29 Aug 2023
My friends know that my path to becoming an artist has crossed and recrossed my love of music. As a teenager, my aesthetic sensibility was more influenced by the bands I was listening to than any fine art I was seeing. Musicians were the uncontested dominant creative artists of the 70s. It was the recording artists whom I held in the highest regard who pointed me towards a creativity that was conceptually ambitiousness and full of complicated multi-layered meaning. I loved the big thinkers like Pete Townshend and David Bowie. As a late-stage teenager, I moved on to the societal disruptors, the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Then from the ashes of punk, I immersed myself in the splintered scenes of electronica, reggae, goth, post-punk and alt-folk. And of course I loved album covers—those great, wondrous, alien LP album jackets.
And for most of this time, I made music myself in one band or another. I was lucky to weasel my way into good art school groups and then I founded an outfit that did pretty well and went on to release a few records that people seemed to enjoy (and may soon have deluxe re-issues!). I then somehow managed to get an actual job in the music business, doing artwork for albums. This allowed me to imagine some other teenager was now looking at my artwork as I had looked at the jackets that had meant so much to me. But by this time, I had slowly drifted away from writing songs and making recordings myself.
That's changed in the last few years. I've been fortunate to find new collaborators and to rekindle musical relationships with old friends. I put my hands on the piano again. I stepped up to the microphone, gingerly. And now my most deeply personal and creatively wide-ranging music project is out, available on Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify and the rest. Dolan Moroney: The Sad Songs is a 26-minute suite of woven-together tunes—an eclectic mix of mostly acoustic, often dark, highly detailed songs, each crafted with amazing attention by gifted producer, multi-instrumentalist and dear friend, Michael Moroney. Folks have described this record as 'Leonard Cohen meets Nick Cave with some Lou Reed after a few drinks', and that's not too far off. It veers from cowboy ballad to doom reggae to a spot of spooky Jazz. Give it a listen, maybe alone, late at night—and see if music can still move you.
PS: Digital only now, physical product to come later (maybe).
24 Aug 2023
I had a chance to visit Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence this weekend in San Francisco, in the exhibit's first location, the deYoung Museum. It's a group of works both simple and complex, substantial and monumental—and deeply, deeply sad, while somehow managing to remain both bold and beautiful. Wiley's signature motifs are unsurprisingly present: Black figures posed in a classical manner, painted and cast with a startling attention to detail and realism, with creeping vines and floral patterning. But a minor adjustment to the theme proves to be major: here each figure has fallen and is prone, echoing and quoting traditional works memorializing martyrs, heroes, soldiers and saints. The paintings are of major scale, luminous and painted with a celebration of color despite the wounded subjects. But the sculptures are funereal, massive, grand and full of pathos, their dark bronze weightiness enhanced by their staging in dramatic chapel lighting. They are moving as they move no more. We cannot but mourn.
It's both an easy conceptual hook and a shuddering tragedy that it's so simply pulled off: Black bodies on the ground invariably and loudly resonate with the horror of American violence (both at the hands of authority and not). The bodies have fallen like trash, discarded and broken. The scale of this ongoing despair is overwhelming, and this work envelopes us, weighs us down and buries us. If you have the chance to see it in person, do. Reproductions and catalogs will not do the experience of it justice. Their physical reality is their key.
Following its run in San Francisco (until 15 October), the exhibit will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (19 November 2023-19 June 2024); then to the Pérez Art Museum Miami (26 July 2024-12 January 2025), and finally to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (22 February 2025-22 June 2025).
Above: Death of Two Soldiers.
28 Jul 2023
I rewatched the incredible My Dinner With André last night—Wallace Shawn and André Gregory's subtle, poignant, funny, collaborative masterpiece. A conversation about art, life, creativity, love and self-realization, almost two hours long, that somehow inexplicably works as a film. (Famed filmmaker Louis Malle was so taken with the concept and script when he read a preview that he immediately wanted to direct it and telephoned Shawn, who thought it was a prank call.) It's a staged improvisation, scripted but spontaneous, real but not, which explores the topic of what art can do while simultaneously doing it. Shawn has repeatedly insisted that while it's based on real events and people, he and Gregory are acting—he said they once toyed with the idea of performing it live and switching roles. It's one of the first meta works that I was mind-blown by, when I saw it as a teenager in 1981. The good news: it holds up—100%. Queue it up.
PS: My Dinner With André is also an interesting middle layer in the film sandwich made of the movie I saw last week, Asteroid City—a fun and funny picture that addresses many of these same themes of art and artifice and the role of the theatrical as a tool of awakening, and the one I'll see next week, Oppenheimer—a serious film and tragedy (that I expect to be) full of questions about the meaning of life and the capabilities of humans to perceive and re-invent their reality.
PS: Oppenheimer sucked. Christopher Nolan, you're off my list.
26 July 2023
I lived in New Orleans for 4 years in the late 80s, and through happenstance and luck I ended up working for first, Wavelength, the self-billed New Orleans' Music Magazine, and then later the CAC, aka New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center. As a kid in my mid-twenties, pasting up the monthly edition of Wavelength, I got to occasionally bump into NOLA music royalty—who would be leisurely strolling into the office to meet someone (usually Connie Atkinson or Bunny Matthews) for lunch or drinks. Sometimes I got to shake hands and say hello—and it was amazing to be in the same room with Fats Domino, the Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas or Earl King. But it was at the CAC where I got to meet the unique artists of Louisiana, folks like Robert Tannen, John Scott and Keith Sonnier. There's something about the abstraction and process art that comes from the South—it's messy, colorful, human, warm. It doesn't make sense. It makes me think of summer. It's made with feel, not calculation. It's hot—it's cool.
23 May 2023
Fresh on the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling on Lynn Goldsmith vs. the Andy Warhol Foundation, we have a rematch: photographer Eric McNatt vs 'notorious appropriator' Richard Prince. "Lawyers for Richard Prince have argued, as the Warhol Foundation did, that their client could do this under the fair-use defense and that the artist’s work has been transformative." (quoted from the NY Times article linked below)
The interesting sidebar, legally, seems to be that the Warhol case was really about licensing, and the ruling sidestepped any judgement which might have defined 'transformative' use more usefully. The Goldsmith-Warhol case ended up being decided on an argument that Warhol's altered Prince (the other one) image, when used as a magazine cover, which it was, was essentially competing with Goldsmith's photograph and shared “substantially the same commercial purpose." (quoted from the SCOTUS ruling)
Richard Prince’s case is more unambiguous. He is clearly recontextualizing the image, one where the copyright belongs to the photographer. He has not been granted a license nor has he paid a fee. The ruling in this case will more plainly hinge on a definition of what an artist has a right to do with something made and owned by someone else, without asking for prior permission. Is Prince’s work transformative? Enough? Is it really about the commodification of celebrity culture and the phenomenon of Instagram more than it is about Kim Gordon? Will Meta/Instagram be the next target of a multi-million dollar suit for contributory infringement* as they have effectively made the world’s most popular copying and distribution machine?
As one who also borrows images, and who arguably transforms them, this case is of keen interest.
(Note: the image above is MY redrawing of the evidentiary image addendum from the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, emojis removed—because I don't like them, and because I wanted to author a graphic that appropriates imagery from both McNatt and Prince and the USDC,SDNY).
* The charge that killed Napster.
Read more from the NY Times (paywalled):
17 Apr 2023
I almost don't want to spoil the Clive Piercy exhibit with one of its more iconic images, so here's a small, simple piece, consigned to the back hall, doing nothing grand except just being good and smart in a dozen different ways. Clive passed away in 2017, after a long, acclaimed career as a designer, art director, author and educator. Yet Clive returns to inhabit a vibrantly alive space this spring, in a not-quite-a-retrospective at ArtCenter's hillside gallery. In this modest college campus space, Hello, LA: Clive Piercy, Inside the Mind of a Designer delivers both a perspective on Piercy's work and a demonstration of how design functions just as well as art—at being art (and this is no small feat). There's a touch of elegiac mournfulness given the presence of Clive's absence, but this is more than countered by the exuberance and good humor of the work (and the non-work) one discovers on display. The exhibit is meticulously and sensitively installed, as much natural history museum as art gallery, inviting both wandering and wondering. It's surreal, with no trace of artifice. It's funny, emotional, sweet and sad. But the lingering impression is the power of good work done with a clear spirit and a fierce desire to make a thing worth looking at. And what is more artful than that? Drive up the hill and go see this show; the gallery is almost always open.
Through June 24th
Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery
ArtCenter College of Design
1700 Lida Street, Pasadena, CA
20 Mar 2023
What a 'monstrous, brilliant,' terrifying, wonderful, beautiful little book. Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease To Understand The World.
19 Feb 2023
I’m a huge David Bowie fan and consider him quite possibly the most important figure in pop music of the 20th century. What he didn’t invent, he re-invented. What he didn’t do, he influenced. And, almost impossibly, he was popular—despite output that only rarely veered towards the demands of a mainstream audience. He was smart and serious about art and an artist’s responsibility as a creator, qualities too rarely seen in mega-pop stars. But while I love Bowie, I didn’t love the Oscar-nominated (sort of) documentary Moonage Daydream.
I admired its ambition and an approach that defies the conventions of the biopic, but in the end it’s just too much of X and not enough of Y. Not all Bowie eras are of equal value, as the man himself would have readily admitted (and no one needs to see footage from the Glass Spiders tour ever again). Too little time is spent on critically important inflection points and key collaborators, totally missing are sections on the Thin White Duke or the Young Americans soul-infused years, too much of just being David Bowie and cruising around a Japanese mall. Not nearly enough of the brilliant closing effort Blackstar and the philosophies inside it. Far too little of the best music and why this man who sold the world ultimately changed the world. An A for effort, but a disappointment.
17 Feb 2023
Late in 2022, I had the pleasure and challenge of taking on an unusual job: copy-editing—or more precisely, doing a really close reading and making very detailed suggestions re: tweaks to an actual editor, Alan Felsenthal. I stumbled into this assignment after contacting Michael Silverblatt, the creator of the Lannan Foundation/KCRW-FM radio program, Bookworm. Michael’s interviews are deeply personal conversations, and his discussions with renowned authors, essayists and poets are legendary for their breadth, depth and insight. I had asked Michael for permission to transcribe several, with the intention to include them in a very limited artists’ book. Michael surprised me by saying a collection of transcribed Bookworm shows was a big project already in the works, and that he was sure the editors would welcome close readers who were familiar with the shows, and that I should contact the Brooklyn-based publisher, The Song Cave.
Bookworm: Conversations with Michael Silverblatt, is now complete, and due to be published on March 31st. The book gathers interviews with some of the most influential literary luminaries of the last 50 years: John Ashbery, John Berger, Octavia Butler, Joan Didion, Carlos Fuentes, William H. Gass, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, W.G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, and David Foster Wallace. Gathered together for the first time in print, these conversations reveal not only the quality and character of the writers, but the special relationships that Silverblatt developed with them. The conversations reveal why so many consider Michael to be our greatest reader. He allows us to hear these writers in their own voices, at their most animated, engaged and understood.
16 Dec 2022
Here's to defying genre expectations. Jet Black (1938-2022) was a musician "before rock and roll was invented"—and grew up learning violin before becoming a Jazz drummer. But it was in 1974 that he met the mates that would form a dark-hued, proggish, bizarrely successful group named The Guildford Stranglers (later shortened). Their first album in 1977 was an immediate hit, and somehow—no doubt due to attitude and leather jackets—they were considered punk, despite frilly keyboards, complex song arrangements and virtuoso musicianship. In any good rock'n'roll outfit, the drummer drives the train—and in Jet Black, the Stranglers had found a locomotive. This band's discography is so deep, so diverse, and so consistently good that it's truly difficult to summarize adequately. So go listen. The first LP, Rattus Norvegicus, remains stingingly potent. Their biggest, oddest record, The Gospel According to the Meninblack, was "cursed, after we summoned the occult," (according to Black). It was, of course, his favorite. At sundown, I think I'll put on Dreamtime.
1 Nov 2022
It reads like a novel and feels like a film, but Hugh Eakin's Picasso's War is non-fiction. It is the largely unknown tale of how the earliest modern art aficionados in America passionately fought to evolve parochial tastes and unite a new land, a new century and the new art. A fascinating between-the-wars history of the nascent Met and MoMA institutions, interwoven with a behind the scenes look at the early New York gallery world—with Picasso cast as catalyst, combatant and conquest. A ton of detail that I did not know that I didn't know. And fun. Recommended.
29 Oct 2022
I’m lucky that a lifetime around bands and music people means I still discover music the old fashioned way—from a recommendation by a friend. I might be getting on, but I’m still thrilled to find a recording artist that excites me. IDLES aren’t exactly new. They formed in 2009 but (curiously) didn’t release a recording until 2017. I discovered them thanks to long-time collaborator Michael Moroney sharing their NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Then I watched their From The Basement video set and wasn’t even sure that I was watching the same band. Singer Joe Talbot would tell you they are NOT punk rock, but hard music for softies. I can confirm they are bracing, caustic and relentless (says Pop Matters), and authors of songs full of urgency, wit and the shattering of complacency (or so says Uncut). Consider me an old friend passing on an insider tip: check out IDLES and crank it up.
27 Oct 2022
“Plus les moyens sont limités, plus l’expression est forte.” Thank you, Pierre Soulages, the "master of black," who has now left us, aged 102. Soulages, and his fellow devotee of darkness, Ad Reinhardt, explored 'the end of painting'—working exclusively in shades of black for the last decades of their careers. Soulage's paintings are almost impossible to capture photographically (like all noteworthy painting), so see them in person when you can. They are incredibly varied, visually rich and deeply immersive. Musée Soulages in Rodez, south central France, just might be the place if you happen to be in the neighborhood.
21 Oct 2022
Cate Blanchett is "incandescent" as Lydia Tár (says Anthony Lane in The New Yorker), and there's not too much more one can really say about this film without being a spoiler—so go see it. It's tense, it's awful, it's wonderful. AO Scott accurately describes Todd Field's direction as echoing Kubrick and Polanski. Blanchett, her generation's leading actor, transforms herself, bringing to mind her brilliant personifications in Julian Rosenfeldt's amazing multi-channel video installation, Manifesto (2015). As one might guess with a film set in the world of classical concert music, Hildur Gunadóttir's score becomes a character in the film—the cinema audio experience is recommended.
20 Oct 2022
David Sylvian is best known as a musician, founder of the seminal 70's band Japan (aka Rain Tree Crow), a frequent collaborator with grandmaster Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a resident on the plane of art-pop that is occupied by rare names like Bowie, Reed, Eno, and Ferry. But Sylvian has always made more than music. ERR is his recent coffee table book, a "photographic essay" shot on a pandemic-era road trip across America. ERR features accompanying texts by Shinya Fujiwara and poetry by Daisy Lafarge. It's published in a limited edition of 500 signed and numbered copies. You can find out more—the artist's notes on his journey and process are a great read—and order it here.
12 Oct 2022
I was lucky enough to attend Art Center when it was only one campus, without the architectural addition that would come later. Almost every modern architecture buff knows the hillside campus was designed by Craig Ellwood Associates, commissioned by Don Kubly, for whom CEA had earlier completed a mid-70's Pasadena residence.
But the real story of who designed the iconic Mies-inspired masterpiece is more complex. Ellwood never actually designed the Art Center College. Because, in strict terms Craig Ellwood was a fiction, and it was CEA partner Alfred Caldwell who designed and completed the project. As reported in Elle Decor:
"According to records, 'Craig Ellwood' was born on February 2, 1922, in Clarendon, Texas, under the name John Burke. Moving with his mother and brother to California after the death of his father, the young creative completed his studies and began work at a luxury clothing store, where he modeled. In 1947, we find out that Burke had served in the military, that his first wife was an actress, and that in 1947, he married another actress, Gloria Henry. Alongside his brother and two other friends from the war, Burke founded the Craig Ellwood construction company, named after the Lords and Elwood liquor store. It would only last two years, but Burke would keep the name, legally changing his in 1951. Working as a cost estimator for the contracting firm Lamport Cofer Salzman, he helped out on the Case Study Houses. It was there that he would meet the Case Study project director John Entenza and begin an adventure as an uncertified architect, drawing about as much attention for his buildings as for his lifestyle. Ellwood collected Ferraris and Lamborghinis, spent the studio’s money and as the years went on, showed up for work less and less. Exiled and pushed aside by CEA, he was forced to leave the studio in 1977, when he escaped to Italy to become a painter. Years later, when Art Center would require an expansion, Ellwood attempted to claim credit for the structure, but was quickly denied by other members of his former studio."