Friday, November 30, 2007

What the Heck happened?

Graffiti artist and poster maker Heck was all over Seattle for a while, with his cool robots and ubiquitous rat heads. I haven't seen anything new from him in months and months. Rumours abound. Someone told me he was sick as a dog, someone else said he moved to Brazil. Anyone know where Heck is at?

“Cleaning Up” the Homeless

A rapidly evolving story in the City of Seattle has been the stepped-up campaign to rid the city's greenbelts and parks of homeless encampments by destroying or dumping the residents' personal belongings.

The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness says it has received reports from a dozen sites where people's belongings were destroyed, sometimes without notice. Adding insult to injury, the notices that were posted at the camps had an non-functioning city phone number to contact for help.

Alison Eisinger, the Director of the Seattle King County Coalition for the Homeless said that "people who were camped out in several different locations had everything they needed for survival, their tents, their sleeping bags, cooking equipment, removed and destroyed. It is immoral to evict people from where they are struggling to survive without providing meaningful alternatives."

Real Change, Seattle’s street newspaper, is circulating a petition against the city’s “clean up” activities which they are going to present to the city council on Monday. Sign it here and pass it on.

On Thursday, City of Seattle Human Services Director Patricia McInturff clarified the city’s position. Sort of. “Until an new encampment abatement protocol, that incorporates existing city law, is finalized the City of Seattle will continue to address encampment complaints and removal in the same way that we have for the last several years…Abatement procedures will vary depending on the urgency of the problem and the campsite location. We will continue to evaluate each situation on a case by case basis.

In consultation with the law department we are reviewing all current laws related to encampments. Once that process is concluded [Dept of Neighborhoods Director] Stella Chao and I will invite a group of stakeholders to meet with us and provide input on an updated protocol. Sorry for the confusion --- the City is committed to a humane and consistent approach.”

In his typically smart and bitter manner, blogger Tim Harris responds by taking a poll on his website “apesma’s lament,” asking if McInturff is “high on crack” or “has the mayor’s back.” Vote here.

It is simply unconscionable that Seattle's homeless people should lose their few worldly possessions in the name of neighborhood “clean-ups.” Throwing away the sad remnants of someone’s life is cruel and heartless, offering no hope and no help for the people who need it most.

As this editorial in the Seattle P-I explains: “We hope the new plan of action will reflect that Seattle is better than this. After all, how a city treats its least fortunate speaks volumes about its true nature -- more so than an endless row of shiny skyscrapers, big-deal parades and the swankiest of amenities ever could.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

Foreign Thrills 1

I’ve been reading several series of recent thrillers with some key similarities. The series by John Burdett, Qui Xiaolong and Rebecca Pawel are set respectively in current day Bangkok, Shanghai and post-civil war Madrid. All of them feature protagonists with torn loyalties, a surprisingly wide range of emotional responses and complex aesthetic sensibilities. And while they are all true thrillers written within the conventions of the genre, they also take important liberties with the form and lead their characters down some very unpredictable pathways. Most importantly, they are all engrossing.

John Burdett began his Bangkok series with the 2003 thriller Bangkok 8, since followed by Bangkok Tattoo and Bangkok Haunts (which I have not yet read). Burdett presents a Bangkok landscape that is at once glitteringly beautiful and poisonously corrupt. The lead character is the charming and complicated detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep. Detective Jitpleecheep is uniquely qualified to observe this city being a half-Thai, half-American, Buddhist, ex meth-addict police officer raised by a whore. Jitpleecheep remains wonderfully good-natured despite the corruption, the drugs and the sex that surround him. The gutter-dark portrayal of Bangkok is redeemed by having Jitpleecheep as its calm and fascinating center, allowing the city to seem powerfully complex and humane.

The books’ stories themselves have a difficult time standing out against the intricacies of the background. The baroque narratives remain true to the genre and circle upon catching killers. Along the way, they wind through such Thai cultural ephemera as transexualism, military violence, intricate tattoos, Muslim intrigue, meals of frogs and insects, stupid Western tourists, and lots and lots of sex for hire. All of it is filtered through Jitpleecheep’s inviting eye. The whodunit aspects of the stories are less than satisfying, but the language and observations are incessantly fascinating. Regarding the Americans who visit his mother’s Bangkok brothel, Jitpleecheep notes: “To look for nirvana in someone’s crotch, now that really is dumb. The horror was that these spiritual dwarfs were taking over the world.”

Beautiful Books

I’ve always loved books illuminated by visual art (Sonia Delaunay’s sumptious version of Blaise Cendrars’ epic poem for example) and visual art made from books (ie. Tom Phillips’ ever growing Humument ). Here are some exquisite examples of both sorts.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chicken Math

4 laying hens X 7 days =

21 multi-hued eggs

x 1 industrious afternoon =

2 marvelous tortillas + a compost bin full of shells.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Punk Rock Flea Market!

The Punk Rock Flea Market is a week from Saturday! I like to imagine the dozens of Flea Marketeers who are busily crafting in their lofts and basements, getting ready for the gig. This time around Gurldogg is selling good cheap bikes, silk screened T-shirts & patches, and bootleg CD's.

The line up of bands truly kicks ass this time. From 6:00 to midnight we are going to be rocked by Dance Music for Depressed People, KLED & Rough Chukar. We've got LOTZ of beer for the occasion. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fantastic Island

Spanish author Javier Marias recently celebrated his tenth year as ruling monarch of The Kingdom of Redonda. Redonda is a tiny uninhabited island between the islands of Nevis and Montserrat, in the West Indies.

The history of this island is anything but straightforward. On his second transatlantic journey in 1493, Christopher Columbus became the first European to lay claim to an island he named Isla Santa Maria la Redonda, or ‘St. Mary’s Round Island.' Today, it is still known as Redonda.

Legend has it that in 1865 the writer and banker Matthew Dowdy Shiell proclaimed himself to be the rightful "King" of the island of Redonda upon the birth of his first son, Matthew Phipps Shiell. The elder Shiell felt he could legitimately do this, because no country had officially claimed the islet as territory. Sheill senior also is said to have requested the title of King from Queen Victoria, and she granted it to him as long as there was no revolt against colonial power.

The younger Shiell, who became a British MP and a writer of fantasy fiction, inherited the island. Upon his death he gave rule over the island, and the rights of his work, to the poet John Gawsworth. Gawsworth in turn bestowed the title, and the rights to his and Shiell's work, to Jon Wynne-Tyson.

Wynne-Tyson resigned his title in 1997, when he decided to name Javier Marías as his successor (and bearer of the rights of the work of both Shiel and Gawsworth). Marias had written about Gawsworth in his breakthrough novel Todas las almas (All Souls in English,) and Wynne-Tyson rewarded his positive portrayal with the Royal Title.

King Xavier I of Redonda, as he now calls himself, has used his title to re-invent this rock in the Caribbean Sea as a literary and artistic paradise. He has conferred regal titles on friends, mostly writers and film makers. Francis Ford Coppola is Duke of Megalópolis; Alice Munro is Duchess of Ontario; J. M. Coetzee is Duke of Deshonra; Pedro Almodóvar is Duke of Trémula; AS Byatt is Duchess of Morpho Convexo; William Boyd is the Duke of Brazzaville; Frank Gehry is Duke of Nervión and has designed the royal palace, “a building for everyone in multiple parts” that does not as yet exist.

Additionally, King Xavier has also set up a Redonda imprint and, each year, he and his dukes and duchesses confer a prize on a writer. The reward is several thousand euros and a Redondan duchy. The latest recipient was literary critic George Steiner, now Duke of Girona. “Apart from that, there are no duties for the nobility,” he recently said. “Not even loyalty to me.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Que Lastima!

I just learned that the two biggest Spanish language bookstores in the country – “Librería Lectorum” and “Macondo,” both on 14th Street in Manhattan – have closed for business within the last 4 weeks. This is terrible news. Gurldogg’s extremely literate wife and in-laws speak primarily Spanish, and this little corridor on 14th has been a great source of both highly desired books and unexpected finds for many years. Every trip to New York involves a pilgrimage to these shops. What are we going to do now? Anyone know of a good online Spanish bookseller?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mud Hens

It's muddy weather out there for chickens.

The cat bides her time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cafe Tacuba

For my 2 cents, Mexico’s Café Tacuba can currently claim the title of “best rock band in the world.” They are very much a rock band, with all that the label implies – 4 musicians with amplified instruments singing pop songs. Despite those self imposed limitations, for some 12 years they have made clever, creative, unpredictable, and wonderfully melodic music which takes as much from Latin musical traditions as it does from electronica, ska, rhythm and blues, and mariachi. Many people have called them the “Beatles of Mexico,” and while that’s a heavy burden to bear, it’s impossible to deny their incessant musical inventiveness and the extent of their range.

The electropop "EO" from their last album is a case in point.

Their new album, Sino, is a little cloying for my tastes. As has been their pattern, Sino sounds quite different from everything they’ve done before. In this case, it means that they have recorded an album that heavily references “arena rock,” with distinct echoes of the Who, Rush, and other bands from that hellish era of popular music. Of course, I’m saying that after happily playing the thing at least 75 times. Doubtless I will play it many more, much as I’ve played their albums “Re,” “Reves/YoSoy,” and “Avalancha de Exitos” into the ground.

Sadly, they are playing no gigs anywhere near the Pacific NW on their current tour. They are playing in New York on Nov. 20, at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

Corey Fishes

Corey Arnold is a photographer and fisherman based in Portland, although from October through February he catches crab in the Bering Sea, and often finds himself in various Scandinavian ports. I can’t vouch for his fishing skills, but his photographic eye is impeccable. His large, and growing, website presents hundreds of gorgeous images of arctic landscapes, human behavior, and lots and lots of fish. The strangely entertaining “news” page makes no qualitative distinction between such entries as “January-March - Cod and Opilio crab season aboard the F/V Rollo” and “May 12-June 9 - Solo Exhibition at Richard Heller Gallery - Santa Monica."
Much more work at

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cultura Catalana

I went to see the Catalan film Quixotic at the Northwest Film Forum. The film has won all manner of awards, including Special Jury prizes at Cannes and other impressive honors. It was billed as a post-modern version of Don Quixote. I may be exposing my ignorance here, but it was truly nothing more than two hours of two men moving slowly through the Catalan countryside, saying almost nothing, sharing nothing, expressing nothing. I found it unspeakably dull. How does a film like this garner such accolades and get distributed internationally?

What I did like however, was the unexpected appearance of Catalan iconoclast Albert Pla. Pla is a phenomenally poetic, angry and intelligent singer-songwriter from Spain. His subjects are often deliberately provocative – scatological, violent, sympathetic towards serial killers and rapists – but at the same time his lyrics are deeply moving and his music is complex and beautiful. Despite being a compelling figure, he is virtually unknown in the U.S. Some of that is due to his challenging subject matter, and some of it is due to his refusal to perform in this country.

This is his version of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” A smash.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Paper These Walls

As always, New York City provides the shining path for street artists. These are a couple stellar pieces that I saw last time I was in NYC by, I believe, WK Interact.

I'll keep posting worthy street art as I create it or come across it. But there are plenty of great sites for graffiti aficionados. Most of them from, of course, New York.

For example, take some inspiration from Global Graphica or Visual Resistance.

And despite their NYC pedigree, Wooster Collective, bless their hearts, posts street art from around the world.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Anonymous Confessions

I saw these photocopied posters pasted to a crumbling wall at 8th and Pine. I liked how they were simultaneously quite intimate and totally anonymous.

Street Films

I'm happy to have stumbled upon street films. According to their website, Street films is dedicated to "filming the New York City Streets Renaissance." The entire site is dedicated to amateur made films of people riding bikes in the streets of New York and other American cities. The films have titles such as "Clowns Liberate Bike Lanes" and the almost too wonderful "Kids Art Bike Parade" in which over 100 children ride their beautifully adorned bikes through the Lower East Side.

I came to it via a film that David Byrne made and posted on his own blog site. The site makes me want to be in New York, but even more, it once again reminds me how creative bike people tend to be.

Suffragette City

This recently came to my attention. David Bowie was imprisoned in Rochester, New York following his March 1976 arrest on a felony pot possession charge. Bowie, 29 at the time, was nabbed along with Iggy Pop at a Rochester hotel following a Saturday concert. Bowie was held in the Monroe County jail for a few hours before being released. The Rochester Police Department mug shot was taken three days after Bowie's arrest, when he appeared at Rochester City Court for arraignment. The original mugshot is owned by a Rochester guy who is looking to sell the one-of-a-kind image. So if you're looking for a truly unique piece of Rochester rock and roll memorabilia drop a line to

Friday, November 2, 2007

Close to Home

I finally had a chance to see the Chuck Close print exhibit at the Greg Kucera gallery in Seattle. It is nothing short of extraordinary. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen reprints of his work, of how often I’ve seen the few giant paintings on permanent display at the MoMA. Looking a wide range of his work, collected from various stages of his career, is an enlightening and inspiring experience.

Close is a process junky. His work has been based on the same simple structure for the last 30 years or so. He takes photographs of friends’ and acquaintances’ faces, overlays a grid on top of them, and then reproduces the photos cell-by-cell using a wide range of mediums and techniques. Because Close is astoundingly inventive and obsessively precise, the simplicity of this form gives way to an astonishing range of results. Over the years Close has filled in the grid squares with paint, ink, pencil, paper pulp, thumbprints, string, fabric, collage, and more. Using the clumsiest of materials, he achieves a level of photo realism that has to be seen to be believed.

The show at Kucera gallery is basically a retrospective of his prints. This image of Lucas Samaras is a linocut reduction print – one square of linoleum was cut 8 or 10 times in order to produce an unrepeatable series of “steps” which lead up to a final complex image. Other prints showcase a silkscreen self portrait created with 178 individual screens (the mind reels) and a wood block print made from 80-odd individual blocks. Each piece is a masterwork. Seeing a few dozen on display at once is a tour de force.

The show is only up until November 10. Don’t miss it.