A Conversation of Ice and Fire

My friend Catherine and I are going to try starting a podcast. It’ll be about speculative fiction books, mostly. With digressions. This was our first trial run on it. We figured we’d share a bottle of wine so we had something to do with our hands, and you can kind of tell we drank it by the end of this, but surprisingly it stayed coherent throughout.

This is a pretty unstructured conversation and it goes all over the place, and is just covered in spoilers. We wanted to be able to talk freely about all of the books, and we do. If you haven’t read them and don’t want plot twists in the HBO show spoiled for you over the years to come, you’d probably better not listen to this one.

But there will be more, about other books. Science Fiction, Fantasy, and anything else we determine fits fiction that doesn’t feel obliged to adhere to closely to the consensus reality. We may build in more structure in future episodes, and try to keep the final thing around an hour. This one sprawled a bit over an hour and a half.

We indulge in a really long conversation about A Song of Ice and Fire and it’s HBO incarnation A Game of Thrones. Tangents related to the nature of Science Fiction, things without endings, childhood encounters with fantasy, Neal Stephenson, television writers as air show stunt pilots, the feminisim of flawed female characters, sympathy for many devils and some speculation about the end.

Featuring William Cunningham and Catherine Weiss

1 hour and 38 minutes

face

Here’s a peek at some photo and body art work I’ve been experimenting with. As with all things, I’m not sure where I’m going with it, but I’m sure it’ll get somewhere at some point.

curve

The bodypainting was a lot more difficult than anticipated. Go figure – but living skin is not a very good surface for this. I could not get fine detail, especially once we had applied a full covering of cream based white. It was like painting on top of a layer of wet paint.

The original plan was abandoned and I had to improvise. We’ll try again with some kind of stencil scheme, I think.

painted

Animating paint with muscle driven skin could be a point to connect to the performance work I did decades ago.

Maybe there’s a way to take this in a tableaux vivant/performance art/dance direction, and produce pieces that can be shown in the context of a performance but the components can still be sold in pieces?

Bonus experiment: I’m still trying to make these anaglyphs work. Eventually I’ll have to give up and build a rig for mounting two cameras and slave them to each other so I can fire both shutters at once. There are limits to what can be done asking someone to stand really still and moving the camera slightly between shots. (You need those red/blue glasses for this to work.)

3D

This flickr slideshow collects some of the better results of the last five years or so of my working in pastel, charcoal, ink, watercolor and digital.

And this one collects some of the better photographs I’ve made over the last two years. (There are photos that I’ve flagged as “moderate” as they contain some nudity, and those don’t show up in this embedded slide show, but I’m pretty sure if you click through to it and don’t have safe-search enabled in flickr or live in Singapore you’ll be able to see those as well.)

It’s time to wrap up this stage of work. Starting about five years ago I began hiring models to pose and just working on figure drawings with no purpose other than recreation and practice. My job ate up most of my energy and this was something I could do to keep some creative resonance and benefit from the meditative quality of the act of drawing without the pressure of performance. Which is to say the drawings were for their own sake and have no ambition. They aren’t about anything. Except my sanity. Which was important to me at the time.

That time is slipping.

I’d like to start a Journeyman phase. At least that’s how it makes sense to me to think about it. Starting in 2014, for the three years that follow, I’d like to make some increasingly significant work, that is about something, or feels substantial.

So this year I need to wrap up the above. Put up a show of it. Sell some of it. Bring it to a conclusion. Graduate.

This is me beginning to think about how to do that. If you find this work at all interesting I’d love to hear what about it you like.

I didn’t get those show pieces together in time, so I’ve set them aside. I’ll try finishing them by the spring and aim them at a different show.

I’m a leaf in the wind.

So…

When last we left this one, it looked like this:

standing

I’m not sure it’s obvious from these photos, but this is a pretty big painting, at least for me. To continue with it, I needed a bigger easel, because the backing board it’s clamped to is too heavy for the portable. On Wednesday night I built this:

It’s just some planks sawed apart and screwed together with bent angle brackets. It is as crude as can be, but it works. You can waste a lot of time finely crafting the tools you need to do other work, and never get to the actual work. That’s a chronic problem of mine. This thing doesn’t need adjustable sliding bars, it doesn’t need to fold up for storage or transport, it doesn’t need to be carefully measured. Cut it, screw it, and move on.

See, it works fine.

Thursday night I shut myself in the studio with a six pack of Newcastle Brown Ale and obliterated the background.

This one has been painted over and over on top of itself about three times now. The thing about how these started is, I was just playing. I wanted to try working bigger than my usual 20″x30″ rectangle but I had no real idea what to do so I had a model pose and just drew. The beginning of this was just three poses on the same sheet. When the center figure came together, really when the weird magic started happening around her hips where the drawing gives out to a cone of blank white with an arm shadow crossing it, I knew it was worth elaborating. But at this point it was also obvious that the thing needed a point. It was improvised, not composed. I had to look at it a lot, then set it aside and let the confabulation engine grind on it a bit.

Something about cloth, a skirt of white butterflies, twin presences hovering and touching. It was enough to start again, and it’s going this way now:

I’ve rubbed out her face again, mostly. Her head was just too big. It happens, and I’m learning not to stress too much about the mistake. Even if there is good detail in the face, even if it is, by itself, well rendered, if it blows the balance of the whole, better to just repaint it, even at the risk of it being rougher.

Besides, I really think the heart of this one is going to emerge around these hands:

I’ve been filming my work on this one in bits as I go. Hopefully when it’s done I can put together a little video.

I got a turntable in early January. I haven’t had one of those in over 20 years. The plan is to find and listen to at least one new artist’s music on vinyl each month of 2013. Not old records found in used record shops. New albums pressed by current musicians.

The first album I picked up was valtari by sigur ros. I was going to talk about that one but then in mid January something more interesting came along.

(valtari is very lovely, however! Listen to this, one of my favorite tracks, and imagine it with the delicious subliminal vinyl hiss:)

Sigur Rós – Varúð from Sigur Rós Valtari Mystery Films on Vimeo.

On January 19th I went to an event at Thomas Negovan’s Century Guild Gallery called Seance: A Music Salon.

At this event, Meredith Yayanos, spooky Theremin player, was going to play while Mr. Negovan recorded her onto wax cylinder using an antique Edison machine. This very one:

 photo EdisonWax_zps050b11da.jpg

Here they are not yet recording onto wax:

 photo theremina_zpsb86a146f.jpg

And here is a video that was taken on that night, apparently right next to my head, by someone else:

Ok, scene set?

I went to this mainly to see Meredith play, as Theremin players are not exactly thick on the ground, so on principal you should go see them when they happen to electromagnetically oscillate by. But in this case she is also someone I’ve had a years long tenuous twitter acquaintance with, and was looking forward to the opportunity to meet her in person.

Add to that the weird brilliance of using an utterly mechanical recording device that uses no electricity whatsoever (the wax recorder is powered by a hand-wound spring and a membrane agitated by actual moving air is what directly depresses the needle into the turning cylinder) to record an instrument that is so utterly electrical that its very strings are an electromagnetic field.

They both suspected that nobody had ever recorded Theremin onto wax cylinder before. I suspect that was true, but it was done that night.

The experiment was interesting, but the recording wasn’t terrific. The cylinders don’t capture any subtlety or much tonal range. Often the Theremin would drop out to silence on the playback, or meander aimlessly as whole layers of sound were just lost. What remained sounded hilariously like an operatic cartoon flea.

The whole process was fascinating to watch! Here is a video not from that night, but giving a feel for what it takes to get sound on that wax, and what the playback sounds like:

For sale at the event were several vinyl records of other music Thomas Negovan had recorded onto wax using the same machine. This fit my Year in Vinyl effort so beautifully that I picked up one of each, sight unheard. On the way out, chatting a moment with him, he warned me the sound quality was not terrific on the first one, a bit better on the second, and he felt the 7″ 45 single was the best.

That is an accurate assessment. But even the very rough sound on the two LPs is worth a listen for the novelty of the recording process. The 45 is gorgeous, maybe one of the loveliest raw pair of songs I’ve heard in a while.

First off, the packaging. It is superior. Hand made, screen printed, uniquely splattered, designed very, very well. He has made up for the weakness in audio quality with visual elegance. For experimental objects like these, that goes a long way.

 photo ByPopularDemand-small_zps387c8b06.jpg

The first album is called By Popular Demand. He had three different editions, I got the one above.

This album has eight songs on it, but they are really, really difficult to hear. The reason is that they were all recorded, transferred and pressed without ever being digitized and enhanced. He set himself a challenge: could he get this album from wax recording to vinyl entirely by analog process? Yes, he could. The record sleeve is printed with a detailed explanation, but basically he recorded first onto wax, then from wax onto magnetic tape, then delivered that tape master to the vinyl press for production. At no point was it ever converted to bits, but the consequence of that was he was never able to enhance the audio to compensate for the weakness of the wax cylinders.

Here is an example of how it sounds. This track sounds much clearer on youtube than it actually does on the record.

The thing I found the most entertaining about listening to this one was that I had the volume turned up so high just to make out the music that whenever the needle popped it sounded like a firecracker going off in the next room.

The second album is called The Divine Nightmare:

 photo TheDivineNightmare-small_zps7d58bc20.jpg

It contains just two songs, The Divine Eye, an original, and then a cover of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare:

You can hear from that the sound is improved, but still not great. He still recorded first to wax cylinder, but then converted the recording to digital and worked on it a bit to clarify the sound. It has a disturbing quality to it that probably would work as an effect or layer of mood to a fuller composition, but on its own is still not the strongest work.

The disk itself is green translucent vinyl with a red label and the sleeve is a giant eyelid through which the record shows in a cutout, so that the whole thing looks like a monstrous eye. It’s a visually impressive object. but you won’t find yourself listening to it too often.

The 45 of Alice Genese singles, however, sounds incredible.

 photo AliceGenese-small_zps9b27b1c0.jpg

This simple cloudy violet 7″ got flipped back and front multiple times on my turntable the day after I brought it home. It is lush. Just listen to the side 1 here:

I can’t really describe how much better this sounds on the record itself, other than that the raggedness in her voice feels physical. You can feel the needled scratching out of her throat. The B side isn’t on youtube, but it’s an even better song. These were not recorded first on wax, they are just straightforward recordings by Alice Genese of Psychic TV, produced by Thomas Negovan in a way that keeps the best aspects of his antique analog experimentation without sacrificing modern technique or audio quality.

Honestly these two songs are worth the entire set of albums.

So, that’s January. I would be shocked if I find anything even comparable in technical ambition to these for the whole rest of the year. I’ll likely listen to these less often than whatever is to come (with the exception of that 7″, which really is outstanding), but for their embrace of deliberate, almost Dogme 95 grade obstructions, they deserve respect.

Post Scriptum:

Meredith Yayanos also has a new album out called The Parlour Trick. Just Listen. Then buy it from her. Because spooky that’s why.

an accident involving rope

So I’ve been working on some anaglyphs. Those are those red/blue 3D images. All you need to view them are any pair of cheap cardboard red/blue glasses.

I don’t have a real stereoscopic camera, though, so instead I asked my model to stand really still, and I took two consecutive photos at a slight displacement, hoping this would be good enough.

In a few cases it was! For example, here are two that worked (use your red/blue 3D glasses if you have them!):

presence

and…

the book

I was working on the pair of photos for the pose at the very top of this thread. In those, the model is actually wearing a very stylized rabbit mask. When I anaglyphed them the body worked incredibly well, it’s actually the best, most rounded 3D I’ve managed so far! But the head was tilted wrong in one of the two photos, so the whole illusion fell apart at the neck.

I wanted to try to save it. I began the process of puppet warping (a thing in Photoshop) the head in one of the pair of photos, and in that process I needed to do a content aware fill of the space under the selected head, to provide a fit background to warp it over.

Look at what happened.

I mean, just look at it!

Now try to sleep.

I dare you.

ardor

This is a challenge. Can I complete three high quality pieces around the theme of love’s birth and decay, and have them done before February 2nd for possible entry into a Valentine’s Day group show?

ardor arms

I need to stay away from nudes for these. I also need to get out of my thematic rut and do some more fully conceived pictures.

These are a couple of sketches of the core idea in progress. It’ll stay somewhere around this, but it’ll also change quite a bit before completion.

My head is full right now of pop surrealism and art nouveau. I watched Meredith Yayanos and Thomas Negovan record a Theramin onto an Edison Wax Cylinder yesterday, and stared at several Alphonse Mucha ‘Le Pater’ lithographs.

The result is this, so far.

P.S.:

I’ve got a facebook page focused on my artwork now. It just launched, so there’s not a lot there, but I’ll be filling it up as I work this year. I’d be delighted if you felt inclined to click over there and like it!

These two quotes feed each other:

No painting is ever sold nor essay written nor band booked nor exhibition scheduled that is not the consequence of previous social interaction, of gossip, body language, fashion dish, and telephone chatter—nothing transpires that does not float upon the ephemeral substrata of ‘word of mouth’—on the validation of schmooze.

Dave Hickey

and…

It’s pretty hard to have a “career” doing any single creative thing nowadays. If you really make a stir as a “science fiction writer” nowadays, you’re likely to get swept up in all kinds of network-society fringe activities, such as blogging, going to conventions, comics, gaming, TV, movies, collectibles…. The days when you could be a “science fiction writer” and work exclusively on books and magazines seem to have vanished already.

Bruce Sterling

Both of these statements fit well with my experience over the last few years. It seems to me that successful contemporary creative professionals need to tend their social gardens. You have to make yourself a celebrity to be effective as an artist.

You don’t have to be big culture famous. You need to figure out how to be a social fulcrum and catalyst. It’s maybe oversimplifying this by just listing examples of channels through which this can be accomplished, as both of the above quotes resort to. In the “everything new is old” department, I don’t think this is actually a new development, but rather the fact that online channels now allow multiple ways to measure it that approach statistical rigor have made what up to now has been intuited machinery visible.

Starting the year listening to a new (to me) podcast:

Art Heroes Radio

It’s a podcast mostly about the business side of fine art from the artist’s perspective. Never having gone to art school I’ve never heard most of this before. If art school was anything like acting school, it probably wasn’t really taught there either.

I found the one on how to approach seeking gallery representation very interesting. You can download the MP3 by clicking on the title, or select it from the embedded player below.

How to get your art into galleries, a conversation with Clint Watson:

I have no idea how the discussion tracks to the actual struggle, but it sounds plausible enough.

The host’s voice and manner of speaking kind of grate on me, but that is par for the course with podcasts mostly. Their virtue is not in polish, but in low to the ground, in-depth niche reporting. This one has a healthy amount of that.

It’s the best business minded art podcast I’ve found, and I’ve been looking. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of good ones out there, so if anyone has any further recommendations, I’d love to get them.

And, as a tangent, if you have an iDevice of any kind, I cannot say enough good things about Downcast. It is the best. It is so much better than any other podcatcher that it’s not even worth going into detail why. In a sane universe these people would own the market for this service. I only wish they’d make an Android or a windows desktop version (or maybe a browser based version compatible with Chrome or Firefox). I would use it all the time. I’ve found myself preferentially listening to podcasts on the iPad at home even though my PC has much better speakers, simply because this app makes it thoughtlessly easy.

And that is my quota of unsolicited endorsements for the day.

Happy New Year everyone!