Monday, December 31, 2007

The Uglies

Underground circus is alive, but not particularly well, in Barcelona. After some persuasion, we went to see a circus show by "Las Feas" ("The Uglies") at a well known bomb shelter of a bar in Gracia. Despite starting well after 11:00 pm, the show attracted a huge audience, including a handful of kids, adding to the carnival atmosphere. The bar was packed tight like a drum as The Feas took the stage. The crowd was drunk, happy and enthusiastic. Sadly, the show was weak and unrehearsed. The music was crude, the acts were cruder, and no one seemed to understand basic theatrical concepts like "timing" or "speaking to the audience."

Two bright spots: the juggler, from Argentina, beautifully manipulated lightbulbs in a way I had never seen before. And the ringleader was hot and compelling. She has her own website here , which is better than the circus by leaps and bounds.

A well-rehearsed underground circus like Circus Contraption would triumph in this town.


Difusor is a loosely knit "organization" in Barcelona dedicated to the art of the street stencil. Despite being in Catalan, the site is inspiring and well worth exploring.


Late night Spanish TV is pretty interesting. It seems like the networks know that their pre-dawn audience is drunk, adventurous, or both. Stumbling home at 3:00 am I've turned on the TV to find interviews with the Residents, short films by Peter Greenaway, and some weird program featuring endless close-ups of body parts. Last night I watched a pretty cool program about emerging video artists. This is a video I watched, on low volume at 3:30 am, by English artists Coldcut. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Graffiti in Barna

More splendid art from the streets of Barcelona.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chillida Leku

Just outside of Donostia is the Chillida Leku, a museum created by the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, to collect and show his work. Chillida is San Sebastian’s favorite son and probably the best known Basque artist. He was a contemporary of Henry Moore and Joan Miro, and like them he created massive but effortlessly graceful sculptures using the purest of raw materials. Over 13 wooded hectares, guests stroll past monuments carved in stone or twisted from blocks of iron. Each sculpture presents a study in contrasts and invites both careful scrutiny and earnest meditation. Seen together in the forest setting honed by Chillida, one is taken aback by both the strength of the artist’s vision and the calm tranquility of his aesthetic.


San Sebastian in the Basque Country (known locally as "Donostia") is the home of the "pintxo," a richer, larger, more expensive version of the ubiquitous Spanish "tapa." Every bar we wandered into (no small number) featured dozens of house specialties, ranging from black ham on fresh bread to sardine-olive-pickle appetizers to tortillas de bacalao – a scrumptious cod omelet. When paired with local beverages like txacoli (an effervescent white wine) or sidra (a light alcoholic apple cider) the days in Donostia pass like gastronomic dreams.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

David vs. Goliath

In the center of Horta stands a statue of a slain Goliath, in honor of the International Brigades who traveled to Spain in the 1930’s to defend the Republic. All around, people have lain wreaths and flowers.

When the foreign volunteers left Spain in October 1938, the 35th Division were paraded and reviewed, and several of their number received promotions and commendations.
The final appearance of the battalion was at a farewell parade in Barcelona at which Dolores Ibarruri, the Communist deputy known as La Pasionaria, delivered a farewell speech which is inscribed at the statue´s base. Translated into English, the statement reads:

Today many are departing. Thousands remain, shrouded in Spanish earth, profoundly remembered by all Spaniards. Comrades of the International Brigades: Political reasons, reasons of state, the welfare of that very cause for which you offered your blood with boundless generosity, are sending you back, some to your own countries and others to forced exile. You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy's solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk. We shall not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace is in flower, entwined with the victory laurels of the Republic of Spain --- return!

Return to our side. for here you will find a homeland. Those who have no country or friends, who must live deprived of friendship, all will have the affection and gratitude of the Spanish people who today and tomorrow will shout with enthusiasm: "Long live the heroes of the International Brigades!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Check this shit out. This monkey face…
…is a collage of hundreds of individual stencils.

Graffiti in Horta

We took a walk around Carmel, in Horta-Guinardo, the working class neighborhood where my in-laws live. The local gym and community center boasts an amazing display of graffiti. While taking these photos I met Carles, the community center’s youth coordinator who explained that last summer the center held a party at which local and European graffiti artists were invited to bring their paints and stencils and bomb this whole wall. These pics can’t do justice to the incredible array of work here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Off to BCN

For the next three weeks I’ll be posting, when I do, from my holiday destination of Barcelona. I’ll be there through the start of the year, enjoying the city and suffering through the annual Catalan Christmas showing of “Els Pastorets.” Gurldogg’s wife Pepita was born and raised in BCN, and her parents own a small home not far from the city center. This will be my 6th or 7th time traveling there over the last few years.

I have a strange relationship with Barna. Being a native of a small grey industrial town in the American northeast, I can’t help but be amazed by the color, creativity and cosmopolitanism of this old and beautiful city every time I visit. But as my wife’s husband, I am also very aware of the bitterness and poverty that have resulted from Barcelona’s somewhat recent “discovery” by international developers and tourists. Almost without exception our old friends from Barcelona have been forced by dim job prospects and ghastly rent increases to leave the city for much smaller surrounding towns, to flee Catalunya for poorer provinces, or, like Pepita, to leave Spain altogether. Even my charming in-laws, among the smartest and kindest old Catalans you’re likely to meet, have developed a seething anger about the sudden changes to their way of life. Everything is far more expensive than it used to be, far more crowded, and far less accessible. Family restaurants which had been around for generations have closed their doors to make way for boutiques and costly knick-knack shops. Old friends have seen their homes sold to German developers and have moved far from their old walking routes. And of course, the kids and grandkids have moved out to make room for the “giris,” or foreigners.

It’s far from all bad of course, and I never fail to have a blast when I’m there. True to legend, the Barcelones know how to throw a New Year’s party. Time and substances permitting, I’ll be blogging when I can.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dreamland Faces

Way back in April of this year, the legendary Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN held auditions for a variety show called "Vaudevillian Stages," intended to highlight the talents of a new generation of vaudeville performers, including musicians, comedians, magicians, trained animals and plate-spinners.

The 75 applicants were whittled down to a line-up of 17 performers for an amazing show last June which was recorded for television and radio, and clips of which are available on the Youtube. Among the performers featured were the musicians Dreamland Faces, old friends of Gurldogg. Dreamland Faces is at times an accordion-and-saw duo, and occasionally swells into a 7-piece dance band. Whatever their particular makeup at a given show, they can be counted on for their eclectic repertoire of forgotten showtunes, Weimar era jazz ballads and left-wing battle hymns.

This is the 5-piece band at the Fitzgerald performing their original composition "Ballbuster."

And this is Dreamland ringleader and saw player ne-plus-ultra Andy McCormick playing a duet with Michael Grandchamp on the Mighty Wurlitzer.


I should have written about this days ago.

Tonight, December 13th, brings the climax of the Geminid meteor shower to the northern hemisphere. Unlike most meteor showers which have been observed for hundreds or even thousands of years, the first Geminid meteors suddenly appeared in the mid-1800's resulting from the orbit of a rocky asteroid now called 3200 Phaethon. Much more detailed information can be found on the NASA website. The show began on December 6th and will last for a few more days.

In the middle latitudes (ie. Seattle or New York and anything in between) Geminids meteors can be seen anytime after 10 p.m., when the constellation Gemini is well above the horizon. The best time to look is during the early morning hours between about 2 a.m. and dawn. That's when the local sky is pointing directly into the Geminid meteor stream.

You won't need binoculars or a telescope, the naked eye is the best way to see meteors.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


I saw the Gregory Blackstock opening at Garde Rail gallery on Thursday night, and Mr. Blackstock himself happened to be there.

Blackstock, who is autistic, worked for 25 years as a dishwasher in the kitchen of the Washington Athletic Club. For many years he has been drawing comprehensive catalogs of all sorts of things: train cars, hand saws, birds, violins, fruits, etc. The drawings are charming and meticulous, rich with detail. Blackstock draws exclusively from memory, obsessively observing and recording the many categories of things that capture his attention. Five years ago, his drawings came to the attention of Karen Light, the owner of Seattle's Garde Rail Gallery, who immediately saw their beauty and arranged to display several dozen of them. Since that time he has had several exhibitions and a beautiful book of his lists, Blackstock's Collections, has been published by Princeton Architectural Press.

The new show featured drawings of firecrackers, turnips, sheet music and maple sugar candies. Blackstock whirled from drawing to drawing giving a noisy and scattered tour of his recent work. As he explained the different firecrackers in this picture he gave a rendition of their sound effects, one by one, working his way down the list. "Ka-BOOM! Krak krak krak! Pa-Pa-PANG!"

The show is on display through January 26.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Crumb at the Frye

I stopped into the Fantagraphics Bookstore at lunch time and learned that the most comprehensive U.S. exhibition of Robert Crumb’s work to date is opening at Seattle's own Frye Art Museum at the end of January. According to the Frye catalog, "R. Crumb’s Underground showcases forty years of the artist’s cultural contributions. It highlights the important role collaboration has played throughout Crumb’s career, including during his youth as part of the San Francisco comic book underground, and with his wife, cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

Ian Buruma wrote an appreciation of Crumb in the New York Review of Books upon publication of the R. Crumb Handbook in 2oo6. "Perhaps the greatest, and by now best-known, cartoon character in Crumb's rich oeuvre is R. Crumb himself, a little mustachioed figure in a tweed jacket and glasses with a rampant penis, playing the banjo, or jumping on large athletic women in tight jeans, or getting beaten up, or masturbating over his own cartoons. R. Crumb, the comic figure, is not quite Mr. Everyman. Rather, he is the artist as loser, the sensitive nerd, who feels humiliated by the handsome bullies who are dumb and cruel but get the girls, while he can only dream about them. That is, until R. Crumb becomes a famous cartoonist and can suddenly do whatever he likes with the 'gurls,' which is usually something rather drastic, like slamming them face-down on the floor and riding them like a jockey."

La Mano Show

Should you find yourself in Los Angeles over the next few days, be sure to check out the annual print show and sale at La Mano Press. La Mano was created in 2002 by painter Silvia Capistran and printmaker Artemio Rodriguez in 2002, and has done a fantastic job of exhibiting and publishing some of the best contemporary and historical Mexican and Mexican-American printmakers, as well as promoting contemporary printmakers in general. The annual print show, running from December 7-9, features linocuts, woodcuts, etchings and serigraphs by Rodriguez & Capistran, as well as work by Jose Guadalupe Posada, Mizraim Cardenas, Ixrael & many more.

Should you miss the show, La Mano also has an excellent website where you can buy exquisite books and prints.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Liquid Liquid

Basic and beautiful shadow animation and the best bassline ever, which formed the basis of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines." This one's for Pokie.

Monday, December 3, 2007


One of the more colorful vendors at both Punk Rock Flea Markets thus far has been Salamandir. Salamandir sells incense and statuettes of Hindu god Ganesh, although “sells” is hardly the operative word. His practice is far more devotional than commercial. I made a point of chatting with Salamandir at this market, and learned a little more about his venture. Unlike the standard hippy with an Indian fetish, Salamandir claims a first-hand experience with the elephant-headed deity. Several years back, Salamandir woke up in the hospital recovering from a sudden and completely unexpected brain injury that occurred while he was fast asleep. On the point of death, he encountered Ganesh, who guided him back to the world of the living. He made a pledge that if he was ever to recover, he would devote himself to the canny and mischievous spirit who revived him. Thus the creation of Hybrid Elephant products.

Salamandir now travels to street fairs and craft shows in this car, painted with the first hundred names of Ganesh in Sanskrit, and spreads the word about the ancient divinity known as the Remover of Obstacles.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

PRFM Wrap Up

Oh man...You're sorry if you missed the Punk Rock Flea Market.

From the moment the doors opened the Underground was swarming with people. Just under 700 people paid their buck and got one hell of a market and party in return. If the first snow of the year hadn't started in the middle of the afternoon, we might have had hundreds more. In the end, 46 vendors somehow crammed into the basement, including a few who showed up unexpectedly. Many hats were sold, scarves, paintings, animal skulls, punk paraphernalia, surprisingly cool baby clothes, lots of records, lots of jewlery.

All the bands kicked ass. Dance Music for Depressed People gave an angst-ridden howl to the gods of love; KLED summoned up the twin demons of heavy metal suicide and gothic theatrics; Rough Chukar, in their own words, "brought the Punk Rock to the Flea Market." Extra props go to RC for answering every random call for cover songs, rewarding us with their (fucking loud) versions of Slayer and Pantera tunes. In another unexpected turn of events, the 15-piece Yellow Hat Brass Band showed up between the last two bands to play 20 minutes of pulse pounding Bulgarian dance music.

After all expenses were met the admissions, booth fees & beer sales permitted the PRFM to donate about $800 to LIHI, who owns the space. LIHI's executive director, Sharon Lee, even showed up to have a beer and check out Rough Chukar. Bless her heart.

There can be no better bargain than the $1 it costs to enter the market. If fate allows, we're going to do it all again at the end of March. Weather permitting we'll expand the market into the parking lot next door . Seriously - don't miss it.