Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Truth and Markmaking

a mark i've kept

i'm aware of directness as a conceit in writing, a tool, as useful as metaphor or voice. ariana reines sometimes uses all caps and that makes me feel like she's speaking straight from the hip with no editing, a message sent through her like a prophet, but i also know that she's a craftswoman of language and i'd guess that her process curls back on itself like a snake spitting. eileen myles does it with run-ons and inconsistent capitalizations like she has to get it all out before it dissolves. there is truth and style in both of these ways of writing and i'm not even suggesting that truth and style are on opposite poles. and can you ever be without style? the way i move my hand when i paint, is that style? 

i always thought of writing as work and painting as the guiding of a force, especially in later years when i paint in a fever, surrounded by mess and coffee cups and rolls of wax paper half-dipped in blue latex, trailing. as though the mess and urgency kept me closer to something, but what? i do want truth, and i do think it exists, and i do think it exists in painting. but not because it aligns with something i already know is truth, or because it has the look of truth, or because i felt truthy when i made it. markmaking is a writhing pit and i am happily lost inside it. moments of clarity rise up and i stare at a line for days, trying to see what it is revealing to me. so many things in the visual world seem like they are opening themselves up to me, hoping to be seen and understood. the best of these are the things i make myself, because in their unfamiliarity i feel a rush of love, like my little brother doing calculus. a thing that is part of me surpassing me, becoming other. 

but painting has just as much fake-directness as writing does, if not more. all those men strong-arming their way into the canon, mistaking adrenaline and privilege for truth. and it's clear that writing toes the abyss just as painting does, the inconceivable possibilities of letters, the way a poem vibrates in the mind after reading it, the long, looping lives of characters that exist beside our own. when i finished dostoyevsky's "the idiot" a few weeks ago i sobbed in the shower and i wasn't even being self-indulgent. those characters deserve my sadness. their loss is real. this is why i keep the marks i make, the ones i have no practical use for, the ones no one else will ever see or buy. they are as real and living in the world as i am. unlike dostoyevsky, i'm the only one looking at them and usually i'm the only one who knows they are worth looking at. if you are an artist, you have these marks too, and you honor them in your own way. you know there's something there, truth or whatever, you don't need to call it anything. pink beside gray or black beside black or white beside white or a picture of a banana beside a weird purple or a thin line of something, you don't know what it is, you found it there on your palette like your palette was a doorstep.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Henri Matisse and Leandro de Carvalho

 Leandro Carvalho, ca. 2011 (top right) and Henri Matisse, 1933 (top left). Henri Matisse, Blue Nude, 1907/ (bottom).

Forget about Picasso or Matisse. Let me introduce you to Leandro Carvalho.

Carvalho, who is a native of Brazil and has studied women’s gluteus aesthetics for many years, has created the ultimate Brazilian Butt Lift workout routine. This workout consists of body movements to better shape female butts. 

Carvalho obviously understands the importance of nature when representing the female body. Many of his workout video shots happen amongst nature—at the beach, and by mountains. Carvalho shows that he believes nature is a vital part of the process of increasing and reshaping the female body. In many parts of the video, close shots of the gluteus area are presented. The close shots abstract the gluteus to a mountain and the mountains, which are shown as part of the scenario, become the gluteus. Carvalho transforms nature—solid, brown, sexy, sweaty and stinky. 

Carvalho not only understands the importance of nature when representing the female body, but also shows his knowledge of art history. Among Carvalho’s influences, one can find Gauguin—a painter who captured the intense relationship between the female body and nature—and Matisse—whose poses like the Blue Nude (image above) has influenced many of Carvalho’s butt lift exercises. Carvalho's affiliation to art history does not stop there. Carvalho is bringing something new to the history of representation. He is reshaping the female body by making a participatory video piece. Carvalho is shaping hundreds of thousands of female bodies—one by one. Each exercise is a brushstroke that gives a firmer shape, pleasant form and strong color to the female body.

Screenshot from Leandro de Carvalho's Brazilian Butt Life Infomercial video (

Text from my thesis: Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Butts are Butterflies: The Book of Natural Curiosities.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Nudity

I live near Baker Beach in San Francisco.  On sunny days, I like to pull on my neon yellow swimsuit and red flip-flops and take a five-minute stroll down to the ocean.  I pack a sandwich, a book, and occasionally a bottle of wine.  I lie down on my palm tree beach towel and stare out into the ocean, which looks like "The End of the World" at the horizon line, like the planet really is flat, and it just drops off right there at the point where I can't see any farther.  The waves beat the shore in time with my own heartbeat, and it's nice to breathe in the salty air with the Golden Gate Bridge looking like a toy that I can just reach out and take if I want.

Hot guys and girls walk by, checking each other out.  Hippies walk by, playing their guitars and smoking pot. Families walk by, warning their toddlers not to stray into the waves and sometimes speaking in languages that I know by ear, like Japanese or German, but not by heart.  I like to sit near the north side of the beach, just short of the imaginary point where public nudity becomes acceptable.  I glance over and see the old men walking along the shore in the distance, sporting nothing aside from shoes and the occasional hat.  Sitting far enough away, I can watch them and pretend that I'm just looking at the fog rolling under the bridge.  From the front, I can't even tell that they're naked.  But once they turn around, their pale, saggy cheeks scream at my eyeballs.

This habit of mine may be creepy, and it's definitely voyeuristic, but it mainly springs from my self-conscious discomfort around nudity.  As an artist and painter, you are expected to be nonchalant, even brazen, when faced with the nude body.  But let me explain a little: I grew up in a fairly religious household in which nudity was not only uncommon but seen as shameful and forbidden.  After all, Adam and Eve were forced to clothe themselves to hide their shame from God, and thus we should follow suit and do the same.  When I was a student artist in college, our figure models wore skimpy bikinis instead of nothing (if I had enjoyed figure drawing at the time and continued on with the courses, I could have eventually "graduated" to the 3rd and 4th levels of the class, which were clothing-free).  But as it was, my Baptist-affiliated university did not deem my novice-artist-eyes appropriate enough to take in a naked body.  Which is confusing.  I had been studying art history since my senior year in high school, and we all know that the history of art is filled with more nudity than SF's Folsom Street Fair (though, of course, not quite as sexually hardcore!).  But even then, I can't remember my seventeen-year-old self having to get a parent to sign a permission slip to take the AP-level class.

Titian, Venus of Urbino, Oil on canvas, c. 1538.

So where is this arbitrary and ultimately pointless line that exists between "acceptable nudity" and "uncomfortable nudity"?  And what is the root of society's discomfort as well as my own?  Is it American Puritanism?  Insecurities about our own bodies?  Why is it more appropriate for a high school student to study paintings of naked women (let's face it: the number of naked men included in the canon of western art history is negligible unless you count Robert Mapplethorpe) than it is for a college student to draw from naked women in real life.  Does it always come back to religion?  I'm not so sure.

Screenshot from Desperate Housewives, Season 1, Episode 3: "Pretty Little Picture", 2004.

I recently watched the final season of the primetime soap opera Desperate Housewives.  As part of her storyline, one of the housewives, Susan Mayer, takes a painting class in the hope of transitioning her artistic career from that of an illustrator to a fine artist.  Now, on the show, Susan is no stranger to nudity: in an infamous scene from season one, she locks herself out of her house while fully naked, runs across her yard ironically covering herself only with a bush, and is eventually discovered by her crush (and future husband), Mike Delfino.  While embarrassed by the situation, Susan plays it relatively cool when compared to how a real person would likely react.  So her attitude towards nudity seems quite strange when we fast-forward to an episode in which her teacher brings a nude male model to the painting class: she becomes extremely flustered and is the only student who can't contain her giggles.  Keep in mind that the character of Susan is not overly religious (that role goes to Bree Van de Kamp) or prudish (throughout the course of the show, she is shown in bed with several men) and is also pushing fifty.  Why would a completely mature, adult woman who is clearly familiar with the male body have the reaction of a child?  I'm fully aware that this is a poor example due to its fictitious and comedic nature; however, I also think that in general, TV tends to reflect the attitudes of contemporaneous society from which it springs.  On an unrelated yet related note, San Francisco, which is not a religious city by any means, is currently grappling with the issue of its longtime openness and embrace of public nudity.

Screenshots from Desperate Housewives, Season 8, Episode 5: "The Art of Making Art", 2011.

Okay, okay: public nudity and nudity in art are two separate issues, but one got me thinking about the other and led to the discovery that the two are intertwined in my mind and reveal my own hypocrisy and double-standard on the subject.  To this day, I have not yet been able to re-wire my brain to keep from twitching slightly when I see a nude person in the street, on the beach, or in the drawing room.  And still, I don't give it a second thought when I look at naked figures in paintings or even when I paint them myself.  But I enjoy living in a city where people are free to do as they please as long as they aren't hurting others, and those screamingly pale, saggy cheeks even fill me with an odd sense of pride.  So I guess that's progress.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Norman Bluhm and Frank O'Hara, "Meet Me in the Park," 1960, gouache on paper

Sam Francis, "Blue Balls," 1960, oil on canvas

Nancy Spero, "Artaud Painting -- All Writing Is Pigshit," 1969, left-handed writing and painting on paper.  Spero's series on notoriously misogynistic writer Antonin Artaud was a "forced collaboration"; Spero experienced a psychological connection with the writer despite feeling what she described as "his disapproval."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Before Death

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Medusa, Oil on canvas mounted on wood, 1597. 60 cm × 55 cm (24 in × 22 in). Uffizi, Florence, Italy.

I am writing to you because I wish you would die.
Die with ants in your mouth.
For years undiscovered.
Even vultures don't look for you.
Your snake wraps you
like in a Caravaggio.

Since the day you told me you would die
You have been paralyzed in this moment.
Almost dead.
In power, in drunkenness, in debt, in exile, in covered pains. 
You scream.
Never like Munch
You hold it with you. 
So nobody knows.
In agony, in guilt, in weakness, in excuses, and through adaptation. 

I wish you could just die
Die fast and for once.
I wish you death
Because death is the pain of you alone.

Edvard Munch famous painting The Scream to be shown at the MoMA
Edvard Munch. The Scream. Pastel on board. 1895. © 2012 The Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thoughts on an Aesthetic

Katelyn Eichwald, Untitled, oil on paper, 2011

i'm annoyed at brooklyn raw bare wood metalworking leather linen with the top button left open

which reeks of nothing but money and a bon iver fetishization of realness and utility

utility in my world is the sweat-yellow arm of the couch with a shirt draped to hide it

but i have said "fetishization" so many times this week that i'm starting to think i don't know what it means

though i am getting better at pronouncing it

i say it with bitterness like i deserve something better

a rabbit in another woman's arms

i know, some people just like to drink their whiskey like that

i'm no line of flour to the door

i have ideas about cool too and sometimes i can't get up from under them

i can't define myself against something all the time, especially an aesthetic so bloodless

and i understand that our objects have twisted and cruel origins these days and it is attractive to know what you're getting and where it came from

though as usual we want the appearance of honesty, not honesty itself, which grows darker on the edges

j. crew can make that hand-dyed wool cardigan look like my dead grandpa's, but it isn't my dead grandpa's, is it

like pain in a dream

what do i have against wealth?

oh everything

but is that ok or do i need to get over it?

it's the hatred you feel for your lover's ex

self-care, like cleaning your fingernails

nobody owes me anything

except love 

from the universe, not even from any person if they don't have it to give

art students walk into work with thick-soled boots and carhartt coats like dockworkers

but if carhartt coats weren't so stiff and uncomfortable i would wear them too

i love my dad's workbench in the back of the garage but i hate the sight of a pretty woman with premature gray hair in a 
topknot and a black silk shirt sitting at an identical workbench in a photograph

though god knows i wear enough black these days and the workbench doesn't know anything except what it is

and i bet she knows how to saw shit and that she's good at the things she does

what does she feel when she touches it? maybe she feels like a fighter

or maybe not

our target bookcases tremble

michael put them together himself

he screwed one of them on backwards

but it still holds my books

the couch i sit on crushed my mother's watch into her wrist

i think about it when i lean back on the cushions

the curtains on the window are the ugliest things i have ever laid my eyes on, they look like scars on a dirty body

do objects have integrity?

i'll kick all the things in this room with my bare foot, see what breaks

is my mother's crushed wrist worth less than my own?

the objects in her hand are her bones

Monday, October 15, 2012

To Make Painters

Nicole Eisenman, "The Drawing Class" 2011, 82" x 65" Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer.

My teaching centers on technical skills, visual language, and process. By giving students a variety of lectures on past and contemporary artists as well as hands-on projects, I help them understand all possibilities within drawing and painting, stimulating them to think critically and create independently.

Below, I briefly explore the three areas of learning that I emphasize in my courses.  

- Understanding materials and techniques: Color theory, the many brush sizes, and the effects of different surfaces are a few of the topics taught in a series of projects that I assign to students. Each project I assign contains elements of instruction-following and creative autonomy. I believe that by having these two elements in each project, students learn both how to execute a ready-made plan as well as to discover techniques and materials on their own. With each project, students broaden their view of what is possible within each medium.

- Learning visual language: In my courses, I require students to see, read, speak, and write about works of art. Students are asked to engage not only with the work of past and contemporary artists but also with their own work as well as that of their classmates. They do so through a series of written assignments, presentations, and critiques (both individually and in groups). These projects teach students how their pieces relate to past and contemporary works of art, helping them to better communicate visually. 

- Learning the importance of process: By allowing students to experiment, take risks, and make mistakes both formally and conceptually, I help them become problem-solvers. I assign students both in-class projects and homework. When giving students in-class projects, which allow them to observe each other’s process, I guide them in their decision-making. When giving students homework, however, I encourage them to create independently. These two different activities help students gain confidence in the process of creating.

These three areas of learning are key to any level of drawing or painting class. By implementing this teaching method, I believe students are able to acquire knowledge of drawing and painting as well as life-long skills. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Studio Work

Henri Matisse, The Red Studio, Oil on canvas, 1911.

Philip Guston, The Studio, Oil on canvas, 1969.

Jasper Johns, Savarin Can with Brushes, Painted bronze, 1960.

Alice Neel, Self-Portrait, Oil on canvas, 1980.

Bruna Massadas, Katelyn Eichwald Painting, Charcoal on paper, 2012.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Unknown image of bomb; stained scrap of paper; photo of a peach found in the "face painters" folder on my computer desktop; chalk pastel palette found in my parents' basement; Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Arthur's Tomb," 1860, watercolor on paper; oil paint palette.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Photographer Hans Namuth (1915-1990). Gelatin silver prints, 1950 Published May 1951 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the estate of Hans Namuth © Estate of Hans Namuth.

Photo of Liam Everett working (2012).

Photo of Oscar Niemeyer drawing (circa 2000s).
The artist—unconscious and dancing—letting impulses take over his body. At first, he moves quickly, as a mechanism to beat his mind. His muscles are loose, his body is thoughtless, his fists are fast, his painting is music. But with time, he allows moments of serenity and pause (when he masters to think of absolutely nothing). He makes reality like a machine, never questioning his primal performance. 

Alexander Mcqueen Summer/Spring 1999 Runaway. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Brown Spots

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Brown Spots (Portrait of Andy Warhol as a Banana), 1984.

Why is Warhol a banana?

Because he made a famous album cover. Because he collaborated. Because of friendship. Because of rivalry. Because he was subject to homage, tribute, and patricide. Because he was another painter's mentor. Because he was taking advantage of rising stardom. Because it's a joke. Because he's gay. Because he seriously wore those wigs. Because of spontaneity. Because Basquiat ran out of ideas. Because he lived his own art. Because you can be anything in a painting.

Photograph of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat pretending to box.

Because of love.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Flowers After Flowers

Vincent Van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1887. Oil on canvas, 17 X 24 inches. 
Photo of David Hockney's iPad paintings. (Credit: David Hockney).
Paul Cézanne, Vase of Flowers, 1880-1881. Oil on canvas, 18-1/2 x 21-3/4 in. (47.0 x 55.2 cm). The Norton Simon Foundation.
Odilon Redon, Vase of Flowers (After Cézanne), 1896. Oil on canvas, 18-1/4 x 21-3/4 in. (46.4 x 55.2 cm), Norton Simon Art Foundation, Gift of Mr. Neison Harris. 
Libby Black, Andy Warhol Book, 2012. Paper, Hot glue and acrylic paint, 14" x 13" x 7"
Sarah Thibault, Junkyard of False Starts, 2012. Oil, spray paint on canvas, 59 x 47 inches.