Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chic and Dumb and Down and Dirty

Basic Instinct is a 1992 movie directed by Paul Verhoeven, starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, that is simultaneously abysmal and fascinatingly stylish.  You get a stomach ache watching it, but in a good way somehow.  Written by the great Joe Esterhas (who would later collaborate with Verhoeven again on the watchable and yet completely awful Showgirls), Basic Instinct is foulmouthed and mean-spirited and just plain vulgar.  But it has a sort of piss-elegance that makes you go along, and a ham-handed, bold, freaky intensity.  You just can't take your eyes off the thing as it spirals out of control.  I remember back in the day, gay people were picketing this, angry about the depiction of gays and bisexuals in it.  Totally a good thing to do of course because the movie does do a great job demeaning lesbians and bisexuals, but it is an equal-opportunity ass-hole of a movie:  no one in it is represented as moral or even maybe really human, especially the center of attention, Mr. Michael Douglas, who plays his cop role with tense jaw muscles and a squint and a tight fist, so much like a drag version of Clint Eastwood you think he could possibly be in on the joke. 

This movie is a cesspool, where everyone is telling everyone else to fuck off all the time.  And "sexual desire" has a sort of animal-porn grotesquery to it.  When people have sex in this movie they turn into over-animated porn-stars, as if their "sexual desire" has made them into idiot robots who have consumed so much pornography they are doomed to repeat it endlessly.  There's no true moment of respite from the sewage, but the sewage is so polished and glossy and intended you take in these moments like "disturbing" paintings in a museum.  Each scene you just walk past, curious about the extreme stupidity and violence and crassness, and then you forget until you're violated by the next sex scene or ice-pick murder or whatever.  But then that blurs into everything else, until the movie finally is over and you feel kind of overextended and glum.  A little perturbed, but somehow satisfied.

You got to love Sharon Stone in this thing though.  She's channeling Madonna circa 1991, but also there's a deep need inside her eyes, like she knows this is her ticket out of being second-rate, and yet somehow that's poignant because the movie is totally second-rate, elevated only by her desire for it not to be, and the Eurotrash greatness of Vorhoeven.  He shows finesse and innocence somehow in the way he sets up each debauchery, until you're mesmerized not by his nerve but by his creepy joy.  And the music by Jerry Goldsmith possibly is the most strident and gorgeous soundtrack ever.  Every goddamn move these characters make, from stepping out of a car to stabbing someone in the chest, is musicalized to the point of camp.  Horns and strings and drums and the kitchen-sink all being orchestrated to create a sort of hyperbolic drama that isn't drama.  It's just loud.  With a lot of people saying fuck all the time.

1992 may have been the apotheosis of this kind of movie.  Before people could easily access the internet and its sea of porn, before CGI really got a foothold and whole city-blocks could be demolished in that plastic-glare of sea-monsters and robots having their way, Basic Instinct was the highend of trashy adult escapism:  chic and dumb and down and dirty.  What's better than that?  I kind of miss it.  I really do.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Culture Is Ordinary"

Antonio Adams' William Blake.
"Culture is ordinary, in every society and in every mind," Raymond Williams writes.  William Blake writes, "I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans."  Both Williams and Blake are integral figures in my mind's life.  Both happen to be English, and are visionary radicals that pushed their philosophies out of the realm of "philosophy" and into the realm of the real.  Williams came to prominence in the 1960s.  Everything he's written has contributed greatly to way we talk about what culture is and does, especially when you venture beyond what is "high" and what is "low."  (His Keywords is one of those books I read through all the time; he is able in it to find meaning upon meaning upon meaning without losing the gravity and succinctness of giving a shit.)  Blake we all know by now; take a look down the blog here for posts about Blake's biography and stature, especially this one:  Blake's World.  To sum it up, Blake was a sort of genius outcast who used his art and life to expand the way culture and art knock into each other.  He was interested in aesthetics and revolution (many of his best works try to mythologize and ramp up the French and American revolutions, giving each an ethereal, comic-book grandeur). 
Those two quotes above knock into each other.  Williams is about culture not just as museums and academies and universities, but culture as we live it and make it as a society.  Blake made and lived a new kind of culture:  he had to create "a system" in order to escape a system he could not tolerate or fathom.
And then of course (you guessed it) there's Raymond Thunder-Sky.  Talk about creating his own system.  Talk about culture as ordinary.  Raymond wanted to enter into real life through drawing it.  He wanted to create himself anew through his imagination, through that burning need to be a part of the regular world while also imagining it as something tolerable and even magnificent. 
Last night we opened the show "INNCE/EXPCE:  New William-Blake-Inspired Works by Emily Brandehoff and Robert McFate," and I'm getting a little teary-eyed right now thinking about it.  It was perfect.  Bill and I try to make culture that is ordinary; we must create something because what's already there just doesn't cut it for two weird, working-class gay guys who really want to figure out how to make things better without getting caught up in charity and politics and do-gooder-ness. 
So June 28, 2013, from about 6 pm to 10 pm, we opened the doors and we celebrated Blake's legacy as well as Raymond's, and we talked people's ears off about Raymond and who he was (apologies especially to Professor Elizabeth Lokon, who graciously allowed us to show pieces of art from her great program Openings Minds through Art; we had her and her husband cornered for a long time talking about The Essential Raymond Moments, including our trip to Hollywood back in 2001).  And we got to meet Maya, a girl in Suzanne Nall's class at Parker Woods Montessori just down the street who created a suite of beautifully colored and rambunctiously gorgeous drawings that spanned the gallery's back wall.  Maya just loved being in front of her creation.  Her mom was super-sweet.  And other kids came from Suzanne's class, posing in front of their works.  And Robert's big voice boomed through the floor, as he pontificated about how and why he made the works that were in the show, innocent paintings and sculptures that also hold the edge of experience somewhere inside.  And Emily, sweet Emily breezed through in her turquoise high heels and posed with her nephew in his neck-tie t-shirt.  Emily created so many great paintings and drawings that take Blake seriously without being pretentious or show-offy, just point-blank brilliant.
And so on.
What I'm getting at is that the reason we keep doing Thunder-Sky, Inc. is not because we want to champion the disabled, or because we love art, or because we want to be in charge of a thriving non-profit, or because we even know what the hell we're doing.  The reason we keep doing Thunder-Sky, Inc. is because culture has to be maintained and practiced as ordinary and it has to be created over and over and over by ordinary people with the urge to find extraordinary things inside of and outside of themselves.  Everyone who has work in this show is proof that genius is pretty much self-made and it connects us all beyond "culture" and beyond "society." 
Thunder-Sky, Inc. is a way out of culture and a way back into it. 


Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Visionary Light Settled in Her Eyes

I've been obsessed with the Paula Deen thing since first hearing about it firsthand via Matt Lauer pissing and moaning about it on The Today Show, miffed because Paula was too exhausted to come onto his show to be drawn and quartered for saying the n-word.  Then there was the now infamous public apology/humiliation she and her team posted on her website, in which she begs for forgiveness.  Above is a photo taken from that session:  her face is grotesque-drag-queen clownish, the eyes so sad and old-lady hurt you want to comfort her, even while everyone else is saying she's goddamn guilty.  I guess what I'm feeling, what I always feel, is that she is both goddamn guilty and goddamn innocent.  She's essential now to me; her meaning, what she represents, is now completely universal.  Her sins have turned her into a lightning-in-a-bottle freak.  Her suffering is a lesson in keeping your mouth shut.  But she also now has the power of her sorrow to make us all see who we are.  We're her.  Ignorant, big-mouthed, insensitive and too sensitive, wanting to please everybody with how cordial and sweet we are, but also wanting to throw a great big plantation wedding with African American men dressed in white tuxedos, you know, like back in the Shirley Temple days.  We defend our little brother even though he seems to be a total douche-bag.  We make horrible food that causes Type-2 diabetes.  We want lots of money and fame and power, but we also want to be personable and chatty and get-along kinds of gals.  We don't want to confront history; we want to forget it so we can sit down and eat.  We just want to make good old downhome food that's all.  We hate controversy and meanness and yet we indulge in it selectively, whenever it suits the conversation.  We're kind and donate to charity.  We love people, no matter what their skin color.  We really, really do.  But sometimes we just need to let off a little steam in a roomful of the likeminded.  We all like to think we're decent-minded and wonderful.  We all want to be forgiven.

On Friday, on Facebook, I posted this photo, along with an allusion to Flannery O'Connor's short story, "Revelation," comparing Paula to Mrs. Turpin (the proud, loud wife of Claud, and the story's main character), and the media stirring the shit-storm to Mary Grace, the pimple-faced, sour-apple young college girl who literally flings a book at Mrs. Turpin in a doctor's office, sick of listening to her self-congratulatory bull-shit.  Mary Grace says, after doing her violent act:  "Go back to hell where you came from you old wart-hog."

Mrs. Turpin is beyond shattered.  She feels violated in ways that go beyond mere rudeness or impropriety.  Her very soul has been shaken to the point that she has a vision at the end of the story (as she is spraying out the pig pen in her backyard) that is both horribly lovely and perplexingly simple:

There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered her hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.

"Shocked and altered" is the expression on Paula's face in that picture.  I think all of us should have to come to grips with that sense of loss and that sense of shock, that feeling that who we think we are, and all the comfort that comes from that, can be completely obliterated simply by a spoken word or an angry glance.  The lesson here isn't about political correctness or character assassination for me.  It's about how all of us indulge in what Paula indulged in:  thinking that who we are is more important than the situation we're in.  She has been humbled and may lose everything she ever loved because of that.  I forgive her because I think she is the norm.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Grain of Sand

We asked Robert McFate, one of the two headliners in our William-Blake tribute show "INNCE/EXPCE," to talk about the experience of making Blake-inspired work.  Here goes:
"What amazes me most about Blake is not so much the art, words or ideas, it's when and where he made and wrote and said it all.  These ideas are alive.  Very contemporary.  As an untrained poet, I am inspired and am in agreement with Blake's words.  As an artist I am inspired and in agreement with Blake's struggle and desire to be understood.  When Keith first approached me I was only aware of Blake's images and was not aware of his poetry or other writing, other than 'Doors of Perception' or 'Eternity in a grain of sand.'  Blake opened doors as an artist, and Thunder-Sky, Inc. opened a door for me into a fantastical world.  It was pure joy working on this art.  I'd like to thank as well Emily Brandehoff, my cohort in this endeavor.  Blake has allowed me to use the narrow chinks of my own perception to see the world as infinite."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

O Superman

Man of Steel is one of those big-budget, CGI-fueled grandiosities I thought I might hate but I had to see it anyway because it seemed so perfectly what it is, even in the ads.  Sentimental, full-throttled, humorless, luxuriously violent, stupidly sweet.  Which, in fact, it turned out to be. 
Zach Snyder directs with ham-handed dexterity, an authority that seems kind of child-like and yet completely controlled and in control.  The scenes in his previous superhero flick The Watchmen went on for what seemed like eternities.  That movie had no gumption to go with its awe.  This one does.  The scenes in Man of Steel go on for just the right amount of time, and the origin myth supplies so much beautiful deja vu that you feel almost as if Snyder is trying to tell us all a prolonged Bible story.  And that's a good thing.  The humorlessness comes from that sense of the sacred that seems to permeate every Man of Steel moment.  The actors are wonderful, especially Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe as Superman's fathers; everyone seems keen on not getting the joke, and that super-serious feeling translates into true sentiment somehow.  I even teared up a few times.  Man of Steel is one of the few hyper-budgeted superhero spectacles that seems to get "it," that glum, perfect, dumb-ass sense of intense seriousness you need to have to register the full effect of being a fan.  It's a big, dumb mural come to life.
Superman the Movie, the flick Man of Steel genuflects to, is the opposite in style and tone.  Released in 1978, and directed by Richard Donner, it is candy-colored, blissful Pop Art.  Christopher Reeve broke out as the man in tights and red underwear, and although he seemed to try to play Superman realistically, it was all kind of campy in a way, due to the era I guess, as well as the hype, and that hair-style with the curly-cured forehead.  Still it is one of those feverdream movies I remember from my childhood.  I was thirteen, and a friend and I worked at a shitty little restaurant (the old couple who owned the place paid us out of the cash-register, so as to not have to worry about child labor laws).  It was snowing one Friday night when we were closing the little place down, and we'd talked my friend's mom into driving us to the mall so we could see the 10 pm showing on the first Friday Superman the Movie was out.  It was so great to be exhausted from work, sitting in a theater, that portentous John-Williams music blaring over the ice-sculpture font of the opening credits.  
Man of Steel has that energy inside it:  a fan-boy dedication to believing in something, even if that something is pure unadulterated primary-colored muscle-bound stupidity from another planet. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

12 Pack

When I used to work in group-homes back when I was in college, every Friday night we would go pick the folks up at the workshop and we'd go help them get their workshop paychecks cashed.  We'd be in the van, picking up 8 people.  I remember some of their names:  Elel, Betty, Welby, Janice.  This was like 24 years ago.  Damn.  But I remember them in my head getting into the van with their checks in their hands, very excited about cashing them so they could go to the Wal-Mart and get their pop.

"Pop" was the word of the evening.  I kid you not.  It was vitally important, especially for this one guy, Tony.  He was kind of bent over with a melted Elvis face, and he wore a uniform to the sheltered workshop not because he had to (they didn't have uniforms for the people who went to the sheltered workshop), but because he demanded it.  The maintenance people (employees who weren't labeled with a disability) at the workshop wore uniforms, and Tony pitched a fit so they let him buy himself a set just to keep the peace.  He had two uniforms eventually for rotation purposes.  He was a very serious person.  He always seemed to be thinking of ways to disassociate himself from the group.  We always went everywhere together, so it is totally understandable:  8 people with developmental disabilities, 2 staff, in a big van.  To the bank, out to eat, bowling, to the park, and like this evening after going to the bank, making that vital pit-stop at Wal-Mart.

We all walked into the store, and all of us went to the beverage aisle, and Tony automatically got a shocked look on his face.

"My pop," he said.  His voice was low-pitched and as a serious as a judge's.  "My pop."

The shock turned into anger real quick.

The 12-pack of red pop he normally purchased on Fridays wasn't in its normal place.  All the other folks had gotten theirs, but Tony walked around, searching out the red pop he always bought.  There were a couple other kinds of red pop, but not his brand.  He started to cry.  Not secret, inward tears, but large guttural ones.  Here was a dude in a janitor outfit, slumped over, with buzz-cut salt-and-paper hair sobbing in the Wal-Mart because they didn't have his 12-pack of red pop.

I know exactly how he felt.  What did William Carlos Williams once write?  "So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow."  Etcetera.  So much depends upon a 12-pack of red pop, it is beyond description.  The other staff person, a morbidly obese lady who really seemed to think of herself as "in charge," talked to Tony in a stiff professional but kind of motherly manner.  I stayed with the other guys on the other side of Wal-Mart.  They were subdued.  They had seen Tony do stuff like this before.  He was totally defeated.  The staff person had to walk Tony out of the Wal-Mart and counsel him in the van.  I went ahead and got him a replacement 12-pack, but he never drank any of it I don't think.

He survived.  But that moment sticks in the my head because I knew right then, in that store, what life was about, witnessing that outburst.  I was 24-years-old.  Working my way through college.  Trying to become a writer or whatever, but for some reason I felt inspired by Tony's desperation and disappointment, not because it was funny or weird or eccentric or wrong, but because it was so intensely human. 

He had counted on one thing, that one goddamn thing, and it was gone.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Blake's World


"Blake was a nonconformist who associated with some of the leading radical thinkers of his day, such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. In defiance of 18th-century neoclassical conventions, he privileged imagination over reason in the creation of both his poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. He declared in one poem, "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's." Works such as "The French Revolution" (1791), "America, a Prophecy" (1793), "Visions of the Daughters of Albion" (1793), and "Europe, a Prophecy" (1794) express his opposition to the English monarchy, and to 18th-century political and social tyranny in general. Theological tyranny is the subject of The Book of Urizen (1794). In the prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), he satirized oppressive authority in church and state, as well as the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher whose ideas once attracted his interest."
Blake's identity both as a consummate artist and a fringe-dweller is one of the first examples of  a "self-taught/visionary/outsider" artist becoming canonized in Western culture.  He wasn't appreciated during his lifetime, however, and decades after his death his work was re-discovered by artists and writers.  Eventually he would be seen as a forebear to Surrealism, 1960s counter-culture, and the ascendancy of "graphic novels" as a viable art-form.  People who revere him include:  Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsburg, Jim Morrison, Aldous Huxley, and Van Morrison, just to name a few. 
When pulling together exhibit ideas, we always try to find historical connections and echoes in order to better understand how artworks made by unconventional people are often not understood at the time of their making because of the cultural noise and drone.  Blake is a prime example of an artist not understood until well after he was gone.  In fact, his energy and spark seemed to come from a singular dedication to visions that contradicted the ideas and even morals of his times. 
"INNCE/EXPCENew William-Blake-Inspired Works by Emily Brandehoff and Robert McFate" uses Blake's beautifully complicated weirdness and craft as a jumping off point for two artists who are unconventional, operating outside of mainstream culture while also contributing to it.  Cincinnati-based Brandehoff paints visions of ghastliness with a sidecar of gut-level black humor.  McFate, from Pikeville, Tennessee, is a folk artist extraordinaire whose paintings, drawings and sculptures have an innocence backed up by backwoods wisdom.   We selected these two artists to take a look at Blake’s classic bipolar poetic epic, Songs of Innocence and Experience, a cycle of gorgeously illuminated poems that sees the world both as a ghastly garden and an Edenic one.   The results are contemporary paintings and drawings that use Blake’s wondrous imagination to go back to the future.  Also, as both an embellishment and a sort of allegory to correspond with the main show, we've pulled together works  by Opening Minds through Art, a program from Miami University that fosters art-making relationships among college students and elderly people, as well as works by kids from Suzanne Nall's art class at Parker Woods Montessori a few blocks down from Thunder-Sky, Inc.  These paintings and drawings symbolize "innocence and experience" in different, surprising ways, and also pay homage to one of Blake's most quoted statements:  "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is:  infinite."
For more infomation about Blake's life and art:  


Number One Freak

Melissa McCarthy's performance in Identity Thief made me cry.  I wasn't really prepared for that kind of response.   Almost every review I read about the movie panned it, although almost everyone praised McCarthy's chops, as well as the chops of Jason Bateman, her co-star.  Identity Thief is truly a piece of crap, a retread of all kinds of comedy tropes (Planes, Trains and Automobiles, What about Bob, anything with Adam Sandler and/or Kevin James) that finds endless merriment in the overly obvious juxtaposing of freak and non-freak.  The premise is uptight family guy gets his identity robbed by a morbidly obese sociopath who wears tacky clothes.   These two opposing forces are forced together on a road-trip in order to prove something or other.  Truly the whole plot is preposterous (you keep wanting Bateman's character to just say fuck it and call his bank and do what anybody else does when this happens:  cancel his card and move on), and the machinations and motivations become so muddy you can't really tell what is what after a while. 
And yet there's McCarthy making me cry. 
I think it has something to do with how gungho she takes this character on.  The titular identity thief is a total concatenation of stereotypes, a fat, lonely, greedy, mentally-ill hoarder who likes to punch people in their throats when they get in her way and who has a sadsack back-story that may or may not be true.  McCarthy gives this cartoon a shadow-life with her eyes and her way of moving through space gracefully and authoritatively, as if she is dancing her way past the movie's cheap laughs in order to find a way to destroy your heart.  This happens most intensely in a couple scenes for me -- one in which Bateman catches her holding his daughter's hand, and in another when we first meet up with her at a bar where she's buying everyone drinks.  In both scenes, which bookend the movie, McCarthy conveys a sort of innocence that's based on an understanding that no matter how stupid the movie gets the main character she's playing is for real.  McCarthy makes this freak a transcendent freak, a full-fledged heart-broken criminal trying to steal her way out of herself.  In other words, McCarthy plays the character as a stand-in for all of us, so that Bateman's upstanding citizen seems like the cipher, when probably the movie itself was constructed to do the opposite. 
Kathy Bates did the same thing in a movie called Misery back in the day.  She invested all her abilities in making a fat, lonely, creepy, backwoods kidnapper/torturer into someone you could connect to on the most beautiful levels.  I remember when I first saw that movie I was devastated, not because in the end she was vanquished but because her vanquishing seemed morally wrong.  The plot of that flick is a Stephen-King potboiler about a romance writer imprisoned by his biggest and craziest fan, played by Bates.  James Caan plays the writer, and he is intended as the movie's central figure, representing good common sense.  So when Bates' freak takes a sledgehammer to his legs you're supposed to feel completely violated.  However Bates does the sledgehammer scene, and all her other scenes, with such verve and attentiveness and truth you feel connected to her need to smash knee-caps.  That's the common sense in this moral universe:  kneecap smashing.  Her transgressions became the norm, not because the movie wants it that way but because Bates does it that way.
The same thing happens in Identity Thief.  And it's a joyous experience.  Not because the movie is great, but because someone in it is greater than she should have been.   


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Piano Strings

Ai Weiwei's "According to What" (currently at the Indianapolis Museum of Art) is pure perfection.  There's an Apple Store consumerist clarity to the whole thing, a clean, sleek fetishism that somehow becomes spiritual in its carefulness.  Weiwei is obviously a perfectionist, a craftsman, and a genius.  His story is told of course in the show because it has to be.  He's currently unable to leave China because of who he is and what he's done as an activist and political prisoner.  However, that biography of activism and  humanitarianism is not the biography Weiwei seems to want us to focus on.  In corresponding interviews and quotes throughout the show, he tries to reconfigure, even apologize for, his activism, for the sake of having people see and think about his art without the gloss and crutches of heroism.  It's the objects he makes that transcend biography and sanctity and even thought.  They are inscrutable, somehow cosmic, and just plain gorgeous.  The prime example is this flourish of rusty rebar pictured above.  The back-story is horrendous:  hundreds of Chinese school-children were killed in a 2008 earthquake.  The school buildings the children were in were made on the cheap, increasing the death toll.  The Chinese government has tried to cover up all of this, but Weiwei uses his visual intelligence as both testimony and transcendence.  The walls surrouding the rebar are covered in the school-children names.  The rebar used in the construction of the demolished buildings has been systemically hammered and stretched back into original longitudes, and Wewei arranges them in the gallery to mimic Seismographic readouts, oceans waves, governmental graphs, piano strings, rust-red lines of consciousness merging into amnesia... 

There's nothing you can say or do in response to what he's done here except  thank him for this proverb of both profundity and disruption.  When I walked around and stared at this installation I felt like I was leaving my body.  Art often can't get past itself, its own meanings and histories and languages, but here it has.  Weiwei has found a way to escape aesthetics through being an aesthete.  His focus provides relief from confrontation while his technique and style confront and confound.  He has created a place of pilgrimage.  And in the background there's a recorded voice saying each of the dead school-children's names.  Weiwei is not a preacher here.  He is an artist giving us an image and a moment that stretch out into eternity.  

Thou Art Sick

I asked Emily Brandehoff to jot down some words about her experiences working on the art she's making for "INNCE/EXPCE:  New William-Blake-Inspired Works by Emily Brandehoff and Robert McFate."  The show opens June 28, 2013, 6 to 10 pm reception at Thunder-Sky, Inc.  I'll be asking Mr. McFate to write down his feelings too. 

Love Emily's response:
I haven’t read a single poem since all of my writing, journals and books were taken from me when I was a teenager, I assume it was because they were “dark."  After seeing a psychiatrist for it (not my choice), I lost all interest in poetry.  I vaguely heard of William Blake, but never gave myself the chance to read any of his work.  That being said, it was a struggle for me to read Songs of Innocence and of Experience, but after finding liner notes posted online by college students, it all started to make sense.  Good, bad, evil, love, sex, controversy….I guess all of poetry is like that, but being “ahead of his time” is an understatement for Blake.   I related more to experience than to the innocent part, mainly from my own life.  It was a fun project to work on.  And although my mind doesn’t calculate how to tie someone else’s work into mine, I tried.  After some time though, I started to just have fun with it and realized experience is life.  So I chose the darker side because let's face it:  that's what makes someone who they are.
One of Blake's simple and unnerving "Experience" poems...

Friday, June 7, 2013


Molly Springfield is an artist I came across the last day of a show at Indianapolis Museum of Art on Sunday, titled "Graphite," a wonderful exhibit focusing on drawings made with, you guessed it, graphite.  What a lucky find.  Her work has a hermetically sealed innocence and intelligence to it that boggles your brain.  In a suite of drawings of copy-machine pages, Springfield pulls together obsession and yearning for knowledge in a sleek, creepy package.  The words are Proust's (from Swann's Way), the color and style from Xerox.  Each drawing I saw is a simple, rigorous articulation.   She turns words into objects with these pieces, replacing the beauty of Proust's prose with the method Proust used to express it.  It's like falling in love with some one's clothes, not the person, which isn't as superficial as it sounds.  The lusting after of intelligence, the need to consume and show what is being consumed, is what these drawings seem to represent, a sly comment on the luxury of reading without really reading.  The cleverness is not in the joke being given to us here, but in the supple realization, the graphite drawing representing a copy, and the copy being the original text on which the drawing is based.  A crazy conundrum pops up, and yet what's truly amazing is the quiet prayer emanating from Springfield's practice.  These are pages of a secret Bible you don't have to read to comprehend.  You just have to see.  It's like a formalized dyslexia, the sumptuous nothingness language can become once you realize you don't need to know what's being relayed to understand the power of its inception. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why William Blake?

We'll be celebrating William Blake in our next show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. opening  Friday June 28, 2013.  It's called “INNCE/EXPCE: New William-Blake-Inspired Works by Emily Brandehoff and Robert McFate,” and I came up with concept for many reasons, but mainly because I've always been in awe of Blake, both his visual and literary work, as well as his biography.  Back in 1988, when I was a sophomore at Indiana University/Purdue University in Indianapolis, I wrote a paper about Blake in an English class taught by Professor Phyllis Scherle.  She was one of those people that save your life, even though at the time you don't really recognize or understand that significance.  Soft spoken and very kind, she was my advisor.  I was a really shy, backwards kind of person, and she totally helped me understand that I could fit in at college.  I had dropped out of art school in 1984 to go to live with my mom and sister in Tennessee after my parents got divorced, and then I moved back to Indiana in 1985, did a lot of drugs and washed a lot of dishes until 1987, when I realized I had to do something or would just disappear into nothingness, maybe even die if I wasn't careful. Anyway Professor Scherle took me seriously.   Some schlep from nowhere, working full-time at Ponderosa Steakhouse and going to school full-time and feeling completely out of it.  She told me which classes to take and what books to buy, and then my sophomore year I took her English lit class, and she introduced me to William Blake.  She loved him, and this paper I wrote (see below) is sort of a love-letter both to Blake and to her.  Once she graded it, she took me aside and said she was sending it into a contest at Purdue University, and a few months later she told me it won First Prize.   There was a banquet and everything.  

This paper kind of made me realize I could win, thanks to Professor Scherle.  And reading Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience set me free.  They were poems that seem crazy-simple, beautifully and uniquely and disquietingly naive, but also wordly and complex at the same time.  Nursery rhymes that get stuck in your head, but also somehow lead you to the palace of wisdom.  Reading about Blake's life inspired me to no end as well.  He was a sort of literary/artworld curiosity when he was alive, taken seriously only to a point and often shut out of opportunities.  Or as Kathleen Raine writes in her bio of Blake:   "Considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, Blake is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work."  Here was an artist and a writer who truly created his own path, and who by remaining stubborn and dedicated to his vision outlasted most of his contemporaries.  

Professor Scherle gave me a reason to stay in school, and to keep writing, and to know that I could fit in, even if I didn't.  

She gave me Blake.

And so when we thought about Thunder-Sky, Inc.'s exhibition season for 2013,  Blake came to my mind as a sort of precursor to the kind of art and artists we want to champion and celebrate.  Then I thought of two great artists who seem to fit the bill:  Robert McFate and Emily Brandehoff.  Both  have idiosyncrasy and creativity to spare.  I also wanted to add an ancillary gig featuring works by children and older folks, who also seem dedicated to finding out what art can do and can mean, outside of buying and selling...

I'm not sure Professor Scherle is still around.  But I'm dedicating this show to her, and to anyone who champions people who seem a little "idiosyncratic."   

Here's that paper I wrote, with Professor Scherle's comments... 


Saturday, June 1, 2013

What Else Can I Say? Everyone Is Gay

Behind the Candelabra is a kitschy/kinky title for a movie that doesn't really tolerate kitschiness (it exonerates it), and while the Steven-Soderbergh-directed opus does dance lovingly around kink it is more a homage to the mundane pleasures nestled within an opulent cluster of feelings and possessions than a salacious bio-pic.  It's a Faberge-egg tribute, with a plot driven by a tried and true Lifetime movie arc:  rich old man takes on a young lover and then gets tired of that lover and moves on and then on his deathbed confesses his love.  Michael Douglas portrays Lee with an offhand sweetness and assurance that does not mock the great showman's mannerisms but somehow ennobles them, giving us a Liberace that lives and breathes and can say shit like "I just love to shop," without assigning him to a one-note stereotype.  It is very clear in this movie that Liberace assigned himself to whatever type he felt comfortable being, and this type comes off as a piss-elegant meditation on luxury and perseverance:  he was the hardest working queen in show business.  That "hardest-working" part seems to have fueled his appetites for a lot of things, including sex and palaces and hot-tubs and diamond rings.  Matt Damon plays Scott Thorson, Lee's conquest at the beginning of the flick, with a sort of understated angst and joy that seems to have been borrowed from Mark Wahlberg's performance in Boogie Nights; in fact his Thorson is a tribute to that movie's deadpan kindness and innocent depravity.  Damon ages from 18 to late 20s in the movie, and that process is so believable it's kind of magical, transporting you past the transgression inherent in Liberace's seduction of Thorson and more into the realm of how relationships work.  All the way through Candelabra you're hypnotized by a sort of longing to go back to those days when Liberace could seduce both old ladies in Las Vegas auditoriums and young men with long blonde hair and sweey glassy eyes, without anybody wanting to notice or care.  Sonderbergh has built a visual villanelle of a movie, overly mannered and lyrical, and also completely free of cynicism.  By the end, when Thorson envisions Lee's funeral as his final and gorgeous curtain call, you realize how much judgment people apply to pop-culture and how hard it truly is to actually see things as they really are.