Monday, October 24, 2016

Rain: More Rain (October 24-25, 2016)

Rain all day today (October 25) and yesterday has so far added 3.20 inches to our total for the 2016-2017 rain year. As of 7:00PM on the 25th, our total stood at 4.85 inches. Off to a good start—and more rain is forecast.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Music I'm Listening To: Pablo Heras-Casado and Alisa Weilerstein with the San Francisco Symphony

Last night, October 21, 2016 was the opening of the 2016-2017 concert season—for me, at least. I was in San Francisco to hear Pablo Heras-Casado conduct the San Francisco Symphony in Mozart's Symphony No. 29, Schumann's Cello Concerto in A Minor (Alisa Weilerstein soloist), and Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. Each time I've watched Heras-Casado conduct, I've been impressed by his apparent rapport with the San Francisco Symphony musicians. Everything seems crisp, clear, taut, and in its place.

I enjoyed the Mozart performance, which had these qualities in spades, the Schumann less so. The Schumann concerto is from that period in musical history when it was fashionable to leave no pauses between movements; it's always felt wrong to me. There's nothing inherently necessary about dividing music into clearly separated segments, but the breaks allow the listener time to reflect and absorb before being asked to consider a new set of ideas. The Cello Concerto seemed amorphous, without direction, and a little overblown, the lack of pauses contributing. It's not among my favorite cello concertos. Weilerstein, Heras-Casado, and the orchestra seemed very much in tune (pardon the pun), however, and Weilerstein played with the drama she's known for, the drama heightened by her voluminous crimson dress, but I thought the sound of her low string rather ugly—gritty and grippy, as if she had put much too much rosin on her bow. I suppose that's a minority opinion, but I found it distracting.

The highlight of the evening was perhaps the Dvorak. Sitting near the front is a compromise. It's fun to be close to the conductor and soloists, but the sound can get a trifle out of balance, with the brass and low strings a little too strong, the violins a little lost, and that was apparent in the Dvorak, particularly when the sound was biggest, with the horns threatening to overwhelm the violins—but that was not the fault of the performers, who were, as usual, in good form. Dvorak is nothing if not colorful. He always uses the full orchestra, giving everyone a lot to do, in this case, the winds, in particular. His Symphony No. 7 is a passionate piece of music. There's plenty of drama (and it's hard work for the conductor; Heras-Casado was dripping with sweat by the end), but Dvorak, even at his most intense, never seems willing to accept the notion of hopelessness. There is always something optimistic about his writing, a positive energy always swirling around at the eye of the storm. All in all, a good start to another season of fine music in San Francisco.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 156 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage piece. This was done during the recent Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event.

This is Untitled Collage No. 156 (Santa Rosa). October 16, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 21.8 x 31.6cm (8.6 x 12.4in). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rain: First Real Rain of the New Rain Year

We had drizzle a couple of weeks back (0.2 inches) but the first real rain of the new rain year (October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017) began last night. The first rain is always refreshing. It's very welcome, even if it comes in the middle of the Art Trails open studio event tomorrow and Sunday. So far this morning (October 14, 2016) there is 0.75 inches in the rain gauge. I'm hoping we'll have had a couple of inches by the end of the weekend.

[Update: By Sunday morning (October 16) most of the rain clouds were gone. We ended up with 1.45 inches at my location, bringing the annual total to 1.65 inches. I was hoping for more, but everything looks refreshed and the air smells clean.]

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Art I'm Making: New Collages

Since last posting images, I've finished three new collages. These are numbers 153, 154, and 155. I don't give my collages titles because to me they are mostly problems of composition. Inevitably, people see images in them (and I do myself sometimes), but these are coincidental. I intend no subject. I seek no subject. From top to bottom:

Untitled Collage No. 153 (Santa Rosa) September 5, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 23.3 x 18.6cm (9.4 x 7.25in). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. This one is a fairly simple overlay of hard-edged forms over a flowing black-on-white monoprint, a study in motion and stasis.

Untitled Collage No. 154 (Santa Rosa) September 20, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (handwritten music), collage. 18.0 x 23.1cm (7.13 x 9.13in). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. This one sets horizontal linear effects of dark blue-black monoprinted elements against verticals created by up-ended staff paper.

Untitled Collage No. 155 (Santa Rosa) October 12, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (handwritten music, Japanese textile stencil, fragment of a doodle bot drawing), collage. 17.6 x 15.1cm 6.9 x 5.9in). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. A study in blues accented by green and rust patches. Here I've used found music again, but I've used it more for the blue pencil marks on the staff paper than for the linear quality of the staff paper itself.

Click on the images for larger views. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see my work in person during the Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, always the middle two weeks of October--this year, October 8, 9 and October 15, 16. This year, I will be Studio No. 141.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Books I'm Reading: A History of the World in 12 Maps

When we think about the meaning of maps--if we stop to think about their meaning at all--I suspect we work on a number of assumptions that author Jerry Brotton neatly disposes of in the course of his look at 12 extraordinary maps in A History of the World in 12 Maps (Penguin, 2012). Most important among these is probably the assumption that a map is an objective representation of the physical world. Brotton shows that maps—all maps—reflect the attitudes of the people who make them and the people for whom they are made. Maps are inevitably selective and biased, even when expressly intended to be quite the opposite, and therefore maps are always incomplete and expressive of only one view of the space they describe.

Brotton starts with a mention in his introduction of the oldest known map of the world, a map on a clay tablet excavated near modern-day Baghdad in the 1880s dated to c. 700BC - c. 500BC. However, the first of the 12 maps mentioned in the title of the book is the picture of the world created around 150AD by Ptolemy in his Geography, which, apparently, included no maps at all, but rather instructions on how to create a world map, the first known attempt to create a world map based on scientific principles and with an understanding of the mathematics of projection. It is remarkable for being an attempt to transmit knowledge digitally rather than pictorially--that is, with the numbers required to draw a map rather than by reproducing the map itself (although it is not entirely clear that the text was unaccompanied by maps published separately; in any case, none have survived). Ptolemy's known world was centered on the Mediterranean. What lay beyond the westernmost point in Europe, beyond modern-day Portugal, was unknown. The New World was yet to be discovered. Africa was not yet understood to be a continent surrounded by water. What lay beyond India was only vaguely understood and suggested.

He moves on to an 1154 map of the world made in Sicily by one Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Idris al-Sharif al Idrisi (mercifully shortened to Al-Idrisi), part of what Brotton describes as a "comprehensive summary of the known world" that included more than 70 regional maps and the world map discussed. Brotton further describes Al-Idrisi's work as an attempt to bring together "Greek, Christian, and Islamic traditions of science, geography, and travel to produce a hybrid perspective on the world based on the exchange of cultural ideas and beliefs between different faiths." Al-Idrisi's approach was inclusive and syncretic and an attempt to describe the world as it really is, even if that goal is elusive and the possibility of achieving it illusory.

There follows a discussion of why maps are oriented the way they are. Most early Muslim maps, including Al-Idrisi's, were oriented with south at the top rather than north, mainly because the direction of Mecca in the earliest days of Islam was south for most of the religion's followers. Early Chinese maps were oriented with north at the top because the emperor was thought to look down upon his subjects facing south, with his back to the north, and all others looking up to him. Until the 15th century, Christian maps, however, were oriented with east at the top, as in the c. 1300 Hereford mappamundi, the third of Brotton's twelve maps (shown, illustration from Wikipedia). Here, the scientific approach is mostly discarded (the bulk of the factual information on the map derived from classical sources) and replaced by a religious point of view, in what seems a step backward from objectivity—but, again, one of Brotton's central themes is that maps really cannot be objective. The Hereford map shows the world as a sphere surrounded by water with the land divided into three areas labeled "Europa," "Asia," and "Affrica," although, as Brotton notes, Europe and Africa are transposed (it's not clear why). At the apex of the map (east) sits Christ, flanked by angels leading people to either heaven or hell, a depiction of resurrection and judgment. At the bottom of the map, opposite Christ and associated with the setting sun, decline, and death, lies the west. The shapes of the land masses are wildly distorted by ignorance of actual geography but also by the attempt to locate places mentioned in the Bible and to account for various Biblical stories. Around the borders Biblical, classical, and other mythical monsters are depicted. The Hereford mappamundi is more a map of the road to salvation in a Christian universe than a picture of the surface of the Earth.

Each of the nine maps that follows is used similarly as a starting point for discussing how a picture of the world, a map, is a reflection of the people that make it, their attitudes toward the world, and, most importantly, their political, financial, and ideological interests. There is not room here to discus them all in detail, but Brotton looks at a 15th century world map centered on the Korean peninsula, very much concerned with relations with imperial China; Martin Waldseemüller's 1507 world map, created at a time when Europe was beginning to explore the rest of the world; a 1529 map by Diego Ribeiro, reflecting rivals Spain and Portugal aggressively claiming territory around the globe; Mercator's famous map of 1529, a view of the world that is highly influential to this day (although losing ground); Joan Blaeu's 1662 atlas, which becomes a centerpiece for a discussion of the economics of an intensely competitive market for maps in Holland in the 17th century; the Cassini map of France of 1793 as an example of maps as a tool for gaining and keeping political power (and a lesson in the futility of trying to remain up to date); Halford Mackinder's 1904 The Geographical Pivot of History in a chapter that deals with the rise of geography as a modern, scientific pursuit but also, again, a pursuit intimately connected with politics (in this case British colonial politics); the 1973 Peters projection map, a flawed yet highly influential attempt to rectify the distortions of the ubiquitous Mercator projection (perceived as oppressive and Eurocentric)*; and finally, Google Earth, which, although it might seem to be the closest thing we have to an objective depiction of the entire world, Brotton argues is inevitably biased and incomplete—like all maps.

Thoughtful, wide-ranging, absorbing. Highly recommended.

*Shown is an overlay of the Mercator and Peters (or Gall-Peters) projections, the Mercator in black outline, the Gall-Peters projection in solid aqua. I have been unable to find the original source of this comparison graphic. If anyone reading this knows, please share, as I'd like to properly credit its creator.

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Ha-Ra Club, San Francisco

Another neon cocktail glass sign to add to my growing collection. (This is No. 21. For more, use the "The Cocktail Glass Collection" tab to the right.) This is the Ha-Ra Club, at 875 Geary St., in San Francisco. This one looks generic, just popped on top of the Ha-Ra sign.


Rain: First Rain of the 2016-2017 Rain Year

On October 2 and 3 we had the first rain of the new rain year, the 2016-2017 rain year, which will run from October1 2016 to September 30 2017.  It wasn't much, just 0.2 inches, but refreshing nevertheless. More please.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Serendipitous Art: Worn Floor (September 29, 2016)

When traveling in Europe, I've always loved seeing the edges of stone steps worn into softly dipping curves by centuries of foot traffic. This patch of worn flooring in front of the cash register of a local grocery store is somewhat less dramatic, but it looked like art to me. Serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Art I'm Making: Art Trails 2016--Opening Reception Tonight at the Sebastopol Center For the Arts (September 23, 2016)

If you're local to the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see my work in person during the upcoming Sonoma County Art Trails Open Studios event, October 8, 9 and October 15, and 16. I'm studio No. 141 this year.

OPENING RECEPTION for the preview show at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts is tonight, September 23, 6:00PM to 8:00PM. for more information.

To see more of my work, visit my website at

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 151 (Santa Rosa)

Catching up on posting recent collage work. Another tiny collage, only 8 x 6.2cm (3.1 x 2.4in). Being so small, the subtleties are hard to see here. But, Sonoma County Art Trails is just around the corner (October 8,9 and 15, 16). This year I'll be studio no. 141. Come and have a look at a year's worth of new work.

This is Untitled Collage No. 151 (Santa Rosa). July 28, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Matted to 14 x 11 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see my work in person during the Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, always the middle two weeks of October--this year, October 8, 9 and October 15, 16. This year, I will be Studio No. 141.

OPENING RECEPTION for the preview show at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts is September 23, 6:00PM to 8:00PM. The preview show, which includes one piece of work from each of the 192 participating artists is on view now through the end of the event. For more information, go to

Monday, September 5, 2016

Books I'm Reading: Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved

It's odd to think that a lock of Beethoven's hair made its way to San Jose, California in the 1990s. It's perhaps almost as odd that San Jose has a dedicated center of Beethoven research (at San Jose State University, where the lock—or most of it—rests today). Yet these are facts. Russel Martin's Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved (Broadway Books, 2001) explains the journey from 19th century Vienna to California of an extraordinary relic: a lock of hair cut from Beethoven's corpse the day after the composer died—that is, on March 27, 1827.

The lock (apparently one of many taken from the body) was cut by a young musical prodigy, Ferdinand Hiller, who had been taken to see Beethoven on several occasions during the composer's last illness by Johann Hummel, Hiller's teacher and Beethoven's friend and fellow composer. The hair passed down through Hiller's family until the WWII years when it somehow got passed on to a doctor in the town of Gilleleje in Denmark, which became the scene of a remarkable effort to ferry Danish and other Jews out of the country (occupied by the Nazis) to safety in neutral Sweden—perhaps the most interesting part of the story Martin tells by switching back and forth between details of Beethoven's life and the fate of the lock containing Hiller's souvenir. Exactly how the hair passed into the hands of the Danish doctor remains a mystery—one the book ultimately fails fully to shed light on—, but the hair eventually came to auction at Sotheby's, in 1994, sold by the doctor's adoptive daughter for £3,600 to a group of Beethoven enthusiasts in the United States one of whom had amassed such a collection of early Beethoven scores that he persuaded San Jose State University to house his collection and build a research facility around it (the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies).

The final chapters of the book center on the chemical analyses conducted on a sample from the lock and on the painful end of Beethoven's life, providing something of a climax the story of the lock's peregrinations lacks because of the big gap in the story leading up to and during the WWII years. Testing showed two important facts: first, that Beethoven apparently eschewed painkillers despite his ill health, presumably because he preferred to seek solace in his music rather than mask his pain at the price of lucidity; and second, that he appears to have had very high levels of lead in his system when he died–which may or may not account for his deafness. Tests failed to show the presence of mercury, which would have pointed to treatment for syphilis, one theory the investigations laid to rest.

An engrossing page-turner interesting in large part because of the way it shows how coincidence and a reverence for souvenirs of the famous can link people across continents and centuries. This appears to have been a bestseller when it was new--now almost 16 years ago.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 150 (Santa Rosa)

Playing with purple, I've created an unstable-looking pile of textures in that color. The shapes are vaguely suggestive of something. I can't decide what—but there's no need to discover a "subject" in this little composition. It is what it is.

This is Untitled Collage No. 150 (Santa Rosa). July 21, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 15.3 x 15.6cm (6.0 x 6.2 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see my work in person during the Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, always the middle two weeks of October--this year, October 8, 9 and October 15, 16. This year, I will be Studio No. 141.

OPENING RECEPTION for the preview show at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts is September 23, 6:00PM to 8:00PM. The preview show, which includes one piece of work from each of the 192 participating artists is on view now through the end of the event. For more information, go to

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: A Drawing by Aaron

I was living in Japan in the spring of 1985. Mike, a former college roommate, was working at the American pavilion at Expo '85 in Tsukuba, just north of Tokyo (officially known as The International Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan, 1985), a World's Fair with a focus on science and technology. I took an opportunity to visit Mike, staying a night at his lodgings. He showed me his fat diplomatic passport. He told me about the vetting he had been through. Apparently, someone in the State Department thought it wise to interview some of his grade school classmates. What did they want to know? Maybe Mike ate paste as a child and was not to be trusted? He was the only member of the US delegation not a Mormon, I learned. Mormons don't get drunk. They're a safe bet for international duty. With delegations from all over the world at hand, the atmosphere was somewhat party-like after hours. The Mormons seemed keenly focused on finding sex partners. Some of Mike's friends had made plans to go out for a beer with people from the Swedish delegation on the night of my visit. No sex was involved, but I can say "Jag förstår inte svenska" as a result of tagging along that evening ("I don't understand Swedish"). My pronunciation was praised.

Being a stamp collector, I was eager to get Expo cancellations for the stamps issued to commemorate the event. I stood in line. The Japanese have an interest in stamps far beyond anything I've ever seen here. The country still produces beautiful stamps. Collectors stand in line when new issues appear. Stamps in the US are now cheap stickers. US stamps once were gems of good design and often exquisite miniature engravings on fine paper, but the thrill is gone. Shown here are the souvenir sheet Japan issued to commemorate the 1985 event and a strip of five of the ¥50 Tsukuba Expo issue with special cancellations from the site.

At the American pavilion I overheard a Japanese visitor muttering about how the US had come down in the world. Visitors seemed unimpressed by the drab, technical displays. The State Department paid more attention to vetting delegates than to impressing the locals. The Japanese took a World's Fair seriously. The Reagan administration didn't. The Japanese wanted spectacle. They wanted talking robots and cars that drove themselves. They wanted skinny "companions" in slight bathing suits commenting on glitzy displays. What they got at the American pavilion was a rather dryly presented look at recent US developments in artificial intelligence. One corner featured an optical character reader scanning book pages. Another featured Aaron. Aaron was mostly a plotter, about three feet wide and four feet long, that drew pictures. Aaron wasn't flashy. Toshiba had installed a vertically oriented billboard-sized multi-color plotter in front of its corporate pavilion. The Toshiba plotter drew crowds of people looking up, watching the moving plotter arms, impressed by the size and the color, but the Toshiba machine simply regurgitated pre-programmed images—mostly images promoting Toshiba.

I fell in love with Aaron almost immediately. He wasn't big and he drew in black and white. He may not have impressed most visitors to the American pavilion, but Aaron did something special. He didn't simply reproduce images fed from a computer. The real Aaron was a computer program that controlled the plotter using algorithms to create images—each one unique. Aaron could draw faces and crude figures and rocks and leaves. Aaron liked to put figures in rocky landscapes. Aaron knew that figures and objects in the foreground seem to overlap picture elements behind them and further away. Aaron had a rudimentary sense of depth and a distinctive, angular, linear style. Aaron was an early example of truly creative artificial intelligence. He was about 13 years old when I met him. His creator, Dr. Harold Cohen, later gave Aaron the ability to color his drawings, but, in 1985, Aaron had not yet discovered color.

I coveted one of Aaron's drawings, and I came home with one. Mike secured one for me signed by both Aaron and Dr. Cohen (above). It's dated March 13, 1985, four days before the Expo officially opened, on March 17. At this remove, I can't remember if Mike said Cohen had pre-signed paper sheets fed into Aaron or whether he signed the program's output later. I visited Tsukuba in August 1985, so the example I received had been produced a few months before my visit. I hadn't seen the drawing in many years when I came upon it today in the course of reorganizing my studio. Perhaps it's time to get Aaron's handiwork framed?

Since writing the above, I've found a copy of Aaron's Code: Meta-art, Artificial Intelligence, and the Work of Harold Cohen, by Pamela McCorduck (Freeman, 1991), a detailed account of Aaron's genesis and development. I look forward to reading it. The exhibition of Aaron at the Tsukuba Expo is mentioned. I can see from quickly flipping through the pages that Aaron may have received more attention there than my brief visit suggested. Perhaps the day I watched Aaron draw was just a slow day at the American pavilion, but the space was virtually empty and the visitors I saw were dismissive. One, as noted above, was contemptuous.

I will review Aaron's Code once I've read it. In the meantime, here are author McCorduck's own words about her book, which, although out of print, is available used online. I found a copy on Amazon for a few dollars.

I've come across this piece about Cohen written following his recent death (in April 2016). He was 87. I had been wondering whether he was still alive. There is much more by and about Dr. Cohen and his work at "Aaron's Home."

Monday, August 22, 2016

Miscellaneous: A Photograph that Sums Up the Sonoma/Napa County Experience

In the past, when people have asked me what life is like in Sonoma County, I've tried to explain the dichotomy between the wealth here—much of it generated by the wine industry—and the rural character that lingers. I've called Sonoma County the land of Porsches and pick-ups. Recently, in Napa, I came across this parked Mercedes in front of an upscale hotel, fully loaded with hay. It seemed to sum up the same idea nicely.

Serendipitous Art: Chain Link Fence Shadow (August 20, 2016)

The shadow of a chain link fence cast on a white-washed store window looked like art to me. Unintended art, serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Books I'm Reading: How to Write About Contemporary Art

The lessons author Gilda Williams offers in her concise treatise on good art writing How to Write About Contemporary Art (Thames & Hudson, 2014) could apply to writing about most anything, not only contemporary art. She attributes the large amount of bad art writing we encounter to a general lack of appreciation for the skills good art writing requires, pointing out that much art writing is assigned to people unprepared to handle it, and often assigned to such people because those assigning the task assume anyone can write about art well.

She first poses an important question: Why write about art at all? She answers by pointing out that there are many different types of art writing—writing for different purposes and different audiences that require different approaches. The main divide she suggests is between writing that explains and writing that evaluates. In the former category she includes news articles, museum wall captions, web collection articles, press releases, and auction catalog entries. In the latter, she includes academic assignments, exhibition and book reviews, op-ed journalism, magazine articles, catalogue essays, and grant, exhibition, or book proposals, while acknowledging that much art writing today straddles the two realms. In all art writing she suggests the first, perhaps most important, rule is to "...attempt, sincerely, to render artwork more meaningful, more enjoyable, attaching 'something more and better' to art and life than without it" (the interior quote using the words of New Yorker senior critic Peter Schjeldahl).

More specifically, she suggests good art writing succeeds at three things: 1) telling the reader what the art is (what it looks like); 2) telling the reader what the art might mean; and 3) telling the reader why it might matter to the world at large. Much of the text deals with explaining how to achieve these three goals while substantiating positions with facts and avoiding jargon and vagueness—particularly the vagueness caused by explaining one abstract concept with another equally abstract one, the hallmark of much pretentious, incomprehensible art writing.

The ideas are clearly presented and illustrated with many examples. While much of what Williams writes will be familiar to seasoned writers, it never hurts to be reminded of what makes good writing good. I suspect this book will be useful to anyone who regularly engages in critical writing about any kind of creative pursuit.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Books I'm Reading: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Mary Roach is something of a national treasure. She has a gift for looking a subject in the eye, not flinching, and then writing about it forthrightly. She has an infectious curiosity, a sharp eye for irony, and a witty style that manages to make difficult subjects funny. She happily charges in where most will only tiptoe. It's a shame more people aren't as openly and honestly inquisitive (and eager to share) as Mary Roach.

I immensely enjoyed her book Stiff (2003), which examines human corpses—or, as that book's subtitle puts it, "the curious lives of human cadavers." Bonk, which looks at the history of the science of sex (mostly in the modern era, but with quick looks back in time here and there) promised to be equally entertaining. It didn't disappoint. Although Roach digresses in footnotes a little more than seems prudent sometimes, she paints some indelible pictures. Some of these are fun, such as her description of a day visiting a group of Danish hog farmers that artificially inseminate pigs (trying to boost productivity by making things more pleasurable for the sows). Other vignettes are not for the squeamish—notably the vivid tale of Dr. Geng-Long Hsu performing radical penile surgery at his Microsurgical Potency Reconstruction and Research Center, in Taipei. On the whole, though, an entertaining romp through the world of research on sex.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Art I'm Making: Two New Collages--Untitled Collage No. 147 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 149 (Santa Rosa)

Two recent collages, one very small, the other a little larger. These are numbers 147 (top) and 149 in my ongoing series of untitled collages made in Santa Rosa. (I haven't posted No. 148 because I've been unable to create a good image of it. It doesn't scan or photograph well.)

Untitled Collage No. 147 (Santa Rosa). June 26, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 9.5 x 10.5cm (3.7 x 4.1in). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Untitled Collage No. 149 (Santa Rosa). July 14, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, fragment of an automatic drawing by a doodlebot, collage. Image size: 14.2 x 15.9cm (5.6 x 6.3 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Pasquini's, Live Oak, CA

On a recent short jaunt up towards Sacramento and Redding I passed through Yuba City. On the outskirts of the town I saw this neon cocktail glass sign at Pasquini's. This one is fairly simple, but the glass is a shape I've never seen before, suggesting it was custom made. Although I seemed to be in Yuba City, the Pasquini's website gives the address as 6241 Highway 99, Live Oak, CA 95953.

For more, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" tab at right.


Books I'm Reading: The Girl With The Gallery

I had never heard of Edith Gregor Halpert before reading Lindsay Pollock's biography, The Girl with the Gallery (Public Affairs, 2006). Halpert appears to have played an important role in creating the market for modern American art at a time when collector and museum money in the US was focused squarely on European art. She was instrumental in supporting the early careers of several important artists, including Stuart Davis, Ben Shahn, Arthur Dove, and Charles Sheeler. She played a key role in bringing American folk art to the attention of collectors and museums. She was the only dealer the notoriously difficult Alfred Stieglitz trusted to act as his agent in selling the work of such artists as John Marin and Georgia O'Keefe. She was the trusted advisor of wealthy patrons such as Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, whose private collections later augmented important museum collections. She championed black artists long before it was fashionable. She also chose to open her gallery in Greenwich village at a time when virtually no galleries existed there (1926).  Halpert should be better known (and perhaps she is better known because of this book, now ten years old).

There is much here about the day to day business of selling art. Halpert appears to have been an obsessive record-keeper. Mining the material Halpert left behind, Pollock has drawn a very detailed picture of Halpert's dealings with the artists she supported, with the collectors she cultivated, and with rival dealers. The picture of Halpert that emerges is of a determined and effective saleswoman and a crack organizer. Although there is probably more detail here than the average reader will care to read through, anyone with a particular interest in 20th century American art is likely to find The Girl with the Gallery well worth the time.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: Joey Enos Sculpture at Hammerfriar Gallery, Healdsburg

A new show at Hammerfriar Gallery, in Healdsburg, is something of a departure from the more sophisticated fare usually on display there (the just-ended show of photography by Elizabeth Sunday was superb). The gallery is now showing sculpture by Joey Enos, who works in what is essentially painted, plastic-covered styrofoam. The sculptures (some free-standing, some fairly flat and wall-hung) are visually appealing; they are brightly colored, playful, and light-hearted. They evoke cartoons, theme park scenery, or the kind of theater set that aims to create a stylized façade rather than to imitate reality. Enos carves styrofoam to look like wood—not real wood but cartoon illustrations of wood—and so the "wood" is twice removed from actual wood. There are oversized, bent nails (these, too made of carved foam) in some pieces that look like something Wiley E. Coyote might have hastily hammered into a contraption for catching the Roadrunner. Other sculptures feature large "bolts." One piece is a large slice of Swiss cheese suspended by chains within a simple "wood" frame. Other works are a little more complex, totem-like, and resembling driftwood sculptures—albeit garishly painted ones.

The paint is actually pigmented resin sprayed onto the styrofoam forms, a process the artist subcontracts to a spraying plant. The effect is flat and un-nuanced. While Enos designs these pieces and oversees their production, a substantial portion of their creation is outsourced. There is no "hand of the artist" to see here and what there is to see is quickly absorbed. The sculptures are fun to look at, perhaps, and, having talked with the artist at the opening reception, I appreciate that he is in earnest, but I wonder if these works are capable of sustaining long interest?  

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Cocktail Glass Collection: West House Cocktail Lounge, Roseville, CA

On a recent trip up north as far as Redding, California, I spied this neon cocktail glass sign in front of the West House Cocktail Lounge, at the corner of Atlantic St. and Washington Blvd., in Roseville, California. I don't think I've ever seen one like this before--with the glass hanging down from the bottom.

For more, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" tab at right.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: The New SF MOMA--First impressions (July 9, 2016)

Visiting the newly re-opened, newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is daunting. I spent a tiring four hours there last week and didn't even see any of the new, upper floors. I found the place a little disorienting, a little cold, a little unwelcoming.  I was disappointed, but maybe subsequent, longer visits will change my opinion. The thing is, at $25 a visit, the place is now quite expensive. Parking at the nearby Moscone Center Parking Garage cost $20.50. Lunch at the new café wasn't especially cheap (and seating was cramped--entirely inadequate given the number of people, and this was on a Wednesday). Sadly, it's not a set-up that will allow me easily to make the many visits seeing the place will require*.

The new Howard St. entrance seemed little used, not very welcoming from the outside, and cramped inside, as it's nearly entirely filled by Richard Serra's 2006 sculpture Sequence. I like the sculpture itself. Its surfaces sustain long attention. Walking through the spaces between its curving walls is evocative of walking through a cave or a narrow, high-walled canyon. The latter effect is enhanced by the rust-brown color of the walls, suggestive of the iron-red rocks in the Southwest that form slot canyons. Still, its position here seems a little forced: feeling a bit claustrophobic inside the piece seems right, feeling claustrophobic in the space around it just feels uncomfortable. Perhaps that was intended? A wall of bleacher-like wood seating gives a view of the sculpture from a less overwhelming perspective, but, standing next to it you can't see the room you're in.

The main lobby is sort of a gutted version of the old lobby. The striped, black stone staircase is gone (sadly) and so are the ticket desks with people who used to greet you as you came in (ditto). Entry is now through a bank of ticket sales desks on the second floor in a very large room that seems half empty and therefore much too big for its purpose--and, if I had to sum up the new SFMOMA experience in a few words, that would do nicely: the place seems much too big for its purpose.

One of the first rooms I wandered into shows a selection of modern British sculpture (above). A large, mostly empty room, it's a case in point. One wall was entirely blank save for a couple of labels for sculptures so far away from the pieces they describe that they seemed to have been placed deliberately to annoy. The wall might have made a good backdrop, but it goes virtually unused. Other pieces are placed in front of windows that create a great deal of "noise." Shown here with a noisy backdrop is Henry Moore's Oval with Points (Bronze, 1967-68); the black upright bar in the photo is part of the window frame, not the sculpture. The wood floors in this and other galleries, while attractive, were distracting as well. It's fashionable to criticize "the white cube," but all-neutral backdrops do at least focus attention on the art.

The wall labels were oddly placed in most of the galleries I visited. Some are 10-12 feet away from the artworks they accompany. Often it's difficult to know what refers to what. The result is a lot of unnecessary and repetitive walking. I was reminded of the ludicrous distances between venues in Las Vegas (although labels were more conventionally placed in the photography galleries, alongside the images they describe).

No one likes a gallery that feels overcrowded, but many of the spaces I walked through felt underused. Perhaps museum planners have left a lot of space anticipating new arrivals? Oddly, an otherwise engaging display of chairs made from novel materials was given barely enough room to breathe (photo). On the whole, the gallery layout didn't make a lot of sense to me. There seems to be no logical path through the spaces. Hence the feeling of disorientation and fatigue I felt. Signs for cafés and restrooms are so small and infrequent that they are virtually useless. Signs throughout the spaces mark work as part of the "Campaign for Art," but, unless you already know the details of the campaign, these signs are simply puzzling. Nowhere is the campaign explained (apparently, it was a 2009-2015 drive to solicit donations of modern and contemporary art that added more than 3,000 pieces to the collection from more than 200 donors; pieces labeled "Campaign for Art" came into the collection this way). I had to ask and then do a Google search after I got home.

It may sound petty to point it out, but I found the guards distracting too. Guards wear plain dark trousers, white shirts, and dark jackets with no tie. They don't wear conspicuous badges. There are no identifying marks on the jackets. Without ties and because the clothes were often (though not always) ill-fitting, the guards sometimes looked a bit slovenly. At times it was hard to be sure who the guards were. The "uniforms" they wear fail in the single most important thing a uniform is supposed to do: clearly identify a member of the team. Young people in red T-shirts stationed here and there as guides seemed more alert and better informed.

Having said all this, there is a lot worth seeing. The museum has a very deep collection of works by Ellsworth Kelly now (shown here above is his Cité; oil on wood, 1951). There are five or six pieces by Martin Puryear, one of my favorite modern sculptors (although it's a shame there's nothing by Eduardo Chillida, another favorite--at least that I saw). There's an entire room of Calder mobiles, with several of his large stabiles placed in adjacent outdoor spaces. There are multiple strong pieces by Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, and Canadian painter Agnes Martin. There is a large collection of drawings byJoseph Beuys. A large show of graphic design from the museum's permanent collection is now on display.

Photography is much better represented than it used to be; particularly interesting were selections from Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor series (1977-1985, pictured here is Carol Green Wilson, from among these); a large group of late Diane Arbus works; a nearly complete set of Nicholas Nixon's well known The Brown Sisters series (the 1975 to 2014 images) interestingly paired with Idris Kahn's 2004 every ...Nicholas Nixon's Brown Series (below), which is a layered montage of each of the series images; and historical photographs including examples of many different early processes. Among these, I particularly enjoyed seeing examples of Wilson Alwyn Bentley's Snowflake prints done on collodion printing-out paper** (bottom of page).

And, as I've said, I didn't even make it into the newly added spaces above the 5th floor or go through sections that appear to feature the core of the collection on display before the expansion. So, yes, I will be going back, but it seems to me there's some room for improvement here.

*Since writing this, I decided to become a member. For $100, an individual membership will ultimately be cheaper than paying for admission multiple times, at least in the first year, as it will allow many visits for two people.

**Bentley's snowflake photographs were taken with a microscope-mounted camera. Bentley is often credited with making the first snowflake micrographs, although German researcher Dr. Johann Heinrich Flögel (1834-1918) is known to have photographed a snowflake on February 1, 1879, about six years earlier than Bentley's first such photograph, on January 15, 1885. Still, Bentley went on to take thousands of snowflake photos over many years and he is most closely associated with snowflake photography and with popularizing the idea that every snowflake is unique. The collodion printing-out paper process is one of a number that use a printing-out paper—a sensitized paper that forms an image when exposed to ultraviolet light. No darkroom is required because the image is not developed in the sense we think of today—in a chemical bath of some kind. These processes involve contact printing in sunlight (or today commonly with an artificial UV light source). "Printing out" processes are so called because the image gradually appears on the paper with exposure, the image printing out as you watch. Other examples of printing-out processes include the salted paper, albumen, gelatino-chloride, and collodio-chloride processes.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Miscellaneous: Strange Dream (July 6, 2016)

So, I'm in a large bright room somewhere, like a library, but no one much is in it. I'm in a chair pulled up to a table where Hillary Clinton sits a little in front of me in a bright pink pantsuit sort of wedged between her and the man seated next to her, looking over their shoulders from behind--or trying to. I'm like an interpreter at a summit meeting. I'm there, but somehow not quite part of the proceedings. Seated at the table are two others, experts of some kind, and an "applicant." The applicant is reading poetry and Hillary and the two experts are judging the poetry. The applicant speaks in a heavy New York accent, so heavy I can understand only about a third of what he's saying, although I myself was born in New York and feel like I ought to be able to catch what he's saying. He drones on. A mosquito is buzzing around Hillary's back, right in front of me. I tell her not to move so I can squash the mosquito but she brushes me away, concentrating on the poetry she's listening to. When I'm watching the little mosquito, the room seems dark. When watching the poetry conference it seems bright. I try again to squash the mosquito against the pink fabric of Hillary's side, but it slips away. The man reading the poetry reminds me of William F. Buckley Jr. He's middle-aged, a little hunched over, but very sure of himself. The accent is wrong, but he looks like William F. Buckley Jr. He's wearing a disheveled raincoat, like the one Colombo always wore. Hillary is saying the poem is racist, which is the first clue of its content for me, unable to understand much of what he's been saying. One of the experts praises the poem saying at least it's forthrightly racist. As Hillary and the experts discuss whether the poem is racist, I reach between Hillary and the man beside her from my position a little behind them, half standing up, and I take the poem from the hand of the poetry reader. The writing is as hard to read as the spoken words were to understand, but it's beautiful. The writing is English, but it looks Asian at the same time, written with a brush perhaps or a thick marker. I remark that it looks like calligraphy and how beautiful it is, holding the paper up so everyone can see it, then turning it 90 degrees, so the script is vertical, to enhance the calligraphic effect I'm trying to suggest. And then I'm on a carpeted floor--the kind of carpet you see in a public building rather than a home, with very short pile, muted colors, not very welcoming, but looking like it will stand up under heavy traffic. I'm kneeling and someone has brought out an inkstone and a large calligraphy brush and I'm saying to myself "I studied calligraphy in Japan. I can show them." Mentally I'm writing the character "kotobuki" in a cursive script. The inkstone is on the floor and I'm dipping the brush in and trying to form the tip of the brush into a nice point before I start writing, saying to the people that have now gathered around me that next time they use the brush they must form it into a point after they're finished, after rinsing it, and then let it dry that way. The brush seems to be made of just-sheared lambswool--not very absorbent, intractable--rather than the fine squirrel hair it ought to be made of. The inkstone and paper are near me on the floor, but annoyingly close to the foot of a chair that's in the way. Then an elderly man walks up, wearing neatly creased, vaguely mustard-colored trousers (the color of Grey Poupon, not French's). I ignore him at first, but then, struggling to get the long, shaggy brush properly loaded with ink that's much too thin to write with and worrying about the sheet of paper provided that's much too small to write on with such a big brush (it's a 5-inch square piece of translucent rice paper that, size-wise, would be better suited to origami), I defer to the old man who has a long white beard, looking like one of those Chinese scholars you see depicted on scrolls in Asian art museums.....

Strange dream I had last night.

With apologies to the owner of the photograph I've used. I was unable to find an appropriate credit.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 146 (Santa Rosa)

Another new collage. Untitled Collage No. 146 (Santa Rosa). June 20, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint. 17.6 x 19cm (7 x 7.5in). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 145 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage--another study in green with a few blue accents. This is Untitled Collage No. 145 (Santa Rosa). June 15, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, pastel. 21 x 20.8cm (8.25 x 8.2 inches).

Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Books I'm Reading: The Invisible Century

Richard Panek's The Invisible Century (Penguin, 2004) is a slim volume that makes some moderately obvious points, yet it makes them clearly and in lucid prose. The book looks at the modern period through brief biographies of Einstein and Freud—the former at the forefront of a transition in scientific thinking from curiosity about the nature of matter and life toward curiosity about aspects of the universe we cannot see, the latter spearheading a movement in philosophy directed at attempting to answer questions about the nature of the unconscious. An interesting read.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 144 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage. Not quite so new, but the most recent piece I've finished. Art-making has been on the back burner the past few weeks, pre-empted by a two-week trip interpreting for a Japanese film crew in the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley area and then an unusually busy work (translation) schedule.

This is Untitled Collage No. 144 (Santa Rosa). May 14, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (artist's trash), pastel, collage. 13.8 x 9.8 inches. Matted to 24 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at
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