Saturday, December 30, 2006

Gallows

Gallows

Gallows (1999)

Before Bush-Cheney and Fox News start in with the strap-on-the-codpiece greeted-as-liberators photo ops over the mission accomplished of Saddam Hussein's execution, let's first have one of those cost-benefits analyses that brain dead trust Republican think tanks periodically demand for spending on social programs:

Benefits:

--Overthrow of Saddam Hussein in a war of choice based on lies.
--His show trial.
--His execution without participation of the World Court.

Cost:

--650,000+ dead Iraqis (according to a Johns Hopkins study).
--3,000 dead Americans.
--20,000 wounded or maimed Americans.
--A "long war" (now longer than WW2) and one with no plan, exit strategy, or end in sight.
--Military strained to the breaking point. National Guard shipped out. Re-ups and backdoor draft approved.
--War profiteering on a grand scale.
--Treasury drained of $400 billion and counting (final estimate of $2 trillion possible).
--U.S. world influence and popularity sinking daily.
--Nation is less safe from terrorism. In fact, new terrorists being sown like dragon's teeth.
--Nation increasingly becoming an Orwellian state:
--Euphemism field day ("extraordinary rendition," "enemy combatant," "surge" for escalation, etc.).
--Habeas corpus gone.
--Warrant-less surveillance booming.
--Geneva Conventions "quaint" and scrapped.
--Gulags established in our name.
--Torture condoned in our name.

Hey. Modern Romans. You do the math.

~/~

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Madonna of the Spirits

Madonna of the Spirits

Madonna of the Spirits (2002)

From "Madonna" by Jane Miller and seen in Ploughshares:

As pop star, Madonna functions as an archetype directly inside contemporary culture. It goes without saying that her huge success taps an obsession with Christian mythology. She exists in the form of a Black Madonna, not unlike, for example, the polychrome wood statue in Sierra de Montserrat, in Spain, said to date from the twelfth century. According to legend, the figure was found by shepherds in a cave. On this mountain west of Barcelona, the Black Madonna is visited by thousands of pilgrims yearly as the patron saint of Catalonia -- a major tourist industry. "Our" pop Madonna -- the surety with which she gives herself away! -- has revitalized, with élan, with control, with pleasure, powerful iconography (one of the most powerful curses one can snap at another, in Spanish, is still "tu madre"; the same is true in Black America). The plastic joy Madonna takes in her illustration of the myth surfaces near the southern French coast, in Vence, in the Chapelle du Rosaire, decorated by Henri Matisse at age seventy-seven as a gift to the Dominican nuns of Monteils who had nursed him through an illness. There, lemon-yellow and sapphire-blue forms float in a large stained-glass window behind a simple altar. A forty-foot crescent-adorned cross rises from the blue-tiled roof. On the side wall, simple black figures painted on white tile. The Madonna holds an infant whose arms are outstretched to simulate a cross. Matisse says,

"What I have done is to create a religious space. . . in anenclosed area of very reduced proportions, and to give it solely by the play of colors and lines, the dimensions of infinity."

This sounds, to me, like one definition of poetry. Like Madonna, any serious artist is responsible to the archetypes and icons of the species.

I'm not really a fan of Madonna's music -- and, in fact, I've never paid much attention to her. However, I did write a short poem about her once:

Madonna Leaves Her Clothes On

and I
so slowly came to see
she has
a lovely voice.

And, now, it seems I've posted about her.

Uh-oh. On the path to obsessive fanboy toyishness?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Deep in the Mines

Deep in the Mines 1

Deep in the Mines 1 (2000)

Fractals sometimes transcend their parameters. If they are art -- and I'm guessing that most of us think they are -- then our images reflect some deeper part of ourselves. Our dreams. Our buried treasures.

Tina got me thinking about this standing on the shoulders of giants business. It's true that someone built the mine by writing a program or a formula. But the artist still has to take that journey to the underworld and cart back the gold or silver.

It's a dangerous business. Rooting around under the surface for meaning. Sometimes you strike it rich. Other times what you find blows up in your face.

And there's no drop dead canary telling you when your image glitters or smells like gas.

Deep in the Mines 2

Deep in the Mines 2 (2000)

I've often used the word spelunking to describe my artistic process. I crawl through images -- hauling out dirt, clearing a path to see what still lies ahead. It can be claustrophobic. Sometimes I chip away at one delicate section for hours. Sometimes I thrash around blindly. Even a cave-in is better than finding nothing.

Maybe someone caved or carved out parts of this mine before me. But I'm still the one who has to go down there -- again -- alone -- in the dark.

The classics are filled with treacherous journeys to the underworld where ghosts linger and are haunted by their memories of life. Maybe, like Orpheus, my images will sing, and I'll return to the light with something I love. Unless I get impatient. Unless I turn around to look at what I've made before the trip is finished. We've read the story. We know what happens then.

I think fractals can reveal memories from the substratum. They flock around Odysseus at the pit of blood. If you risk going underground, they might settle around you like leaves encircling a tree. Or they might mock you from the safety of the shadows.

They are more than "the cold equations" of Tom Godwin's moving story. They are like engrams. Brain scans anyone can read.

There's plenty of uranium deep in the mines. With it, you can see inside yourself.

And see through others, too.

Deep in the Mines 3

Deep in the Mines 3 (2000)

Mine.

Mind?

Dig still deeper...

Deep in the Mines 4

Deep in the Mines 4 (2000)

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night. I have bits of poems or images partially unburied in my head. I've learned to get up immediately and start shoveling with my pen or keyboard. If I don't, those whispers from the Muse will vanish like Eurydice.

Here's something I wrote in my notebook several years ago in a semi-sleepwalk:

The mine
is darker than
the last thing you
said
to me
ten years ago
today.

Someone probably said something similar before me. Maybe I should have left this lump of coal resting under tons of rock.

But we don't, do we? We open our notebooks and our programs -- and, with dim light pouring from our foreheads, we start digging.

And, sometimes, if we persevere and are lucky, we uncover something.

A nugget pick-axed out of the ore.

A diamond hewn from the darkness of the subconscious.

Rare chunks of art hauled out from deep in the mines into the open air for all to see.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nostradamus Never Saw It Coming

Nostradamus Never Saw It Coming

Nostradamus Never Saw It Coming (2003)

Some people still feel
Middle Eastern icons lack a
medicinal clarity. A limp-wristed
Satan said comets would depressingly
emerge. All his Black Death quatrains
and spiritualists in New York City
forecast diehard delusional films must
rule but the summer box office seldom saw
such horror as a culture of recording swine
clears the context out of digital politics.
He never noticed when bloggers opened
the coffin of the Senate. That stink hung around
his neck like a bell or a rat grown fat
on leaked fractions. TV talkers blink, squint,
spin by scanning canonized texts
and we download the City of God faster than
prayer. The King of Terror ceases
to honor the groans of his fans. They faint
like nervous brides, shocked, awed, as he stays
the course of fear they repeatedly cheered
confusing roadside bombs for crystal balls
and I predict more lies, more wars
for years but not for miscast ears.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Poinsettia Militia

Poinsettia Militia

Poinsettia Militia (1998)

Am I an "enemy of normal Americans" and "a defeatist" if I have a Christmas wish for Peace on Earth?

Peace on Earth...Bring It On...

And why not gift wrap that next time with sufficient body armor?

[Cartoon by Bruce Plante]

These guys think so...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dale Finally Gets It

Dale Finally Gets It

Dale Finally Gets It (2003)

Gathering nuts is nuts -- or so the shaman said. Buttons are much better...

Chip's on his own...

Disney has us working for peanuts.  They're the man, man...

You're bumming my vibe, Chip. Let the nut just...be...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Putting the Art in Fractal Art

Chump Change

Chump Change (2006)

The way I saw my art changed when I started working with a master printer to make poster-sized Giclees of my own work. I began to see my images on the wall rather than on the screen.

My work habits shifted noticeably. I started creating in the largest sizes my poor computer could tolerate without coughing and crashing. Each new image became a canvas, and my eyes adjusted to looking at sections of a big picture work-in-progress rather than conventional monitor sizes.

And, suddenly, the details and nuances of texture became paramount.

Detail of: Chump Change

Upper left corner detail of Chump Change

Size became whatever I could muster. Memory became my enemy. My work computer has four gigs of RAM, and I can work at 8000 x 8000 pixels -- usually -- unless I want to post-process heavily.

And I do -- with extreme prejudice -- which cuts down my comfort zone closer to around 6000 x 6000 pixels. But I can thrash about in Photoshop or Painter with wild abandon and still layer/render away at a steady clip.

And why post-process? It's really not for the fractal. After all, it's already there (or, at least, what's left of it).

I post-process for the art.

Accusors

Accusers (2006)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning.

I didn't get into fractals for the math. I took them up because -- finally -- I saw a way that I could make art.

I'd tried before. I took a beginning art class when I was college. It was a frustrating experience. I couldn't make my paintings look anything like what I saw in my head. The professor eventually suggested I drop the class -- while adding, for good measure and for the benefit of my long-term self-esteem, that I "probably had no talent."

I know what you're thinking. Don't say it.

But the prof was right in one sense. I couldn't deal with the conventional tools of art. The brush seemed pudgy and awkward. I always felt like I was stabbing the canvas with a cucumber. I never could gage how much or how little paint would produce the desired thickness. Everything dried too fast or dripped too much. And the smell of the chemicals gagged me and made my head feel like a cinder block.

I gave up -- and took up writing instead. The pen felt just fine in my hand, and I had an overdose of images already in my head.

Then, one day in 1997, I saw my first fractal on Usenet.

Detail of: Accusers

Lower right corner detail of Accusers

And I've been playing with fractals ever since. At first, I just churned 'em out like an assembly line. I was fascinated by how minor adjustments produced subtle changes with each subsequent iteration. Sometimes, I felt more like a machine than the computer itself.

But I slowed down considerably once I began to post-process. I started to labor over images and refused to be satisfied until each was either finished (abandoned?) as the closest approximation of my head shot -- or every layer was sent kicking to the Recycle Bin.

And that's when I realized I'd found a way to begin painting. Fractals became my base canvas. I wasn't afraid, to the consternation of some, to mess everything up. The fractal forms weren't sacrosanct to me. Only the final result mattered.

I believe making art is like a knife fight. There are no rules. You either survive the ordeal with something from nothing to show for it. Or your vision dies.

Sorceress

Sorceress (2006)

So, now, I was "painting" regularly, composing more carefully, and doting over textures -- at least, those I could see working within a scale of 800 x 600 pixels. Still, I found myself wondering: Am I making art?

And how would I ever know unless I could really see what I was doing?

But, as I said, everything changed after I met with a professional printer and saw my first poster-sized Giclee. I had new improved eyes -- and with fresh sight came further adjustments in my process. I worked even more slowly. I realized my early images were like a cup of black coffee. The latter ones became like a tongue-twisting, labor-intensive specialty coffee from Starbucks.

Thinking big is like making the jump to high-definition television. Textures matter. Every pixel shows. And once that mindset took hold, I finally felt like I was thinking like an artist.

I'm glad I worked with a professional printer -- an artist himself -- because he had the experience and the equipment to make a museum-quality product. Acid free inks and papers make a difference. And although photographic prints are lush and can scale up quite large, I was drawn to the gentler (as in less saturated), smaller Giclees. Surfaces in Giclee are remarkably tactile -- with brush strokes evident and raised and indented areas becoming peaks and valleys. And the first time I saw an image printed on canvas and covered with a chemical wash, I knew...

Detail of: Sorceress

Upper right corner detail of Sorceress

...I knew I was looking at a painting.

A program like Fractal ViZion (which I like, by the way) can produce endless fractals with one mouse click. It doesn't need us to produce fractals. Besides, nature's already doing a fine job of churning them out -- thank you very much.

And, although I don't use Ultra Fractal, I think I understand (at least in part) why so many fractalists are drawn to it. The software can produce striking, intricate textures. I know that's why I was excited to help beta-test XenoDream. It wasn't for the 3D forms. It was for the incredibly lush and complex textures.

I'm not advocating my way or the highway, you understand. I'm just encapsulating my journey to finding art in fractals.

I do believe fractals can be more than what math wrought.

And much more than decoration.

They can be fine art -- and all that goes with it.

So don't be afraid to paint -- whether in-house with UF or XenoDream or outsourced to Photoshop et. al. And don't shy away from seeing the small screen as the big picture on your wall.

Yes, we have the tools. But we also need to cultivate the vision -- along with the talent and patience to bring it into existence.

We put the art in fractal art.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Nova Morning

Nova Morning

Nova Morning (2006)

I think I've got all those homages out of my system (at least for now), so I thought I'd put up something new.

Still, I'm struck again by the visual limitations of my blog. My images are created at considerably larger sizes than the shrunk down facsimiles that will comfortably squeeze into a blog format. Even if you click on the image above and surf to see a larger version on my web site, you're still only getting a fraction of the picture. A high quality Giclee print of 2 feet by 3 feet (or larger) would certainly give you a better sense of the intricacies and textures found in my work.

Here's a peek into the bottom left corner of today's image:

Would you like to see more?

Detail of Nova Morning

If you'd like to get a better feeling for how my images look at larger sizes, please visit the current issue of The Arkansas Literary Forum, an online literary and art magazine. I have about 40 larger scale images on display there.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Homage to Anita Huffington

Homage to Anita Huffington

Homage to Anita Huffington (1999)

From Anita Huffington's page at the University of Arkansas:

The sculptor Anita Huffington's history includes a long period in New York City starting in the late fifties when she came to study dance with Martha Graham. She encountered a circle of artists of the New York School such as Kline, de Kooning, and others, as well as a diverse and individualistic group of painters, sculptors, musicians, and poets in this vital idealistic period. These experiences and her later choice to live in the wilderness of Arkansas sowed the seeds for the sculptures she makes in stone and bronze. Her work reflects upon both the world of art and of nature.

Three Graces by Anita Huffington

Three Graces by Anita Huffington

[Sculpture photograph seen on artnet]

And, also from the site at the U of A, an excerpt from her Artist's Statement:

What interests me most is the timeless element in the art of all periods and places. My sculpture has always been a composite and synthesis of elements drawn from nature and the history of art. With sandstones in particular (perhaps affected by their rude nature), I seem to move backward through time from classical, to archaic, to prehistoric to the unknown form in the formless. Through more and more reduction, down to elemental forces of rock and earth, I seek a unity that expresses something more than the visible.

I knew Anita when I lived in Fayetteville in the 1970's -- and even had the opportunity once to visit her studio and to watch her work. I've always found her art to be breathtaking in its sensuousness.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Homage to Marie Curie

Homage to Marie Curie

Homage to Marie Curie (1998)

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.
--Marie Curie

Power

Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power.

--Adrienne Rich

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Homage to George Mallory

Homage to George Mallory

Homage to George Mallory (2000)

From NOVA Online:

George Leigh Mallory was the only climber to take part in all three of the British pioneering expeditions to Mount Everest in the 1920s. Born in 1886, he died a few days short of his 38th birthday, while making a summit attempt with his young companion, Andrew Irvine.

[...]

Those who set off on the reconnaissance trip of 1921 had no idea what they were up against. But as Mallory put it, "to refuse the adventure is to run the risk of drying up like a pea in its shell." They were walking off the known map, with high hopes of scaling a mountain no Westerner had ever seen at close quarters, venturing into atmospheres thinner than anyone had climbed into before. For its day, going to Everest was like going to the moon. The small, poorly equipped little band, dressed in an assortment of tweeds and home-knits, challenged Himalayan heights with little to assist them beyond the indomitable spirit of Empire.

[...]

By the mid 1920s the farthest corners of the Earth had already been explored: the North and South Poles had been reached, the sources of the world's major rivers had been discovered. All that remained to be claimed was the "Third Pole," the summit of the highest mountain on Earth, Mount Everest. In 1924 a British expedition was poised to make that claim. At the time of their first Everest attempt, in 1921, no climber had ventured above 24,600 feet. It was unclear whether climbers could go higher and still survive, and whether supplemental oxygen would help. Each step higher on Everest was new territory, the physiological unknown, and in June of 1924, two climbers were in position at their high camp on the mountain, ready to make a bid for the summit.

Thirty-eight year old George Leigh Mallory had been on the two previous British expeditions to Everest in the 1920s. He was celebrated as one of Britain's ablest rock climbers, and he had proven himself as a strong high-altitude climber on the Everest expeditions of 1921 and 1922. Andrew "Sandy" Irvine, only 22 at the time, had no Himalayan or high-altitude climbing experience. But he was adept at repairing the controversial oxygen apparatus used by the British climbers at high elevations. The local Tibetans and Sherpas laughed at the strange bottles containing what they referred to as "English Air."

[...]

Mallory and Irvine were last spotted, through mist, in the early afternoon of June 8 by geologist Noel Odell, who was following behind in support. He saw two black figures -- no more than dots -- approach and climb a rock step, called the Second Step, on the mountain's skyline, "nearing the base of the summit pyramid." To Odell, they seemed to be going strong and, although lower than he expected, he felt sure they should make it to the summit. Then clouds swirled in once more and Odell's tantalizing vision was lost forever.

Mallory's fate was unknown for 75 years, until his body was discovered in 1999. From maybe you can trust us in 75 years Wikipedia:

On 1 May 1999 Conrad Anker of the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, sponsored in part by Nova and the BBC, arrived at Mt. Everest and commenced searching for the lost pair. Finally, the frozen body of George Mallory was found at 8,155 m (26,760 ft) on the north face of Mt. Everest. However, they could not locate either of the two cameras that Mallory and Irvine had apparently carried with them. Experts from Kodak have stated that if one of the cameras is ever found, there is a good chance that the film could be developed to produce "printable images." This is thanks to the nature of the black and white film that was used and the fact that it has been in continual "deep freeze" for over three-quarters of a century.

When Mallory's body was discovered, two fascinating -- although inconclusive -- observations were made:

Firstly, Mallory's daughter has always said that Mallory carried a photograph of his wife on his person with the intention of leaving it on the summit. This photo was not found on Mallory's body. Given the excellent preservation of the body and its garments, this points to the possibility that he may have reached the summit and deposited the photo there.

Secondly, Mallory's snow goggles were found in his pocket, indicating that he died at night. This suggests that he and Irvine had made a push for the summit and were descending very late in the day. Given their known departure time and movements, had they not made the summit, it is unlikely that they would have still been out by nightfall.

We may never know if Mallory and/or Irvine reached the summit. Moreover, there seems to be some debate in the climbing community whether claiming a first ascent necessitates also achieving a successful descent. Indeed, Mallory's son, John Mallory, posed this very question when he exclaimed:

To me the only way you achieve a summit is to come back alive. The job is half done if you don't get down again.

But he was only three-years-old when his father died. Perhaps the son would have preferred to have known his father rather than to have lived in the myth of his father's legend.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Homage to Andy Warhol

Homage to Andy Warhol

Homage to Andy Warhol (2000)

From artrepublic:

In 1960 Warhol began to replicate a range of mass-produced images, beginning with newspaper advertisements and comic strips before turning to packaging, dollar bills and more. He is probably the most famous member of the Pop Art movement. Virtually any image that was in the public domain was a prime target for the Warhol treatment. In 1962 he had his first one-man show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and in the same year exhibited at the Stable Gallery in New York. This was the year of 32 Campbell's Soup Cans (1961-1962). Soon after his sculptures of Brillo soap pad boxes, Coca-Cola bottles and replications of popular icons such as Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor and most famously Marilyn Monroe were to appear and secure his reputation. The silk-screen process he favoured allowed for infinite replication, and he was opposed to the concept of a work of art as a piece of craftsmanship executed purely for the connoisseur; in Warhol's own words, "I want everybody to think alike. I think everybody should be a machine."

Thus Warhol's work was intent on dehumanising his subjects whether they be images purloined from mass-culture or depictions of atrocities such as car crashes. He turned out his works/products like a manufacturer, going as far as naming his studio The Factory. As well as paintings, he published the long-running celebrity magazine Interview, managed the rock group The Velvet Underground and achieved great notoriety as an underground filmmaker with lengthy films such as Sleep (1963) and Empire (1964). In their silent and almost completely static images Warhol raised monotony to new heights, as he said at the time, "I like boring things." Andy Warhol has become one of the icons of the 20th Century, putting as much effort into publicising himself as promoting his work. He was finely tuned to the tedium of modern mass-culture, conveying and indeed revelling in the banality of the images proliferating around him. His stance was on the one hand distant and voyeuristic and on the other totally immersed in the culture of spectacle. He was able to both comment upon and completely embrace the materialism of the Sixties. Bernard Levin sums up the essence of Andy Warhol perfectly, "[He was] one-man demonstration of the triumph of publicity over art."

~/~

Warhol's aesthetic turned up in a poem I wrote in the mid-1990's:

Mechanical Drawing

Art is debasing and elitist say
many conservative critics pointing
fingers that never held a brush
at powdered wigs and highback chairs,
at icons drowning in tinted urine,
at showing the body to the public
but Warhol felt that one image
replicates another and puts distance
between creator and object via
machines. Use one model
for a statue then break the mold--
kill her like a pyramid attendant
then sketch the once removed marble
over and over until like endless
photocopies the original blurs
back to blankness. Anyone can
safely understand no statement
at all but art becomes little
more than a camera shooting stills for
a docudrama and in the process
the source is lost. Aesthetics are easy
as paint by numbers then. My curator
is a senator from a new school:
expansive minimalism. Obtain
perspective from a computer poser
and crunch canvases like a series of zeros
and ones
. The null set will seldom
offend when the paintings in every
museum are supplanted with mirrors.
Listen to the tour guide and leave your
clothes on. Never look at yourself.

~/~

The idea of mass image replication should resonate with fractal artists -- especially those who pass around parameter files -- although such sharing is more of a "numbers don't lie" construct than a cultural comment about dehumanization.

I've never found making fractal art banal or boring (even when I'm disappointed with my efforts and destroy an image).

And, of course, replication is not reiteration. We all know the dehumanized cannot be tweaked.

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