Posted inArt

Star Search: Heaven’s Map for Getting Lost

“Billions and billions of stars.” Carl Sagan’s awestruck if indeterminate census of the universe became a comic catchphrase in the wake of his 1980s PBS series Cosmos. Johnny Carson would intone the line, exaggerating the astrophysicist’s sing-songish repetition of billions and we’d laugh. Not because Sagan’s estimate was so low (estimates currently put the figure at between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion), but in part because the mere idea of billions of suns and consequent solar systems like our own is a patently impossible notion to comprehend. Contemplating god (as a bearded chap on a throne or some vague organizing “force) is water off a duck compared to the mental rearrangements required by the proposition that everyone alive and who has ever lived amounts to nothing more than a mote of cosmic dust. Now that’s hilarious.

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.