Archives: art

My friend Charlie has an exhibit of her Arduino controlled interactive wax paintings showing at Classic Cars West in Oakland through November 17th.

This is what they look like:

charlie's paintings

Click through that image to see a short video of people walking up to them. Motion sensors control lighting which changes the way these paintings look.

Let me tell you a little about Charlie. I’ve known her for a few years now. I met her in LA, but she already had an accomplished past in Chicago as a performance artist. She doesn’t have video of these performances online, but I’ve seen some of it and it was very good. The Box Show (pictured below) was fantastic. Every way two bodies could move through the space defined by a box was explored. It was geometry dancing.


She used to do these wax paintings live. Standing behind a giant sheet of upright plexiglass she would paint with wax in front of an audience. The paintings would be lit both from the front and behind, and their nature would change depending on where the light came from. When the piece was done, in front of the audience who had watched it made, she would then scrape the wax off, erasing the night’s experiment. The audience would react. People would be dismayed.

She has that kind of courage. To put impermanence in.

covered in wax

She’s been in Oakland for a couple of years now. She is a graphic designer professionally and continues to mount gallery shows of her fine art work. She is teaching two classes on encaustic painting at Wax Works West in 2013 (scroll down and look for her name as instructor to find them).

She gets why I want to spend a year in Antarctica. She will argue with you about interactive design and, if I’m lucky, she’ll argue with me about it here for you soon. She’s true people.

If you have the chance to experience her work you should take it.

I am filled with love. I am slightly inebriated in a truck in the rain with colored compressed chalk. And I love you I love you.
Bill Cunningham

Another problem with emotion is how hard it is to use it while you are having it.

I had spent the afternoon in the studio alone, trying to find a flow, but failing. I had beer and rain and chalk. Working old pictures was futile. I was angry at them. Then some combination of the atmosphere, the beer, isolation, I don’t know, but the emotion swelled and I felt full. I wanted to make something with that. But how? I tried drawing, but ended up with a mess. A mess I won’t show you.

I’m skeptical of emotional artwork because it always seems to oversimplify itself. Faces in agony, hands reaching up, overwrought colors, or heavy darks. Melodrama becomes hard to avoid. I’m not immune to ending up with it:


but I see it as a failure.

Emotionless work is no better. I don’t have good examples because I usually destroy things that end up feeling calculated and dead, but maybe something like this:


obsessive detail to no emotional point. Lots of practical artwork falls in this category. The portfolios of kids trying to get into the gaming or special effects industries are full of it. Meticulously rendered objects or monsters with nothing inside them but cool posturing. I used to draw that kind of thing. I think of it as CGSociety art.

I started to actively hate it after a girlfriend once commented, as I was buying a collection that had a giant raging Minotaur on the cover, that it was my kind of art book. Looking through it after that, and seeing the other things I admired at the time, it really did all start seeming the same and there wasn’t much feeling in any of it. That malaise spreads out into the industries that employ it. Generic future. Generic past. Everyone’s spaceships and dinosaurs look exactly the same. And who cares?

Once in a while some unfinished thing I struggle with gets set aside, and then months later I look at it and realize I stopped because there was an emotion peaking through, and not knowing how to deal with it, I turn away.

orange hands


There are a lot of half finished pieces and the year is drawing to a close. I’m dithering around the edges of them, not sure how to bring it all home.

Looking for inspiration I was reading an old journal, Back in 1991, twenty one years ago, I wrote:

I was actually shaking after the phone call.

Are you old enough to remember this? The phone would have been a smooth plastic receiver tethered by a curly cord to a plastic box mounted on the wall. I would have been clicking the handset down onto a metal switchhook as I realized I was shaking. My ear would have been a little warm from having had the phone pressed to it. There would still have been a memory of the subsonic buzzing of the speaker diaphragm in the bones next to my right eye. My cheek would still have felt the brush of the microphone casing. My arm swinging down, being stopped, and letting go.

There once was more physicality in heartbreak.

These pieces need some of that. I don’t feel anything when I make them.

One of the things I love about my studio is the metal truck door. I love reaching up to grab the strap and hauling it down with my whole body. Slamming it into the baseplate. Toggling loose the iron hook lock and stomping it closed with my boot. Everything about it clangs.