Saturday, October 28, 2017

37 The Bro-gallery

37  The Bro-gallery (Tomboy Artist part 3)

What do you call a gallery that exhibits fewer than, say, 20-30% female artists?  Yes, a Bro-gallery!

Today the artists a gallery represents are typically 70-80% male, sometimes more.  What if we flipped it and now that percentage of a gallery's artists are female.  With that one flipped fact-the whole ballgame looks different.  What if 80% of our House of Representatives and Senate were female?  Who could possibly miss all those media shots of clumps of dumpy jowly men in gray suits with their big fun (ha ha) yellow or red striped ties!  Speaking for myself-what a relief to never see one of those photos again.  And on and on it goes.

Why do we assume that the male domination of the art world is simply the way it should be?  Are men more clever, talented, intelligent than women?  That certainly hasn't been my experience.  In the art world, to be male is akin to walking into an SAT test with an automatic 500 points in your pocket before the test is even taken.

To all you Bro-gallerists out there-why not take a cold hard look at your assumptions about male and female artists?  Don't be afraid to change.  You may find that an awakening would be quite refreshing.  For everyone.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

36  Tomboy Artist part 2

A really ugly male behavior is getting a lot of attention right now.  In politics and in the entertainment business the assault on female bodies and dignity has been business as usual for decades.

How about the art business?  It's well known that the male abstract expressionists of the 1940's and 1950's considered women artists as not only inferior, but essentially worthless (except for fucking.)  As for the "revolutionary" 1960's-how many famous pop artists were female?  Hmmmm, I'm thinking...

Today, fifty plus years after pop and AE, the art world's treatment and belief that women artists should be taken as seriously as men is uneven at best.  I've had my share of dismissive treatment by dealers and curators.  All women artists have.  Honestly, I don't know what to do about it.  I don't know how to change this neanderthal mindset.  It's not in the best interests of male artists to stand up for us.  More sales and representation of women means less for them.  If a gallery represents 20 artists and 20% (a typical percentage today) are female, to even out the opportunities for women-six of the male artists in the gallery are going to have to take their work down and leave the gallery.  Do you know any male artists willing to do that?  I don't.

Here's an additional hurdle to chew on.  Until recently (the 1980's) Janson's History of Art had ZERO women artists represented in its 850 pages.  ZERO.  Today it has 9% female representation.  In 2017 91% of the artists in the most commonly used art history textbook are male.  Welcome to Art History 101!

How does it affect young women studying art today and how did it affect women of my generation in the past to study an art form where the vast majority of artists honored, are male.  How does a female form attachments to the male artists of the past who we know treated women abominably?  Young people need to study and learn from those who came before.  What is the effect of having no role models with whom one can share a particular knowledge of life?  Imagine a whole area of study and human practice, fine art, where one must have a penis in order to be taken seriously? Would a dildo suffice?  It's ludicrous, but true.

A lot of artists, Picasso and Pollock notably, were well known to have treated women badly.  Yet they are two of the most undeniably important painters of the 20th century.  What is a woman artist supposed to do?  Pretend these two men and thus their work, never existed?  Turn our heads away and not learn from them?

I had a painting teacher in art school who told me that I could not be an artist until I had first gotten married and become a mother.  I have no clue what he was talking about.  I had another painting teacher grab me in the crotch.  Some years back I was in a four person show in my hometown museum-the three guys were in the main room and I was in the rear hallway.  And so it goes and goes.

Until it doesn't.

35  "...aren't we doing it for the painting and not ourselves?"

..."aren't we doing it for the painting and not ourselves?"  This is a fragment of one of Sam Tchakalian's stream-of-consciousness painting critiques.  He was trying to get 20-year-olds to understand that a painting stands alone, and it stands or falls on its merits.  To paint well is to put the painting first.  The artist's ego, needs, wants, and learned ideas of what art should be, are a distant second.

What does a painting want?

To make art that has substance, an interior life of its own, requires an artist's skill for sure.  It also demands an artist's vulnerability-a willingness to fail. "Don't laugh-this is the best I can do right now.  I'm dirty and sweaty from the art battlefield.  It doesn't often work out.  But I'll be at it again tomorrow.  And the day after that.  And the year after.  And the decade after that."

I think it was Picasso who said (and I paraphrase)-"when I fall in love with something in a painting, I destroy it."


Because when a painter falls in love with a particular color, a gesture, a line, a shape-they can no longer see the painting as a whole.  Picasso was ruthless-and brilliant-and probably the greatest painter of the 20th century.  Good painters are ruthless.  Mediocre painters are tolerant.

Jackson Pollock couldn't draw.  His artist brothers thought he was hopeless.  Jack the Dripper found a way around this flaw.  Instead of a pencil he drew with paint.  (I have read that he took his drip technique from an obscure woman painter).  And boy, did he draw with paint.  He tackled scale, color, texture, line, composition like his very life was on the line (and considering his end, I suppose it was.)

I've seen a lot of Pollock imitators over the years.  It's sort of comical that they seem to not understand that the reasons Pollock paintings are great is not because of the drip; they are great because they are infused with Pollock's touch, sensibility, timing, heart---they are infused with Pollock himself (the good, bad and the ugly as the movie said.)  He wrestled with the elements of visual art for the sake of the painting.  He may have taken his drip technique from a lesser artist-but he put it in his backpack and took it up the mountain.

This is what happens when we do it for the painting and not ourselves.

Monday, August 7, 2017

34 Marcia Weisman, 1918-1991

I was just a kid.  A kid who was getting her feet wet in the low key LA art scene of the early 1980's.  Somehow, I don't remember exactly how (but my dealer Kirk, surely engineered it), a totem pole of LA art collectors bought a 4' x 8' painting of mine (Blue Hostal, Cuzco, 1983).  She hung it in her living area.  Not far away were her Gorky, de Kooning and John's map.  I went to her house a few times after that and out to lunch with her.  I was 30 she was 65.  Once I invited myself to her house so I could show my then boyfriend Dave (now husband) her collection.  She was Marcia Weisman.

                                      Fred and Marcia Weisman by David Hockney
                                             (American Collectors, 1968)

Life has a way of just happening.  And it is rarely what one expects, when one expects it.  At its best life serves up a good meal and one eats it and then gets back on the trail until the next one is served up.

I would say I knew Marcia, well enough to call her Marcia (perhaps she would have preferred Mrs. Weisman but she never said anything to me)-but not well.  She was small, as was I, so apart from the 35 year age difference and many millions of dollars, we were eye to eye.  She was not warm or huggy and accepted my naive enthusiasm with a detached amusement.  She was friendly with some known local artists, mostly men, a generation older than me.  I remember a small gathering at her home and I was surrounded by a group of these "dudes".  Only one spoke to me, Ed Moses.  He said that my painting was good.  I left early, feeling like I'd just escaped from a foreign planet where I didn't speak the local tongue.  And I wasn't sure I wanted to.

                                         Blue Hostal, Cuzco, 1983, KK

It's an important gift to an art community when a well known collector reaches out to local artists.  This sends a message, usually ignored, for other wannabe collectors to do the same.  Reach out and discover and buy like you're serious about art and artists.  The reason Marcia was an important collector is because she did this.  It was deeply personal for her.

I have a memory of me telling Marcia that I was pregnant---and when I told her she looked at me with a measure of trepidation, puzzlement, even disappointment.  She probably thought that was it for my painting career---Karla is leaving the artist track and going down the mommy track.  But the dates of her death and my daughter's birth don't align properly.  I must be misremembering this for some reason.

More likely, she would have looked at me with that keen appraising eye she had and smiled slightly, thinking, "oh boy, we'll have to see how this plays out."

Last year a mutual friend, John Walsh (Marcia introduced us) said to me while looking at my survey exhibit covering 36 years of paintings, "Marcia would have been proud of you."  She's been gone 26 years, but I felt again like that naive 30 year old from whom Mrs. Weisman bought a painting and hung it in her house.  When John said this, just a few feet away was her big blue painting, watching me, smiling slightly.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

33  Tomboy Artist

     I wasn't a tomboy growing up.  I cherished my one Barbie and her friend Midge.  Ken, not so much.  He didn't have real hair.  I learned to sew in a junior high home-economics (ha ha, economics!) class and thereafter using my mother's Singer sewing machine was off to the races in time for the 1960's costume parade; lace sewn on my jeans and a gold brocade jacket for school wear.

     I left all that fun behind when I went to art school.  I had to get serious and that meant being like the guys.  No lace or gold brocade.  Although there were plenty of female students-SFAI in 1972 did not have more than a couple of women teachers in all the departments combined.  None in the painting department.
     Even though I'd read Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan I accepted the lack of female teachers.  To my shame, I don't remember thinking about it much, if at all.

     While rejecting previous artists and their art is de rigueur for young artists, like it or not, the fact is that we all build upon the past.  It's one of the many contradictions of art and art making.  For a young female art student it was confounding.  How could a 110 pound 19 year old girl model herself after a middle-aged sloppy 200 pounder with whiskers and a drinking problem? 
     Well, that's the way it was.  And for many years I thought I had to live my life and make art to fit the model I'd been fed.  Living in uncomfortable, funky studios in bad neighborhoods and depriving myself of female luxuries (hair salon visits, femme clothing) was part of the deal if I wanted to be a "serious" painter.
     As for the traditions of family-did Picasso or de Kooning drop their kids at kindergarten as they headed to a day in the studio slaying art dragons?  Did they get up 5 times a night to change diapers and breastfeed?  Did they install a car seat in their Toyota pickup?  Somehow I kept going.

     Not only did I struggle with how to insert my gender into the macho mindset of art making-so did and does the art world.  Why are women still dramatically underrepresented in galleries, museums and sales?  I don't think the art world knows what to do with us. 

     What has kept me painting is that the most important element of art is that of human experience, neither male nor female, just human.  




Thursday, June 29, 2017

32  Tired Old Marcel and Andy

     There are two 20th century artists that I'm really tired of, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.  Has their influence been large?  Huge actually.  Huge partly because historians and critics won't stop writing about them and huge because museums won't stop exhibiting them.
     Has their influence been positive?  That depends what your definition of "positive" is (ha ha).
     Okay.  Has their influence been cleansing?  In many ways-yes.  Duchamp cleaned out the old boy's club fussiness of the Paris salon and its tired definition of visual art.  Warhol helped to sweep out the rather worn personal and emotional wallowing of later abstract expressionism.  But eventually, Duchamp ushered in an era of cynicism about the value of aesthetics and Warhol shared and infected us with his love of cloying celebrity-itis and the cost-benefit delights of mass production in art.  
     So, the reality of art as product is now accepted and rewarded, thank you Andy.  And the demoralizing cynicism of Duchamp has sunk its roots.  Thank you Marcel.

     So what's the problem?  The problem is that what has gone missing as messieurs Duchamp and Warhol have left their imprint on 20th and 21st century visual art-is the importance of soul.
     Soul is the gift given to us by jazz, blues and expressionism.  Soul is the ingredient that makes us feel something other than a jaded cynicism-such as left behind by the Dystopian Duo.
     When I hear much of my son's contemporary music playlist it often contains an electronic pounding that beats my brain up. Can an electronic machine bring us the euphoric and thrilling feelings that come with listening to a Coltrane sax or Clapton guitar?  Okay, life might be shit-but listen to this!
     Does a factory produced visual object give us a reason to keep looking?  Or is it just another soul-depleting product that begs to be purchased? 
     Isn't the point of fine art to find beauty with our eyes?  To find something deeply felt by another that also makes us feel?  To use a different language (aesthetics) to know life?

31  If something is hopeless, does it follow that it is pointless?

     I have told both of my kids that if you love art, make a lot of money so you can buy it.
     But-don't become an artist.
     Living off of one's paintings, sculptures, or whatever medium-is essentially hopeless.
     It's always been almost impossible-but there is a big difference today.  Life is far more expensive than thirty or more years ago.  If an artist wants to build a studio hut out in the Mojave-well maybe then it can work out.  But that pesky climate warming could be a problem.
     Putting aside the annoyance of buying food and shelter; if something is hopeless does it follow that it is pointless?
     Imagine life without artists and their (our) creative outpourings.  There will still be lots of Beamers, Mercedes, $500 sandals, vacations, jet skis, good wine, golf courses and designer jeans.  BUT-no paintings, sculptures, Shakespeare productions (stage actors are also artists) or cellists.  Still, lots of computer games and expensive racing bikes available.  But no jazz clubs or contemporary dance.
     Most, or many people think they do value serious art forms.  But do they have any idea where art comes from? The personal price that each artist pays to make art?  Not really.  Today art, as reported in the media, is a product for the rich to buy at auction or in a gallery  and then have shipped to a freeport (a tax free haven where the "object" can sit in climate controlled storage for eternity, sort of a suspended animation for expensive stuff).  At the bottom end, for the plebes, art is something one gawks at in a museum once a year.  Art is simply something out there-somewhere.
     What if artists and art vanished.  Just gone, poof.  How would human life change?  Or would it?  Perhaps not.  After all, can people miss what they don't understand to have existed in the first place?  Perhaps not.  Poof.