Sunday, August 30, 2009


Today is the birthday of cartoonist Robert Crumb, born August 30, 1943.

Endlessly talented, here Crumb plays Joplin and presents a short film of his comic strip 'A Short History of America'.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Born in the Streets

Graffiti artists have taken over the Foundation Cartier in Paris, with brand new works covering the building's façade and the surrounding garden, and a massive retrospective exhibition filling the interior gallery. "Born in the Streets - Graffiti" explores the history of the artistic movement born in the streets of New York during the 1970's, and traces its rise as a means of artistic expression for young people across the planet. It's a welcome dose of recognition from the establishment that this essentially illegal activity has evolved into an important and influential contemporary art form. Lots of great old school and cutting edge work on display. The Foundation Cartier website is well worth exploring, and Design Boom has also got some great images up. On display in Paris until November 29.

Coincidentally, Chronicle Books has recently released their 25th anniversary edition of Henry Chalfant's seminal book, Subway Art as a gorgeous oversize hardcover with 70 never before published photos. Chalfant was the first photographer to follow graffiti artists through the streets of New York in the 1970's. He trailed behind the likes of graffiti legends DONDI, SKEME, SEEN and BLADE, capturing images of their ephemeral work on the sides of subway cars and in transit tunnels, exposing the embryonic hip-hop culture to the eyes of gallery goers and collectors for the first time. Subway Art is a key text in understanding the rise of graffiti as a world wide phenomenon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer

A poem for the imminent end of summer. By Mark Strand.

My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer


When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from her cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges,
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon's ash-colored coat
on the black bay.


Soon the house, with its shades drawn closed, will send
small carpets of lampglow
into the haze and the bay
will begin its loud heaving
and the pines, frayed finials
climbing the hill, will seem to graze
the dim cinders of heaven.
And my mother will stare into the starlanes,
the endless tunnels of nothing,
and as she gazes,
under the hour's spell,
she will think how we yield each night
to the soundless storms of decay
that tear at the folding flesh,
and she will not know
why she is here
or what she is prisoner of
if not the conditions of love that brought her to this.


My mother will go indoors
and the fields, the bare stones
will drift in peace, small creatures --
the mouse and the swift -- will sleep
at opposite ends of the house.
Only the cricket will be up,
repeating its one shrill note
to the rotten boards of the porch,
to the rusted screens, to the air, to the rimless dark,
to the sea that keeps to itself.
Why should my mother awake?
The earth is not yet a garden
about to be turned. The stars
are not yet bells that ring
at night for the lost.
It is much too late.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair

Film director Guy Maddin and actress Isabella Rossellini have got a strange and beautiful ongoing collaboration. From their 2003 collaboration in "The Saddest Music in the World" to "My Dad Is 100 Years Old" in 2005 (scripted by Rossellini and directed by Maddin) to their most recent loop "Send Me to the ’Lectric Chair," completed this year for the Rotterdam Film Festival, they have examined skewed gender roles, explored masculine power and feminine mystery, and have created simply indelible images of Oedipal intrigue, sexual transgression and vertigo-inducing androgyny.

The new short film is no exception. Over the course of a gripping seven minutes the diva is tied into an electric chair, sparks fly, smoke curls, and she has a series of incredibly strange and oddly sexual visions until the dreams go up in flames and the film starts again.

For now, the full 6 minute and 52 second epic can be seen exclusively at BOMBsite, which is where you can also read the transcription of a lengthy (and wonderfully bizarre) conversation between Maddin and Rosselini.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This is NOT my Beautiful Car

David Byrne recently reviewed the book Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities for The New York Times, saying that "...greenways, safer bike lanes, pedestrian zones and bike parking places will make our cities not only more comfortable and enjoyable, but also more eco­nomically competitive places where people with ideas and creative ambitions want to both live and work." The ex-Talking Heads frontman is a long-time bike advocate, has ridden a bike around NYC since the early '80s, and has a book coming out this September called Bicycle Diaries. The 294 page book is filled with Byrne's photos and accounts of his experiences riding a bike through cities around the world, from London to Istanbul to Manila to Buenos Aires.

In addition to his many celebrated talents, Byrne is an accomplished writer who has long maintained an unusually beautiful blog in which he watches the world with a highly personal mixture of humor and curiosity, recording his thoughts on economics, globalization, music, urban planning, fashion, politics, architecture, and much more. His blog has had much to say recently on the role of bicycles in urban life, and the book should be fascinating.

Byrne will be at Seattle Town Hall on Sept. 28, one of only 5 such stops in the U.S. The event is presented by Elliott Bay Book Company and Seattle Arts & Lectures. Tickets are just $30, available starting August 22 at Brown Paper Tickets, and the ticket price includes a pre-signed copy of Bicycle Diaries.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Addict's Almanac

Tye Doudy writes a weekly column for Portland's Street Roots newspaper about life on the streets as a heroin addict. The incredibly powerful and gripping column, called Addict's Almanac, began as a six-week series in August 2008. The columns were picked up by other street papers in the U.S. and in Europe, generating huge responses, positive and negative. On July 24 of this year, Doudy picked the column back up and now writes weekly about living on the streets, the people he meets, the violence he encounters (and is often part of) and wrestling with his addiction.

In the first column in the new series, Doudy describes meeting "Ashes" and going back to his squat to score.

Ashes about as trustworthy as a rented snake, and he is the closest thing I have to a friend at this moment.

My first question is, of course, is he holding and second, can I get him to kick down a little something. Even a rinse would set me straight and buy me some time to make a plan. No junky wants to give up any dope ever, but I have some leverage as he has no hustle and he knows I will make some money today...

In order for me to get the fix, we first have to go back to the squat he shares with some other scumbags under the Jackson Street overpass...The squats that line the freeway overpasses are like catch basins for the refuse of the city. The mentally ill, sexual deviants, illegal immigrants, wanted fugitives, hardcore drunks, prostitutes, crusty train-hopping kids, tweakers, junkies, the unlucky, and the unloved. We all have called these places home. For a night, for a week, even years for some. It's easy to fly below the radar here. No rent, no responsibility, and nothing to worry about besides where the cops are and where your next fix or your next bottle is coming from.

My next fix is coming from Ashes and he is unrolling his works from a piece of leather he had up his sleeve.

Doudy's column offers a rare insight into a world that is very seldom seen first hand. His voice is both in your face and humble, poetic yet poisonous. It's not easy reading, but anyone interested in what's happening just out of view on American streets should check it out. You can keep up with the series at the Street Roots blog.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Going Up in Milan

I've ridden a lot of escalators in my time, and I've seen a lot of stickers, but I confess that this never occured to me.

By Kama, based in Milan, Italy. More from Kama here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Time Travel

More high weirdness at the Northwest Film Forum. Urban Archaeologist (and author of the wondrous zine Dreamwhip) Bill Brown and film maker Sabine Gruffat have teamed up to present a multi-media concoction of video performance, spoken word, scratchy records, and 35mm slides at a few select locations around the country. According to the entertaining but almost indecipherable press release, Gruffat will navigate by the red, green and blue stars of electronic constellations while Brown will pilot the machine toward the irretrievable past and the inaccessible future. Together the audience drops out of the temporal flux and travels through the sensory drone of the digital and analog hyperspace. I think it sounds like fun?

One night only, at the NWFF on Tuesday, Aug 18 at 8 PM.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Today is the birthday of painter, writer, photographer, film maker and performance artist David Wojnarowicz. Had he lived, he would be just 55 years old. Wojnarowicz was born in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1954 and spent his youth in agony that his homosexuality and his dysfunctional family did not square with the ideals of the 50's. His parents divorced when he was 2; he and his two sisters lived with their mother until their father kidnapped them.

Sexually precocious, Wojnarowicz was 9 when he turned his first trick in Central Park. Encouraged by his mother to draw and paint -- he earned lunch money by sketching the carnal fantasies of his friends -- he entered the High School of Music and Arts but dropped out at 16 and became a thief and a prostitute. After hitchhiking many times across the U.S. and living for several months in San Francisco and Paris, he settled in New York's East Village in 1978.

Wojnarowicz created artwork that boils with rage against the political and religious powers that branded him a pariah. Many of Wojnarowicz' works incorporate experiences drawn from his personal history and from stories he heard from the people he met in bus stations and truck stops while hitchhiking. By the late 1970's he had created and collected an extensive catalog of images, writings and objects that capture the personal voices of individuals stigmatized by society and form a forceful rebuke to mainstream history.

In the late 1980's, Wojnarowicz was diagnosed with AIDS, and his art became more sharply political than ever. He was entangled in highly public debates about medical research and funding, morality and censorship in the arts, and the legal rights of artists. He challenged the nature of public arts funding at the National Endowment for the Arts, and won a lawsuit against the American Family Association of Tupelo, Mississippi, an anti-pornography political action group that Wojnarowicz accused of misrepresenting his art and damaging his reputation.

Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992, at the age of 37. Over his brief life, he wrote five books, including the memoir "Close to the Knives," which remains one of the most important documents on living with AIDS during the onset of the epidemic, and created art that is now in numerous private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

"The ancients believed that light came from within the eyes and you cast this light upon things in the world wherever you turned. I remember wondering if the world disappeared or was cast into darkness when you closed your eyes, or, even further, if you died, did the world die also."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Riot in the Streets

It's a great moment to be making street art in Seattle. For as long as I've been around, Seattle has lagged FAR behind most other American cities in the creation and preservation of worthwhile graffiti and public murals. Never mind graffiti meccas like New York and San Francisco - much smaller cities like Portland and Pittsburgh have long had wonderfully well developed street art scenes that put ours to shame.

Finally, a critical mass of Seattle area artists have been stepping up their games and creating gorgeous and poignant street art on the walls, overpasses, signs and dumpsters of our metropolis. Take a ride this weekend past the SoDo free wall, the Georgetown Graffiti Wall, or the Tubs Memorial Project to see some of what's been taking place in the spraypaint fueled laboratories around the 206.

Or, pay a visit to either of two significant exhibits that are opening this Friday, both of which prominently feature local street artists. Up in Greenwood, the BHerd Gallery opens "Urban Decay," which features new work from local writers Asher, Tim Kapler, Akimbo and (ahem) Gurldogg. In Belltown, the Seattle City Hostel project opens for public viewing with new work from Parskid, PGee, Skeleton and Key, and lots more.

Graffiti is the tattoos that brings color to the skin of a city. It's about time that a city as culturally alive as ours finally has some ink worth showing.

Thanks to Slightly North for the photo of the Georgetown graffiti wall!

Monday, August 10, 2009

So Many Pages, So Much Money

All of the wealthy art and literature types among my readers will be happy to note that the Manhattan Rare Book Company has attained a first edition of Foirades/Fizzles, created by Samuel Beckett and Jasper Johns in 1976, and signed by both of them.

Johns spoke about the project in a 1977 interview with Edmund White:

I met Beckett through the exwife of an art critic. She wanted me to do illustrations to Waiting for Godot, but I said I’d like to work with Beckett on something new. She didn’t seem to understand and kept sending me other published texts. Then, when I was in Paris with Merce Cunningham and his dance company [in 1973], I met Beckett. I told him I wanted to illustrate something new. He looked horrified. ‘A new work?’ He asked me. ‘You mean you want me to write another book?’

I said, ‘Don’t you have some unpublished fragments, just some words or phrases? At that time I was thinking I’d use his words inside the image, phrases included within the picture. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I have something like that but they’re in French.’ I told him I don’t read French. He agreed to translate them into English. Only later did I learn what an arduous process translation is for Beckett—he makes something altogether new when he translates. Finally he sent me two or three beautifully polished pieces; they were finished works and not fragments at all. Then I coaxed another one out of him. In the end he sent me five pieces. I decided to print both the French and the English in order to make the book longer and so that people who know both languages could compare the texts. I did etchings of the numerals and derived the other images from two patterns I’ve been working with in the last few years—a wall of flagstones and slanted lines on the diagonal, a sort of cross-hatching.

When I showed the etchings to Beckett he held them very close to his face and scrutinized them for ages, scanning up and down (his eyesight is very bad). I was terrified he’d hate what I had done. I said, ‘Sam, I’ll be happy to explain--.’ ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘it’s perfectly clear,’ and he made approving noises. Then I showed him the endpapers. He said he hoped that I would place the cross-hatching design at the front of the book and the flagstones at the back. I asked him why. He said, ‘Here you try all these different directions but no matter which way you turn you always come up against a stone wall.’

Just $30,000 if you act fast. Significantly cheaper versions of the landmark book can be found here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Seattle Savants

Here's another idea that's been a long time coming. Seattle has been on the forefront of alternative comics creation since Fantagraphics opened their offices here some 20 years ago. Through good times and bad, Fantagraphics has remained committed to nurturing and promoting Seattle comics talent, regularly both publishing and employing local cartoonists. To celebrate their lengthy paternal relationship with Seattle comics culture, the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is opening "Comics Savants: A Survey of Seattle Alternative Cartoonists" this Saturday, August 8.

This exhibition features original artwork and published material from some of the most accomplished artists making comics today - people like Peter Bagge, Charles Burns, and Jim Woodring; some remarkable up-and-coming cartoonists like Ellen Forney, Eroyn Franklin and Megan Kelso; and a bunch of current and former Fantagraphics Books staffers like Jim Blanchard, Roberta Gregory, and Patrick Moriarity.

Many of the artists will be at the opening reception on Saturday, from 6:00 to 9:00, to say hi and sign books and artwork. Think creatively. Buy locally.

Stay the Night

After sitting vacant for who knows how long, the historic Lorraine Hotel in the heart of Belltown is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Owner/developer Lee Kindell is remaking the long dilapidated 30-room hotel into a traveler's hostel, with each room decorated by a different Seattle street artist. The painting project is being curated by Jen Vertz of Upper Playground Seattle. I had a chance to visit the project recently, and saw all manner of gorgeous work being done by such Seattle artists as Joey Nix, Weirdo, Soule, PG, EGO, and many many others. The common areas, bathrooms, kitchens and entrance ways are also getting a grand makeover. Even in its current embryonic state, the Seattle City Hostel is beautiful to behold.

More about the Hostel project here. More images from the work in progress here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

From Hiroshima to Hope

From Hiroshima to Hope is an annual event honoring the victims of the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and all victims of war violence. This year the ceremony takes place on the 64th anniversary of the initial bombings, Thursday August 6th, from 6:00-9:30 pm, just south of the Bathhouse Theater on the northwest shore of Green Lake.

People begin gathering at 6:00 for lantern calligraphy and folding of Peace Cranes, at 7:30 a program of musical performances and speeches begins, and the candle-lit lanterns are floated across Greenlake at dusk. This is a beautiful event, both inspiring and solemn, that very much encourages the participation of children.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ernest Pignon-Ernest

Ernest Pignon-Ernest is a French artist in his late 60's whose entire career has been devoted to the creation of powerfully political street art. Ernest, who is based in Paris, has traveled the world since the 1940's getting up on public walls with careful, beautiful charcoal drawings, etchings and silkscreen prints, always without official permission.

Pignon-Ernest is famously disdainful of mounting shows in galleries or museums, and instead sees himself as creating a whole new kind of art object. "I choose a real place,' he said in a 2003 interview, "and slip an image into its interior. I believe that the insertion of my image into the real world gives that reality the characteristic of an image." Pignon-Ernest was trained as a classical draftsman, and his first foray into public art was provoked by the horrors of the atomic bombings in Japan. He pasted images of the victims in cities throughout France. Since then, he has reacted to large and small acts of oppression by creating street art in England, Italy, Japan, Algiers, the U.S., Israel and South Africa.

Most recently, Ernest's work was seen on the streets of Gaza, where he posted life-size images of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died last August. Many more images at his official site here.