Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Part for a (W)hole – Mike Kelley as avant-garde literature

I haven’t written anything about Mike Kelley since he killed himself just over three years ago, but it isn’t for the reasons you might think. Like most of his friends and acquaintances in Los Angeles, I have decidedly mixed feelings about his career-topping final exit, and sorting those out is an enormous, ongoing, and private undertaking. No, the primary impediment to my weighing in on Mike’s legacy is the fact that his oeuvre – now being complete – is, frankly, mentally and physically overwhelming. For a depressed guy, he sure did a lot of work!

This was literally brought home to me recently when Kelley’s Stedelijk Museum retrospective finally made it back to roost at MOCA’s cavernous Geffen Contemporary facility. But wandering from room to overstuffed room, I experienced an unexpected and paradoxical reaction. I kept feeling there was not enough. That the exhibit was incomplete. Which is crazy – I had already spent 10 hours in the former LAPD garage, and felt I had barely scratched the surface. They couldn’t include every single scrap left behind by the hardest working man in art business, could they?

Could they? It occurred to me that that was exactly what I wanted to see, physically, in one place at one time – Mike Kelley’s complete works, with no missing parts. Not only that, but I wanted it to be a permanent installation, available for repeat in-depth visits over a number of years. It’s not something I could say about many artists (certainly not Clifford Still, who managed to arrange something pretty close) and I realize that such a model is completely unfeasible in the context of contemporary culture, but… there it is.

In a day or two, I realized that my desire was bound up with an understanding of Mike’s art as One Great Work, like some great novel. Very much like some great novel -- characters, plots, motifs, satirical targets, formal devices, and linguistic tour-de-forces recur with rhythmical regularity and subtle (or drastic) variation in Kelley’s work.

Albeit in an immersive, multi-sensory, modular, non-linear structure. With Gravity’s Rainbow or Finnegans Wake I felt that I didn’t quite glean every last drop of meaning and pleasure from the first go-round. Same here. It had to sink in. And I would need to revisit it in a year -- and again in five years, and in twenty, fifty, whatever. Forever. Not gonna happen.

And yet there is an argument to be made for the holographic view – or at least that Kelley’s most deliberately written works contain the template for his larger corpus; the cornerstone of Mike Kelley’s success as an artist has always been his literary virtuosity. Contrary to common wisdom regarding text-heavy pictures, Mike’s dense early black-and-white paintings and drawings actually attract and hold the viewer’s attention. And his early performance art works stood out from the herd of endurance tests and neo-ritualistic costume dramas by the sheer strength and wit of their writing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Misunderstanding Sculpture

Having somehow acquired two university degrees in Painting and spending the subsequent 20 years as a professional artist, curator, and critic, I am as sensitive as the next artworld insider to the ways in which art schools, gallery scenes, and the state of contemporary art are depicted in popular narratives. They usually get it embarrassingly wrong.

The medium of comics seem particularly susceptible, riddled as it is with whining fanboys traumatized to learn in their art school foundation year that the drafting chops that kept them from being beat up since the third grade haven’t been considered relevant since 1837. Even brilliant social satirists like Dan Clowes and Chris Ware can miss the mark by aiming at straw men patched together from sitcom stereotypes and Andy Rooney editorials. So it is with some trepidation that I approachedThe Sculptor, Scott McCloud’s first substantial foray into graphic narrative practice after decades devoted to graphic narrative theory, with his inescapable Understanding Comics and its sequels.

The Sculptor tells the story of a young flash-in-the-pan art star wannabe who had his 15 seconds and blew it, but is still hanging around Manhattan as he sinks into despair and oblivion. So far so good! But instead of crawling back to the sticks and staking out a future as an adjunct Community College instructor, our protagonist David Smith (named, oddly, for the most famous mid-20th-century modernist American sculptor) manages a Faustian bargain that will almost certainly get him the prizes he deserves. Antics ensue.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, which manages to be simultaneously formulaic and bizarre, but David is suddenly able to fabricate an enormous number of highly crafted, idiosyncratically personal cartoonish granite sculptures in a very short time. He fully expects this extravagant bounty to redeem his reputation and career, but the artworld’s (quite accurate) response is dismissive, comparing his cluttered studio to a “Polynesian gift shop” and launching him on a shame spiral that quickly leaves him disoriented, homeless, and suicidal. Enter the bipolar aspiring actress with the heart of gold, and David’s chance to learn the real meaning of Christmas. Or something.

Just shy of 500 pages, The Sculptor is an engaging, entertaining read – a surreal potboiler with the fluid, flexible, cinematic pacing you would expect from perusing the author’s theoretical treatises. McCloud’s images are also distinctly filmic, with lots of crane shots and noir expressionist compositions interspersed with too-occasional passages of contemplative observational detail. The ambitious scale and production values are inordinate to McCloud’s track record in fiction, and the effect is ultimately reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan, whose movies always beg the question “How did this ever get made?” Which is a good thing.

Read the rest at The Comics Journal website (or ATJ)


Article about the inimitable Cathy Ward in the upcoming RAW VISION - she'll be having her LA solo debut at The Good Luck Gallery in the Fall.

"Impossibly intricate, nearly-abstract renderings of hair incised into scratchboard; baroque cut-paper collages sourced from porno mags; an immersive environment of carved and painted trees meticulously encrusted with Germanic kitsch; a decade-long exhaustive photodocumentation of food vans; luminous fin-de-siècle paintings for post-punk record covers; a faux-museological recreation of a neo-paganist secret society initiation chamber; a reenactment of the doomed trek of the Donner Party (minus the actual cannibalism) – unlike many artists classified as “outsider”, Catharyne Ward has passed through a succession of distinct phases more appropriate to the career of a mainstream post-studio conceptualist like Mike Kelley or Rosemarie Trockel.

Yet, despite attending the Royal College of Art in London (albeit in ceramics) and hanging with Eduardo Paolozzi, she has managed to avoid being shortlisted for the Turner Prize or gracing the cover of Artforum. So far. Such conventional accolades would not be hard to imagine, given the ambition, timeliness, cross-disciplinary panache and sheer visual beauty of the work, but Ward’s forceful idiosyncracy, authentically subversive political undertones and psychological candour – not to mention her labour-intensive craftsmanship – have kept her outsider credibility intact.

Perhaps the most well-loved works in Ward's diverse oeuvre are her scratchboard drawings of cascading, contorted masses of hair, which have been likened to the work of Madge Gill and Austin Osman Spare. The somewhat disreputable hobbyist medium – a subtractive, even sculptural, drawing practice where a black India ink surface is scraped away to reveal an underlying layer of white china clay – packs a graphic punch, while coming equipped with a whole set of symbolic connotations..."

Image: Surgenesis, 2008, china clay and India ink on board, 16 x 20 ins

Purchase to view the entire article: Raw Vision #85

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Michael Parker's JUICEWORK at Human Resources

I haven't been doing much art reviewing lately, but here's an excerpt from "Michael Parker 101," which will be included in the catalog for R.S.V.P. Los Angeles at Pomona College Museum of Art, Fall 2015 (ed. Rebecca McGrew and Terri Geis).

"The history of Modern art could be mined for precursors to relational aesthetics at least as far back as the Dada antics at the Cabaret Voltaire. But most of the current practitioners of this newest of New Genres distinguish themselves by subscribing to a conceptualist austerity of means—favoring deadpan structural and procedural documentation; emphasizing, often exclusively, the social interactions produced by their artworks; and eschewing formalist content, such as the tactile, sensual, and perceptual elements of art and the visual language they comprise.

While the relational artists’ puritanism can be helpful in focusing and clarifying their intentions (plus having the bonus effect of destabilizing their claim to creative authority), it also abdicates subjectivity, idiosyncrasy, most of the non-narrative non-verbal information (which provides a much different kind of ambiguity than crowd-sourced content), and the majority of the sensory rewards that many still consider integral to art. It is a dry medium, lacking juice. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In his most recent solo exhibition, Michael Parker brought the juice with a vengeance. For Juicework, held at Human Resources in Los Angeles’ Chinatown district over four days in February 2015, the artist filled the cavernous white cube of the gallery—a former neighborhood movie house—with an array of interactive components that took sensual engagement to an absurd but exquisite extreme. Consisting of a dozen or so stations where visitors could produce and consume juice from the abundant supply of citrus fruits (plus a dishwashing area), the installation functioned perfectly as a locus of conviviality, with perhaps a spritz of social commentary (juice boutiques being currently synonymous with the sustainable gentry).

What made Juicework remarkable was its extravagant sensuality and homespun eccentricity. Each of the juicing stations consisted of a table fashioned from an irregular tree slab raised about 10 inches off the floor and lit by hanging porcelain pendant lamps molded from what the artist called “the ugliest watermelon of the summer.” Various sizes of coiled fabric cushions sealed in clear vinyl and an array of ersatz African stools provided seating.

But the pith of the display consisted of over 1000 handmade ceramic artifacts—mostly freeform juice reamers of various sizes, but also sufficient quantities of cups, funnels, trays, and larger vessels to hold the mounds of yellow, orange, and green fruit. The ceramic tools were mutantly variegated in shape, scale, and finish—with organic forms recalling sea anemones and sumptuous mottled glazes in the blue-violet-red end of the spectrum.

Visually, the installation was like nothing so much as an immersive stained glass Art Nouveau theme park, like walking through Antoni Gaudi’s studio during a minor earthquake. And an aromatherapy session. And experimental choreography workshop. And yes, the social aspect was delightful. But it might not have been so, without the opium-den intimacy and Haight-Ashbury facture to knock the public’s discursive minds off their “I-am-participating-in-a-social-artwork” pedestals..."

Better pictures and more info at:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Desert Lighthouse Ultimatum!

Don't miss one of the most auspicious LA solo debuts in recent memory - Daniel Hawkins' Desert Lighthouse Ultimatum, the second installation in the artist's Desert Lighthouse Trilogy, a series of multimedia installations exploring his past and future attempts to erect a full-size fully-functioning lighthouse in the Mojave Desert.

The partially completed show, curated by Tyler Stallings, had a stealth opening at UC Riverside's ARTSblock’s Sweeney Art Gallery in late November, but has recently reached its complete state with the addition of several components, including a set of deliberately lo-res 3D animations of the lighthouse's eventual disintegration, designed for the outdoor jumbotron-style LED displays, and the completion and publication of the Desert Lighthouse Prospectus, a lavish guide for potential financial backers -- which includes an essay by yours truly, which I have excerpted below.

From the press release: 
Following hot on the heels of his Desert Lighthouse Protocols [MFA thesis exhibition at UC Irvine] (2014), Ultimatum expands and focuses his vision with an array of artifacts and documents, centering on the fully functioning top 1/5 of the rebuilt lighthouse, but encompassing materials as diverse as the artist’s beautifully painted panoramic backdrops of the actual building site, a pair of oversized bulletin board compositions presenting an intricate non-linear pictorial/informational representation of the Desert Lighthouse saga, and much more!
The official "closing" artist's reception is next Saturday, February 28th, 2015, 6pm - 9pm, but the show is up for another couple of weeks during the regular gallery hours of Tue-Sat: 12pm-5pm -- this is a spectacular cutting edge mashup of innovative land art, experimental narrative, and masterful formalism, in a museum-scaled installation that you won't be able to see anywhere else anytime soon! The Sweeney Art Gallery is located at 3824 Main Street, Riverside, CA 92501.


"Although ostensibly an architectural Land Art intervention – and, as such, extending its conceptual tendrils to connect with such other desert modifiers as Robert Smithson (no slouch at courting failure himself), Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, James Turrell, and Walter de Maria (particularly the last three, who have each created signature works that incorporate light and architecture as their central components), Desert Lighthouse incorporates media and genres as disparate as panoramic landscape painting, printmaking, drawing, architectural engineering, performance, relational aesthetics, institutional mimicry, video, sound art, and digital imaging and animation.
In spite of this rich material outpouring, the Desert Lighthouse is at heart a conceptual work -- albeit one that is unafraid to flirt with formalism and narrative when it serves its purposes. Professor Burns does an admirable job of unpacking Hawkins’ initial trunkload of semiotic baggage in his accompanying essay. But as with many Modernist icons – from Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) to Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1969) to Jeffrey Vallance’s Blinky the Friendly Hen (1978) – the bulk of the meaning is unlocked in the act of displacement.
This central conceit – the displacement of the symbolically loaded structure of a functioning lighthouse into the diametrically opposite environment from the only one in which it makes sense – has provoked considerable speculation above and beyond the official “agoraphobic panic” origin myth. One local observer suggested that the beacon was intended for the Space Brothers, while another speculated on the imminent proliferation of wind-powered desert “sand yachts” after the oil runs out.
Other environmentalist-tinged readings include the DL as a theatrical prophecy of the landscape in the wake of a coming global drought – every lighthouse will be a desert lighthouse; or as a warning about the adjacent contamination plume of hexavalent chromium in the local water table, made famous by Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film Erin Brockovich – an environmental intervention generated by the anti-corrosive circulatory runoff from a natural gas cooling tower – a dark doppelganger lighthouse, an icy siren, poisoning the landscape to keep its potential energy contained and commodifiable..."
To read the compete essay, purchase a copy of the Prospectus at next Saturday's event, or look ATJ!

Monday, January 26, 2015

F for Failare

Live improvised noise music performance by F (Marnie Weber, Daniel Hawkins, & Doug Harvey with lightshow by Lee Lorenzo Lynch) as part ofJohn Kilduff's Let's Paint TV Retrospective at Blackstone Gallery, 901 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015 (9th & Broadway downtown). Friday January 30th. 8 PM. Free for all.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Chloe Bowie, NW3

Pleased to convey that Winway Pleats Please AKA Chloe successfully earned her NW3 title in Canine Scent Work (with two Pronounceds), which is arguably the terminal degree in that field, on Saturday December 27, 2014, in beautiful Palmdale, CA! We're still waiting for the final calibration to determine her placement overall and if she is, as we suspect, the first whippet to achieve this level of expertise, but in the meantime here are some dramatic magic hour shots of the graduate and her ribbons (also includes an NW3-E element title for exteriors). Thanks to Michael and Natalie McManus for hosting, CO Amy Herot, judges Ron Gaunt and Cindy Lowry, and all of Chloe's fans and supporters. Learn more about this exciting new dog sport at and!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Outsider Xmas 4 - Now More Than Ever

I guess one of the reasons I haven't put out any more of these compilations is that I figured with the internet and all, everybody had all this stuff -- but I realized recently that not everybody spends all their spare time obsessively collecting weird-ass music. Nonetheless I should acknowledge the other obsessives that I cribbed off here, including wfmu's Beware of the Blog, Music for Maniacs, and God knows who else. Oh, and I snagged the image from Tom Recchion's FB page. (It's Ed Wood, unidentified lady, and Bela Lugosi.) Merry Xmas, y'all!

Click here to go to the free DL page. Tracklist in comments.

(PS: The reason this is #4 is that #3 was a hipster version, and remains unfinished.)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Outsider Xmas Reup 2014

As requested, I've re-upped the two anthologies of Holiday-themed outsider music (songpoems, celebrities, novelty, developmentally different, amateur, etc). It's strange to think I put the first one together 13 years ago. Even stranger that the track that I tacked on the end to coincide with the hot new blockbuster movie from Hollywood is more pertinent than ever. No promises, but if I get a few minutes, the long anticipated Vol. 3 may be forthcoming...

"You may order your pastels from Alaska,
Imported, as the Igloo, in review"
- Evelyn Christmas (songpoem, Vol 2 track 4)

Download Outsider XMAS Vol 1
Download Outsider XMAS Vol 2

Tracklists in Comments

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Winter Returns the Perfectly Good

Headboards that is! And Winter being Winter Jenssen, who most kindly took it upon himself to complete the "LA Wood" show Perfectly Good Headboards installation by re-releasing the PGH's into the wild, as documented here. Thanks again to China Adams for including my work in this excellent museum-worthy exhibit. EQC4EVER!


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Both Ox and Self Transcended

My performance on last night's Ear Meal is up on youtube: -- I always rely on synchronicity to make my art meaningful (less work) and true to form I just found out that yesterday was the exact 45th anniversary of the sentencing of Bobby Seale for contempt of court, the event reenacted on the LP I used in my single-source deconstruction. Mere coincidence?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

WHo is that handsome fellow?!

And here are a few shots from The Spirit Girls at Festival Supreme's Circus of Death that include yours truly -- above, getting excited by Daniel Hawkins' persona repair facility (photo by Dani Tull); below, onstage with the band - DH gtr, DH kbrd, Marnie Weber vox bass, Tanya Haden vox cello, Debbie Spinelli drums, Dani Tull gtr, plus Lorri Wressel swinging one mean ax (photos by LeeAnn Nickel). Thank you Los Angeles, Jack Black, Steven Hull, Marnie Weber, and last but not least, thank you Los Angeles!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hurd Drove Through the Grapevine

Still one of the most refreshing painters around. Up for one more week

STEVE HURD: Paintings 1992 through 2014 September 13, 2014 - October 11, 2014

ROSAMUND FELSEN GALLERY, Bergamot Station B4, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404.

(photo by Young Summers)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gerry Fialka on LARZ, followed by a Hiatus

This Sunday's guest on Doug Harvey's LESS ART RADIO ZINE is the incomparable Gerry Fialka, multimedia renaissance impresario behind the PXL THIS film festival (now nearing the quarter-century mark!) dedicated to work produced on the instantly obsolete PXL 2000 children's video system, which recorded lo-res B&W images on audio cassettes; the self-explanatory Marshall McLuhan-FINNEGANS WAKE Reading Club, which has been meeting regularly in Venice since the early 90's; the DIY experimental cinema venues 7 Dudley CInema and Documental; live Media Ecology Soul Sessions (interviews) and poetical funk at the Unurban Coffee Shop; a phenomenal array of workshops colliding such pertinent topics as art, advertising, experimental cinema, technology, fakery, culture jamming, hacking, social media, conspiracy theory, and the color blue; and many other virtuosic DIY/experimental syncretisms.

One of which is  Sunday evening's PSYBERNETIC DREAMING with RIA LIVE CINEMA (RIAPD) - a collaborative project with Will Erokan consisting of "post-hypnotic triggering and hyper-maximum multi-media live cinema event" which functions as a "media yoga session [that] enables participants to meta-analyze the dualities of form and content." We'll be asking Gerry what the hell he's talking about, and playing audio-collaged mashups of his experimental documentary soundtracks, or something. But don't wait to pencil it in at 7 PM Sun Aug 31 at Beyond Baroque 681 Venice Blvd, Venice, California 90291 - Free admission!

After this program, I'm going to have to put LARZ on hiatus, while we find a place to move to and move there -- no small undertaking after 15 years accumulating research materials in one location! So I'm going to be needing my Sundays. I swear to you, though, that LARZ will be back! If I feel like it...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Michael Uhlenkott & Damon Willick on L.A.R.Z.

ANOTHER Seagate external hard drive has crapped out, leaving me devoid of documentation -- this was after the brand new big one I got to back that shit up died while sitting on a shelf, unused for 3 months. So is it any wonder that I've not been blogging so much?

I will, however, break the silence to promote the upcoming episode of Less Art Radio Zine featuring Michael Uhlenkott and Damon Willick. Michael was a founding member of the 70s/80s L.A. art collective World Imitation (Products) and their auditory wing Monitor, one of the most beloved but misplaced post-punk bands of the era. Their single self-titled 1981 LP was finally reissued last year to not enough fanfare on the Superior Viaduct label.

Subsequently, Michael honed his songwriter chops leading the avant-cowpunk band The Romans through a couple of albums to near-glory, and has recently been devoting his energies to the preservation and perpetuation of Tiki culture -- the peculiar mid-century American translation of traditional Polynesian art, music, food, and lifestyle that captured the imaginations of many from the post-punk generation -- including frequent WImP collaborator Jeffrey Vallance.

So we have a lot of material to pick from to fill up the hour, and plenty of L.A. art and post-punk historical veins to mine. Tune in Sunday Aug 26th at 12 noon to! And check back for archival links.

Jeffrey, Michael, and the other WImP operatives (most notably master collagist and Solid Eye member Steve Thomsen) are among the subjects -- along with Judith F. Baca, Hans Burkhardt, Karen Carson, John Divola, Scott Grieger, Channa Horwitz, Michael C. McMillen, C.R. Stecyk III, Rena Small, Benjamin Weissman, Robert and Suzanne Williams, and many others -- of Valley Vista: Art in the San Fernando Valley, ca. 1970-1990, a sort of San Fernando Valley riposte to the Getty's 2011/12 Pacific Standard Time extravaganza, curated by my other guest, art writer Damon Willick, Ph.D.

Valley Vista runs from Aug 25 – Oct 11, 2014 at the Cal State Northridge Art Galleries, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA, 91330-8299. It's open Mon-Sat 12-4pm, Thurs 12-8pm (closed Monday, Sept. 1) Public Reception: Sat, Sept 6, 4–7 pm; Gallery Talk: Mon, Sept 15 10 am; Panel Discussion: Sat, Sept 27 1pm. More info:

Saturday, August 2, 2014

CC on LARZ Pt 01: Juvenilia Mix

This Sunday at Noon on Doug Harvey's Less Art Radio Zine, I'll be doing a live uninterrupted hour-long mix of cassette recordings made by Christian Cummings as a young self-taught experimental audio artist over a decade ago. These tapes miraculously escaped the devastating studio fire by being in my possession.