Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The End of An Era, oil on canvas panel 11x14 inches by Kenney Mencher

Chaslin, the model for this painting, looked a bit to me like she had stepped out of a Doris Day movie. When I posed her, I wanted to make a story using symbols of being a housewife from that era. Like the woman who chases her husband with a rolling pin.

I was thinking that she looked a bit like Pollyanna and since the glass of water is a sort of measure of people's optimism or pessimism. Is it half empty or half full. The act of smashing the glass is sort of revolutionary or a reaction against it.

What you should know about Alice Neel

Unfortunately, Alice Neel is identified first as being a female artist first and then an artist second.  Noticing this kind of sexist labeling is probably even more important today now that human rights in general in the United States seem as if they are headed for some terrible reversals since Trump took office in 2017.

The idea that female artists are as important as men has always had a murky and unsettling quality, because the playing field has never been level for women nor people of color in the Eurocentric and phallocentric world of art.  Often when female artists’ works are discussed, the formal qualities of the work and the content of the work is always in second and third place to the fact that the women is an artist.  Even the physical appearance of the artist seems to be more important than the appearance of the art itself.

Alice Neel’s painting could be dismissed as clumsy and not formally beautiful.  The anatomy of the figures, the paint quality, the color and even composition are not traditionally beautiful if one were to compare the paintings to painters popular before the late 19th century.

The paint quality in Neel’s painting is thin and almost washy.  There is little to no texture and the colors and flesh tones are either too intense (garish or overly stated oranges and pinks) or too muddy gray.    The viewer doesn’t have enough light and shadow to figure out where the light source is coming from.  The compositions are not so much chosen as more by accident.

For example, if you look at a John Singer Sargent portrait it has all the hallmarks of a painter who is looking back at earlier “old masters” such as Velazquez.  The shading, or chiaroscuro is very clear, the color makes sense in terms of the way we expect to see color and shading.  The brushwork shows a kind of skill that is practiced and predictable.  We don’t have to question its beauty in terms of anatomy, shading, color and even composition.  She does not include traditional linear perspective.  When she paints a chair, she doesn’t bother with a vanishing point or a clear system of perspective and depth. (Cezanne rejected perspective too and sometimes I wonder if it was by choice or by lack of skill.)

Alice Neel’s paintings are clumsy in comparison and the color is not traditional.  Hell, it doesn’t even have the same beauty that an Impressionist painter’s color such as Mary Cassatt has.  Neel doesn’t share in the same polished technique as Cassatt, Velazquez or Sargent.  Part of that is kind of on purpose and part of it has to do with context.  Artists such as Neel did not get the same traditional training as artists from before 1900 and the painters that come directly before her in the 50 years from1900-1950 established a type of anti-academic (anti traditional) precedent.  Think of Picasso, Kirchner, even the “Ashcan School” were looking for something new.  In fact, these artists defined themselves by rejecting the styles and conventions that came before them.

The content or iconography of Neel’s paintings is one of the things that made her famous.  As a New Yorker living through the era of Abstract Expressionism, the Beat Generation of Poets, and then the Pop Art and Happenings of the 60’s Neel knew a lot of arty people.  She was a bit of strange or weird person and this actually helped her to get people to model for her.  She would go to art receptions and meet people, also she knew street people and people on the fringes of society and this also helped her to create meaningful content by simply painting either a famous person or a weird person.

I don’t think that Alice Neel planned or strategized here career.  Like many famous artists part of her fame came by her social interactions and how associations with other important people in New York’s avante garde (forward guard) can endorse and help an artist’s career.

For example, an artist who was at the time significantly more famous than she was Andy Warhol, painting him and associating herself with him created both an association that validated her.   She paints Warhol and while not trying to paint him in a flattering way, Neel’s portrait of him is also not meant as an insult either.  It was kind of a “lucky” kind of turn of events that make this portrait so interesting.  Context is everything.

Neel painted Warhol shortly after he had been stabbed.  He is wearing a corset that was designed to help him after the attack and he looks unhealthy.  (In almost all of Neel’s portraits the sitters look a bit unhealthy and even ugly) but in the case of Warhol it is really overstated because of how Neel painted.  Historians love to read into stuff like this.

In "The Andy Warhol Diaries," by Pat Hackett, it is clearly shown that he constantly surrounded himself by beautiful people and things, and strove for a level of physical perfection that was clearly out of his reach. Though bald, his vanity led him to don his trademark wig, shown in the painting carefully arranged, trying his best to maintain his dignity and illusion of youth.  Another thing in Neel’s favor when we analyze here painting.  In a way, it’s almost not important to know for certain if she intended to make him look this way.  It also ties in with what we know about Neel’s life.

Alice Neel had lived a life filled with crises and strife. One of her children had died while still an infant, and the other was abducted by a former husband. She was a self-taught artist with no formal training. Just knowing a couple of things like this about her gives her a kind of pedigree of “crazy artist,” just like Van Gogh that allows us to romanticize her as an artist and also allows our imaginations to run wild when we interpret her paintings.

I’ve seen several documentaries on Neel and one that I particularly remember she does come across as a bizarre or weird person.  In the video, she was attempting to get her grandson to calm down and he was running around her apartment naked and flashing his butt at her.  She came across in the interviews and film as a kind of crazy old lady.

Her status as a weird New York artist who had strong ties to artists such as Warhol made her easily promotable and salable as a kind of grand dame of the New York art world and also an excellent subject for feminist art historian Linda Nochlin.

This is a painting of Linda Nochlin and her daughter, Daisy. Nochlin was a professor at Vassar and wrote an essay in 1971 entitled "Why have there been no great women artists?", which helped to bring attention to feminist art history and argued that women had been 'deprived the opportunity to achieve greatness by their exclusion from the male dominated institutional systems of training, patronage, and criticism that set the standards of professional accomplishment.'

So when we look at this painting, knowing that Nochlin was a famous art historian who specialized in writing about female artists it can inspire interpretations that may have gone beyond what the artist intended.  For example, in the late 1990’s one of my students writes about this painting:

“Alice Neel is showing Nochlin as protective and loving toward her daughter, underscoring the belief that Nochlin held about creating a more equal future for her daughter as well as all the other young woman growing up in that time period, as well as beyond. There is a measure of tenderness and wistfulness shown in the painting, most likely because of the death of Alice Neel's' one child and kidnapping of the other. It is showing a strong, educated woman who is also fulfilling the role of a mother as well as a feminist, and succeeding at both.”

Whether or not this interpretation is the truth, is almost unimportant in today’s world in which interpretation and opinion seem to become almost more factual than actual fact.

Monday, May 22, 2017

This guy has a really great list, rather than a reblog, go check out this blog post.  

4 Online Libraries Every Artist and Educator Should Bookmark

The site is pretty cool too.
Pretty soon I’m going to release a bunch of new work on my Etsy site.
If you would like to get an email to preview the show and possibly reserve a painting before I open it up to the “public” shoot me an email and I’ll add you to my list.

In what ways do still-life paintings convey a vanitas theme?

Vanitas is a term that means that all the things we strive for, value, and work at in our world are an expression of our vanity, pride or impotence.
With Wisdom Comes Sorrow
13 And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.
14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.
New American Standard Bible
The tem is also usually associated with the Latin term memento mori. (reminder and death) It starts much earlier than the Baroque Period, for example, in the Early Renaissance Masaccio includes a skeleton beneath the donors in this fresco with the words in Italian “What I was, you are, what I am you will become.” A reminder that everything dies. This is also the same idea in Hamlet’s musings on Death in the graveyard scene, “I knew him Horatio, he hath born me on his back a thousand times. . .” While he contemplates the skull.
So skulls and skeletons are associated with death and impermanence.
Later on when people start to become richer painters began to paint the things they bought and the delicacies, such as fruits, lobsters, and flowers, that they could now afford to have imported. Sometimes the depiction of these prestige and wealth items were regarded with some guilt about wealth and it’s association with Jesus’s teachings, “It’s harder for a wealthy man to get into heaven than it is to send a camel through the eye of a needle.” So many images that showed wealth also referenced that it might be a problem.
For example, Petrus Christus. Saint Eloy (Eligius) in his Shop 1449 shows some patrons but also a saint who used his money to help his community. Likewise, The Moneylender and his wife expresses how pretty wealth is but also it’s danger. Check out where his wife is looking and also not looking.
Later on the symbols started to be combined. For example, Caravaggio’s still life is a beautiful painting of delicacies such as fruit, but if you look closer you may notice that some of the fruit has worm holes and is also decaying.
The combination of symbols such as skulls, delicacies, flowers, books, crystal, silver and other expensive items became a standard expression of wealth, vanity, and the transience of impermanence of life. In a way, a vanitas is a way of “having your cake and eating it too.” It satisfies the viewers desire to look at beautiful objects, but also disguises it as a christian lesson about morality and wealth.
Philippe de Champaigne, Vanitas c1650
Come and study with me.

Support artists and get rewarded!

Graphic artist Chucha Marquez (pictured above at the We're Still Working opening reception) creates work that celebrates the beauty, resistance and resilience of Black and brown and queer and trans folks. When they partnered with LYRIC LGBT Youth Center to create youth-designed prints for We're Still Working: The Art of Sex Work as part of the 2016–2017 SOMArts Curatorial Residency season, we knew they would be the perfect fit to design the latest in SOMArts style.

If you pledge $25 to SOMArts' Kickstarter campaign to support the next season of groundbreaking Curatorial Residency exhibitions, we will show our appreciation by sending you a custom-designed SOMArts t-shirt. We hope you'll agree that Chucha's design for SOMArts' new t-shirt perfectly captures our work at the heart of intersectional, community-based art and culture.
Be the first of your friends to rock SOMArts' new style!

About the 2017–2018 SOMArts Curatorial Residency

We are working to bring to life the next season of exhibitions and projects by our curators-in-residence, including: 
  • Game Recognize Game: A participatory exhibition inviting audiences to reimagine the possibility of sport as an emancipatory project, curated by Dania Cabello. 
  • The Third Muslim: Queer and Trans* Muslim narratives of resistance and resilience, curated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Yas Ahmed. 
  • Diasporic Alchemy: A multi-sensory exhibition, transforming ancestral traditions into ritual futurisms through the co-creation of new global mythos, curated by Louis Chinn and missTANGQ.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to support exhibitions like these that provide a platform for diverse artists to tell their own stories.

Please join us in supporting these visionary artists!

Night Light 2017 Call for Submissions

SOMArts seeks artists of color to exhibit in the two-night, large-scale exhibition, Night Light: Multimedia & Performance Festival, on Friday and Saturday, August 25 and 26, 20178:00 pm–midnightNow entering its seventh year, Night Light blankets SOMArts indoors and out in luminous art installations, including audiovisual performances, performative interventions and digital and cinematic projections. This year, Night Light will be co-curated by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green and presented in conjunction with The Black Woman is God: Divine Revolution.

The deadline for artist proposals has been extended to June 13, 2017. Learn more about Night Light and apply to participate today!
Keep in touch with SOMArts on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter!
Image credits (from top to bottom): Chucha Marquez at the We're Still Working opening reception, photo by Chani Bockwinkel; SOMArts t-shirt design created by Chucha Marquez; We're Still Working: The Art of Sex Work exhibition documentation, photo by Chani Bockwinkel; The Global Street Dance Masquerade performance at Night Light 2016, photo by Astra Brinkmann.
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Cigar Daddy, oil on canvas panel 9x12 inches by Kenney Mencher

Kenney Mencher
Artist - Oil Painter Homoerotic Subject Matter and other Geekery at

I try to make really well crafted work about the human figure and the human condition. Most of my work is about gay men and gay male culture however, I do make paintings of women and I like to focus on the kind of beauty for both men and women that is "non-standard."

I'm always looking at unusual looking people and seeing the beauty in them.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Session Two | The Latest Alumni News | Save the Date(s)

Floor painting detail by Rukhe Zaidi, 2017.

Eschewing a Trompe-l'oeil Life
This month's banner - a rug that isn't a rug but a painting on the floor of the Artists' Barn-is the kind of work that surprises. It appears to be one thing, but, it literally (and translationally) fools the eye into seeing something that isn't there by compressing our eyes' focus. Pakistani artist Rukhe Zaidi created and gifted the piece to us during her residency last month.
If there is a trompe-l'oeil continuum for humans (e.g. a scale with authenticity at one end and audacious fakery on the other), most artists I know are at the low end of the scale. Save for the occasional marketing pitch, serious artists are exactly who and what they say they are.
As a species we are drawn to larger-than-life characters, so visual artists and writers with big storefronts and egos get a disproportional share of attention and money. It is the more subtle forms of human and artistic tromp l'oeil that intrigue me.
Artists in View
Year in, year out, I watch artists at work interpreting the world in the most honest and authentic ways possible. Their work CHANGES the way we see the world-often turning something we think we know into something else entirely. In some ways, nearly every piece of art and literature is both tromp-l'oeil or anti-tromp-l'oeil. Art confirms our biases and rips them apart. It is the super power artists carry with them.
It's a popular trope to say there is an artist in everyone or that everyone is an artist. I DO believe that immersing one's self in the creation of art regardless of talent or training is a journey to knowing one's self in a more honest way. Working with your hands to paint, your legs to dance, or your thoughts to keyboard, changes the way you experience the world. And those who do it for a living change US. It's an anti-trompe-l'oeil life (and a hard-knock one as well).
See for Yourself
We open up the gates to the Djerassi Program and the talents of artists and scientists during our annual Open House/Open Studios-just around the corner on July 16. Join us. What you THINK you're going to see just may turn out to be something entirely different. All part of our evil plan to trick your eyes and hearts into a new appreciation for the value of the creative process.
Have no fear - there will be actual pizza.
Care & Respect,
Margot H. Knight
Executive Director
Now Appearing At The Ranch:
Session Two May 10 - June 7
Session Two, photo T. Fuller
France-Luce Benson, Brooklyn, NY. Playwright
Marianne Boruch, West Lafayette, IN. Poet
Roohi Choudry, Brooklyn, Writer
Lydia Conklin, Decatur, GA. Writer
Midori Fujioka, San Francisco, CA. Playwright
Christina Gruber, Amstetten, Austria. Visual Artist
Hyeon Kim, Los Angeles, CA. Visual Artist
Tonia Ko, Ithaca, NY. Composer
Melody Owen, Portland, OR. Visual Artist
Meg Wolfe, 
Los Angeles, CA. Choreographer
Read more about the artists: Session 2 biographies.

Mark your calendars!
LA Artists Reunion
Coming soon: A great opportunity to reunite with Los Angeles area Djerassi alumni - Thursday, June 29. Meet your past, present and future friends who all share the "Gift of Time" experience. Host Heidi Durrow (2005, '13) will welcome us in Sherman Oaks, CA. More details to follow.

Open House
Plan your trip to join us on the mountain Sunday July 16. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and features artists and scientists in the 4.0 version of what we call "Scientific Delirium Madness." Take a free tour of our grounds, watch Woodside Plein Air Painters in action, and see artist/scientist presentations. You'll meet scientists with an artistic bent and artists who combine their art with science and technology. Then chase it all down with some great pizza!
General Admission: $50 per person
Children 6 -12: $25
Djerassi Alumni Artists & Children under 6: free
Do it now! Purchase your ticket here!

Save The Date!
We celebrate Artful Harvest this October 8. Join us at our prized gala featuring delicious fare from the award-winning Village Pub, as well as art, wine and experience auction items, performances by our alumni, and a gorgeous sunset celebration (weather permitting).
In the News
The Spring 2017 issue of Glance, California College of the Arts' news magazine, highlights several residencies around the Bay Area. The article displays the Program through the experience of photo-artist Mayumi Hamanaka (2016). Making Space, Diverse Bay Area Residencies Help Artists Flourish is available online here.

Exploring the Djerassi grounds was suggested in an article in the SF Chronicle. "A new lust for art takes hold in Silicon Valley" mentions the Program with several other art venues such as the Pace Gallery in Palo Alto and the Cantor Museum at Stanford. Read more.
Night photo by Weidong Yang, 2016.
Djerassi news

Howard Hersh (2004, winter '12) has been commissioned by the Montalvo Arts Center to create a sound installation that will be coupled to a hike through its forest environment. Watch this space as the premiere will take place in the spring of 2018.
Robert Sward (1990, '91, '92) has been named Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County, through 2018. Congratulations are in order.
Dusan Tynek (2016) and his DT2 dance group have been awarded a residency by the City University of New York's (CUNY) Dance Initiative this fall. The work will be based on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Adding the program's music will be acclaimed composer Aleksandra Vrebalov (2014). The collaboration should produce truly memorable work.
Now playing: Basil Twist (2005, winter 2011) has been in high demand. He produced outstanding stage features for Broadway's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also worked this spring with the San Francisco Ballet for their production of Cinderella. And he has been in residence at San Francisco's Exploratorium. See his vast schedule at his website: http://www.basiltwist.com/currentcalendar.html
Stacey Steers (2014) has published a 25-print edition of Vital Signs, lithographs with digital collage. Images are printed on handmade paper. See more details at https://www.1stdibs.com/art/prints-works-on-paper/more-prints-works-on-paper/stacey-steers-vital-signs/id-a_1667553/
Common DenominatorA.H. May, 2017
Anthony Heinz May (2014) has installed Common Denominator (photo), a reconstructed, "up-cycled" cherry tree, at the intersection of Dyckman St. and Riverside Drive at Tighe Triangle Park, New York City. The sculpture will remain in place until April 2018.
In April Terra Fuller, Djerassi's Development Manager, was a presenter at a webcast entitled "Residencies Within Reach," presented by the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art.
Emilio Rodriguez's (2015) work is discussed on Howlround.com in an article by Trevor Boffone, entitled Pedagogy Notebook: Responding to LGBT Homelessness in Emilio Rodriguez's Swimming While Drowning. Read it here.
The Djerassi and Ucross (Wyoming) artist programs are part of a partnership fostered by The Ford Family Foundation of Oregon to sponsor visual artists. Read an article (Oregon Artists at Work - Djerassi and Ucross) about this union in the Alliance of Artists Communities' newsletter.
Read a review of Kathryn Roszak's (1993) 2nd women ballet choreographers' symposium held at the Djerassi ranch May 7. The article is by Carrie Gaiser Casey: Continuing the Conversation: Women Ballet Choreographers, Djerassi 2017. The comments appear at website: http://www.balletgeekout.com/
Deborah Slater (1992, 4 winters, former Program trustee) Dance Theater completed 3 weeks of sold-out performances at Studio 210 in San Francisco. The show, TIME'S ARROW, featured original, live music by trumpeter Darren Johnston and his Trio (featuring Jordan Glenn and Dan Cantrell). Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rainin Foundation and the Zellerbach Family Fund, TIME'S ARROW was lauded in these comments from Brad Erickson (2014), executive director of Theater Bay Area: "I was really, really impressed with how precisely the characterizations came through ... It was lovely and moving, and I am always in awe of the dancers. Fantastic!" See more about Deborah and DSDT in CS&G Jul 28-29.
Ashia Chacko (winter '12) reports that her documentary UNDERDOGS was a top-10 finalist for the competitive Roy Dean Grant/From the Heart Productions. The documentary was also awarded a Fleishhacker Small Arts Grant and a Pollination Foundation Grant. In other news, this summer, Ashia will be at residencies in and near Barcelona, Spain. Jiwdar and Rocaberti Writer's Retreat are the exciting opportunities.
Mona Rae Washington (2016), playwright, will participate in "Philadelphia Assembled," a city-wide presentation of the arts coordinated with the Philadelphia Museum. The events will be held throughout the "City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection" through July 17. The program moves indoors to the museum September through December.

C G & S
Comings, Goings & Showings
"Anyone who wants to know who I am can just read my lyrics." - Joan Jett. Let us know who you are by sending in your upcoming exhibitions, performances, premieres, events, book tours, etc. (as far in advance as possible) to ART///SKY. Email nick@djerassi.org.

To follow our alumni and friends' events, be sure to check the D.R.A.P. Alumni Facebook page.

May 20   Lenora Lee (2013),
dance performance, part of
Asian Improv aRts' 30th Anniversary Celebration: Asian Improv Nation: A 30th Anniversary Showcase. Asian Art Museum, Samsung Hall,
200 Larkin St, San Francisco.
May 25 & 26 Julie Mayo (2013)
blueblack, dance performance, The Kitchen, 512 W. 19th St., New York City.

May 26  Peter Stein (2013)
Jacques Pepin: The Art of Craft, PBS American Masters series. Check local listings.
May 26 - 27 Adam Zaretsky (2016)
Taboo - Transgression - Transcendence in Art & Science Interdisciplinary Conference, Ionian University, Corfu, Greece. See also Jun 11, below.
Thru May 27  Sarah Klein (2005, 4 winters) 
Built, international juried exhibit of book art and architecture, 23 Sandy Gallery, Portland, OR.
Thru May 27 Walter Robinson (1998, winter '10)
Discorporate, solo exhibition, Catharine Clark Gallery, 248 Utah St., San Francisco.

May 27 to Jul 16 Jen Blazina (2011)2017 Glass Art Association Members Juried Exhibition
Glass Wheel Studio, 128 W Olney Road, Norfolk, VA.
Thru May 28  Sarah Klein 
Lone Star, animation in collaboration with David Kwan, Tweetakt Festival, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Jun 3  Christy Funsch (2006, '12), performance in Group Motion's Spiel Uhr, Philadelphia, PA.
Skin of DreamsSung-Joon Hwang, 1999. Photo by C. Funsch

Jun 4   Donna Sternberg (2014) and her DS&D dance company. Transit Dances, appearing with JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble and Arpana Dance Company. See site-specific dances at 3 Metro stops in Santa Monica, CA. 
Jun 9 - 11
Jan Blazina Glass Weekend 2017, Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center,
 1000 Village Drive, Millville, NJ.
Jun 11 - 18  Luca Forcucci, ISEA 2017 - electronic arts, Manizales, Colombia.
Thru Jun 11 Adam Zaretsky, photos and prints exhibit at 11th Audiovisual Arts Festival, Corfu, Greece.
Jun 15 - 18, 22 - 25, 29 - 30, Jul 1- 2  Brian Quirk (2014) (IM)PULSE, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, WA.
Thru June 17  Mari Andrews (1998, winter '08, '09) with Ann Holsberry Interconnections, new visual art. Olive Hyde Art Gallery, 123 Washington Blvd., Fremont CA.

Jun 26 - Jul 1 Kimberly Dark (2011) Retreat focusing on pleasure, power and practice. Pahoa, Hawaii. See more at kimberlydark.com.
Jun 22 - 24 Joe Goode (1991) 30th Anniversary Performance, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.
Jul 28 & 29   Deborah Slater (1992, 4 winters) and the DSDT's 6th Studio 210 Summer Residency presents performances by residents 13th Floor and Sarah Cecelia. Studio 210 Theater, 3435 Cesar Chavez St., #210, San Francisco.
Thru Aug 27  Chris Fraser (2013) Your Mind, This Moment: Art and the Practice of Attention, group show, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA.
ART///SKY May 2017
A publication of Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Written and edited by Nick Walsh:  nick@djerassi.org. Deer photo - Djerassi archives. Other photos by N. Walsh unless noted. Banner and inset art: Carpet Painted on The Artists' Barn Floor, Rukhe Zaida (2017). 

Djerassi Resident Artists Program, 2325  Bear Gulch Road, Woodside, CA 94062