Thursday, February 28, 2008

Money buying friends

Money can buy friends apparently - according to this advertisement announcing a new texting plan from a major cellphone company. I found it in today's Times...
Is that all they think of friendships? Maybe it is all utilitarinism.
On a side note, an interesting thread about offering money to get friends on Facebook had popped up here on Slashdot a while back.

This research team from University of London came up with a happiness scale, from one (utterly miserable) to seven (euphoric). They then came up with a formula which they believe can calculate how much extra money the average person would have to earn every year to move up the happiness scale.
So, for instance, living with a loved one was found to bring the same amount of satisfaction as being given an $160,500 annual raise. Marriage brings the equivalent amount of happiness as a $100,000 a year raise, while having an active social life – meeting friends several times a week – is the equivalent of a $120,000 annual salary increase.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Education policy needs revamping?

Common Core, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization pushing for more arts based education argues that the No Child Left Behind law has stultified America’s public school curriculum by holding schools solely accountable for scores on annual tests in reading and math, but, not accountable for any liberal arts based curricula.

From their report:
"Senator Joseph McCarthy investigated people who protested the war in Vietnam, better known as the Second World War. Fortunately, that war was over before Christopher Columbus sailed to America; otherwise, we might have never experienced the Renaissance. "

A new survey of 17-year-olds reveals that, to many, the paragraph above sounds only slightly strange. Almost 20 percent of 1,200 respondents to a national telephone survey do not know who our enemy was in World War II, and more than a quarter think Columbus sailed after 1750. Half do not know whom Sen. McCarthy investigated or what the Renaissance was.

As a parent, that does not sound funny, it is frightening. The report and ideas for a more balanced education policy are outlined.

Report here (pdf document).

Aquarium pictures

They have gone ahead and added a huge aquarium over at the Staten Island's St. George Ferry terminal. The structure is fairly large, with garish colored corals and the usual medley of bright tropical fish. It is also large, six feet in height and about twenty feet across and is reported to weigh ten tons. What fascinated me most was the fact that one could peer for a little bit into the blue green water, lose oneself in colors and after a while, it begins to take on an aura of a Pollock composition. A kaleidoscope of wild colors haphazardly sliced by reflections of the sky streaming in through the overhead bay windows reminding the busy commuter of broader connections – natural and artificial.

Monday, February 25, 2008

On a recent French law regarding foetuses

I was suddenly transported to a singular turn of events that took place three years ago on reading a French news article recently. It was New Year's Eve and as we were making plans for the evening when we received news that one of our friends had given birth. From what we could remember of the expected delivery dates, the announcement seemed premature. A second later we heard that our friend had given birth to a stillborn, lifeless foetus. I remember my wife and me driving out immediately wanting to spend time with our friend on that sad day. We remember a long drive Midwest on a bitterly cold December 31st day. We reached the hospital after a eleven hour journey. After perfunctory greetings with the family that tend to awkwardness under these circumstances, we met her and she told us to take a look at her baby. This struck me as a little odd as I was assuming that a five month old lifeless foetus would probably be assigned to the hospital services. What struck me even more was the fact that the foetus was swaddled tightly and outwardly appeared to be merely resting - when in reality it was lifeless tissue. I felt a mixture of pain, anxiety and frustration at not being able to appreciate the situation clearly. It was also readily apparent that she had named the foetus and was planning on a funeral.
The bond between a mother and child is a strange one - something that transcends normal human connections - it blends together our animal instincts with human sentiments into a seamless continuum. From our friend’s perspective, a real death had taken place and we were expected to feel as sad for the foetus as we feel for her. From my perspective, a non-viable foetus was aborted and it was only the mother needed comforting.

It is also the reason we find it difficult to take sides in the gathering clouds that are sure to darken a recent French Supreme court statement which ruled that miscarried and stillborn babies can have a name registered by the government - regardless of the stage of their development.

The court upheld a suit filed by three plaintiffs who had miscarriages between the 18th and 22nd week of pregnancy, with foetuse’s weighing between 155 and 400 grammes (5.5 and 14 ounces), but had been barred from registering a name with the authorities. Until now, French officials have insisted that only foetuses that have developed beyond the 22nd week or weigh more than 550g (1.1 pounds), or have been certified by a doctor as having briefly lived, have the right to have a name registered. The finding had been sought for years by campaigners, who said that by getting the legal right to name the foetus, grieving would-be parents could come to terms with their loss. It also enables the mother of the foetus to claim maternity leave and parents to recover the body to hold a funeral. Before foetus were incinerated by the hospital along with waste tissues.

It is indeed a conflicted position for someone who believes in abortion rights for women but has also been through an experience where a close family friend goes through the ordeal of losing what might have been a viable human being.
France authorized abortion in 1975 and the right to the same is vigorously defended by the citizenry. Last month, I had read about the celebrations (and debate) accompanying the 30th anniversary of the passing of the law. With this new twist, it will be interesting to see how the ripples play out in the rest of Europe and its wider repercussions here in America.
It is easy to proclaim that there needs to be a law about these things and we should let the courts decide on definitions of viability. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be objective when it involves an aspect that intersects rights, emotions and life. I see the abortion debate being played for partisan as well as non-partisan ends for many more years; if not centuries.

Our friend was subsequently blessed with a newborn baby a year after the incident described above.

Francois-Xavier Fabre (French, 1766 - 1837), 'Portrait of Edgar Clarke, full length, in a white dress, carrying a basket of flowers, in a forest', Oil on canvas, 57" X 39", 1802

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stuff Happens...

Not to ruin the Oscar weekend, but Opinion Research Business (ORB) group, a market research company based in England has confirmed their earlier estimate that over 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the conflict which started in 2003.

Methodology: Over the 2,160 respondents who answered the questionnaire, 20% said that there had been at least one death in their household as a result of the conflict which started in 2003. Within these households the average number of deaths was 1.26 people. The last complete census in Iraq conducted in 1997 indicated a total of 4,050,597 households. Based on this our data suggests a total of 1,033,239 deaths since March 2003.

Revised Casualty data here (word document).

Maybe these numbers are way off, like sampling errors inherent in most statistical interpolations. Even assuming that they are off by 50% (a very high error rate), the numbers are still staggeringly high - half a million human beings slaughtered.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Snowstorm - a poem

Evening after work,
Radio blares ‘storm advisory for the northeast’.
I trundle along slowly,
thinking and planning that warm cup.

The ice slivers slide easily over
the oily veneer on the windshield.
Remnants of washer fluid,
sprayed unceremoniously
banish the pristine flakes.

The salt sprayer truck makes a sudden sharp turn
in my direction. Corrects itself,
and then passes on.
I swerve.
The washer fluid
still clears the pristine flakes...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Musings on our current affairs

Bill Clinton in a derogatory and a highly manipulative statement last month said that black vote will go to Obama and the women will vote for Clinton (before the primaries in South Carolina). The facts stated otherwise and blacks and women seemed to vote for Barak in that primary. Mr Barak has gone onto to win about 11 states in a row after Bill Clinton made that statement. I really do not care who wins (we could live comfortably with either of Barak or Clinton after the current quagmire), but it is educational to think that had the reverse have happened (if Hillary would have won wins 11 states in a row), Barack would have been counted as a nobody who ran a empty, defunct campaign...

On the economic front, Henry Paulson, the current Treasury secretary, does not seem to have as much as a clue on how to strategically look at his current job (he used to look after the top job at Goldman Sachs before this). While he worked a bit in renegotiating mortgages and putting together a fund to deal with structured investment vehicles (both produced as a result of lax governmental oversight that produced the sub prime mortgage mess), the efforts seem to be too little, too late and not indicative of an individual who is supposed to be endowed with strategic thoughts on how best to lead the country out of this mess. Now it is clear that the sub prime mortgage debacle (talked about in this blog multiple times) is turnign out to be a side story with the main story turning out to be the fact that the credit markets are being sucked dry of any or all available credit. Without credit, companies will not invest in any new initiatives, leading to layoffs, leading to a higher rate of unemployment, leading to reduced consumer spending /confidence, leading to a further reduction in available financing options and so on - a deadly spiral.
Added on top of these woes, it seems that about 25 percent (see graph of projections here) of American homeowners will see zero or negative equity in their homes (think about how you would feel if you were told that the 500,000 dollar home you bought three years ago is only worth about 250,000 now, but you still need to make mortgage payments on the original amount and you have would have to make additional payments on the home equity line of credit that you took out believing in the bullish predictions two years back)... The New York Times states: 'Not since the Depression has a larger share of Americans owed more on their homes than they are worth. With the collapse of the housing boom, nearly 8.8 million homeowners, or 10.3 percent of the total, are underwater'. All of this points to a lack of clear strategic thinking both at the Federal Reserve and at the Treasury.

In other developments, it is indeed sweet that the erstwhile dictator of Pakistan, General Musharraf (now morphed through tremendous self preservative powers into the role of President of Pakistan) has finally been dealt with an electoral verdict that tells him 'enough is enough'. Of course, he is now seen making funny noises that include words like 'harmonious coalition' after his party was roundly smacked at the polls. Yesterday's news that Nawaz Sharif (himself a wily one) and Asif Zardari (propelled into the limelight after the assasination of his wife, Ms. Bhutto) will form a hopeful alliance is indeed heartening. It is also sweet that the new alliance will also reinstate the judges (including the Chief Justice Chaudhary) who were summararily removed by Musharraf because they did not toe the official, corrupt line. Payback is sweet. On the other hand, this might be a bit of a problem for India as the militancy in Kashmir was held in check by some of the hard-line policies adopted by Mr. Musharraf – but then, after a point, one can only endure so many undemocratic actions until one is tired of the compromises and starts to opt for any change (kind of like the elections here, right?).
Also sweet is the fact that Kosovo has declared independence (talked about in Simplistic here) and America has put its full weight behind the same. It is about time the cultural and political underdogs in the Balkans got their due. Of course, as expected, Russia and the Bosnian Serbs in the north of Kosovo seems to be wagging their long tails, but this moment indeed belongs to Kosovo.
In other news, it is a good thing that Mr. Moqtada al Sadr has agreed to tamp down on his militia and agreed to a cease fire for another six months giving that much more time for the Iraqi lawmakers to get their act together. One of the many reasons the surge succeeded was because the Shiite Mahdi militia had agreed to a cease fire over the last six months. Looks like this might indeed work…
The battle against Creationism was dealt another blow when the state of Florida agreed to substantiate the study of evolution as a ‘scientific’ study rather than just another theory that rivals the creationist theory.
After camping out in Kenya for a month, former chief of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan finally seems to have brokered a truce between Mr. Kibaki (the declared winner after a rigged election) and Mr. Odinga (the aggrieved loser). Both sides have tentatively agreed to create a prime ministerial post for Mr. Odinga, but are yet to agree on its terms and responsibilities. When Mr. Kofi Annan made news that he was flying out to Kenya to try and broker an accord, I had thought that here is another individual aiming to do a fly-by and get some good press karma for stopping momentarily and spouting the right things, but he seems to have stuck it out there, endured the warring sides and after about a month, the results are slowly filtering to the top … Great stuff… That’s really all I have time for now, but I hope to do a similar round up every month – let’s see.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Shinjo Ito at the Milk Gallery

Shinjo Ito was born in Yamanashi, Japan in 1906 and died at the age of 83 in 1989. In addition to becoming an Acharya or Great Master of Buddhism, he was also an accomplished modern day sculptor. His resin and bronze based sculptures, Judas and Magnolia wood based carvings and silver gelatin prints are on view at the Milk Gallery in Chelsea. A great review here.

"I am no professional, So when I think about it, I feel uneasy as to how much of the loving kindness, compassion, and virtue of the Buddha the images I create with my amateur skills can express. But I do pour my soul into the job, with sincere heart, as if offering three bows for every cut of the chisel. The only thing clearly showing in my work may be that." - Shinjo Ito

The sculptures were peaceful, serene and beautiful. The parinirvana resin sculpture (picture below) had me thinking about Mahavishnu in repose (Ananthashayanam) at the 1000 year old Ananthapadmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, India. I lived behind the temple for about four years. It was interesting to see the clear connections to Indian Vedic culture here.

Head of Shakyamuni, Plaster, 57 cm, 1960

Bust of Shakyamuni, Bronze, 31 cm, 1960

Great Parinirvana image, Resin, 422 cm, 1957

Detail of Great Parinirvana image

Tathagata Shakyamuni, Bronze, 39 cm, 1971

Achalanatha, Resin, 69cm, 1964

Self portrait, Resin, 60 cm, 1962

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marvin Franklin at the New York Transit Museum

Every once in a while an artist toils in relative obscurity only to be discovered after her/his death. After their death, the world 'finds' out more about the person and their art, launches into a 'closer reading ' of the works through exhibitions and such and suddenly finds that there is more, much more to the individual - who has since passed on. The art and life of Marvin Franklin is an example of such an unfortunate circumstance.

Art saved my life” - Marvin Franklin (1952 - 2007)

Artist and New York City Transit track worker Marvin Franklin lost his life in the line of duty on April 29, 2007 while working the night shift as he had for twenty two years. He leaves behind a wife and three children. The artworks (drawings, prints and paintings) are set in the subway system where he spent much time as both an employee and a commuter. Most of the artworks depict homeless people. The artworks are on display until the end of March at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn.

The artist was once homeless himself.

From the blurb accompanying the exhibition: The night shift was 11PM to 7 AM. After work he would get on the F train at Jamaica/179th Street, the end of the line in Queens, sketch book in hand, and draw his fellow passengers all the way to 57th Street in Manhattan where he went to school. For more than a decade he attended school at the Art Students League from 9AM to noon. After school he would get back on the F train and sketch some more on his way home. With twenty two years on the job, he was three years away from retirement. Then he hoped to teach art, exhibit his work to raise awareness about homelessness and sell his artwork to raise money to help people in need.

The following lines from a New York City artist in response to an article that covered Marvin Franklin’s death is instructive of the close association between art, success in the artworld and money resulting in only a select few reaching the top.

Franklin’s tragic death also highlights the polarization and inequality that has intensified over the past several decades in the art world no less than American society as a whole. In today’s highly competitive commercial art market, in addition to the time and concentration required to develop one’s craft and artistic vision, artists must invest considerable resources in promoting their work. If they are lucky enough to get an exhibit, they are often asked to pay all expenses related to advertising, delivery and installation of their artwork, which can run into hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Salaried positions for artists are rare; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage in 2004 was only $37,000. Sixty-three percent of artists list themselves as self-employed and their income is even more precarious. An artist lucky enough to find gallery representation must give 50 percent of the proceeds to the gallery, and so even an artist who does reasonably well, and sells $50,000 worth of work per year makes only $25,000, and that is before taxes.

The distortion that such pressures exert on the type of art produced, as well as the experiences and outlook that finds expression in today’s artwork is extreme, and mostly deleterious. Very few artists like Marvin Franklin are able to develop to the fullest of their abilities or even, literally, survive under such conditions. The result is an alienation from art by broad masses of people and a general cultural impoverishment.

Drawings reproduced from sketchbooks (2004 - 2007)

Untitled, Watercolor on paper

Untitled, Watercolor on paper

Untitled, Watercolor on paper

Late Rider, etching

Subway passenger, Etching

Untitled, Reproduction

Sketchbook drawing as preparation for watercolor below

Untitled, Watercolor on paper

Self portrait, Oil on canvas

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Art market shamrock

Oftentimes, art market trends and pricings may be gleaned from auction house reports. A reading of the art tea leaves is especially relevant in light of the financial markets being buffeted by write downs, losses and the ever-present mess that does not seem to go away - the sub-prime mortgage ogre. With that as a backdrop, perusing the latest art market review from Sotheby's (published today) seems like dulcet tones to speculators ears. A quick review and analysis of their sales is published here.

As expected, the number of international bidders for art seems to be increasing with Russian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian bidders accounting for the largest increases in winning bids (percentage wise) year over year starting 2004. The total bidded value for all art by collectors in the United States, EU and UK seem to be holding steady or decreasing. Chart here.

Art markets consistently reflect the changing face of global wealth and the confidence of that wealth in the future, which is as variable as the financial markets. "Petrodollar" is a clever term that characterizes the liquidity and wealth of the Gulf nations and sovereign wealth funds that have recently been so active in shoring up U.S. and European financial institutions. It also characterizes significant wealth in the former Soviet Block, benefiting from the privatizations within the region.
For the past three years, the United States has been a net exporter of works of art. While our traditional buyers have remained present and energetic in the saleroom, bidders from the Middle East, China and Russia have become twice as active, redefining the size and scope of the global art market

In short, their answer to the naysayer and the 'art market will crash tomorrow' doomsday theorist is to shove it. A verdict of "remains astonishingly bullish" seems to simmer to the top of the frothy contents in the report. Time will tell.

l - Liu Ye, ‘I believe I can fly’, 86” X 71”, oil on canvas, 2004

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Weekend spatter

Sunil, 'Untitled 021608', Acrylic, housepaint and kumkum on gessoed canvas, 36" X 48"

Sunil, 'Untitled 021508', Acrylic, housepaint and kumkum on gessoed canvas, 36" X 48"

Joy Garnett at the Winkleman gallery

27th street, West of 10th avenue in Chelsea, NY is a funny neighborhood. Next to a nudie Scores club with pictures of nubile girls looking for more clothes, you have a swank Lamborghini dealership abutting art galleries past 10th avenue. The point may be that for someone who might want to satisfy a majority of their hedonistic fantasies, you have some if it here - fast cars, women and great art. Funny, I did not spot a wine store, but what the hell, I guess one gets it at Scores. The objective of this post was to talk about the art aspect and not about the other facets of hedonism. Joy Garnett is showing at the Winkleman gallery and I had gone by to see the offerings. I had been drawn to Joy's works ever since she painted the Molotov Man and from listening to her arguments on appropriation and augmentation of found images at Columbia University. A lot of my paintings also have been worked from images that I ‘found’ (I know that some of you might find umbrage with that) on the internet and I remember striking a chord with her approach early on (blogged here, here and here).

This show consists of four large scale oil paintings done in a very expressionist style (unlike some of her previous works that have a tendency to lean towards the representational). The aspects of internet based image appropriation are largely absent. Although, in retrospect, only talking to her and understanding the motivations behind this current crop of paintings would one clearly understand her current creative drives. The brochure hints at the motivations in the following sentence “The images Garnett paints are culled from digital mass media outlets and then archived for sometimes months at a time, permitting their context to evaporate. Returning to the image with a fuzzy at best memory of what it reportedly documented, Garnett’s process highlights the role misremembering plays in this new dubious "reality."

The brochure also tells us that these paintings were of images taken of places at about the same time spanning different corners of the globe on the same day. A cityscape in China, the rubble of the World Trade Center, a South American seascape and the high noon painting of an unidentified place is what the show is all about.
While ‘Morning in China’ and ‘Noon’ are superbly executed, the painting of the seascape (‘Harbor’) and the dark imagery evoked by the ruins of WTC (‘Night’) could have done better (just my view). I did stare at ‘Noon’ for such a long time that the gallery assistant (a great and an interesting individual named Max) came by to check out on me and see if all were OK. Put together, the paintings complement each other very well with the stated theme – images of different aspect of the marks of our existence on the disparate global locations. No question, definitely worth checking out.
The show opened yesterday, but the reception is slated for next Thursday, 21st February (might be a good chance to meet Ms. Joy and the effervescent Mr. Winkleman whose blog is a must read).

Morning in China, oil on canvas

Night, oil on canvas

Harbor, oil on canvas

Noon, oil on canvas

Detail of Noon

Friday, February 15, 2008

A picture from last year and a poem from this.

Valentine's evening - a poem.

Yesterday, I had left early
from work. The usual routine, the usual commute.
the ferry to Staten Island, train after and then drive home.
I read the Times,
hoping to hone
a newly found liberal jingosim.
Maybe it was the elections.

Two women sat adjacent to me,
one of them familiar,
a commute friend, as some would characterize,
good for the commute,
strangers at the car park.
She was thirtysh and full of make up.
The other, a dark haired older woman
sat eating her gram crackers.
The plastic pouch dangling
from one hand and
a tiny vial of nail protector in the other.

We got talking, I rarely do
but this was an unexpected early trip home.
I was feeling good.

My commute friend told me how she was going home
to her husband
then planning on validating Valentines at Red Lobsters.
She said ‘celebrate’ Valentine’s, but it seemed more like validation.
She had two children, one one and the other three years old.
They were planning on taking them along to dinner.
She said it would be a riot,
trying to get them to sit still
while they fight with the lobster,
bib, nutcracker, white meat and all.
She showed us pictures of her children,
beautiful, Anglo Saxon to the hilt.

The dark haired lady launched into her own story,
said she also has two children.
12 and 22.
Said she had the first when she was 13.
I said going out for Valentine’s should be easy for you,
the children will mind themselves.
She did not say anything to that.
I make for poor small talk...

She said that last Valentine’s,
her husband had pink rose petals
all over the floor
when she got home.
It made her cry.
She showed us pictures of her husband,
and a couple of grown up children.
The stereotypical middle class suburban black family.
I thought.
I did not really carry pictures in my wallet.
I made a mental note to do so,
not too sure why I did that.

Somehow I felt, all of this
was a bit too melodramatic.
I did not believe in a Valentine’s day
and was not really expecting to deliver Valentine plans
with a couple of women on the way home.
I sat on though, listening politely.

The ferry was nearing Staten Island and
with a final bit of polite banter
I asked
the lady with the dark hair,
her plans for this day.
She said that her husband died six months back,
he was a veteran of the Vietnam wars,
20 years her senior.
Leukemia it was.
It was lonely,
she said.
Especially on days like these.
She was planning on going
to the Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island
the next day.
She had taken the day off.
She said, she did get roses from Costco.
Red ones.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Genoside Olympics

The 2008 Summer Olympic Games to be held later this year in Beijing seems to lurch from one controversy to the other. Recently it was the rumors of doctored air quality tests in and around Beijing that made news. Yesterday, word that Steven Spielberg was quitting as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympic Games made the rounds.

While doctoring air quality is reprehensible but fairly commonplace in the face of looming timelines, the reason for Spielberg’s quitting merits more attention. He is quitting because he wants to point out China's poor track record when it comes to aiding and abetting human rights abuses in Darfur. While Darfur registers dim glimmers of recognition in our country swept up by election fever, it is worth remembering that the conflict between the Sudanese government backed Janjaweed and the poorer non-Arab tribes in the south of Sudan has been raging for about 5 years now.

About 2.5 million people have been displaced and about 400,000 people killed as a result of the quasi-ethnic-cleansing systematically put in place with the Sudanese government. With America busy in a mess of its own making in the Middle East, the government of Sudan continues funding one of the largest genocides of modern times. Add to this the recent news from the Chadian capital N’djamena about Sudanese government trying to overthrow the Chadian government ostensibly to cut off supply lines to the Darfur rebels makes the case ever more pressing.

How do the Olympics fit into all this?

Well, the following facts point to the need for people to start calling these games the Genocide Olympics:

- China is Sudan's largest foreign trading investor (China has invested more than $400 million in the Darfur region alone)
- Sudan's biggest oil export destination is China (7 percent of China's imported oil comes from Sudan and China National Petroleum Corp. has a 40 percent share in the international consortium extracting oil in Sudan)
- China is Sudan's largest arms supplier (Chinese-made AK-47's have been the main weapons used to slaughter several hundred thousand people in Darfur)
- China is Sudan's chief diplomatic sponsor (active lobbying on its behalf at the United Nations to water down any and every resolution that seeks to condemn or reign in the Sudanese government).

The Olympics is supposed to be special celebration – one that is supposed to belong to all humanity – warts and all. The games are laced with stories of struggle and triumph over adversity. The Olympics has traditionally been touted as an event that portrays global unity amidst diversity. Using these Games as a backdrop, countries have been known to elevate their status around the world and hitch their wagons to lofty sounding sentiments like unified global vision and similar claptrap. Well, nothing of this sort happens to be behind the spirit of China pandering to Sudan as the facts above illustrate.

In retrospect, the simple fact remains that China has more power than any other nation on the earth (right now) to force the genocide in Darfur to come to a close.

Please start referring to the 2008 Olympics as what it is supposed to be - the Olympic games hosted by a country that directly and indirectly sponsors genoside, in other ways, a Genoside Olympics. Small steps go long ways.

Banksy, 'Ruined Landscape', 19” x 23”, oil and spray paint on canvas, 2007

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The works of Rackstraw Downes

A recent weekend found my wife and I around Chelsea hopscotching the gallery offerings there. What was originally planned to be a short trip to the Brooklyn Museum turned into a Chelsea/Chinatown trek with the hope that we could score a double win: Enjoy the art picks at the galleries and drop in for some heavenly dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown. A sudden change of plans also meant that we did not have a 'preferred gallery' visit-list to go by. We decided to rough it out and ‘randomly’ visit galleries (not a recommended option, but under the circumstances…) and see if we could be entertained. Heading south from 26th street, we stopped off at about 15 galleries and we did notice the usual Chelsea fare – brand name school MFAs with their ‘found’ artworks, artists working on their mid-life crisis', career retrospectives of established artists and the newly effulgent ones with their showy picks. Of course, the usual exhibit showing the next emerging hotshot Chinese artist also featured in one of the galleries that we passed by.

Figuring we would get more of the same, we dropped into yet another brand name gallery - the Betty Cunningham gallery – expecting to be greeted with the usual slickness and the somewhat forced fecundity of the contemporary art gallery scene. Boy!, We were surprised. The gallery was showing the works of Rackstraw Downes – a 70 year old American artist originally from England. My wife or I are not avid followers of ‘realist’ art, but the paintings of Mr. Rackstraw (that sure is a strange name) seem to border on the cusp between the abstract representation of a scene and a faithful rendering of the same on canvas. Not sure which side hangs more heavily. The paintings in this show are more of everyday scenes done plein air and feature scenes that one does not focus too much in the unhealthy speed of our busy city or country lives. The scenes happen to be there, right in front of us, invisible but imposing – the bridge, the skyway, the mesa or the rolling hills. In his hands, they seem to magically become a portal for additional scrutiny that seems to draw and tug a viewer strongly. I normally do not gush too much about art, but these paintings did it for us. He seems to have painted a good number of normal sized pieces and some really abnormal pieces – pieces that are about 15 inches high but stretch almost half the length of the gallery wall space (some were about 150 inches long). These are paintings of landscapes around Presidio, Texas and viewers could almost lose oneself in the panorama presented - a very novel device to present vistas – I must say.
This show is highly recommended and I would urge you to go and visit the gallery (if you are in town).

In his words:
A professional artist’s life is uncertain and miserable and everyday you feel obliged to do something extraordinary and unusual. It has its problems, it really does. The vagaries of fashion whisk you in and whisk you out again, and give you an income and take it away again. I will say this though, that all of us that are painters or poets or whatever spend quite a big chunk of time everyday doing exactly the thing we really want to do. And that can’t be said by lots of people.
- From the gallery catalogue whose price of $ 30 had us balking, but the gallery owner on seeing our excited expressions agreed to let us have it for free!
There is an interesting interview here.

A Stop on the J Line (Alabama Avenue), 2007, oil on canvas, 11" X 18"

'Henry Hudson Bridge Substructure, A.M.', 2006, Oil on canvas, 39" X 32"

'Daphne Cummings' Brooklyn Studio', 2006, oil on canvas, 23" X 32" (my favorite)

'Atlantic Avenue at the entrance to the Van Wyck Expressway', 2007, Oil on canvas, 14" X 55"

'Presidio Horse Racing Association Track, Presidio, TX, 3. Looking South and West: the North Horse Shelter with the end of the track', 2006, Oil on canvas, 15" X 100"

'Presidio Horse Racing Association Track, Presidio, TX, 2. Looking West, North and Northeast: the South and North Horse Shelters' , 2006, Oil on canvas, 15" X 120"

Installation view

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What afflicts us...

Normally, I do not pay too much attention to those annoying forwarded emails one gets in their inboxes. Most times, I delete them without much thought. This one I decided to read on... (especially in light of news like this).

A Japanese company and an American company decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River. Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.

The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action. Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, whi le the American team had 8 people steering and 1 person rowing.

Feeling a deeper study was in order, American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion. They advised, of course, that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing.

Not sure of how to utilize that information, but wanting to prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 3 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager. They also implemented a new performance system that would give the one person rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the 'Rowing Team Quality First Program,' with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rower. There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and o ther equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American management laid off the rower for poor performance, halted development of a new canoe, sold the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the senior executives as bonuses and the next year's racing team was out-sourced to India.

Note: Ford has spent the last thirty years moving all its factories out of the US , claiming they can't make money paying American wages. Toyota has spent the last thirty years building more than a dozen plants inside the US. The last quarter's results: Toyota makes 4 billion in profits while Ford racked up 9 billion in losses.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A painting and a poem

Sunil, 'Tamping down the frustration of rising expectations regarding reincarnation', Oil on MDF, 20" X 48"

On reincarnation - A poem

You only live once,
contrary to the scriptures.
There is no reincarnation
no lifting up of souls,
no second comings
or the dead arising.
No paeans to souls.
All poppycock.

It was not all drivel,
more, a clever way of getting people to listen,
to tune in,
to make better
from their humdrum existence. Any other way
would have risked misunderstanding
and unwanted interpretation.
Diluting the concept
muddying the big picture.

Instead of telling us
that piecemeal acts of selfishness
slowly accretes
to become a
cancer on the coming generation,
and the ill will generated
rebirths itself on the coming fold
like force fields that fashion our neurons
conditioning them for extended injustices
to silently transform and shortchange
our futures -

they gave us a simpler message,
more palatable.
They said something illogical,
hoping to pass it off for deeper truths.
It sometimes works.
It's what politicians do.
They said that the souls do not really expire
along with the body.

They told us that
It just passes on
from one mortal coil to other.
Supposedly satisfied and smug
with concepts like endless cycles.

When in actuality was something else
they had understood.
It was really an endless dance of the packets.
They were of two types:
Packets of deeds well done
instilling in the progeny
the need to carry forth in better ways,
rebirthing the essence of the original souls,
and multiplying the goodness all around.

And, packets of ill deeds,
also accumulating
this time rebirthing in the progeny
with effects more pronounced,
more deadly.
Multiplied through transmission.

Unless of course, one breaks out of the cycle
and achieves redemption.

In that sense,
there is reincarnation of the souls,
a banding together of the fields
good or bad
blotting the collective consciousness.
not literal,
not figurative
not in the real sense.

A litany of simpler explanations
devoured by the common lay
ensuring our continued survival.

Achieving a state of perfect bliss may be difficult,
the entropy only increases - they say,
but one makes best of what one has
and passes to the collective
an abstract body of
to be
multipled forthwith.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Painting post: New work in progress

This is the first of four parts of an oil painting planned (not too sure if one can call it a quadtych - I have heard of triptych's though). This was done on gessoed canvas 36" X 48". The plan is to use a flat monochromatic hue of raw umber for all four parts.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Life is beautiful - from erstwhile Russia...

Chinatown sights

On a trip to Bowery yesterday to see the works of the late Canadian artist David Askevold at the Canada gallery (will be posting soon), I happened to chance upon some very Chinatown moments. Some pictures below...

Tell me the last time you saw oranges so fresh that the leaves were attached on (unless of course, you are one of those compulsive 'farmers' market' shoppers). These looked super artificial. I had to touch them to make sure they were real. The vendor was not too happy that I did not translate my silly move to verify their authenticity into an actual sale.

Chinatown buildings present a curious array of little shack like holdups wedged between 1930’s art deco lots. The Empire State building is visible in the far end of the picture. The day was a mixture of clouds, humidity and effects spilling over from being the warmest February day ever in New York.

Yes, that is an actual cobbler working away. Think the last time I saw one of these vanishing species in today's instafix world was back when in we were in India. You can wait here until your footwear is repaired. I noticed that the line in front of this mobile shoe fix store numbered three ladies deep in various stages of footwear undress.

This tree looked like a stick figure singing a paean to the lords telling them to take it easy on mortals here on this year of the rat - which has not begun too well (atleast economy wise - which happens to be one of the mainstay's of Chinatown's anywhere)...

Leather chairs for sale: This one was reduced from 38 dollars to 8 dollars. Apparently all that talk about inflation after the record interest rate cuts over last week has not touched this corner of Chrystie and Canal streets.

This is part of an arch that marks the Manhattan bridge exit. Not too sure how many drivers actually notice these columns as they continue their mad rush over the East river from Breukelen to the island of Manahatta.

Yes, that is an actual storefront. Piet Mondrian would have been impressed.