Archive for October, 2016


Monday, October 31st, 2016

— I found these pictures in the bottom of a bin in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They were taken in South Korea, in the 1970’s, they are probably of the kind that South Korean businessmen would take on business trips and bring back to the office to show to their colleagues as slideshows. This was a period when the country was rapidly industrializing and the dictator was a man named Park Chung Hee. Buildings were flying up everywhere. In these photos, a visiting Kenyan businessman is passing through a new factory, looking at the construction.

What is interesting to me about these photos is first that they reveal power dynamics that felt like they could be happening anywhere. Tensions, misogyny, moments of kindness, and the kind of general misunderstanding that can happen between people from different places. I can see the familiar performance of a workplace here and also a set of real people in the time period of a lot of the other archival material I use in my own work – the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s – with it’s optimism and its modernist idealism. There is also a lot I can’t know. I don’t know the particularities of South Korean customs, or the words that were being spoken, or what happened before or after. I’m most interested in the woman in the pictures. What was she doing there? Is she a worker? A hired escort? A wife? 

I particularly like the way that the hands in the photographs are always a little bit more tense than the faces, seeming to reveal some actual human feeling in the past.

And I like these pictures most of all because they remind you that you can’t really know anything from looking at a set of photographs. I think of this line from Lacan, “you never look at me from the place I see you”. He means something a bit different, but for my purposes here, those words mean that you can never look at a picture of someone from the same experience, or subjectivity, or place from which they look back at you. Something to think about.

Sara Cwynar is a New York-based Canadian artist who uses studio sets, collage and re-photography to explore the ways in which the meaning of design and images change or endure over the course of time. Her work has been exhibited recently at the Prada Foundation, Italy, the Hessel Museum, Hudson, NY, and at MoMA PS1.


Monday, October 31st, 2016

— I began collecting personal stories in the Story Gathering Boxes from gallery-goers in 1972 because I was interested in breaking down traditional barriers set up between the public, art space and works of art. In addition to inviting people to participate in writing stories for the boxes, a place to sit, linger or have conversation is also provided by situating the boxes on a table with stools. An edited selection of the thousands of stories collected over the years will hopefully be published one day. The configuration and scale of the boxes was inspired by sacred ancient Egyptian canopic chests that held the organs of the pharaoh. I am looking forward to the day when I have the means to go to Egypt to produce four Story Gathering Boxes carved from Egyptian translucent alabaster.

Mary Beth Edelson was born in 1933, in East Chicago, Indiana. She lives and works in
New York City.


Monday, October 31st, 2016

I’ve been reading my old diaries for a new project. Here are four passages that stuck out to me.

4 Obstacles
Money (job)
Accountability —> she needs to matter

I hate dream stories. They’re so annoying. Every morning my sister tells me her dreams. Last night I had a dream that the Geico gecko went down on me. That means that your love for that campaign has gone too far. Last night I had a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” That wasn’t you, that was Martin Luther King Jr. Black history month is getting to you. I’m really good at interpreting dreams.

I get bored of everything in real life. All the characters are so predictable and they keep making the same mistakes. I’m trying to get myself out of this rut, but it’s hard. I forget why I ever wanted to do anything. I’m always disappointed. Maybe my expectations are too high.

“Do all African-Americans have curly eyelashes?” Joan asked while squinting at me. “I don’t know,” I replied doing my best not to sound the least bit offended. “I think mine are curlier than most.” She squinted for a few minutes longer and went back to her easel. I stared at an old drawing of a big head. They were making a drawing of me. My eye would lose focus after a minute and I hope it didn’t look dead. I wanted to look like I had “something going on in my head.” Nancy once told me about a girl who modeled for her that was clearly not thinking anything. I didn’t want to be like that. I sat on a white chair on two ratty beaded pillows. I stared off at the big head and thought about my poor life for three hours. Joan offered to drive me to the train. Even though she’d confessed earlier that she’s supposed to wear glasses when she drives, I took her up on the offer. I had nothing to lose. Although the entire ride I imagined us getting into a horrible wreck. In the car she asked me if I was having fun in life. “I am,” I told her sincerely. She remembered for a while about how much fun she had in her twenties and I sat back and listened. Joan turned 73 last month. She spent her birthday in Paris with her husband. I tried to imagine her husband with no luck. I was convinced she was lesbian. A stereotypical lesbian with short hair, a gruff, go-get-it attitude, no make up, no dresses. Although, or maybe because, that could describe me I had my suspicions. “Is your boyfriend black too” She asked curiously. “No he’s white.” I sensed her discontent. “Well, diversity is good” she offered. I nodded.

Martine Syms was born in 1988, in Los Angles. Her artwork has been exhibited and screened extensively, including recent presentations at Karma International, Bridget Donahue Gallery, the New Museum, Kunsthalle Bern, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Index Stockholm, MOCA Los Angeles, MCA Chicago. She has lectured at Yale University, SXSW, California Institute of the Arts, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, and MoMA PS1, among other venues. From 2007–11, she directed Golden Age, a project space focused on printed matter. She also recently founded small press Dominica.


Monday, October 31st, 2016

— Languidly walking my way through the meticulously well manicured and stunningly beautiful gardens at Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center residency in Italy this past summer I imagined what a 17th century aristocrat must have felt, prancing atop the same gravel with silk slippers. And that’s when it hit me. Ill at ease and suddenly clear headed I understood that I was participating in and carrying on a tradition of privilege that, as a man of African descent, was never a beneficiary of. The history of exploited labor, deception and control of common folks — European peasants and colonized dark skinned people from abroad — were hidden deep below in the ground underfoot.

My month long residency was to allow me the luxury of time to make art works unmasking the pervasive catch 22 of mental colonialism so that other colonized minds might question the origin of subtle, self defeating impulses and insecurities. residing in their own heads. I’d been woke, and my work is to wake others so that we may become more resilient to the stress and confusion of living in a post colonial global economy.

And here I was indulging and gorging at the kings table. When I shared this inner conflict with my fellow Rockefeller fellows, one artist remarked, “Are you telling me you didn’t know you’d be staying in a 500 year old villa atop of Lake Como? So why’d you apply?”

I called my friends Meena Nanji and Yong Soon Min, artists I knew who also attended the residency and asked if they had a similar existential crisis and hungrily received their counsel.

By my second week I was in full production mode, cranking out critical works, dancing in the night and thanking the stars I was here. Life is strange. So is inner conflict. I honor both. History’s a bitch.

Todd Gray was born in 1954 in Los Angeles. Gray received an MFA and a BFA from California Institute of the Arts and is currently a professor at California State University, Long Beach. He has shown performance work at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater), Los Angeles (2010); California African American Museum, Los Angeles (2009); the Commons, New York University (2008); 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica (2008); New Renaissance Theater, Syracuse, NY (2007); and Academy of Media Arts, Cologne (2004). Gray’s work is in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; University of Connecticut; and University of Parma, Italy. Gray is the recipient of a Los Angeles International Airport public art commission (2007); a California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists (2005); a Pasadena Art Alliance Grant (2004); and a City of Los Angeles Individual Artist Fellowship (1997).


Monday, October 31st, 2016

I get most of my ideas and images from driving to and fro in the Pacific Northwest and walking up and down in it. Scouting out landscapes and our often fraught relations with the land. I’m interested in the landscape not merely as a backdrop, or scenery, but rather as a character with agency. So these pictures of mine are really a form of landscape portraiture.

I trace this interest back to my childhood on the edges of Forest Park in NW Portland, the largest park within a city’s limits in the US. The Wildwood Trail runs more than 20 miles along the Tualatin ridge. When I was a kid the ridge extended, forested, to the coast range, and a black bear had to be tranquilized in a neighbor’s backyard. Development severed this link, but coyotes are regular visitors.

I used to terrify my mother because I would play behind the houses where the yards met the forest, rather than out front. Playing games like moving around the neighborhood without touching concrete. Like in Opal Whitely’s journal, I remember going on these “explores” from a really early age. Always alone, and this capacity for solitude turned out to be really useful for a painter.


When I go out on these scouts I bring along my kit. Inside a small Filson shoulder bag are sketchbooks, fountain pens, ink, and a camera. I’ve always drawn with fountain pens, and I’ve had the black one for 25 years and the blue barreled one for about 20 years. The first pen I had, a beautiful reproduction of a 1930s pen, bought while still in art school, I lost somewhere. The loss still pains me.

I like the finality of the ink, putting a line down and having to react to, with, or against it. No erasures, just barreling forward. You really see something when you’re drawing it. The camera, now digital, is small and simple. The drawings and photos, though essential, are the raw source material for my paintings, and all the paintings are studio productions.


The most recent scout was a trip to the Owyhee, at the end of September. The Owyhee, an archaic spelling of Hawaii, is so named because a pair of Hawaiian fur trappers disappeared in this country in the 19th century. It’s located in the far SE corner of Oregon and is stark high desert, and very remote. A land of towering rhyolite formations, honeycombs, lava flows, basalt, bone-dry yellow grass, sage, a sky so blue as to seem almost black, starry nights, and the Milky Way’s strip from horizon to horizon. Strangely, we didn’t see the moon the entire trip; only a handful of people, cows, and gravel roads.

All the places are named after calamities, disasters, and misfortunes. In fact, the whole county is name Malheur, after the French for “bad time,” “bad luck,” etc.

The first night we camped at Succor Creek (pronounced “sucker”) under the trees that hug the bank. Then on to Leslie Gulch, named for Hiram Leslie, a 19th-century pioneer who was struck and killed by lightning here. The gulch is known for its rhyolite formations of ochre, red, purple, and corpse green. In the morning we were buzzed by two F-16 fighter jets, deafeningly loud and so low as to clearly make out their undercarriages as they banked hard right above us, then were gone.

On to Jordan Craters, a 28-square-mile lava flow from eruptions 3,000 to 9,000 years ago, which in geological time is now. This is a pahoehoe flow, ropey, with splatter cones, enormous pits, precarious footing, and sharp surfaces. During the height of summer, temperatures reach 120° F. A terrifying place and so quiet as to hear the earth’s hum.

Finally, on to Birch Creek Ranch. Thirty miles of gravel road to the entrance of the Ranch road, where a sign warned: “Extremely steep and rough road, extremely slippery when wet, high clearance vehicles recommended.” The road was a single-track dirt and boulder-strewn six-mile nightmare to the river. We crossed four creeks at the bottom, and traveled the six miles in one and a half hours, one way. At the bottom were the ruins of the original pioneer structures and a contemporary house set amongst trees with sprinklers going. We traveled another mile to the large, open, recently harvested alfalfa field between the Owyhee River and rhyolite cliffs, and set up our final camp. A peculiarly warm wind blew through the night (the other nights were very cold) and we awoke early on high alert, worried that rain was coming, making the road back up impassable.

Then we faced our own small calamity, a flat tire. And what turned out to be an ill-fitting tire iron, with no way to reach the recessed lug nuts of the wheel. We hiked to the house with the sprinklers, hoping someone was there with tools. A pickup was out front, empty, with the engine idling, and onto the porch stepped Jim, a BLM employee who lives year round in this isolated spot and who had a wrench that fit. He told us that last winter he went five weeks without seeing another human being, the road being impassable. We were struck by how isolated we were—only three people in a hundred square miles.

One and a half hours on dirt, two hours on gravel, and we were back on concrete for the eight-hour drive back to Portland.

The Owyhee is being considered for National Monument designation. The road signs were ubiquitous: NO MONUMENT.

Owyhee Scout 9.26–9.30, 2016
Miles traveled 1,150

Animals sighted:
Bats, bighorn sheep, chukars, cows, coyotes, flickers, hawks, ground squirrels, many flying insects (flies, gnats, etc.), mule deer, lizards, ravens. No rattlesnakes.

Michael Brophy was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1960. For over two decades Brophy has painted the Pacific Northwest landscape. He has shown extensively in the Northwest in both solo and group exhibitions.