Art

Stavros at His Bath

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017 | Art, Stavros | No Comments

In February and March I showed my new photo series, Stavros at His Bath at Mercury 20 in Oakland.  The project draws inspiration from 19th century paintings of women at their toilets, bathing scantily-clad by the river, or lunching in the grass naked with their clothed male companions.

During the 19th century, the representation of the nude female body underwent a revolution whose main insurgents were Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet.  They rejected the idealized nudes of academic painting, as well as the hypocritical confinement of the erotic to mythological subjects.  Manet painted his Olympia in 1863, based on Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus.  Rather than depicting the goddess of love, Manet’s subject is a prostitute, a real woman, shocking because of her confrontational gaze and sexual independence.

The subject of my series, Stavros, my former lover, is a large bearish man emerging from his tub, floating in the sea, sprawled on his bed, but rendered in such low resolution as to obliterate details of personality or identity.  The images are 30” x 38” printed in a resolution of 12 x 16 pixels, each pixel about 2 inches square.  I share these intimate moments in Stavros’ day, but I ask my viewers to fill in the details.  I aim to frustrate our voyeuristic impulses, and sidestep comparisons with, and critiques of, this particular body.  In an age of accessible images of nakedness and the ubiquity of selfies, I seek to distract us from the nude form and focus our attention instead on how we look at it.  What exactly do we want to see?

I imagine that you, my dear readers, can fill in many of the details, given that I’ve documented so much of my courtship with Stavrulaki.  Indeed, the interior life that I aim to document in my blog can be seen as the other side of my camera.  Many of the pictures were shot while traveling around with Stavros and his new boyfriend in Greece, months after our breakup. The final image, of the sunset at Naxos, makes reference to the end of our relationship and to the island where Theseus abandoned Ariadne. Her fate wasn’t that bad: Dionysos, the god of wine, ecstasy and wild pleasure, swung by and married her.

Some corner of a foreign field…

Thursday, October 13th, 2016 | Art, Food, Friends, Stavros, Travel | 1 Comment

I spent the last few weeks in Greece, traveling around with Stavros and his new squeeze. Big Chrissy joined us for the first week, passing a few days in Athens, visiting the Archaeological Museum, Acropolis and Acropolis Museum–musts for new visitors, and for me so nice to revisit Papposilenus, Poseidon, Hadrian and all my other guys.

We attended a staging of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex at the open air Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in 161 AD on the southern slope of the Acropolis. It was a joint production of the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia and the National Theatre of Greece, directed by Rimas Tuminas. Greek actors performed the ancient Chorus in Greek, and Russian actors the lead parts in Russian. At the center of the stage was a single rusted steel tube, a little over a person’s height in diameter, that characters hopped onto and off of, rolling upstage and back as Oedipus hollers at Tiresias and Creon and slowly figures out that he can’t escape his fate. Jocasta was played by an actress who almost comically looked like Oedipus’ grandmother, slowly hobbling across the stage in a dynamite performance.

We visited the Panathenaic stadium, built around 330 BC for the Panathenaic games. It was rebuilt entirely of marble by Herodes Atticus in 144 AD, and much later, and after a complete restoration, in 1896 hosted the first modern international Olympics games. At one end of the field are two delightful herms, one of which is double-sided and double-genitaled, representing Apollo and Hermes. Herms were made to ward off bad energy, as markers, for good luck, etc… but I find their stripped down quality, just head and penis, incredibly entertaining–really, just forget about the rest of this guy.

We saw a really great show of sculpture by Ai WeiWei at the Museum of Cycladic Art. Installed in the neoclassical wing of the museum were meticulously hand-crafted pieces that conceptually addressed the current refugee crisis in Greece, various humanitarian crises in China, and a clever statue made in the style of an early cycladic figure dropping a vase, referring to Ai’s destruction of neolithic pottery in his earlier work. Interspersed throughout the rest of the museum were sculptures that visually blended in with the museum’s collection, handmade shards of pottery, ground neolithic pots, etc, made to look old but referencing contemporary concerns.

From Athens we drove through the Peloponnesos to Neapolis and hopped on the ferry for Kythira. Kythira is where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born. There are several versions of her origins, but my favorite has her emerging from the sea foam after Cronus chopped off his dad Uranus’ genitals and tossed them into the sea. The first thing you see on approaching the island is a shipwreck. Driving out of the port and across the barren island, it quickly becomes apparent why Aphrodite was only born here, not much to inspire procreative activity, at least on this part of Kythira. Indeed, the island’s population has dwindled from 14,500 in 1864 to about 4,000 today. In the 16th century the pirate Barbarossa invaded the island, leveled the capital, and sold the survivors into slavery. Stavros complained the whole way, “This is terrible, this tastes horrible, that’s fake.”

The scenic village of Mylopotomos once had 22 mills operating along a small stream with a charming waterfall. We hiked through the ruins of the mills, most almost completely consumed by the surrounding forest, to the seasonally dried-up waterfall and pesto pond below. We had lunch in the main square, under huge old sycamores, and then made our way to the ruins of a Venetian castle on the edge of town, and the cave of Agia Sofia with its 13th century byzantine frescoes. The current capital was founded by the Venetians in the 13th century and is crowned with a picturesque castle.

We had a fabulous dinner at Taverna Filio in Kalamos, the last customers on their last open night of the season. We ordered stuffed fried zucchini flowers, fava (puréed split peas), horta (stewed greens), lamb and potatoes, and baked eggplant, each dish so flavorful. We also had tiganopsomo, a deep fried flat bread served almost like a pizza, with toppings of cheese and tomatoes. They grow and grind their own wheat for their breads, which are proudly brought to the table fresh from the oven. The house wines are crisp and refreshing. The service is friendly and enthusiastic. All dishes are made with locally grown and sourced produce and meats.

The next day we hopped on the ferry back to Neapolis and drove to Monemvasia, a perfectly preserved byzantine gem of a city built into the side of a solid sheer rock of an island. This was my third time to visit, and my first time to stay within the castle walls. Our hotel was an outrageously fabulous restored centuries-old house, with a terrace overlooking the sea and rooftops and domes of the town. No cars are allowed within the castle walls, so you hear only the occasional donkey clomp-clomping by. It really feels like stepping back in time.

After dropping Chrissy off at the airport, Stavros and I headed to Evia, about an hour and a half drive northeast of Athens, a large island that hugs about half of the mainland’s east coast, separated from it by a narrow channel. Our first stop was Halkida (Chalcis), for a quick walk along the channel waterfront. Because of the length of the island, its proximity to the mainland, and the different flows coming into the channel from north and south, an effect called “crazy water” can be observed. Every six hours strong tidal currents reverse direction, creating strong flows of water in opposite directions. Aristotle spent his last year in Halkida and was among the first to speculate correctly about the cause of the tidal shift.

After a really nice lunch on the waterfront near Kymi, we hopped onto the ferry for Skyros island. Skyros is another of those islands not on the map for a lot of foreign travelers. Stavros and I reserved a house through AirBnB, in the village of Molos, in the shadow of the main town and close to the beach. Our hostess was the most knowledgable Skyrophile who has ever lived, having written books on the cuisine, ceramics and history of the island, the books casually scattered among our room’s furnishings. On Sunday morning, driving into town with Stavros, hours after she and her husband had taken off for church in town, we saw her sauntering back to the house, in her tight dress and high heels and perfect conch of a hairdo. To get to where she was from town, she had to have walked down through the winding streets of town–essentially down a mountain–and then several miles to where we saw her. In high heels. Not a hair out of place. I was in awe. She’s like someone Melina Mercouri would have portrayed.

The main town is perched on the slopes of a steep mountain overlooking the sea. Near the charming folk art museum, there’s a nude statue dedicated to eternal poetry and Rupert Brooke, the english poet known for his beauty and romantic war poems, serenely perched on a theatrical stage set of sea and sky. Rupert was connected to Skyros only through his death. While in the British Royal Navy, he developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite and died in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island. He was buried in an olive grove in the otherwise rocky and barren southern part of the island.

Hiking up through town to the castle we were accosted by several sweet middle-aged women, Athenians closing up their houses for the season, one of whom invited us into her home. Eager to show us a traditional Skyrian home, she proudly pointed out her many ceramics and freshly polished copper wares, and served us mastiha, a liqueur flavored with resin of the mastic tree.

The island is shaped like a figure 8, with the northern part densely green and lush. There’s a neolithic settlement on the northern tip and several other ruins scattered here and there along the drive, reflecting the various architectural styles of Roman, Venetian, Macedonian and Byzantine civilizations.

The southern part of the island is very rocky and bare. Near the most southern point, along the main road, are rock formations–either naturally occurring or by human hand, not sure, but they’re very striking in the landscape–forming a (seemingly) natural abstract sculpture garden, with the occasional passing goat or wild pony.

There’s a pony that’s native to Skyros, brought to the island by Athenian settlers sometime between the 8th and 5th centuries BC, one of the rarest horse breeds in the world. The ponies may have been used by Alexander in his conquests, and might be the horses depicted on the Parthenon frieze. The ponies are semi-wild in the southern part of the island, but many have been caught and tamed for use by farmers, ranging across the island until they are needed for the grain harvest.

Driving back to Athens, we took the longer mountainous route through the heart of Evia, a beautifully scenic drive twisting through dense forests, steep gorges, and sweet little hilltop villages. I’m back in San Francisco now, where Autumn is in full swing, a little discombobulated by how swiftly my time in Greece passed, missing those placid Greek waters, souvlaki pitas, and my dear friends…

Sexting

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016 | Art | No Comments

For my new photo series, Sexting, I set out to create a project that appeals to the kind of viewer who just whizzes through the gallery and spends perhaps a few seconds looking at anything in particular, and the viewer who is engaged by conceptual complexity and really spends a lot of time looking. Hopefully something for everybody.

Sexting consists of large but extremely low-resolution enlargements of graphic images shared over the internet through the course of my recent dating experiences.

From a distance, it’s almost possible to make out what’s being described, but as the viewer is drawn closer, the images fall apart into pixelated near-abstract grids of colored squares. The titles titillate: “Rob in His Bath;” “A Little More of Me;” “Tented Speedos;” etc… but like the process of seeking intimacy on the internet, the viewer’s titillation is ultimately frustrated by the experience of trying to give form to one’s imagination.

You can see documentation of the show here.

Et in Arcadia Ego

Saturday, October 10th, 2015 | Art, Stavros, Travel | No Comments

I’ve been back in San Francisco a little over a week now, walking the dogs, meeting a few new dating prospects, getting caught up with my work, listening to Lana del Rey’s depressing new album and Rodriguez’s sublime Cold Fact from 1970, but my thoughts return to my final days last week in Greece, traveling through Elis and Arcadia. I believed myself very near heaven during those languid days in [Dimitsana]…

Our trip began in Olympia, where the original Olympic games were held every 4 years from the 8th century BC to the 4th AD. In the Temple of Zeus was a 43 foot tall statue of the seated god, made of ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework, the work of the sculptor Phidias, who also designed the 40 foot statue of Athena in the Parthenon. His statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, vanished completely in the 5th century, now in some Bond villain’s subterranean retreat somewhere.

Olympia itself completely disappeared for about 1,000 years. After a series of earthquakes, Theodosius II enforced a ban on pagan festivals and destroyed the temple. Then came plague, more earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, so that by the 7th century the entire site was abandoned and eventually completely buried.

The artifacts on display in the Olympia Archaeological Museum form one of the world’s greatest collections of art from antiquity. The friezes from the two pediments of the Temple of Zeus, created during the first half of the 5th century BC, are displayed in the central gallery, facing each other across the vast room, and surrounded by metopes depicting the labors of Hercules, as well as lion-headed water spouts from the temple.

The eastern pediment depicts the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos. Pelops, after whom the Peloponnese is named, and the mythical founder of the Olympic games, wanted to marry the daughter of King Oinomaos, but to win her hand he had to beat his future father-in-law in a chariot race. Oinomaos had killed the previous 18 suitors after defeating them, fearful of a prophecy that he would be killed by his son-in-law. Pelops went to the sea and appealed to his former lover, Poseidon, reminding him of “Aphrodite’s sweet gifts” that they once shared, so Poseidon gave him a chariot drawn by winged horses. After winning the race–and of course, as prophesied, Oinomaos was thrown from his chariot and dragged to death by his horses–Pelops staged chariot races to thank the gods and as funeral races in honor of his slain father-in-law. From these games the Olympics were born.

The frieze from the western pediment lively illustrates the abduction of the Lapith women by Centaurs at the wedding at Pirithous and Hippodamia, hooves and arms and legs and breasts entwined in a tour de force of sculptural narrative. The centaurs were invited to the wedding, but not used to wine, tried to rape the bride and carry off all the women and boys. The battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs is referred to many times in Greek art, metaphorically referring to the conflicts between Greeks and barbarians, or wild nature in conflict with civilized behavior.

Viewed from the large central room is the Nike of Paeonius, from 420 BC, dramatically installed in a room of blue walls, the blue of heaven, the Nike descending triumphantly from Mount Olympus.

Nearby is a delightful terra-cotta sculpture of Zeus carrying off the young Ganymede, from about 480 BC. Zeus strides confidently forward, a satisfied smile on his face, little Ganymede tucked under his arms holding a hen, a common gift at the time associated with pederasty. Actually, Ganymede’s arm sort of disappears behind the hen down into the front of Zeus’ tunic, perhaps the source of Zeus’ bemusement.

And then you turn the corner and there’s Hermes in all his polished contrapposto exquisiteness, the infant Dionysos perched on one of his arms, reaching playfully for a missing cluster of grapes dangling from Hermes’ missing other hand. My lips trembled and a single tear rolled down my cheek. The museum attributes the work to Praxiteles, created around the mid 4th century BC. The attribution is based on a remark by Pausanias two centuries later, but it was found exactly where he described seeing it, and the museum accepts it as the only original extant work by the master sculptor.

That night, after driving through scenic little village after scenic little village, we stayed in Dimitsana, a scenic little village of stone built on the side of a mountain overlooking the plain of Megalopolis. The next day we visited the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Podromos, dangling precipitously from cliffs, then on to the paltry ruins of ancient Gortys, the Byzantine bridge at Karytaina, and finally the Temple of Epicurean Zeus.

The temple was built about 450-400 BC, set atop Mt. Kotylion at 1,130 meters and has been under a big white tent for the past few decades while being restored. It was designed by Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon, and contains examples of all three of the classical orders used in ancient Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The single Corinthian column at the far end of the naos is believed to be the first use of the Corinthian order. The massive limestone columns of the temple feel both heavy and light, porous, as if they’re about to crumble at any minute. The exterior was minimally decorated, but the interior had a continuous frieze depicting Greeks in battle with Amazons, and Lapiths trying to save their women from those Centaurs again. The frieze metopes were removed by the British in 1815 and are now in the British Museum, displayed near the other Greek cultural treasures plundered by the British in the tumultuous years of Ottoman rule.

And so my summer closes, suddenly single again, but ready for love, adventure and my impending fifties, due to arrive next month.

Last Tango in Tinos

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 | Art, Gay, Stavros, The Dating Game, Travel | 2 Comments

Stavros, Dean & Mike, and I spent a few days on Tinos last week, one of the larger islands in the Cyclades. Tinos isn’t on the radar for many non-Greeks, and perhaps because of this, the island feels somehow less corrupted by tourism. The Venetians controlled it until 1715, long after the rest of Greece had fallen to the Turks, and a legacy of the long Venetian presence is a mixed Catholic/Greek Orthodox population and elaborately designed dovecotes that dot the entire island. There’s a thriving marble folk art industry. Every door and window on the island has a carved marble transom, each house incorporating some marble decoration or detail.

Most people make the pilgrimage to Tinos to visit the church of the Panagia Evangelistria, or Our Lady of Tinos. It was built on the spot where a miraculous icon with healing powers, thought to have been made by Luke the evangelist, was found in 1823. A few years earlier, Our Lady appeared to an elderly gentleman, telling him to wake up and dig up the icon. He told a local priest of his vision, but they both agreed that it may have been the devil in disguise, so best to proceed with caution. Mary kept appealing to this guy, disrupting his sleep to no avail. She finally moved on to a local nun who was a little more receptive to her directives, and bingo, she led some guys with shovels right to it. The icon was found the day after the creation of the modern Greek state, so Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the emerging Greek nation, and the construction of the church was its first large architectural project.

On the feast day of the Dormition of the Virgin (August 15), penitents crawl from the port up the hill to the church on their hands and knees as a sign of devotion, many seeking to be healed in some way. There are carpeted crawl-ways leading up the hill, and, at the top, a ghoulish statue of a crawling believer with outstretched arm and no face. It really freaked me out, the statue, reminding me of the Ghost of Christmas Future, the one who finally spooked Ebenezer Scrooge into buying that Christmas goose and new legs for Tiny Tim. The icon is displayed in the church under a mound of glittering jewels. I stood in line to photograph it, everyone in front of me kissing it and praying feverishly, but when I finally got there, I just sort of stared at it, not really able to comprehend what I was looking at, a mound of shiny baubles under glass. Beyond the reproduction icons and plastic holy-water bottles of the main town, ah, the magic begins. Great food, villages unspoiled by time, dramatic landscapes, fantastic beaches, charming little museums, and people living off of and sharing the bounty of the rugged landscape.

We stayed in an apartment overlooking the bronze-age acropolis of Vryokastro. Starvos and I ascended to the top of the acropolis early one morning, to see the sunrise, and got in the way of a humpy hunter chasing a cute little bunny, who seemed annoyed to see us in what was clearly his domain, shotgun shells strewn here and there along the path, his hounds barking and howling, just like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I like to think that we saved a bunny that day.

In Kambos is a museum devoted to the work of Costas Tsoclis, an artist who creates paintings and sculptures saturated in antiquity and nostalgia, and that often extend beyond their frames. Outside he’s created a fabulous and whimsical large-scale semi-abstract depiction of St. George slaying the dragon. Inside are several room-sized painting installations. The museum is so well designed, that even the bathroom window frames a poetic installation, a single cross leaning against a corner of the empty back courtyard, blue skies and a single cloud above. The only restaurant in town was run by a man named Stefanos, an older gentleman with a wide and toothless smile, who served up cuisine of ingredients entirely home grown, including these fantastic fried wild herb “horta” balls. We ate at his son’s restaurant in the main town a few nights later, and it was just as delicious.

Driving north across the center of the island, we turned a corner and suddenly it seemed like we were on the moon. For as far as we could see, the entire landscape was filled with giant boulders, as if someone dumped a bag of giant rocks everywhere. In the center of this tremendous cyclopean rock-scape was a quaint village, Volax, with all of its houses built into, onto or around these massive stones. An artist covered the doors of vacant houses with handwritten transcriptions of various Greek poems, giving literal dimension to the weirdly poetic experience of the village.

I climbed Mt. Exobourgo one day, site of a crumbling Venetian fortress, the administrative center of the island from the 13th to 18th centuries, while Stavros slept in the car. Standing for 500 years or so, the fortress and town inside were dismantled by the Turks in 3 days.

Pyrgos, on the north central side of the island, is one of the island’s largest villages, with several museums devoted to marble art and production. The houses and streets seem to be interconnected physically and visually, as if carved from a single block of marble. There are so many villages to tell you about, each with its own unique character, charm, and history, but enough already.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Stavros and I had decided the week before departing for Tinos to be just friends. Once on Tinos, we further decided to start seeing other people by seeing the same guy, and at the same time. His name means “sugar” in Greek, and he is as sweet as they come, a sort of furry Greek Mighty Mouse: short, muscular, carpeted in fine hairs, laughing and smiling. He’s married, to a woman, and has children, but he eagerly jumped into our four arms. He was tender, passionate, and talked to us for hours, so free with the details of his life on the island. I remember looking at Stavros across our Mighty Mouse sandwich and seeing someone different, someone I hadn’t seen before, my boyfriend being passionately engaged by someone else. I felt for a moment as if I were an intruder, but then Stavros looked into my eyes, kissed me, and suddenly I felt like we were celebrating not the end of something, but a new beginning. Remember Audrey Hepburn at the end of Roman Holiday, returning to her duties as a princess? On the plane now back to my life in San Francisco without Stavros, invoking Audrey when asked about my favorite island, I say “Tinos,” Tinos without hesitation, glassy-eyed and with memories that I’ll cherish forever.

A Day in Marathonas

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 | Art, Gay, Travel | No Comments

The boys, Stavros, and I took a little day trip to Marathonas last week, just a little northeast of Athens. It was here in 490 BC that the Persians were crushed by a considerably smaller contingent of clever Athenians. In a pivotal moment in European history, the victory proved that the young democracy could appoint the kind of political and military leadership necessary to repel such an ambitious empire while at the same time avoiding a return to tyranny, leading to the eventual rise of Classical Greek civilization and its continuing influence today.

Near the site of the battle, in Nea Makri, are the remains of a sanctuary and bath complex dedicated to the worship of Isis and other Egyptian/Hellenic gods. It was built around 160 AD by Herodes Atticus, the Roman consul of Athens and buddy of the Roman emperor and total heartthrob Hadrian. As far as I know, it’s the only such complex found in Greece. Herodes was inspired by a similar complex that Hadrian built at his villa in Tivoli, in turn modeled after an Egyptian sanctuary in Canopus on the Nile Delta.

On the site are replicas of the statues found there. The originals are located in the Archaeological Museum of Marathonas, a wonderful little museum nearby, which also includes finds from the area going back to 4,000 BC. The statues combine characteristics of Egyptian and Greek goddesses, and, as if designed for a Cecil B. DeMille epic, are very theatrical and seem oddly not of their time. One statue holds in her hands three small roses, symbols of both the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Aphrodite. Another Egyptian-looking goddess holds a sheaf of wheat, symbol of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, closely tied to the change of seasons.

A few days earlier, at the Museo Archaeologico in Athens, I had seen a statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s lover, as an Egyptian god. Antinous was associated with Osiris after he mysteriously drowned in the Nile and was deified by Hadrian. The wall label indicated that the statue was found in Marathonas, so I’m assuming it was part of the temple complex there. But Antinous was pretty much everywhere during that time. The sad obsessed Hadrian not only declared him a god after his death and commissioned thousands of humpy statues of his likeness, he also built a city on the site of his death, Antinopolis. He also identified a star in the sky as Antinous, a rosy lotus that grew along the Nile as the Antinous flower, and proposed a new constellation of Antinous being carried to heaven by an eagle (the constellation Aquila. Remember Ganymede was swept up to Olympus by Zeus, in the form of an eagle, to be the gods’ cupbearer).

Ganymede was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore
the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus’ wine-pourer,
for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals.

I have such a crush on Hadrian. First of all he’s exactly my type with his big face and wavy hair and beard. Secondly he turns his boyfriends into gods. He wrote an autobiography, unfortunately lost, that I am hoping turns up someday.

But anyway, back to the little Archaeological Museum of Marathonas… in addition to the Egyptian-Hellenic god statues, there are many interesting grave stele and funeral monuments, including a herm unusual for having a penis and not a head. I’ve often wondered if one day archaeologists will find a hidden room somewhere filled with all the gentle-talia that have been hacked off of old statuary. I can imagine some modern-day Shemp opening the door and all the marbles spilling out around him in a river of white willies.

New Installation: Scylla & Charybdis

Sunday, July 5th, 2015 | Art | No Comments

My new exhibition is up, in Oakland, at the Mercury 20 Gallery. If you can’t make it to Oakland, no problem, just click on over!

It’s a photographic installation that I’m calling Scylla & Charybdis, after the two sea monsters that Odysseus had to choose between and sail past as he worked his way back to Ithaca and his beloved Penelope. Choosing between “Scylla and Charybdis” has come to mean choosing between two equally unpleasant options.

I’m looking at the gallery as the setting for a kind of aesthetic journey, inviting the viewer to contemplate new ideas about beauty through a visual engagement with our subliminal and overt anxieties about the body.

At the center of my installation are two 12-image photographic grids, composed of the same 12 black and white images, but arranged in different ways to evoke abstracted versions of the two creatures. The component images are closeup photos of the same large hairy male body.

A third grid, called “Swell” is composed of closeup photos of a man’s long white beard and furry shoulders, the images arranged to echo a tumultuous seascape, and bringing to mind Poseidon, the god of the sea.

Flanking the grids are large color images of spider webs. The webs are blurry, set against a lurid red background, creating a kind of psychologically charged space. Insects wander into spider webs, only to be trapped and devoured. My installation is an aesthetic trap, the viewer lured into my world, invited to wander through and consider a very different kind of artistic subject matter.

Breezing into the Windy City

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Art, Food, Travel | No Comments

I love going to Chicago. It’s like “the big city” in a way that New York and LA–and certainly little San Francisco–somehow aren’t. Maybe it’s the grandeur of the architecture, or just that everything seems so… what? Big? Even small plates at restaurants seem huge. I was there recently, and even I came home bigger, after stuffed pizza, fat steaks, half pound burgers and Whitey’s chocolate malts. Whitey’s is in Moline, on the Iowa border, where Big Chris’ family lives. We stopped in Moline for a few days to visit with them and see the “Self-Taught Genius” show at the Figge in Davenport, across the Mississippi. And Whitey’s malts every night. And there are all these fantastic slow-foody restaurants, with local products, vertically constructed architectural dishes, craft brews and spirits. I remember going to Italy in 1993 with Bob and discovering field greens, which seemed so exotic at the time, and then coming home trying to find things like arugula and frisée, which at the time weren’t yet widely available. I’m so happy that people are rediscovering their local farmers and producers. It makes visiting those places more special, when something uniquely of the place can be experienced.

At the Art Institute of Chicago we saw a show of James Ensor’s work, centered around the restoration of his Temptation of Saint Anthony. What a wonderfully tortured artist. Having never successfully resisted greed or lust myself, I found his anguish at the brutality of modern life quite intense, and so lushly theatrical.

There was also on view a more recent body of work examining the drama of modern misery, from 1980, Sarah Charlesworth’s Stills. Each of the 14 photographs is 78 inches tall, and features a blown up reproduction of an image from a newspaper of a person falling from a tall building. They’re beautifully unsettling, shocking documents that reduce existence to the split second before it’s all over.

Of the many wonderful dining experiences this time around, my favorite was a seemingly dumpy Polish place on West Division, called Podhalanka. We were given a menu, but quickly discouraged from making any decisions and simply asked how hungry we were. “Average hungry” for the two of us resulted in white borscht with sausage soup, cabbage soup, grilled sausages, stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, pierogi and Cherry juice. One of the most memorable, satisfying and authentic Polish meals I’ve had in Chicago. The staff quite clearly hoped to give us an experience of Polish cuisine, and share their lovingly made traditional creations, rather than just feed us. I felt like my aunt Agnieszka was cooking–just for us!

My cousins took us out to a pubby restaurant called Publican that describes its food as an homage to bear, pork and oysters–a rowdy place, well-suited to my fun-loving cousins. It’s the kind of place where you could jump on the tables and sing the Whiffenpoof Song. My cousins, who are around my age, have a knack for finding mates who look exactly like what my husband should look like. When the time comes, I’m putting those girls to work on finding the next one for me.

Spotlight: Rosy-Fingered Dawn

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 | Art | No Comments

Yesterday at the gallery a woman walked in and expressed her admiration for my “beautiful flowers.” I talked with her about the Cecile Brunner rose, and explained that the grids in the show were not actual flowers but were comprised of closeup images of large hairy men. “You mean big creepy guys?” she asked. “No,” I replied, “men that I find beautiful, big hairy bodies that I love looking at.”

In a way I found this exchange encouraging, that she was experiencing beauty in something that she had previously considered with such hostility. I aimed for subtlety in this show, like William Friedkin slipping in a flash of a sexually graphic image, to arouse a subliminal response in my viewer, but to subversively steer it in a different direction.

For this particular piece, Rosy-Fingered Dawn, the title is taken from an epithet in Homer’s Odyssey, a metaphor for the beginning of Odysseus’ journey, marking the dawn of a new day and symbolizing his journey from inexperience to triumph. It refers to the personification of the goddess of the morning, rising out of the ocean with rose-colored fingers, gently scattering dew.

My model for this piece was someone with whom I had a torrid but brief yet unforgettable affair. The piece records our final moment in bed, my hands running through his chest hairs, the sun rising in the background, each of us soon to depart in very different directions. The images form a sort of deep red rose, a traditional symbol of romance and passion. It’s a record of the pleasure that we experienced, the dawn bringing not only the end of our time together, but the promise of a new day and new aesthetic challenges.

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Thursday, September 25th, 2014 | Art | No Comments

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