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Micro Periods - The Plight of the Unbranded Artist II


Micro Periods - The Plight of the Unbranded Artist II

My ‘downtown’ period was a phase of deliberate anti-branding, a reaction to the predictable art world thrust of marrying a style with a name, i.e. branding, as in Agnes Martin, Barbara Kruger, Warhol, Serra, Jenny Holzer, etc. Even though these are the most serious of fine commercial artists, in art school we used to joke about how these artists get through a day doing essentially the same thing year after year. Clearly, they remain gripped by their vision. Still, the posture seems coy - the most commonplace art world tic - and effectively plays into expectations.

Here are two classic examples of micro periods in my work - phases within a phase. In this interval during the mid-90’s I painted mostly in groups of threes. In the trio Blessing, Plastic Egg Nirvana, and Ices (La Esperanza), I wanted all my painting techniques to be employed in one piece: collage, effects of gravity, drawing, painterliness, naturalism, slow art/fast art, a sort of story, and make the paintings still hold together. In the piece Blessing, deities bless a car for a safe voyage, a famous cartoon character’s deified as well - repetition and fame can imbue mystical powers - and iridescent paint changes as you move so the piece has an aliveness to it. The figures are filled with collaged text - the jumble of language as flesh and blood.

Plastic Egg Nirvana was inspired by those plastic egg toy things you can buy from bubble gum dispensers - sort of like a blend of snow domes and plastic easter eggs. I was trying to create a complete, wholly absorbing world that attracts with its presence and content, and offers various gifts. Collaged text, targets, and white oak leaves add layers of meaning and stir up the surface.

The connection with the downtown NYC 90’s mood was most deeply felt in the painting Ices (La Esperanza). The street vibe feels like a mise en scène, not a still life or staged grouping.  I tried to jam all my interests into one piece, like the ice cart’s umbrella doubles as an abstracted sailboat, and the graffiti’s the title of one of my favorite Phillip Dick novels, A Scanner Darkly, and the crow looks like Audubon could have painted it but with more brushy texture. And the anime inspired flying lovers ever-changing surface fax machine drone vision. And the general feel - the ‘90s contained in a 44 1/2” x 22 1/2” rectangle, a talisman.

This group was immediately followed by the ‘drip’ painting threesome: SLUMBODUMBO, Skate NYC, and Pied-Piper (Airport Carpark). These pieces employed one technique, no collage, have exposed wood, and are much larger. An intensive frenzy of painting, they are more naturalistic and linked by scale, treatment, and bottom third drip skirt. The Ices trio is denser in subject and execution, the ‘drip’ pieces more lean and luminous with a lighter touch.

These trios have a visual vocabulary that could be explored indefinitely. For me, they felt rich and complete and I was encouraged to move on. And then again, what about those one-offs?….


'blessing' ©1995, 44” x 25.5”, acrylic, collaged text, oil pastel on wood

'Plastic Egg Nirvana', 45.375” x 24.5”, acrylic, maple leaves, target, and oil-pastel on wood ©1996

'Ices (La Esperanza)', 44.5” x 22.5”, acrylic, charcoal, collaged text and grahite on wood ©1996

‘SLUMBODUMBO’, 68” x 48”, acrylic on wood, ©1995

‘Skate NYC’, 62” x 48”, acrylic on wood, ©1995

‘Pied-piper (airport car park)’, 68” x 48”, acrylic on wood, ©1996