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Opinion

Loop Research

Justin, Billy Martin and me

Are loops interesting? Are they useful? Why, or why not?

I started asking these questions in graduate school, and browsed through scholarly sources. I didn’t find a definitive answer from others, but I will put forth that “Yes, they can be intersting and yes, the interesting loops are very useful.” Maybe the why doesn’t matter.

I recently visited the studio of one of my favorite drummers, Billy Martin, in search of more information. He’s inspired me for many years, from the first time I saw him play at the Knitting Factory in NYC with Calvin Weston and John Lurie, to the time Medeski, Martin, and Wood rocked the Ottobar in Baltimore. His short instagram loops have certainly informed some of my S.Ex work (putting an iPhone under the drums on selfie mode, particularly). So it was a thrill to stand in the room where he makes this stuff, and be able to ask a few questions.

Billy is easy going, and generous with his thoughts. There were probably 10 or 12 other people there, and he spent time with everyone. I enjoyed the whole day very much.

I’m about to embark on another studio building project, and he answered my questions about his own studio, The Herman House, which is behind his home in NJ.

A barn like building surrounded by bamboo.

After spending time looping sounds in this place, I came away encouraged by how much I’ve figured out on my own this past year. I have the feeling I’m on the right track (for me, that is). And a few thoughts drifted to the front of my mind.

It’s important to get it recorded – get it on tape, in your phone, in the computer, as it’s happening. Don’t wait for perfection, and don’t lose it by spending time getting set up, practicing, etc. The content of a loop can be simultaneously magical and imperfect, and therein lies charm. They are highly usable that way. I’ve found that a lot of cool loop segments have incomprehensible time signatures, and I get lost trying to find the “one” downbeat when I’m trying to play along with them on my drums. Billy said “forget about finding the one. Just find a shape and go with it.” I really like this idea, and playing this way is new to me. Something the either adds tension to the loop, or supports it, so I’m going to work with this for a while.

Ultimately, if it brings joy, then it’s working.

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Opinion

The Labors of Love: Animation

I started animating stuff back in 2001. I was working at a shop that needed a Flash developer to accompany their Director developer (software for making CD-ROMS). I liked Flash’s drawing interface, and I was able to quickly get a grip on ActionScript. When the iPhone came out, Flash lost favor and marketshare, and I stopped working with it. Flash finally died last year.

In 2016, I began animating again in earnest, this time using a DSLR on a camera stand to make stop motion. Sometimes, I drew on an iPad. I decided to focus my graduate school efforts on pursuing animation. I’m still putting down roots as an animator, and finding my way.

In 2020, I made eight animated films. They are all “shorts,” and they all took a long time to make. On more than several occasions, I would glance at the clock and see it was 2:00am, and I would wonder why I decided to undertake such a long, protracted project that asks for so much patience, concentration and focus.

Then, I’d finish the project, edit it, and publish the video. Soon, I’d forget all about what it took to make the film, and I’d start thinking about the next one.

A colleague warned me that it’s difficult to find festivals to show work. The competition is thick. Most festivals charge an application fee, which violates my rule of never paying to enter work for a show. It can get expensive. My pal Martha Colburn advised me to just keep working on dioramas. Lucky for me, I ignored that advice.

I’ve had some luck. I checked a big item off my bucket list by having not one but two films in 2020’s Sweaty Eyeballs Animation Festival. I’ve had a few other screenings, too.

So, animation is expensive, both in terms of my time, and trying to find an audience. And what I’m doing is not likely to make money.

Why do it?

First, I don’t make art to make money. It’s delightful when someone buys something, for sure. But having other income lets me make the art I want to make, without the consideration of living off the proceeds of sales.

Second, I’m a storyteller, at heart. Animation has been a lovely addition to my artistic pursuits. I get to combine and incorporate many things I love into a single work: drawing, storytellings, puppets, writing, costumes, decor and sets, music and sound. Animators invent both technical and narrative solutions, while completing projects. There’s a kind of magic in thinking of something, giving it form in the world, and creating the illusion of life. Like Dr. Frankenstein. It’s challenging and rewarding.

While I was watching other animations at Sweaty Eyeballs, and listening to some of the animators talk, I was struck by the idea that animation is a lovely labor of love. Independent animation is a form where the animator has the complete freedom to make lots of decisions and choices about what to do. The end result can be a singular piece of work reflecting its creator in a way other forms do not, and it’s a form that, to me, inspires wonder.

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Opinion

A few days away…MFA

Jim Doran Weird Science

It’s been a long time coming!

This is a screen capture of digital signage that is displayed on Towson University’s campus for my upcoming MFA graduate show.

I’ll share more shortly, but couldn’t wait to post this.

UPDATE 4/29/2021

It’s almost a full year later as I write this. We are still in the pandemic. We have a new president and administration. Things are opening back up for in-person events, dining, etc. Here’s how things stand.

I graduated from Towson University with an MFA in Studio Art. I’m happy about this, and I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, some of which I’ll share here.

I applied and enrolled in 2015. My employer offers very generous tuition remission, and I love school. I wanted to study art in college, but ended up studying music, and earned a minor in art history. So, when I was looking at graduate programs, I found Towson offers a part-time MFA. I applied, and to my delight, got in.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Art School. As a non-art-schooler, I imagined difficult art school critiques and such. I also was going in with fully formed processes, and wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of this, or what to expect.

I found a very flexible program, which many avenues of study available. The Fine Arts Building is a wonder. I had a leaky, floody studio on campus for a year. I went part time until 2017, when I took a break. Actually, I quit. I thought I might study instruction technology or cyber security. I was also questioning my purposes in spending so much time in grad school – earning 60 credits over a part-time schedule can take over 5 years.

I decided to reenroll in 2019, only this time I would go full time. I think that was smart. I returned to find a new cohort of diverse, smart, energetic people with lots of positive energy. I threw myself into exploring animation, and I had a wonderful time.

What I learned about graduate school: graduate school provides one time to make work, and get feedback from others. You teach yourself most of what you want to know – either by sitting in an undergrad class, attending a seminar, etc. Faculty can point out things you might not know about, and offer feedback on stuff. Faculty members are humans, and they only offer opinions – some are helpful, some are not. Smaller committees work better than bigger ones. Ultimately, you get out of it what you put into it, and what you bring into the experience with you (baggage, ideas, fear, joy) will most certainly inform the outcome.

What I got for my time: My thesis was an exercise in self reflection that helped my pull together a bunch of notions, inspirations, and ideas that were all inhabiting different parts of me. Practically speaking, I learned how to make cyanotypes, and plastic replicas of my figures. I learned about 3D scanning and printing. I developed several studio processes for animation. My interest in music and audio recording deepened. I made some wonderful friends.

I’ve reworked Doranimation.com to show my animations, as per my original plan. I removed the artist talk and a few of the posts showing non-animated pieces that I would have used in my real life exhibit. Here’s my artist talk:

I considered my MFA presentation successful. For my part, it felt a little one sided, in that people viewed my work from their computers or phones (if they viewed it at all), and that was that. At a normal opening, one can visit with people, explain ideas, and generally have a good time. In this case, I could see numbers from analytics, and aside from a few emails, I didn’t get much feedback. Which is completely fine, because I was able to complete the degree and graduate on time.

Almost a year after posting my graduate work and completing my thesis, and six years after undertaking this whole project, I can say it was worth doing. I entered the program with a developed set of processes and completed body of work, and discovered the value of research as it pertains to art.

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Opinion

April Dawn Alison

April Dawn Alison holding photos

While cruising through SFMoma, my companion and I stumbled on the dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroids) of April Dawn Alison.

The exhibition drew from over 9200 photographs of April, taken by herself, or, very probably, a photographer named Alan Schaefer. Schaefer worked as a commercial photographer, and doesn’t seem to ever have had any gallery shows or exhibits. According to his friends and neighbors, he loved playing tennis, jazz records and was known simply as ‘Al’. 

No one knew that Al was also April. And no one had seen these photos until after his death in 2008. This collection was donated in 2017 to SFMOMA by painter and collector Andrew Masullo.

April Dawn Alison and her stats

Al and April lived in Oakland, California, and April’s world seems to be completely contained in Al’s apartment.

April Dawn Alison's legs
April Dawn Alison as a maid
April Dawn Alison in various states of undress
April Dawn Alison in a poodle skirt

There are many, many photos in the exhibit – I’m only sharing a handful here.

There is a joy in the photos I saw, which are beautiful, hilarious, enigmatic, and heartbreakingly sad. The work span more than three decades, beginning in the early 1970s, and then developing during the 80s into an exuberant, wildly colorful, and obsessive practice inspired by representations of women in classic film, fetish photography and advertising.

I wonder – did Al want these photos to be found? Would April want them to have been seen by the world? If they had it all over to do again, would April (And Al) have been happier and fulfilled if they had the chance to “go public” while they were alive?

There is a catalog on Amazon from the show, if you are interested.

Catalog from SFMOMA'S April Dawn Alison collection.
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Opinion

The San Francisco Cartoon Museum

My lady friend and I visited San Francisco earlier this month. I was excited to visit to Cartoon Museum to assist in some comic research I’m doing on the origins of underground Comix, which have deep roots in San Francisco.

Here’s text taken directly from their website:

Founded in 1984, the Cartoon Art Museum has something for everyone—from comic strips, comic books and anime to political cartoons, graphic novels and underground comix. People of all ages can view original cartoon art at exhibitions and screenings, produce their own comics and animation at classes and workshops, research deeply into our collection and library, and mix and mingle with professional and aspiring cartoonists. This unique institution houses approximately 7,000 original pieces in our permanent collection and attracts more than 30,000 visitors annually.

https://www.cartoonart.org/about

I wrote to them about a week ahead of time, asking if there was an optimal day to visit, and if there is a docent or someone from their collections that could help.

I never received a response.

What I found when I visited is not a museum at all, but a medium sized gallery. There is no collection on site, and no one with any knowledge of comix history. It was disappointing, as I had hoped to “research deeply into [the] collection and library, and mix and mingle with professional and aspiring cartoonists,” as indicated by their site.

The gallery had a collection of cartoony distorted portraits by John Kascht and some panels from EC Comics’ horror books. That’s it. After reading through the information panels EC comics, there is no scholarly insight about EC’s books or artists. All the information is already available on WikiPedia.

Below, on the comic rack, are printer copied covers of some EC titles, but not a real comic in sight. It’s a pretty appropriate metaphor for the “museum,” too. Looks good from a distance, but there’s no substance up close.

Friends, it’s not worth the $10 entrance fee.

UPDATE

Over a month after I emailed the cartoon museum, I received a response indicating that “We might have some people we can put you in contact with.” Ah well.