Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Mera Rubell Picks

“I certainly feel more connected to artists working in DC. These 36 hours were a beautiful, focused and intense time. Please express my thanks to the artists who took this ride with us. How amazing and magical were all the visits! The artists invited us into their studios and gave us a real understanding of their personal creative world. It was truly life altering for me. What an experience! And now, our efforts can only present a small sample of the many brilliant working artists in DC. It's a much larger scene than I ever imagined--how exciting!”
The artists chosen by Ms. Rubell and whose work will be featured in her Auction Exhibition section include: M.G. Barkovic, Holly Bass, Judy Byron, Rafael Cañizares-Yunez, Adam de Boer, Mary Early, Victoria Gaitán, Carol Brown Goldberg, Pat Goslee, Jason Horowitz, Barbara Liotta, Patrick McDonough, Brandon Morse, Dan Steinhilber, Lisa Marie Thalhammer and yours truly!

Mera Rubell by Jenny Yang

Mera Rubell in my studio. Photo by Lisa Gold

Congrats to all the selected artists, and I know that I am not the only one who feels that Ms. Rubell has added a significant new spice to the Greater DC area art scene's soup that will kick it up a hundred notches and perhaps help to crack the apathy that our local curators and media have towards DC artists.

Meanwhile here's a video note to all the Debbie Downer crabs of the Greater DC art scene, who now must focus on something positive for a change:

Tough jury duty

Jurying the Blackrock Center for the Arts coming gallery exhibition season was really, really hard! There were loads of good entry proposals from both artists and groups. Once the gallery director makes the final decisions and computes the voting and announces the selected shows, I'll let all of you know.

Mera Rubell Studio Visit

Background: As announced here:

"the Rubell Family Collection is one of the leading collections of contemporary art in the world. Started in 1964, soon after Don and Mera Rubell were married, the Rubell Family Collection operates as a non-profit organization based in Miami where it presents rotating, curated exhibitions and hosts a variety of educational and community outreach programs.

Mera Rubell will be one of eight esteemed curators selecting works for Cream, the WPA 2010 Art Auction Exhibition. Building upon the popular Experimental Video Series at the Rubells’ Capitol Skyline Hotel, Rubell has determined to see the work of as many DC-area artists as possible and select up to twelve to be included in the WPA exhibition and auction. Her visits to DC are typically 36 hours long, and she has devoted her next trip to this project.

For 36 Studios – Part 1, Mera Rubell and a team of curators and writers will conduct 36 studio visits over the course of 36 straight hours. Each studio visit will last approximately 15-20 minutes and will take place starting at 5:00am on Saturday, December 12 and continuing until 5:00pm on Sunday, December 13."
Got it?

So as all of you should have done, I threw my name in the hat for this spectacular opportunity to show my artwork to one of the world's leading art collectors, and the same person (me) who once missed a 160 million dollar lottery grand prize by one number, hit it this time and I, along with 35 other lucky DC area artists, was selected to be visited by "Mera Rubell and a team of curators and writers."

To say that I was ecstatic is the understatement of the year. I was dumbfounded and left a little speechless for the second time this month. An opportunity like this doesn't happen very often, if ever.

When I returned to Earth, to my horror I realized that... ahhh... I had no work to show Rubell.

All of my work is still in Miami, safely stored awaiting for it to be displayed again at the coming Miami International Art Fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center from 5-10 January 2010.

Best known art collector in the world is coming to my studio and I have zip to show her.

Effing Great...

The Grand Admiral of the Soviet Fleet, Sergei Gorshkov once stated that the "reason that the American Navy is so good in time of war is because war is chaos and the US Navy practices chaos everyday."

Thus, as a former Naval officer I have been well trained in dealing with chaos and once my heart slowed down I sat down to consider my options.

Should I put together a binder full of available work in Miami and pass it to Ms. Rubell in the hope that she would agree to check them out once she returned to Miami?

Should I sit her in front of a large flat screen TV and flash her digital images of my available work?

Or should I lock myself in the studio and create as many new art pieces as possible before her visit on Sunday afternoon?

Usually the hardest and most difficult path to an answer is the solution, and I decided to lock myself in the studio and create new art.

As a new father, this is not easy, and I discussed it with my wife. With her support, I chose the last option.

I spent the rest of Thursday doing and finishing up all of my chores, many of which had piled up while I was in Florida the previous week. I went to bed around midnight on Thursday night, with my head buzzing with ideas.

By 3:30AM on Friday, I was up, essentially unable to sleep and ready to create some artwork. This being the digital age, before I entered the studio I logged onto Facebook and began Facebooking the events about to take place.

Nine hours later, after a dozen sketches and several discarded starts, I had finished my first new drawing, a large portrait of Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna Lynch, known to the world as "Che" and perhaps the most iconic figure in modern history.

Che Guevara by F. Lennox Campello

"Asere, Si o No?" 19"x48" Charcoal on Paper

When I finished I had something special. The appropriated image of Che from a photograph by a Commie photographer somewhere (ironic that Communists always nationalize and appropriate private stuff, so I have no issues appropriating their imagery) is to the left in a very Christ-like pose. Behind him, a slogan or graffiti on the imperfect wall asks the question in Cuban slang: "Asere, Si o No?" which means "Friend, Yes or No? in Cuban street dialect and is meaningless to all other Spanish speaking peoples. The capital letters answer the question by spelling out ASESINO or assassin. This is the second version of this ASESINO concept.

It is now well into Friday. More Facebooking and by now friends and family are encouraging me. Art critic Kevin Mellema advices me that "Sleep is for the weak. 72 artist hours is like a week and a half of work for 9 to 5'ers.... Of course you do want to be awake and coherent when they show up on Sunday..."

The next time that I sit down to draw I hit a groove and deliver five new drawings in about four hours. I'm employing a lot of charcoal dust to cover large areas and create a minimalist drawing concept. "Superman flying naked and close to the ground in order to avoid NORAD radar" is such a drawing. We barely see the naked superhero, but we do see his elongated shadow on the road below. The lane dividers are just erased charcoal, now showing the not so pure white Arches paper underneath. I toy with the idea of rubbing more charcoal dust onto the drawing to create the impression of the car oil stains one always sees in the middle of the lanes. I abandon the idea; it is a pure and clean highway under the Man of Steel.

Superman Flying Naked

"Superman flying naked and close to the ground in order to avoid NORAD radar"" Charcoal on Paper. 20x24 inches.

"True Believer" and "Woman who thinks that the tattoo that she just got on her back reads 'Bring Bush Back'" come out next. Both are very quick drawings and the first one is a highly worked drawing with an almost fanatical message. I'm not satisfied with the charcoal aspect of the dripping blood from the newly finished tattoo and so I bring out colored pencils and apply a subtle sense of color to the piece. This is rare for me.

Now there's red blood dripping down her arm. The second piece is the opposite: a rough almost unfinished drawing with a harsh, funny message. It is inspired by a cartoon I saw once which showed a burly sailor's back. A tattoo on his back reads: "Don't tell this guy what this tattoo says, he thinks he has a battleship."

True Believer, Obama in 2012

"True Believer" 22 x 14 inches. Charcoal and Colored Pencils on Paper.

Make Obama King

"Woman who thinks that the tattoo that she just got reads 'Bring Bush Back'" Charcoal and Conte on Paper. 14"x10"

I had set aside a nice vertical piece of dark paper and "Fallen Angel" materializes on it as I work furiously. It is the most minimalist of the pieces and it is finished in less that 15 minutes from beginning to end.

Fallen Angel

"Fallen Angel." Charcoal on Paper. 21 x 11 inches.

On the radio, the pundits are discussing Obama's speech at Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. I take a break and do some more Facebooking and I come across Mary Coble's profile picture on Facebook and it triggers an idea in my head. Coble and Nobel seem to align and "Age of Obama - Nobel Peace Prize" is created. This is the second "Age of Obama" drawing that I've done. In the first, done while Obama was a candidate, the figure is canvas to a history of the candidate in the early days of the election. It is now in a private collection in Ireland.

In this second "Age of Obama" drawing, the figure is host to selected portions of the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Age of Obama - Nobel Peace Prize

"Age of Obama - Nobel Peace Prize" Charcoal on Paper. 16x12 inches.

I want to have some coherence to the work that I want to show Rubell, and many of these pieces have a seminal beginning in my historical interest in the Picts. And so out comes a Pictish drawing.

Pictish Woman

"Pictish Woman" Charcoal on Paper. 14 x 9 inches.

The Pictish drawing is the one that worries me the most. It is almost fantasy in nature. Will Rubell understand my historical interest in the subject and how it is the seed to the more contemporary work?

I take a break as I am tapped out and on Saturday afternoon we all visit some open studios and drop by the Washington Glass School, Red Dirt and Flux Studios. Rubell has already been to her designated visits there and excited artists tell me about her and her entourage. I sense some disappointment, some hope and certainly a lot of excitement.

I begin to gather another aspect of the impact that this influential person's tiring and superhuman effort (36 studios in 36 hours) is causing on the DC art scene. Even the Washington Post, well-known amongst DC area artists for its apathy and indifference towards the local visual art scene has sent the Post's freelance art critic along, and she has overcome her ennui about the DC artists and galleries that she is tasked with covering and is following Rubell to some of the studio visits, but soon drops out.

I'm angsty about the whole thing and can't wait to get back to my studio and create some more work. I want to make sure that I make an impact.

On the drive home I pass by at least three Vietnamese restaurants and wonder why all the Pho places have a number after it (such as PHO 95, PHO 301, etc.).

My head has been filled by my visit to the studios with a need to be "shocking" in order to stand out. I waste precious hours struggling with a shocking idea. I visualize a man crawling away into the horizon perspective. We see his body clearly from the back, his buttocks clear and white, and his penis dangling between his legs as he crawls away. A tattoo with an arrow points to his anus and letters instruct "Insert Penis Here." Another tattoo on his penis states "Suck This." His butt cheeks sport tattoos that say: "Spank Here."

The tattoo on his back says "Pat here" and the tattoo on his feet soles says "Tickle here."

The title would have been "Man with Directions" but it never came about. It just wasn't me. I'm no Chris Offili, taking a schlocky short cut to shock in order to gather attention. I feel guilty enough as it is about the drawing of the woman with the Obama tattoo on her back.

Instead another Che Guevara drawing begins to emerge. Much smaller, almost the opposite of the first piece. For almost a whole day the drawing looks like this:
Che Guevara
A long-haired Che is to the left of the drawing (where else), with a vast empty space to his right. Long hair years before the Beatles and hippies, aloof and alone as an adventurer in a foreign land so much different than his native Argentina.

That night I can't sleep much between fighting a nagging cough acquired while in Miami and racing ideas about how to finish the drawing.

On Sunday I wake up, calm and ready for the visit. And the last drawing crystallizes suddenly.

Che Guevara's betrayer

Finalmente Denunciamos a el que traiciono al Che (Finally we denounce he who betrayed Che). 4 x 24 inches. Charcoal on paper

The Spanish words announce that "finally we denounce who betrayed Che." The capital letters answer the statement: FIDEL. I now have two of these... the circle is complete and I am ready for Rubell. It is 9:00AM on Sunday and I get a phone call from the WPA's Lisa Gold.

Is it OK if they come around noon instead of the originally scheduled time of 2PM? She asks. I will be either the last studio visited or the penultimate one.

I tell them that I am ready.

Next: What happened during the visit.