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Opinion

Jim Carrey’s Art

Jim Carrey, Painting

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.

A painting by Jim Carrey

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.

Jim Carrey molding a clay head on a wire armature.

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.

Categories
Opinion

Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

Nathalie Djurberg on stage with Hans Berg and Laura Albans, Curatorial Assistant at the BMA.

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.

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Opinion

I loved “Welcome to Marwen”

Steve Carell in the excellent "Welcome to Marwen"

There are a few movies that are in constant rotation in my studio/home. I watch and/or listen to them while I work and/or workout. I’m not saying they are cinematic masterpieces, only that I love them. It’s the highest praise I can give. These movies continue to provide rewards with consecutive viewings.

I just saw Welcome to Marwen, it immediately earned a spot on my tiny, exclusive list.

Steve Carell plays Mark Hogancamp, an artist who had his memories and drawing skills beaten out of him outside of a bar when he drunkenly admitted he likes to wear women’s shoes.

Welcome to Marwen Gals

Much of the narrative takes place in Hogancamp’s yard, in a model town he created called Marwen. Barbie like action figures (the characters in the film actually call them action figures, bless) interact with a puppet figure Hogancamp. It’s an elaborate coping mechanism that highlights the resilience of imagination. He stages realistic scenes and photographs them. The shift between two worlds – a miniature facsimile and the “real” world – is enticing. Plus, the bad guys are Nazis and they are repeatedly pummeled by his stiletto wearing female protectors. The sets are wonderful. And Carell’s Hogancamp is endearing without being sappy. He finds peace and acceptance in his internal world – who doesn’t want that?

I read a shitty review of this film (there is no shortage of them) that noted Welcome to Marwen is for people who complain about Hollywood’s formulaic films. I went to see this with a friend, and we both thought the movie felt “loooooooong.” But, that’s not a bad thing, and I also think this deserves several initial viewings. Does it have some problems? Probably. But it’s so good.

The real Mark Hogancamp

It’s directed by Robert Zemeckis, who directed Back to the Future movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?Cast Away, and Forrest Gump.  I think this film is a labour of love, and perhaps wasn’t really positioned to be a blockbuster. I don’t care if it was. I’m glad they got this story out into the world. There’s even a nod to Back to the Future.

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Opinion

A Dark and Gorey Night

Jim Doran talking at AVAM

Being a part of the great mystery show at AVAM has been one of the great honors and pleasures of my life. It is a thrill to see my art in the same room with Ingo Swann’s paintings, and around the corner from Edward Gorey’s The Gashleycrumb Tinies and Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon.

Gorey's Dracula Toy TheatreAfter I was well underway with my dioramas, I started hearing that my work is reminiscent of  Gorey. I wasn’t familiar with him until an acquaintance told me about his toy Dracula Theatre, which was inspired by the Broadway production that earned Gorey a Tony award for costume and set design. It made me swoony, and then I came into several of his books. Gorey had a fantastic sense of humor, elegantly placed around dark subject matter, and super human crosshatching abilities, which are two of my favorite qualities in another human being.

I read several books as I was preparing for this evening’s talk and my favorite is from CJ Verburg: Edward Gorey On Stage: a Multimedia Memoir: Playwright, Director, Designer, Performer. Verburg helped Gorey produce around twenty “Entertainments” in a community theater near where they both lived in Cape Cod. These “Entertainments” were plays that had twenty or so acts running from two to five minutes each. Gorey wrote and typed the scripts (something he began doing during WWII, when he was drafted to a desk job in Utah), designed the costumes, made puppets, arranged for the music, and designed the programs and posters. Verburg seemed to know Gorey better than the other authors I sampled.  I think the later part of his life, when he was so involved in these projects, is fascinating. Many of these were incomprehensible to the audience and abstract/absurd.

Gorey loved ballet, and dance informs many of his characters’ gestures. He would attend some 160+ performances on the New York City Ballet a year. He wore a fur coat, jeans and white converse sneakers. Verburg tells great stories of Gorey’s time at Harvard and the Poet’s Theater Project, of which he and his roommate, Frank O’Hara, were members.

Jim Doran talking about Edward Gorey

I talked about many other things, but one of the Great Mysteries I solved for myself is this: Gorey was influenced by French artist Charles Meryon. He collected some of his prints, which were heavily crosshatched, and quite nightmarish. Another interesting fact: Gorey was known to paint his toenails. Gorey claimed to be a Taoist, and maybe a surrealist. Gorey was also a voracious consumer of books, movies and television. According to his bio in the Gorey House website, he accumulated around 25,000 books by the time of his death at age 75. He liked soap operas, Third Rock from the Sun,  and anything he found entertaining.

So many of Gorey’s protagonist kids meet grisly endings.  When asked “Why do you hate children?” Gorey responded with “I don’t know any children.”

Ready to crosshatch

Pop-up drawings Gorey-esque drawings

People drawing in the gallery

 

The latter part of the evening involved a crosshatching exercise, inspired by the toy Dracula theatre. I made my own characters, and a zine with some basics on hatching techniques.

A quick guide to crosshatching

I have more of these. If you’d like one, please write to me.

 

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Opinion

Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley

I’m struck by how many of my favorite works are made by pairs of collaborators. The Quay Brothers, Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata of Tiny Inventions, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, and, of course, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley.

I stumbled on the Kelley duo on Instagram, and was delighted to be able to see their work with my daughter at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Mary Reid Kelly writes clever, funny rhymes full of puns and witty phrasing, that are rooted in historic fiction. Her partner, Patrick Kelley, produces, edits, and stars in their videos with her. The black and white films seem almost animated and cartoonish, and reference Cubism and German Expressionism. Sometimes, Mary’s family will perform in the videos, like in The Syphilis of Sisyphis.

The rigor of their research is evident. Increasingly, I’m becoming aware of the importance research plays for many artists. I see (and value) the benefit of academic approaches to information gathering, processing and assimilation.

From the BMA Website:

The exhibition includes two films featuring their signature black-and-white sets and costumes. This is Offal (2016) is inspired by Thomas Hood’s 1844 poem, The Bridge of Sighs, in which the narrator, a forensic pathologist, laments the suicide of a young woman whose body is pulled from the Thames. The Kelleys’ new film, In the Body of the Sturgeon, brings a feminist perspective to an exploration of life on a submarine stationed in the Pacific at the end of World War II, with the USS Torsk docked in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor inspiring the mise-en-scène. The exhibition also includes six light boxes featuring characters from both films and elements from the Kelleys’ sculptural sets.

https://artbma.org/exhibitions/kelley

This is an excerpt of This is Offal (2016) that I made with my phone while at the BMA. I LOVE the anthropomorphic organs and appendages!

Mary Reid Kelley says the following about This is Offal:

In Offal, this invitation is also taken up by its characters: the organs of the corpse try to “solve” the mystery of the suicide of the woman to which they belong to. The organs spend a lot of time blaming each other for the act, complaining of various betrayals: the foot is accused of slipping on the bridge, the brain is blamed for the idea to do it. Betrayal is a central theme for me, betrayal in one form or another occurs in almost all the films. I have also long thought of wordplay and particularly puns as betrayals within language.

http://www.vdrome.org/mary-reid-kelley-patrick-kelley

I love these productions. Mary’s writing – the dialog – is brilliant by itself. Then, I’m always deeply entranced by the decor and set design, as well as the costumes, and video production. This work is a clear synthesis of both Kelleys’ effort, talent, and intelligence.

According to Patrick, the characters are shot on a green screen background, and then the sets are produced/added to the background.