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Posted inArt

Beast in Show: William Hawkins and the Animal Spirit

On almost every painting by William Hawkins you will find his birthdate and place of birth (“William L. H. Hawkins Born K.Y. July 27, 1895” or some variant thereof) prominently marked in bold strokes across the bottom or along the side of the image. In some pieces, the signature’s display is ample and vigorous enough to vie with the subject matter for the viewer’s attention. The self-taught African American artist who lived most of his life in Columbus, Ohio, and whose work came to the attention of gallerists and collections in the mid-80s, felt no need to be shy about his authorship or his Kentucky origins. Vibrantly declamatory, the lettering is of a piece with Hawkins’ depiction of his subjects — animals (real and fantastical) and buildings: beasts and bricks alike appear as if shot through with electric current propelling them outside the frame.

Posted inArt

Single Point Perspective: California Dreamin’

On my first visit to California in 1978, I didn’t bring a jacket. It was summer and I expected Beach Blanket Bingo weather — big sunny skies and breezes that barely ruffled the palm trees. That I was San Francisco-bound and held this notion not only testified to my ignorance about the state’s meteorology but it’s North-South cultural divide as well. I ended up shivering on Stinson Beach watching surfers in wet suits; not a single bikini in sight, let alone Annette Funicello.

Posted inArt

Go with the Slow: Ragnar Kjartansson’s “The Visitors”

Behind a curtain in the darkened gallery space at Luhring Augustine nine screens, each equipped with its own speaker have been arranged into two somewhat discreet areas. Eight of the screens feature the image of a single musician — a guitarist, pianist, banjo player, cellist, and so forth — and one screen offers a view of the porch of a large house where other instrumentalists, singers and assorted folks have gathered. Ragnar Kjartansson’s video installation titled “The Visitors” documents in a single take the 64-minute-long performance of one song.

Posted inArt

Automatic Transmission: Drawing Surrealism

Surreal. It’s one of those words like insane or awesome that’s taken a beating from aggressive misuse. I’ve heard the term applied to both a bus driver wearing a funny hat and the sight of the second plane hitting the tower. “It was so surreal,” that long e sung out like an animal’s cry of distress, is one of the more commonplace characterizations of any even vaguely untypical experience. The show currently at the Morgan Library and Museum, Drawing Surrealism, affords an opportunity to get reacquainted with the ideas and art behind the now overly familiar adjective.

Posted inBooks

What Didn’t You Do in the War, Daddy? Chickenhawks and a Few Good Books

Last week Mitt Romney reached deep into the Republican bag of stock postures to attack President Obama as weak in matters of defense and foreign policy. The macho posturing by chickenhawk Republicans (Romney, Rove, Cheney, Bush, Kristol, Gingrich and many others avoided Vietnam if not military service altogether) is an all-too-familiar and, unfortunately, effective right-wing tactic.

Posted inBooks

Some Sentences to Relax With

As I sometimes — or quite a lot of the time — find myself disposed to avoid the demands of work and household, my favorite dodge is perusing much read books for those “juicy” parts that I’ve doted over for years. Samuel Beckett’s Murphy is just the right book for this kind of time wasting: It’s a novel about an indolent, hapless, emotionally paralyzed man. He’s a loner, out of step with the world, torn between desire for his mistress and the wish to sink further in a self-involved fantasy world. The eponymous un-hero Murphy (he really can’t be called an anti-hero as his chief aspiration — a catatonic state achieved by rocking in his rocking chair — barely qualifies as anti-anything) is securely held by what Blake called “mind forg’d manacles.”