Thursday, January 8, 2009


The other night I rode across town to meet with a friend who is helping me with some digital wizardry. I am hoping to have a website up and running before the snow thaws this spring. When I left home, I headed out into a mild evening with the temperature around 30 degrees or just less. However, some light snow was picking up and the temperature was falling. The roads have been a bit trecherous as the infrastructure in many parts of town did not fare well coming out of our record  snowfall & deeply cold winter of '07/'08. we have had considerable snow fall so far this season. Recently the temps. have been a bit higher than average and some rain and a recent ice storm had left the roads well burnished, and now all these trappings and pitfalls being covered by lovely white snow,  here is what I learned:

  • Falling happens often in these conditions. 
  • Goggles are only effective when you are traveling over 10 miles an hour, otherwise..steam bath for your eyeballs.
  • studs may really be a good idea.
  • it is possible to fall stylistically if not gracefully.
  • drivers do not expect you to be out there, no matter how many bells are ringing or lights are blinking.
  • best of all....when the roads are empty and everyone is home for the night in front of the tv; syncopated by your cadence, the sound of the snow under the tires is transcendental...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Polyrhythm 1: 100 degree arc of space

Several years back, while teaching along the adjunct circuit at my local art schools, I found myself preaching a steady diet of spatial issues and their relationship to the strictly formal, two-dimensional dynamics. Richard Diebenkorn was my staple example of a painter keenly aware of the pliable perception of the picture plane and its ability to be transformed in the viewers eye into something more tangible, when given enough cues. And that a whole array of vocabulary can be employed to suggest a specific place or region. 
Milwaukee is a city that was built on a large marshland. The rivers that form a confluence carve small paths in the surrounding areas and the land rises slowly and subltly from the water's edges. Being at the end of the Iron Belt in the upper midwest, Milwaukee has a rich history as a manufacturing center. Therefore, in large measure there are scores of low lying buildings that rise ever so slightly, in relationship to the earth and to each other. Milwaukee is a city that was cobbled together by many European craftsmen and being rather religious every group & every neighborhood has it's churches, mostly Catholic, and Lutheran and some Protestant. Church Spires pierce the sky near and far. Utilitarian structures are seen in contrast or in concert with the architecture of the divine. intertwined with nature, both cultivated and indigineous. Milwaukee has a wonderful park system that was devised in the early days of the city's growth. The immigrant's, German & others, thought of these vital greenspaces as the lungs of the city...and shame on County Exec. Scott Walker for neglecting this public heritage! ...I digress,...what I describe above are the elements that began to inform my work in the early part of the decade, when I called myself an instructor. Though I have drifted away from a life in academia, on other currents of life, I carry many of those experiences with me.  

.....So, while teaching painting in a summer pre-college program, One of the many places & spaces I came to know intimately, was in our "backyard". I began to exploit this spot, as it offered many long vistas to gaze down. This is an area in the city, not far from the big lake and is in the basin of the city on the SE side. There is a great deal of industrial activity and a train line runs through. The detritus of years of commerce, shipping, storing and whatever activities, is apparent, though there is a rich growth of foliage as well. During one summer session, I decided that if the weather held I would have the students work on a panoramic composition. Given Milwaukee's history as one of the panorama house centers, it seemed appropriate to attempt. As you see above in my painting, Polyrhythm 1: Milwaukee Basin, students worked in a similar fashion to develop a series of small drawings on paper, from this site. I asked them to attempt to get as close to 360 degrees as possible. Most students seemed to fall somewhere between 90 and 180 degrees. After, a few days of drawing and little time to paint, the workshop came to a close and we hung the results in our final exhibition. Sadly, I did not adaquetly document these paintings. I was struck by their sense of rhythm, and and movement. They were layered and lyrical, and no matter the level of skill they all had a pulse! Following this experience I knew I had to try this project for myself.....

...I started my project in the waning days of summer, in late august of 2002. I too had intentions of recording 360 degrees of space, but only managed aproximately 100 degrees. I spent many afternoons drawing in graphite on the panels I had prepared earlier in the summer. At first I would go out with light drawing supplies and a panel or two. From where I parked..(this was prior to my bicycle drawing  journeys)... the trek down the train tracks was several hundred yards to the point of view I had chosen. This was still a manageable walk. Once the paintings began in earnest I quickly realized a need to find a way to hike in with my supplies and all the panels. I of course needed them to be stable as I would leave with wet panels. I was painting these with an oil & beeswax medium, so they were slightly set-up as I would leave, but It was during the hot August sun and into the early color change of september. 

...This, then, is the case I built to house the work as it was being transported.

...Most of this view has been built over by some light industrial expansion. I did not complete this painting until 2004, which followed the early days of  the new construction. These images were shot in my studio this past week as I was getting work ready to drop off at Katie Gingrass Gallery

Friday, January 2, 2009

on the importance of a good workbench....etc.

The following are a couple of shots taken while I was building frames for a show I put up this past fall. I am currently giving them some final touch up and coatings of oil, so they will be ready for delivery to the gallery this next week. I have recently been included in a group show at Katie Gingrass Gallery here in the Third Ward of Milwaukee. And naturally, I want the work to be tip top in terms of presentation. I have been making these frames in this way for many years now. The construction is an overlapping finger joint similar to joints used for drawer and furniture construction. Not a complicated joint, but one that is very effective and for me, aesthetically pleasing. I chose to cut them by hand because it just seems like a natural extension of my processes concerning the making of the work, be they drawings or prints. In the same way that the imperfect and irregular quality of the deckle egde is an extension of the grammar of the drawing, so is the evidence of hand in the stroke of the blade as the joint's parameters are being defined. I am sure there are more efficient and flawless ways of making a frame, but efficiency is a small part of the puzzle. 
It is worth noting that a dear old friend of mine by the name of Richard Beda, showed me the way towards a kind of Japanese work ethic in the studio. We both had space in a building above Joe's East Coast Car Shop on Center Street in the Riverwest.  This was in the early 1990's, shortly before the Fuel Cafe helped populate the neighborhood. Acting as an instructor, Richard showed me how to make joints using spare tools with precise marking. My first project was to make the very bench seen here in these pictures. This bench has served me through many projects and has traveled to Ohio and back. There it was certainly a centerpiece in my graduate school studio space. Today, it resides in my basement workshop and serves equal time as woodworking bench and bicycle mechanic's station.
.....a side benefit to this methodology is that there are no potentially "dangerous" power tools, so a nice IPA on the bench seems just fine...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

the snout of the "cooker"

this and what follows are some "johnisms"

My winter rig in the courtyard of john

bicycle jazz flick 1: 1/1/2009

For a number of years now I have been taking small journey's by bicycle around my town, on New Year's Day. Today was no exception. When I first started to do this I wasn't a very seasoned winter rider, so the act of doing the ride, no matter the distance or destination was the bang. These rides have evolved as I have become more of a year round commuter. And my appreciation and takeaway from the journey has become more faceted. As winter weather goes in the upper Midwest, today was almost stock. Cold, but not brutal. Somewhere in the 20's, but a good wind and a low "deck" of thick clouds made for a bone chilling kind of humidity. I rode west from my house through Miller Valley and then climbed up to meet john k. I found him and his ever pleasant and lovely partner debi...of Eat Cake fame and glory.....out by the new "cooker". John is a fine sculptor and extraordinary landscape architect.  As a friend and comrade, I have been fortunate to bear witness to the transformation  of his outdoor space and the "cooker is the latest addition.  After some courtyard conversation and miscellaneous ruminations we headed off into our lunch loop....