Sunday, July 24, 2011

some early visual heroes...

over the past few weeks, thanks to my good friend dan's obsession with the comic books he read as a kid, i have recently found myself mired in looking back at some of the comic books i also read. i have to admit that the hours i spent with these things when i was young were much more involved with looking than reading (in fact, i seldom actually read these things), but these intimate visual experiences were certainly seminal in terms of the development of my own graphic resonance as a visual maker. they were the first human made images that i responded to, and of course, some of the first images i tried to copy.

my time with comics was relatively short... i bought new comics for two or three years starting in 1971, and after not really caring about them for 2 or 3 years, sometime around 1975 i got into comics again, mostly buying back issues from the 60's. it was during that second phase that i started to appreciate and know the names of certain artists i liked, and at that time i became obsessed with the work of jack kirby.

batman_232_1971(neal adams)

attempting to look back in time to draw memories out of these objects was a complex experience. while certain pages or covers instantly offered emotional earthquakes, sometimes i'd look at a cover of a book i have owned since childhood and could not identify with the contents in any way. in other cases, the cover would instantly send me to the room i was sitting in when i devoured its image, or i could see the store where i stood looking at the rack of books before making the decision of which one to buy.

greenlantern86-1(neal adams)

looking at the work of my three favorite artists now, i am completely blown away by the experimental ways these guys broke up their pages - as they seldom broke a page into 9 neatly uniformed panels. as a painter who is also constantly looking at different ways of breaking up a rectangle, i am humbled by their abilities to continually re-invent the space and the narrative tactics of a scale and size that was the same every time.

adamsGLHeadshot(neal adams)

the two artists that had the most impact on my memory were neal adams and jack kirby. adams was the one i was obsessed with earlier on. my first comic, an issue of batman with cover and inside drawings by adams, was purchased for me by my grandmother in 1970, and that book was the beginning of my interest in both comics and adams' work. for some reason, i was particularly enamored of his work on several issues of green lantern that revolved around a drug addiction story (i have no idea why or how i was so into such a thing at age 8... but his cover art for green lantern 86 still kills me). adams style is tight, "scratchy" and generally feels very connected to classical life drawing - his lines are, at times, so fine they almost feel as if they were was etched into the paper. this is not to say the work wasn't exploratory, aggressive, and experimental... for it certainly was. but looking at his work now, i marvel at its technical brilliance, especially the way he drew the figure, and the work is unbelievably crisp. he was also a master of emotion.

GLadamslastpage(neal adams)

an even more colossal figure for me, as well as tons of folks who read comics in the late 70's and early 80's, was jack kirby, and there is no disputing that his work was some of the most innovative and personal in the history of comics - certainly from the 60's forward. when i started digging through the childhood comics i had saved since childhood, a ton of them were drawn by kirby. his dynamic use of line is wholly unique, and when inked by the right inker, the work is unmistakably different than everything else. kirby, more than anyone - at least to my mind - was constantly building his own visual world like an outsider artist; who, rather than replicating a "brand" determined by a publisher, consistently created images through a language that was uniquely his own. sure, at times he towed a party line, or an inker tried to genericize his work; but for the most part, once you have seen kirby's work you can spot it a mile away.

kirbyFFmetalsplash(jack kirby)

graphically, his sense of space can be claustrophobic, and his linework aggressive and heavy (not heavy handed!). everything in kirby's work seems to have weight and gravity - not just beings, but his lines as well. his images of machines tend to be more interesting and inventive than most modern sculpture, and his style was always about vision much more than technique. he was the first and only artist experimenting with collage in the 60's, and the work always seems to be pushing things beyond what is already known and accepted. in truth, once kirby was allowed
to not only draw, but also write his books, there has never been anything stranger (just look at the murdering misfit below!) or more personal in mainstream comics ever. everything about kirby's work completely slays me.

kamandi9kirby(jack kirby)

what is sad is that for much of his career, kirby was a genius working in an industry that reviled personal vision in the same way that contemporary hollywood approaches filmmaking - where creative decisions are generally made by committee in relation to what an executive thinks the public wants, rather than allowing the film or book to simply be the voice of a visionary. in the 70's kirby was able to do a lot of amazing things - mr. miracle, machine man, kamandi, new gods, etc. but one has to wonder how much more he could've done if the industry had acted less like an industry much earlier on in his career.

kirbyblackpanther1(jack kirby)

it wasn't until i started looking at my old comics again that i re-discovered gene colan, an artist who was anonymous to me as a kid, although like the books kirby and adams had drawn that i saved, a remarkable number of also-remembered images were drawn by colan... and i have recently been reacquainting myself with his work, which is incredible.

(gene colan)

unlike the strong graphic presence of adams and kirby, colan's work rarely exists in a flat world. it always feels ephemeral and in motion. yes, the graphic qualities of his work are tremendous and similarly innovative (once you know his work, you can also spot it a mile away); but colan's strength, to me, is its dynamic, ephemeral and motion filled world. in a previous post, i reprinted an interview with colan in relation to his listening to films while he was drawing; and his pages tend to express a kind of impossibility of ever grasping the passage of time. the work doesn't rely on the sequential images, like a flipbook, as much as his perspectives, fragmentation, abstraction and agitated compositions suggest the instability of time and bodily motion. much of this is expressed in his unique approach to the shape or posture of a body within a frame, and for me, colan's work always seems alive. looking at these pages, they feel as if you return to one an hour later it would somehow be changed. where kirby's work approached the abstract through a graphic and mechanical presence, colan approached the abstract much more like a futurist, all simultaneous motion and flux.

(gene colan)

sadly, just as i was beginning to re-immerse myself in these artists' works a few months ago, colan passed away. like kirby and adams, colan was certainly a visual genius, rarely producing identical approaches to the page like a machine, and consistently pushing the potential of the page and exploring different ways an image could speak. in essence, he brought the whole medium forward. if you look at graphic novels and recent comics you will see less and less traditional approaches to frames and panels, and i really think colan's work was one of the earliest to disrupt the frame in such a way - and particularly because his career was long, he has been incredibly influential.

from the few interviews i've read, colan seemed not only down to earth, but remarkably honest about his process. he was also a pretty darn interesting thinker. i can't remember reading an interview with a comic artist from the silver or bronze age period who was so articulate about his interest in trying to expand the language of narrative in ways that might intentionally confuse a viewer - and to use that confusion to expand a drawing's potential for interpretation. to achieve such a thing colan sometimes moved towards abstraction in his panels to suggest that a reader might have to look a little longer. as a kid who seldom read the words in comics, colan's images certainly allowed me to jettison the story and to fall deeply into the images.

here's another great bit of relevance from the same interview i posted a week or so ago (click here to read the entire interview):

Well, the biggest complaint that Stan ever had about my work was that he didn’t have an easy time understanding what I was drawing. There’s a lot of confusion about my work. [Laughter.] And I meant it to be a little confusing. You don’t always understand what you’re looking at even when it’s a photograph. Like a room with many things on a desk. You can only identify a few of the objects but you can’t say what they all are. Some books might be there, an inkwell might be there.

RODMAN: It all lends to the atmosphere.

COLAN: But it all lends to the authenticity of what you’re looking at. In life, you don’t notice everything at one time. Certain things – and the rest you don’t know. You don’t even think about. So I try to do that. If there’s a fight scene, and it’s in the dark, I try to confuse it so that you see arms and legs but you don’t know who they belong to. A fight is a confusing thing to begin with. Tables and chairs are overturned. You shouldn’t be defining everything for the reader. The reader is not an idiot. He gets out of it what he wants to get out of it. And if it thrills him to see all these puzzling pictures, then I’ve accomplished something. At least that’s how I viewed it anyway, personally. Someone would say to me, “Yeah, but, who does this belong to? Whose leg is that?” I said it isn’t important. Put any connotation you want on it.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

when a comic artist is also an audiophile...



excerpt from a great interview with comic book artist gene colan, where he talks about making audio recordings:

RODMAN: I’d expect someone of your generation to be more into Big Band music or pop standards of the 1940s. You appear to have a pretty eclectic CD collection. I used to work at a record story, and my co-workers would play White Zombie just to torment me.

COLAN: Some of it’s modern. Modern symphonies. A lot of Prokofiev. Let’s see, I’m trying to think of some things.

RODMAN: But you don’t exclude hard rock on occasion?

COLAN: Oh, anything. My son is into that. They have some real psychedelic music. [Laughs.] And I play that, you know. Anything that fits in – with impact – almost all of it fits in. I’ll even play sound effects records. I have sounds of the ocean, trains – stuff like that – planes.

RODMAN: Does it help you with the “movie” that’s going on in your mind?

COLAN: Yeah, if it’s a war film I’ll play battle sounds. [Laughter.] It’s some real peculiar stuff I had a project or in those early years, and I would rent a film and then I would record the soundtrack on audio tape, and I’d play back the entire film without actually being able to see it. All I could do was hear it. It was a lot like listening to a radio program. And a lot of a movie depends on what you see, not so much what you hear. During a silent passage, you wouldn’t know what was happening unless you’d seen the film. I had seen every film I ever recorded, so it helped bring it back.

RODMAN: You penciled a story by Steve Skeates called “The Scream from Beyond,” which dealt with an obsessive/compulsive sound effects guy. It ‘s from the Marvel horror anthology comic from 1970, Tower of Shadows [#6], where they occasionally ran stories introduced by the artists, with a framing device of a self-portrait at the drawing board. Your hobby as an audiophile is, in fact, a part of your Bullpen reputation.

COLAN: Early on when I was working for Timely, we’d kid around during the day. We’d fool around more than we worked. But I did a dramatized [recording] where we’d go in and ask Stan for a raise, Stan Lee, and I had sound effects where he’d throw me through the window. I had it rigged so you would hear glass breaking. I had a wire recorder. In those years it wasn’t tape, it was wire. So I would dramatize the whole thing out at home, with the music and sound effects. I brought it in, and everybody got a big bang out of it. Including Stan. I didn’t want to play it for him. I thought he’d throw me out. [Laughter] But the guys in the bullpen said, “Oh, come on. He’s a regular guy. Go ahead and play it for him.” And I did. He got a charge out of it.

you can read the entire interview: here

images: details of the original art for pages 27 & 28, gene colan (pencils), don adkins (ink), the scream from beyond, from tower of shadows, marvel comics, 1970

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

slight return...



when i first got out of grad school (1989) i was making purely intuitive abstract paintings, and was adamant about not allowing any pre-existing imagery or conceptual structure to enter the process and/or conversation. after about 3 years i hit a wall, and realized i needed to find a way to create more conflict for myself - there was no tension in my intuitive process, and hence, i was starting to feel a kind of helplessness... that i was setting myself up to make the same painting every time for the rest of my life.

in a fit of frustration, i grabbed a magazine, and tried to build an image using several small graphic design elements from the table of contents, and i became interested in the idea of taking something out of its existing context, and attempting to give it new life as an abstract form - so that it might speak in a voice less intended. it was an an attempt to open the image to a more interpretive response, and in a way, it was one of my beginnings...

a few days ago, i received the map pictured above in the mail, along with some old photos, and other ephemera. i purchased the lot because i wanted a photograph that was part of it, but as i went to recycle all of the things i did not care to add to the massive pile here, i noticed this graphic on the little map, and it grabbed hold of me, offering a feeling i had not thought about in a long while while.

as i was standing over the trash, deciding whether or not to toss the little map, i realized my immediate response to the image - specifically to its shape and color - was a strong one; and so, after throwing away the rest of the "junk", i walked back to my studio and pinned it on the wall.

i have no idea whether or not it will end up in a painting, but it was a good reminder that while one tends to always be focused on the process of growth and evolution, it's important to remember that the distance you have traveled from your beginnings is never quite long enough that you can't turn around and see where you've come from...

top: santa anita horse racing track map as found
bottom: santa anita horse racing track map with information erased

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

cage on elevator music...

"one of the things we nowadays know is that something that happens (anything) can be experienced by means of technique (electronic) as some other (any other) thing (happening). for instance, people getting in and out of elevators and elevators moving from one floor to another" this "information" can activate circuits that bring to our ears a concatenation of sounds (music). perhaps you wouldn't agree that what you heard was music. but in that case another transformation has intervened: what you heard had set your mind to repeating the definitions of art and music that are found in out-of-date dictionaries. (even if you didn't think it was music, you'd admit that you took it in through your ears, not through your eyes, nor did you feel it with your hands or walk around inside of it/ perhaps you did walk around inside of it: the architecturality of music is now a technical possibility and a poetic fact. "

john cage, happy new ears, a year from monday 1967

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

performance at lace thursday night

LACE and VOLUME present:
ezekiel honig, steve roden, the infinite body
thursday night july 14, 7-9 pm
three solo sets.
more info: here

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

coming soon from dust to digital...

i listen to the wind that obliterates by traces / steve roden / front cover











"i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces."
arriving august 2.
more info here

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

more on field recordings...

"suddenly dissatisfied with the fluid form that had evolved in the fifth [symphony], he [sibelius] began to dream of a continuous blur of sound without formal divisions - symphonies without movements, operas without words. instead of writing the music of his imagination, he wanted to transcribe the very noise of nature. he thought he could hear chords in the murmurs of the forests and the lapping of the lakes; he once baffled a group of finnish students by giving a lecture on the overtone series of a meadow..."

alex ross on sibelius in the rest is noise.

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Sunday, July 03, 2011

found on the ground...