Sunday, December 29, 2013

Skiffs on the Endless River, a Convoy of Joy

Skimming dozens and dozens of "year's best" lists, I once again come to the three-parts delighted, one-part melancholy conclusion that my time will run out long before I can possibly read even a small number of all the books on my "to be read" list.  Oceans of books, fathomless pools of words, serpentines of sentences...and me there, the humble lobster, dabbling, clutching and slowly clambering as best I can in the shallows.  The canary can only sigh...

Any sense that literary culture is declining dashes itself on the sheer volume of publication.  The tidal river accommodates every taste, form and subject   Even assuming Sturgeon's Law holds true, the vastness of global literary output assures us of more high-quality, worthy books published in any one year than any one of us could possibly read in that one year.  And then the next year is upon us...and what about all those acknowledged classics still unread...?

A marvelous situation as we cozy up to whatever we are reading right now, our eyes already looking ahead to the book to follow immediately and the ones stacked up beyond.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Worlds, Hopeful: The Art of Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu is the artist I have most often returned to this year-- her work draws me in, inspiring with its grace, strength and beauty (a word that so rarely enters into today's art critical discussion). She presents a self-assured, singular vision, unmistakably her own, yet welcomes us all to join her-- a calmly passionate creator of grounded globalized mysteries.  

Border crossings, chimerical figures, the echoes of fairy tale reverberating in the space age, layers of history framing today's concerns...a palimpsestic world that beguiles and astonishes, that forces the viewer to think.

Above all: a world that has women at its center.  Matter of fact, not fragile; axis and volume aligned.

For more by and about Mutu and her work, click here and here

P.S.  Would be an interesting exercise to look at Mutu's work in the context of others wakening us to a world that transcends borders (without overriding the cultures contained within), one based on emancipatory dynamics, and a sense of play and humor as the deepest way to make serious points and effect serious change.   Thinking here of-- among others-- Kiki Smith, Anish Kapoor, of Ursula K. Le Guin, Janelle Monae, Amitav Ghosh, Anoushka Shankar, and Herbie Hancock.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Think, Eye, Think!

Return over and over to the most familiar works of art, and be rewarded with fresher insights, more understanding.

I have seen Veronese's iconic Wedding at Cana at the Louvre, and have looked at reproductions countless times over the years...yet I only this month realized that almost none of the c. 130 revelers at the banquet-- clearly all in animated conversation, as befits the occasion--has open mouth.

Look carefully...with the exception of a bare few whisperers, the multitude cannot be speaking at the precise moment Veronese has chosen to create.  A visual oxymoron.  A confounding of our (and their) senses.

Peter Greenaway provided the clue, as he discussed how he imagined dialogue for the banqueters in his update and gloss on the painting at the 2009 Venice Biennale  (click here for more).   He reminds us that the Benedictine monastery San Giorgio Maggiore commissioned the painting for its refectory, and that the Benedictines ate in silence, as a way to honor God and attain virtuousness.

Veronese found a way to combine the sacred and the secular in a most clever way.   And I am reminded that, no matter how many times I may have looked at an image, further and more intense study almost always repays the effort.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Drop-Time Revisited: Shatter/ Stop/ Run (Beat, Heart, Beat)

Cornelia Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991, at the Tate)
As always, copyright in work and image held by the artist and/or the museum; image used here solely for purposes of commentary.

I have written here and here about Drop-Time, the moment that is frozen in motion, simultaneously gliding and flying while having been lived once, in a specific blink or gasp, months or years or decades ago.

Cornelia Parker captures this feeling of mine, crystallizes the arc of the energy, lets light play through so that the aftermath is perpetual and perpetually changing in shadow.

Sometimes I think I can see my heart-beat in slow motion, kinetic (e)motion, feel it expelling outward, rimmed in living darkness yet pierced by light.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Writing Like Cezanne

The Basket of Apples (1893)

Every time I think I have fastened a color to the page, I discover Cezanne there long before me (and others too, of course, but always and above all: Cezanne).

As Rilke wrote about Cezanne's work, there is something mysterious in the normalcy, a sneak attack on senses lulled into an everyday sensibility:

…in this dense quilted blue of his, in his red and his shadowless green and the reddish black of his wine bottles. And the humbleness of all his objects: the apples are all cooking apples and the wine bottles belong in the roundly bulging pockets of an old coat."

The Boy in the Red Vest (1888-'90)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sing, Celebrate, Defy the Unlight (Snarky Puppy, with Shayna Steele)

I return to a perennial theme, one I have written about here and here:  the raising of music by a group, to celebrate ourselves, so alone on this tiny vessel in the oceans of unlight.  Spurred no doubt by the steepening slope of night here in the northern hemisphere (sliding as we are towards the solstice), I think communal song is our telos.   Or certainly at the core of our purpose, if not the sum total.

Out of Nothing, Something... sing out the verse in us.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Peering backward over the shoulder of a giant (what if there had been no Armory Show?)

I have been re-visiting The Armory Show all year, in this year of its centennial.  Such a powerful outpouring of commentary and commemoration, including the exhibition at the New-York Historical Society and the primary sources now freely available online at the Smithsonian.

A hundred years on and many of the paintings remain as fresh and demanding as ever...but, as a whole, that which was revolutionary in 1913 long since achieved iconic status as the new mainstream.  A well known and frequently told story about the triumph of Modernism, and its subsequent ossification (Post-Modernism being little more than another slosh of lacquer on a brittle old facade).

What intrigues me most is how The Armory Show, and all it stood/stands for, might now be used as a springboard not forward but backward towards new viewings and understandings of the Western art that came in the prior generation or two, all those artists and their imagery that Modernism first rebelliously and then imperiously washed away.

The place to start is from within the show itself-- besides the now-iconic names of Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Brancusi, Kirchner, Munch, Braque, Cezanne and so on, then mostly unknown on American shores, dozens of other artists participated in the great event, many of whom were well known at the time and are now largely forgotten.   Or, if not forgotten, pigeon-holed in the more obscure and neglected parts of the critic's dovecote.

Childe Hassam, the grand man of American art in 1913, the great lion, who had six paintings in the show, but who railed against Cubism and the other new movements that the show helped foster...  Albert Pinkham Ryder, whose work may be among the most forged of any American artist, a back-handed testament to his popularity but who I imagine most artists today will have studied little if at all... Bessie Potter Vonnoh, later elected to the National Academy of Design and to the American Academy of Arts & Letters...Maurice Prendergast, a Modernist at heart but left stranded by art historians in the footnotes, not thoroughly identified with one or the other of the victorious battalions...I could go on.

How do we recapture the light of those brushes, the slant of those chisels, without reference to what flowed after, from the explosion (as it understood itself to be, and was so described by both friends and critics alike) that was The Armory Show?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

[untitled, blog post nr. 298]

I have been thinking about titles recently, in particular really long titles, and what they can mean, or not.  For instance, Rina Banerjee has created a spiky, insectoid sculpture, which she has given the title:

She drew a premature prick, in a fluster of transgressions, abject by birth she new not what else to do with this untouchable reach, unknowable body as she was an ancient savage towed into his modern present

Fiona Apple titled her latest album:

The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Nathaniel Mackey calls the latest volume in his ongoing exploration of jazz, poetry and much else besides:

 From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still EmanateBass Cathedral

Some of my favorites come from Marianne Moore:

"A Lady With Pearls, To  A Blood Red Rook from Turkey, Who Has Depicted Her With Pathos In Surly Monotone."

"In 'Designing A Cloak To Cloak His Designs,' You Wrested From Oblivion A Coat Of Immortality For Your Own Use."

.... and so on (Moore is an especially rich source for lengthy, allusive titles).  

Are layered, coruscant titles merely a conceit, or do they provide a necessary bridge into the work of art?  I think of the ones above each as an ornate forecourt, promising treasures beyond the main gates.  Eye- and heart-catchers, beckoning me in to a world I would not otherwise have visited, a world I likely will not understand even once I have been there but one I will be glad not to have missed.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Raising Back Once-Famous Ghosts

Enduring mystery:  the vagaries of taste, the creation of the canon, who's in and who's out in the great salon. Why does one generation hoist up an author, or entire genres, artistic forms, styles, only to have following generations neglect and forget the same?  Race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion all play roles, now well documented by scholars, a thousand thousand cases and analyses of bias explicit and prejudice unacknowledged. (Many were not and still are not invited into the salon in the first place, have been ignored or excluded rather than forgotten). Crucial work, with much more still to be done there; here I refer to the more humdrum, less sinister process by which-- even controlling for parameters such as race, class and gender--many authors dwindle into muted phantoms where once they were sinewed, full-throated voices in our minds.  Dead letters, gone out of print, the purgatory of half-remembered prowess.

Thinking about that as I read V.S. Pritchett's wide-ranging, clever literary criticism.  Well, start with Pritchett himself...who reads Pritchett these days?  Not many, judging from the fact that I bought his complete collected essays (1991, from Random House), 1,319 pages, weighing probably 2 or 3 pounds, for about 5 dollars on Amazon...

For sure, most of his essays deal with writers seemingly (for now, at least) immune to the winds of neglect, but many names are already hard to recall, their work on a side-shunting:  Arthur Morrison, J. Meade Falkner, Arthur Hugh Clough, Ronald Firbank, W.W. Jacobs ("wait, wait, that rings a bell...oh right, "The Monkey's Paw"...had no idea he wrote much of anything else").  More alarming is the realization that even grand lions--Anatole France for instance ("on the right side of the Dreyfus Affair, with Zola," you think, a bit sheepishly, "oh and yes, he was awarded the Nobel")--can sit increasingly alone at the party, at best recognized but now rarely approached, let alone engaged with.

Thankfully we have specialized publishers who act as the solicitous host, bringing us to the faded personage otherwise alone in the corner by the aspidistra:  Capuchin Classics, NYRB Classics,  Persephone Books, Chicago Review Press "Rediscovered Classics," to name a few.  (Not to overlook in the spec fic field the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, given annually since 2001).  And now a new actor enters the scene: the Internet.  As Clive Thompson reminds us, the Internet nurtures ideas (good, bad, indifferent-- the propagation and testing is the point) ...and will help us reclaim lost glories, rekindle old loves, (re)discover voices once heard or who should have been heard when first they issued. The salon just got infinitely larger, the lights turned up, the host and hostess multiplies into endless squadrons...and now the library too has shed its walls and doors.

Perhaps as a result we will see a revival in the fortunes of James Branch Cabell, William Hope Hodgson (surely someone should make a movie of The Night Land?), Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore,  Manley Wade Hopkins,  Frank Belknap Long.   Two in particular intrigue me, as I believe they are over-due for rediscovery:  A.E. Coppard, and Walter de la Mare.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Founder's Tale, Round Two

Artists and artisans of every possible stripe, editors, publishers, gallerists, curators, producers of theatricals: all are (too often unsung) entrepreneurs, who seed and nurture the arts, creating the ecosystem that parallels, critiques and reinforces the mainstream economy.  The Lobster & Canary returns to one of our favorite themes:  the Founder's Tale (click here for our example-filled March 4th, 2012 post, which inspired a round table we led at Arisia in January this year).

I am especially struck by the proliferation of small literary presses in the U.S.A. over the past two decades, at a time when major media conglomerates have acquired and consolidated so many of the older imprints (not in itself a bad thing, but an organizational trend that has logically favored least-common-denominator blockbusters as opposed to bolder, experimental, and decidedly off-beat productions).  Today's small-press founders are the latest descendants of Plantin and Manutius-- long live the Republic of Letters!

Jeffrey Levine, founder of Tupelo Press, tells the story of how he got started, in terms that I am sure are essentially identical to those of his fellow small-press creators:

"So, in 1999 I created this 'job' out of, well, nothing.  I knew what I wanted to do but I didn't really know very much about doing it. Strictly speaking, that's not really true. It would be more true to say that I didn't really know anything about it, except, I felt I had one important talent: that I could trust my judgment about what great writing looked- and sounded-  like. (Every entrepreneur needs a healthy dollop of ego.) So, I rented a little office on the second floor of the U.S. Post Office in Walpole, NH, and I found a desk and a chair, a telephone (remember those), a computer and a printer and set about learning my craft."  [For the entire interview, click here].

Why isn't this flavor of the Founder's Tale featured more prominently in the general business press, made into case studies for the business schools, held up as an exemplar at the venture capital pitch fests?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Golden Age of Print

Andrew Losowsky, senior books editor at the Huffington Post, recently observed that print culture--far from dying as a result of the digital revolution--is expanding, improving and engaging:

"I'm a believer that we're entering a golden age of print.  When something loses its monopoly, it allows it to express what makes it special"  (quoted in Print, 67.5, Oct. 2013, p. 46).

I could not agree more.  I am in a (physical) bookstore at least once a week, and browse their online equivalents every day--and am deliciously overwhelmed by the choices, the inventive qualities, the lure and the blandishments of covers and fonts, the million voices whispering, illustrations leaping, every genre and new ones hybridized every week, deep and beautiful writing on worthy themes, cracking good yarns to liven up a subway ride, higher up and further in on entirely novel continents...

...and the old is refreshed and kept in print, and much that was lost is reclaimed inexpensively online...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Alexander Is Lowered Into The Sea: The Archaeology of Story

[Image & Artwork Copyright Held By The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Image Used Here For Purposes of Commentary Only, i.e., Within Fair Use; Museum Link Is Here]

The picture above spoke to me from across the room yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum, a small item amidst the panoply at the newly opened exhibition Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800 .  See the exhibit if you can--it is the sort of bravura display that only the Met and a few others (the V & A, for instance) around the world can do, expertly melding history, anthropology, connoisseurship and aesthetics, and over-brimming the viewer's eye with one exquisite piece after another.   Enmesh your gaze in the glories of palempores on acres of bed-linens, of rinceaux patterns on bonnets and evening gowns, of pheasants and lions cavorting among the original paisley-fronds, of chintz before the word took on its present-day meaning.

The picture above the Met placed as a visual footnote or supplemental (having to do with the contrast between the Mughal headgear and the hats on the Portuguese sailors) yet I found myself more deeply drawn in the more I studied it.  "Alexander Is Lowered Into The Sea," it is titled, being a folio from a Khamsa (a quintet) by Amir Khusrau Dihlavi, with the painting itself attributed to Mukunda.  The Met tells us that, "while underwater, [Alexander] will receive a visit from an angel who will foretell his death."

I did not recall any such story attached to Alexander the Great when I stumbled through Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch (even in translation!) my freshman year of college.  How curious, this legendry revolving around a primitive but apparently functional diving bell.  Alexander--it turns out (but why was I surprised, since Aristotle was his tutor?)--had an interest in such things, if only to thwart any submarine defenses of the maritime cities he besieged.  Click here and here for more.

Alexander invaded Persia in 334 BCE, and India in 327.  Amir Khusrau  (1253-1325 CE) wrote the poem illustrated above some 1,600 years after Alexander's death, one flower in the great garden of verse planted and pruned during the Delhi Sultanate.  (For more on Amir Khusrau, one of the most influential and creative minds in medieval Eurasia, reputed to have invented--among other things--the sitar and the tabla, click here).  

Mukunda, or some other master-artist of Akbar the Great's court, painted the scene another three centuries after Khusrau wrote the poem.  One can imagine Akbar, with his syncretistic worldview and cosmopolitan sense of majesty, enjoying both poem and picture very much.

Four centuries after Akbar's time, we are admiring the painting and reading the story yet again-- and perhaps recollecting how much is shared across millennia and across seemingly disparate cultures.  Alexander founded cities as well as destroyed them, cities still important today.  While echoes of his battles at Gaugamela and on the banks of the Hydaspes live on in scenes such as those written by Tolkien for his men of the West confronting the elephants ridden by the Haradrim ("the men of the south"), we might also bring forth other bits of Alexandrine lore, those more tied to cross-cultural understanding and the pacific quest for revelation.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Memorials to the First Voyage

Barbara Remington's Covers for the 1965 Ballantine Paperback Edition of LOTR (photo of copies from the 21st printing, 1968; from the Mike is Bored blog, click here for more.  Lobster & Canary does not hold copyright in the images or original artwork in this post; their presentation here falls under fair use, is for purposes of commentary).

We visited the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle last weekend, a compendium of great favorites, uniting Jimi Hendrix and Harry Potter under one roof.   A loving, Bowie-esque hodgepodge of drum kits and Daleks, light sabers and Stratocasters, complete with Captain Kirk's chair from the deck of the Enterprise and Neo's long black coat from The Matrix, the EMP was thronged with pilgrims. 

The first exhibit is an homage to modern fantasy and mythmaking.   And on the hall as you enter are two original paintings:  Barbara Remington's LOTR poster, and the map of Middle Earth by Pauline Baynes.

I gazed long and longingly at the two, transported instantly to a young reader making his first voyages on the bark of Tolkien's story.  Recursive memorials to immersion and the gaining of identity through the loss of time and self.  Places of memory about places we imagine and then inhabit.  Recollection of my own paperbacks with their Remington covers (a slightly later printing of the 1965 edition, the 22nd or 23rd perhaps, from 1969, worn to just the same crinkled state as those pictured above, ultimately read right off the book itself, bound with a rubber band, all now lost).  Memories of the sunlight in the front-room on Concord Place where I first read these, and of the smell of the back-stairs (a slightly ominous corridor, like the entrance to The Old Forest), the solitude of my bedroom where a small lamp provided enough light to read by, late late into the night, but not quite enough to dispel the whispers of the Nazgul from the encompassing dark.  

"Memory installs remembrance within the sacred," to quote Pierre Nora.  "Memory takes root in the concrete, in spaces, gestures, images and objects."

P.S.  This summer I read Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance, a marvelous 2009 anthology edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois.  Vance, like Tolkien (and Le Guin and Peake), looms very large in the minds and memories of many modern fantasy authors; I found Vance only a little later than I discovered Tolkien and Le Guin, and can see and feel where I was when I first followed Cugel the Clever on his adventures and first shuddered at the appearance of Chun the Unavoidable.  Besides the great affection for Vance evident in their pastiches, nearly every author in the collection -- and the line-up is a "who's who" of the current field-- recalls in intimate detail when they first encountered Vance's writing, right down to the specifics of the editions.  For instance, Mike Resnick writes: "One of the very first science fiction books I bought as a kid was Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, in its original paperback edition published by Hillman."  Phyllis Eisenstein remembers paying "75 cents for that Lancer paperback with the odd leathery cover.  Only many years later did I learn that this was its first printing since the scarce 1950 Hillman edition."  Lucius Shepard:  "I first encountered Jack Vance's work in junior high, when I read a paperback edition of The Dying Earth sheathed in one or another textbook (I hated mathematics, so most often I read it during math class)."  Glen Cook speaks of forking over the "outrageous sum" of 75 cents for the Lancer edition at the independent bookstore next to a tavern he frequented.  Tanith Lee still has the English Mayflower edition her mother bought her decades ago, "though by now the pages are brown and many are loose inside the cover."  Dan Simmons stumbled into The Dying Earth and other Vancean worlds in stacks of his brother's Ace Doubles and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, when he was 12, in his uncle's third-floor apartment on North Kildare Avenue just off Madison Street in Chicago, "with me sprawled on the daybed...under the open windows with the heat and street noises coming in...reading Jack Vance."   Howard Waldrop:  "I remember sitting in a green and white lawn chair under a magnolia the summer of 1962, reading...The Dying Earth."   Martin was ten or eleven years old when he "grabbed one of those Ace Doubles with the colorful red-and-blue spines off the spinner rack in the candy store at First Street and Kelly Parkway in Bayonne, New Jersey."  Elizabeth Hand movingly describes "the single most intense reading experience of my life," a rainy Saturday alone in a rented beachfront cottage in Maine the summer before she started high school, devouring doughnuts she had bought with her father and a cover-less copy of  The Dying Earth found in the bottom of a box her mother had brought home from a library book sale.  As  Hand says, speaking I think for most of us:  "It was my madeleine."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"What Would It Be Like To Actually Don Their Slippers?": The Fairy Tale Worlds of Caroline Golden

That's No Rabbit (2007; mixed media collage)
[All artwork and images copyrighted to the artist, Caroline Golden, and used here solely for purposes of commentary, i.e., non-commercially].

Caroline Golden is a consummate bricoleur, building worlds of loving intricacy, oblique, enigmatic yet inviting.   Few artists-- Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Le Corbusier, Matisse--work so confidently across so many media, and few-- Paolo Ventura, Cornell, Laurie Simmons-- make the miniature so real.  Golden is expert at combining just the right objects in just the right arrays, to untrammel the exquisite and lodge the viewer in dreamstead.  Come in, she beckons, and we find ourselves unwilling to leave, snuggled into the details of linen-fold, polished porcelain, eclectic veneered surfaces.

Her workshop is itself a place of magpie magic, heaped with oddities and incompletes, cut-outs of eyeballs, hands and teeth piled here and there, a bottomless reserve of unlikely inspiration.  Some of her finds will wait for years for their final juxtapositions-- Golden is a patient weaver.

As I have written elsewhere, but repeat now with amplified application to Golden's work:  Here Bachelard's "poetics of space" meets Tolkien's "elvish craft of Enchantment, the sub-creation of a Secondary World."  Calvino's sixth principle, Visibility, merges with Benjamin's "panoramas, dioramas, cosmoramas...phantasmagorical and fantasmaparastatic experiences, picturesque journeys in a room."

The Rabbit House (2011; mixed media construction)

For more of Golden's fairy tale worlds, her "architectural follies in miniature," her "Invisibles" and "Atlanteans," visit her newly relaunched website.   And now for a conversation with the artist:

Watch Cat (1999; paper collage)

Question 1.  Caroline, your "Many Faces of Alice" gives us a new look, a new take, on the well known heroine.  Why Alice, as opposed to, say, Dorothy, or Lucy in the Narnia adventures (or Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, for that matter)? 

Golden:  Alice is a very old friend.  I first met her in Alice's Adventure Underground when I was a child.
The "Underground" Alice found herself within- a dark, nightmarish and, at times ridiculous layer not far from the surface of what we would term as normal.  Logic and meaning had no place there but she defiantly refused to accept the upside down world for what is truly was. Throughout her journey she never seemed to doubt she would survive her trip down the rabbit hole. I admire Alice’s bravery and perseverance, while she maintains an appreciation for the absurd.  I suppose I consider much of my life as a journey back and forth down a rabbit hole, so Alice will always remain my heroine. 

And The King Replied (1999; collage)

Question 2:  Your approach is enormously painstaking, with long periods necessary for the preparation and construction of your worlds.  Talk to us about your process, walk us through the arc from inspiration to completion.  (Which begs the question: is a work ever really complete?)  

Golden:   In the early 1960's while my father was working for IBM, he brought home a paper model of one of their new computers. This model was printed in hushed tones of green and taupe and the precision of the folds and die-cuts had me mesmerized.  My father was less than thrilled when I used the model as Barbie furniture -but that's another story! Another early memory was at a carnival in Ohio where I watched a man cut into a piece of paper with a tiny pair of scissors to magically release a multi-winged bird. His hand holding the scissors remained stationery while the paper he was cutting danced between the blades - literally "painting" with tiny scissors.   To this day I employ this method of cutting.  I have always been intrigued by the trans-formative qualities of paper.

After college I worked in several ad agencies as a studio artist. Before computers, one had to actually draw out the area to print on a sheet of illustration board and then paste down camera ready text and imagery. The nuanced perception of visuals and text along with the precision of being a paste-up/mechanical artist was the springboard to how I work now - as a collage artist. 

I tend to work in a series. I have a large work area of multiple tables where at times I may have fifteen collages being worked on at once. My work area will eventually become like an archaeological dig as pages are torn, images cut some used, many discarded until I am happy with the end result.  I have some 1500 magazine and old books that are part my palette as well as my own photography and painting along with  tree limbs, mirrors, class, dollhouse furniture, wooden toys, cigar boxes and assortments of objects that are creating quite a storage issue!

The images that I have cut and don't use are stored away in tiny flat file drawers. These drawers contain images I have cut spanning the last fifteen years. For example, I have a drawer of eyes that must contain nearly 500 cut eyeballs or elements that would read as such. I can usually remember where images are filed and where I cut them from, which sometimes stuns me! 

Question 3:  You are so very multi-media and cross-disciplinary.  I was struck by the library of books you have in your studio (not every workshop I am in has so many books!), especially since they include many literary texts, not "just" art books as references...Umberto Eco's book on "Ugliness" is there, a slew of others...

Golden:  I have done quite a bit of reading about Lewis Carroll as well as many commentaries about his Alice books.  More recently I have delved into the history and significance of fairy tales. 

As I began to delve more into fairy tales and Alice - reinterpreting these tales that were such a part of my childhood - I became quite interested in the emotional life of the characters themselves. What would it be like to actually don their slippers? As I mentioned above, my training was in commercial art - where my creativity had very specific goals to sell a product or an ideal - to manipulate.  When I first started collage it was precisely this imagery I chose to cut up, in fact some of the very ads I worked on!  This revolution of sorts heralded a retraining of my eye and outlook. 

Question 4:  "Many Faces of Alice" is both an elaborate physical assemblage and its representation via your new web site.   How do the two reinforce and/or nuance one another?  

Golden:  My website is a selection of "portfolios" from the various series I have created.  Certainly a website to show case one's work is a far cry from a plastic sleeve containing 20 tiny slides!  It is always a challenge to capture art work in a photograph, especially if the piece is multi-dimensional or comprised of many layers, so it still does not take the place of seeing the work in person. It was also very important for me to create an engaging website to explore rather than just an inventory of my work. It was truly a collaborative effort with my website designer - as by default I was a member of the design team. I am very pleased with the results.

In my never ending quest to bring the viewer into my work I ventured into the world of stop animation.  I created a box based on the Rabbit House and, when Alice finds herself trapped within it, titled it Alice's Folly. I have always been intrigued by pop-up paper sculpture and wanted to employ this technique in this piece. The box took over a year to finish and I sure wish I had paid more attention in geometry class! It was completed just in time to be featured on my site upon its launch. 

Question 5:  I love how you bring the viewer right down inside the dramas you have created, putting us on the stage with Alice (as well as fairy tale characters) as it were.  When we spoke earlier, you talked about how you often find smudges of fingers and most likely noses on the glass that contains your two-dimensional works, suggesting to you that viewers are keen to enter (literally) the worlds that you depict.    Why do you think so many of us are drawn so powerfully to the worlds you create?
Golden:  I think most people are as captivated by the magic of miniature as I am. I believe the allure is based on being drawn into a place impossible to set foot in - leading one to want to explore the space all the more. My collages are multi-dimensional and I often create an opening to look within where I've used multi-layered imagery to further draw one in.   Over the last several years my architectural pieces have leapt off the 2-D plane and are 3-D; instead of in a frame, I place them under bell jars. Leaving the interior space absent of any character I leave the viewer to step in and take a look around. They may see a castle tower empty after the damsel as been rescued or Sleeping Beauty’s chamber long after she awakened and her bed stripped of its mattress. They could find themselves in grandmother's house, a claustrophobic depiction where Red Riding Hood met her demise. These collaged constructions are mostly made of paper, disguised to mimic wood shingles, linoleum flooring, plaster walls and wood molding.  With the aid of mirrors I have created additional spaces within, toying with the viewer’s perception of the space actually available for them to explore.
Question 6:  With your new website launched, what is next for "Many Faces of Alice"?

Golden:  I am currently working on a concept for a book based on Alice’s Adventures Underground and am further exploring The Rabbit Hole for inspiration.  The most important aspect of exploring any narrative is realizing "The End" may just be the midpoint of the story and the freedom and possibility remains mine to discover. 
Lobster & Canary:   Thank you Caroline.  Readers:  hie yourselves to the Golden website!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nighthawks on 23rd Street

Three weeks ago the Whitney installed in "the prow" of the Flatiron a life-size cut-out replica of Hopper's Nighthawks-- an icon within an icon, like a devotional painting housed within an altar.

I work less than a block away, so have been over to see the diners bathed in light over that long counter, under the sign for the 5-cent cigars.

For decades, aficionados have searched for what they believe is THE single model for Hopper's diner, typically looking not far away in the Village.   No luck yet but the Whitney and the Flatiron have, at least, given us the illusion of the search's end.

A place more real than reality, the epitome of that reality captured on canvas, springing to life on our very streets.

I think I will have a slice of pie with my coffee, thank you.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Museum in the city, city as museum

Head of a Queen Mother (Iyoba), Edo Peoples, Kingdom of Benin
(Within Territory of Nigeria Today), c. 1750-1800
At the Metropolitan Museum, NYC (for more, click here)
[As always, copyrright of the image and artwork depicted held by the artist or museum and/or their legal representatives; no infringement intended, image presented here solely for purposes of commentary, i.e., non-commercial.]

The lobster and the canary visited the Metropolitan Museum yesterday afternoon, with no particular goal or agenda except to wander, listen and learn.  We sought counsel with iyobas, and delivered our respects to the beete masks of the Kwele peoples (whose territory falls within the borders of Gabon).   We contemplated the marble sarcophagus of one Arria, who died in the middle of the third century C.E., presumably in Rome itself, given the grandeur of the carvings.   We watched as pale-rust-red runners contended with one another across the flanks of gleaming black vases, abdominal muscles so finely etched we could almost see the sweat flowing along their contours.  We shuddered at a reproduction of Ayne Bru's early 16th-century painting of Saint Cucuphas's martyrdom, marveling at the juxtaposition of all the blood surging from his scored throat and the dog sleeping peacefully at his feet.  We craned our necks to follow the arc of lodge-pole carvings from Vanuatu, monstrously strong figures holding one another on their wooden shoulders.

The world expands within forever, each aperture opening infinitely on halls and chambers ever inside, but all connected, an arcade-work of humanity.

Outside the Metropolitan Museum is the metropolitan museum.

On the Great Lawn in Central Park, sunbathers in bikinis and strollers wearing hijab, both on cell phones and eating ice cream.  Or waffles from the Belgian "dinges" truck.   Tourists from the American Midwest (accents as odd to our ears as those of the French or Chinese tourists in line with them) queuing for Italian sausage from one of the grills parked at the Fifth Avenue entrance, near the enterprising young men selling their own hip-hop CDs, and the violinist in the underpass.  Every kind of footwear and headgear (nice fedora!), every kind of ball game.  

A bestiary on the cornices of the Upper East buildings, here there be dragons indeed.   A veiny-winged griffin guards one particularly grand edifice.  We still miss Botero's rolly-polly "El Gato" sculpture at 79th & Park (where did he go, the cat we mean? where all cats go, to roam the secret by-ways of the moon!).  On 80th near Lex, every townhouse has a painted door, a quiet red, a demure blue, little understatements in our brash city.

On the Lower East Side, bachata and the laughter of children echo from a courtyard.  At the farmacia, notices in Chinese and Russian to get a flu shot before the season starts.  On the sidewalks families promenade in their sabbath best.

Reflected in a window are the lobster & the canary.  Not mere observers.  We hope somebody is blogging about us as we blog now-- two more members of the urban gallery.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Through the heliopause

Voyager 1 sails on, over 11 billion miles from Earth, the farthest out any human-made object has ever been...scientists are debating whether the probe has officially left the Solar System or not (the boundaries of which are uncertain)...but regardless, Voyager 1 is heading into interstellar space and will never stop, unless it collides with something...

The lobster and canary try to map personal time onto space-time...remembering the launch of Voyager 1 in September of 1977 (such fanfare, all the talk about the data on the golden disc), thinking now of all that we have done while the spacecraft made its pilgrimage through the system and onwards....where were we when the dart passed Jupiter, then Saturn?...all those moons and rings...and what were we doing when Voyager 1 turned its camera aft (thank you Carl Sagan) to take the now-iconic picture of the Pale Blue Dot?

Voyager 1 is 125 "Astronomical Units" away (one AU is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun; one light-year is 63,241 AUs), traveling 3 1/2 AUs each year, i.e., something like 55,000 kilometers per AU is 149,597,871 kilometers...I calculate I have run about 120,000 kilometers in my life..once I could run 10 kilometers in just over 31 I can do so in around 41 minutes...say, a dwindling average of 15 kilometers per hour...

Voyager 1's power source is winding down, and will quit around 2025...the lobster and canary certainly anticipate outliving Voyager 1 in that regard...but Voyager 1 will carry on, its initial thrust and inertia keeping it on a steady course through friction-free 40,000 years it will be somewhere in the relative neighborhood of a star, Gliese 445 in the Camelopardalis constellation...and apparently the brave little spacecraft might even outlive Earth itself, billions of years hence...

And maybe, just maybe, sometime between 40,000 years and a billion years hence, out there somewhere another lobster and another canary on some other planet will look up at a miniature star, an incoming not-quite-asteroid, and send a probe of their own, which will intercept valiant Voyager 1... whatever will they make of us?

Click here and here for more.  And here.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The street history of painting

Robert Motherwell  

David Reed

[Images found on the Web; artists and/or his legal representatives hold the copyright; used here solely for purposes of commentary, i.e., non-commercial]

Great quote by artist David Reed in this week's Village Voice:  "It amazes me that in New York there's a history that painters know, a street history of painting, that is totally different from the history that the museums know and the history that is written about in books."    (Click here for entire article; click here for more on Reed).

An insight well worth contemplating and exploring...Reed's own essays on painting (I especially like his memoiristic piece on Rubens in Las Vegas) remind us how relatively few visual artists write much about their work or that of others, the occasional manifesto aside (and who issues manifestos these days?)...reminds me of Motherwell's body of written work, another exception to the rule...

Reminds me also why the interviews in magazines such as BOMB and Turps Banana are so important: conducted by and with visual artists, these conversations form the internal archive containing the alternative "street history" of painting.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Braking for beauty (slow down and see)

Turner, Chichester Canal (c. 1828; in the Tate)

Jennifer L. Roberts (Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard ) recommends that we "decelerate," deploy "strategic patience," and thereby better understand the world around us through close, unwavering scrutiny.  (Click here and here for more). 

The lobster and the canary could not agree more with Professor Roberts.  We've written at length about "the artisanal turn," the need to restore craft, the tactile, the tacit to our work and play (click here) -- the deep patience required to visualize, to shape, to enjoy, to be satisfied.  Decelerated education, Slow Food, DIY, hand-made this and organic that...they are all of a piece with the braking for beauty.  

Above all, to highlight Roberts's insight, we need to engage with what we see, and to do that we need to look, focus, look.  Fall upward into the painting, let the frame expand and disappear, travel with the collier on the canal, listen to the warblers in the bankside reeds, savor the sunlight reflected from cloud and rill...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lisa Occhipinti: The Book Re-Envisioned and Restored

Lisa Occhipinti
[As always, all images and the objects they depict are copyrighted to the artist and/or his/her legal representatives.  Images are displayed here purely for purposes of commentary, i.e., no commercial use.]

The book is dead, long live the book!   I love Lisa Occhipinti's work:  she is hacking (both literally and figuratively) volumes, re-imagining the form and contents, helping us re-see one of our most treasured achievements.  

Portraits (her term) of our books, in their formal moments but also as candids, with all the dignity, humor and pathos of people...which, in essence, they are.  

For more about Lisa Occhipinti and her work, click here  and  here .  And also here.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Still too hot

The heat and humidity intensified this week in is just too hot (canary feathers singed and drooping) and humid (even lobsters need to breathe) to do more than seek shelter under a tree and take a nap...synapses running syrupy, thoughts meandering into a hazy mist or baked slowly under the opaque sky...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Never too hot for art

Raqib Shaw, Adam (2008)

For more of his work, click here.    And here.

The dog days of summer came early this year in New York City, so the Lobster & Canary seek to cool our sweltering heads with the beauty of art.   The sun and the humidity smothering our analytical faculties, we surrender to the sheer primal love of design, color, the luscious line, the idea so weird it knocks your elbow off the table.

Pawel Bownik, "Reconstructed Flowers" (2013)

For more of his work, click here.

Natvar Bhavsar

For more of Bhavsar's work, click here.  

[As always, copyright in all images displayed here is held by the artist and/or his legal representative(s); images used here solely for purposes of commentary, not for commercial gain.]

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Slantwise across the sky

Sarah Charlesworth, one of the pioneers in Conceptual Art, died two weeks ago.

The Lobster and the Canary are fascinated by her slantwise approach to the world, the way she excised elements to create a new set of objects, a sculptor of images carving away the surface to get to the core.  She helped teach us to see the shadow-lines as the most important vectors, to see the negative space as the essence of the volume, to read a new story into and behind the narrative distracting us with its bombast.

Arguably her most famous work is Arc of Total Eclipse, February 26, 1979, partially reproduced here.  She photographed the front page of c. 20 separate newspapers in the Pacific Northwest as each recorded the eclipse, and then she eliminated all but the mastheads and the photographs, resulting in an eccentric document of the sun's passage across the region and into Canada.   The newspapers did not all use the same photographs, so the event becomes even more singular.   There is no standard, straight-on, transparent story here.   We all see the same things-- even the greatest of natural phenomena--in our own ways.

Click here and here for more.  As always, the artist and/or her representatives hold copyright in the images displayed here (I believe the Whitney in NYC holds the original work).   All images downloaded from public web sites, for non-commercial use and for purposes of commentary only.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A picture is worth how many of whose words? (A small homage to Robert Rauschenberg)

I return often to Rauschenberg's collages and combines, seeing in them the felt but not-yet-written stories that attend my night-thoughts, especially the tales murmured in a locked room, around the corner of a street I have never visited, behind the rustling billboards on weathered walls.

We hear of "painterly prose," but less frequently of whatever its counterpart might be:  "writerly painting," I guess.   I do not mean art that follows or presents a narrative.  I mean art that has no explicit narrative, art that may nonetheless illustrate a story or mood the artist decided to hide from the viewer...or stories the artist expected the viewer to bring to the viewing without any context or hints, no clues or aide-memoires supplied by the artist.

Rauschenberg-- who famously insisted on the right of the creator to define the meaning to be found in whatever he or she created-- is one of the Great Tricksters.  He sets out meaning in glyphs that each of his acolytes will take a lifetime to understand, strewing meaning under the bedclothes, behind the calendar's date-boxes, over the skrim of an umbrella.   Small bones, splinters, teasingly laid down, snares of paint and gypsum chips, wire and a bottle cap found on Bleecker Street...

How did he know the deep grammar of the stories I want to tell, the stories I feel wound around my bones and lurking in my lymphatic system?

[As always, all images used for purposes of commentary, not for any commercial purpose; images found on the Web.]