Polaroid App to make the most of the fuzzy photos. How's that for an introduction?

Winthrop Senior Photography Thesis Exhibit 2009:

Ashley Walker photos

Ashley Walker. She smiles like this as she tells me how much she hated my classes.

BenJack photos

BenJack (left) with Mr. & Mrs. Jack. This is a perfect BenJack facial expression.

Cameron Bunce & Carlee Lingerfelt. Shaun Cassidy hovers over Carlee's head. Cameron & Carlee are two of the nicest people in the state.
There were too many heads blocking Cameron's photos. I'm sure that's a good thing for him.

Downstairs...."Rock, Paper, Scissors" a Winthrop M.F.A. candidate outreach exhibition:
Sandy's things and Stephen's painting

Leah's organs on a table with Jon rising out of them

An elbow, Stephen, random photo crashers & Josh

Natalie, Jessica, Pam, Josh & Stephen

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm not a fan of this blog

Each day I remember that I have a blog/non-blog type thing I think about deleting it. This temptation is strong some days. I'm not cool enough to have a blog. I'm old. My life consists of balancing the same old boring things yours consists of...a never ending series of repeated tasks interrupted by the occasional candy bar or belly laugh. And really, I just get tired of hearing myself sometimes.

Maybe there's the occasional sculpture preview or off the top of my head ramble that helps explain where my mind was while I was working on a new drawing and I can see how that might be interesting to me if I ran across it on an artist's website. But what about the goofy stories about my kids? And the cute kid photos? There’s not a parent on Earth who does not think their kids are just the cutest things on the planet but does that mean I should put those photos on here? I'm a fairly private individual so why would I put any of this in the public domain? Honestly, it bugs me. Even now the desire to delete is welling up in me. I’m not the kind of person who has a blog.

I blame my sketchbook. Actually, I could probably find a way to blame this blog on some of my professors at the undergraduate level. Many were vigilant about keeping a sketchbook and making entries almost like a journal or diary every day. They preached to us about how important it was to examine our lives and experiences in a way that would allow us to develop visual imagery invested with personal meaning. As I moved up through the higher level courses and the projects were less assignment driven and more independently designed I realized how useful this type of sketchbook could be. Looking back through my old sketchbooks it's easy to see that around this time my sketchbook entries started to expand and become more about me than my projects. A quick look back indicates I enjoyed drawing cows, the faces of the extremely elderly, and palmetto trees. I was interested in recording humorous things like a stranger falling down in public and the awkward internal war between wanting to laugh out loud and wanting to check to see if they were ok. Or the time some friends of mine began laughing uncontrollably at a very serious funeral. These were friends. Absolutely NOT me, let’s be clear about that. And there are several entries about the logistics of the full scale cow my roommates and I created in our apartment during our senior year. Apparently these "logistics" failed to include how we were going to get the cow out of the door without demolishing her.

The need to record thoughts and events increased at the graduate level. To maintain an ideal production level I needed a steady flow of ideas and my sketchbook was filled with good ones and bad ones. Mostly though, the sketchbook entries were professional instead of personal. Real life experiences and thoughts were only recorded if they afforded me the use of a specific image or idea. I was not recording freely; it was more calculated at that point.

I was told to read "Daybook" by the sculptor Anne Truitt in grad school. Truitt was a big time Minimalist sculptor in the 1960's and in addition to being a big time sculptor she was also a wife, a mother, and a teacher. "Daybook" reads like a journal where she captures summaries of normal days in her book as a way of documenting her thoughts and activities. It seems Truitt used this journaling technique as a way of kick-starting her ideas. The thing that stood out to me was that she didn't edit and capture only the important days and events or only the ridiculously hilarious things she witnessed, but rather she seemed intent on capturing and remembering the everyday events, the mundane and the commonplace things in her life.

The interesting thing is that Truitt did not seem to elevate her role as an artist above her role as a wife or mother or teacher. In fact, she seemed to understand that it was her life experience as a wife, mother, and teacher that gave her the ability to be an artist. Her entries support this idea as she records getting the children to school, taking a hike to a pond with her family, or her husband's latest work interest with the same zeal as she records visiting a gallery space or delivering her most recent sculpture for exhibit. Her life was balanced and each aspect of her life inspired the other.

The journal entries about her kids were just as important as the entries about famous art critics talking about her work. Both ideas were worthy of recording and both were important in understanding her development as an artist and in understanding the development of her work.

Perhaps what is more interesting is that Truitt understood the need for this information to be published to the general public. It was this publishing of private information that directly impacted how I handle my sketchbook and eventually led to this strange non-blog. So maybe that means I can blame her.

It would be cool if I could put up a front for you here. I could use this electronic sketchbook to pretend to give you a behind the scenes look at my creative process and inspirations. I could post pretentious images and articles about contemporary art and pretend to understand all of them. I could keep it strictly professional and give you the impression that my family, location, and sense of humor had no impact on my creative work. This would give you the idea that I was some enigmatic figure walking around behind a veil of artistic mystery and that petty, everyday things did not affect me because I was above it all.

I guess if I were a cool artist, that’s what I would do.

But the truth is I’m just a goofball from rural South Carolina who likes to make things and to pass ideas along to other people. One of my dogs is fat, I can’t stand vegetables or cold coffee, and my kids really are insanely cute. Like it or not, it’s these everyday things that provide me with ideas and somehow these everyday things seem much more interesting to me than pretense.

So I won’t delete it today. Instead here's a photo of the skinny dog with a bad attitude:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

No seriously, the date should read 10-31-09

One of the cool things about a 3 year old is that he doesn't care if mom and dad are a week late getting around to carving jack o'lanterns. The chaos around here lately caused us to annex the first week of November into the last week of October. Here's a step by step that would make Martha Stewart proud.

How to create Abstract Expressionist Jack O'Lanterns:
First you freehand the face in washable marker.

Then you carefully carve out the facial features.

Insert candle.

Wait for dark and pose with sister.
Now I have dried pumpkin guts on my iphone. Pumpkins are evil.
In other news, I may get a chance to start a new drawing project this week. That means the kid rooms are finished and the art table has found a new temporary home. Baseball is over until Spring Training and that whole World Series was just sad wasn't it? As a Cub fan, I always have to pick a new team to pull for in the post season and they always seem to find a way to lose. This is why I don't buy lottery tickets. Oh, and I don't want to be negative and just tear someone down, but I cant shake the feeling that Weezer owes me $9.99. I mean, really guys?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rock Paper Scissors

The students in my Graduate Seminar Class have undertaken a massive endeavor. In order to go above and beyond what any group of MFA students should be expected to do....They've set out to pull off a multiple venue exhibition to feature the work they've created.

The 3 exhibition sites will feature a wide selection of painting and sculpture and each reception will also feature food and beverage. If you are in the Rock Hill/Charlotte area, come out and support this visual display of excessive proportions.