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.
Al and April lived in Oakland, California, and April’s world seems to be completely contained in Al’s apartment.
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?
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.
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.
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.
I always cringe a little when another artist talks about their art “practice.” The word doesn’t fit what I do in my studio. Maybe it’s that it sounds slightly pretentious to me – and by that, I mean that I would feel pretentious using the word “practice” in this context. Again, this is just my opinion as it relates to what happens when I make my own art/animation. If you have an art practice, cool! That’s great, I hope you keep it up, and that it works for you.
From the Internet:
1. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it. “The principles and practice of teaching” synonyms: application, exercise, use, operation, implementation, execution, enactment, action, doing
the carrying out or exercise of a profession, especially that of a doctor or lawyer. “He abandoned medical practice for the Church” synonyms: profession, career, business, work, pursuit, occupation, following”such was his disillusionment that he gave up the practice of medicine”
the business or premises of a doctor or lawyer.plural noun: practices “Dr. Weiss has a practice in Essex” synonyms:business, firm, office; More
2. the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something.”current nursing practice”synonyms:custom, procedure, policy, convention, tradition, fashion, habit, wont, method, system, routine, institution, way, rule;
an established method of legal procedure.
3.repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.”it must have taken a lot of practice to become so fluent”synonyms:training, rehearsal, repetition, preparation, exercise, drill, study;
a period of time spent practicing an activity or skill.”daily choir practices”
1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency. “I need to practice my French” synonyms: rehearse, run through, go through, go over, work on, work at, repeat;
2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly. “We still practice some of these rituals today” synonyms: carry out, perform, do, observe, put into practice, execute, follow, exercise
actively pursue or be engaged in (a particular profession or occupation). “He began to practice law” synonyms: work at, pursue a career in, have a career in, go in for, engage in, specialize in, ply, follow; More
observe the teaching and rules of (a particular religion). “They are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution”
ARCHAIC scheme or plot for an evil purpose. “What a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive”
I have given a lot of thought as to why this bothers me. Chiropractors have a “practice.” Lawyers have a practice, as do dentists. As for myself, I practice Kung Fu, Tai Chi, mindfulness, and the guitar. I don’t think that I practice art. For me, the process is what’s important. The process of making art is the living, breathing space where something happens. Once I complete a piece and post it here, I have mild feeling of “empty nest syndrome” around that work. I need to move on immediately to the next piece, because the work is in the making. I wrote about the two sides of this coin in my defense of Jim Carrey – what happens for the artist in the creative process, and then what’s left for the world and viewer. Both things are vital, and different sides of the equation.
I read a quote at Hyperallergic and it resonated with me, so I want to share it.
It’s by the late Carolee Schneemann, and it sums things up perfectly:
I don’t have a “practice,” I have a process. My work has concept, but is not conceptual as such; I don’t “unpack” anything except my travel bag.
There is currently a fundamental difference in the way students initiate their process, because of its digital mediation, and because increasingly formal art education encourages them towards a predetermined concept of what the work must be. There is a sense of, “you tell us what to do and we will do it, then get a gallery and sell work.” I let them know it is chaotic out there in terms of commercialism, I let them know I reject common academic language: I don’t have a “practice,” I have a process. My work has concept, but is not conceptual as such; I don’t “unpack” anything except my travel bag. I tell them to question rhetoric, to stop being fearful of history, to look at what excites them, and to what has vigor and history. You belong to what you inherit and can transform.
I read an article that claims “Jim Carrey’s art is yet more proof that Hollywood stars should avoid the canvas.”
You can read it yourself, if you like. I found it to be unnecessarily nasty and bitter, written by a frustrated man named Jonathan Jones. Jones, of course, does not make art. How is it that non-artists and historians get to be art critics, when they have no particular talent for making new work?
Jones judges the work of people like Terry Pratchett before actually consuming their work:
“Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius“
If you’ve read Pratchett, you’ll understand. For me, this statement completely undermines Jones’ credibility as a critic (and it was a nasty thing to say after Pratchett’s death). Dismissing Carrey’s work without actually seeing it in person is ridiculous. I suspect Jones’ continuing value to The Guardian is his skill at writing click-bait. And, I suppose I’m contributing to that in my own small way by writing this. But, still, his article prompted me to pay attention to Mr. Carrey, and I’m glad for that.
I like Jim Carrey’s work, and think I’d like him as a person. He has range as an actor, and Dumb & Dumber was, to me, genuinely funny. I loved “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But, I also love that Carrey is a practitioner of the Law of Attraction. He is sober. He practices Transcendental Meditation and, best of all, uses art making to combat depression. He shares these things with others, which is an act of generosity that our society needs.
A defense of Art-making
I’m about to think through my defense of Jim Carrey by working on the principle that there are two components to “art.”
First, there is a process by which the work is made. This is the artist’s side of the equation, and it’s mostly private. It is as important as the final work itself (and in performance, may actually BE the work itself). To the artist, this IS the important part. Then, there is the part that is consumed by the viewer. The viewer’s job is to find value in the work. This may come in the form of academic understanding – being able to trace a particular work back to references of preexisting work. It may come in the form of an emotional or aesthetic response. It may come in the form of commodification. This is the part where the non-art making critics and historians get their toehold. But both parts are important – not just critical opinions.
It may be that in the ~1% of the art world where art is valued primarily as a commodity, Carrey’s paintings aren’t sought after by certain collectors. That isn’t the point of good work, and, I think, it’s not the point of Carrey’s work. And Carrey may not fit neatly into an academic tradition of post-modernist art – who cares? That, also, is not the point.
The Guardian writer claims “The comic actor’s short film about his paintings is painful viewing, but he’s not the first star who has tried, and failed, to moonlight as an artist.”
For anyone that has experienced the healing power of creating something (and I hope that’s most of us), this video should be beautiful. Carrey talks about how he started painting amidst a broken heart, after his split from actress Jenny McCarthy in 2010 after five years of dating. This is the value of Jim Carrey’s art – he shows how we can all heal by creating something.
Carrey says “I think what makes someone an artist is they make models of their inner life. They make something physically come into being that is inspired by their emotions, or their needs, or what they feel the audience needs.” This speaks well to the artist side of the equation that I defined above. Carrey generously gives us a glimpse into his inner process (and an amazing studio) with this video – again, the artist side of the equation.
What is “Success?”
I’m guessing that Carrey can sit in his studio and make work for the rest of his life, without ever having to concern himself with selling any of it. This obliterates Jones’ claim that he’s somehow a failure as an artist. Also, wasn’t he once one of the highest paid artists in Hollywood? Does that qualify as artistic failure? I can’t find his personal Website (if he has one), nor representation from any particular gallery. Carrey is free from constraints, and can pursue his visual work in a way few of us ever could. To express oneself entirely by one’s inner compass, with little to no accountability to the outside, is artistic freedom.
Carrey seems to be self taught (an added bonus), but he’s no Henry Darger. He has the resources to pursue his vocation, and it looks like he’s very disciplined in making the work.
Carrey also uses his drawing skill, and fame as a platform to stand up to the injustices of the Trump administration. Using one’s talents against bullies makes them a hero, period. Regardless of politics, one must admit he’s very proactive, productive and prolific. While we only see glimpses of a number of works, he clearly has skill and vision. I would like to see more of his work.
“You know, the bottom line of all of this, whether it’s performance, or art, or sculpture, is love. We want to show ourselves, and have that be accepted.”
This is true, in life, and in art. I’m grateful for this video, and the tiny glimpse into another artist’s studio life. A successful artist, at that.
In May, I went to one of the Art After Hours evening events at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It was during the Surrealism Show. I attended the artist talk by Nathalie Djurberg and her partner, Hans Berg. Nathalie is a self-taught animator, and Hans is a composer specializing in non-vocal, psychedelic electronic music.
Nathalie talked a lot about the importance of process – process as being more important than the finished work. She doesn’t plan too far ahead, and just makes the work.
“The art itself is the making of it,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter if it is even considered art. Art is the one space in society that’s free. Freedom in the studio. Craft is not even as important as the act of making.” The rules can be, should be, ignored here. It is the Joy of Making. She also talked about how, when workin in her animated world as the creator, she is the Goddess of that world, and is both the protagonist and the villain(s). In this way, she is free to experience all sides in the story. She is, perhaps, free to be the things that one cannot be in daily life.
Djurberg explores obsession, fantasy, and desire in her films. Uncensored, yet couched in absurd/Surrealist visual storytelling, I was moved by her honesty and depth of vision. She’s found a way to openly explore very private things (secrets), using her own language. I think this is something most artists strive to do.
Here are three excerpts from the films that were showing at the black box at the BMA. They are rough, from my phone, and incomplete. I just want to share a little of their style and approach.
They are: Snake with a Mouth Sewn Shut, Or, This is a Celebration 2018 Delights of an Undirected Mind 2016 Dark Side of the Moon 2017
Here are a few things on YouTube, some in Swedish. Note: I hope these links are working as you read this – sometimes, permissions on the videos change, or they are removed from the Web host.
Art21.org has an excellent overview with these two, in English, that features lots of behind the scenes footage. Please take a look, it’s GREAT.