Monday, January 28, 2008

William Elliott Whitmore, Iowan.

I first heard about Will some time ago when he was opening up & roadie-ing for Ten Grand, an Iowa City band fronted by someone I knew named Matt Davis. The story goes that after a while of being Ten Grand's roadie, Will was asked to open for their shows with a short set of his songs. I had heard that Will grew up listening to punk rock like Minor Threat and rap like Public Enemy, but was actually a horse farmer somewhere south of my brother's and sister's farms in Iowa. Due to those sort-of similarities between us and a quite probable crossing of other interests, I definitely wanted to learn more and even meet the guy to talk about the land's influence on his music/my art. But back then, which was around 7 or 8 years ago, I never got to see him perform.

Fast forward to about 2004, in Chicago, when I went to see a benefit show for Matt Davis' family (Matt passed away - another post, some other time). A variety of bands were playing to help raise money for funeral costs, and William opened up. Holy fuck was I blown away. There are quite a few videos of Will posted online nowadays, so if you are interested in seeing live footage, look on youtube. I simply wanted to post this 30 second clip of Will singing on top of a roof:

William Elliott Whitmore

There you have it. William Elliott Whitemore. Punk rock Iowan with an otherworldly voice and soul for bluesey folk. Damn straight.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Jessica Benjamin: The American Series (at MCAC)

The Rapper (Tragedy)
(composite image of a slave child and Method Man)

This past weekend I took the 2 hour trek down to bloomington-normal to see old friend Jessica Benjamin and an exhibit of some of her new artwork. The highly anticipated show is called The American Series, and it runs at the McClean County Arts Center through February 16th.

First off, Jess has become a bit famous since the days we all were students at ISU. We've kept in touch a small bit after she moved to New York City, and a year or so back she had mentioned that her work had just become known to one of the most celebrated jazz musicians of our time - Wynton Marsalis . Wynton evidently expressed an interest in her paintings, and gave her the music and lyrics to a then-unreleased album. And now - time flying by as it does - the project is finished. Yes, Jess' work is now forever coupled with Wynton's music on his newest album, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary. Her paintings adorn the entire CD booklet, including the cover, and play an integral part in the theme of the album. Very nice.

So... back to the show... the gallery was packed with visitors. PACKED. There were probably about a dozen paintings from this new series of work, and I genuinely liked what I saw. Back in school, Jessica and I (among other artists that took print classes) made a lot of quiet, meditative landscape work; but to her credit, Jess always branched out more than the rest of us and did other things - including a lot of figure drawing and painting. The American Series is solely comprised of portrait paintings, sans one painting that stood out because it was a different size than the rest (much larger) and a different type of image (street scene of a march). That said, I got the sense from Jessica that the portrait paintings are the heart of the matter, so I'll focus on those.

Physically, the series is comprised of smaller-than-I-anticipated oils on paper, involving somewhere around a 12 x 12 inch actual image area. Content-wise, I walked away feeling like I saw a very eloquent, honest, and quiet critique of America, and as I edit this before posting, it's proving really difficult to accurately explain what I mean by that. The work doesn't hit you over the head with burning flags or graphic mockeries of "Dubya," rather, it takes a much more heartfelt approach by presenting portraits of our people. However, simply describing the work as "portraits" would sell it short... each of these "portraits" are uniquely interesting because of a tactic employed by the artist. I'll use an example to explain. Say you're looking at the painting in the show called "The Politician."

Upon first glance, you undoubtedly notice the title and begin to search your memory, wondering who exactly is pictured. I did this with many of the pieces and wound up somewhat perplexed until I talked with jessica some more. Upon closer inspection of the artist statement, you realize you're seeing amalgamations of several key figures in each of the paintings. "The Politician" is actually a composite image of both Vice President Cheney and former FEMA director Michael Brown ("heckuva job, Brownie!"). This type of approach to making to portraits was taken with all the paintings on display. To some it might seem gimmicky at first, but I found it very purposeful and well thought-out. See, the act of combining two or more real people —sometimes famous, sometimes not — brings to form an all-encompassing surrogate figure. The power of the pieces isn't found within the boundaries of Jessica's execution/talent/skill; the power is found in the act of viewing this surrogate figure, the visceral reaction one has to the meaning evoked through it as a signifier. And sometimes that meaning is power or anger; sometimes the meaning is loss, or love.

The Katrina Victim
(a composite of several people affected by the New Orleans flood)

The Queen
(composite of a New York socialite and the queen of spades from a standard deck of cards)

This type of social realism is pretty tricky to pull off nowadays in the art world, or in other modes of communication and expression. As each side of the political isle outspins the other's attacks at a seeming hyper-speed, our nation's collective eyes glaze over with a frustration that quickly leads to an uninterest. The subjects' faces in jessica's work, however, boil everything down to a most simple matter — a singular identity that is easy to become interested in and easy to care about.

I left the show thinking about some ties the work had to other artists' work throughout the ages. To continue with the discussion of contrasting an underhanded social critique to a more overt political art, let me draw upon two printmaker/painters from an earlier time - Honore Daumier and Kathe Kollwitz. Both artists created work that I would argue fell on both sides of this coin. Here are two works by Daumier that illustrate the differences in approach I speak of:

Honore Daumier

Honore Daumier
Third Class carriage

...and two pieces by Kollwitz showing the same difference in approach/intent:

Kathe Kollwitz

Kathe Kollwitz
Widows and Orphans

Do you see what I mean? How does one best get people to pay attention to social issues when using art as the medium? There are the direct, in your face, "fuck you"s found in political art, punk rock music, and poetry slam-ish writings, and there are the more underhanded routes that present information in a less raucous, savage manner. Both are equally powerful, necessary, and legitimate, but after Jess' show I started to think the latter tends to get people to pay attention in a more sincere way.

Jessica Benjamin working with local children at the McLean County Arts Center, 2008


Friday, January 18, 2008

upcoming works + sufjan & arcade fire videos

lots of studio work going on lately, which means i might have an update of a new painting soon. i'm really happy with the concept and i think it's one of those "one-out-of-ten" pieces that i'll actually think is strong many years from now.

also, St Ambrose's classes started this week, which means the relationship involving my time and classroom assistance being traded for personal facility use (press/ink/materials) has officially begun. the students all seem really cool and the gig should be mutually beneficial. so... you'll probably see new monotypes posted here in the next month or so. sweet.

for now, here's another video that's out of sorts with my normal punk rock postings.

after all his works, still my favorite Sufjan song:

and finally, arcade fire live in NYC:

...Children wake up,
hold your mistake up,
before they turn the summer into dust.

...With my lighnin’ bolts a glowin’
I can see where I am goin’ to be
when the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.

You better look out below.


Monday, January 14, 2008

teaching an op art class at the Figge Art Museum

Karin davie

back when i was finishing up my BFA, working at the university's art gallery, my boss / gallery director Barry Blinderman curated a show called "post-hypnotic." the works in the exhibition were culled from artists all over the world, and for a quick description, I'll quote Barry's words:

"post-hypnotic examines the resurgence of pronounced optical effects in the work of 28 painters living in the U.S., Switzerland, England, and Japan. The Op art movement—peaking in the wake of mid-sixties World’s Fair optimism—lost its critical appeal as it transmuted almost overnight from canvas into clothing design. Since the 1980s, however, numerous artists have revisited perceptual phenomena involving pulsating patterns, afterimages, vibrating illusionistic space, and other sensations often associated with altered states."

Little did any of us know, but this gem of a show - organized and installed by 5 people in Normal, IL - would go on to travel for several years, including such venues as The Atlanta College of Art Gallery, The Tweed Museum at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, The McKinney Ave Contemporary in Dallas, The Chicago Cultural Center, The Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL, The Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, and The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC.

Bridget Riley

The show left a lasting impression on me partly (a tad) in my own work, but moreso in terms of the "wow.... cool." factor. After the buzz was over and done with - several years later when I had moved on to chicago - I used the work as a point of departure for several art project ideas for a day camp I worked at. And it worked wonderfully. so... after moving back here and a couple years of going back and forth on the idea, i finally submitted a post-hyponitc-ish idea as a formal studio class proposal to the Figge Art Museum. a few months back they accepted it as an official class for this winter/spring season.

here's my description of the class:

In the 1990s, contemporary art saw a resurgence of visually stimulating “Op Art” that proved to be as exciting as the work made by the 1960s artists that pioneered the genre. Join us in this class as we talk about some famous Op Art works throughout the years, and then go on to create our own wild, eye-popping paintings and drawings.

we'll start of each session by looking at reproductions of some work throughout the ages, as well as the official exhibition catalogue we made back at ISU, talking about what makes the pieces powerfully "popping," and then get to work on individual acrylic paintings. a run of three classes will be for students within the 5th to 8th grade range. those classes meet from 1:00 to 2:15 on Saturdays April 12th, 19th, and 26th. A separate class for high school students will take place as one section of the "Teen Scene" class - my op art section takes place from 2:30 to 4:30 on Saturday, February 23rd. if you know anyone who may be interested, give the museum a call.

Phillip Taaffe
Adam, Eve

Mark Dagley
Primary Color Vortex

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Joanna Newsom Brave & Brilliant

my wife and i and some friends saw joanna newsom open up for will oldham several years back at an art gallery in chicago. being "blown away" would be the understatement of the century. after continuing to follow her since then, there has always been one song of hers that has never stopped hitting me in the gut. "Sadie." joanna has written a song about the death of her dog. it's beautiful; it's poetic; it evokes inward visuals. and most amazingly, being that it's a song about the love for a deceased pet... it's not cheesy/corny. imagine getting up in front of a crowd, all by yourself, with a harp, and singing your soul out about your dog. brave and brilliant.

...And all that I've got
And all that I need
I tie in a knot
And I lay at your feet
And I have not forgot
But a silence crept over me
So dig up your bone
Exhume your pinecone, Sadie.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008


I've been eager for new music lately, but moving away from a city like chicago leaves you a little out of the loop as to what's new and exciting. i was checking out Dischord's newer catalogue entries because i haven't bought anything from there in ages, and i came across Antelope. i don't think i like most of their stuff, but i do dig two songs that happen to be on a 7" together. the two songs sound different that the other albums' songs - more "angular," like Gang of Four meets... Faraquet... or something.

i'm buying the record. here's one of the songs, "The Flock."

if you're liking the song, but want to hear the guitar or interesting bass lines better in the actual recorded version, go here .

centro-matic / will johnson

sometimes i think i don't post enough of a well-rounded music assortment here. so, if you follow the site, here's some different stuff.

i first saw centro-matic back in probably 2000, on an art department trip to Austin, TX. it was an amazing show. we even ran into them the next morning at a subway restaurant, near their hometown of Denton. very nice fellas. throughout the years i think i've seen them 3 times. here's two videos.

"Triggers and Trash Heaps"

"Re-Run Pills"
this is will solo. great song writing.

since they're not posted anywhere online, my attempt at remembering the lyrics:

if the alcohol is positively right
then i'll wind up spinning out for the night
and cause an accident
but it would be well spent
my new accident
for your eyes

if my attention pills worked perfectly fine
you wouldn't have to repeat your lines
oh, the things i do forget...
you wouldn't get upset
at my afflicted head
and hollow shell

'cause when the one-man, bastard circus is in town
you'll somehow find a way to stick around
and when the tightrope shows all crash to the ground
i'm coming down...
i'm coming down.

if my promises were perfectly kept
there'd be so much less emotional debt
the floors would be all swept
i'd fix the TV set
some sort of miracle
much to your surprise

and if the bartenders knew perfectly right
they wouldn't set me up for the night
and watch me fall so hard
and wind up in our yard
just in time to hear you lock the door

when the one-man, bastard circus is in town
you somehow find a way to stick around
and when the tightrope shows all crash to the ground
i'm coming down...
i'm coming down...

group show brewing + bill conger

i wanted to post some work by friend and ex-coworker bill conger. for the last nine months or so, i've been working on curating up a group show of work by artists like bill - meaning, people with ties to ISU, or the artist's group The Sophisticated Traveler. actually, i want to include two artists from outside this loosely affiliated group. one whom i've met within the last year, who comes from florida, and another, whom i've not yet met, who is finishing up grad school at northern illinois.

but back to bill... here's an assortment of my favorite pieces of his throughout the years. all works are © Bill Conger, 2004-2007

candle, photograph of sunset.

shit luck
acrylic on paper

Psyche and Cupid
paper, coal, magnets, on unprimed canvas



wife's t-shirt, miniature boat

and finally, of course, this crazy-ass birthday cake hat atop a skull. brilliant.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

slowing down.

there are a range of personal likes and dislikes found inside myself that set me up as someone to be touched by Kurasawa's last scene from Dreams.

on the "likes" side of the coin, i've always loved being outdoors. i dug in the dirt as a kid, building bmx jumps in the woods by my house. i've spent time around the country hiking with friends to places to experience the "grand majesty of the land." i have my bucolic getaways to my brother's and sister's farms. spending time on the open prairie and slight hills of my home landscape is what grounds me.

on the "dislikes" side of things, i have a stubborn aversion to things that keep people indoors, in front of the television. i'm turned off by the rat race, and by anything that relates to "keeping up with the Jones'." it drains me that workdays seem to be getting longer and longer, and there seems to be less and less quality time in the day. it's of no interest to me that cel phones are getting smaller and smaller, TVs are getting larger and more optically resolute, and internet connections are now blazingly faster than my my mediocre DSL.

the reason for posting the film scene, and the main gist of what i'm getting at, is this - the world is getting too fast paced and bling-bling for me. as funny as that sounds, i honestly mean it.

however... even as i sit here and think about how pathetically short our collective attention span has become, i have to 'fess up that no matter how beautful Kurasawa's last scene here is — no matter how clean and pure such an existance seems — i'd be equally as unhappy with the opposite side of the spectrum.

to use another example, i'll turn to a more current film/book. even though Chris McCandless's story, is mystifyingly beautiful (except for that whole death part), immersing myself in a rawer exsistence would leave me wanting. i'd want days where i could play video games for several hours. i'd want this beautiful mac. i'd still need some amenities.

so... what to do? how does one escape the buy! buy! buy! and the incessant rush, to get back to some tranquility? i don't know. well, perhaps i don't know. or perhaps people fight this hyper-saturated style in their own nuanced ways, and i'm just now realizing how hard i have pushed against the brunt at times throughout my life. this is no huge epiphany post, just some ramblings i wanted to get down.

i wrote the following piece while living in chicago, as a reflection of a particular ride home one night, after work, on the brown line L train. the sun was setting, i was tired of the concrete and grime, hustle-and-bustle of the city life, and i was enamoured with the ordinary, working class older folks scattered around me, amongst the businessmen and women.

tilling away
© matt pulford, 2003

there was always old ordinary jake and his tired workhorse pony.
tilling away at layers,
acting grubbingly,
and all to the ground, down.

on our train rides while bright sun makes squints and winks,
forgotten why’s, do’s…
and how’s.

as each of us see work-toilers going home,
we recall our grandmothers, fathers.
sleep tight, dear ones.
we don’t know what we’ve trampled.


another break from serious posts...

there are a lot of thoughts about "things" bouncing around in my head, but i don't see anything getting down to digital paper anytime soon. perhaps an attempt at semi-decent writing will pop up here soon. for now, i wanted to share some muppet xmas goodness.

i know the christmas holiday has passed, but a week or so back i found this on youtube and it made my day. watch kermit. is he headbanging? hardcore dancing?

hilarious. i'm trying to count how many dances from this Sick Of It All video he does...