There were several announcements explaining various institutional miscalculations in NYC’s not-for-profit art world this past week. Sadly I am learning about the “next size up on the eco-art food chain” museums (OMG! plural) are potentially floundering and in some cases have been for years. I am not exactly surprised; I too am steering my own raft of artists in the same huge economic sea as them, as a part of a diverse national entertainment sector. It is pretty rough; sometimes rocky but grateful I took steps to balance my part at the turn of the millennium. Like all good self enlightening enterprises; our mission had to acknowledge that for better or worse art is a patronage game, we are fully responsible for our actions, and we had to budget accordingly. The broader narrative of how we got here as a city regrettably stems from income inequality while über-wealthy people removed their substantial financial contributions to our civilized society via health care, education, safe, productive working environments, advanced communications and transportation etc… so the message could not be clearer, there was little hope for artists in this desperately impoverished mentality. In all fairness probably our ragtag group of avant-garde artists were not an easy sell, everything seemed “wrong” about us from a foundation’s point of view; and corporations would never take a chance on something so unpredictable; nevertheless we became incredibly entrepreneurial. Someday I will write a book about Micro Museum’s wondrous and inclusive prolific ways but right now my recent awareness of the status of some of NYC’s newest emerging cultural destinations struggle is disheartening. This systemic lack of opportunity and appreciation for its citizens and international visitors to have nuanced art experiences is a bad economic plan for any city but NY city? Wow, it ain’t right. I know this challenge is not over since we are proudly innovative so I’ll refrain from raising a white flag or anything like that, however speaking of white flags…. did you hear about a gorilla action that switched out the 2 USA flag on the Brooklyn Bridge for 2 white flags. A police spokesperson speculated that it must have been “someone’s art project”. This totally made me burst into Brooklynese “Fucking someone’s art fucking project??” Are ya shitting me? on one of the USA’s most goddamn iconic bridge? Does any of this make fucking sense? In my goddamn wildest dreams I hope it was a loony-ass dancer doing his ‘Ode to Surrender’ dance, like the cartoonist Jules Feiffer famed NYC illustrations. So far the purpose behind the gorilla action is still a mystery and so are stingy mindsets because if NYC strangles its uniquely world-class cultural attractions through lack of sustainable funding, it will become a city of dandelions instead of hybrid flowers.
I grew up way too anxious; phobic; impoverished for tattoos but since I am becoming an oldster, I might just get me one. As a result I am looking at people’s tattoos and asking myself many questions about that particular artist rendition and the potential placement on my body. Today I walked by a charming women with a beautiful image of a tall ship on her arm. Perhaps I am too susceptible or easily influenced but still I catch myself wondering what that image would be like on my aging body instead of her darling youthful body. And… did I mention that I love tall ships! They occasionally make a trek to Hudson Harbor in NYC, which is totally enchanting. People are braver than me since I am all too aware of my changing body. Working as a dancer/choreographer for a few decades did not prevent me from expanding once I stopped putting in the rigorous daily rehearsals. I still watch every calorie, make sure I get in some physical training every week and practice public dancing every chance I get. Nevertheless I look more and more like my mother and her sisters every day. However I will still keep thinking about where my tattoo goes and what it will be. Perhaps committing so much cellular real estate to a tall ship is not for beginners. I love hearts and will consider that too, until some beautiful piece of artistry stands next to me on subway platform, then I will launch into fantasy-land again. The good news is that I still have time to make up my mind. What is not clear to me is how I intend to fight gravity for the foreseeable future. Recently watched two Judd Apatow comedies about anxious, phobic people dating or living the married life. I can’t exactly say they landed with a thud but oddly I saw no parallels between my artistic life and the problems of those pampered white people ( full disclosure: I am obviously white ). In my art world life there is not room for phobia or anxiety because that is the fuel that makes me persist. I have hung up my professional dancing shoes and took up a paintbrush but the same hectoring dialog is totally unchanged from one medium to the next. It is quite curious how child-like we really are. Human beings have insecurities that stem from really early sensations. Coming to grips with those emotions could take a lifetime to fully comprehend but artists wrestle with them everyday we walk into our work. Every time we force ourselves to be creative; we face those emotional demons and eventually we produce originality. There were situations in the Apatow films that were dearly human but at the end of one movie, comedian Melissa McCarthy did a brief out take where she stepped up her comedic tirade and then step it up again and again just like a tall ship in the harbor, majestic, powerful and beautiful. I was enchanted. Maybe I should put her image on my arm? Decisions decision decisions….
“I never let my schooling interfere with my education” quipped the American icon Mark Twain and nor should you. We learn lies in history books and without further investigating one could believe a whole lot of nonsense about what it means to be an American and a citizen of this globe. Our miserable world is unrelenting. One tyrant is ready to replace the last without even waiting for the curtain to go down on one act of oppression to the next. Perhaps certain extremism and their love of heavy weaponry is beyond hope, beyond reason and beyond creativity. However I am an artist and strangely hopeful that reason and creativity will prevail. I want to point out that the name of Muslim extremists destroying Syria and Iraq today “ISIS” share the name with a goddess of serious note. Isis represents all forms of nature and magic. She is famed for having used her significant healing powers to restore the globally strewn body of her murdered brother, she breathes new life even into death. Irrationally I hope that the evil Isis has to come to terms with the good Isis because if there ever was a time to need magical solutions, it is now. A bit closer to home, nationally we too are battling religious fundamentalists who preach one thing but deliver another. It is sadly counterproductive and profoundly misogynistic. I deeply wonder why social, professional, and strategic situations are universally male dominated. This puzzle has thrown me back into an education mode because I was a committed feminist since I was a teenager and since I raised 2 children (1985-1995); I missed out on plenty of popular culture schooling. Recently learned about what is now known as the “Bechdel test” introduced in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985. It poses 3 questions to all films: #1 Does the film have at least two women in it?; #2 Do they talk to each other?; #3 Do they talk about something else other than a man? Turns out there are almost no films that pass these 3 simple premises. Literally…. when we look at our largest forms of communal entertainment industries: movies and sports (World Cup is going on now), there isn’t even a fraction of a sliver of representation from women. Armed with this pathetic lack of representation, it is creating a new zeal to hear my own voice. A voice I intend to speak through paintings, art making, community building and the persistent encouragement to appreciate women-kind. Perhaps it is a touch unrealistic to think that against such incredible odds that art could make a difference to the horrors around us, to the hardships, the degradation experienced because women are not valued but it is summer and even if I cannot scale that wall myself, I will at least try to get others to see my point of view. Summer is my favorite productive time of year and I intend to make the most of it. My journey starts with a paintbrush or an electronic image and will end in the wee hours of the night imagining a future where women are leading the way to a global healing via Isis, goddess of magic and average everyday people who practice creativity through feminism.
Finished reading Jonathan Letham’s “Fortress of Solitude” this past week. The story of several boys and their families as they grew up in the Gowanus area of Boerum Hill, which is pretty much my current neighborhood. One of the character was named the same name as my son, so what mother doesn’t love reading that? It turned out to be a pure pleasure read. When the story involved aspects of gentrification, public schooling, race relations for children at early age, drug use or abuse, vandalism and comics book fantasies, I am instantly propelled back to my youth, not through an urban decaying – renovating place like Gowanus but in newly tilled ranch land that turned into middle American sprawl. I was aware of race/class structure like I had never been aware before and I encountered lots of sexism that scarred me more than I understood at the time. All I know is that I had to get outta there if I wanted to survive. Seven days after high school graduation, I left and never looked back. Another dear friend of mine not from America experienced my story with extreme sexism and she, like me, found survival in NYC through art. We were like sisters because of our past but also because of where we were taking our futures. We are determined people who are dedicated to a form of expression that is not for the light-of-heart. We became NYC artists, where one could sustain a whole career without a fraction of recognition, financial support, and finding happiness with a tiny audience of dedicated viewers. I remember being an Texan artist where all we had to do was take out one little ad in the local newspaper and the place was packed with curious minded people willing to pay money to see what we were doing. I sold artwork, without even trying. There were large commissions and pre-sale opportunities but I had to stay for them and that was not going to happen since I saw no emotional future there. So NYC is my hometown and I identify with Letham’s wayward boys who reacted to their worlds in irrational ways, ways that prevented positive intimacy. They could have been me, except none of them could become pregnant, unwillingly. We all survive our journeys by hopefully meeting somewhere in the middle. They are fictional characters. My friend and I are not. We struggle long past the end of the page. So while I manage to work everyday on making artworks to share, while I sustain a proud partnership of over 30 years, while I enjoy my children as they became men, I hope that others find the expressing themselves through another medium like dance, paint, words, object, music, and media give them a way to embrace their futures through friendships that sustain a lifetime. One of my weekly pleasures is to gallery sit at Micro Museum® and meet visitors. Two women from Canada who ironically I meet on the F Train platform the day before their visit announced that they have been friends for 45 years. I asked them what allowed them to remain friends all that time, through marriages, children, different cities, different careers, and obviously different fashion since one was decked out in 100 colors and the other wore jeans and a tee-shirt and they answered “ART”. Apparently they love it and because of that answer I loved them too. It was that simple.
Stumbling onto a story about an artist that inspires me is strawberries and cream without the calories. It took almost a full day to let this inspiration ripple through my consciousness. On many levels the movie “Searching for Sugarman” is a modern day Odyssey directed by Malik Bendjelloul. Detroit area resident songwriter, musician, and father of 3 daughters, Sixto Rodriguez created 2 albums with the help of enthusiastic music industry insiders in the 1990s. Each album was a true USA failure but bootleg copies of his songs made their way to Cape Town where they became hugely popular until wild rumors of his death sent two passionate music researchers in search of their idolized musician via his lyrics. Surprise surprise… he was not dead. Meanwhile here in Brooklyn is Kara Walker’s installation in the soon to be demolished Domino Factory building. Called “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” is a tribute to the vision of a single artist. Creative Times, the producer of the event has a long track history of bringing NYC challenging works of art for free. Seeing art is always a summer treat but this one is shared with people of all ages, experiences and backgrounds. Half the experience is seeing others viewing the monstrous mammy looking sphinx with it’s powerful overtones about race in America. The bitterness of our collective history cannot be balanced by sugar-coating. Nothing can change our past but we can talk and act openly about our shared futures. Being inspired is something one makes opportunities for everyday but it doesn’t exactly happen everyday. So two inspirations in a row for me is worth celebrating. Maybe I should have a dessert? That is usually not a good idea for me. So I’ll party-on with my “World Cup” Salad.
The sky calls me at night to watch our few visible stars while I fantasize about UFOs making their presence known under my watchful eye. Lately the night air has been like a cashmere envelope addressed to me. I need this comfort. As much as winter is a fact of life, my way of making peace with NYC winters is to spend time experiencing warmer climate nights staring at the stars, our ancestors. I ask them questions and they spark conversations around me. Here is what they say: “Things are temporary”; “You twinkle just like me”; “Enjoy your specialness”; “We are all dust”; “You never will be old like me”. Their answers always surprise me but when you are willing to listen it’s magical. Had the opportunity to screen two movies alfresco starting with “The Simple Life” also known as “Sister Peach”, by Ann Hui and starring Andy Lau and Deanie Ipfor. The best part of the movie was her cooking. She made food I would never consider eating because stewed beef tongue looked disgusting but she had style. The story was quite simple too. Sadly there was nothing simple about documentary film “We Were Here” by David Weissman and Bill Weber. The powerful film documents San Fransisco grappling with AIDS epidemic through a basic framework by interweaving several narrative by various survivors. My address at the time was East Village NYC. Even though I was a completely square artist and unsuited to the heavy drug/drinking & sexing populations around me. Essentially my neighborhood was like Jonathan Larson’s RENT but way less glamorous and nobody sang in key. The 1980s were dreadful as I recall. People had no active families, we became defacto family because the male dancers I was taking class with were dropping like flies. They needed immediate and desperate help. We tried to help but during a disaster of this magnitude it was like putting out a fire with your spit. I am mighty grateful that medical science is trying to understand this epic medical disaster. We need more knowledge. Maybe those questions cannot be answered by the stars but we should at least truly listen.
I am loyal. Rain or shine – if I say I will or say I won’t – rest assure that is what will happen. In the age of layered communication devices if you say you will and then you don’t, well I feel sorry for you. It appears that you have no manners. Being unreliable is one of the worst features in a person and happily I’ve had little experience with that dealing with artists. They might struggle, they might be delayed, but they rarely disappoint. It is for this reason that I have worked with this population for so many decades because goodness knows it isn’t the money. The reason we keep on keeping on is because the rewards are great when you develop relationships with people who are dedicated to their visions. It is a great cultural ride. So it was a particular pleasure to attend the wedding of a former dancer and see that all the loyalty she once directed towards me and the art we created together is now directed towards a lovely person who shares her interest in life and love. While the skies poured rain everywhere we were surrounded by the fires of passion and friendship with no fair weathered persons in attendance.
Being loyal does not mean we do not reach for new ideas because that would mean that we are stuck. Feeling stuck is never good especially for a creative person. It could become a self fulfilling prophecy if allowed to simmer. So while I actively shake complacency up every week when I put a simple brush to canvas or fingers to keyboard, it is humbling to recognize how tragically people around the world are truly stuck in their situation, like countless wars. No amount of inspiration can help this painful situation because through no fault of their own they are born in a place where there are little to no social freedoms or are surrounded by dangerous fundamentalists. Lawlessness is heartbreaking. Lately I have been thinking more and more of of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s chant “WAR IS OVER (if we want it) GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.” While I share the notion and loyal to the concept that people make peace alive everyday. I am convinced that getting tyrants of the world to lay down their weapons will take a radical shift well beyond anything I have personally encountered. It will take a generation of sustained protests, more deaths, insecurity, mayhem, plus rapid education, google earth, twitter, facebook and the like. Where are our Ghandi’s, our Mandela’s, our Martin Luther King’s? If there was ever a time for them it is now. Picasso’s Guernica was able to communicate visually the suffering in his homeland during the late 1930s because of it’s heartfelt content, limited palette and its size – approx 11 ft tall X 26 ft wide. When I stood in a room with it, I felt it personally attacked my psyche. It was that masterful. But paintings, loyalty, concepts, good will etc…. do not stop wars only the most courageous people do. On this day I send them strength, community and the unwavering focus of an artist.